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2011 NFL Story Lines

Preseason is over, final roster cuts have been made, and the start of the NFL season is thankfully just around the corner, so I just thought I'd ask one thing.  Is there anything lamer than the fourth preseason game?  Someone taking up two parking spots because their car is so much more precious than your car?  Lame, but not as lame.  Someone driving slow in the left lane? Not as lame.  Listening to a crying baby while you're trying to eat in a restaurant and the parents are refusing to take their eating and pooping spawn of satan outside? No.  Having someone talk behind you in a movie theater?  Nope.  As a side note that has nothing to do with anything, when I saw "Seven years in Tibet" in the movie theater one of the two people sitting behind me didn't speak English so the other person translated the entire movie for them.  If you thought sitting through that entire never ending movie was hard, try doing it while someone is speaking in Portuguese behind you through the whole thing. 

Now the preseason is over we can start to watch the real thing in a couple of days.  So here are just some of the story lines going into the 2011 NFL season.  In other words read, "Stories that happen to pop up on the front page of the various sports sites I visit."

The starting QB in Washington is Rex Grossman?

Like a lot of other people I assumed John Beck was going to get the starting gig for the Redskins.  But you know what happens when you assume.  You make an ass out of u and the guy standing next to u, or something like that.  Mike Shanahan had been saying all preseason that this was an open competition and it looks like it really was.  If the preseason ended after three games, like it should, then Beck probably would have been named the starter.  But there was a fourth game and after playing three solid to good games he had a colossal flub.  If you can, in fact, flub colossally. 

So instead the starting job goes to the Wile E Coyote of NFL quarterbacks, Rex Grossman.  No matter how many times he takes a beating he keeps coming back for more.  I'm not all that sure this is the best move for the Redskins since Beck seems to have more upside and could develop into a better quarterback down the road.  Then again, maybe they truly feel they have a shot at winning the NFC East (please hold you laughter) and they feel Grossman gives them the best shot at winning this year.

After hearing of his promotion Grossman said, "It's just a matter of playing smart and not having those three or four bad plays.  Just take care of the ball consistently and I'll be fine."  Which is a bit like someone who's drunk saying, "I just have to stay between the white dashed lines on the road while I'm driving home and I'll be fine."  Easier said than done.

More after the jump...

Lance Briggs wants out

In 2008 Lance Briggs signed a six year $36 million contract extension with the Bears.  Now three years into the deal he wants out.  The reason why is because he got paid $22 million in the first three years but will only earn $14 million over the last three years.  Considering he's been to six consecutive pro bowls he feels he should be paid more, but the Bears are unwilling to renegotiate, and honestly why should they? 

There's no doubt Briggs deserves more than the $3.65 million he will be paid this season, and I can understand why he's upset, especially after Chad Greenway, who's not quite on the same level as Briggs, just signed a five year $40 million deal with the Vikings.  But as William Munny says just before he shoots Little Bill, "Deserves got nothing to do with it." 

This isn't a situation like Chris Johnson's where he signed his contract coming out of college based on when he was drafted, and he's since greatly outperformed the deal.  Briggs signed his contract in the prime of his career after having gone to three straight pro bowls.  The Bears knew he was a great linebacker and they paid him what great linebackers where being paid at the time.  The market may have gone up since then, but that's the deal he signed. 

He wanted the security of a long term deal that paid him a lot of the money up front, so that's what he got.  If he wanted to sign a shorter three year deal and test the market again he could have done that, but he would have also taken the risk of having a serious injury or a possible decline in his level of play before he got to that point.  He forgo the risk in favor of the security.  You can't now look back and ask for a do over.  I can't go to my stock broker and tell him I really meant to invest in the higher risk stock instead of the blue chip one after the higher risk stock has shown a greater return.

Mike Ditka summed it up best when he said of the Briggs situation, "When you sign a contract, you have an obligation.  It says, 'OK, we're going to pay you this much, you're going to sign the contract.'  Now all of a sudden you play for a while the contract is no good anymore?  Stop it."

Are the Colts finished without Manning?

Quick trivia question.  Who was the last quarterback to start a game for the Colts before Peyton Manning?  Well if you said Jim Harbaugh, you cheated and looked on Google first.  Every other team has started at least three quarterbacks during Manning's run and the Bears have started seventeen.  How many people even know who the backup quarterback is for the Colts?  Turns out it's 50 year veteran Kerry Collins.  OK, he hasn't quite been in the league 50 years, it just feels like it.  He's one of those players that as you're clicking through your NFL Sunday Ticket you stop on a game, see him on the field and say, "He's still playing?" 

Manning has started 227 consecutive games including the playoffs, the second longest streak behind only Brett "Am I retired?" Favre.  Now it looks like that streak is going to come to an end on Sunday against the Texans.  Manning had neck surgery in the off season and now his back is sore as a lingering effect of that surgery. 

Of course this could all just be posturing by the Colts.  This is a man who has only missed one regular season snap because of an injury.  When backup Mark Rypien fumbled on that snap and the Dolphins then drove 59 yards for the go ahead touchdown, Manning came back on for the next series with a bloody mouth.  Only after the game did they find out he had a hairline fracture in his jaw.  In other words, if a broken jaw could only keep him out for one play, is he really going to miss an entire game because of a sore back?  Just pump him full of OC and call it good.  Hey, I know what goes on.  I watched the one season of "Playmakers" on ESPN.

No matter if Manning plays or doesn't play, this whole situation has made most Colts fans come to a scary realization.  There team is old.  I mean really old.  And the heart and soul of the team, and probably the lungs and kidney as well, Peyton Manning, is coming to the end of his career.  They need to start thinking long and hard about life after Manning because I'm telling you it's not Curtis Painter.  Well, it might be Curtis Painter if they don't get anyone else, but they won't win a lot of games with him.

The 49ers got Steve Young even though Joe Montana still had a few good years in him.  The Packers did the same thing when they drafted Aaron Rodgers and handed the reins over to him three years later.  If the Colts don't want to descend back down into the deep dark hole of mediocrity that was Colts football before Manning, they need to start making some contingency plans now.

Should the Falcons be concerned?

The Falcons finished the preseason with an 0-4 record.  Although, finishing 4-0 means about as much as a perfect attendance award.  Congratulations, you showed up.  That's quite the accomplishment.  Yet this wasn't simply a case of the starters playing well and all those future UFL and AFL players blowing the lead in the second half.  The starters didn't look that great either.  Don't forget, this was a team that gave up a lot in the draft, not to mention the complete deluxe box set of "The real housewives of Atlanta" to move up and get Julio Jones because they felt they were just one playmaker away from being an elite team.

Now it looks like some more holes might be springing.  First there's Michael Turner, who after having two great years with the Falcons started showing signs of slowing down last year, and will be hitting that 30 year running back wall at the end of the season.  Are they ready to hand the reins over to Jason Snelling?  And how many times do you think Snelling got made fun of as a kid because of his last name?

Another area of concern has to be their offensive line.  First they lost Harvey Dahl in free agency then they lost Todd McClure to an injury.  McClure may only miss 1-3 games, but he is 34 and his body has to be feeling the effects of starting 144 straight games at center.  Plus they looked sloppy with too many penalties.  Will they be able to create the nice pocket for Matt Ryan to throw in and can they open the holes for Turner, because they didn't do a great job of it in the preseason.

It was just the preseason so it means absolutely nothing, much like having a nice green lawn sure looks nice but that's about it.  Going 4-0 during the preseason in 2008 looked good for the Lions but it didn't help them when it mattered.

Head coach Mike Smith gave a much more metered response when he said, "We have a saying: 'If you play it's worth winning.' Am I disappointed? Yeah.  Am I concerned? No.  We have a mature football team."  I also have a saying: "If you're going to have to go a long time between meals, don't eat Chinese food because you'll just be hungry again in a couple of hours."  And it looks like neither of our sayings will ever make it into an "Inspirational Sayings" daily calendar.