It is hard to believe the 2015 season is beginning -- training camps get going this week -- in part because the NFL still has a very significant hangover from 2014 to grapple with. Bill Belichick's tunnel vision notwithstanding, the league and the New England Patriots cannot fully turn their attention to the new season without a resolution to the messy, sometimes comical saga of underinflated footballs and Tom Brady. It has consumed the offseason as surely as domestic violence overwhelmed the 2014 regular season, and while the subject matters are nowhere near comparable, the amount of bandwidth occupied and hot air expended over Brady's entanglement has left little room for deep examination of the other big storylines entering the fall.
That should start to change this week. A decision on Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension has long been expected some time before the Patriots open camp (they report on Wednesday and practice on Thursday), but there is no guarantee that gives the team the critical information it needs: when Brady will be allowed to play. Whether Brady goes to court or not, gets an injunction or serves a suspension, the other 31 teams should still provide plenty of storylines and relief. Brady's availability is the most important topic to watch as camps begin, the one that could shape the early part of the AFC race. But here are nine other things to divert your attention from the melodrama:
1) The Chip Kelly experiment. Be sure to grab a copy of Philadelphia's roster, because the Eagles are practically unrecognizable after Kelly's wild overhaul, which sent LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Nick Foles and Evan Mathis, among others, packing -- and brought in headliners like DeMarco Murray and Kiko Alonso. Kelly finally could have the team he wants, but everything hinges on quarterback Sam Bradford, who is expected to be ready when camp opens after recovering from his second ACL tear in as many years.
2) The post-Harbaugh experiment.A stunning exodus of veteran talent -- intentional and otherwise -- in San Francisco has handed new coach Jim Tomsula a clean slate and general manager Trent Baalke's roster a mandate to prove that it is the talent, and not high-strung former coach Jim Harbaugh, that made the 49ers so successful.
3) The move west. A rare August special meeting of owners to exclusively deal with Los Angeles should give us a somewhat-clearer picture of which stadium proposal and which teams are likely to win the race to be in Los Angeles for 2016. Owners have been told a vote could be taken as early as December.
4) Peyton Manning's last stand -- or is it? He's 39 and has a new head coach in Gary Kubiak who has historically preferred a run-oriented offense. Until he got injured late last season, Manning was constructing another superb season. Now, suddenly, the Broncos are almost being considered also-rans. How much Manning has left and what the Broncos' offense looks like will determine how much they force themselves back into the AFC conversation with the Patriots and Colts, and perhaps whether this is Manning's last season.
5) The Colts' ascension. They've taken a step forward in each of Andrew Luck's seasons, and this offseason, they seemed to go all-in on a Super Bowl push. Frank Gore won't be good just for the running game; he will be an outstanding bodyguard in pass protection for Luck, whose offensive line is again in flux with the Sunday release of right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Andre Johnson will be a reliable target, and if the Colts can keep Luck upright, they have the skill-position talent to field arguably the best offense in the AFC. But this question should sound familiar to Colts fans from the last 15 years: Can the defense be passable so that the quarterback doesn't have to do everything? The Colts were blown out in the AFC Championship Game by the Patriots last season, and if the gap is going to close enough for the Colts to topple New England, the big improvement has to come on defense.
6) The Patriots' other concerns. Until Brady's suspension, the biggest worry in New England was the defense, particularly regarding the departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner from the secondary. The other three defenses in the AFC East are stellar and should be better than the Patriots' unit. But Belichick has also had less to work with than he does right now, and while he might not have an elite corner like Revis at his disposal, he has had a full offseason to figure out how to make up for it. We'll finally get a good, long look at what he has conjured.
7) The Seahawks.They are negotiating a new contract for Russell Wilson, and with tight end Jimmy Graham now in the fold for those all-important red-zone calls, Seattle seems poised to make another run at another Super Bowl. The Packers are the biggest threat to their supremacy, although a healthy-all-year Carson Palmer in Arizona could press the Seahawks in the NFC West. But ... but ... is there any lingering psychic damage from the brutal end to Super Bowl XLIX? Free advice: Start the season off right and give the ball to Marshawn Lynch, just to remind coaches that it does work.
8) The new extra point. Does having a longer extra point really incentivize coaches to go for two more often? We'll start to see in the preseason, when coaches will want to get a feel for whether this rule change makes any difference. But in the meantime, don't expect life for kickers to change much. They may think the NFL is marginalizing them, but it will probably be a rare head coach who doesn't still feel more comfortable with a nearly-automatic point in a crucial situation.
9) The quarterbacks. It's more than just Tampa Bay (Jameis Winston) and Tennessee (Marcus Mariota). There are quarterback questions all over the place. Winston and Mariota are locks to start, although charting the relative development of the first and second overall picks of the 2015 NFL Draft will be fascinating because of the widely differing opinions about who is more ready for the NFL. Cleveland, Houston and Buffalo, to name just three teams, would probably be delighted to have the upside that the Bucs and Titans can look forward to.