NFL Training Camp Storylines: Part Four

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: August 1, 2007

NFL Training PHILADELPHIA — Training camps from Wisconsin to Lehigh have opened and the 2007 NFL season is upon us and so are the storylines. Here is the fourth in a five-part series of the top 15 storylines that I will be following during the early weeks of training camp:

Who will the 2007 surprise team be?: Whenever I touch base with my readers, they always want to know if there’s a team in the NFL that’s going to surprise everyone like the Jets and Saints did in 2006. The Jets went from 4-12 to 10-6 making the playoffs as a Wildcard team and the Saints had the best turnaround going from 3-13 to 10-6 including winning the NFC South division. To be a surprise team you definitely would have had a .500 or lower record from the year before. A safe bet will be that the”surprise” team will come from the NFC as in the past three years 13 of the NFC’s 16 teams have made the playoffs at least once. That shows that the NFC is wide open and teams move up and down each year more than the AFC, which we know features dominant teams the Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Ravens, Colts and Chargers.

The first thing I like to look at when deciding who can jump from the pack of mediocrity is schedule. An easy schedule during the regular season is a key component to a turnaround season as we saw last year with the Jets, who only beat one winning team (Patriots). If that is the case then the Cardinals, who have historically been underachievers have a good chance in 2007 with an opponents wining percentage of 46%. The other factor I like to look at is how a re-building or young team did in the draft adding to their nucleus. The up and coming teams that I thought did the best in the drafter were the 8-8 Carolina Panthers (added LB Beason, WR Jarrett, C Ryan Kalil and others) and the 7-9 San Francisco 49ers (added OT Joe Staley, LB Patrick Willis, and others) With that said I will throw the 49ers, Cardinals, Panthers, and AFC team the Steelers (8-8 in 2006) in as my teams that will surprise in 2007.

Will this be the year that Brett Favre finally says goodbye?: I know better to try and predict what the most unpredictable player in the NFL’s future will hold, but I do know that Favre has not endeared himself to Packers GM Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy by waiting until the last minute in 2006 to say he was coming to training camp. Entering 2007, Favre, who is fully recovered from ankle surgery, looks like he and the Packers have a chance to get back in the thick of things in the NFC North. The Pack had four-game winning streak to end the 2006 season with Favre throwing a career high 613 passes with 18 TDs and 18 picks.

The key to Favre wanting to continue to play is the Packers establishing a running game and their young O-Line protecting the 38-year-old quarterback (237 consecutive starts). With Ahmad Green leaving for the Texans, the running game will be manned by Vernard Morency and rookie Brandon Jackson. The combination is unproven so I am sure pressure will be placed on Favre to force passes into his non-descript receiving core. My feeling is Favre will know by game 10 whether this team is as talented as he says they are and if they have a chance to contend. By that point I believe he will realize that this team is still two or three years away from contention and call it quits at the end of 2007, but who knows I could be wrong again about No. 4.

Where will Daunte Culpepper land?: After being released by the Dolphins on July 16 , I figured that at least three teams (Falcons, Ravens, and Jaguars) would be lined up to sign this two-time Pro Bowl quarterback. In the past few days each of those teams have given their own reason for not signing Culpepper. The Jaguars long rumored to signing Culpepper have decided that Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, and other quarterbacks that they have in camp are enough. I thought the Falcons coming off the Michael Vick case would take a look at Culpepper, but they as well are content with their group led by Joey Harrington. With those teams leaving the running for Culpepper, the prospects of him getting a shot to be a starter this season are getting slimmer.

The Buccaneers have had Culpepper in for a visit, but I believe that is more of John Gruden’s obsession with quarterbacks than them having a legitimate job for him. I think the best bet for Culpepper will be to sit out until the end of training camp and into the regular season to see the health of other quarterbacks around the league. You never know who is going to be injured and thus an opportunity will present itself. However It is hard for me to believe that no team is willing to sign a player, who has achieve 40 combined TDs (running and passing) in a season twice to a veteran minimum contract. The fact that he is his own agent, that he may still not be recovered from his 2005 knee injury (ACL, PCL, MCL) and that he has a blog that routinely leaks information may also be reasons why teams are backing off.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Late Tuesday night, Culpepper signed a one-year contract with the Oakland Raiders.

TOMMORROW: Lloyd’s final chapter looks at breakout players, Tony Romo, and coaches in the “hot seat”.