>Thursday Lunch: NFL Preview

Posted: September 9, 2010 in nfl
Tags: ,

>By Will Robinson

Since the NFL season is nearly upon us, and the blog has not been graced with my writing acumen, and I am really bored with nothing to do after summer school ended, I will begin my previews of THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Please note that I do not have any inside information and most of this is pure speculation and extrapolation based on who a team lost, signed, drafted and whatnot. Or, you can believe I possess all of the information in the world about the NFL and I hopped in my DeLorean to see what would happen. Your call. Without further ado, the following is how I believe the AFC will turn out next year.

Buffalo Bills
Last Year: 6-10, last in the AFC East.
Key Losses: Aaron Schobel (DE). Their roster is so deficient in talent; there are no other losses that constitute the title of “key.”
Key Additions: CJ Spiller (RB)
Best Fantasy Player: Fred Jackson (RB) looks to be the number one back for the upcoming season. In an article by Matthew Berry on ESPN, he analyzes that head coach Chan Gailey seldom uses a RBBC, and the primary back will receive the most touches. Lee Evans is good, too… if you plan to lose your league. Despite the injury, I still think he will be less frustrating to own than CJ Spiller, who I think will be too inconsistent. Note (9/8): Chan Gailey announced CJ Spiller would be starting week 1. I still like FJax when he comes back healthy.
Overview: There is nothing positive to say about this team. They have three unproven quarterbacks competing for the starting job, ditched their left tackle last year to Philly, and released their primary pass rusher. They have some solid players on defense (Jarius Byrd, Paul Posluszny) but that’s just about it. At least the Browns have solid management in place that knows what they’re doing (Holmgren. Ralph Wilson is desperately trying to win as he approaches the end of his life). Expect a rocky season from the AFC’s worst team.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: The Bills will post a .333 or better record against its AFC East rivals.
Prognosis: As I said before, this team is atrocious. All signs appear to be pointing toward selecting Jake Locker or one of the top QBs next year.
Could finish as high as: 4-12, last in their division. There are only four winnable games on their schedule, so I give them the benefit of the doubt.
Could finish as low as: 1-15, last in their division, but first in (some) of our hearts.

Miami Dolphins
Last Year: 7-9, 3rd in the AFC East.
Key Losses: Gibril Wilson (S), Joey Porter (LB), Akin Ayodele (LB)
Key Additions: Brandon Marshall (WR), Karlos Dansby (LB), Jared Odrick (DE) ((Miami traded down for San Diego’s pick and selected him 28th)).
Best Fantasy Player: I would have to say Brandon Marshall (no bias, I swear). He made Kyle Orton look Manning-esque in the first six games of the season, and has recorded at least 100 catches the last three seasons (the seasons he’s started). Of the two running backs, I prefer Ricky Williams to Ronnie “I’m Injured A Lot” Brown, and I expect Henne to break out for a fantastic year (no bias again).
Overview: Three years ago, this team barely missed out on finishing the season 0-16 (1-15). Two years ago, they posted the biggest season-to-season win differential finishing 11-5 and making the playoffs. Last year, they slipped up a bit between injuries and sporadic play, accumulating a 7-9 record. This team is much improved; ditching failed deep threat Ted Ginn Jr., and adding a legit target for Henne in Marshall.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Henne posts 4000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.
Prognosis: It will be tough for this team to make the playoffs. With the exception of the AFC West, there are at least two potential playoff teams in each division: The AFC East and North have three. I would like to see them in the playoffs, but I really don’t see it this year, sadly.
Could finish as high as: 10-6 with a Wild Card berth. I have them splitting their season series with the Jets and the Patriots, and beating either Pitt/Baltimore/Cincy in one of those games.
Could finish as low as: 7-9 and missing the playoffs. I don’t see them doing worse than year, however it is possible.

New England Patriots
Last Year: 10-6, 1st in the AFC East (Lost to Baltimore in Wild Card round).
Key Losses: Adalius Thomas (LB)
Key Additions: Devin McCourty (CB), Gerard Warren (DT)
Best Fantasy Player: Randy Moss. Tom Brady will be two years removed from his reconstructive knee surgery, and should be back to as close to 100% as he can: Moss should expect to reap the benefits.
Overview: The defense was a major problem in last year’s campaign, and while upgrades have been minimal, they did not lose many pieces. The offense has remained very similar to the same squad that went undefeated in 2007, made Matt Cassel look like a franchise QB in 2008, and won their division in 2009. I expect expected good things out of Foxborough.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Wes Welker will break Marvin Harrison’s record of receptions in a single season (143).
Prognosis: They have a tough in-division rival with the Jets, and the runner-up may not make the playoffs, but it’s hard to count out a Belichick/Brady pairing.
Could finish as high as: 11-5, be 1st their division, and play in the Wild Card round (no first round bye). I have them beating two “better” teams for this to happen.
Could finish as low as: 8-8, misses the playoffs, and spends the winter shoveling snow as opposed to playing for the Vince Lombardi trophy.

New York Jets
Last Year: 9-7, 2nd in the AFC East (Lost to Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game).
Key Losses: Alan Faneca (LG), Thomas Jones (RB), Leon Washington (RB), Kerry Rhodes (S)
Key Additions: Santonio Holmes (WR), LaDainian Tomlinson (RB), Jason Taylor (LB), Kyle Wilson (CB), Antonio Cromartie (CB)
Best Fantasy Player: Shonn Greene. Pretty simple here. The Jets ran the ball 607 times last year. Greene only had 108 of those last year as TJones’ backup, and while they won’t run the ball as much this year, he will be the feature back on a run-first team.
Overview: The Jets had a very up and down season last year. They started off hot, then had a losing streak, their coach declared their playoff hopes dead with 2-3 games to play, and yet on some teams folding at the end of the year (see: Indy and Cincy), the Jets were a wildcard team who surpassed expectations. They have only added pieces to a strong D and decent offense, but is the team ready to compete with the big dogs of the AFC?
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Mark Sanchez will have a 2:1 TD:Interception ratio (22-11 is my bold prediction).
Prognosis: Division foes have only stronger, but so have they. The Pats and the Phins will be four hard games this season, not to mention Baltimore, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh on slate too.
Could finish as high as: 12-4, 1st in their division, but only as far as the AFC Championship. I don’t see them winning the Super Bowl with the other teams in the AFC.
Could finish as low as: 7-9, miss the playoffs.

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Last Year: 9-7, 2nd in the AFC North (Lost to Indianapolis in Divisional round).
Key Losses: Dominique Foxworth (CB –IR), Ed Reed (S – PUP List)
Key Additions: Anquan Boldin (WR), Sergio Kindle (OLB), Josh Wilson (CB)
Best Fantasy Player: Ray Rice. Last year, the Ravens knew they had a talent in Rice, but they were not sure how well Rice would do. Well, now we know. Unfortunately, since this was the case, Willis McGahee scavenged 12 rushing touchdowns and 544 rushing yards. Rice could have probably secured six of those touchdowns, and would have placed him 3rd among fantasy running backs for 2009 (1 point behind AP). McGahee will still play but will most certainly have a subdued role, and with Rice as the top pass catching running back last year, he can compete for the #1 fantasy player next year.
Overview: Baltimore had a very up and down year. They started 3-0, lost the next three, alternated wins and losses until they won two in a row, lost-won to make the playoffs on a tiebreaker with Pittsburgh. Flacco began to come into his own as an elite quarterback, and with the addition of a future beastly left tackle (Michael Oher) and a legiter target in Anquan Boldin, their offense should explode. The defense is always solid, especially as they just picked up a corner to sure up the secondary. They have great depth and are a well-run organization, and are definitely a contender.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Joe Flacco will not gain 3500 passing yards.
Prognosis: They have a high chance of winning the division, but Cincy and Pitt are additionally improved. They should be a very hard team to stop this year.
Could finish as high as: 14-2, if EVERYTHING goes right for them.
Could finish as low as: 8-8, even though they have talent for a better record, sometimes things don’t swing towards one’s direction.

Cincinnati Bengals
Last Year: 10-6, 1st in the AFC North (Lost to New York (Jets) in Wild Card round).
Key Losses: Antonio Bryant’s $8 mil
Key Additions: Terrell Owens (WR), Jermaine Gresham (TE)
Best Fantasy Player: Cedric Benson. He was a revelation last year after lackluster seasons in Chicago. He has been running angry in the pre-season, which means he won’t be afraid to take some hits. Even though he was hurt last year, Bernard Scott filled in dutifully, is a good look in deeper leagues, and should be the first handcuff drafted IMO. Ocho should not be your #2 fantasy WR, as I think he is being overvalued with the thought the passing game will explode. I really don’t see it. Stick with Benson.
Overview: When Chad Ochocinco told Skip Bayless that the Bengals would finish 12-4, everyone laughed. While they didn’t finish that well, they managed to win their division for the first time (I can recall) since the 2005-06 season. Their defense reacted valiantly to the death of the d-coordinator’s (Mike Zimmer) wife, and was one of the best squads last year. The team faltered down the stretch last year, but they have kept their team (relatively) intact and they can possibly repeat their production last year. But can they with a tough Ravens team, a healthy Pittsburgh team, and a feisty Browns squad? We’ll see.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Carson Palmer will throw for 4000 yards.
Prognosis: They still should have a solid defense, and the passing offense should be improved; but I’m not sure if they have improved/changed enough to keep up.
Could finish as high as: 10-6, Wild Card berth.
Could finish as low as: 5-11. They could completely fall off the face of the earth this year.

Cleveland Browns
Last Year: 5-11, last in the AFC North.
Key Losses: Brady Quinn (QB) ((positive loss)), Derek Anderson (QB), Willie McGinest (LB)
Key Additions: Scott Fujita (LB), Jake Delhomme (QB), Joe Haden (CB), Mike Holmgren (GM)
Best Fantasy Player: Hard to say with this team. I am not sure how well Delhomme will be able to throw (affects Mohamed Massaquoi’s value), so it may increase the need for Jerome Harrison (RB). Fellow RB Montario Hardesty was apparently looking good in camp, and may have received a good chunk of the carries… until he tore his ACL.
Overview: Cleveland has looked to change its culture since Holmgren has joined. This is evident with the numerous lineup changes that have been made since his arrival. Colt McCoy, while only a third round pick, is set to be the future QB of Cleveland. God knows how much that city needs a new start after a certain someone left in July. Haden was the right choice to add a potential Pro-Bowl corner to the roster when one is not present. They are not expected to make a good run this year, as they need more talent and are in a strong division, but they should not be pushovers.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Delhomme and backup Seneca Wallace will be simultaneously hurt, spurring the play of Colt McCoy.
Prognosis: They are still far removed from being a playoff contender. They will not reach .500 this year.
Could finish as high as: 5-11, last in their division. They will be a tough out week to week.
Could finish as low as: 2-14. I don’t see them being THIS bad, but it is a distinct possibility.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Year: 9-7, 3rd in the AFC North.
Key Losses: Limas Sweed (WR – IR), Deshea Townsend (CB), Willie Colon (LT – IR)
Key Additions: Maurkice Pouncey (C/G)
Best Fantasy Player: Rashard Mendenhall. The Steelers passed more last year than I can recall in recent history. I have a feeling that even if Big Ben wasn’t suspended for the first four games, that Pitt would take a more balanced approach (9th in passing/19th in rushing last year). He gained practically all of his yards in the 13 games he received 10+ touches (his starts). Mike Wallace is a sleeper who could POSSIBLY put up WR1 numbers if everything goes well with Ben out.
Overview: The Steelers have been one of the most solid and consistent organizations since Chuck Noll became the head coach in 1969. Six rings (most in the NFL), many Hall of Famers, and a hard-nosed defense that no one wanted/wants to mess with. That defense was terribly inconsistent last year, due to 3-4 DE Aaron Smith being out for the whole year and Troy Polamalu being injured in the season opener, and playing only four more games. If the defense is not banged up for the 2010 campaign, they could look like the 2008-09 Super Bowl winning defense. The offense needs to figure out how to play without Big Ben to utilize the explosive Mike Wallace and the consistent Hines Ward, as well as HEAAAAAAAAAAATH.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Ben Roethlisberger will rape again and FINALLY be convicted. Not bold enough? LaMarr Woodley will lead the NFL in sacks.
Prognosis: Without Ben the first four weeks, they may have a chance to stumble or keep their head afloat. When he comes back, if he can jumpstart the O/keep it going, they have legit playoff prospects.
Could finish as high as: 13-3, 1st their division. If they play well without Ben and he comes back with all cylinders firing away. Pretty big if, though.
Could finish as low as: 7-9, missing the playoffs. I don’t see them below .500 at all, as I see 8 winnable games on the schedule. But who knows.

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Last Year: 8-8, 2nd in the AFC West.
Key Losses: Elvis Dumervil (OLB – IR), Brandon Marshall (WR)
Key Additions: Jamal Williams (DT), Demaryius Thomas (WR), Perrish Cox (CB)… but no one really who can make a BMarsh/Dumervil-esque difference.
Best Fantasy Player: Knowshon Moreno. With one of the best wide receivers in the league no longer on the roster, the run game in Denver should step up. I’m really taking too long to write this entire article, so I will need to keep everything shorter from now on.
Overview: The Broncos look relatively the same as last year, with the exception of no BMarsh, no Dumervil (for the season it looks like), and a year older. As a fan of this team, I am an eternal pessimist and do not believe that they can do well this year. Saying that, I think this team’s ceiling is at least .500.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Tim Tebow will start 3 games this year.
Prognosis: Denver is not expected to pass as much this year, thus lowering the explosive potential of the offense. They do not have a pass rush with the loss of Dumervil. Ugh. This is going to be a long season.
Could finish as high as: 9-7, Wild Card berth (***VERY UNLIKELY***)
Could finish as low as: 6-10, but I really hope it’s worse. Need a high draft pick please. Seriously, please. I beg of you.

Kansas City Chiefs
Last Year: 4-12, last in the AFC West.
Key Losses: No one important to note
Key Additions: Thomas Jones (RB), Eric Berry (S), Ryan Lilja (RG)
Best Fantasy Player: Jamaal Charles. Even though it looks like more of a time-share in KC than people thought, Charles was amazing in the last half of the year last year. He has top 5-fantasy potential, even if Todd Haley is stupid enough to use Thomas Jones an excessive amount to take carries away from Charles.
Overview: Haley’s first year was awful, to say the least. He fired his offensive coordinator, in his first year, before the season started. He played KOLBY SMITH instead of Jamaal Charles in the middle of the year. Did not make any sense at all. Saying that, first years are typically rough for a new system/QB/GM. They have potential to breakout this year, but I don’t see them doing exceptionally well (as in make the playoffs).
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Thomas Jones will have more touchdowns than Jamaal Charles will.
Prognosis: Like I said, they could surprise people, but I don’t see it.
Could finish as high as: 7-9, no playoffs.
Could finish as low as: 4-12, another top 10 pick.

Oakland Raiders
Last Year: 5-11, 3rd in the AFC West.
Key Losses: JAMARCUS RUSSELL (Codeine user/”QB”), Kirk Morrison (MLB)
Key Additions: Rolando McClain (ILB), Kamerion Wimbley (OLB), Jason Campbell (QB)
Best Fantasy Player: (Gotta keep these short now) Probably Michael Bush. He’s being drafted 2-3 rounds after McFadden, and will probably get more looks when he comes back.
Overview: Despite the 5 wins last year, the team is (fairly) competitive throughout the year. They only played with 10 men for all of/part of 12 games (JaMarcus does not count as a member of the team). In the pre-season*, their defense has looked dominant at times. I know, but still. They have a competent quarterback taking snaps that should pencil them in for a few more wins.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Darrius Heyward-Bey will have 10+ touchdowns.
Prognosis: They are much improved, but they are also the Raiders. Not sure what to expect.
Could finish as high as: 8-8, no playoffs.
Could finish as low as: 5-11 again, and Al Davis has another shocking first round pick to add to his résumé.
San Diego Chargers
Last Year: 13-3, 1st in the AFC West (Lost to New York (Jets) in Divisional round)
Key Losses: LaDainian Tomlinson (RB), Antonio Cromartie (CB), Vincent Jackson (WR – suspension/holding out)
Key Additions: Ryan Matthews (RB)
Best Fantasy Player: Ryan Matthews. With VJax out indefinitely, San Diego cannot consistently rely on their receiving corps, which is unproven past Antonio Gates. I can see Matthews having a 2008 Forte year.
Overview: The team is entering this year with a new face of the franchise. Since LT was drafted, he has been the premier Charger. Even when he sucked last year, and Philip Rivers performed phenomenally, LT was still externally seen as the true leader… not the case now. Their defense looked suspect at times, and not much has changed to improve it. No key free agents, no 1st/2nd round picks. Lucky for them, they are in the worst division in football.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Ryan Matthews will outperform Adrian Peterson in 2007 (1300 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns)
Prognosis: Best chance to win the division, hands down.
Could finish as high as: 13-3, 1st in their division.
Could finish as low as: 9-7, 2nd in their division. I really don’t see anyone else winning the West this year, though.

AFC South
Houston Texans
Last Year: 9-7, 2nd in the AFC South
Key Losses: Dunta Robinson (CB), Brian Cushing (OLB – 4 gms, ‘roids)
Key Additions: Kareem Jackson (CB), Derrick Wa—not eeeeeven, Arian Foster as starting RB
Best Fantasy Player: Andre Johnson. I am very confident that he is perhaps the safest pick for any fantasy owner to select (not saying this just because I got him in the league with my friends). Schaub/Foster will be very good too. Also, if Jacoby Jones ends up as the #2 WR, he is a very good sleeper (no bias like Andre. I swear).
Overview: They have a high-octane offense and a defense that can make the occasional stop. The offense is still intact from last year, and despite losing Robinson, the defense is on the rise thanks to DE Mario Williams and MLB Demeco Ryans. While 18th in passing yards allowed, they were 11th in rushing yards allowed. The passing number may stay the same, but I think they will be hard to get time to pass, and they will be very aggressive.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: The Texans will have three players with 1000+ receiving yards.
Prognosis: We keep saying “this will be the year for Houston…” and it never happens. I think they finally put it together.
Could finish as high as: 11-5, they barely lose the division to Indy, but make the Wild Card.
Could finish as low as: 8-8. If they end up taking a step back, it won’t be a major one.

Indianapolis Colts
Last Year: 14-2, 1st in AFC North (Lost in Super Bowl to New Orleans).
Key Losses: Jeff Saturday (C – at least 6 weeks, PUP list), Ryan Lilja (RG), Marlin Jackson (CB)
Key Additions: Jerry Hughes (DE/OLB),
Best Fantasy Player: Peyton Manning. I’ll leave it at that. (I don’t like Wayne with the emergence of Garçon, Collie, the return of Anthony Gonzales, and Dallas Clark).
Overview: Over the last 8 years (since the 2002-03 season), the Colts have won at least 10 games. That type of consistency translated to Jim Caldwell’s first year as head coach in 2009. The offense is like a well-oiled, but old machine. Actually, the Colts’ offense is like Brett Favre last year. Great all of the regular season, but then the most important game approached them, they shut down/threw a decisive pick (both analogies work here). Even so, they will produce at a high level in at least 16 weeks this year. Defense will be consistent, but not great.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: The Colts will miss the playoffs.
Prognosis: As long as Peyton is QB, the Colts will be very good.
Could finish as high as: 13-3, 1st in the AFC North.
Could finish as low as: 10-6, Wild Card. You can practically pencil Manning in for at least double-digit wins and a playoff appearance.

Jacksonville/ (the future) Los Angeles Jaguars
Last Year: 7-9, last in the AFC South.
Key Losses: Clint Ingram (OLB)
Key Additions: Aaron Kampman (DE/OLB), Tyson Alualu (DT), Kirk Morrison (MLB)
Best Fantasy Player: MoJo Drew. Even though his knee is a bit banged up, no one on the team can produce like he can. Mike Sims-Walker is a distant second.
Overview: I don’t like the Jaguars; they’re just not much to like about their roster. Sorry, it’s true. I don’t like David Garrard as a starting QB. I don’t like their wide outs. I don’t like their offensive line. Their defense looks promising, but I’m not sold yet. I expect them to be last place in a very tough division.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: MoJo will get less than 1100 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.
Prognosis: I think they will compete each week, but they have little to no chance to win the division, much less a playoff spot.
Could finish as high as: 7-9, last in their division.
Could finish as low as: 3-13, way last in their division.

Tennessee Titans
Last Year: 8-8, 3rd in the AFC South.
Key Losses: Kyle Vanden Bosch (DE), Keith Bulluck (OLB), Kevin Mawae (C)
Key Additions: Will Witherspoon (MLB – could be a good pickup), Derrick Morgan (DE)
Best Fantasy Player: CJ2K, Chris Johnson. Yep. Pretty sure about that.
Overview: A run first team if there ever was one. Vince Young came in last year and led the team to an 8-2 record to close out the season, but missed the playoffs due to a 0-6 start with Kerry Collins. The defense slipped when Haynesworth left, but looked semi-promising to end the year. If Young is merely a “game manager,” and doesn’t try too much, then this team is in good shape. He conducted one of my favorite football moments of all time: a 99-yard drive to beat his Rose Bowl counterpart, Matt Leinart and his Cardinals.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: CJ sticks true to his word: 2500 rushing yards.
Prognosis: it would be shocking to see them perform as poorly as last year, but I don’t think they play in January this year.
Could finish as high as: 10-6, Wild Card berth
Could finish as low as: 7-9, no playoffs.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys
Last Year: 11-5, 1st in the NFC East on tiebreaker with Philly (Lost to Minnesota in Divisional round)
Key Losses: Ken Hamlin (S), Flozell Adams (OT)
Key Additions: Alex Barron (OT), Dez Bryant (WR)
Best Fantasy Player: Tony Romo. Upset? You thought I was going to say Miles Austin? I think last year was the best possible scenario for Austin. I really don’t see how with the drafting of Dez Bryant, Roy Williams (apparently) trying harder, Jason Witten, and teams figuring him out that Austin can improve. Romo, however, will have more weapons of a higher quality, and I expect him to do very, very well.
Overview: The Cowboys finally won a playoff game last year… way to go! They were top 7 in both offensive yardage categories, 20th in passing yards allowed, and 4th in rushing yards allowed. The defense looks potent, led by DeMarcus Ware and the up-and-coming Anthony Spencer as the other bookend rusher. I feel the defense will be nastier than last year in the pass game, and that Romo will go crazy on opponents. It’s entirely possible.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Tashard Choice will have the most rushing touchdowns of any Dallas running back.
Prognosis: I think the offense and defense will perform at a very high level, however, they have a difficult schedule ahead of them.
Could finish as high as: 11-5, 1st in the NFC East.
Could finish as low as: 8-8, miss the playoffs.

New York Giants
Last Year: 8-8, 3rd in the NFC East.
Key Losses: Antonio Pierce (MLB)
Key Additions: Antrel Rolle (S), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE)
Best Fantasy Player: Steve Smith 2.0 will be of the most value as a high-end #2 wide receiver, low #1 for fantasy; however, I like Ahmad Bradshaw. For SOME REASON, Brandon Jacobs is being draft above Bradshaw, and yet, it is clear that Bradshaw will be the starter for the G-Men.
Overview: The Giants were a massive disappoint last year. People thought they would win another division title, and they would have a dominant defense… not the case. Eli Manning had a career year, but I don’t think he can produce like last year where they were playing from behind a lot. I expect a bounce-back year from Tom Coughlin’s team.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: The Giants will have the number one overall defense in the league.
Prognosis: I think they will not win the division, but it is possible.
Could finish as high as: 11-5, 1st in the NFC East.
Could finish as low as: 7-9, miss the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles
Last Year:
Key Losses: Donovan McNabb (QB), Brian Westbrook (RB), the Andrews brothers (OL), Marlin Jackson (CB – IR)
Key Additions: Marlin Jackson (CB), Ernie Sims (LB), Brandon Graham (OLB/DE)
Best Fantasy Player: DeSean Jackson. He’s the number one receiver, and possibly the biggest deep threat in the league, and a return master. He will be frustrating to own, but when he hits, it’s big. But when he misses, it’s awful.
Overview: The Eagles had a great offense last year, but was not fully consistent (i.e. when they lost 16-9 to Oakland). They got rid of longtime starting QB Donovan McNabb, as Kevin Kolb’s time has apparently come. Andy Reid and the Eagles don’t want to make this decision to look bad, so they will throw more. The defense is very talented, with Pro Bowler Trent Cole rushing. Rookie Brandon Graham should complement him nicely. All in all, I’m not sure the Eagles have immediate success with Kevin Kolb.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Brent Celek will catch 13+ touchdowns.
Prognosis: A down year for the usually good Eagles, but Kolb in his first starting role is going to be shaky.
Could finish as high as: 10-6, Wild Card berth.
Could finish as low as: 7-9, no playoffs.

Washington Redskins
Last Year: 4-12, last in the NFC East.
Key Losses: Jason Campbell (QB), Chris Samuels (OT)
Key Additions: Donovan McNabb (QB), Mike Shanahan (Coach), Bruce Allen (GM), Trent Williams (OT)
Best Fantasy Player: Clinton Portis. Not a huge fan of anyone, but he will be the best in my opinion. Possibly Santana Moss.
Overview: Dan Snyder’s Redskins have been in an unstable state since the turn of the millennium. Almost 20 years removed from their Super Bowl victory, they have been truly awful. They finally signed a coach who was not out of the game for an extended period of time (see: Joe Gibbs) and is very experienced (unlike Jim Zorn). This offseason has been a drama unfolding between Shanahan and Haynesworth: the conditioning test, starting him in the final preseason game, etc. I like them as a potential sleeper, but with this very tough division, it will be tough.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Albert Haynesworth will play all 16 games, and at a 2008 level.
Prognosis: They are improved talent wise and coaching staff/management wise, but I don’t see it “all work” in one year.
Could finish as high as: 9-7, no playoffs.
Could finish as low as: 6-10, a small improvement from last year with Shanny’s first year.

NFC North

Chicago Bears
Last Year: 7-9, 3rd in the NFC North.
Key Losses: Gaines Adams (DE – cardiac arrest, died)
Key Additions: Julius Peppers (DE), Chester Taylor (RB)
Best Fantasy Player: Matt Forte. He was a top 10 pick (top 5 even) last season, and wasn’t even CLOSE to producing as such. Even though there is concern about a Mike Martz offense being pass crazy, I feel Forte will have a bounce back year.
Overview: The Bears were supposed to be a strong contender in the NFC North last year… but then Brian Urlacher got hurt. And Jay Cutler had a rough year. And Forte sucked. Needless to say, things did not go the way of Chicago. They scored arguably the best defensive free agent over the spring, in Julius Peppers. Even if their offense goes to a different level with Martz, they still have to face the Vikings and Packers a combined four times a year. Their secondary looks bad, still. I predict a rough year for a Chicago sports team… bold prediction, right?
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Jay Cutler will throw 15 or fewer interceptions.
Prognosis: Doesn’t look good for Chicago… they look to be one year removed from playoff hopes within arguably the NFL’s strongest division.
Could finish as high as: 9-7, miss the playoffs.
Could finish as low as: 5-11. Lovie Smith will finally be fired!

Detroit Lions
Last Year: 2-14, last in the NFC North.
Key Losses: Ernie Sims (LB), Larry Foote (MLB)
Key Additions: Ndamukong Suh (DT), Jahvid Best (RB), Kyle Vanden Bosch DE), Nate Burleson (WR)
Best Fantasy Player: Calvin Johnson. Matthew Stafford should be better than his rookie campaign, where he was often injured and threw many interceptions.
Overview: Let’s face it: The Lions have been the laughing stock of the league for the past decade. Matt Millen’s strategy as a GM must have been to make the worst moves possible for a football team (The Rams are now following this strategy – heyo!). Enter Jim Schwartz, former defensive coordinator for the Titans two years ago, when Haynesworth was phenomenal. Last year they selected Matt Stafford and some other pieces to rebuild the team. They are well on their way, selecting the consensus best player in April’s draft in Ndamukong Suh and Cal standout Jahvid Best. The team is making, or it appears, great progress for constant contention from week to week. Like Chicago, they will have a guaranteed 3-4 losses playing GB and Min, but I like them to surprise people this year.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Ndamukong Suh fails to be in the conversation concerning Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Prognosis: I like this team, but playoffs are still 1-2 years out.
Could finish as high as: 8-8, but a LOT of things have to roll their way.
Could finish as low as: 3-13. Bad, but an improvement from the year before!

Green Bay Packers
Last Year: 11-5, 2nd in NFC North (Lost to Arizona in Wild Card round)
Key Losses: Aaron Kampman (OLB/DE), Atari Bigby (S – PUP List), Al Harris (CB – PUP List), Johnny Jolly (DE – substance abuse policy violation)
Key Additions: Bryan Bulaga (OT),
Best Fantasy Player: Aaron Rodgers. Another year as a starter, and he lit the league on fire. One more year with his receivers, I expect better things from Rodgers, a potential MVP candidate. Also, Greg Jennings will be better than last year. Trust me.
Overview: One year removed from Brett Favre and a 6-10 season, the Packers compiled an 11-5 record. They only played one playoff game, and lost, but it was one of the most memorable in recent memory. The defense dominated in its 3-4 scheme, with Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, and rookie breakout Clay Matthews. The secondary is a bit banged up to start the year, but the front 7 is so strong I think they will be ok to start the year. As I said about Rodgers, I think he will be fantastic. I really like the Pack this year.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Greg Jennings will get 4 receiving touchdowns again.
Prognosis: Yes, the D is banged up. But I am really high on this team. Possibly Dallas-bound.
Could finish as high as: 13-3, 1st in the NFC North. It doesn’t look unrealistic.
Could finish as low as: 10-6, Wild Card berth. A small step back from last year, but still playoff bound.

Minnesota Vikings
Last Year: 12-4, 1st in the NFC North (Lost to New Orleans in Conference Championship).
Key Losses: Chester Taylor (RB), Sidney Rice (WR – PUP list)
Key Additions: Lito Sheppard (CB), Toby Gerhart (RB)
Best Fantasy Player: Adrian Peterson. Next.
Overview: Brett Favre had a miraculous year last year, posting career highs at the age of 39/40. He only threw 7 interceptions in the regular season! But of course, we all remember the NFC Championship game where he threw the interception to stop Minnesota’s potential game winning drive, and where Brett got jacked up. They still have a very talented team this year, but more likely than not, they will not receive all the breaks they had last year. With Favre’s favorite weapon sidelined at least 6 weeks, we’ll see if they rededicate to the run.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Favre will post single-digit interceptions again.
Prognosis: I don’t like them to win the division, but Wild Card is in play.
Could finish as high as: 11-5, playoffs (don’t think they can win the North with this record, so probably WC).
Could finish as low as: 8-8, no playoffs, Favre finally goes home.

NFC West
Patrick Willis
Arizona Cardinals
Last Year: 10-6, 1st in NFC West (Lost to New Orleans in Divisional round)
Key Losses: Kurt Warner (QB), Karlos Dansby (OLB), Antrel Rolle (S)
Key Additions: Dan Williams (DT), Joey Porter (OLB), Alan Faneca (OG), Kherry Rhodes (S)
Best Fantasy Player: Beanie Wells. The easy answer here is Larry Fitzgerald, but I really see him having a horrible year (compared to what we’re used to from Fitz). Even though Hightower is there, 2nd year backs tend to break out (see: Johnson, Chris and Rice, Ray). In addition, no Kurt Warner means less throwing… or it should.
Overview: As I mentioned in the Packers’ section, the Cardinals were the other half of a very memorable game last winter. They lost possible Hall of Fame quarterback to retirement, and did not have a suitable successor lined up. I think the offense will still be good, but it will not be nearly as explosive.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Derek Anderson will do as well as Kurt Warner last year.
Prognosis: They lost a great player at the most important position in football.
Could finish as high as: 9-7, win the NFC West. Best case scenario, though. Don’t see them winning the division.
Could finish as low as: 6-10.

St. Louis Rams
Last Year: 1-15, last in the NFC West/NFL.
Key Losses: Donnie Avery (WR – IR), Alex Barron (OT)
Key Additions: Sam Bradford (QB), Mark Clayton (WR)
Best Fantasy Player: Steven Jackson. Because there is NO ONE ELSE on this team.
Overview: All I will say is that this team sucks, and will not be competitive for a few years. Bradford looks like the real deal, but is year or two out from being (potentially) a star.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: The Rams will win 3 games.
Prognosis: To quote Evan’s prognosis of his San Jose Earthquakes preview, “Not even.”
Could finish as high as: 2-14. Didn’t even look at the schedule on this one.
Could finish as low as: 0-16… yep.

San Francisco 49ers
Last Year: 8-8, 2nd in the NFC West.
Key Losses: Glen Coffee (RB), Dre’ Bly (CB)
Key Additions: Mike Iupati (OG), Anthony Davis (OT), Taylor Mays (S), Ted Ginn Jr. (WR)
Best Fantasy Player: Frank Gore. The Niners passed a ton last year, and Mike Singletary has already said he is going for a more balanced approach.
Overview: The Niners were schizophrenic last year. They started off the year with Shaun Hill, but eventually, they switched back to former #1 pick Alex Smith, who looked like he could kinda play. Frank Gore was beasting it up before his injury, and was one of the top backs last year despite that. Their defense is one of the best in the NFL, even with their questionable secondary. Patrick Willis is the best MLB in football right now, and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Alex Smith will throw for at least 3750 yards.
Prognosis: Just like Houston, people have been calling for this team to show up. Like Houston, I think it is this year.
Could finish as high as: 11-5, 1st in the NFC West. Probably too high, but if they Alex Smith plays like a top 15 quarterback, then who knows.
Could finish as low as: 9-7, 1st in the NFC West. This is really their division to lose this year.

Seattle USC-Hawks
Last Year: 5-11, 3rd in the NFC West.
Key Losses: Nate Burleson (WR), Walter Jones (OT)
Key Additions: Charlie Whitehurst (QB), Leon Washington (RB), Russell Okung (OT), Eaaaaaaaaaaarl Thomas (S)
Best Fantasy Player: Justin Forsett. Pete Carroll announced he will be starting this year, but did not say anything about carries being split between him and Washington. Forsett should get most of the looks, and be the feature back on this team. If Washington plays well, it will bump his value a lot and hurt Forsett’s.
Overview: So I recall some people believed Seattle would win the division, and Arizona would stumble last year. What happened? Jim Mora Jr.’s only season as coach was not a pretty one. Matt Hasselbeck was horrendous down the stretch, throwing for 4 TDs and 10 Ints in their last four games, in which they did not exceed 14 points in any game. Their defense was awful, too. Franchise linebacker Lofa Tatupu missed more than half the season after tearing his left pectoral. If he comes back to full strength, the defense can be decent as opposed to turrible.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Seattle will be top 15-combined defense next year.
Prognosis: Pete Carroll’s first year will not be a very successful one, methinks. Yes, I just said methinks. Deal with it.
Could finish as high as: 8-8, no playoffs.
Could finish as low as: 4-12.

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Last Year: 9-7, 2nd in the NFC South.
Key Losses: No significant personnel losses
Key Additions: Dunta Robinson (CB), Sean Witherspoon (OLB)
Best Fantasy Player: Michael Turner or Roddy White. I think both of them have spectacular years, as both did last year, but Turner’s season was hampered by injuries. Before his ankle sprain, Turner was lighting the league on fire. There will still be questions of his durability, even if he is healthy, while White has missed no time in his 5-year career.
Overview: Two years ago, the Falcons surprised the league when they racked up an 11-5 record, winning the South… all with a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan. They lost to the future NFC Champs in their only playoff game. They entered 2009 with fairly high expectations of post-season play, but did not achieve those. They managed to keep their heads afloat with a winning record through an injury-plagued season. In 2010, they hope to head back to the post-season. The defense was 28th in passing yards allowed, but the addition of Dunta Robinson should drop that number a noticeable amount. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith will be in their 3rd season as QB and head coach, with a run-balanced focus. Atlanta should look more like 2008 than 2009.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Michael Turner – 20 rushing touchdowns.
Prognosis: I think the dirty birds of the south bounce back this year, and make a post-season cameo.
Could finish as high as: 11-5, Wild Card berth.
Could finish as low as: 7-9, no playoffs.

Carolina Panthers
Last Year: 8-8, 3rd in the NFC South.
Key Losses: Julius Peppers (DE), Jake Delhomme (QB)
Key Additions: Jimmy Clausen (QB)
Best Fantasy Player: DeAngelo Williams. You can’t go wrong with other running back here, but Williams is the starter. I really want to see if he and Jonathan Stewart were feature backs on two different teams. Both would have to be, at the very least, a top-10-fantasy pick.
Overview: Jake Delhomme was truly a wonder last year. People would watch him, wondering if he would be amazing and throw five picks. After the Divisional round against Arizona, he kept spiraling down. He redefined rock bottom for quarterbacks. They now have Matt Moore, a player who looked promising near the end of last year, starting the year as starter. Jonathan Stewart was great last year, becoming the #1 guy after DeAngelo went down. Their secondary performed well last year, racking up 12 interceptions among the starting safeties and corners. They lost a key to their pass rush in Peppers, and I will be curious to see how they will replace that presence.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: J-Stew/D-Will will combine for 30 rushing touchdowns (28 in 2008).
Prognosis: With no established QB, and suspect rush defense, the team will rely on the ground and pound approach and strong secondary. They happen to be unlucky that they are in the same division as the reigning Super Bowl Champs, and a talented Falcons team on the rise.
Could finish as high as: 8-8, no playoffs.
Could finish as low as: 5-11.

New Orleans Saints
Last Year: 13-3, 1st in the NFC South (Beat Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl).
Key Losses: Darren Sharper (S – PUP List), Scott Fujita (OLB), Charles Grant (DE)
Key Additions: Clint Ingram (OLB), Patrick Robinson (CB)
Best Fantasy Player: Drew Breeeeeeeees! Oh yeah.
Overview: The Saints proved that the best defense is a great offense. I don’t want to insinuate their defense got the job done, because it did, but Drew Brees led this team to an offensive level just under the ‘07 Pats. The only difference is that this team actually has a threat of a run game with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Darren Sharper led the defense to a plethora of turnovers, which help shut opponents down throughout the year. Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer make up one of the strongest corner tandems in the league. And don’t forget that Sean Payton is one of the best in the biz, and will keep the team on track.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Reggie Bush will outgain Pierre Thomas in rushing yards.
Prognosis: This team and city is still riding high from the victory, which could result in a disappointing year. However, I’ll still take Drew Brees and a temporarily Sharper-less defense.
Could finish as high as: 13-3, 1st in the NFC South.
Could finish as low as: 9-7, possibly Wild Card.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Year: 3-13, last in the NFC South.
Key Losses: Antonio Bryant (WR), Derrick Brooks (OLB)
Key Additions: Gerald McCoy (DT), Brian Price (DT)
Best Fantasy Player: Cadillac Williams. Josh Freeman could be average this year and make Mike Williams have some decent value. Freeman could also breakout this year and be a good backup.
Overview: The Bucs were awful in Raheem Morris’ debut year. He went from defensive backs coach to head coach after two years in that position. Surprisingly, two of the wins came against the Packers and the Saints. Morris showed in his draft that defense will be the emphasis of the team, spending their two top picks on defensive tackles. McCoy was the 2nd best DT in the draft, and should be very good. They are building a young core of players, but I’m not sure if Raheem Morris can handle the job in front of him.
Bold prediction that likely won’t come true: Cadillac plays a full 16-game year.
Prognosis: Still in that rebuilding phase. Please check back in two years after the lockout.
Could finish as high as: 6-10.
Could finish as low as: 4-12.

PLAYOFF PICTURE (* – first round bye)
1. *Pittsburgh (AFC North winner)
2. *Indianapolis (AFC South winner)
3. New England Patriots (AFC East winner)
4. San Diego Chargers (AFC West winner)
5. Baltimore Ravens (Wild Card)
6. Houston Texans (Wild Card)
1. *New Orleans (NFC South winner)
2. *Green Bay (NFC North winner)
3. Dallas Cowboys (NFC East winner)
4. San Francisco (NFC West winner)
5. Atlanta Falcons (Wild Card)
6. New York (Wild Card)

NFC Division Winners: Dallas, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco. Wild Card: Atlanta, New York
AFC Division Winners: New York, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Diego. Wild Card: Miami, Baltimore

Wild Card Round
3) New England over 6) Houston
5) Baltimore over 4) San Diego

3) Dallas over 6) New York
5) Atlanta over 4) San Francisco

Divisional Round
3) New England over 2) Indianapolis
1) Pittsburgh over 5) Baltimore

2) Green Bay over 3) Dallas
1) New Orleans over 5) Atlanta Falcons

Conference Championship
3) New England over 1) Pittsburgh

2) Green Bay over 1) New Orleans

Super Bowl
Green Bay over New England


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