Rick Zamperin: The NFL’s juiciest storylines of 2019 are in the AFC

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady winds up for a pass during training camp in Foxborough, Mass. AP Photo/Steven Senne

NFL training camps open this week and this year — more so than any other year in recent memory, it seems — there are some huge storylines going into the 2019 season.

Truth be told, most teams have already had their rookies report to camp and the Atlanta Falcons opened their full camp on Saturday.

By this Friday, every team will be on the field as they prepare to battle for the National Football League’s ultimate prize, the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LIV (54) on Feb. 2, 2020 in Miami.

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Like a broken record, one of the top storylines is whether or not the New England Patriots still have what it takes to win another championship. The Pats, led by head coach Bill Belichick and star QB Tom Brady, have won six titles since their first NFL crown in 2002. But now that tight end Rob Gronkowski, 30, has retired after nine seasons with New England, some are doubting the defending champions will be able to continue their dominance.

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Still with the AFC, which has more juicier storylines than the NFC, the Cleveland Browns are in the conversation — for the first time in a very long time — to not only make the playoffs, but challenge for a title. Much of the optimism comes with the addition of star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. joining quarterback Backer Mayfield, receiver Jarvis Landry and running back Nick Chubb. But is rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens capable to pushing all the right buttons?

Two longtime stars of the Pittsburgh Steelers, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, are with new clubs. Brown is now an Oakland Raider and Bell is a New York Jet. The Steelers don’t face the silver and black this season, but they do visit the Jets in Week 16. It will be interesting to see which team — Pittsburgh, Oakland, or the Jets — finishes the season with the better record. I’m betting on the Steelers.

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Over in the NFC, the top three stories entering camp all reside in the NFC West. How will No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray fare in his first NFL season? New head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offence will be fast-paced, but too many quick three-and-outs will hurt their defence.

The San Francisco 49ers get franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo back from his ACL injury but will he be able to just pick up where he left off his promising career? The Niners reside in a rough and tough division and will be hard pressed to find a wild card playoff spot.

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Lastly, is Todd Gurley healthy? Fantasy football fans are certainly clamouring for any news about the L.A. Rams running back’s knee injury that limited his production in last year’s playoffs. Even if Gurley misses some games in 2019, the Rams will remain one of the favourites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

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