Fifty-three reasons to be intrigued heading into the season

The magic number right now throughout the NFL is 53.

If you were among those chosen for the final 53-man roster you're breathing a sigh of relief. There have been tons of storylines to monitor this offseason, but in keeping with the theme of making the cut, let's take a look at the 53 stories that matter the most as we head into opening kickoff this Thursday night.

1. Peyton Manning

With a record-breaking contract coming his way sometime in the near future, Manning won't let those contract talks distract his play on the field. There are many things to love about the league, and watching Manning perform ranks in my top five.

2. Tom Brady

The numbers might not say Brady had a bad season in 2009, but it was un-Tom Brady like, not being able to bring the Patriots back in the final minutes of three games -- against Denver, Miami and Houston. Brady will also receive a new contract sometime this year, as he will be looked upon to help lead the Patriots back to AFC supremacy.

3. Rex Ryan

The Muhammad Ali of the league, no one talks more smack or is more confident than the Jets' coach. But can Ryan back up all his self-confidence with a team that might not be as good as the one that backed into the playoffs last year? Only time will tell.

4. Brett Favre

Can he do it again? I doubted him last year, so don't rely on me to know the answer. I wonder, though, because every time Frank Sinatra came back from retirement he was never the same, but Brett seems to get better and better. I'm not doubting him again.

5. Aaron Rodgers

Year three as the starter and by all accounts Rodgers looks better than ever as we enter the season. The Pack is back because Rodgers is an elite player.

6. Drew Brees

Like Manning, Brady and Donovan McNabb, Brees is in line for a new deal but, also like the other three, this will not affect his performance this season.

7. Ben Roethlisberger

With his suspension reduced to four games, Big Ben looks like he is having fun once again. He is engaging his team, seems to be a better teammate and, most importantly, a better person -- which is what had to happen for him. I sincerely hope he has learned from his mistakes.

8. Carson Palmer

One of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs is called "Two Faces," a song about the man Springsteen wants to be and the man Springsteen actually has become. What face will Carson Palmer be wearing this year? The 2006 great passing year face or the 2009 one that struggled to get the passing game going?

9. Chad Ochocinco

With reality shows and his constant tweeting, one has to wonder if Ocho can be the player he was last year. Can he escape press coverage? Can he make plays against the top corners of the league without training hard this offseason?

10. Mike Shanahan

With a year off to learn from his mistakes and now a new team to coach, Shanahan will feel rejuvenated as he returns to the sidelines -- which might not be good for the rest of the NFC East.

With a new team, a new start and probably a new contract soon, McNabb will feel like a kid again not having to shoulder the blame for all things wrong with the Eagles. I am sure whatever happens bad in Philadelphia, it will still be McNabb's fault.

12. Kevin Kolb

Filling in for McNabb might make him the fan favorite to start the season, but unless Kolb leads the team to wins, his honeymoon will be short lived.

13. Sam Bradford

My advice to Bradford is to take each game as a learning experience and build for 2011 -- it is his only option. And I promise to not evaluate his talents until then, as well.

14. Mark Sanchez

The Jets this off season wanted to surround their young quarterback with more skill players to make their offense explosive. Will this result in more turnovers or more points? My sense is more turnovers. It has been a bad summer for former USC quarterbacks.

What can he do for an encore this year? Will less of Johnson make the Titans more effective? Maybe less rushes with Vince Young carrying some of the offense as well.

16. Bob Kraft

The Patriots' owner is at the center of much of what will happen off the field in 2010, as the owners and the players' union work out a new deal, with hopes to avoid a lockout in 2011. Kraft also will be handling the contracts talk on new deal for his star quarterback, making this a busy year for Mr. Kraft.

17. Eric Mangini

It is make-or-break time in Mangini's career as a head coach. He barely held onto his job last year, and this year, with less authority, he must show Mike Holmgren that he is worth keeping past 2010.

18. Matt Ryan

It's Year 3 for Ryan, and he must prove he can be consistently accurate with the football. This is a big year for Ryan and a big year for the Falcons. I wonder, based on the preseason, if they still think Dunta Robinson -- who they signed to a big offseason deal -- is the shutdown corner they hoped for?

19. Pete Carroll

I am going to venture to say there was a moment this year that the Seahawks' new coach said to himself, "I had more talent at USC than I do here." And he would be right.

20. Charlie Weis

Weis must repair his coaching career as well as repair the Chiefs' offense. If he does one, he will do the other and make the Chiefs the most improved team in the league.

21. Romeo Crennel

Back to the job he does well, being a defensive coordinator, Crennel must make the Chiefs fundamentally sound and blend some of their young players into the defense. With Eric Berry at free safety this should make Crennel's job much easier.

22. LaDainian Tomlinson

Can a change of team be the reason L.T. becomes the L.T. of old? So far this summer he has shown signs of being his old self, but can he be the old L.T. later in the season when it is crunch time for the playoffs? I am a little skeptical.

23. Brian Schottenheimer

Schottenheimer is the man in charge of the Jets' offense, as he has to balance being creative with protecting the football. The Jets are built to run the ball and play good defense, not exactly the kind of offense that makes owners want to hire the offensive coordinator for a head coaching job. If the Jets win, Schottenheimer will be a head coach, regardless of the style of offense. Winning is the key, not rankings.

24. New Meadowlands Stadium

Did you know Eli Manning is a better quarterback on the road than at home over his career? In a large part due to the wind of the old Meadowlands, now with a new stadium, it will take some time to adjust.

25. Chad Henne

The Dolphins have high hopes for the 2010 season and won't stay with Henne as the starter long if he doesn't deliver quickly. With Chad Pennington currently in a backup role -- yet looking good -- Miami wants to avoid a bad start, which is what happened last year. Henne is talented but will need some help from his wide receivers, especially Brandon Marshall, who had too many drops this summer.

26. C.J. Spiller

He might be the only bright spot in Buffalo this year, as the Bills are a long way from their AFC championship days. Spiller has the rare ability to create runs without much blocking, which he will need this year.

27. Joe Flacco

This is the year we find out if Flacco can carry the team, or if the team will always have to carry him. With more skill players around him and the talented Ray Rice in the backfield, the burden of Super Bowl success will fall on Flacco.

28. Anquan Boldin

They say everything in life is timing, so what about the timing of Boldin leaving Arizona? He leaves behind a team without a consistent player at quarterback and lands in Baltimore with a good young passer and a new contract. Now, that is some kind of timing.

29. Terrell Owens

Third team in the last three years, he is finally on a team where he is not the main side show. At 36, is Owens still a great player or a great name? We will find out this year.

30. Antwan Odom

With all the fan fare and hoopla Batman and Robin get in Cincinnati, if they advance deep into the playoffs, it will be because of the defense and pass rush. Getting Odom back will really help their team.

31. Dennis Dixon

With Roethlisberger suspended for four weeks and Byron Leftwich out, Dixon will get his chance to shine. However, no matter who takes the snaps from center for the Steelers, they must protect the ball and let their defense and special teams control the game.

32. Jack Del Rio

The Jags are an extremely young team, and their head coach is on the hot seat to produce wins in a very tough division. Will he keep the job? Or maybe a better question is will the Jags sell out games and remain in Jacksonville?

33. Koa Misi

The Dolphins had very little rush last year off the edge and will look to Misi to give them more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Misi has looked outstanding this summer and might be a candidate for defensive rookie of the year.

34. Larry Coyer

Remember in the movie "The Usual Suspects" when Verbal Kint tells Agent Kujan that "the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist"? Well that was Larry Coyer last year in Indy. No one knew he existed, but he was great at calling games. Everyone kept saying he was running the Tampa 2 scheme, but in reality he was doing much more. He was one of the keys to their success last year.

35. Matt Schaub

Great player last year, but can he stay healthy for two years in a row? If he does, the Texans might make their first playoff appearance. But if he doesn't, they might be picking in the top 10 of next year's draft.

36. Houston's defense

Just one time I want to see the Texans' defense stop someone at the end of the game when it matters most -- just once. That isn't asking too much, is it? Can this secondary cover anyone? I strongly doubt it.

Don't forget his name, he will be on the Pro Bowl team this year if he stays healthy. He is a fabulous player who is long, athletic and plays hard all the time.

38. Ryan Mathews

Based on the preseason, I don't know how a rookie can look any better. Mathews is in the right system with the right coach. He will be an explosive player this year for the Chargers.

39. Legedu Naanee

Someone has to fill the shoes of Vincent Jackson, and Naanee has the size, the speed and the talent to handle the role. All he needed was the chance.

40. Jason Campbell

In Washington he was thought of as the problem; in Oakland he is the solution. The key to him being the solution will be if the Raiders' offensive line can keep him upright all season.

41. Kyle Orton

In spite of the drafting of Tim Tebow, Orton is still the main man in Denver. If Orton can show the league that without, Marshall, he can still make the Broncos offense explosive, then he might be able to secure his future in Denver beyond 2011.

42. Knowshon Moreno

He is the key to the Broncos being successful on offense in 2010. If Moreno can stay healthy, he will be the best thing that has happened to Broncos fans since Terrell Davis.

43. Sean McDermott

He took over when Jim Johnson died last year, and last year was clearly a growing experience. This year, with Dick Jauron at his side, McDermott will have to be sharper and more precise with his in-game adjustments.

44. Perry Fewell

For the Giants to return to the playoffs, they need their defense to return to being dominant. For the Giants to be dominant on defense, some key players will need to have key years, and Fewell will have to make an impact.

45. Dez Bryant

Bryant can't be just a role player for the Cowboys this year; he has to be a star. And he can be, even though he has missed all of the preseason. Whether returning punts or making plays, Bryant will be great this year. I can just feel it.

46. Mike Martz

I have full faith in Martz being able to get the Bears offense and specifically quarterback Jay Cutler up and running. However I don't have that same faith in the Bears' defense.

47. Jahvid Best

I saw Best play in high school against my son's team -- he only had 400 all-purpose yards in the game. I thought then he was great and after this summer's games, I have that same feeling.

If the 49ers win a playoff game it will be because of Smith; if they don't make the playoffs it will be because of Smith. Fairly simple.

He is one of those players most of America has never heard of, but he is a talented pass rusher and the second best player on the Falcons' defense.

50. John Fox

A coaching free agent in 2011, Fox might be one of the few head coaches that doesn't need production from his offense to win. However, this year he will be challenged to find ways to win, but don't count him out yet.

51. The Glazers

The Bucs went young two years ago, letting go of coach Jon Gruden and replacing him and the front office with young, inexperienced men. Will this work? For the Glazers, I can only hope, but based on the preseason I have serious doubts.

52. Stan Kroenke

Welcome to the NFL, but I wonder if Mr. Kroenke realizes he bought a team devoid of talent.

53. Derek Anderson

The Dave Kingman of the league. Either he hits a home run or strikes out -- no middle ground.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Purchase single game tickets for the 2022 season