What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next couple weeks providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
I don’t know who’d want to admit it now, but a year ago, we were all wondering about Peyton Manning. The individual apprehensions all differed slightly — his age, multiple neck surgeries, his fading arm strength, the Broncos’ dome-free, mile-high accommodations — but they all combined to form one central theme: Is Peyton Manning still Peyton Manning?
While last year's Denver Broncos were rightly celebrated for the strength of their offense, their defense also deserved plenty of plaudits. After all, Jack Del Rio's unit jumped all the way from 24th to fourth in scoring defense, allowing a mere 18.1 points per game during the regular season. How did they pull that off? Well, you know about the big names on the defense, but one hidden path they took toward success went through an oft-underrated locale: health. Nine of Denver's 11 defensive starters played in all 16 games, with linebacker Wesley Woodyard missing one game and cornerback Tracy Porter only making it through six. (Linebacker Joe Mays did miss time, but that came after he lost his job to veteran Keith Brooking.) That's 11 missed starts, an impressively low total that's also extremely difficult to sustain from year to year.
It already seemed likely the Broncos might take a step backward after losing Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens in free agency, but after the past few days, they're facing a devastating shortage for the early portion of the 2013 season. During their preseason game against the Seahawks this weekend, three players suffered injuries that could keep them out for meaningful action.
Every now and then, our boss, Bill Simmons, will forward some of his reader mail to me and fellow Triangle editor Chris Ryan. Most of the time, it’s to troll us about our favorite teams (Brian Urlacher’s pre-draft ascension was entirely legitimate, and I won’t hear otherwise), but occasionally, one of the notes has an idea so insane that it actually makes a lot of sense.
Following the NFL draft, Jonathan from Suitland, Maryland, sent an explanation of why it often sucks to root for the Eagles around draft time. His reasoning for this was a series of draft trades made during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. It started with a trade in April 2009, when the Bears traded Kyle Orton, the 18th pick in 2009, a third-rounder in 2009, and their first-round pick in 2010 to the Broncos in exchange for Jay Cutler and Denver’s 2009 fifth-round pick. Now, watch carefully. This gets confusing fast.
When the news came out last week that the New York Jets might explore a trade for Darrelle Revis, it was easy to dismiss the idea as typical new-regime fodder. Whenever a new coach or GM steps in, there’s an obligation to let everyone know that “all parts of our football team” are being evaluated. It’s a reminder to both the media and fans that there’s a reason someone was just fired, and that they shouldn’t worry — change is coming. But that change doesn’t usually include trading one of the 10 best players in football.
Over the weekend, the idea of Revis leaving town went from exploratory to seemingly imminent. Because Revis has a clause in his contract prohibiting New York from using the franchise tag on him when his deal is up at the end of this season, the hope is that the Jets can get something for their star cornerback rather than watching him walk away. For a team living life near the top of the cap and void of young talent on both sides of the ball, it’s a notion that might seem crazy but is actually worth exploring. One question that comes with this possibility isn’t whether Revis should be traded, but if he is, where he would fall among the best players ever dealt.
Ray Lewis has described many things as “awesome.” He dieted and exercised before this season and showed up to camp at his lightest weight in some 15 years: “It’s awesome,” he said, “I feel great.” Earlier this season he described Joe Flacco and the Ravens' much-improved offense as “awesome.” Last week, as he took a victory lap around the Ravens’ stadium one last time, he described it as “the most awesome thing you could ever ask for in any professional career.” After Baltimore’s twist-filled victory over Denver on Saturday, Lewis began doing that postgame proselytizing thing that’s common in such contexts. Maybe it’s the awareness that Lewis is nearing the end or maybe it was the delirium of the game, but there was something wildly moving and strange about his incantations. He said some cold-blooded shit about “weapons,” just as the tool that had been forged for his demise, Peyton Manning, walked up to hug him. Then his eyes got gone and serene as he admired his team’s mile-high handiwork: “Man … it’s just awesome,” he said, all blissful and blessed, clouds of mist surrounding his face, as though the Creator had taken a highlighter to him. There’ve been few players over the past decade as intense and absorbing as Lewis. For those of us who remember when “Ray Lewis weapons” turned up a different kind of search-engine result, there hasn’t been another athlete whose path to righteousness has felt so visceral and extreme.