The 2009-10 NFL playoffs are now a long and forgotten distant memory. Many unexpected teams made it, while some other more seemingly predictable teams failed to make the cut.
For the most, the 2009-10 playoffs packed a punch. Rex Ryan's New York Jets were on fire, the New Orleans Saints continued their impressive ways, and the Minnesota Vikings came oh-so close to reaching the Super Bowl.
Now we gear up for another season, and more importantly we look toward the contenders and pretenders of 2010. Right now it's tough to say who the more impressive teams will be this season, but there sure are a lot of so-called "sleeper picks" to watch out for.
Is your team destined for playoff glory? Or a potentially disappointing season? It's time to find out.
Carolina and head coach John Fox had a rather disappointing 2009 season. Winding up 8-8, the Panthers saw their fair share of problems arise toward the midway point of the season.
Now that once-labeled "problem quarterback" Jake Delhomme is well and truly with Cleveland, the Panthers can finally look toward what looks to be a promising future under the young and talented Matt Moore.
DeAngelo Williams is still firing on all five cylinders, and it will come as a relief to Panthers fans that Steve Smith is still in black and blue.
Offensively, Carolina looks sound. A good mixture of youthful explosiveness and veteran leadership should work wonders for the Panthers, so now comes the time for Carolina to simply put it all together and post points on the board.
The obvious bad part of the Panthers offseason is the loss of Julius Peppers. Although the offense looks to be on the right track, the defense is lacking a little, especially after losing one of their all-time greatest playmakers.
In the draft Carolina seemed to focus on offensive needs in the first three rounds, but the Panthers did manage to pick up Eric Norwood and a few other potential prospects at the same time.
It isn't time to hit the panic button on defense just yet, but it should be interesting to see how the Panthers defense holds against the potent passing games that the NFC South packs.
Denver made quite possibly one of the most intriguing draft picks three weeks ago. The addition of Tim Tebow is looking promising, though it has received its fair share of criticism as of late.
In 2009, Denver started out like a playoff team should. Posting wins and simply putting together decent scoring drives, the Broncos' momentum toward the midway point made them a playoff favorite for many NFL fans.
In 2010 expect Denver to have a point to prove as many analysts have scrutinized this team to death as of late. Kyle Orton appears to be the preferred starter right now, and, hopefully for Denver fans, he can guide the Broncos in the right direction.
The bad points for the Broncos are quite long. Josh McDaniels is on the hot seat, and with three quarterbacks on the roster who could potentially fail, the young McDaniels may be out of job sooner than you can blink.
The other issue is, of course, Denver lacking a No. 1 wide receiver. Brandon Marshall is now gone, and when people speculated a possible Dez Bryant draft pickup, it appeared that Denver ignored the need and went for the headline-grabbing pick.
When looking at Denver, it isn't just players that pose a problem; there is also a mental issue that faces the Broncos. A lack of confidence has shone through as of late, and whether or not this is due to off-field dramas or a total lack of motivation is yet to be determined.
Denver needs a good season, or else the Broncos may continue to slip further and further as each game progresses. The talent is there, but the questions need answering.
The Bears have managed to impress a lot of people this offseason. The addition of Julius Peppers makes Chicago's defense downright frightening, and it's fair to say that most Chicago fans have faith in Jay Cutler.
We should see the same Chicago Bears side come out in Week One of the regular season, but don't expect to see the same old unmotivated Bears offense that struggles to post points on the board.
For, you see, this is a rejuvenated team that has the playoffs in its sights. Defense was an issue for Chicago, but the Bears have addressed their needs totally this offseason.
The confidence is back, and so is the anticipation. Keep an eye on Chicago this year.
What plays against Chicago is simply being in the NFC North. It isn't something they can control, but it is something they can handle should they post wins on the board.
The Green Bay Packers look to be a force in the North, and if Brett Favre returns the Vikings are also looking to be a Super Bowl favorite.
Can Chicago beat these two teams? Of course, but I do feel they must win at least 80 percent of their games to make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh doesn't have a whole lot of "good" going around right now, but it does have a ton of depth, which should help the team immensely.
Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich are suitable replacements for Ben Roethlisberger, and depending on the length of the suspension, either of the two are suitable starters.
Veteran wide receiver Hines Ward remains with the team, and coach Mike Tomlin and the Rooney family have a strong hold on this organization. It isn't much, but it should keep the Steelers stable.
To put it simply, the loss of Big Ben may or may not cost Pittsburgh dearly. Yes, Dixon and Leftwich are suitable starters, but when a struggling 2009 team doesn't have a solid quarterback...well, it is a mixture for the unimaginable.
The other key loss is Santonio Holmes, as the Steelers are now without one of their main go-to guys from their most recent championship team. As mentioned, Ward is still a Steeler, but Holmes will be sorely missed.
Three words: Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Giants had a fairly successful draft, and now that the defense has been attended to, New York can focus on getting its team back on track.
Eli Manning has proven himself to be a top-flight quarterback, and although some people still doubt his ability, he showed a tremendous amount of poise and skill last season.
What people seem to forget is that New York is a young team. With a young receiving corps and a rather young defense, the Giants will take some time to gel together and produce.
I wouldn't go as far as saying New York is in a rebuilding process, but the G-men are certainly on the edge of succeeding or failing.
The bad for New York comes from the running game. In 2009 Brandon Jacobs simply failed to step up, resulting in Ahmad Bradshaw filling in and more or less winning the starting role.
Tom Coughlin has been on a hot seat as of late, and, given another 8-8 season, his time may be drawing closer and closer to an end in New York.
The biggest problem for New York, though, is the NFC East. The Cowboys are surging, the Redskins look promising, and the Eagles certainly aren't to be written off.
So where do the Giants fit in? Well, probably at the third or second spot, but if they slip up, they could easily fall lower and lower toward the bottom.
If there is one word to sum up the 2009 Atlanta Falcons season, it would be "disappointing." In 2008 the Falcons left every NFL fan wanting and expecting more.
The positives for Atlanta are that Matt Ryan is still going strong, after throwing for 2,916 yards last season. Roddy White is also in good form, and head coach Mike Smith seems to have this team heading in the right direction.
Michael Turner is also set to return to the side after injuring his knee toward the midway point of last season, and now that one of the best running backs in the game is set to return, the Falcons should feel complete on the offensive side of the ball.
Expect Atlanta to rally with Carolina and New Orleans this season, as the Falcons feel almost cheated out of the 2009 season. The NFC South is a tough division to play in, but the Falcons are a stand-up team.
There aren't too many negative aspects of the Falcons right now, except for the New Orleans Saints.
Atlanta failed to come up with an answer for New Orleans last season, and with the Saints still looking highly explosive, we could see the same story unfold this year.
A few may argue with Miami's high ranking on this list, but I think you'll have to agree the Dolphins look oh-so promising in 2010.
The first and most obvious point to be brought up is the addition of Brandon Marshall. Not only was this a great signing for Tony Sparano's team, it should also offer Chad Henne a "bailout"-type option should the going get tough.
Speaking of Henne, this young man also looks highly promising. He isn't the most prolific quarterback in the game, but he has simply worked extremely hard to achieve the starting role.
The confidence is there for Miami, and they always put up a good fight against top-dog teams such as Indianapolis, New England, and Baltimore. Hopefully they can get over the hump this season and add a few more wins in 2010.
Since the Marshall acquisition, I have seen a few questions as to whether or not he can fit in with the Wildcat scheme. The answer to this question is of course unknown, but it does seem that Marshall is prepared to do anything and everything the Dolphins ask.
For Miami, the biggest concern may be on defense, as the team seems to struggle against top-notch quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Defense hasn't been Miami's main concern, but after picking up Jared Odrick in the first round of the draft, the Dolphins do stand a chance.
The Titans only managed an 8-8 season last year, but they managed to be one of the most exciting teams in all of football.
Now that Kerry Collins is out of the starting role, we once again get to see former Texas Longhorn Vince Young step in and hopefully guide this team to the playoffs.
The Titans are a very underrated team, and although people recognize Chris Johnson, they don't recognize just how hurtful and explosive this team really can be.
Ranked 16th in points last season, Young and the Titans combined for countless exciting drives. This is perhaps one of the most exciting teams heading toward September, so try and catch some of their games.
Criticizing Tennessee is hard to do. The Titans have a well-rounded offense and defense, and their coaching staff is well and truly solid.
Like what faces other teams in the AFC North, though, the Colts will always be the favorites, so Tennessee will have to play extremely well if it wishes to top the division.
In 2009 the San Francisco 49ers had serious quarterback protection problems. Looking at them now, though, Alex Smith should have no trouble getting rid of the ball in 2010.
Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati are great offensive linemen to have, and with Frank Gore still going strong, the 49ers offense should be clicking this season.
Last year the 49ers showed promising signs of being a playoff team. In 2010 it is vital for them to start out well and simply get momentum rolling throughout the season.
They aren't the most dominant of teams, but they have the potential to go far. Talent, skill, and overall ability is with the 49ers, so Smith needs to respond to the calls and step up and deliver.
If he fails to do so, well, the 49ers will struggle as a team. San Francisco struggles without a good quarterback, and pressure hasn't always been Smith's best friend.
Is this a concern? Certainly, but none of this should throw San Francisco off course.
It was almost devastating to see the Houston Texans play so well before coming up just short last season.
This year they again have one of the best quarterbacks in the game but also a ton of confidence in their team. Andre Johnson is as good as gold, and with Matt Schaub hitting nearly every target, this team should post a high number of points on the board.
Aside from the older Texans players, it is the new rookies that we should also keep an eye on. Running back Ben Tate should give Houston somewhat of a running game, and with first-round pick Kareem Jackson at cornerback, the Texans have solidified all of their needs.
The only negative point I can make for Houston is just winning games. At times the Texans tend to come up short against bigger teams like Indianapolis, and as a result they only further dig themselves into a hole.
If they can win the games they should, there is no reason why Houston can't be a playoff team this year.