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Eighteen takeaways from Wednesday's minicamps

Are the NFC superpowers in Seattle and San Francisco losing ground to the Saints and Packers this offseason?

It's a subject we volleyed on Wednesday's edition of the Around The League Podcast.

The Seahawks have lost a handful of key contributors from last year's Super Bowl squad. The 49ers will have questions about All-Pro linebackers Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman entering this season.

The potential changing of guard in the NFC Championship Game, though, is more about the improvements in New Orleans and Green Bay.

Drew Brees was downright gushing Wednesday over the possibilities for first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks to replace Darren Sproles as a mismatch in the Saints' offense. Throwing in a bigger role for promising deep threat Kenny Stills and a breakout campaign for Khiry Robinson, and an offense that had grown stale down the stretch suddenly has a high-octane infusion of playmaking ability.

That's without even factoring in the additions of future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey and three-time Pro Bowl selection Jairus Byrd to a revamped secondary.

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There were points last season that led coach Mike McCarthy to believe his Aaron Rodgers-Eddie Lacy pick-your-poison offense would be the best he's ever steered.

Now he has a defense filled with "Making the Leap" candidates, more key starters returning from injury than any unit in football, a potential Hall of Famer in Julius Peppers and an impact safety in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Parity in the NFL is on hiatus. While the Broncos and Patriots rule the roost in the AFC, there are four Matterhorns towering above the NFC dominion.

Here's the rest of the news from around the league during Wednesday's mandatory minicamps:

2. According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, a settlement remains unlikely in Jimmy Graham's franchise-tag grievance against the Saints. Graham didn't do himself any favors in listing himself as a tight end in his Twitter byline.

3. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is prescribing 70 to 75 percent of the first-team reps for Geno Smith during training camp. Michael Vick is taking his mentor/backup role as well as you might expect.


Around The League predicts the Week 1 starting lineups for all 32 teams, analyzing the potential impact of each rookie class.

AFC East
» Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
» Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
» Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
» Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
» Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
» Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
» Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
» Cardinals | 49ers | Rams | Seahawks

4. Recently released cornerback Brandon Flowers is visiting the Chargers, per Rapoport. It's a good fit, as the Bolts struggled to find quality cornerback play in 2013. The Patriots, Falcons, Ravens, Steelers and Vikings are reportedly among the teams also interested in Flowers.

5. Former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is working out for the Falcons, who recently placed linebacker Sean Weatherspoon on injured reserve. We remain skeptical that Vilma's surgically repaired knees will allow him to play a high level.

6. As it turns out, rookie Tre Mason was not telling tales out of school when he said he was competing with Zac Stacy for the Rams' starting running-back job. Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer confirmed Wednesday that Stacy will have to hold off competition to keep the lead-back role.

7. In other running-back news, Lamar Miller continues to make Knowshon Moreno look like persona non grata in Miami's backfield.

8. Is converted defensive end Nate Chandler edging past Byron Bell in the battle to protect Cam Newton's blindside? The Panthers rewarded Chandler with a three-year extension on Wednesday.

9. Big-ticket free-agent signee Jason Hatcher will need to undergo arthroscopic left knee surgery this week. The Redskins' new defensive end is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks, which puts him on the questionable side for training camp.

10. What is it with Packers players and career-threatening neck injuries? The team is reportedly worried that second-year running back Johnathan Franklin's late-season neck injury might threaten his career. The Packers have seen the careers of All-Pros Sterling Sharpe and Nick Collins end early due to neck issues. Jermichael Finley's status remains up in the air.

11. Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He expects to be ready for training camp, but stands to lose playing time to offseason acquisitions Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

12. Julio Jones announced that he is "back to the old Julio" -- and still "the best receiver in the league" -- following last October's foot surgery.

13. Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle encapsulates the NFL's offseason news cycle. NJ.com noted Wednesday morning that Randle continues to shine in June practices. Hours later, Randle revealed that the coaching staff believes he's carrying too much weight. As always, we will have a better read on the situation in August.

14. Trope alert: Rams coordinator Brian Schottenheimer deemed 2012 draft bust Brian Quick the most improved player he's seen this offseason. This comes less than two weeks after trope veteran Kenny Britt was widely hailed as the most impressive player on the field.

15. Redskins tight end Jordan Reed had another one of several "eye-opening" practices this offseason. His role is not expected to be diminished in the shift to Jay Gruden's new offense.

16. Remember those concerns about Matt Barkley's arm strength?

17. The Jets finally released ostracized running back Mike Goodson, who was never going to be higher than fifth on the depth chart behind Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson.

18. Congrats to NFL Media analyst Kurt Warner, who will be inducted into the Cardinals' Ring of Honor at halftime of Arizona's regular-season opener. The author of one of the NFL's most extraordinary careers, Warner still holds the three highest single-game passing marks in Super Bowl history.

In the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the heroes discuss which teams "realistically" have no shot at winning the Super Bowl this season.

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