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10 hyped NFL storylines that need a reality check

The NFL offseason is the perfect breeding ground for imaginations to run wild about what’s going to occur when next season arrives.

Almost every fan base finds ways to conjure exciting new theories about what their team will do that will lead to success. On the other hand, there are plenty of conspiracy theories swirling that edge toward more nefarious ends.

Needless to say, the hype machine works overtime during this time of year. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at hyped NFL storylines that have us pressing the pause button.

Patriots’ dynasty is crumbling

It seems like every year for the past decade there have been reports floating out there that indicate the New England Patriots are doomed to crumble from within. Granted, this offseason there is plenty more ammunition available for those who love to perpetuate that narrative — Tom Brady himself hasn’t exactly helped out there, either.

But then Brady drops hints like he did on Tuesday that suggest he’s still in it for the long haul. And whatever else is going on in New England, as long as Brady and Bill Belichick are together, the AFC East is theirs for the taking.

Could the Patriots’ dynasty finally be waning? Absolutely. Brady is in his 40s, for crying out loud, and once he’s done so is this dynasty. But until he’s no longer leading the offense, and until Belichick is no longer the man in charge, all this talk that the end is nigh is just so much hot air.

Andrew Luck is finally back

I’m not trying to throw cold water on the first good news the Indianapolis Colts and their fans have had to hold onto in two years. I’d love to see Luck finally return to being the same outstanding passer he was before a shoulder injury in 2015 derailed his once-promising career.

That being said, as exciting as it is to see Luck finally throwing a football again, let’s let this process play out over the summer before getting too emotionally invested in a full-blown return to glory for the former No. 1 overall pick. Luck still has to withstand the rigors of training camp before finally testing his surgically-repaired shoulder in an actual game, where he’ll endure actual hits.

If he’s truly back, then the future is bright for the Colts. If Luck suffers another setback, then the franchise will likely be doomed to misery for at least a couple more years.

Lamar Jackson is threatening Joe Flacco’s job right now

This former Heisman winner is already generating a ton of buzz. Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has made it clear that Lamar Jackson will be involved in the offense from Day 1, and he recently gave the rookie an entire practice of first-team reps at quarterback over tenured starter Joe Flacco.

Personally, I have to caution myself here about getting overly excited. Jackson is an electric player who will immediately spark any offense he’s involved in.

That being said, and even taking into account the positive developments Jackson has shown thus far during the offseason, let’s not kid ourselves — Flacco is going to be the starter in 2018. The Ravens have a playoff-caliber roster, and Flacco is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. That said, it’s likely that the only way Jackson will earn the starting job this year is if Flacco gets injured, or if the Ravens fall out of contention.

The Rams are the best team in the NFC

NFL cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters of the Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams may very well be the best team in the NFC when the season ends. There’s no doubt that the talent general manager Les Snead has assembled for young coach Sean McVay is championship-caliber.

But before crowning them, let’s take a step back for a minute and realize that the NFC is absolutely loaded right now. Heck, the NFC West itself is a mine field, as all four teams in the division have outstanding defenses and promising (if not established) quarterbacks heading into 2018.

It’s also important to realize that the top players the Rams added in free agency and trades — Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters — all have a history of being difficult to work with. So, while the talent is potent in Los Angeles, it’s going to be no easy chore to manage all these personalities, not to mention overcoming the obstacles presented by the NFC itself.

Alvin Kamara’s star will keep rising

What Alvin Kamara did last year as a third-round rookie for the New Orleans Saints was nothing short of incredible. He put up 1,554 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage, despite the fact he was splitting time with Mark Ingram, who gained 1,540 yards and 12 touchdowns from scrimmage.

With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the hype machine is in overdrive when it comes to speculation about what Kamara will accomplish in 2018. Ingram will be suspended the first four games of the season, and it was reported the Saints had already planned on making Kamara the lead back before that, anyway. With more opportunities to shine, surely Kamara will continue to ascend among the ranks of the game’s elite, right?

Well, not so fast. Going all the way back to his college days at Tennessee, this diminutive back (5-foot-10 and 215 pounds) has been a role player. He’s never been the bell cow. Even last year, Ingram touched the ball 87 times more than his rookie teammate. So, to assume that Kamara can suddenly carry the load while remaining both explosive and healthy is something we just can’t buy until we’ve seen the evidence.

Sam Darnold ready to beat out veterans

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The New York Jets have been very impressed by what they’ve seen early from their first-round rookie. Darnold has been poised during practice while showing off the same traits he did at USC that made him the No. 3 overall pick. Because of this, Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has already made it clear that Darnold could earn the starting job as a rookie.

That may well be true. But there are two things to look at here that suggest Darnold will spend his rookie season on the bench. First, head coach Todd Bowles prefers veterans and is one of the coaches already on the hot seat even before the season begins. He’s going to want to roll with a quarterback who can minimize mistakes while his defense dominates, and Darnold is prone to making costly mistakes.

Secondly, both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater will have something to say about when Darnold plays. And by all reports, Bridgewater especially is doing amazing work to prove he’s the man who should be under center, rather than the rookie. So while Jets fans should be excited about the future, it might not be good for their health to hold their breath waiting for Darnold.

49ers ready to emerge as playoff contender

The San Francisco 49ers COULD live up to the hype in 2018. That said, the hype surrounding this team just feels way overboard right now. As we mentioned discussing the Rams, the NFC is incredibly tough right now from top to bottom. So there’s that.

Then there’s the fact that, as amazing as Jimmy Garoppolo was last year, we still have no idea what to expect from him long term. He was atrocious during minicamp practices but vindicated himself in the eyes of his coaches by holding the entire offense on afterward to sharpen up the mistakes.

On top of all that, while San Francisco has some excellent talent at many positions this team is also very young and inexperienced. There’s certainly reason for the organization and its fans to have optimism about the future. But the playoffs are likely still a year or two away.

Chicago’s offense is going to be amazing

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The Chicago Bears have all the ingredients to build a phenomenal offense. Or, at least we think they do. They have brought in outstanding talent at receiver and tight end, have two excellent running backs who bring different things to the table, they added talent to their offensive line and brought in an Andy Reid disciple who should bring new life to an organization that’s been bereft of offensive competence for a while.

But the one thing we really don’t know about is whether Mitch Trubisky has what it takes to take all those ingredients and create something special as the leading man. There’s plenty of hype surrounding this second-year quarterback. Heck, one of his teammates compared Trubisky to a future Hall of Famer.

But after suffering through a very rough rookie campaign it remains to be seen if Trubisky will go the way of Jared Goff and shine under Matt Nagy, or if he’ll take the Blaine Gabbert route and never live up to expectations.

Saquon Barkley makes Giants a playoff contender again

You’ll never hear me speak ill of Saquon Barkley. This kid is a stud. He is one of the most explosive offensive weapons I’ve ever watched at the collegiate level (who else can do this?), and he has the potential to help transform New York into a winner.

That said, I have concerns about the rest of New York’s offense. First off, Eli Manning has never been an elite quarterback, and it remains to be seen if his best days are behind him already. Secondly, while the Giants did add Nate Solder and rookie Will Hernandez to solidify the offensive line, that unit as a whole is still shaky.

If Manning doesn’t take to Pat Shurmur’s offense the way Case Keenum and Sam Bradford did, and if the offensive line doesn’t keep him off his backside, then Barkley’s best efforts won’t be enough to keep the offense afloat. He’s not a physical running back like Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette but is more of a finesse back who makes people miss. So with that in mind, he’ll be best utilized as a complementary player, rather than an Atlas figure who holds up the entire unit.

Jon Gruden is going to fail

In an era that has been marked by young head coaches implementing innovative schemes and a player-friendly approach, Jon Gruden’s turn-back-the-clock strategy stands out like a sore thumb.

He has expressed disdain for technology and analytics, has brought in some very old (some would call them washed-up) players who appear to be in line for prominent roles and generally appears to be hell bent on fitting a square peg into a round hole in today’s NFL.

Personally, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Oakland Raiders don’t implode this coming season. But rather than rush to judgement here, it seems prudent to sit back and let things unfold. Who knows? Maybe an old-school approach is just what the Raiders need.