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Hank Stern: Teams to Support this Football Season

Thursday, September 10, 2015

 

With Portland lacking an NFL franchise – and supporting the Seahawks not a serious option – our fair city faces its annual dilemma of which team to support as the league kicks off this week.

Sure, the NFL packs plenty of story lines for even the casual fan to latch onto – whether that’s Tom Brady now clear to play Opening Night for New England, Johnny Manziel or Robert Griffin III having any kind of serious pro future, and many other sagas worth tracking. 

But thanks to the Portland Tribune’s Kerry Eggers for compiling a list of local players on NFL rosters, unaffiliated pro football fans in Portland have another tracking tool for the 2015 season.

Borrowing a conceit we used last spring when the Trail Blazers’ ignominious first-round exit from the playoffs forced Portlanders to suss out a formula for which team to root for in the rest of the NBA playoffs, let’s use the NFL roster list to figure out which NFL team to follow most closely this season.

If you’re a Ducks fan …

There are five teams to consider: Miami, New England, Tennessee, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The Dolphins have three former Ducks -- running back LaMike James (whose most newsworthy development since San Francisco burned a second-round pick on him in 2012 was his recent decision to go by LaMike instead of LaMichael), linebacker Spencer Paysinger and defensive end Dion Jordan (whose most newsworthy development since Miami wasted a first-round pick on him in 2013 was his recent yearlong suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

The Bears also have three ex-Ducks – center Hroniss Grasu, guard Kyle Long and cornerback Terrance Mitchell.

The Patriots have two ex-Ducks making contributions as NFL veterans – running back LaGarrette Blount and safety Patrick Chung.

The Titans of course have Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota starting as a rookie at quarterback.

And then there are Chip Kelly’s Eagles employing six of his former Oregon players – linebacker Kiko Alonso, defensive ends Brandon Bair and Taylor Hart, running back Kenjon Barner, wide receiver Josh Huff, and cornerback Walter Thurmond.

This choice comes down to numbers (Philadelphia) versus profile (Tennessee). There’s certainly no shame in cheering for the Titans this season in hopes Mariota can succeed in the pros unlike so many of his predecessors at quarterback for Oregon over the past two decades. 

But it’s hard to argue with ex-Ducks accounting for 11 percent of one NFL team’s roster especially one coached by Kelly, who if he fails in Philadelphia could be every Ducks fan’s nightmare and return to college football, heaven forbid at USC.

So wish Kelly success in the pros and go Eagles.

If you’re a Beavers fan …

There are four teams to consider: Kansas City, St. Louis, Carolina and New Orleans.

The Chiefs have two former Beavers – linebacker D.J. Alexander and cornerback Steven Nelson. So do the Rams – punter Johnny Hekker and rookie quarterback Sean Mannion.

The Panthers have three ex-Beavers – veteran quarterback Derek Anderson, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, and offensive tackle Mike Remmers. So do the Saints – cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Keenan Lewis as well as wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

All but the Rams among these four choices for Beavers fans have former Ducks on the roster as well, making it hard to recommend the Chiefs, Panthers and Saints as teams for OSU fans to support. Stick with St. Louis and Mannion, a (very) poor man’s Marcus Mariota.

If you’re a Vikings fan … first of all, congratulations on persevering long enough to be rewarded with Portland State knocking off a Pac-12 opponent last weekend for the first time. WSU stinks but with an interim coach in Bruce Barnum at PSU, any upset is worth celebrating.

But back to the NFL season. Just two choices here:  Jacksonville with now-wealthy ex-PSU tight end Julius Thomas or Seattle with former Vikings safety DeShawn Snead.

Go with the Jaguars and the highest-profile former Viking in the NFL since Neil Lomax.

If you’re a fan of former high school football stars in Oregon …

The choice here is San Diego, which features two players in this category: quarterback Kellen Clemens (University of Oregon) from Burns and wide receiver Tyrell Williams (Western Oregon) from Salem.

Bonus points by the way for anybody who ever forecast Clemens would enjoy a longer pro career than Joey Harrington, another former Ducks quarterback who came from the state (Central Catholic).

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.

 

Related Slideshow: 20 Things To Watch For In Sports This Fall

Here are GoLocalPDX's 20 things to watch for in sports this Fall.

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How will the Ducks fair without Mariota?

The Ducks have been extremely fortunate to have had one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football leading their offense over the past few seasons. But with him now in the NFL there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period. Can the Ducks overcome losing the reigning Heisman trophy winner? Only time will tell.

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Will the Beavers finally be able to step out of the Ducks’ shadow?

Over the past few seasons the Beavers have been commonly referred to as the Oregon Ducks’ “little brother.” It’s been close to 8 years since the Beavers last defeated Oregon in the Civil War, and it’s been even longer since they’ve had the type of success the Ducks have recently experienced. Although this year’s Civil War will be played in Eugene there’s still a chance that they could pull off an upset over the Ducks.

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Will the Ducks’ receiving core live up to expectations?

This year’s receiving core is deep, fast and tall. There’s no doubt that the Duck’s receivers could give almost any team’s secondary headaches if they can put it all together on the field. If Devon Allen and Bralon Addison come back healthy, and Darren Carrington decides to stop smoking marijuana before big games, the sky’s the limit for the Ducks’ offense. 

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Who will take more snaps between Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams?

One of Oregon’s most prized offseason acquisitions is Vernon Adams Jr. Although he hasn’t been around the team as much as Jeff Lockie has it’s still possible that he wins the starting quarterback position. Both quarterbacks have pros and cons when it comes to starting. The only difference is that Oregon’s coaching staff knows what Lockie’s pros and cons are while they have almost no idea what Adams’ are. We’ll have to trust Mark Helfrich when it comes to who starts on September 5th. 

Photo via Vernon Adams Facebook page (image cropped)

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Who will take the scoring load with Joseph Young now in the NBA?

Joseph Young was an offensive force last season for the Ducks’ basketball team. He not only led the team in scoring, he also won the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. He had a tendency to come up with big plays just when his team needed them the most. With him now in the NBA the team desperately needs someone to step up and take over where Young left off. 

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Will Russell Wilson and the Seahawks agree to a new contract before the start of the regular season?

One of the Seahawks’ biggest question marks is whether or not they will be able to agree on a new contract with Russell Wilson. Wilson has led the team to 2 Super Bowl appearances and apparently wants to be one of the highest paid players in the NFL. The only issue is that the Seahawks don’t want to fork up that kind of cash. If this remains unsettled heading into the regular season it could provide plenty of distractions for the team.

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Can the Seahawks move past their Super Bowl blunder?

Obviously the Seahawks’ last play of the Super Bowl didn’t turn out the way that they would’ve liked. The bigger issue is the fact that losing a game of that magnitude can have lingering affects on a team. Will the Seahawks let that loss affect them this season, or will they use it as motivation moving forward?

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How will Jimmy Graham fit in with the Seahawks’ offense?

One of the Seahawks’ biggest offseason acquisitions was Jimmy Graham. Seattle brought in the former Saint to help Russell Wilson and the rest of the receiving corps this upcoming season. It’s no secret that the receiving core was one of the team’s weaknesses last year, so hopefully the addition of Graham will help the team make it back to the Super Bowl. 

Photo via Jimmy Graham Twitter page (image cropped)

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Will Marshawn Lynch begin slowing down?

Running backs have a tendency to break down rather quickly in the NFL. It’s rare that you see a running back continuing to be effective well into their 30’s. With Lynch recently signing a new contract Seattle must believe that he can be effective for the next 2-3 years. By the time his contract expires he will be 32. 

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Will Damian Lillard be able to lead a young Blazer team?

This was one of the most stressful off-seasons that the Blazers have endured in quite some time. After not knowing LaMarcus Aldridge’s intentions for the past few years he finally made the decision to leave Portland and join the Spurs in San Antonio. With Aldridge officially gone it’s now up to Damian Lillard to lead this young team.

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Who will Damian Lillard’s sidekick be?

With Damian Lillard being the lone starter who has seen playoff action he will desperately need someone else to step up. Will it be C.J. McCollum? Meyers Leonard? Or maybe one of the newcomers? If this team wants to experience any type of success this season they need a sidekick for Lillard.

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Will the Blazers be able to move past LaMarcus Aldridge?

Whenever a team loses one of the best players in all the NBA there’s no doubt that there’s going to be an adjustment period. Instead of the off having the offense flow through LaMarcus Aldridge it will now run through Damian Lillard. This won’t only be an adjustment that the players will have to grow accustomed to, but also the coaching staff. 

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Can Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum continue improving?

If there’s one bright spot for the Blazers’ last postseason it’s that Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum showed drastic improvements. Leonard was an efficient 3-point shooter who could draw defenses out on him, while McCollum showed the ability to score the ball at will. Hopefully these 2 guys can continue improving this upcoming season. 

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Will Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath be able to lead the Thorns to the playoffs?

Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath are coming off of a World Cup victory. After going head-to-head with some of the best teams in the world there’s no question that Morgan and Heath have learned some invaluable lessons that they can share with the rest of the Thorns. It’s fairly uncommon for any club team to have 2 athletes who started on a World Cup team. Hopefully they can use that to their advantage as Portland continues with their season. 

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Can the Timbers fix their scoring woes?

After starting off the season in a rather sluggish manner the Timbers went on one of the longest winning streaks in franchise history. They currently stand as one of the best teams in the Western Conference even though they’ve had issues when it comes to scoring. If the Timbers have any hopes of advancing into the postseason they need to figure out how to score the ball more frequently. 

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Will Joseph Young be able to contribute to the Pacers this season?

Joseph Young has the potential to be one of the most successful Ducks in the NBA. He experienced plenty of success in college that made him the 43rd overall selection by the Indiana Pacers during this year’s NBA Draft. The first obstacle that Young must overcome is simply making the roster. Young had an outstanding Summer League that helped increase his chances of playing for Indiana during the 2015-2016 season.

Photo via Joseph Young Twitter page (image cropped)

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Will Gary Payton II follow in his father’s footsteps?     

It’s almost a guarantee that Gary Payton II has his eyes on the NBA. After all, how could you not when your father was one of the most iconic players to have played for the Seattle Supersonics? If he truly wants to make his dream a reality he has to prove to NBA teams that he has what it takes. 

Photo via Gary Payton Twitter page (image cropped)

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Will Royce Freeman emerge as a Heisman candidate?

The University of Oregon has been blessed with numerous football players that have turned out to be Heisman candidates. Dennis Dixon, LaMichael James and Marcus Mariota have all been nominated for college football’s most prestigious award. There have already been some rumblings that Royce Freeman could be the next Duck to be up for the Heisman. He had a breakout season as a true freshman. If he continues to dominate there’s no doubt the sky’s the limit for the true sophomore. 

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Can Marcus Mariota lead the Titans franchise?

Marcus Mariota is one of the most successful quarterbacks to have come through the University of Oregon. With him now in the NFL many are curious as to whether or not he can come in and contribute right away. The Tennessee Titans are in need of a franchise player, and Mariota could very well be that guy. We wont know for sure until this upcoming season. 

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Will Chip Kelly’s offseason moves pay off?

Chip Kelly made a plethora of off-season moves that have many analysts scratching their heads. He traded away one of the most effective running backs in the NFL as well as his starting quarterback. What he got in return were two players who are both coming off of ACL injuries. If Kelly has a plan it better work out soon otherwise he could quickly find himself unemployed. 

 
 

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