Hey, America: Happy birthday!
OK, that's a bit premature, but I just love the Fourth of July. It's the appreciation. It's the celebration. And who doesn't like fireworks?
Speaking of fireworks, the NFL always supplies its fair share. Every year, certain blowups dominate the conversation. Just nine Sundays away from the 2013 campaign, what are the most combustible relationships across the league?
In honor of July 4, we examine nine potentially explosive situations that could lead to football fireworks.
1) Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley
Fact is, separately, I like both of these cats. Big Ben is a future Hall of Famer, one of the best quarterbacks in the game today. He has a knack for winning, plain and simple. But part of that comes from his ability to ad-lib; Roethlisberger routinely goes away from a scripted play at the first sign of trouble and scrambles to make something happen. Meanwhile, Haley is a strong play caller. I think he doomed his tenure with the Kansas City Chiefs by not calling plays in his final year at the helm.
But there's an obvious concern when Roethlisberger and Haley come together: Both are headstrong individuals. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin tried to stress positives in Year 1 of this relationship, but frustrations seemingly boiled all season and bubbled over after an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys in December. This was hardly a surprise.
Here's what scares me this year: Pittsburgh isn't that good. The offensive line is suspect, as is the receiver position. The running backs don't scare anyone. The defense is old and in a transitional phase. Roethlisberger is everything to Pittsburgh, and I can see him trying to do too much.
Haley is a hothead. So is Ben. Television cameras will be trained on these two at all times.
The only question here is when -- not if -- we'll get fireworks.
2) Sean Payton and Rob Ryan
Instant Debate: Best play-caller?
If you had asked people around the league one year ago which defensive coordinator they preferred between Spagnuolo and Ryan, Spags would've been the overwhelming choice. I don't think this gets discussed enough.
It's a big comeback year for Payton. The Saints coach once told me he hired Williams to run his defense because the man was a mirror image of himself. The swashbuckling, swagger-filled Ryan has a lot of similar traits to Williams (minus the Bountygate taint, of course). But what has Ryan done as a defensive coordinator? Look at the underwhelming rankings of his prior defenses. Look at the lack of immediate interest after the Cowboys fired him.
I can't wait to see how this relationship unfolds.
3) Jerry Jones vs. Jason Garrett vs. Bill Callahan
There's actually a part of me that wanted to write the word "literally" between "head" and "might" in that sentence. I know that would be rather unprecedented, but how does Romo tune out the drama and the noise?
Callahan is calling the plays now, and somehow, Garrett seemed surprised by this development. Yes, Garrett is a better play caller than Callahan, but the head coach struggles in game management. (Let the Jon Gruden rumors start in September!)
The offensive line isn't very good. The defense doesn't stand out. (Rob Ryan is out; Monte Kiffin is in.) And yet, my guy Romo will somehow get blamed.
See, my head is ready to pop off. And we haven't even mentioned Dez Bryant. As a former Cowboy once said, "Get your popcorn ready!"
4) Rex Ryan watch
Sanchez led the league last season with 26 turnovers -- the exact same number of giveaways he compiled in 2011. Rookie Geno Smith should start, but conventional wisdom says Rex picks Sanchez. The Jets face the Darrelle Revis-infused Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots in the first two weeks of the season. This could get ugly early.
New general manager John Idzik won't be much of a sound bite, but I can't see him keeping Rex if the Jets stumble through another season. And if the end is nigh, you know Rex will go down swinging in an entertaining, blaze-of-glory fashion.
5) Bill Belichick vs. the media
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The New England Patriots released Aaron Hernandez a few hours before he was formally charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, but the fallout of this chilling development will remain with the franchise. In the coming months, journalists will question everything about Hernandez, everything about "The Patriot Way."
Belichick is a notoriously reluctant interview subject. It will be interesting to see how he handles such an unprecedented (and distressing) spotlight.
6) Manti Te'o vs. the media
Every newspaper editor in the country is going to assign a reporter to pen the Manti Te'o story. And they should. Same with every Internet site, television station and radio station that covers opponents of the San Diego Chargers. Every network will want time with Te'o. Every Bolts player will face questions about the rookie linebacker. If San Diego performs very well -- or very poorly -- the story will get even bigger.
7) A dramatic bunch in Tennessee
And then there's Chris Johnson, who hasn't been a star in years. He campaigned openly for new linemen -- Johnson has no trouble speaking his mind to the media -- and the Titans smartly obliged, signing Andy Levitre and brilliantly drafting Chance Warmack. But is Johnson still capable of greatness? Can he reaffirm his status as one of the league's most explosive players?
8) Michael Vick and Chip Kelly
Vick, ever the lightning rod, just can't stop talking. Kelly won't commit to a quarterback. Philly is a great media market with a passionate fan base.
What's the old expression about loose lips?
9) Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and the New York Giants
And Cruz isn't the only Giants receiver who wants big bucks; Nicks shares the same desire. Big Blue needs both receivers. Buckle up, buttercup.