In the NFL world, August is a month that's annually packed with predictions: breakout players, breakthrough teams and so on. But all that future-casting is geared toward the coming fall and winter. What can we expect in the remaining days of summer? Jeremy Bergman has the answers! Here are 11 preseason headlines you can expect to see in the coming weeks:
Joe Cool is out, Joe Motivated is in. (Or Joe-tivated, for the syllable-phobes.) According to reports out of Owings Mills, Flacco has, in the wake of Baltimore using a first-round pick on Jackson, shown up to camp on another level, clearly outplaying the exciting rookie threat. Jackson's Hall of Fame Game performance was a sign that the first-year talent still has some catching up to do, especially when it comes to game speed. Meanwhile, Flacco, surrounded for the first time in half a decade with dynamic receiving talent, is reminding observers of that Joe from January 2013. It's amazing what happens when you give a Super Bowl-winning quarterback able-bodied wideouts.
Baltimore won't say Flacco won the QB competition, because there is no QB competition -- exaggerated wink -- but the veteran's victory over the newcomer will be made clear before the second half of the Ravens' second preseason game.
After years and months and days of consternation over Luck's cranky shoulder, all signs finally point to the Colts quarterback starting Week 1 and playing at the level expected of the former No. 1 overall pick. Jim Irsay is downright giddy over his signal-caller's return. Luck reportedly completed 86 percent of his passes in a team scrimmage, something beat writers dubbed a "vintage" performance. But the football community at large has not seen the return of Luck up close yet. That will soon change.
By the end of Indy's second preseason game -- a nationally televised Monday night affair against the Ravens -- Luck will confirm his return to greatness, tossing pinpoint fades to T.Y. Hilton and Ryan Grant and maneuvering about his remade pocket with the nimbleness of Aaron Rodgers. The aftermath of Luck's prime-time showing? Hoosiers statewide party like it's 2006, diving into canals of St. Elmo's cocktail sauce, Pat McAfee-style, and hanging preemptive banners in the Lucas Oil rafters.
Take your premature Rashaad Penny RB1 hype missives and discard them in a nearby compost bin, Cascadia. How quickly Seahawks fans -- and the league entire -- forget how dynamic Carson was in his rookie year before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury. The second-year man will have Seattle's starting tailback gig locked up after the third preseason game, a performance that prompts Pete Carroll to leap out of his Air Monarchs in excitement.
Penny and third-down back C.J. Prosise will still get play in the regular season, but Carson will be treated like Seattle's first unquestioned bell-cow since Beast Mode hung up his cleats.
4) Players, coaches bewildered by inconsistent implementation of new helmet rule
We're only one game into this rulebook update, and already, there is mass confusion among fans and players as to how and when penalties will be called on tacklers. Ravens safety Bennett Jackson was flagged for leading with his helmet against Chicago in the Hall of Fame Game and mused after that refs are over-officiating in the preseason on purpose,"just to make people aware" of the rule. Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo is taking extra precautions to make sure he's always leading with his facemask.
My not-so-bold prediction? This rule will take some getting used to for everyone involved, including officials -- it's preseason for everybody! Four-plus weeks of preseason experimentation might not be long enough to explain to players and coaches what a correct tackle in 2018 looks like, so we are guaranteed to see more confuddled postgame press conferences in the near future.
Dez might have lost the star on the side of his helmet this offseason, but the Texas native won't be leaving the Lone Star State. Bryant has flirted with the Browns, Ravens and (purportedly) anonymous teams he's not letting on about, but before August ends, Bryant will be a member of the Texans, the third receiver in an athletic trio of high-pointing ball-wranglers. Houston's current WR3 options are Braxton Miller and Bruce Ellington. And the second wideout behind All-Pro freak DeAndre Hopkins -- the speedy, dynamic Will Fuller -- is injury-prone, to say the least. The Texans have reportedly experimented with moving Fuller all around the formation, and Bryant would be a sturdy cross-field companion to Hopkins, with Fuller taking on more of an X-factor role.
Houston has the cap space and flexibility to make it happen and meet Bryant's short-term demands. This move also allows Bob McNair to one-up Jerry Jones in the war between Texas' football barons. Win, win, win.
6) Steve Wilks: No decision on which QB will start season opener
It's presumed that, barring injury, Sam Bradford will waltz into the regular season as Arizona's starting quarterback. That's why the Cardinals paid him the big bucks. But the effusive praise for Josh Rosen coming from Cards vets like Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson makes me think Arizona might consider playing the rookie earlier than expected.
The above headline will come after Arizona's third preseason game, when Wilks starts Rosen in the first half and Bradford in the second against the Cowboys in Jerryworld. The rookie head coach, looking to make a splash and appease aging vets who want to aim for the team's ceiling, opens the door for Rosen to steal the job from the journeyman Bradford. Mike Glennon, meanwhile, is out playing 18.
With Darnold's contract impasse behind them, the Jets finally moved on last week to the pressing issue of the summer: how to make sense of their QB room. So far, all three quarterbacks have shone brightly, but the one player whose performance holds the most power here is Darnold. The Jets are giving him every opportunity to win the job from Josh McCown (the incumbent No. 1) and Bridgewater (No. 2), and he's not disappointing. So, if and when Darnold wins the job, New York has an interesting decision to make: pay Bridgewater $5 million in roster-bonus cheese (essentially) to be a third-string quarterback, or ship the fully rehabbed veteran to a QB-needy franchise? In my scenario, Bridgewater is gone.
The likeliest candidate for Teddy's services will be the team that loses its starting QB to a season-ending injury in the next four weeks -- it happens every year, unfortunately (see: Ryan Tannehill in '17, Teddy in '16). But until then, I can only send Bridgewater to a team with major starting or backup QB questions, like the Bengals, Buccaneers or Jaguars. Matt Barkley and Jeff Driskel are currently backing up Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. (Cripes.) Jameis Winston's off-field behavior is compromising his future in Tampa Bay, even though the Bucs picked up his $20 million fifth-year option for 2019 in April. Blake Bortles remains a question mark in Duval despite his elevated play last year, and Jacksonville employs human beings Cody Kessler and Tanner Lee as backups.
The crummiest quarterback competition in the land is headed for a snail-paced photo finish. Rare is it that a team starts, or even plays, its presumptive starting quarterback in the last week of the preseason, but Buffalo doesn't have one, so ...
Right now, AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman are neck and neck for the starting gig, with rookie Josh Allen taking a series of first-team snaps per practice. Buffalo would prefer Ajian Sushi's namesake win the job, so as to validate its offseason investment in the longtime Bengals backup. But early indications are McCarron is doing more to lose the starting gig than secure it. Settle in, Bills Mafia. Winter is coming early this year.
Don't expect either side of the Thomas-Seahawks divide to be sleepless in Seattle. The All-Pro safety is holding out for a new deal or a trade out of town (cough, Dallas, cough). But the Seahawks have no interest in fulfilling either of Thomas' desires -- unless they find the right asking price (reportedly a first- and third-rounder before the draft) or Thomas lowers his.
Save for a safety injury in either Seattle or, say, Dallas, neither Thomas nor the 'Hawks will budge on their demands before the season starts. Who blinks first? Are they even staring at each other at this point?
Gordon isn't in Browns camp. The wide receiver, whose struggles with addiction are well-documented, is concentrating on his mental and physical health for the time being. There's no telling when he'll return, and Cleveland isn't rushing him back; the Browns won't penalize Gordon for reporting to camp past the deadline that would allow him to eventually become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 campaign.
The wideout's absence from Berea will be one of the many storylines to get the Home Box Office treatment. In premium-cable-TV style, I expect this season's series, one of the most anticipated since the Jets' in 2010, to close as Gang Green's edition did -- with Gordon making a triumphant return to the team in the closing minutes, a la Revis Island.
The Rams say, despite their offseason spending spree (SEE: new contracts for Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley), they have "budgeted" Donald's contract, and I'm naive enough to believe them -- though Donald might not agree with the size of the Rams' cap allotted to him. Donald's deal, which could pay him over $20 million per year, will have to be fancy with its language -- heavy on guarantees and back-loaded to the max -- but it has to get done. The Rams are hoping the millions of dollars in fines that Donald could accrue during his holdout will force his hand, but L.A. will also want to get the deal done before Oakland even considers re-signing Mack and resetting the elite pass rusher market. Mack and the Gruden regime are already off to an acrimonious start, and I wouldn't expect Gruden, in his first year back, to placate a player he didn't draft. The DE is earning nearly double what Donald is slated to this year and needs to prove that last season's slow start was a fluke.