Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 2010 Game by Game Predictions

Here's my game by game look at the Bucs' 2010 schedule. I projected a 3-13 finish last year, so Raheem had better hope I’m not right for the second season in a row.

1 – vs. Cleveland Browns
Having this game at home gives the Bucs a nice chance to start the year 1-0, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy. Jake Delhomme is one of the worst starting QBs in the league, but he’s 5-1 at Ray Jay. I see Cleveland’s OL handling our defensive front, especially on the outside. Expect to see Jerome Harrison attack the edges with the run and for Delhomme to work the short areas in the passing game. Missing Aqib Talib in this one won’t help the Bucs. Expect Cleveland to take a few shots deep against EJ Biggers. Is Josh Freeman healthy? Will we be able to block their 3-4 in order to open up lanes for Cadillac? The Browns will be without ILB D’Qwell Jackson, but I’m nervous about Freeman matching up with this secondary. Look for CB Eric Wright and FS TJ Ward to be difference makers for the Browns. If the Bucs OL can fend off an unimpressive Cleveland pass rush, Freeman might have enough time to consistently find Mike Williams, Kellen Winslow, and Sammie Stroughter. I hope I’m wrong, but I see the Bucs lose a low scoring contest at home to open the season.

2 - @ Carolina Panthers
From Jake Delhomme’s current team to his former one. Matt Moore answered the bell at the end of last season, but the Panthers sputtered through the entire preseason without an offensive TD. They travel to New York to face the Giants in week one, so this will be their home opener. A standout effort against Cleveland might change my opinion, but I don’t like the prospective matchup against DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The duo combined for 382 yards and 4 TDs in their two matchups last year, and that’s with Williams sitting out the second contest. Steve Smith is still a factor on offense, and Jon Beason and an underrated secondary should give Freeman and the Bucs’ offense trouble. The Panthers win their home opener.

3 – vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Good news for the Bucs is that Ben Roethlisberger will be serving the third of his four game suspension during this matchup. The bad news is that the rest of the Steelers will be showing up. Expect Mike Wallace’s big play ability to be a factor in this one and for Rashard Mendenhall to wear down the Bucs defense. When Tampa Bay has the ball will they be able to move it against that defense, especially those dangerous linebackers? Freeman should have success working their weak corners, so look for the pass to be featured heavily for the Bucs in this one. In the end, I think the Bucs are still winless after this matchup.

4 – BYE
A disappointing 0-3 start with losses to three teams not expected to make the playoffs could turn up the heat on Raheem Morris early. I don’t foresee the Glazers making an in-season change, at least this soon, but I’m sure being winless heading into the bye would get the whispers going.

5 - @ Cincinnati Bengals
Barring a huge upset, the Bucs aren’t going to win this game on the road. I expect Carson Palmer and company to win their division, so losing to the Bucs isn’t in their plans. Freeman should struggle quite a bit against the solid tandem of Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph at corner. 0-4 isn’t pretty, and look who they get the next week.

6 – vs. New Orleans Saints
That’s right, the defending Super Bowl champs. Sure the Bucs are 4-2 against the Saints over the last three seasons, but I don’t see Drew Brees and company losing this one.

7 – vs. St. Louis Rams
Here’s where I see the Bucs’ best chance to win a game since the matchup vs. Cleveland. Sam Bradford should have a bit of NFL experience under his belt, and I like the potential of his young receivers. Steven Jackson shouldn’t be too terribly banged up at this point, and, if healthy, he’s an obvious factor. The Rams host San Diego the week prior to this contest, so hopefully that will work in the Bucs favor. I’m calling for the Bucs to be 1-5 after this contest.

8 - @ Arizona Cardinals
We haven’t been historically prosperous travelers, and despite the QB mess that’s evolved since Kurt Warner’s retirement, I don’t like the Bucs’ chances in this one. Arizona will be coming off a trip to Seattle, so they should be on some sort of win streak coming home to face Tampa. I don’t think Arizona wins their division, but they win this game. That said, if the Bucs were to pull off a road upset, this might be the one that sets up best for that to happen. Still, I’ve got it as a loss.

9 - @ Atlanta Falcons
I’m expecting big things from this Falcons team in ’10, so no, I’m not picking the Bucs to pull off the upset. Michael Turner has quite a game, and the Bucs are off to a 1-7 start.

10 – vs. Carolina Panthers
Here’s the one home game sandwiched between four tough road contests. If Raheem has any hope of coaching this team next season, he has to win this game. I’m predicting they will, but a 2-7 start may have sealed his fate.

11 - @ San Francisco 49ers
No, not happening. Patrick Willis and the 49ers defense should be in fine form at this point which won’t be good news for Freeman and company.

12 - @ Baltimore Ravens
Here’s another likely playoff bound team that should be clicking on all cylinders in this one. Are the Bucs going to go west to east and win at Baltimore against Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, and Haloti Ngata? Unlikely. Bucs slide to 2-9.

13 – vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons will be coming off what is sure to be a tough home matchup against the Packers. If the Bucs can catch Atlanta a little stunned, maybe they can pull off the home upset. I’m not holding my breath. The Bucs fall to 2-10.

14 - @ Washington Redskins
The Bucs were 2-6 on the road last year, and I don’t have them winning one yet through six chances this year. The Redskins could be primed for a loss at this point, especially if Joey Galloway is still a starter. The Bucs win!

15 – vs. Detroit Lions
Here’s a team I’m going to enjoy watching this season. I’m huge fan of both Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson, and I believe Matthew Stafford will make positive strides this season. This one should set up to be a really nice matchup, but unfortunately, I have the Bucs losing it and slipping to 3-11.

16 – vs. Seattle Seahawks
I think Seattle is going to be a bad team and one that the Bucs should beat at home. Who knows what the injury situation will be at this point, but in early September, this one smells like a victory for the good guys.

17 - @ New Orleans Saints
I’m expecting this game to matter to the Saints, so I don’t see us winning at their house late in the season for a second year in a row. The Bucs close out a disappointing season with another road loss.

The Bucs end up 4-12, or a one game improvement from last season. They go 1-7 on the road and 3-5 at home. This should not be enough to save Raheem Morris’ job, and unless the Glazers are just going to literally spit in the faces of Bucs fans, it won’t.

Expect the Bucs to draft in the top 5 again, this time in the company of Buffalo, Jacksonville, St. Louis, and Seattle. Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) and Robert Quinn (UNC) are two elite DE talents who are my primary targets/candidates for the Bucs’ first selection.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010 NFL Playoff Predictions

1) Indianapolis Colts
2) San Diego Chargers
3) Cincinnati Bengals
4) New England Patriots
5) Baltimore Ravens (wild card)
6) Houston Texans (wild card)

1) Green Bay Packers
2) Dallas Cowboys
3) Atlanta Falcons
4) San Francisco 49ers
5) New Orleans Saints (wild card)
6) Minnesota Vikings (wild card)

Wild Card Round
Texans @ Bengals – Bengals
Ravens @ Patriots – Ravens

Saints @ 49ers – Saints
Vikings @ Falcons – Falcons

Divisional Championship Round
Ravens @ Colts – Colts
Bengals @ Chargers – Bengals

Saints @ Packers – Packers
Falcons @ Cowboys – Falcons

Conference Championships
Bengals @ Colts – Colts

Falcons @ Packers – Packers

Super Bowl XLV
Packers beat Colts 34-24
(MVP - Aaron Rodgers)

2010 NFL Award Predictions

Here are my predictions for the end of season awards:

NFL Most Valuable Player
Aaron Rodgers (QB, Packers)

NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Ray Rice (RB, Ravens)

NFL Defensive Player of the Year
Patrick Willis (ILB, 49ers)

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Jahvid Best (RB, Lions)

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Rolando McClain (MLB, Raiders)

NFL Coach of the Year
Gary Kubiak (Texans)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010 NFL Predictions - NFC South

A 13-0 start catapulted the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victor for the first time in franchise history. I think we’re to a point where it’s being overplayed now, but the championship won by Drew Brees and company really was a victory for the struggling city of New Orleans. Sure, they’re a division rival, but it was nice to see a good thing happen to a city and franchise who have suffered as much as they have. The Falcons finished second, but they had already lost 7 games before the Saints lost their first. Matt Ryan was a little banged up and didn’t develop as anticipated. It doesn’t seem right that a team with Steve Smith would finish near the bottom of the league in passing. Jake Delhomme’s struggles were a big reason Carolina finished third after winning the division in ’08. Most expected Tampa Bay to finish fourth, and the team didn’t disappoint. A near-miraculous victory against the Packers in week 9 is all that kept the Bucs from getting off to an 0-12 start. A high draft pick was about all the good they could take from last season.

Predicted order of finish

1) Atlanta Falcons
Call me crazy, but I’m buying into that “no repeat champ in the NFC South” voodoo. If history holds true, there will only be one playoff team that emerges from the division. I realize there’s more logic pointing towards the Saints breaking the curse than the Falcons winning the division, but I’ve really got an Atlanta vibe this season. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m expecting a big year from Matt Ryan. Tony Gonzalez looks more like 24 than 34, and Roddy White is the game’s best receiver that no one talks about. I also think Michael Turner has a big bounce back season. It’s a recipe for success. MLB Curtis Lofton is an emerging star who should take his game to another level this year. Brent Grimes and Chris Houston were a really poor starting duo and the big reason the Falcons finished near the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed per game. Enter Dunta Robinson. I think he was a huge, necessary addition that should make a significant difference for the good.

Reasons for optimism –
-Ryan and Turner are fully healthy this preseason
-Up tempo rookie Sean Weatherspoon joining Lofton at LB
-They didn’t win the division last year

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-The OL resembles the ’09 version more than the ’08 one
-An unimproved pass rush ranks near the league’s worse again
-An uninspiring secondary aside from Robinson fails to improve

2) New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees was already among the game’s elite passers, but earning the trophy cements his legacy. The league’s best offense returns every key player from last season. This includes Pierre Thomas, a guy I expect to help the New Orleans run game get a little more recognition this season. Thomas rushed for nearly 800 yards last season in a split role, but I believe that number increases significantly this year. I think he can handle a true lead back role and is an underrated receiving option. Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, and a healthy Lance Moore return at WR. The defense, even with Greg Williams calling the shots, didn’t resemble a Super Bowl winning unit for the majority of the season. They did however turn it on when it counted, more than handling their own against the potent offenses led by Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and Kurt Warner on their way to the title. Darren Sharper and his 9 INTs were one of the few bright spots. He’s sporting a knee injury this preseason which is opening the door for Malcolm Jenkins at FS. They believe they’ve improved a bit at corner and will shift the versatile Jenkins to the back of the defense

Reasons for optimism –
-The offense returns intact, and dare I say, slightly improved
-Emerging Malcolm Jenkins getting a chance to be a playmaker at safety
-A soft middle portion of the schedule (CAR, @ARI, @TB, CLE, PIT, @CAR, SEA) to help them ease into their late season bye (week 10)

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-MLB Jonathan Vilma is heading into the season with a groin injury
-The lack of attention paid to upgrading the NT position
-They won the division last year

3) Carolina Panthers
Nothing personal against Jake Delhomme, but he had to go. The veteran QB was never one of the game’s finest talents, but he was usually a pretty competent game manager. Last year was anything but well-managed, as the Panthers were 4-7 in his starts, and Delhomme put up the worst numbers of his career as a starter. In his place is the relatively unknown Matt Moore, the backup who won as many games as did Delhomme in six less attempts. The Panthers love the way he manages the offense and minimizes mistakes. That sounds a lot like a young Delhomme. I still think this is Jimmy Clausen’s job eventually. The bread and butter for this Panthers offense was and will again be the running duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Their efforts helped the Panthers finish third in the league in rushing for the second straight season. Steve Smith is still a dangerous receiver, but will he and Moore be on the same page? Even the most optimistic Panther fans have to be a little worried that the first string offense failed to score a TD this preseason. Carolina enters the year already hurting on defense with WLB Thomas Davis out for the year with a torn ACL sustained in June. Fortunately Jon Beason is still one of the game’s best linebackers, and Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall are a formidable couple of corners.

Reasons for optimism –
-Assuming, Jeff Otah’s knee injury is minor, all the key pieces to a strong OL return
-Jon Beason should be freed up to make more splash plays at WLB
-A young, formidable secondary

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Matt Moore’s 4-1 finish to ’09 was a fraud
-Defensive losses in Julius Peppers, Damione Lewis, and Ma’ake Kemoeatu (and now Davis) are too much to make up for
-Neither Brandon LaFell nor Dwayne Jarrett develops as a reliable #2 receiver

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I really don’t have anything nice to say about the 3-13 ’09 Bucs, so let’s move on shall we. Josh Freeman returns for his second season as a pro, and while I’m still not ga ga for GHB, I have been impressed with the visible growth he’s made in confidence/composure. I need to see him elevate the talent around him and be the reason we win football games. He was saddled with a broken thumb against the Chiefs this preseason and will likely be at less than full strength to open the season. One player who seems at full strength and then some is rookie WR Mike Williams. The controversial character from Syracuse has been far and away the best talent at the position this preseason. Williams is joined by fellow draft pick and last year’s seventh round find Sammie Stroughter to give Tampa its best WR situation in recent memory. This is without considering Kellen Winslow, the team’s leading receiver from last season. Cadillac Williams returns as the team’s top runner, and he’s more heart than health at this point. He’s not going to lead the league in rushing attempts or yards, and it’s hard to be that encouraged about an offense whose leading rusher had just one single 100 yard game from the previous year. Kareem Huggins was a preseason darling for the second year in a row, and thanks to Derrick Ward’s deserving release, he’s now the #2 back on the depth chart. Donald Penn got paid this preseason, but early returns haven’t been exactly worth the big bucks. Davin Joseph is still the best of this group, and although he catches a lot of ire from fans, the Bucs could do a lot worse than Jeremy Trueblood at RT. Keydrick Vincent was picked up from Carolina, and he won the starting LG job over last year’s starter Jeremy Zuttah. Center Jeff Faine returns as the leader of this unit, a group that, due to a depth deficiency, must stay healthy if the Bucs are going to compete at all. On defense, the biggest additions (figuratively and literally) were defensive tackle draftees Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. They’ll join second year noseman Roy Miller as an impressive rotation of youth, speed, and strength. I’m very skeptical of the DE situation. Despite the fancy name, Stylez G. White has never struck me as “the guy” from a pass rushing standpoint. This preseason hasn’t helped at all. Kyle Moore was flat out given the starting job at LDE, and Tim Crowder has been nearly as invisible thus far. Second year end Michael Bennett has been the best of the bunch by far. Hopefully he gets some meaningful looks this year. At LB, Barrett Ruud isn’t happy about his contract situation, but in my opinion, the ball is in his court. He’s still a fine coverage LB, capable of making the deep drops necessary to successfully run this defense. With the upgrades at DT and growth anticipated from WLB Geno Hayes and SLB Quincy Black, the ball should be in Ruud’s court at the end of the year when it comes time to negotiate. I believe he needs to be a more physical player, play with more fire, and get off more blocks. I’m tired of downfield tackling. If the ends don’t get better in a hurry at rushing the passer in, expect to see a lot of blitzing from this bunch. In the secondary, as long as Aqib Talib is done beating cab drivers, he’ll continue his progression as not only one of the conference’s better corners but as one of it’s better overall playmakers. Ronde Barber returns for what just might be his final season. He did much better than I anticipated last year, but adding depth (or an eventual replacement) in Myron Lewis in April’s draft was a wise move. EJ Biggers looks to take over the nickel role in his second year, and I liked what I saw from him this preseason. Tanard Jackson is in the same boat as Talib; emerging young talent and off-field troubles. He’s one of the best lesser known free safeties, and the Bucs hope they made an upgrade going with Sean Jones at SS. Corey Lynch did as good of a job earning a roster spot as any Buccaneer this preseason. He rightfully stuck and joins rookie Cody Grimm and former starting SS Sabby Piscitelli as depth. Piscitelli’s mental mistakes will drive you nuts, but again, I think it’s a wise move to hang onto the talented young defender, especially now that he’s pissed. Let’s see what he can do in a different mindset.

Reasons for optimism –
-Josh Freeman’s observed/reported growth as a leader
-Some actual talent at WR including a possible legit #1
-McCoy and Price give the Bucs their best DT situation since the Sapp and Culpepper days

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-If the OL is as stagnant during the regular season as they looked during the preseason
-Zero pressure is provided by the defensive ends
-Ruud looks more like a supporting player than a force teams have to scheme for

Conference Awards
MVP (best talent in biggest role) – Matt Ryan (QB, Falcons)
Offensive POY (most impressive season) – Drew Brees (QB, Saints)
Defensive POY – Jon Beason (WLB, Panthers)
Offensive ROY – Mike Williams (WR, Bucs)
Defensive ROY – Gerald McCoy (DT, Bucs)
Offensive Breakout Player – Pierre Thomas (RB, Saints)
Defensive Breakout Player – Malcolm Jenkins (FS, Saints)

2010 NFL Predictions - NFC West

Arizona took control of the division for good last year after a week 7 win at the Giants, but they finished the season in the wrong place at the wrong time in a lopsided loss in their divisional round matchup at New Orleans. It was a rather unceremonious exit for longtime “really good, not great” QB Kurt Warner who retired at the end of the season. He was terrific in his last three years as the starting QB for the Cardinals with 11,752 yards passing, 83 TD, and 45 INT. Arizona has the look of a much different team this year, but more on that later. San Francisco was thought of as a possible Cinderella team last season, but they were a disappointingly unthreatening 8-8. Seattle limped through a 5-11 season before sending Jim Mora Jr. packing, and St. Louis was in a world of it’s own with their 1-15 campaign. Funny enough, their one victory came against the Detroit Lions, the team that went 0-16 in ’08.

Predicted order of finish

1) San Francisco 49ers
Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers? Want a do-over San Fran? I know I’m picking this team to finish first, but it’s certainly in spite of Smith rather than because of him. Does he instill confidence in his team, his coach, his fans? It’s not working for me. Frank Gore is the machine that moves this offense, and a fourth straight 1,000 yard season is evidence of that. Backing him up this year is longtime Eagle Brian Westbrook. Injuries have really taken a toll on Westbrook in the last couple of years, so this role should suit him well. ’09 was a breakout year for TE Vernon Davis. Effort and focus finally caught up with talent, and Davis destroyed his previous career highs in receptions, yards, and scores. I think he can do it again. Out wide on the other hand, Michael Crabtree had a rather unceremonious and unimpressive rookie year, appearing in only 11 games and scoring a mere two touchdowns. Hopefully he worked a little harder this offseason. Patrick Willis is the best ILB in football and leads a strong defense that excelled against the run and rushing the passer last season. Manny Lawson is improving as a pass rusher, and Dashon Goldson is yet another young safety making strides in the league.

Reasons for optimism –
-Michael Crabtree is in uniform from the start of camp this year
-Draft picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati look like great OL building blocks
-Kurt Warner retired

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-They’re forced to count on Brian Westbrook to carry the load
-Nate Clements can’t improve upon back-to-back poor seasons
-Alex Smith doesn’t play like Aaron Rodgers (is this rubbing it in?)

2) Arizona Cardinals
Man, things can sure go bad in a hurry. Just eight months after finishing their second NFC West winning season in a row, the Cardinals are on a bit of a downward spiral. Warner wasn’t the only Cardinal to leave the nest. #1a WR An quan Boldin is in Baltimore, standout LB Karlos Dansby is in Miami, and playmaking FS Antrel Rolle is in New York. Matt Leinart has not only already lost the starting QB job he inherited from Warner, but he’s also lost his spot on the roster. Arizona dumped him before the season even started. Now the offense is in the “capable” hands of Derek Anderson. Oh, and did I mention that Larry Fitzgerald is dealing with an MCL sprain? Darnell Dockett is a formidable RDE, and I think Calais Campbell is on the verge of a big year at LDE.

Reasons for optimism –
-Larry Fitzgerald may be banged up, but he’s still one of the game’s best at what he does
-Beanie Wells demonstrated lead back qualities down the stretch in ‘09
-NT Dan Williams and ILB Daryl Washington look to have won (not been handed) starting jobs as rookies

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Not upgrading either offensive tackle position or adding depth at corner
-Undrafted rookie free agent Max Hall is under center if/when something happens to Anderson
-Kurt Warner retired

3) St. Louis Rams
A 1-15 season results in a chance at redemption, an opportunity to start again. The Rams were that team this year, and with the first pick in April’s draft they selected the player they hope is key to turning this franchise around. Sam Bradford takes over an offense with a few promising pieces. Steven Jackson, one of the game’s fiercest competitors and best all-round talents, enters his 7th season as a Ram. He’s had six straight years of 1,000 yards or more, but he’s failed to play a complete season in all but one of them. He’ll continue to be the key to their offense, at least this year, but I’m expecting him to get banged up again and have one of his more (or most) disappointing seasons as a starter. I’m sure it won’t shock many seeing as how they lost 15 of 16 games last year, but the Rams had one of the worst defensive units in the game in ’09. One player who didn’t contribute to the putrid play is MLB James Laurinaitis who became only the second rookie in team history to lead them in tackles. There are certainly some building blocks in place in key areas, but I still think this is a bad football team.

Reasons for optimism –
-Sam Bradford had a great preseason and has actually earned the starting job
-Several young, promising receiving talents in Laurent Robinson, Danny Amendola, Mardy Gilyard, and Brandon Gibson
-James Laurinaitis looks like an emerging stud at LB

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Stephen Jackson has surpassed 1,500 carries and, given his lack of ideal health over the year, one has to wonder when his breaking point will be reached
-Losing deep threat Donnie Avery for the year before the season even began
- Chris Long fails to step up as the pass rushing threat the Rams thought they were getting when they drafted him

4) Seattle Seahawks
What’s going on in Seattle? First they get LenDale White and cut him before even one preseason game snap. Then they wait until final cut day to decide that they no longer need TJ Houshmandzadeh. And now Alex Gibbs has decided to quit one week before the season starts. What’s going on up there? Oh that’s right. Pete Carroll is back in the NFL. Captain controversy isn’t exactly righting the ship in Seattle. They traded for Charlie Whitehurst this offseason, but he’s behind Matt Hasselbeck, the 35 year old veteran. I’m not very optimistic about this situation given his injury history (hasn’t played a complete season in the last two) and their weak offensive line. First round draft pick Russell Okung should help eventually at LT. Deion Branch has seen better days, and they’re counting on NFL flunkie Mike Williams to be a contributor. I like Golden Tate. He should end up their leading receiver this season. On the other side of the ball what stands out immediately is the lack of any semblance of a pass rush. They were one of the league’s worst at getting after the passer (28 total sacks, tied with Tampa Bay at 26th in the league), and last year’s top sacker, Patrick Kerney, retired this offseason. The best part of the defense is at LB where Lofa Tatupu returns for an ’09 that was shortened by a torn pectoral muscle. David Hawthorne played so well in his place that the Seahawks seem ready to make starting WLB LeRoy Hill a bench player. Aaron Curry was a bit of a disappointment last season, but he should do much better having a year under his belt and with a healthy Tatupu next to him. St. Louis will be bad, but I think these guys will be just a little worse.

Reasons for optimism –
-A nice trio of Justin Forsett, Leon Washington, and Julius Jones at RB
-Their first three draft picks (Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Golden Tate) addressed key areas of need
A healthy Tatupu next to last year’s top pick Curry at LB

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Trying to replace future Hall of Famer Walter Jones at LT
-The pitiful pass rush fails to improve
-They’re very shaky at corner if Marcus Trufant isn’t healthy

Conference Awards
MVP (best talent in biggest role) – Frank Gore (RB, 49ers)
Offensive POY (most impressive season) – Beanie Wells (RB, Cardinals)
Defensive POY – Patrick Willis (ILB, 49ers)
Offensive ROY – Golden Tate (WR, Seahawks)
Defensive ROY – Daryl Washington (ILB, Cardinals)
Offensive Breakout Player – Danny Amendola (WR, Rams)
Defensive Breakout Player – Calais Campbell (DE, Cardinals)

2010 NFL Predictions - NFC North

Minnesota didn’t exactly run away with the division last year, but getting off to a 6-0 start help them set the pace. After a loss at Pittsburgh, the Vikings went on to win another four in a row to sit 10-1 after their first eleven. The Vikings were a Brett Favre brainfart away from a trip to the Super Bowl, watching their season come to an end in a conference title game at New Orleans. Green Bay won seven of their last eight to make Minnesota sweat it out a little. Chicago was never really in the race, and losing six of their last nine didn’t help them get any closer. Detroit finished 2-14, but that was a huge improvement from 0-16 in ’08.

Predicted order of finish

1) Green Bay Packers
After their late season run, Green Bay lost a high scoring contest to the Cardinals, a team they beat soundly the previous week, in the first round of the playoffs. Their year may have ended, but the Packers are getting a lot of buzz this offseason. A big reason for that buzz is the promising future of QB Aaron Rodgers. In his second year as a starter, Rodgers began establishing himself as one of the league’s best. He improved in every major passing category, including cutting his interceptions nearly in half. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of this guy and think he’s on his way to becoming the game’s best passer. Expect big things from Aaron Rodgers and, as a result, the Packers this season. I love Greg Jennings and the developing TE Jermichael Finley. BJ Raji slides into a starting role at NT in his second year, and Clay Mathews looks like a guy who’s on his way to greatness after a dominant first season, leading the Packers with 10 sacks. With all due respect to Mr. Charles Woodson, Darrelle Revis was the league’s defensive player of the year last season. Still, he’s obviously one of the game’s best and is seldom challenged and rarely beaten. With Al Harris on the PUP list to begin the year, nickel corner Tramon Williams gets the starting gig. He’ll be tested often playing opposite Woodson. Third round pick Morgan Burnett is the starter at SS. I think he’s a versatile FS/SS player who blitzes well and can play in the box. Showing Burnett the ropes will be emerging stud Nick Collins. The Packers wisely paid the FS this offseason, ensuring he remains a Packer for the foreseeable future.

Reasons for optimism –
-I think Aaron Rodgers will be the best QB of this next decade
-Greg Jennings and JerMichael Finley will be in the running at their positions as well
-Clay Matthews and BJ Raji are tremendous defensive building blocks

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-The OL doesn’t get any better at protecting the passer
-Tramon Williams falters in a starting role
-A lack of depth at RB; not a huge Brandon Jackson fan, and James Starks is on the PUP list

2) Minnesota Vikings
Did you really think he was going to retire? Brett Favre’s 4,202 yards passing last year was the third best season total in his 19 years behind center. He also finished with a tremendous 33-7 TD-INT ratio. Then there was the ill-advised pass to Sidney Rice that Tracy Porter intercepted when Minnesota seemed minutes away from cementing a trip to the Super Bowl. Yeah, he was going to retire. Does he still have it? I’m not going to doubt him. Kick ass Brett! One thing he won’t have is #1 receiver Sidney Rice, at least for what looks like half of the season. Sidney Rice didn’t want to take advice form doctors and have offseason surgery on his ailing hip, but a last minute change of heart will cause some offensive adjustments for the Vikings. Percy Harvin is a lot of fun to watch, so hopefully he’s able to shake his migraine issue and be a constant part of Minnesota’s offense. Last year’s offensive rookie of the year is a dynamic talent who is a threat to break for a score every time he touches the football. If he’s healthy, I love him to have an extremely productive season. It goes without saying that Adrian Peterson is one of the best players in football. His numbers fell a bit from ’08 where he rushed for 1,760 yards, but I think he can approach and surpass that number this season. It makes no sense that he fumbles as often as he does. The guy who breaks your hand when he shakes it has no business losing 10 fumbles over the last two years. With Chester Taylor in Chicago and little/inexperienced talent behind him on the depth chart, Peterson figures to see a lot of third down snaps this season. Just behind the Packers in dominant rush defense last season were the Vikings with 87.1 yards allowed per game. A huge reason for that success, the Williams Wall, returns intact. Offenses don’t get very far against those two in the middle. Their dominance leads to favorable matchups for All Pro DE Jared Allen. Dude is a machine having compiled 30 sacks in his two seasons as a Viking and is playing at as high of a level as he ever has. Ray Edwards returns at the other end spot and had his best season as a pro last year. He’s certainly benefitting from the talent around him, but he needs to continue developing and taking advantage of constant one-on-one matchups.

Reasons for optimism –
-Tarvaris Jackson isn’t the 1st string QB
-Visanthe Shiancoe gets better every season and is an underrated talent at TE
-It appears as if the Williamses won’t miss any games due to league suspension

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Brett Favre actually ages
-The sketchy safety duo leaves them exposed in the middle of the field
-Bryant McKinnie pulls some jackass stunt and leaves them in the lurch at LT; this isn’t that far fetched; the guy is an assclown

3) Detroit Lions
Here’s a team I’m going to start rooting for. I’m not the biggest Matthew Stafford fan, but he showed me a lot of heart last year, especially in that emotional last minute win against the Browns. Helping any QB look good (just ask Reggie Ball) is half man half machine WR Calvin Johnson. He’s easily one of the game’s top talents, but a lack of any other significant offensive threat has limited his production. Nate Burleson is a nice add as a #2 receiver, but the huge coup was drafting the explosive Jahvid Best this past April. I’m a huge fan of the dude from Cal. The guy runs with no wasted movements, is explosive and near impossible to catch in the open field, and is hard to get a solid shot on. Huge year ahead for the rookie in my opinion. Speaking of “huge” and “rookie”, the Lions picked up the beast known as Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick in April’s draft. He headlines an offseason of serious focus paid to the defensive unit. They’re not going to make the playoffs, but for the first time in a long time, I can honestly see progress being made with the Detroit Lions.

Reasons for optimism –
-Imagine the numbers Calvin Johnson can put up with an NFL caliber receiver across from him for once.
-Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams are huge upgrades in the middle of that DL
-Louis Delmas is an under-the-radar, emerging safety

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-They end up being half as bad as they look at CB
-Jeff Backus is still starting at LT
-I think DeAndre Levy is very shaky at MLB, and he’s already hurt

4) Chicago Bears
The Bears weren’t a factor last year, and most of that had to do with the league’s 23rd rated offense. To cure that the Bears have brought in Mike Martz to run that side of the football. The former mastermind of the greatest show on turf will now get to see if he can get the most out of Jay Cutler. The former Bronco’s first season as a Bear didn’t exactly go as planned. A nonchalant attitude and an NFL leading 26 INTs didn’t exactly endear him to the Bear faithful. A bad offensive line stunted Matt Forte’s growth as a player, and now he’ll have to split carries with Chester Taylor who was brought in this offseason. With Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashadu, Devin Hester, and Greg Olsen as receiving targets, Martz will have a little something to work with. The defense wasn’t anything special last season, so they’re hoping that the addition of free agent signing Julius Peppers helps turn things around. Losing MLB Brian Urlacher in week one didn’t help, but he looks ready to go this year. If Tommie Harris and Lance Briggs can stay healthy and take their play back up a notch, this unit might have some teeth once again.

Reasons for optimism –
-Julius Peppers brings his 81 career sacks to Chi-town
-Johnny Knox is apparently going to be Martz’s Kevin Curtis
-Matt Forte looks much improved this preseason

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-The OL doesn’t look any better from last year
-Cutler can’t master the mental aspect of the game
-The secondary doesn’t improve against the big play / deep ball

Conference Awards
MVP (best talent in biggest role) – Aaron Rodgers
Offensive POY (most impressive season) – Adrian Peterson
Defensive POY – Clay Matthews
Offensive ROY – Jahvid Best
Defensive ROY – Ndamukong Suh
Offensive Breakout Player – Johnny Knox
Defensive Breakout Player – Louis Delmas

2010 NFL Predictions - NFC East

In what turned out to be a two team race, the Cowboys held off the fast charging Eagles to win the NFC East for the second time in three years. Philly went on a six game win streak and had a chance to close out the season with a division-winning victory at Dallas but got smoked 24-0 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Cowboys spanked them again the next week in a wild card matchup to put an emphatic end to the Eagles’ season. Dallas went on to lose badly the next week at Minnesota. The Giants finished a distant third, and Washington was an uncompetitive fourth.

Predicted order of finish

1) Dallas Cowboys
After losing 34-3 in the NFC divisional round playoff matchup against the Vikings, it was apparent that the Cowboys had some work to do before they could qualify as an elite team. One guy working his way into the elite at his position is 5th year starter, Tony Romo who threw for a career high 4,483 yards last year. Also, his 9 INTs were a career low. Marion Barber ran for another 900+ yards last year and scored 7 times, but there are whispers that he’s no longer going to be the primary back in Dallas. Part of it is a question of Barber’s durability, but more of it probably has to do with the explosive Felix Jones. The third year back from Arkansas is the Cowboys’ homerun hitter out of the backfield and has to be utilized a lot more this coming season as long as his health permits. I don’t see how you can keep a guy like that on the bench. At receiver, Miles Austin had a breakout of breakout seasons in ’09 finishing with 1,320 receiving yards (3rd best in NFL) and 81 receptions (12th). Defenses will be better prepared to stop him this season, but there are too many weapons to focus too much on Austin. One player I’m not counting in that category is Roy Williams. In his two years as a Cowboy, Williams has disappointed more than any other player. 74 receptions in two seasons isn’t exactly what Jerry Jones had in mind when giving up the farm and the bank to acquire him. He could get bumped down the depth chart early on in the season if Dez Bryant starts to develop. The Cowboys rescued the free falling WR in April’s draft, picking him up at a bargain 24th overall. A large, physical playmaker, Bryant could be big trouble across someone like Austin.

Reasons for optimism –
-The non-statistical development/growth by Tony Romo
-Jason Witten comes off his third straight 80+ catch season and continues to be one of the elite TEs in the game.
-The talent and depth at LB

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Doug Free shows to be a huge drop off from Flozell Adams at LT
-Slow development by Dez Bryant and the usual from Roy Williams stall a potentially potent offense
-Jessica Simpson resurfaces

2) Philadelphia Eagles
After 10 consecutive years, the Philadelphia Eagles will enter an NFL season without Donovan McNabb as their #1 QB. A fairly amicable divorce sent McNabb to the division rival Redskins and left a clear path for Kevin Kolb to claim the starting role. Kolb is a big armed, accomplished passer from Houston, but he’s yet to feel the flames that come with being a starting QB in the NFL. How he fares, no one knows, but Andy Reid and the Eagles are confidently handing him the reigns of the offense. When Kolb drops back to pass, he’ll be throwing to possibly the most dynamic starting duo in the league in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson is the explosive deep threat who sometimes forgets to take the football into the endzone with him. Maclin is a more polished receiver but nonetheless dangerous. I think the latter has a huge season. TE Brent Celek had a monster year in ’09 catching 76 passes and finishing just shy of 1,000 yards. A reliable TE is a young QBs best friend, so look for Celek’s numbers to stay in that range. McNabb isn’t the only Philadelphia fixture to exit in ’09. Longtime #1 back Brian Westbrook has been beaten, bruised, and concussed quite a bit over the last few seasons, making it a bit easier I’m sure for them to turn over backfield duties to second year back LeSean McCoy. In his rookie campaign, McCoy showed the combination fo rushing and receiving that made him such a threat at Pitt. With Mike Bell and Eldra Buckley behind him on the depth chart, McCoy faces zero competition for touches.

Reasons for optimism –
-Adding Brandon Graham as a pass rusher opposite the psycho Trent Cole in April’s draft
-The healthy return of MLB Stewart Bradley
-5 possible long term offensive building blocks – Kolb, McCoy, Jackson, Maclin, and Celek

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Kevin Kolb and/or LeSean McCoy struggles under the spotlight
-Injuries and poor play once again plague the OL
-Any extended absence by a starting corner; zero depth could really hurt them in a division that should have really high passing numbers

3) Washington Redskins
Thankfully and not soon enough for Redskins fans, the Jim Zorn era has come to an end. In his place steps Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Shanahan. The second major personnel upgrade Washington made was trading for Donovan McNabb. No he’s not the most durable QB in the league. Yes, he’ll be 34 before the season ends. Yes he’s lost a step or two due to age and injury. All that said, the guy is a gamer, has dealt with just about every challenge you can face as a QB, and is still a productive pro. If Shanahan stays Shanahan you’re going to see a run heavy ZBS WCO, so that means Clinton Portis, who was jettisoned to Washington by Shanahan, should be a significant offensive factor once again. I think the player to watch out for on offense this year is TE Chris Cooley. Look for him and McNabb to hook up early and often. The Redskins were strong defensively last year, but little of that had to do with the $100 million addition of DT Albert Haynesworth who had his worst season in years in ’09. Throw in his unhappiness with Washington moving to a 3-4 defense, his pathetic physical conditioning, and lack of both commitment and professionalism, and it’s not much of a surprise that Washington was looking to move him this offseason

Reasons for optimism –
-An obvious upgrade at head coach can do nothing but help the floundering franchise
-The McNabb-Cooley combo will really be one to watch in my opinion
-Brian Orakpo, who shined as a rookie, gets to open it up more as a 3-4 OLB this year

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-Clinton Portis is caput
-Albert Haynesworth becomes a real problem
-They fail to get any coverage help from the safety position, leaving them open to big plays

4) New York Giants
The Giants got off to a hot start last year, winning their first five games, including three straight on the road. Unfortunately, they followed that up with a four game losing streak and never won two in a row the rest of the way. The problem wasn’t so much the offense, a unit that ranked 8th in the league with 366 yards per game. Eli Manning finished with the 10th most passing yards in the league (4,021) and an 8th best 27 TDs. Eli is never going to be the steadiest or most confidence-inspiring QB in the league, but he took a big step forward last year as a passer and more importantly a leader. The recipient of a lot most of Manning’s passes was Steve Smith. The third year receiver exploded in ’09 for 107 receptions, good for second in the league behind Wes Welker. Tom Coughlin is stubbornly (shocking, I know) going to keep a pretty even split in running back duties between Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Bradshaw is the far more explosive, versatile weapon and, in an ideal world, would get a considerable split of the carries.

Reasons for optimism –
-Steve Smith and a developing Hakeem Nicks should give Manning consistent threats out wide
-They’re a much better team with Antrel Rolle and a healthy Kenny Phillips at safety
-Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Osi Umenyiora appear healthy and somewhat happy

Potential pessimistic pitfalls –
-The OL continues its decline
-The middle of the DL is again susceptible to the run
-Jonathan Goff can’t handle the MLB job

Conference Awards
MVP (best talent in biggest role) – Tony Romo (QB, Cowboys)
Offensive POY (most impressive season) – LeSean McCoy (RB, Eagles)
Defensive POY – DeMarcus Ware (OLB, Cowboys)
Offensive ROY – Dez Bryant (WR, Cowboys)
Defensive ROY – Nate Allen (FS, Eagles)
Offensive Breakout Player – Jeremy Maclin (WR, Eagles)
Defensive Breakout Player – Alan Ball (FS, Cowboys)