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ATL Mailbag: Who is the NFL MVP dark horse in '14?

We've reached the quietest portion of the NFL calendar. This seems like the right time to bust out yet another edition of the ATL Mailbag.

I figured I'd get the obligatory World Cup analogy question out of the way early. My first instinct is to say the Panthers, who dismantled their wide receiver corps in the offseason then forgot to put it back together. But I liked Cam Newton's attitude on the issue, and I'm buying on Kelvin Benjamin making an instant impact.

The choice is the Kansas City Chiefs. I'm an Alex Smith fan, but salary cap issues hampered this team in the offseason and there's a much more difficult schedule to navigate. It won't be a meltdown, but 7-9 feels realistic.

Let's start by giving Johnny Football credit: This guy is living up to his reputation in his short time in the NFL. The Vegas trip, the swan, the instantly iconic cash phone ("I can't heeeeeear you. There's too much money in my f------ hand!")

But we also think Browns teammate Joe Haden has a point: JFF needs a phone valet. The young grasshopper has much to learn from Derek Jeter, who has handled sports celebrity as well as any athlete ever has.

As for a BBQ playlist? Here's a Spotify mix I can get behind.

That's for God to decide. I'll say yes, assuming there's some crazy dreamer out there, repeatedly snapping his weathered pigskin through a tire hanging under the old oak tree.

This is going to seem oddly specific -- almost suspiciously specific -- but just trust me: Michael Vick will be the Jets' starting quarterback on Oct. 26, a Week 8 home matchup against the Buffalo Bills.

Michael is referring to the (award-winning) Around The League Podcast, which has often lamented that the only thing keeping the light out of Orchard Park right now is QB1. NOW, if EJ Manuel delivers the type of production laid out above, I cannot imagine a scenario in which the Bills don't win at least 10 games. There's a lot of talent on this roster, not to mention a sneaky huge bounce-back candidate in C.J. Spiller.

Offers ATL colleague Chris Wesseling: "If EJ Manuel finished with 25 touchdowns and 4,000 yards, I'll eat every pair of softball pants in existence."

Time for the Browns to show some creativity with their head gear.
Time for the Browns to show some creativity with their head gear. (Associated Press)

I'll leave Dave's question in the capable hands of colleague Marc Sessler, who had an Eric Metcalf poster in his childhood bedroom. He might still have one now:

The fine men and women of Cleveland will blanch at this -- but it's time for change.

I'm the rare lifelong Browns fan who would love to see the team toy with the helmets. Cleveland had it right six years ago, rolling out throwback duds with numbers emblazoned on the lids: Decidedly classy. Not cheesy. Still original.

We know the uniforms are in for an overhaul. Helmets, too, please.

FAVORITES

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers


Yeah, yeah, safe choices. Whatever. Check out the recent history of this award.

CONTENDERS

Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck


Not to go all Jaws here, but I have a feeling a monster Kaepernick season is in the offing. Watch out for Brees, who could combine his typical monster production with a 13-win division championship.

DARK HORSES

Robert Griffin III, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Jay Cutler, Percy Harvin


RGIII might have to settle for the Comeback Player of the Year award. The Falcons are going to be in plenty of shootouts. Harvin should get votes if he does his thing for 16 games. He probably won't.

MIDNIGHT HORSE


Johnny Manziel

Can you even imagine? He has to win the starting job first, though I don't imagine beating out the lead singer of Live will be too difficult.

As you see, Bears fans remain wildly optimistic about the Jay Cutler Era. Related story: I recently found myself in the back seat of an Uber car driven by an underemployed L.A. actor/avid Bears fan. He likened himself to a child hoping his poorly matched parents will divorce.

So yeah, that's about where we're at right now.

Love will find you, son. Don't force it.

It's hard to imagine Fitzpatrick -- who was named the Texans' starter this week -- getting much rope if he struggles out of the gate. Case Keenum put out some tape last season that showed he could move his team. Bill O'Brien will make a change in September if Houston stumbles.

Josh McCown hasn't even been named the starter in Tampa, but they didn't hand him a two-year, $10 million deal to sit on the bench. The Bucs drafted Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the first two rounds, giving McCown the kind of big red-zone targets he had in Chicago.

Mike Glennon is a promising backup talent who also had some nice moments in 2013. Still, I think McCown will get every chance to hold onto the job, even if the Bucs struggle early. That makes McCown the favorite over the Amish Rifle in this discussion.

A fair question. Many people (myself included) expect a bounce-back season from Manning despite the fact that he was just as bad (if not worse) than Schaub in 2013. The difference is in the details: Manning played behind an embarrassing Giants offensive line, limping around on a bad ankle that required offseason surgery. He looked less like a player in decline, and more a guy who ran into Murphy's Law.

Schaub? He looked very much like a thirtysomething quarterback who's on the way out. Can he turn back the clock and rejuvenate his career in Oakland? I suppose ... but how often does that happen?

It's still hard to say.

In the latest episode of the "Around The League Podcast," the heroes discuss the winners and losers of minicamp season.

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