10 burning questions heading into 2019 NFL season

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Every team has a myriad of questions it must answer heading into the 2019 NFL season, but some of them stand out as particularly important. That’s what we’re looking at here.

The spring and summer months leading up to Week 1 have led to some crazy developments around the league. Andrew Luck stunningly announced his retirement. Superstars changed teams, both in free agency and through trades. It’s been a wild offseason.

Now comes the moment of truth. These are the biggest questions we’re eager to discover the answers to now that meaningful NFL games are here.

Can Jacoby Brissett take Colts to the playoffs?

The Indianapolis Colts have a championship-caliber roster. General manager Chris Ballard has done an outstanding job the past couple years building up the offensive line, and the defense — now very impressive — was revamped completely. The big question mark now is whether former backup Jacoby Brissett has the chops to take this team to the playoffs, and beyond.

His previous work as the starter in Indy was rough, but so was the roster at that point. The Colts have expressed the utmost confidence in Brissett. Now it’s time for him to prove he is ready for the challenge.

Will Melvin Gordon sit out the season?

The Los Angeles Chargers have made it clear that they are not going to discuss a new contract for Gordon until after the 2019 season is concluded. That means the Pro Bowl running back will either sit out the season or play out the final year of his rookie contract, which pays just $5.6 million — a relatively paltry sum for a player of his caliber.

Gordon has already indicated he will not play in Week 1 for the Chargers. He’s also hinted on social media that he may never play for the team again. Could he follow Le’Veon Bell’s example and sit out the entire 2019 season? It wouldn’t be surprising at this point.

Is Bill O’Brien a genius, or just desperate?

When the Houston Texans axed general manager Brian Gaine in early July and then announced they would not hire a replacement, it was not known exactly how the team would fill the void. Since then, head coach Bill O’Brien has clearly taken over, and he’s made some huge moves that will have lasting consequences.

Trading Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle in exchange for a third-round pick and a couple of guys who likely won’t make any impact, all while absorbing half his salary in 2019, was just a bad move. Trading future first-round picks for a pretty good left tackle was better, but it’s not like Laremy Tunsil has been an elite player to this point in his career. Who knows? Maybe these moves will work out great, and O’Brien will earn praise. At this point, though, he just seems desperate.

How will Kyler and Kliff fare?

It’s a given that rookie quarterback Kyler Murray will have some rough games in 2019. But what if the Arizona Cardinals actually have the pieces in place to take the NFL world by storm under first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. We know that the offense was very vanilla during the preseason. We also know that Kingsbury’s system is going to be fast, and wide open with Murray as the centerpiece.

NFL defenses have a tendency to sniff out gimmicky offenses and quickly learn how to thwart them. So, will Kingsbury and Murray be able to consistently implement an offense that confounds? Or will the league catch up to their tricks midway through the season, with disastrous results?

Can Patrick Mahomes actually get better?

It’s not hyperbole to say that Mahomes had the most impressive first year as a starting quarterback in NFL history. Not only did he win the MVP award, but he became just the second quarterback in league history (joining Peyton Manning) to pass for at least 5,000 yards while throwing 50 or more touchdowns. Mahomes also took the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game.

So, will he regress in 2019, or does Mahomes have it in him to actually get better in his second year as the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs? The team’s defense is improved, which should lead to more opportunities for the offense. The addition of LeSean McCoy is very intriguing as well. As long as Mahomes continues to play smart, loose and free, he has a chance to exceed his remarkable 2018 campaign this year.

Are the Browns as good as advertised?

A team that has experienced nothing but losing for most of the past two decades, the Cleveland Browns are suddenly a league powerhouse. At least, that’s what it looks like on paper. It’s also the narrative that has been spun ever since Odell Beckham Jr. joined old college teammate Jarvis Landry to give Baker Mayfield one of the best receiving duos in the NFL.

Two wild cards will determine whether Cleveland lives up to the hype or falls flat on its face. First, rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens has a lot to prove and is a complete unknown quantity at this point. Secondly, Mayfield was red hot as a rookie, but will he get bitten by the dreaded sophomore slump? These two will be under the microscope on a weekly basis.

How long will Eli Manning last?

Eli Manning is the uncontested starter for the New York Giants. Owner John Mara made that as clear as he could during the preseason, and head coach Pat Shurmur did an admirable job of echoing him. Manning played well during the three exhibition games he appeared in, completing 9-of-13 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.

The problem is that rookie Daniel Jones was so hot you needed sunglasses just to look in his general direction this preseason. So, if Manning has a rough start and the Giants lose a few games, it’s going to be awfully hard to justify keeping the rookie on the sideline.

Are the Steelers better without Antonio Brown?

The phrase “addition by subtraction” is utilized often when teams part ways with talented, yet troublesome stars. That’s certainly what took place between Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ended up trading him to Oakland for pennies on the dollar. But will they actually be better off without AB than they were with him?

The production he put up in Pittsburgh was legendary. Yet the Steelers have some amazingly talented young receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington who appear poised to have an incredible year. Combined with a trio of running backs and a dominant offensive line, Pittsburgh certainly can be very good offensively. What it comes down to is whether Ben Roethlisberger can continue to thrive at the age of 37.

Is Joe Flacco good enough to lead Broncos back into contention?

When the Denver Broncos hired Vic Fangio to become their next head coach, the immediate impact was that an already talented defense got a big upgrade. In particular, the front seven is going to be a problem. Second-year pass rusher Bradley Chubb playing opposite Von Miller is nightmare fuel.

But what’s the offense going to look like? Emmanuel Sanders is already back and looking as explosive as ever. The team upgraded its offensive line, and Joe Flacco looked sharp in limited action this preseason. But the veteran was a summer dynamo last year with Baltimore, only to struggle once the regular season arrived. Will Flacco finally get back to top form this year and push Denver into the playoffs? Or will he represent yet another quarterback failure on John Elway’s record?

Will Tom Brady finally act his age?

Peyton Manning hit a wall at the age of 39. Once he did, his game took a precipitous tumble and never rebounded. Tom Brady has played two seasons in his 40s already, and one could argue he’s played some of his best football the past couple of years, passing for 8,932 yards with 61 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions.

So, when will Father Time finally catch up to Tom Terrific? Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen this year. Based on the way he’s taken care of his body, and based on the fact that Brady seems more passionate about the game than ever, he may actually play until he’s 45.