Good news. Your favorite team is in first place in its respective NFL division right now. Optimism abounds in training camp and the preseason, rightfully so. Anything seems possible at this point in the year.
Beneath the surface of all those positive vibes of possibility are some serious questions that each and every NFL team has to answer. Training camp and the preseason are all about ironing out those details, whether it means settling on a starting quarterback or getting a first-round pick up to speed and ready to contribute.
Below is a look at the biggest issues for each team in the NFL. In the comments, tell us how these questions might get answered in training camp and the preseason. Are there bigger issues for teams to tackle than these?
It looks and sounds as though the Cardinals have a quarterback battle. The truth is John Skelton's really more of a plot device deigned to push Kevin Kolb in his existential battle to be the player the Cardinals hoped he would be. A foot injury and a concussions forced Kolb to miss effectively half the season in 2011, and his stats left something to be desired. Arizona made eyes at Peyton Manning this spring. Can Kolb solidify his place as a bona fide starting quarterback?
Atlanta made the playoffs three times since drafting Matt Ryan in 2008, but they are still looking for their first postseason win. Anything less than a deep run into the playoffs could result in a shakeup. Scoring points has not been a problem, but preventing them has been. Can Mike Nolan, the team's new defensive coordinator, turn a mediocre defense into an asset this year?
The Ravens are another team where just winning is no longer good enough. A team with Ray Rice would seem to have plenty of playmakers, but the Ravens really need a dynamic player in the passing game. Torrey Smith proved his worth as a deep threat last season, averaging almost 17 yards per catch and accumulating 851 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith has the natural ability to be more than just another 40 time though. The Ravens offense will look vastly different if Smith puts it all together. Can he breakthrough this season?
The Bills added a truck load of talent in the offseason, shoring up needs on both lines and in the secondary. What they did not do is add a receiver of note to pair with Stevie Johnson, who they re-signed. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the kind of quarterback that needs receivers to make him a better player, not like the game's marquee passers. Will the decision to lean heavily on Johnson limit their ceiling this season?
I wonder how many more games the Panthers would have won last year with a better defense. Five of their 10 losses were by a touchdown or less. The biggest hole in the defense is in the middle of the defensive line. All three of their top defensive tackles ended up on IR last season. Ron Edwards, 33, is being counted on after tearing his triceps last season. Second-year tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua combined for one sack and 18 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Will the situation at defensive tackle undermine the Panthers' season?
Chicago has dark horse written all over it this year, but do they have the linemen they need to keep Jay Cutler on his feet this year? The Bears are content to go with J'Marcus Webb on the left side, after he allowed 12 sacks in 2011. A healthy Gabe Carimi is being counted on to shore up the right side.
In the same division with the Ravens and Steelers, the up and coming Bengals have a climb a little further than others. They have talented options in the passing game, but the running back situation lacks clarity. Neither BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Bernard Scott are feature backs. Can the combo work for the Bengals offense this year?
The big question in Cleveland is obvious. Does quarterback Brandon Weeden make them a better team? Cleveland seems unlikely to compete in a tough division, but they have to get better. Having Trent Richardson certainly helps, but teams have to throw the ball well enough to keep defenses honest.
Given all his antics, Dez Bryant looks like a lost cause to many. Dallas cannot afford to quit on Bryant so easily. They lost Laurent Robinson to free agency, putting a bigger load on Miles Austin and Bryant. His talent is unquestionable. Can he breakout in his third season?
The Broncos scrubbed Tim Tebow from their recent history in dramatic fashion, signing Peyton Manning to a $96 million deal. Manning's place in the history books is etched in stone. Can he start anew with the Broncos? He turned 36 in March and is coming off a series of neck surgeries. It's a fair question to ask, Manning or not.
The Lions have to play the Bears and Packers twice this season, as well as games against the 49ers and Falcons. Alphonso Smith has a good chance of being a starting cornerback.or one of the other anonymous toilers on the roster surprise with inspired play?
You know a team is in a good place when one of the first camp questions that comes to mind is their backup quarterback. With Aaron Rodgers entrenched, keep an eye on Graham Harrell, who needs a big preseason to reassure his coaches. Will the Packers be hunting for a veteran castoff backup when September rolls around?
The Texans have some of the most talented players in the league on their offense, with Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, each possessing a fair claim to being the NFL's best player at their respective positions. Beyond those two, Houston lost a group of talented players on offense with TE Joel Dreessen, OT Eric Winston and G Mike Brisiel. Can the Texans maintain their forward momentum in the wake of a talent exodus?
Any worry about Andrew Luck's ability to fill Peyton Manning's shoes is nonsense. He has the head on his shoulders to match his talent, and probably understands that the Colts are not going to be contending for a Super Bowl anytime soon. He has a pair of rookie tight ends to work with and veteran Reggie Wayne in his corner. Just how far can he go in his rookie season?
Blaine Gabbert has been unfairly written off by lazy pundits. While it is too soon to put him on the scrap heap, he really does need to get better this season, starting in camp. In order to improve he will need some help from his receivers, and the Jaguars drafted Justin Blackmon and signed free agent Laurent Robinson to help on that front. Robinson has struggled to stay healthy before finally looking the part in Dallas last season. Is he more than a one-year wonder? And can Blackmon, whose off-field issues flared up with a post-draft DUI, live up to his billing as the best receiver in this year's draft?
Getting Dontari Poe under contract is the most pressing question for the Chiefs, but that will happen eventually. Once he does sign a deal, just how much of an impact will the rookie have in his first season? Poe was one of those draft picks that divided analysts. Some saw a package of raw, but rare talent. Others slapped him with the dreaded "workout warrior" label. If Poe struggles, the Chiefs can go with Amon Gordon or Jerrell Powe, but Poe was selected with the 11th overall pick to upgrade the nose tackle spot, the soft underbelly of an otherwise stout defense.
First-round draft pick Ryan Tannehill might not be the best quarterback on the roster. Already Miami has done the public relations groundwork for the inevitable criticism, telling the world that the rookie is third on the depth chart. It might be just as well, the roster is devoid of talent at the skill positions beyond Reggie Bush. Can the Dolphins compete, can they even scratch out seven wins, with their current group of receivers and players who have not surrendered a Heisman Trophy?
Rebuilding teams naturally have a long list of questions, many of which will not be answered this year. Less question than nightmare, the VIkings have to wonder about Adrian Peterson. Will he be ready to go, at full speed, when the season starts?
Tom Brady and the Patriots offense could be even more prolific this season with the addition of Brandon Lloyd. They may have to be because concerns about the defense are not going away so easily. Bill Belichick is counting on two rookies, Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, for their main outside rushers. Will New England be able to make another Super Bowl push with this defense?
How to ignore the loss of a head coach and the suspension of the interim head coach to start the season? A happy and appreciated Drew Brees means the offense should be fine, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can hold that group together. Drilling down further, can Spagnuolo get some production from his defensive line? A defensive back led the team in sacks last season, and the top pass rusher up front, Will Smith, is gone for the first four games. The depth chart gets thin behind him.
Chase Blackburn hangs onto the starting middle linebacker role after an impressive run at through the playoffs at that spot. Will he still be the starter when Week 1 rolls around? Most of Blackburn's experience is on the outside as a solid run defender. If he struggles, the Giants could move Michael Boley into the middle and put Keith Rivers on the weak side. It may seem like a trivial concern for the Super Bowl champions, but the NFC East is a tough division that will be decided by the little things.
Confusing rumblings of a quarterback committee have Jets' fans worried. The Jets had a big enough question on their hands with Mark Sanchez. Now, they have to wonder if the strange ruminations of Tim Tebow as the red zone quarterback are the first signs of a total meltdown. Watch and see how that plays out in the preseason.
Related: Mark Sanchez Interview (Video)
Keep an eye on the cornerbacks in Oakland, a team that lost Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt in successive seasons will roll out Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer in 2012. Both players have something to prove. Spencer was a Niners castoff who went from a starter to the bottom of the depth chart in 2011. Bartell, formerly the Rams' top corner, broke his neck vertebrae last season. Will a fresh start in silver and black be enough for both players?
A porous defense pulled the plug on the "dream team's" hopes last season. Problems with the linebackers are well documented. What goes mostly unsaid is the fact that big ticket free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha struggled last season. Opposing quarterbacks were not afraid to challenge him, completing 29 of 47 passes against him, per PFF, for four touchdowns as he struggled with the zone defense. With the plan to use him in more press-man, can Nnamdi get back to being a shutdown corner?
Rashard Mendenhall is going to start the season on the PUP list, recovering from his torn ACL. In his place, the Steelers will ask Isaac Redman to carry the load as the team's workhorse back. Can he live up to expectations in that role? As the starter in Week 17 and the Wild Card round of the playoffs, Redman averaged 5.9 yards per carry. Camp and the preseason will partially reveal whether or not Redman's upside is enough to be counted on for 15-20 carries every week in the grind of the regular season.
Do the Rams have their franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford or not? Bradford brought a bundle of talent to the NFL, highlighted by his guided missile accuracy. He dinked and dunked his way to a Rookie of the Year Award in 2010 before struggling to stay healthy and upright in his second year. The sooner the Rams get his career on track, the sooner the team can compete again.
The Chargers defense mustered just 32 sacks in one of their most disappointing seasons. Address that issue, the team is relying on first-round pick Melvin Ingram. Can the South Carolina product give the attack some desperately needed pop? He was at his best in college with his hand in the dirt, so watch his adjustment to the outside linebacker spot in the 3-4. San Diego can get creative with his versatility, easing the transition and upping early returns.
Can the 49ers do it again in 2012? San Francisco's roster oozes with talent, particularly on the defense. Their league-best turnover differential of +28 stands out more than any other number on the stat sheet, crying out for regression to the mean. San Francisco should walk through the woeful NFC West; winning 13 games again might be a challenge.
One of the few legitimate quarterback battles happening in camp this year, the Seahawks will give both Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson plenty of opportunity to grab the starting job. Flynn has just two starts in his career as Aaron Rodgers' understudy. Jackson played better than many were willing to give him credit for last season, completing 60 percent of his passes. In the second half of the season, he had eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Which quarterback will win the starting job for Week 1? It really is a toss up at this point.
Four wins was not what the Tampa Bay brass had in mind in 2011, not as a follow-up to a 10-win season. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise as they cleaned house and finally opened the wallet to bring in a good supporting cast for quarterback Josh Freeman. The question the Bucs have to answer in August is less about Josh Freeman specifically and more about whether or not the offense can produce as a unit. They were the league's worst with a -16 turnover ratio and scored just 17 passing touchdowns after posting 26 the year before.
Getting into regular season mode is supposed to be easy for running backs. Chris Johnson and the Titans might feel otherwise. After the lockout wiped out the offseason, Johnson's holdout kept him out of action until he signed an extension in September, less than two weeks before the start of the season. He did manage to top 1,000 rushing yards, but averaged a career-worst 4.0 yards per carry and 65.4 yards per game. Worries about his effort last year may be a bigger concern than anything else. Can Johnson find his old self this season?
All of the sensation around Robert Griffin III, as overwhelming as it can be sometimes, is legitimate. To facilitate his transition to the pros, Washington took a quantity over quality approach to their receiver needs, grabbing Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Who will be the No. 1 receiver for RGIII? Garcon had more than 120 targets in each of the last three years with the Colts, setting career highs without Manning, oddly enough. He has never caught more than 57.1 percent of the passes thrown his way. Morgan missed out on the San Francisco turnaround when he broke his leg in Week 5.