(note: if you want to read my entire 4,500 word preview, more power to you. If you simply want to know who I’m picking to finish where, and what my playoff predictions are, click here for the sparknotes edition of this post.
Well, I’m back to trying this whole blogging thing on a regular basis. This time, it’s NFL season that has me firing off on my keyboard on a regular basis.
That, and the fact that I’m now living in a small, podunk town where I know nobody, gives me the time to fire off thousands of words about all things NFL. I’ll be writing about the NFL season, fantasy football, gambling on football and anything else I can think of.
That said, I’m starting things off with an absurdly long preview of the season. Much like I did with baseball season, the main purpose of these predictions is so I can be ‘on the record’ once the season ends and see how I did.
So without further adieu, here is my division-by-division breakdown of the 2010 NFL season, with playoff and award predictions at the end.
1. New England Patriots (11-5) – I should start things off by declaring that I hate the Patriots more than any NFL franchise not called the Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings (I’m a Packers fan). That said, this is the year the Pats can finally sneak up on everybody. Or at least sneak as much as a team like this can. Everyone is high on the Jets, the Dolphins are a trendy sleeper pick, but the Pats will get it done once again.
The biggest question about the Patriots is their defense. If we know anything about their defense, it’s that we know nothing about it. We know Tom Brady will put up numbers. We know Randy Moss and Wes Welker will be on the receiving ends of those numbers, and we know the running game will be efficient, yet fantasy kryptonite.
And while the defense is a question mark, I still think they will get it done. I’ve seen Bill Belichick and his coaching staff do it far too many times to pick against them. So when it comes down to a December game where Belichick is coaching against Rex Ryan or Tony Sparano with the division on the line, I’ll pick Belichick and the Patriots, as much as I hate them.
2. New York Jets (10-6) – I like the Jets, but I don’t like them quite as much as I like other teams. Is it possible their defense over-excelled last year? It may seem crazy, but I just don’t see that unit staying that healthy and performing at that level all year for a second straight year. Teams are going to flat-out not throw on Darelle Revis this season. The other cornerback is a rookie, and safeties Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool are suspect at best.
Couple that with Mark Sanchez’s inevitable sophomore slump, the fact that Shonn Greene has yet to prove himself, and Braylon Edwards’ drop woes, and I don’t see an offense that can do that much. Of course, the defense will still win a few games by itself, and the team will do enough to still put together a winning record, but a dominant run through the AFC just isn’t realistic.
3. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – I like what the Dolphins are starting to build, I think just they’re still a year or two away. Chad Henne is never going to be a superstar, but he’s a more than competent NFL quarterback who can lead a good team that is built around him (see: Mark Sanchez). The team got a massive upgrade with the addition of Brandon Marshall, and the duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams at running back is still solid, but receiver is still a question. Even with Marshall, the combo of Brian Hartline and Devon Bess doesn’t scare anyone, and the offensive line still has a lot of questions.
Defensively, the team is still very young. They are a competent enough unit to challenge a lot of teams. I see them being a gambling nightmare as they’ll play teams better than them very competitively. Just not competitively enough to win… yet. Give this team another year and they could be AFC East champions.
4. Buffalo Bills (1-15) – For a team is as bad of shape as the Bills, they will likely still make a ton of highlight reels because C.J. Spiller is going to be really, really good. The problem in Buffalo is that, aside from Spiller and safety Donte Whitner, there isn’t much else to be excited about. Perennial underachiever Lee Evans and something called Steve Johnson are the team’s starting wide receivers for Trent Edwards, who… I just can’t think of any other way of putting it… sucks. The defense is about as ugly as it gets. Whitner is a ball hawk and a fun, young safety, but the players who surround Whitner are jokes. Leodis McKelvin could have a future, as could Paul Posluszny, but the rest of the defense is filled with no names.
1. Baltimore Ravens (14-2) – I’ll admit, I LOVE the Ravens this year. I loved them even before the acquisition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I think Ray Rice establishes himself as one of the top three running backs in the NFL, I think the defense succeeds (even with secondary troubles), and I think Joe Flacco becomes a Pro Bowl quarterback (yes, I really believe that).
Anyone picking against the Ravens this year points to their lack of a dominant secondary. But the Ravens don’t seem concerned. There hasn’t been any rush acquisitions of multiple defensive backs or a rash signing of a past-his-prime veteran. John Harbaugh is no dummy, and methinks he’s just fine with the guys he has at those positions. The team’s front seven is no secret. Ray Lewis is still there, Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman you’ve never heard of, and Terrelle Suggs is playing for his job. This team is for real, and is going to end up running away with what is looked at as a very competitive AFC North.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – The loss of Ben Roethlisberger has been well documented, and the Steelers need to go 2-2 in his four games out to stay in contention. I think they will (wins vs. Titans, Bucs, losses to Falcons, Ravens), and will likely be fine after that. The defense isn’t all that different than the team that won a Super Bowl two years ago, and I’d argue that Mike Wallace is a better vertical option opposite Hines Ward than Santonio Holmes was.
The biggest issue with the Steelers, aside from the first four games sans Roethlisberger, is their offensive line. Roethlisberger got beat up a lot last year, and Flozell Adams isn’t exactly a world beater anymore. But, like last year, I think they’ll do just enough to stay competitive. And with Roethlisberger, Wallace, Ward and Rashad Mendenhall on offense, and a juggernaut defense, the Steelers will still be a good enough team to make a playoff run.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8) – My ranking of the Bengals isn’t exactly a testament to them not being that good, but more about how good the Ravens and Steelers will be. Cincinnati will be good, but I think they over-acheived a bit last season. There’s no way they go undefeated in the AFC North again this season, or anywhere close for that matter.
Terrell Owens and Chad OchoCinco will make for good headlines and theatrics throughout the season, but let’s be honest, Owens hasn’t been a relevant weapon in several years, and if the Bengals weren’t good with OchoCino and Houshmandzadeh, why would they be good with these two?
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13) – The Browns’ offense is laughably bad. In the offseason, there was never a questions that they would not be competitive in 2010, yet, instead of building a young quarterback, they signed aging pick king Jake Delhomme. He’s throwing to two guys named Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. The running back, Jerome Harrison, is another guy nobody’s ever heard of.
There’s a good chance the Browns will be the worst team in the league this year. While I don’t think they’ll be that bad, they won’t win any more than 3-4 games.
1. Indianapolis Colts (13-3) – There isn’t much to say about the Colts. Like every other year, they’re good at all the important positions, and competent at all the others. Peyton Manning will be Peyton Manning, he will make his receivers better than they should be, and the defense will be just good enough to get by.
What makes the Colts scary is what happens if they stay healthy. Injuries to Bob Sanders and Jeff Saturday are always a concern, but if those two stay healthy, they are incredibly important cogs that usually don’t get that much attention. Additionally, with Anthony Gonzalez back healthy, Manning may arguably have the most talent around him since Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James were in their primes.
2. Tennessee Titans (9-7) – The two middle teams in this division are among the hardest to predict. Their offense is electric with Chris Johnson and Vince Young, and Young’s two starting receivers, Justin Gage and Nate Washington, have a boatload of potential.
Where the question marks are for this team are on defense. The secondary is full of playmakers, but how much pressure can the front seven bring? That will be key to how good of a season the Titans have. I think they win a lot of games on the legs of Young and Johnson, but their defense has enough of a concern to keep them out of the playoffs.
3. Houston Texans (8-8) – Everyone continuously picks the Texans as a sleeper year. Every year is supposedly the year they finally break out and make the playoffs. And while the offense is explosive with the likes of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Co., I think the coaching staff is what holds this team back. Gary Kubiak has time and time again mis-managed the team and until he goes, this team will not get over the hump.
The defense in Houston might be the best we have seen since this franchise came into existence. Mario Williams is one of the top pass rushers in the league, but they can’t cover anyone and will still get lit up by the likes of Peyton Manning at will.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13) – Prediction: Jack Del Rio will be the first NFL coach fired this season. Del Rio had a nice couple year run with the Jags. They made the playoffs and had that memorable upset of the Steelers, but this team has continued to go downhill ever since. David Garrard has hit the ceiling as far as how good he can be and how far he can lead a team, and the team’s willingness to get rid of solid defensive players is amazing. Gone is Reggie Nelson. Gone is John Henderson. Gone is Mike Peterson. Teams are going to score a lot of points on the Jaguars and it may not be but a few more years before they leave Jacksonville altogether.
1. San Diego Chargers (14-2) – The record I have predicted for the Chargers is not a testament to how good they are going to be, but rather how poor their schedule will end up being. Sure, I have them handing losses to the Patriots and Colts, but they also get to face the bottom three teams in the West a combined six times, and the likes of Jacksonville, Seattle and Arizona.
Plus, let’s face it, the Chargers are a regular season juggernaut. But that doesn’t always translate to postseason success. The Chargers may roll through the regular season as they are accustomed to doing. They still have Philip Rivers. They still have a great offensive line and (maybe) Vincent Jackson, and they still have a dominant defense. So there’s no reason this team shouldn’t dominate a weak division and do well against the other top teams in the conference.
2. Oakland Raiders (5-11) – Yes, the Raiders will be an improved team this season. No, they will not be a playoff team. I really like the acquisition of Jason Campbell, giving the team a competent quarterback for the first time since Rich Gannon, and the defense will continue to improve upon its accomplishments from a year ago. There are a lot of good things going on in Oakland right now, something we haven’t been able to say for quite some time. But they’re still a few years away.
3. Denver Broncos (5-11) – Don’t sleep on Kyle Orton (more on him later), but the only problem is that he lacks weapons. Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd aren’t exactly ideal targets for a quarterback, and the running back situation will continue to be in flux in Denver. The defense has question marks of its own. How old are Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins? Who is going to rush the passer with Elvis Dumervil injured? It could be a long season in Denver, and Josh McDaniels will likely end up on the hot season when all is said and done.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) – The Chiefs seem to have an identity crisis. Half the time, it seems like they’re ready to completely rebuild with young talent (Glenn Dorsey, Eric Barry, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Jamaar Charles), and the other half it’s trying to rely on veteran free agents (Thomas Jones, Mike Vrabel, Ryan Lilja). I like the eye for talent that Kansas City’s front office has, but it needs to make up its mind as to what kind of team it wants to put on the field before the Chiefs will have any chance of succeeding.
1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – It pains me to pick the Cowboys because they’re such a trendy pick this year, but what’s not to love? Their defense is virtually the same as last year (very solid), they still have Tony Romo, and their offensive line probably got better. Likewise, if Marion Barber and Felix Jones stay healthy, they form a very good 1-2 punch in the running game. I think it’s been proven that neither will ever survive as a 20-25 carry/game guy, but they complement each other well.
One of the wild cards with this team is Miles Austin. Everyone is pretty much assuming he will perform as well as or better than he did last season. While that’s likely, it’s also risky. He’s young, and teams will be focusing on him more than ever this season. Hopefully, for the Cowboys sake, he can live up to that pressure and have either Dez Bryant or Roy E. Williams take some pressure off of him (along with Jason Witten, of course). Either way, I think the Cowboys are well-rounded enough to take this division.
2. Washington Redskins (11-5) – Here’s my sleeper team of the year and biggest shocker in all of my predictions. My argument for the Redskins:
Donovan McNabb has comeback, revenge streak written all over him. Let’s not forget how good this guy really is, and playing with a coach who can build quarterbacks, and with revenge against the Eagles on his mind, I think he’s going to have a season unlike we’ve ever seen from him before. McNabb’s receivers are nothing to look at, but McNabb continuously succeeded in Philadelphia with suspect receivers, a competent running game and a dominant defense. That’s the recipe he’s working with in Washington, only with a much, MUCH better coach.
Which brings me to the defense. Brian Orakpo showed flashes of brilliance his rookie season and is poised to breakout. The cornerbacks (DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rogers) have showed signs of being great in their careers, and I really think, as much as everyone hates him, that once the season starts, Albert Haynesworth will still be a force to be reckoned with.
The key to this team, though, is Mike Shanahan. He has been known to build winners and has the keys to the car in Washington. He has the veteran quarterback he needs and I think the year he took off was well needed to get him back in the competitive mindset. He can easily out-coach any team in this division and arguably any team in this conference. He’s going to re-make the Redskins and they’re going to be the surprise team in the league. They won’t be quite good enough to win the East, but they’ll come darn close and still nab a wild card spot.
3. New York Giants (8-8) – The Giants are another really tough team to pick. With the return of Osi Uminyiora, the G-Men could easily return to form this season, but a lot of things have to go right for the, and quite frankly, I don’t see it happening. The secondary is in shambles, the offensive line is aging, and I’ve never heard of most of their linebackers (except Keith Bullock, but let’s face it, he’s not the same Keith Bullock).
The Giants will be good enough to beat the bad teams they face this season, but have fallen a stop below the Redskins and Cowboys. They’ll be competitive throughout the season thanks to Eli Manning and a good running game, but not enough to make another playoff run.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9) – As sad as it is to say, this season does not shape up pretty for the Eagles, and Andy Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia may come to an end after this season. The Eagles got rid of the stalwarts at their two key positions, quarterback and running back, and we don’t know what to expect out of Kevin Kolb or LeSean McCoy for a full season. Likewise, the defense had question marks all season last year and they didn’t do much to shore it up, while their opponents (the Cowboys and Redskins, namely), got a lot better. I just think it’s time for a change in guard for the Eagles, something that changed last year when McNabb and Brian Westbrook were let go, and will continue into next season.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – HOMER ALERT: I am a Packers fan. Have been my entire life. Luckily, the Packers are a good enough team this year that it’s not completely farfetched for me to pick them to win the division this year. In fact, it’s the most likely scenario.
Everyone remembers last year’s playoff debacle against the Cardinals, as well as defense breakdowns against the Vikings and Steelers, but the fact remains that the Packers’ defense, aside from those four games, was really good last season. And with a second season under Dom Capers, there’s no reason they can’t get better. Secondary is a concern with Al Harris and Atari Bigby missing the first six weeks, but Morgan Burnett (Bigby’s replacement) is a really good prospect, and I have faith that Capers’ schemes will make up for a lack of secondary depth.
Likewise, the offensive line is improved. The Allen Barbre experiment at offensive tackle is over, and Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are both entering the season healthy. They also have more depth with the drafting of Bryan Bulaga in the first round. What this all comes down to, though, is the defense and Capers has proved he can make this unit better and better. Clay Matthews will continue to be a force of a pass rusher, and, as tough as it is to let Aaron Kampman go, they are better against the pass with Brad Jones out there.
2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5) – My pick of the Packers over the Vikings in this division has nothing to do with me being a homer. OK, maybe it does a little. But the fact of the matter is that the Packers are likely a better team this year. Everything went perfectly in Minnesota last year. Brett Favre played out of his mind, they overcame defensive lapses and all the cards just seemed to unfold in their favor.
The chances of that happening two years in a row appear slim. Unlike others, though, I don’t see the loss of Sidney Rice and migraine issues of Percy Harvin being a problem. Let’s not forget, Favre didn’t exactly have Hall of Fame receivers in Green Bay. He made his receivers better, just like he made Harvin, Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe better last season. So why can’t he do for Greg Camarillo, a healthy Bernard Berrian and others what he did for the likes of Donald Driver, Don Beebe and Andre Rison?
Favre will still have a good season. It won’t be anywhere near as good as 2009, but he and his receivers are the least of the team’s struggles. That’s why I still think they are a playoff team.
3. Chicago Bears (5-11) – Here’s where I most likely got called a homer by all my Bears fan friends. But let’s look at this logically. The Bears have virtually the exact same team as last year. The only major changes were at defensive end (Julius Peppers), offensive coordinator (addition of Mike Martz), left tackle (Chris Williams over Orlando Pace), and safety (bringing back Chris Harris). Do those changes make this team any better? Even with Peppers, the short answer is no.
The long answer is that, while Harris is an upgrade, it still doesn’t solve the fact that Charles Tillman (who’s future is as a safety) and Zack Bowman can’t cover anyone. And while Peppers improves the pass rush, who else is there? Can Tommie Harris be relied on to stay healthy? Do Mark Anderson and Isreal Idonije scare anyone?
Likewise, the offense will be a mess. Jay Cutler still has a porous offensive line and no weapons at wide receiver. Sure, Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox are prospects, but if the Bears want to win now, and Lovie Smith wants to save his job, they need to surround Cutler with weapons and give him protection. They haven’t done that.
4. Detroit Lions (4-12) – Look, I like what the Lions are doing. I really do. Ndamukong Suh is going to be the most dominant defensive tackle in football really, really quickly, and I like a number of the other under-the-radar acquisitions they have made.
But you don’t turn things around overnight, and it’s still a long process for the Lions. They’re young, but they’re headed in the right direction. Lions fans can at least be optimistic about the young nucleus they have built (Suh, Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best), but they’re likely to lose a lot of really close games this year while continuing to rebuild for the future.
1. New Orleans Saints (12-4) – The thing I love about the NFL is its unpredictability. Last year at this time, virtually nobody was picking the Saints to win the NFC South, let alone the Super Bowl. This year you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s picking them to repeat as division champions, even though it’s never happened in the history of this division.
On paper, sure, the Saints are still the best team in the NFC, and arguably the NFL. But crazy things happen, and it’s not completely far-fetched for one of the other teams in this division to go on a crazy, Saints-like run and dethrone the champs. It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. But, for the sake of me not seeming like a complete moron, I still have to have them up here. They look like the best team, and until proven otherwise, they still are the best team.
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) – The Falcons are going to surprise a lot of teams this season, and they probably shouldn’t. They won the division two years ago, finished 9-7 last year while battling a multitude of injuries, and have a good, young core of talented players. If there’s one team to challenge the Saints in this division, it’s the Falcons. Matt Ryan is a budding star, Michael Turner is healthy, and Roddy White is emerging as a top-five wid receiver.
Couple those with the fact that Mike Smith is probably the most underrated coach in the league, great at building a defense, and the Falcons will compete for a wild card spot. The Falcons look so good, in fact, that they’re likely a team to be reckoned with for years to come in the NFC.
3. Carolina Panthers (7-9) – I actually like the Panthers’ offense this season. The two-headed monster at running back is still a beast, and I actually like Matt Moore at quarterback more than Jake Delhomme. I think his efficient ability to not turn the ball over will turn some heads, and the offensive line is good enough to protect him. That said, the defense is a joke. I’ve not heard of one of their defensive linemen and they really have nothing that looks good at any position. So while Moore will be impressive in his first season as the full-time starter, it will still be a long season for Carolina and it will possibly be John Fox’s last stand.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) – I actually like Josh Freeman as a quarterback. I saw him torch my Packers in his first career start last season and he reminded me of a young Daunte Culpepper. Unfortunately for Freeman, the rest of the Bucs are a mess. He has no receivers to throw the ball to, an injury-prone running back and a defense full of nobody. He also has a lame duck coach who never had a chance to succeed to begin with. Yup, it’ll be a long season in Tampa.
1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) – I’m very high on the Niners this season. Well, about as high as you can get about a team in this putrid division. I really like what Mike Singletary is doing (next Bears coach?), and Patrick Willis is going to emerge as the best defensive player in the NFL this season. They will go through growing pains. Alex Smith is still just Alex Smith, and Frank Gore needs to stay healthy, but this team has the potential to go a long way, and winning a very winnable division is a big step in the right direction. Like the Falcons, I see a lot of good things out of this team in the future (if Singletary stays).
2. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
3. St. Louis Rams (4-12)
4. Seattle Seahawks (3-13)
I’m lumping these three teams together because, quite frankly, they don’t deserve their own paragraph. Yes, I think the Cardinals are going to get that much worse. Yes, I think the Seahawks are worse than the Rams. No, that’s not a compliment to the Rams. None of these three teams will be football relevant at any time this season, and I curse the fact that I live close enough to St. Louis that I get Rams games regionally. Blargh.
1. Saints (12-4)
2. Packers (12-4)
3. Cowboys (12-4)
4. 49ers (10-6)
5. Vikings (11-5) – wild card
6. Redskins (11-5) – wild card
1. Ravens (14-2)
2. Chargers (14-2)
3. Colts (13-3)
4. Patriots (11-5)
5. Steelers (11-5) – wild card
6. Jets (10-6) – wild card
Wild Card Round
NFC: Cowboys over Redskins; 49ers over Vikings.
AFC: Colts over Jets; Patriots over Steelers.
NFC: Saints over Cowboys; Packers over 49ers.
AFC: Colts over Chargers; Ravens over Patriots.
AFC Championship: Ravens over Colts
NFC Championship: Saints over Packers
Super Bowl XLV: Ravens over Saints
MVP: Peyton Manning. Runners up: Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ray Rice, Donovan McNabb.
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis.
Coach of the Year: Mike Shanahan.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: C.J. Spiller.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamakong Suh.