Eagles top list of teams loving this preseason
On Wednesday, we took a look at the teams suffering through the most frustrating offseasons. It’s not all negative in the NFL, though — and as Facts of Life taught us, you have to take both the good and the bad.
(It also taught us all your serious problems can be wrapped up nicely in less than 30 minutes while you learn a valuable lesson, but that’s beside the point.)
So we shift our focus to check in on the teams loving life as Week 1 approaches. From scoring in free agency to shining in the preseason, this group of teams seems to have the needle pointed in the right direction:
• Philadelphia Eagles: No kidding. Next.
• Atlanta Falcons: It’s kind of a mystery why the Falcons keep flying way under the radar when people talk about Super Bowl contenders. Atlanta, if you recall, finished 13-3 last year before running into the Green Bay buzzsaw in the playoffs.
But here’s the thing: This Falcons team might be even better than last year’s division-winning group. Atlanta thinks it’s so close to a Super Bowl-winning team, in fact, that the franchise stayed relatively quiet in free agency — landing Ray Edwards was a huge boon — and sacrificed five draft picks to jump up and take Julio Jones in April’s draft.
Jones is a huge part of the reason Atlanta is on this list. He’s looked every bit a top-10 NFL draft pick this preseason and could be just what the doctor ordered for Atlanta’s passing game.
• Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are in kind of the same boat as Atlanta. By bringing back Mewelde Moore, Trai Essex, Willie Colon, Johnathan Scott, William Gay and Ike Taylor, this is more or less the same group that nearly won the Super Bowl last season.
This has been a nice offseason for Pittsburgh, though, because we can compare it in relative terms to last summer. And last summer, all anyone in Pittsburgh could talk about were the off-field allegations levied at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was suspended for the first four games of 2010 — Pittsburgh went 3-1 — and the controversy over his behavior lingered all season.
How much calmer are things now? Even Hines Ward’s DUI arrest and James Harrison’s controversial comments about Roger Goodell were rather quickly forgotten.
This year, it’s all about football in the Steel City. For a team that should be really, really good again, that is a welcome respite.
• San Diego Chargers: Their work in free agency was fine — they kept some key players (Mike Tolbert, Eric Weddle, Antwan Barnes) and added a piece here or there (Takeo Spikes, Bob Sanders). And they had a solid draft, selecting Corey Liuget for the D-line and rounding things out with two picks in both the second and third rounds.
But what we’re interested in is Philip Rivers. He’s still one of the game’s elite quarterbacks, and he went out of his way this offseason to organize players-only workouts during the lockout. He’s talked extensively about his drive and focus this season, about wanting San Diego to avoid it’s usual early-season swoon.
San Diego could definitely lose its spot on this list by not carrying over some nice offseason momentum into the regular season, but the mojo appears to be there — finally — to get off to a strong start.
• Detroit Lions: A perfect offseason this has not been for the Lions. They lost first-round draft pick Nick Fairley to a broken foot and second-round pick Mikel Leshoure for the season with an Achilles tear. They missed out on major upgrades in the secondary, like Nnamdi Asomugha or Jonathan Joseph. And they didn’t find any major help on the offensive line.
Still, there is not a team in the league, save for maybe Philadelphia, that can match the hype Detroit’s receiving this summer. From the national media to the fan base, there is a buzz surrounding the Lions like maybe never before.
Leading that charge is Matthew Stafford’s return to the field. His shoulder, he claims, is 100 percent. It’s definitely looked that way so far this preseason, as Stafford’s been more than impressive early on.
Meeting exponentially raised expectations will be tough, but the Lions have to be enjoying the ride.
• Arizona Cardinals: Sure, they had to part ways with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and had a rather underwhelming free-agent push. On the other hand, the Cardinals found their QB of the future in Kevin Kolb, then locked him up for several years. They also fully committed to Larry Fitzgerald, the face of the franchise, and made sure he’ll be around for plenty of seasons to come.
Arizona’s betting on its foundation to keep it in contention. Even though the Rams improved, Seattle won the division last year and San Francisco’s reenergized under a new coach, the Cardinals are right there in the NFC West. They have to be feeling comfortable that they’ll stay there for the foreseeable future, too.