Sports Specs with Sam

    Five key questions approaching the 2019 NFL season

    Sam Janssen

    More stories from Sam Janssen


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    Will the Cleveland Browns live up to the hype?

    To most fans, after the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason and flashes of stardom from Baker Mayfield in 2018, the Cleveland Browns seem poised to be playoff contenders.

    However, for a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2002 and hasn’t won a playoff game since the mid-nineties, they also seem like a candidate that won’t live up to the lofty expectations placed on them. Expectations are quite high for the team led by many young stars and first-time head coach Freddie Kitchens. 

    This notion was perhaps affirmed in week one, as they fell 43-13 to the Tennessee Titans at home, with Mayfield throwing three interceptions. 

    But, putting too much stock in week one’s performance could be a mistake, as Cleveland certainly has the talent on both sides of the ball to turn things around. They look ahead to two very interesting tests against the Jets and Rams in the next two weeks to prove themselves as legitimate contenders. 

    Can the Kansas City Chiefs unseat the Patriots as kings of the AFC?

    Last year’s breakout season for Patrick Mahomes and thrilling title game against the New England Patriots solidified the Chiefs as the second powerhouse in the AFC. 

    There is no question about their offensive prowess, with a star studded lineup led by Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and several capable running backs. The fate of the team and whether or not they will get over the hump lies with the defense. 

    The acquisition of Frank Clark at linebacker will help, but the main area of concern after last year is still the secondary. Kansas City ranked 31st in the NFL last year in passing defense. 

    The Chiefs will need to get improved performances from this group in order to surpass the Patriots in the AFC this season.

    How will Antonio Brown fare with New England?

    After the debacle that was his 2019 preseason in Oakland, a change of scenery for Brown was probably in his and the Oakland Raiders’ best interest. 

    New England was not a surprising destination, as they have been known to take a chance on troubled players in the past. 

    Despite his antics off the field, Brown is still without a doubt one of the most talented receivers in the NFL. Pairing him up with one of the league’s most dominant offenses seems like a slam dunk for both sides, as long as off field issues don’t serve as a distraction, or potentially keep him off the field

    Who will come out on top in the NFC North?

    It would be easy to argue that three teams in the NFC North are legitimate contenders this season. 

    There have been three different winners in the past three seasons, with Green Bay taking the crown in 2016, Minnesota in 2017 and Chicago in 2018. All three of these teams are set up to contend well in 2019, but they still face uncertainty. 

    Chicago has an elite defense, but the jury is still out on whether Mitch Trubisky has what it takes to lead a championship caliber offense.

    Green Bay looks improved on defense, but Aaron Rodgers is being paired with a new head coach and play caller for the first time in his career. 

    Minnesota addressed their biggest need by drafting Garrett Bradbury in the first round to hopefully bolster the offensive line. 

    However, after signing Kirk Cousins to sure up the offense last offseason to complement their great defense, they were billed as one of the national favorites to win it all, and disappointed greatly by missing the playoffs. 

    This could be the season they put it all together on offense and defense and make a run in the postseason. The jobs of head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman could be dependent on that. 

    How will last year’s class of rookie quarterbacks perform in their second seasons?

    Last year’s rookie class featured five starting quarterbacks that will have close attention placed on them as they play through their sophomore seasons in 2019. 

    Maybe the most polarizing of them all is Baker Mayfield, who will have lofty expectations placed on his shoulders this season after an impressive rookie debut. 

    Expectations should be almost as high for Sam Darnold, who was just as highly touted by scouts coming out of the draft and hopes to help an improved Jets franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010. 

    Lamar Jackson will also face high expectations, as he took over for Joe Flacco last season and led the Ravens back to the postseason with an impressive running-focused offensive scheme that featured his skills quite well. 

    Josh Allen will look to improve upon his rookie campaign with a team that is unlikely to compete for a playoff berth in Buffalo. 

    Their AFC East counterpart, the Dolphins, went with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter out of the gate this season instead of second-year quarterback Josh Rosen, but he will surely get plenty of opportunities on the field in 2019, as they will almost surely be out of the playoff picture as well.

    Janssen can be reached at [email protected].