Every August, fans and media alike get swept up in hype, positive and negative. Consequently, assumptions form. And as these assumptions gain traction, they transform into genuine myths.
That's where I come into play.
In my debut effort for NFL.com, allow me to bust five of the biggest preseason myths ...
The Myth: Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh, and will be a top-tier contender.
The Truth: The Steelers have issues and look like a third-place team.
I respect Mike Tomlin. But the Pittsburgh Steelers have some major question marks. First of all, I'm not convinced the high-strung, shotgun marriage of Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger will work. What do you think the NFL Network cameras will capture on Thursday, Oct. 11, when Big Ben gets to the sideline after holding onto the ball too long against the Tennessee Titans? Have you studied the combustible Haley and Roethlisberger through the years?
Meanwhile, Mike Wallace isn't in camp. He wants Larry Fitzgerald money. The Steelers (wisely) won't give it to him. It isn't like you can spin that Wallace knows the system and won't be hurt by missing time -- Haley is implementing a new offense, after all.
Furthermore, Rashard Mendenhall is hurt. Do you trust Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer? I loved the draft picks of OG David DeCastro and OT Mike Adams, but can you bank on two rookie linemen?
Hines Ward is on TV. James Farrior has left the building. Troy Polamalu is older.
The Baltimore Ravens are the team to beat in the AFC North. Baltimore has a more imposing defense (even with the Terrell Suggs injury) and a better running attack than its arch rival in Pittsburgh.
The Cincinnati Bengals are legit. Retaining both coordinators (Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer) in the offseason was huge for growth and continuity. Zimmer always gets his defenses to overachieve. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will continue to blossom in Year 2. Right now, on August 1st, the Steelers have more issues than the Bengals.
The Myth: Peyton Manning is the savior in Denver.
The Truth: Peyton Manning quarterbacks the third-best team in the AFC West.
Before Peyton fanatics go nuts, Manning himself confesses he isn't 100 percent. He hasn't taken a hit; I respect Manning as a living legend, but this is kind of a big deal. He didn't play a single down last year. Let's not pooh-pooh that.
I like where the San Diego Chargers are headed. Seriously. Now, I've been "Norved" before. (It's a verb that describes underachieving San Diego teams.) But I think Philip Rivers pressed last year with the injuries on the offensive line. Antonio Gates is finally healthy. Talking to Norv Turner this offseason, he gushed about the potential of Eddie Royal in the slot and Robert Meachem replacing Vincent Jackson as a deep threat. The Chargers' pass rush and third-down defense were deplorable last year. Draft picks Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes and free-agent acquisition Jarret Johnson help right away. San Diego is the team to beat in the AFC West. Turner will get the Bolts over the hump this year. Seriously!
And don't sleep on the Kansas City Chiefs. They are healthy. Kansas City pretty much played without Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki last season. We're talking about three of the best players on the team. Haley's convoluted system to get plays in hindered Matt Cassel. Then Cassel himself got hurt. I don't have to guess if he's good enough to lead K.C. to the playoffs. He has done it before. And don't forget about Jon Baldwin. His rookie season was a waste, thanks to the broken thumb suffered in a locker-room fight with Thomas Jones that forced him to miss much of training camp and the first five regular season games. Baldwin, Moeaki, Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston are big weapons for Cassel. Romeo Crennel is a defensive guru and the even-keel leader Haley was not.
The Chargers and Chiefs both have better weapons than what Manning has at his disposal in Denver.
The Broncos' defense overachieved last year under Dennis Allen, who's now coaching the Oakland Raiders. Jack Del Rio takes over Allen's post, but Del Rio only has one year of service as a defensive coordintor (with the Carolina Panthers back in 2002). Color me skeptical.
The Myth: The 49ers can't win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith under center.
The Truth: Smith is only getting better and the Niners are one of the NFL's four best teams.
Nothing pains me more than listening to critics bash Smith. After years of rotating offensive coordinators and Mike Singletary's bombastic/clueless coaching, Smith finally reached his potential last year under Jim Harbaugh. The haters call him a "game manager." I saw an improved decision maker who only tossed five picks, played spectacularly in an epic playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, and was a Kyle Williams fumble away from potentially playing in the Super Bowl.
Smith will finally have coaching stability from one year to the next. And San Francisco beefed up the receiver position with Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Harbaugh favorite A.J. Jenkins. Truth be told, I'm one of the media types who thought the Niners picked Jenkins too early in April's draft. (Hi, Jim!) But he's talented nonetheless. Smith is only getting better and the Niners are one of the four best teams in football, along with the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and New England Patriots.
The Myth: The Jets are a chaotic mess at quarterback.
The Truth: Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow will work.
Let me give it to you in the simplest of terms. Tebow is the backup quarterback and will run the Wildcat. He is an upgrade over Mark Brunell. And because he is the omnipresent Timothy Richard Tebow, he will light a fire under Sanchez. In fact, he already has.
Sanchez had too many turnovers in big spots last season and lost the team. The Jets smartly lit a spark. Talking to Sanchez, you hear an edge, a seriousness to him that hadn't been evident in his first three years. He is now the first guy in the building and the last one to leave.
New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is the key. He is no-nonsense, and Sanchez has responded to his coaching. Sparano will run the ball, unlike former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who ruined Christmas with his 59 passes last Dec. 24 in a loss to the Giants. Tebow is Sparano's Ricky Williams/Ronnie Brown in New York. The polarizing signal caller will run the Wildcat. Sanchez, like Chad Pennington in Miami, will be split out wide and deal with it.
I'm not naïve to the power of Tebow. Every Sanchez miscue will be magnified, with chants of "Te-bow" heard in unison. But let's not forget Sanchez does have four road playoff wins under his belt. The Jets' defense will help out, returning to prominence as a top-three unit. Last year was a lost season. The Tebow trade has actually helped Sanchez -- and the Jets -- find their identity again.
The Myth: The Panthers will win the Super Bowl.
The Truth: Carolina will finish last in the NFC South.
I appreciate Ryan Kalil's moxie, taking out a full-page advertisement in the Charlotte Observer to declare the Carolina Panthers would win Super Bowl XLVII. Kalil didn't back away when we pressed him on the "SiriusXM Blitz." However, he's absolutely nuts. I know Cam Newton and Carolina are a trendy playoff pick. I think Carolina is the fourth-best team in its own division.
The New Orleans Saints are in a chaotic state, with stench of "Bountygate" and the season-long suspensions of Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma. But they still employ Drew Brees and are loaded on offense. Steve Spagnuolo is a major upgrade over Gregg Williams at defensive coordinator. The Saints have more talent and experience than Carolina.
It's well-documented that the Atlanta Falcons struggle in January, but they don't skip a beat in the regular season. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White comprise a more polished passing attack than Newton, Steve Smith and Co. in Carolina. New Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is a gem, to boot.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quit on Raheem Morris. Greg Schiano changes the culture. He's the right guy at the right time. Tampa Bay upgraded the offense in a big way this offseason, drafting physical RB Doug Martin, signing difference-making receiver Vincent Jackson and pilfering Carl Nicks from New Orleans to solidify the line. Martin is going to get 20 carries per game and will be my pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Fellow rookie Mark Barron is a winner, plain and simple. Josh Freeman will bounce back under Schiano, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and the rest of the new staff. I love Tampa Bay to bounce back this year and knock on the playoff door. The Bucs are the surprise team -- and they're better than the Panthers.
I told Kalil when we spoke on SiriusXM that he raised the bar too high. Carolina won six games last year. Eight wins is progress. The Panthers still have gaping holes behind Smith at receiver. And the defense has a bunch of question marks, even after the savvy draft pick of linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kalil says he can take criticism because he is, "fat, bald and has short arms." I love the self-deprecation. Better to laugh than cry when the Panthers are in the basement.
Yes, I'm the new guy here at NFL.com, and I'm overjoyed to be part of this incredible team. This season, I'll provide hard-hitting, informed, sizzling opinions. There is no gray area when you read my columns. And I value your take. I read your comments at the bottom of the page and encourage you to tweet me at @AdamSchein.
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