Burning question facing each NFL team in 2018

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Every NFL team has some big issues that still need to be sorted out now that the offseason is in full swing and training camps are right around the corner.

Some franchises are in Super-Bowl-or-bust mode, while others are unabashedly rebuilding. So, clearly the priorities are different for each team.

We’ll be taking a swing around the entire league to identify the biggest issue each team faces heading into the 2018 season. These are the burning questions every team must answer, sooner rather than later.

Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen or Sam Bradford?

The Cardinals are in a strange spot. They have an overall roster that appears capable of contending to at least make a play for a wildcard spot. The defense has great potential, and there are elite playmakers on both sides of the ball. With that in mind, it would seem like starting a veteran at quarterback makes the most sense. But let’s be honest. Does anyone think Bradford can play the entire season without his knees becoming an issue? We don’t. Rosen is already getting some play with the team’s first-team offense. If he shows he’s capable of leading that unit, then the Cardinals might be better off just letting him run it from Day 1.

Atlanta Falcons: Is Steve Sarkisian good enough?

The definitive answer to this question last season was, “heck no.” The Falcons were terrible in the red zone, and Sarkisian’s offense was particularly bad at making sure Julio Jones was a primary target in those situations, despite the coach’s pre-season declaration that Jones would be a focal point. Still, we’re willing to see how things go in Year 2 before judging too harshly. If Sarkisian can get the Falcons going strong in the scoring department this season, this team will be a force in the playoffs. If not, then it’s back to square one, as Atlanta will need to look for a new coordinator.

Baltimore Ravens: Is Joe Flacco washed up?

Looking at recent history, one could easily make the argument that Flacco is, indeed, washed up. Since he landed his massive contract following the team’s last Super Bowl win, the quarterback has averaged under 20 touchdowns and has thrown nearly 15 interceptions per year. Now Flacco has young Lamar Jackson breathing down his neck, and the Ravens have been effusive in their praise of the former Heisman winner. If Flacco cannot take advantage of Baltimore’s new and improved receiving corps, then he could be out of a job before the 2018 season is over.

Buffalo Bills: Throw Josh Allen to the wolves?

Of all the quarterbacks who were drafted early this year, the one young man this scribe thought needed a year on the bench was Allen. He has serious awareness issues, has trouble seeing what defenses are doing before the snap and tends to throw the ball into some very bad spots, both for his team and his receivers. But Buffalo is in a spot now where the only guys in front of Allen, whom the team selected No. 7 overall, are AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman. Neither of those quarterbacks is going to win many games, so there will be a temptation to just let Allen get his feet wet early so he can learn on the fly. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Bills handle their young passer.

Carolina Panthers: Can Cam stay healthy?

It's about time the Carolina Panthers get Cam Newton pass protection NFL Week 1

Last season, the Panthers won 11 games and gave the New Orleans Saints a run for their money in the playoffs. But they could have been so much more dangerous all year long if not for Cam Newton being banged up. In fact, that’s been a problem the past two years, both of which have resulted in mediocre passing stats for this talented quarterback. If Newton can get the protection he needs, makes smart choices when running the ball and stays healthy all year, then this Panthers team has the pieces it needs to make another run at a Super Bowl. If not, then Carolina will once again flounder with the thought of what might have been lurking in the back of everyone’s mind.

Chicago Bears: Was the offseason slurge worth it?

The Bears didn’t mess around in free agency. They ended up spending over $171 million to bring in some high-profile free agents, along with re-signing some of their own. The likes of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller did not come cheap. But will all that money really pay off? Throughout history, many teams that “win” free agency don’t come close to reaping the rewards that are expected from such splurges. So, it’s going to be very fun to watch this young team attempt to break that trend under rookie head coach Matt Nagy in 2018.

Cincinnati Bengals: Is it time to finally dump Andy Dalton?

Despite the fact that Dalton technically has two more years left on his contract after 2018, he’s essentially a lame duck right now. Heck, the Bengals could cut him today and only owe him $2.4 million. The Red Rocket is coming off a season that was arguably his worst since his 2011 rookie campaign, having completed just 59.9 percent of his passes for 3,320 yards with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Worse, the Bengals have been awful on the whole, winning just 13 games the past two years. On top of that, in his career Dalton has been a miserable wreck in the playoffs, losing all four games while throwing one touchdown and six interceptions. The Bengals are known for hanging onto players and coaches far too long, but this should be a make-or-break year for Dalton.

Cleveland Browns: Is Hue Jackson really the man for this job?

For the first time since Jackson took over in Cleveland, he has legitimate talent on both sides of the ball. The Browns should be very competitive and even win some games this year. But so far, Jackson has done nothing to suggest he’s the man to turn this tragically comedic franchise around. If he can’t wring some wins out of this group in 2018 and continues to botch the quarterback situation like he did last year, then it’s going to be time for the Browns to look elsewhere for a new fearless leader.

Dallas Cowboys: Is Dak Prescott really franchise QB material?

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in NFL Week 2

After watching Prescott and the ‘Boys tear up the NFC in 2016, this question would have seemed a bit reactionary. And heck, it might still be. But any objective observer who watched what Prescott did last year has reason to wonder if he really is the long-term answer for Dallas under center. Sure, he was working with an aging group that included Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. But too often, Prescott made unforced errors (like this) or failed to connect with receivers who were open outside the hash marks. His completion percentage was way down, he threw one less touchdown and seven more interceptions compared to 2016. So, it would be foolish to say this upcoming season was not vastly important to both Prescott and the Cowboys, who need to know if they really do have the quarterback of the present and future on their hands.

Denver Broncos: Is the QB situation really settled?

The Broncos sure hope it is. But we’re not so sure. Denver brought in Case Keenum on a two-year deal that’s fair for both sides after the quarterback’s fine 2017 campaign in Minnesota. He went 11-3 as a starter, completing 67.6 percent of his passes while throwing 22 touchdowns and just seven picks. But before last season, Keenum had a record of 9-15, had completed well under 60 percent of his passes and had thrown 24 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions. It’s worth wondering how he’ll do away from the influence of Pat Shurmur, and if Keenum flops we know Paxton Lynch isn’t ready, either. Needless to say, it might not matter how good the defense is once again in 2018, because if the quarterbacks are bad this team won’t be a playoff contender for a third straight year.

Detroit Lions: Is Matt Patricia going to boom or bust?

The Lions haven’t had great luck bringing in head coaches in a long time. Recently, Jim Schwartz was too hot, while Jim Caldwell was too cold. Now this franchise is banking on a former Bill Belichick disciple to be just right. There is talent galore on both sides of the ball, and heck, Detroit might finally be able to run the ball this year, which would be a huge boon to Matthew Stafford, who is a legitimate MVP candidate. But none of this will matter if Patricia can’t strike a chord with his players and get them to rise to their peak. That’s the mark of every great coach. Whether he has it remains to be seen.

Green Bay Packers: Will the pass defense finally not suck?

Rookie general manager Brian Gutekunst has been working like crazy all offseason to remedy what has been a terrible pass defense in Green Bay. He added defensive lineman Mo Wilkerson, who, when motivated, is one of the most dangerous interior linemen in the league. He also brought back veteran cornerback Tramon Williams before drafting Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the first two rounds this April. This defense finally has some pieces in place to become a dangerous unit, which, combined with Aaron Rodgers’ offense, should be a frightening development for the rest of the league.

Houston Texans: Can the stars stay healthy?

No offense in the NFL last season was as explosive as the one Deshaun Watson was running before an ACL injury derailed his rookie season. This young man was scoring at a pace that would have seen him total 48 touchdowns over a 16-game season. On defense, just consider the mayhem the likes of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Tyrann Mathieu and Co. will impose on the league’s offenses. So, if these star players can stay healthy in 2018, there’s no reason to think the Texans can’t challenge the top teams in the AFC for a run at Super Bowl LIII.

Indianapolis Colts: Will Andrew Luck ever be the same?

This year’s burning question is the same as it was last year. Will Luck play? If he does, can he get back to looking like one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks? Right now that’s a big mystery, and the latest news isn’t encouraging. Luck hasn’t played a single down for Indy since Week 16 of the 2016 season. He’s working toward trying to recover from a shoulder injury that first occurred at the start of the 2015 season. The Colts have botched this entire situation from the beginning, and we just hope Luck’s career can be salvaged at this point.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Can Blake Bortles take the next step?

The Jaguars nearly made it to Super Bowl LII last year, and they fell short for reasons that had nothing to do with Bortles. The much-maligned quarterback, set to enter his fifth year as a pro, really came on strong in the postseason, earning a nice contract extension this offseason. But the jury is still out on this young man. Is he ever going to live up to the hype that saw him selected third overall in 2014? If he does, then Jacksonville is going to be a strong championship contender for years to come. If not, then it’s going to be fascinating to see what the Jags do to remedy the situation.

Kansas City Chiefs: Is Patrick Mahomes really ready for this?

The Chiefs pushed all their chips into the pot with the gamble that Mahomes is ready to be the face of the franchise. They shipped Alex Smith to Washington and spent huge cash to bring in another speedy receiver in Sammy Watkins. So far, the early word out of Kansas City is that Mahomes is struggling, but there’s no reason to be freaking out over anything that happens in OTAs. That said, if these struggles continue into training camp and then into the regular season, fans will have ample reason to question whether their team made the right decisions.

Los Angeles Chargers: Is this finally the year it all comes together?

Already, the Chargers and their fans must be bracing for another season of being snake-bitten by one awful injury after another, as tight end Hunter Henry has already been lost for the season with a torn ACL. But if that rash of injuries fails to materialize as it has in years past, there’s every reason to believe the Chargers have what it takes to make a strong push for a title. Philip Rivers remains one of the game’s best passers, and he has a strong offensive line to go along with a very skilled group of receivers at his disposal. The addition of Derwin James makes the team’s defense truly frightening, too. This could be the year it all comes together for the Chargers. But will it?

Los Angeles Rams: Can all those personalities co-exist?

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

The Rams enter the 2018 season with the highest of aspirations after spending most of the offseason making bold moves to bring top talent on both sides of the ball. But players like Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and even Brandin Cooks all come with some baggage. All four of them have been headaches for their previous teams in one way or another. It’s going to be very interesting watching this team during the course of the 2018 season. Can young head coach Sean McVay successfully manage all these personalities, or will these players prove more trouble than they are worth?

Miami Dolphins: Can Ryan Tannehill stay on the field?

If Tannehill can stay healthy, then Miami has some offensive pieces that could lead to some sustained success for the first time in the Adam Gase era. The big problem is that Tannehill is coming off an injury-shortened 2016 campaign, which led to a missed 2017 season due to some mismanagement of his 2016 knee injury. Now, just because he had previous issues with his knees doesn’t mean he’ll continue to be injured in the future. But if Tannehill does lose more time due to injury, the Dolphins are up a creek without a paddle, as the guys behind him — led by Brock Osweiler — aren’t going to win many games.

Minnesota Vikings: Was Kirk Cousins worth it?

This is perhaps one of the biggest questions facing any team this coming season. The Vikings temporarily made Cousins the highest-paid quarterback in the league, and the contract he signed was fully guaranteed, which was unprecedented. In the process of bringing Cousins on board, Minnesota dumped all three of its quarterbacks from 2017 — Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater — and brought in failed starter Trevor Siemian to be his backup. Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on Cousins this year, as Minnesota has a championship-caliber roster everywhere else. If he lives up to the contract he signed, then great. If not, then the Vikings will be left scratching their heads wondering where it all went wrong.

New England Patriots: Is the dynasty really crumbling?

Even before the Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, there was this narrative being spun by the media that the New England dynasty is crumbling. Tom Brady is reportedly not a happy camper, and perhaps there’s truth to that. Rob Gronkowski isn’t, either, according to reports. Bill Belichick is reportedly alienating all his best players, and soon enough he’ll retire, too. Those are all the threads running through this narrative. There could be plenty of truth to them all. Or, they might just prove to be overblown, and in January all the reports of this team’s demise could look very foolish. Regardless, for those who aren’t Patriots fans, it’s going to be fun watching to see what happens next.

New Orleans Saints: Can the defense continue to ascend?

Barring a spectacular development, the Saints are going to once again be among the league’s best on the offensive side of the ball. The real question is whether the moves New Orleans made on the defensive side of the ball this offseason will lead to continued success. Last year, thanks in large part to come rookies who stepped up, the Saints were refreshingly competent defensively. But if the likes of Marcus Davenport, Demario Davis and Patrick Robinson can step up, then the Saints can be very dangerous on both sides of the ball. That would make them legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

New York Giants: Is Eli Manning capable of rebounding?

Clearly, the Giants believe Manning is capable of not only rebounding from a terrible 2017 campaign but is going to be a top-tier quarterback for a few more years, too. That was evident when they passed up the opportunity to select Sam Darnold No. 2 overall and chose Saquon Barkley, instead. Manning has the benefit of working with Pat Shurmur, who is a magician at orchestrating quarterback-friendly offenses. If he can live up to the team’s expectations this year, then there’s no reason to think the Giants will miss the playoffs. If the team gets another sub-par season out of No. 10, then it’s going to be evident the Giants made a poor choice in the draft.

New York Jets: Why not let Sam play?

The Jets are in a weird spot. They have tenured veteran Josh McCown, a healthy Teddy Bridgewater and they also have Sam Darnold, who is the apple of their eye. If they are being honest about what to expect from the upcoming season, the Jets aren’t going to make the playoffs no matter who they start under center. So, why not let the rookie out of USC get his reps in, especially with a guy like McCown on the sideline and in the quarterback room to be like another coach to help him along? There are reports coming out of New York that Bridgewater could even be the Week 1 starter. So obviously nothing is set in stone. But it seems like the Jets could do a lot worse than let Darnold learn from his mistakes early, so he’ll be more prepared down the line.

Oakland Raiders: Will the Gruden experiment implode?

Based on the moves Oakland has made this offseason, the first under Gruden in his second stint with the Raiders, most who cover the NFL won’t be surprised if this team ends up becoming that car crash you just can’t take your eyes away from. The one thing we all know for sure is that Gruden is running the show in Oakland, and that he’ll either be a spectacular success using unconventional methods or engineer a fantastic dumpster fire of a season in 2018. At the price tag of $100 million over 10 years, we hope it’s the former for the sake of loyal Raiders fans everywhere.

Philadelphia Eagles: Super Bowl hangover?

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson

Based on talent alone, Philly should be the favorite to win the NFC once again in 2018. Thanks to some incredible work done by general manager Howie Roseman, the Eagles are actually more talented this season than they were a year ago, with the lone exception potentially being at the linebacker position. So, the big question is, will the Eagles have a Super Bowl hangover? It happens to almost every team that wins the big one. And as much as the Eagles and their fans don’t want to admit it, the dreaded Super Bowl letdown could once again strike in 2018.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Le’Veon Bell be a problem?

Despite the fact that he’ll earn nearly $27 million over two years, fully guaranteed, on consecutive franchise tags, running back Le’Veon Bell feels disrespected by the Steelers. Never mind that he’s seeking elite wide receiver money on a new long-term deal. As he’s been saying since the start of the offseason, Bell isn’t planning on showing up for anything Steelers related until the start of the season, barring a new long-term deal. This, despite his teammates hoping he’ll change his mind. So, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if all this drama will negatively impact the Steelers in 2018.

San Francisco 49ers: Is Jimmy G really that good?

Based on all the evidence at our disposal, Jimmy Garoppolo is franchise quarterback material. The big problem with all the evidence at our disposal is that it’s scant. Garoppolo has seven career NFL starts. So, even though the 49ers did what they had to and doled out a massive long-term deal to establish continuity and stoke their fan base, they have to at least privately be holding their breath a bit hoping this quarterback lives up to the hype. If he does, then the sky is the limit for this up-and-coming team. If he flops, then the 49ers will be in an extended, ugly rebuild for a few more years.

Seattle Seahawks: Can they protect Russell Wilson?

Now that the Legion of Boom has officially been dismantled, there is no doubt that the Seahawks are Russell Wilson’s team now. That’s been true for a couple of seasons, but it’s magnified even more now. The big problem is that Wilson takes more hits than just about any quarterback out there, despite the fact he’s one of the best in the league at avoiding hits. Seattle’s offensive line is downright offensive. And the team really didn’t do much to remedy this during the offseason. Instead, Rashaad Penny was selected in the first round, and the Seahawks hope he’ll be able to keep defenses honest with a consistent run game. Let’s just say, we’ll be believers when we see it happen.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will Famous Jameis live up to the hype?

The 2017 season was supposed to be the year the Bucs finally became a big deal on the national stage. It was supposed to be the year that Jameis Winston evolved from exciting youngster to legitimate franchise star. Neither of those things happened. Instead, both Winston and his entire team took a few steps in the wrong direction. The Bucs weren’t ready to completely dismantle the program, however, and retained head coach Dirk Koetter for at least one more season. How Winston and the offense performs this year likely will determine if he gets to keep the job going forward.

Tennessee Titans: Will Marcus Mariota rebound?

Despite the fact that Tennessee made it to the playoffs, and despite a miraculous play that extended the team’s run by none other than Mariota, there’s no doubt that the 2017 season was one that saw Mariota devolve as a passer. He posted a career-low touchdown total of just 13 and a career-high interception total of 15. He also posted a career-low 7.1 yards per attempt, and he was injured for much of the year. Tennessee will only go as far as Mariota takes it going forward, so the Titans surely hope the young passer rebounds with a big 2018 campaign.

Washington Redskins: What will the offense look like?

It’s going to be a totally new look for Washington on offense this year. Alex Smith takes over for Kirk Cousins, and the two passers couldn’t be more different. Smith rarely takes unnecessary chances, and he’s extremely accurate on intermediate and short passes. Rookie Derrius Guice should take over for Rob Kelley as the lead back, while Chris Thompson will remain the team’s third-down specialist. So, we should expect to see a more conservative approach by this offense, but will that lead to more wins?