The NFL lockout is apparently over, which is not only good news for pro football fans, but also for Seattle Mariners fans who might want to forget about their team's 15-game losing streak. (Hope you are enjoying Chone Figgins' excessive contract, too, Seattle.)
After months of tempering my enthusiasm, I am now unabashed in my excitement for the return of professional football. Not as happy as I would be if there was a team in Los Angeles for us to root for, but about as happy as I could possibly be otherwise.
With that in mind, here are the six biggest storylines I am looking forward to heading into 2011.
And without further ado …
6. The Texans
Here is the Cliff's Notes version of Wade Phillips' career: great defensive coordinator, not so great head coach. That reputation will be put to the test as he tries to make Brian Cushing and the Texans defense a respectable unit. Well, that might be too big of a challenge, even for Phillips. Just getting the Texans defense upgraded from freeway on-ramp to mere speed bump might be enough to propel this team to the playoffs.
5. A contender stumbles
A Super Bowl contender will stumble out of the gate, which will be followed by calls not to panic, maybe a scapegoat firing and the team eventually falling out of the playoff picture. It happened to the Chargers last year; who will it be this year? The Patriots possibly going without Logan Mankins? The neck injury taking down Peyton Manning? A post-Super Bowl lull for the Steelers? The only sure thing is that it will happen to somebody.
4. Favre watch
With the cancelation of the Hall of Fame Game, Favre playing catch with high schoolers is the new unofficial start of the NFL season. And just mere hours before sources said that a deal was finally near, Favre was linked to the Eagles as a possible backup to Michael Vick. Well, Favre's presence on the Eagles would make Vick seem more likeable by comparison.
3. QB carousel
A large number of high-profile quarterbacks figure to change teams this year -- Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb, Jeff George (just kidding, folks). The most intriguing: Who folds in this NFL game of chicken, Carson Palmer or the Bengals? My guess, the best chance to see Palmer this season is at the Wahoo's Fish Taco shop in San Clemente, Calif.
2. The Lions
Each year we try to pick a surprise team, yet are still shocked to see a team like last year's Buccaneers make a run for the playoffs. This year, take the Lions. Adding DT Nick Fairley to a line that already has Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh is the best thing to happen to Detroit since Eminem. Let me be the first to say -- without qualifiers like Matthew Stafford's health -- the Lions will make the playoffs.
1. NFL Football!
After a summer where I thought that the only professional football would be played in the state of Alabama, I am ready for the NFL season to get started. Can we play a game this weekend?