NFL summer subplots: One burning question for each AFC team

You got questions? We've got answers. Sort of. Maybe. Well, as much as May will allow.

Every member club in the NFL has a major subplot to watch, as the summer rolls into training camp rolls into preseason. Are the Jets the headless horsemen? Did the Cowboys do the right thing in Chicago? Is Adam Gase the great elixir for the always-middling Dolphins?

Below is an All-32 look at the biggest issues -- one for each team -- across the NFL. There is something for everyone. And if you don't agree with what I have to say, hit me up: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Alright, let's get this monstrous, Odyssey-length diatribe on all things NFL going ...


Buffalo Bills: Can the offense offer the kind of passing game to truly contend in the AFC?

Buffalo's front office did a superb job in the draft, acquiring some of the best defensive talent while also getting bang for the buck in selecting Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland and Adolphus Washington in the first three rounds (though Lawson's availability might be in jeopardy following shoulder surgery set for Tuesday). With the NFL's top-ranked running game last year and a defense that looks to return to its 2014 form, the Bills should have a winning campaign. But they are never going to win anything more than a wild-card game with the aerial attack they featured last season. Sure, Tyrod Taylor posted a 99.4 passer rating. Much of that came in a run-first, baby-proof-cap offense, with plenty of the big stuff coming off the threat of the ground game. That worked for Seattle in 2013, but that Seahawks defense was far better than this Bills unit. Rex Ryan & Co. must figure out how to create opportunities for Sammy Watkins -- who, of course, must return to full health after suffering a small broken bone in his foot that will keep him out until training camp -- and do a better job involving Charles Clay. Methinks Chris Hogan is going to be missed.

Miami Dolphins: Can Adam Gase push Ryan Tannehill to the next level?

There are many tentacles to the Dolphins' failures of last year -- a 6-10 season that saw them go from mediocre to hopeful to the bottom of the ocean rather abruptly. The Ndamukong Suh signing didn't affect much, other than the guard playing over him. The secondary stunk. And a couple of the lost season's silver linings -- running back Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon -- are now gone. That said, the front office finally provided Tannehill with the protection he needs. No single factor has the ability to boost wins more than the QB taking the next step. If Gase can maximize Tannehill's skill set, as the coach did with Jay Cutler in Chicago last season, Miami will carry hope in a muddled AFC East, where a certain quarterback is due to miss the first quarter of the season.

New England Patriots: Will a pass-rush-by-committee be enough to earn one for the thumb?

Let's be transparent here: With each passing year, it becomes increasingly more difficult to second-guess the Patriots. That said, wondering about the pass rush seems fair to me. After all, the organization did deal a guy who just racked up 12.5 sacks. Opinions vary on Chandler Jones. Pats fans informed me on Twitter that he disappeared during games. Analysts look at the sack total and wonder where that's coming from in 2016. Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard and others could pick up the slack, in theory. At this moment in time, the AFC East isn't the strongest division in terms of passing attacks, so perhaps this area isn't at a premium anyway. Still, pass rush got the Broncos to SB50. Merely winning the East won't get New England to SBLI.

New York Jets: When will the staredown with the Amish Rifle end?

Who can remember a situation like this? An example might be the 2010 Vikings, who waited forever to hear if Brett Favre was going to report, with people camping out in his driveway and stuff. But that wasn't over a giant discrepancy in money. Not to mention, players who are free agents that remain unsigned this long generally aren't considered part of the team. Yet, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan recently said that he sees Geno Smith as a viable *backup* to Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Smith is No. 2, and everyone acknowledges that Christian Hackenberg is a developmental guy -- and that Bryce Petty was a fourth-round swing-and-a-miss, based on Hackenberg getting drafted in the second round one year later -- then aren't you kind of acting like Fitzpatrick is already part of the team? Put another way: If Maccagnan mentions Fitzpatrick as the "incumbent," it leaves his veteran team waiting around for The Guy to arrive, rather than working optimistically with the present quarterbacks.


Baltimore Ravens: Will the pass defense hold up?

If you played fantasy football last season, you started everyone against the Ravens. Heck, even Colin Kaepernick made hay against those guys. A.J. Green put up over two bills on them at their place. They allowed 30 touchdown passes, tied for ninth-worst in the NFL. That might not sound awful ... until you realize Baltimore only picked off six passes, easily the lowest figure in the league. While many blamed Terrell Suggs' absence -- and the general lack of pass rush -- the Ravens still managed 37 sacks, a figure that put them right in the middle of the pack. Second-round pick Kamalei Correa should provide relief there. Meanwhile, Day 3 pick Tavon Young must develop soon as a pro CB. Hopefully all those anti-aging emails I get from Dr. Oz have found their way to free-agent signee Eric Weddle, as well.

Cincinnati Bengals: Can Tyler Boyd take pressure off A.J. Green?

For all of the big plays A.J. Green makes, even Bengals fans will tell you there are large chunks of games where the five-time Pro Bowler disappears. In theory, having a consistent WR2 in this offense would reduce those occurrences while giving us more opportunities to see brilliant performances from Green (SEE: at Baltimore, Week 3). The book on Boyd coming out of Pittsburgh is a mostly stellar review: He's a technician running routes, with the required confidence to succeed in the league. (I can somewhat vouch for that latter part myself, having interviewed him.) He has the sticky hands to catch balls in traffic. The weakness is that he doesn't have the deep-ball speed to scare anyone, nor was he a touchdown machine in college. OK. All he has to do is convert on third, babe.

Cleveland Browns: Does RGIII have the support system to succeed?

We all were suckered into thinking Robert Griffin III could carry a team by himself. That's because, for a two-month stretch in 2012, he did! Was it because it was the Mayan calendar year? Since then, Griffin's career has been as forgettable as that John Cusack movie on the same subject. Whether RGIII's knee isn't what it used to be or he's just lost all confidence in his game, there is no doubt the guy needs a soft pillow to land on sometimes in terms of support. Enter Corey Coleman. The first-round pick immediately becomes the most talented receiver on this roster (by far). And then there's Gary Barnidge, who can hopefully repeat his prolific 2015 campaign. Lastly, if the running backs truly are as good as any Hue Jackson has seen -- like the coach said earlier this month -- maybe this RGIII experiment will go from lab to fab. To put it far less cheesy than that, maybe Cleveland goes .500 (or better). Looking forward to Duke Johnson, Year 2.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Le'Veon Bell retake his RB throne?

The best all-around RB on the planet, when healthy, is Le'Veon Bell. Yet, I learned from a head coach/Big Tuna long ago that a player's best ability is availability. Bell ended the 2014 season on the shelf. There were many league observers who thought the Steelers would be one tough out that postseason, had he been healthy. Then, after serving a suspension to start last season, Bell injured his knee again in a home game against the Bengals (just like the first time), prematurely ending his campaign in November. For all of the talk about Pittsburgh's deficiencies in the secondary, we're all assuming Bell is not only going to come back, but put up 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Let RGIII be a lesson that players don't always return the same. Here's hoping Bell returns exactly the same. Maybe Mike Tomlin should just sit Bell for Week 2: home vs. the Bengals.


Houston Texans: Will all the new faces on offense gel this summer?

The question was posed on "NFL HQ" last week: *Which division winner is the most vulnerable in 2016?* It's the Texans. Brock Osweiler just signed a contract that gives him more than $10 million for each game he's started in the league. Lamar Miller showed flashes of being an Arian Foster-esque player, but for all those people who were happy to see the injury-prone part-time Vegan depart, bear in mind that Miller has one game with over 20 carries on his résumé. (He is entering Year 5.) Will Fuller can fly -- but can he catch the ball when it gets there? Many rookie WRs struggle with drops (even Jerry Rice did). Houston is employing new starters everywhere on offense, including at the pivot, with second-round pick Nick Martin. Let's hope all these guys figure out the offense -- and each other -- before midseason.

Indianapolis Colts: Is Andrew Luck the future Hall of Famer we thought he was?

Perhaps this is a question for more than merely the impending summer and preseason. Prior to this past season, I was imploring fans and analysts alike to tap the brakes on the drive to give Luck a gold jacket. Admittedly, I did feel Luck was on his way to greatness, even if he had finished the 2014 campaign on a sour note. Then Luck suffered through an injury-riddled 2015. Consequently, the Colts looked to beef up their protection by taking two offensive linemen in the first three rounds (first-round center Ryan Kelly and third-round tackle Le'Raven Clark). That should help, but Luck also must take care of himself and stop treating his body like that of a running back. Another thing he has to take care of: the football. Luck has 27 turnovers in his last 16 games. That's not a misprint. Will the real (we think) Andrew Luck please stand up?

Jacksonville Jaguars: Will Dante Fowler Jr. and Myles Jack be healthy and ready to go?

If they are, the Jags' defense could go from breaking to bending. Gus Bradley's unit finished 31st in points allowed last year, ahead of only the Saints. Simply moving up the ladder from 31st to, say, 17th would make a huge difference with an offense that can score in bunches and a division where 9-7 is the high-water mark. The front seven has killed plenty of grass chasing guys around over the last few years -- with little to show for their efforts. But with Fowler a year removed from a ridiculously unlucky knee injury and Jack being "a medical" -- plummeting in the draft like R. Jay Soward jersey sales in the new millennium -- we don't know if these guys can contribute 16 starts. On the other hand, if Fowler racks up pressures and hurries, and Jack's knee holds up enough to post 90 tackles, the AFC South crown might reside in Jacksonville.

Tennessee Titans: How will the DeMarco Murray-Derrick Henry backfield play out?

Murray is being paid handsomely to be a lead back, which is rare these days. Meanwhile, the club spent a relatively high second-round pick on Henry, which is like a first-round pick at other positions. Clearly the "devaluing" of the running back spot hasn't infiltrated the Titans' offices yet. So how will it work? I asked my colleague Jamie Dukes. He thinks head coach Mike Mularkey wants Marcus Mariota only throwing around 25 times per game. Might be a pipe dream, but if the ground game is working, why not? It certainly would help the Titans' D get a blow (the offense finished 24th in time of possession last year). Dukes also says Henry will learn much from Murray, who is probably playing under his last big contract. As for how the touches play out, Dukes thinks Tennessee will ride the "hot hand," not necessarily the guy making big money.


Denver Broncos: How long will Mark Sanchez be first chair?

John Elway has suggested that Paxton Lynch could be ready sooner than the pundits might anticipate. Elway would know a little something about that, having started 10 games as a rookie despite the presence of dependable veteran Steve DeBerg. In fact, Denver made the postseason during Elway's rookie season, although he went 4-6 as a starter. (DeBerg went 4-1, while a familiar face, current Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, won the only game he started.) The perils of starting a first-year QB are well-known, although the Broncos have the defense to manage it. That is, if the QB can limit turnovers. Sanchez pulled off what Lynch is attempting to do -- playing from Day 1 on a defensively dominant team -- and he took the 2009 Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Yet, turnovers have been a problem for the Sanchize. And now he's expected to miss the start of OTAs after surgery on his non-throwing hand. This might be the most fun position battle in the NFL in 2016.

Kansas City Chiefs: Does the offense still revolve around Jamaal Charles?

More than a few folks wondered about the future of Jamaal Charles in Kansas City during the offseason. Would the Chiefs release the running back fresh off another major knee injury? Charles has been one of the premier players in the NFL for years. He's the all-time leader in yards per carry at 5.5. He's never averaged less than 5 yards per carry in a season. That's incredible. Even Jim Brown fell under that mark four times in his career. That said, Charles is coming off his second ACL tear, team brass re-signed Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, and Charles will turn 30 in December. Kansas City went 1-4 with him, 10-1 without him. The soft schedule later in the year surely had much to do with that, but with the other RBs (neither of whom are as good as a healthy Charles), Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce and an improved Alex Smith, one wonders if Charles will see a reduced workload in 2016.

Oakland Raiders: Is the pass defense fixed?

Perhaps more importantly, can the Raiders' secondary hold up against Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers (twice) and Andrew Luck -- all of whom are on their schedule? Optimism abounds in Oakland, with dreams of the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons. (Fourteen seasons!) One big problem: The defense ranked ranked 26th in the league against the pass last year -- and that was before they lost the unit's leader, Charles Woodson, to retirement. In free agency, the club added a pass rusher (Bruce Irvin), a cornerback (Sean Smith) and a veteran safety (Reggie Nelson). In the draft, Oakland spent its first-round pick on a safety (Karl Joseph) and both Day 2 selections on defensive ends (Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun). These acquisitions need to pay off -- though not necessarily play out of their minds -- for Oakland to be playoff-relevant again.

San Diego Chargers: Ground production, anyone?

Poor Philip Rivers. The Chargers passed on both Ronnie Stanley and Laremy Tunsil. Must've hacked Rivers off. "Can I get some help over here, fellas??" As if not getting stronger on the O-line wasn't bad enough, now an absentee ground game could be in even worse shape. It surfaced last week that Melvin Gordon underwent microfracture surgery in January. The Chargersbelieve he'll be ready for training camp, but those microfracture procedures are far from surefire fixes. Under fire is what Rivers will be if the ground "attack" doesn't improve on its terrible performance from a year ago. The Bolts bolted for 3.5 yards per clip, worst in the NFL.

Elliot Harrison is an analyst on NFL Network's "NFL HQ" and can also be seen regularly on NFL Now. Follow him on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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