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The Steelers, rookies, and new coaches highlight the editor's debate.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 1 in the NFL:
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1. Which new NFL head coach will have the best season?
Steven: I think Mike Shanahan with Washington will have the best season out of the new coaches. Shanahan had a solid 138-86 record in Denver, and I’m still questioning the move to remove him as head coach. Shanahan also has the best roster out of the three new coaches, including the best quarterback in Donovan McNabb. With Shanahan calling the shots and a veteran passer like McNabb in place, the Redskins should contend for a wild card berth this season.
Nathan: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has a better chance to make the postseason than USC does, that’s for sure. The former Trojans head cheerleader has previous NFL head coaching experience, going 33–31 with the Jets (1994) and Patriots (1997-99) before his unreal 83–19 record and seven BCS bowl appearances in the college ranks. Carroll is in arguably the weakest division (NFC West) and has a veteran, albeit injury-prone, quarterback with Super Bowl experience (Matt Hasselbeck).
Braden: I will go with Mike Shanahan. It's an easy choice, actually. He is a Super Bowl champion with a potential Hall of Fame quarterback leading the way. The Redskins have a chance at a playoff berth and have the best pieces in place to succeed. Pete Carroll will have the Seahawks improved from last year with the return of Matt Hasselbeck, but they are not a playoff team. Chan Gailey has very little to work with in Buffalo, and it will be painfully obvious. If I could vote for Mike Holmgren, I might go that way, but he is technically ineligible.
2. Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, or Jimmy Clausen: Who do you want on your team for the next 10 years?
Steven: All three have shown promising ability in the preseason, but I’ll go with Sam Bradford. The Oklahoma product is accurate, possesses a solid arm and should be a good leader for the Rams to build around. Bradford isn’t in the best situation right now, especially with a shaky offensive line and receiving corps. However, Bradford should be the piece that helps St. Louis contend for a playoff spot in the next couple of seasons.
Nathan: I’ll take Tim Tebow to battle for the next 10 years. For whatever reason, Jimmy Clausen continues to build upon his jerk reputation — arriving in a Hummer at Notre Dame, promising not to get Charlie Weis fired before, you know, and then falling into the second round due to character concerns. I’m worried about Sam Bradford staying alive on the field; his go-to move seems to be right-shoulder bodyslam blindside. Tebow has the aura, athleticism and desire to be a winner in the NFL.
Braden: I have serious concerns about Tebow's ability to be a true quarterback in this league, but I want that guy in my locker room for sure. Whatever the position might be. Clausen can really throw the football but has been knocked for his attitude — which is totally warranted. If we are talking strictly quarterbacks here, I would take Sam Bradford. I think he has the poise, the size, the arm, the talent and the leadership to be a good quarterback. Unfortunately, he doesn't play for my mythical franchise; he plays for the Rams.
3. What is the Steelers' record when Big Ben returns to the lineup after the bye in Week 6?
Steven: The Steelers have a rough opening stretch, with games against Baltimore, Tennessee, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. I think a 2-2 record would be a victory for this team, but 1-3 seems more likely. There’s no question this defense is among the league’s best, but Dennis Dixon has only one start under his belt, and the offensive line is a major concern. Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers offense will be too one-dimensional, and Dixon isn’t ready to lead this team to an undefeated start.
Nathan: The Steelers’ Week 1 matchup with the Falcons will determine whether Big Ben inherits a 1-3 team or a 2–2 squad. I’m chalking up losses at Tennessee in Week 2 and to Baltimore in Week 4, with a win at Tampa Bay in Week 3. Push comes to shove, I’ll go with Pittsburgh being 1-3.
Braden: 1-3. Atlanta will outscore them. Tennessee will push the Pittsburgh offensive line around. And Baltimore will flex its collective muscles in Week 4. Tampa Bay is the only easy game on the slate, and the other two AFC contenders will realize how important it will be to beat this Steelers team sans Roethlisberger. If they work their way to 2-2, which is certainly possible, their playoff hopes are very much alive. If not, they might be at home for a second straight postseason.
4. Which non-QB rookie has the biggest impact in 2010?
Steven: I think you could see three rookie running backs make a significant impact this year. Jahvid Best (Detroit), Ryan Mathews (San Diego) and C.J. Spiller (Buffalo) should be near the top of the league for Rookie of the Year honors. Best is a good complement to quarterback Matthew Stafford; Spiller’s all-around ability will be valuable for a team lacking overall playmakers; and Mathews has a clear path to the starting job. If I have to choose the top statistical performer among these three backs, I’ll take Mathews over Best.
Nathan: Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain will play the most important role on his team — serving as a de facto coach on the field, calling plays and making plays before and after every snap. On the other end of the spectrum, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews and Cowboys receiver-returner Dez Bryant have a chance to be explosive difference-makers for Super Bowl contenders. But my pick is Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who should establish himself as one of the league’s premier interior linemen as a rookie by slinging quarterbacks around like they’re Jake Delhomme.
Braden: Can I pick three names? Four? There will be loads of impact rookies on the offensive side of the ball. Dez Bryant, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best will all play big roles for their teams. On defense, I think the R.O.Y. competition comes down to Rolando McClain and Eric Berry. Both should start right away and be key parts of improving defenses. Off the radar names to watch? Jordan Shipley, Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Dexter McCluster and Morgan Burnett will be key contributors. But at the end of the day, Mathews will be the lead ball-carrier for a Super Bowl-caliber team, so I have to go with the first-round pick out of Fresno State.
5. Who is you pick for the Super Bowl?
Steven: This was a tough decision for me, but I’ll take Green Bay out of the NFC and Baltimore from the AFC. I feel there is a nice collection of teams in both conferences that could win it all, but no one really stands out as a clear frontrunner on either side. I like the Packers offense, but their defense is a big concern. The Ravens have some concerns in the secondary, but Joe Flacco’s continued progression at quarterback should put enough points on the board to get to Super Bowl XLV.
Nathan: I’ll stick with our magazine picks, Baltimore Ravens over Minnesota Vikings. If that happens, arguably the best defensive and offensive players of the past 20 years — Ray Lewis and Brett Favre — could walk off the field for the last time.
Braden: The Saints will be tough to beat. And the "repeats are rare and incredibly difficult" theory is actually slightly incorrect. A repeat has happened four times in the last 22 seasons — SF, DAL, DEN, NE — with a number of other teams winning or playing in multiple Super Bowls over that span (PIT, IND, GB, BUF). I like the Falcons and 49ers to surprise this fall, but in the end, New Orleans beats Minnesota and returns to the big event. In the AFC, I like the New York Jets, and emerging star Mark Sanchez, to beat the Ravens in the AFC title game. I will take the Jets to topple the defending champs with stifling defense and a power ground game. J.E.T.S. Jets. Jets. Jets.
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