By Nate Hanson, Sports Radio KJR
USA Today posed the 13 biggest questions heading into the NFL season. Furness, Puckett and Crabtree had their own takes on the headlines.
Question 1: Are the New England Patriots in trouble?
Furness: Yes. Wes Welker’s loss will be huge. If Gronkowski was healthy, they would be fine. But he’s not, so this is the year the Patriots take a step back. The AFC East is their only saving grace.
Puckett: No. Despite the depletion of the receiving core, he believes Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will find a way to win the weak AFC East.
Crabtree: Yes. Defense ranked 25th last year, allowed 370 yards a game. Brady’s top four targets from last year are out. Can you name a receiver outside Danny Amendola?
Question 2: Who’s the top dog in the NFC West?
Furness: Seahawks. The injury to wide receiver Michael Crabtree is the difference maker. Kaepernick’s life will be a lot more difficult without Crabtree both running and throwing.
Puckett: Seahawks. He’s worried about road schedule. All the tough teams Seattle faces on the road, San Francisco gets at home. The addition of Harvin and subtraction of Crabtree gives the Seahawks a slight edge.
Crabtree: Seahawks. I thought they were even at the end of last year. Seattle improved in the offseason, the 49ers haven’t.
Question 3: Can last year’s quarterback rookie class avoid a sophomore slump?
Furness: Yes. What is a sophomore slump? Stats or wins? Statistically, Nick Foles was better than Andrew Luck last year, but Luck led the Colts to the playoffs. All the quarterbacks are special.
Puckett: They will all be fine. Robert Griffin III is most likely to face a slip because he’s returning from an injury. Maybe Ryan Tannehill but can you say he was spectacular last year?
Crabtree: Maybe a minor setback for RGIII and Colin Kaepernick (first year starter last season). Wilson and Luck will be fine. Tannehill and Brandon Weeden will both improve.
Question 4: Do the remodeled Baltimore Ravens have a shot at defending their title?
Furness: No, no and no. They’re rebuilding around Joe Flacco. They loss eight starters on defense.
Puckett: No. Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired. Ed Reed signed with Houston. Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers. Dannell Ellerbe went to Miami. Bernard Pollard signed with Tennessee. Paul Kruger moved on to Cleveland. Cary Williams went to the Eagles. They signed Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty and Michael Huff. But that won’t replace what they loss.
Crabtree: No. They’re in too good of a division. Cincinnati is really good.
Question 5: Can anything save Rex Ryan?
Furness: Only the postseason. Even if Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith is better than expected, the rest of the roster is in shambles. Plus, he’s working for a new general manager that didn’t hire him.
Puckett: Another foot fetish video? Only if they make the playoffs, but they won’t. You can make an argument he should have been fired last year. He had a good run but his time has run out.
Crabtree: Playoffs or bust.
Question 6: Will Michael Vick be a member of the Philadelphia Eagles week 1?
Furness: Yes. Dennis Dixon is the wild card though. This is the most intriguing story of the offseason.
Puckett: Yes. If Chip Kelly’s offense is half of what it was in college, then Michael Vick is the best quarterback to run the offense.
Question 7: Will the NFL’s latest major safety measure mean fines for its big stars (running back lowering the head)?
Furness: No. It’s a non-story. Lynch would have been penalized once or twice last year and he does it the most, so it won’t be a factor.
Puckett: Maybe one or two. It’s hard to see the NFL fining offensive players for initiating contact. It will be hard for an official to call a penalty on that.
Question 8: Will Adrian Peterson make another run at Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record?
Furness: He has to. What else are they going to do? Christian Ponder loss Percy Harvin. He’s the best running back in the NFL, even when everyone knows he’s getting the football. I hope he breaks it.
Puckett: No. I thought last year was kind of flukish. They have to get more out of Ponder. Little check-down throws won’t give Peterson the opportunity he needs.
Crabtree: No. Ponder has to do more.
Question 9: Which new coach has the best chance for an instant turnaround?
Furness: Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. The AFC East is overrated. They could win a few more games this year and be right in the mix, especially if RG III gets hurt again. Otherwise, Marc Trestman except the Bears were 10-6 last year so is that a really a turnaround?
Puckett: Andy Reid because of his track record and he should energize the team. Alex Smith is a capable quarterback for his offense.
Crabtree: Andy Reid. Kansas City has talent and can get wins in a bad division besides Denver. Also, keep an eye on Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland.
Question 10: Will Sean Payton’s return put the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs?
Furness. Yes. They went 7-9 last year without him. The offense is too good. They can get four wins in the division against Tampa Bay and Carolina.
Puckett: Yes. They’ll play with the biggest chip on their shoulder of any team this year.
Crabtree: No. They had the worst defense in football last year.
Question 11: Will Cam Newton grow up?
Furness. Yes. I think he did the second half of last year. He changed his attitude after the meltdown in Atlanta. He was in the middle of the pack statistically last year.
Puckett: Yes. He is the most scrutinized and exciting quarterback in the NFL. It’s his team and he’s put that on him.
Question 12: Which Texas quarterback and/or coach will come under fire first (Kubiak/Schaub or Romo/Garrett)?
Furness: Dallas. They’re the most criticized team in the NFL and have the most pressure on them. Plus, Houston has four gimme wins in their division against Tennessee and Jacksonville.
Puckett: Cowboys. They’ve underachieved so much that this year has to be it for Garrett or Romo. If they don’t do anything, Jerry Jones has to part with one of them.
Question 13: Which team is playing for the #1 pick next season?
Furness: Oakland Raiders.
Puckett: New York Jets. They’re going to be that bad.
Crabtree: Oakland Raiders. Their quarterbacks are awful.
Like many of you, the conversation has me itching for the NFL season. Good news: Seahawks training camp starts in eight days. You can listen to the discussion below. It begins at the 21:40 mark.