The only thing that scares me about the Cowboys this year: the Cowboys themselves. There is drama, a soap opera atmosphere, at every turn. My guy Tony Romo appears in US Weekly more than Sports Illustrated. While it is idiotic that his focus is ever questioned (he is one of the most diligent workers in the league), Romo has to deal with ridiculous questions about Jessica Simpson when he plays poorly.
Terrell Owens is a great player. He can also bring negative attention to the Cowboys with one wrong answer or press conference.
Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson are both an off-the-field issue away from never playing again.
But hey, Jerry Jones loves the spotlight.
And fair or unfair, with the contract that Jason Garrett received in the offseason, Wade Phillips is under an incredible amount of pressure in a potential Super Bowl or bust season.
2. Health of Indy stars
Peyton Manning returns to practice this week, but he needs to stay healthy for an entire season, and postseason, after coming off knee surgery. In talking to Bill Polian last week, he said it would be totally up to Manning whether or not the star quarterback plays on opening night. His long-term health is paramount.
Marvin Harrison looks like Marvin Harrison this preseason, but he's been oft-injured, is coming off surgery and has had to deal with off-the-field distractions.
Bob Sanders' health is a concern because of his style. The human missile throws his body around with such force. When you are coming off shoulder surgery and you play like Sanders, you wonder if this type of injury could linger.
Dwight Freeney had surgery on his left foot. Speed is the key to the defensive end's game.
3. Jaguars' receivers
Color me very skeptical on the Jags' passing attack.
Jerry Porter was signed to take over as the No. 1 receiver, but hamstring surgery has curbed the enthusiasm. He isn't back at practice, and being ready for the season opener at Tennessee seems highly unlikely.
Troy Williamson has had a great camp, but he couldn't catch a cold in Minnesota.
Reggie Williams is coming back from knee surgery.
Matt Jones was caught using cocaine in the offseason and has been unable to catch the ball consistently throughout his NFL career he's simply been a bust.
I have no confidence in this group whatsoever.
4. Steelers' special teams
After the 2007 season, Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert told me that this was the No. 1 area that needed fixing. Pittsburgh was horrible on every level. If you are a Steelers fan, you can conjure up fresh nightmares from last year, starting with Joshua Cribbs dancing down the field. The coverage units must improve. The Steelers were dealt a blow when punter Dan Sepulveda was lost for the season. He had a great rookie season in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are hopeful Mewelde Moore can improve the return game.
5. Phillip Rivers' development
Forget about Shawne Merriman's injury. The biggest key to the Chargers making a run to the Super Bowl is Rivers becoming a great player. Rivers' numbers were solid last year, with 21 touchdowns, 15 picks, 3,152 yards and a 60-percent completion percentage. He can play much better. He has to in order for the Chargers' offense to completely become balanced and explosive. It's time for Rivers to be a star. A full season with Chris Chambers should make a difference. But Rivers needs to stop jawing with the opposition, stay levelheaded and most especially, stay healthy, which he wasn't at the end of last year or this offseason.
6. Tarvaris Jackson's consistency
Jackson's 2007 season was akin to a rollercoaster ride. He was efficient and a winner from Week 11-14, beating the Super Bowl Champion Giants, Lions, Niners and Raiders. But in two nationally-televised games against the Bears and Redskins when Minnesota needed wins to make the playoffs, Jackson was wretched. The pieces are in place for a Minnesota run to the postseason, including the signing of receiver Bernard Berrian to help the young quarterback. Jackson's consistency will determine if the Vikes go, and how far this dominant defense and running attack can go in the playoffs.
7. Aaron Rodgers' mindset
I don't worry about Rodgers' play. He's a good player. He has a very good supporting cast. Rodgers' head coach is a quarterback guru.
I am concerned about the ultimate comparisons to Brett Favre. I am concerned about the fans getting to him and not giving him a chance.
I think he can block it all out. I truly believe that. But it can be a spoiler for the Packers.