After a five month hibernation, the NFL is about to poke its head out of the cave. Training camps around the country breakout in a couple of weeks. We are less than a month from the first preseason game in Canton, when the Bengals take on the Cowboys. The Sept. 9 regular season kicks off down in the Bayou and sends the defending champs out on to the field against the same NFC team they beat to reach the Super Bowl.
A sober Sean Payton (read his book) will be on the sidelines toting Lombardi's Trophy while playing a hungry, white stubble faced, Wrangler wearing quarterback with a surgically repaired ankle (we think) and a talented cast around him.
The National Football League knows how to make an entrance.
We know your Whatifsports.com football diet has been craving nourishment. Well, we are about to provide you a preseason appetizer before training camps start. Beginning Monday July 12, Whatifsports.com will preview an NFL Division-a-Day for eight straight days.
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, Whatifsports.com will provide Foxsports.com its game predictions and Fox Sports Fantasy Football fantasy projections on a weekly basis. Using our NFL simulation engine , we have "played" the entire 2010 NFL season. Each game was simulated 501 times. The simulation engine has provided us game-by-game predictions and projected fantasy stats for all 32 NFL teams and 350 players.
Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 30, 2010. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here .
For this analysis, each regular season game is simulated 501 times, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50 percent of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in parentheses next to each team) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Also, we account for players with injury histories who are considered likely to miss games despite currently being healthy by randomly taking them out of what the analysis dictates is the correct number of games throughout the season. For players who will begin the season injured or who are assumed to replace the current starter during the season, we deliberately make those roster changes in the appropriate weeks. All of these items can cause some perceived inconsistencies with the scores, especially when a team plays one opponent from its division with one set of starters and uses different personnel later.
Today we preview the AFC East
Miami Dolphins (WIS Prediction: 6-10)
Absolute Record: 6-10
The Dolphins had a bit of a letdown in '09, going 7-9 after winning the AFC East in 2008. Injuries decimated Miami, as Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown missed extended time. Chad Henne played well with his first taste of professional action, and "the Wildcat" proved not to be a one-hit wonder. With the addition of Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall, hope abounds in Miami for the 2010 season.
Most Significant Newcomer: Brandon Marshall—The much maligned wideout had campaigned for a departure from Denver since the Josh McDaniels Era began, and his wishes were finally granted when he was shipped to Miami for a pair of second round picks. No one has questioned Marshall's performance on the field: since 2007 he has racked up 307 catches for 3,710 yards and 23 touchdowns. It has been Marshall's activities off the gridiron (numerous run-ins with the law, a questionable attitude with coaches) that have garnered scrutiny. Bill Parcells has a track record of dealing with disgruntled receivers in the past, (Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn) so if anyone can reach through to Marshall, it's the Big Tuna.
Biggest Strength: Running attack. Almost every team has installed some version of "the Wildcat" into their offensive arsenal, yet no one has replicated Miami's productiveness of the vaunted rushing attack. Despite injuries to Brown and Patrick Cobbs, Miami still finished the season fourth in rushing, totaling over 2,200 yards in 2009. The Wildcat isn't effective simply by putting points on the board, it also keeps the Dolphin defense on the sideline as evidenced by Miami finishing in the top five in the AFC in time of possession. If Brown returns to full-strength, and Williams can duplicate his '09 output (1,121 yards, 11 TDs), the Dolphins will continue to succeed on the ground.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Defense. Despite taking the field for only 968 plays (4th lowest in the AFC), Miami surrendered 24.4 points per game—third worst in the conference behind Kansas City and Tennessee. Tony Sparano and company acknowledged this Achilles' heel in the draft by using seven of their eight selections on defensive players, including their first-round selection on defensive end Jared Odrick. Additionally, former 49er head coach, Mike Nolan, was hired as defensive coordinator to help transform the underperforming unit. However, a youthful corps and a new frontman doesn't necessarily equate to progress, as the Dolphin D still looks to be a year away.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Patrick Cobbs. It's not inconceivable that Cobbs could see increased playing time in 2010, especially when one realizes Miami's running back rotation includes injury-prone Ronnie Brown and a 33-year-old Ricky Williams. Cobbs is returning from a torn knee ligament suffered in the '09 season. However, given Miami's tendency to favor the run, Cobbs could be a solid pickup if Brown and/or Williams get banged-up.
Closest Game: Week 1 @ Buffalo (Avg. Score 15-13 - Bills)
Fantasy Notables: Chad Henne (29) 3,049 yards, 14 TDs, 15 INTs; Ronnie Brown (15) 1,124 yards, 8 TDs; Brandon Marshall (32) 950 yards, 4 TDs; Anthony Fasano (32) 304 yards, 1 TD; Dan Carpenter (17) 27 FG, 26 XP
2010 Miami Dolphins
|3||New York Jets||52||14-12|
|4||New England Patriots||30||18-23|
|6||@Green Bay Packers||6||9-28|
|14||@New York Jets||40||12-17|
|17||@New England Patriots||21||15-27|
Buffalo Bills (WIS Prediction: 7-9)
Absolute Record: 7-9
Buffalo brought their losing-season streak to five as the team stumbled to a 6-10 record. Unfortunately, the dismal performance on the field is the least of Buffalo's worries, as rumors persist the franchise might exodus to Toronto. Can a young and talented defense be enough to give Buffalo fans hope for 2010?
Lee-d by Example
Most Significant Newcomer: C.J. Spiller. The 2009 season was a disaster for Buffalo at the halfback position, as former Pro-Bowler Marshawn Lynch fell out of favor with the organization and city after numerous off the field issues. Backup Fred Jackson filled in admirably, but the Bills only scored six TDs on the ground last year, good for last in the AFC. To address this pressing issue, the Bills took Spiller with the ninth pick in the 2010 Draft. Spiller compiled over 1,200 yards on the ground at Clemson in '09, with 12 TDs and averaging 5.6 yards a carry. Spiller is also an asset in the passing game, hauling in 36 catches for 503 yards and four scores. If Lynch is traded or released before the season commences, look for Spiller to be the feature back in Buffalo.
Biggest Strength: Punting. Let's be honest, there's not many strengths for a team coming off a 5-10 record. Sorry, that last win against a Curtis Painter-led Colts squad doesn't count. The Bills do employ the services of punter Brian Moorman , one of the league's best punters. In 2009, Moorman was second in the league in punting average with 46.6 yards a kick.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Quarterback. It's been said that having a quarterback competition between two players equates to having no quarterback at all. If this expression rings true, what the hell are we suppose to make of a three-man QB battle? For that's exactly what will transpire at Bills training camp as new Buffalo coach Chan Gailey announced an open race between Trent Edwards, Brian Brohm, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Trust me, I don't know much in this crazy, crazy world, but whatever the question is, Fitzpatrick is never the answer.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Lee Evans. A subpar year for Evans (44 Rec, 612 Yds, 7 TDs) has him ranked in the high 30s at the WR position in many fantasy projections. The decline in production can be attributed to the disarray at the QB position and the presence of Terrell Owens. With T.O. out of the picture, and if the situation at quarterback can be solidified, Evans will return to his 1,000+ yard form from 2008.
Closest Game: Week 4 vs Jets (Avg. Score 14-12 - Bills)
Fantasy Notables: Trent Edwards (28) 3,091 yards, 14 TDs, 18 INTs; Fred Jackson (21) 981 yards, 6 TDs; Lee Evans (34) 933 yards, 4 TDs; Derek Schouman (13) 677 yards, 3 TDs; Rian Lindell (24), 25 FG, 25 XP
2010 Buffalo Bills
|2||@Green Bay Packers||12||8-23|
|3||@New England Patriots||28||12-21|
|4||New York Jets||51||14-12|
|8||@Kansas City Chiefs||63||18-16|
|16||New England Patriots||35||13-15|
|17||@New York Jets||40||10-14|
New York Jets (WIS Prediction: 7-9)
Absolute Record: 5-11
From a mid-season collapse to an improbable AFC Championship appearance, Rex Ryan's first year was quite the roller coaster. Mark Sanchez went from surprisingly good to ungodly awful to amazingly effective. The Jets had one of the best running attacks in the league, as well as giving up the fewest total yards on defense. Yet New York still needed to win their final two games just to enter the playoffs. While the '09 season can be labeled a surprise, 2010 will be quite a different tale, as Ryan has already proclaimed the Jets as favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
Most Significant Newcomer: LaDainian Tomlinson. The Jets acquired a multitude of noteworthy players this offseason: Santonio Holmes, Jason Taylor, Antonio Cromartie, and Nick Folk, to name a few. But the signing of LDT was the team's biggest gamble; heightened by the release of former Pro Bowler Thomas Jones and sending electrifying Leon Washington to Seattle. Unless the 2006 MVP can discover the Fountain of Youth, this venture could prove ill-advised for the Jets. A look at Tomlinson's stat lines from the past four seasons:
Luckily for New York fans, sophomore-sensation Shonn Greene will be the featured back. However, if Greene goes down due to injury and LaDainian is suddenly the focal point of the run-oriented offense, the J-E-T-S could be S.O.L.
Biggest Strength: Offensive Line. The Jets racked up 2,756 yards on the ground in '09, tops in the NFL. While the three-headed monster of Jones-Greene-Washington was a force to be reckoned with, the offensive line deserves much of the praise. Not only did they clear the proverbial road for their runners, but the o-line also kept rookie Sanchez safe, surrendering only 30 sacks. Some of which can be attributed to Sanchez's inability to get rid of the ball. The biggest question mark will be at guard, where the Jets released nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca. Second-year man Matt Slauson and rookie Vladimir Ducasse are expected to fill Faneca's shoes.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Swagger. Before we hear another story of Ryan changing the attitude and culture in Jet-land with his "us against the world" mantra, keep in mind these three imperative and undeniable facts: 1) The Colts and Bengals pulled their starters in Weeks 16 and 17, relinquishing to the Jets an easy playoff berth rather than New York earning it. 2) Discounting the Colts and Bengals match-up, five of New York's seven wins came against teams with non-winning records which were led by the likes of Kerry Collins, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Josh Freeman. Maybe we should pump the breaks on that Super Bowl talk. 3) Rex Ryan broke down in tears in front of his squad after coming up short against Jacksonville. Just spitballin', but when I think of "swagger," a 47-year-old man crying after losing doesn't come to mind. The point is this: numerous media outlets have decreed this team to be loaded with audacity and arrogance. The truth is, they're simply a more emotional bunch than your average NFL team. This has its advantages and detriments. When things are going well, the Jets are going to be tough to beat. But let's see how they respond after getting knocked down a few times. That's the mark of a Super Bowl contender.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Dustin Keller. The tight end out of Purdue will be entering his third year in the league after making major strides at the end of the '09 season. During New York's playoff run, Keller had 12 catches, 181 yards, three touchdowns, and became somewhat of a security option for the rookie Sanchez. Assuming Keller and Sanchez continue to build on their chemistry, Keller could become one of the more productive receiving tight ends in football in 2010.
Closest Game: Week 4 @ Bills (Avg. Score 15-14 - Bills)
Fantasy Notables: Mark Sanchez (30) 2952 yards, 15 TDs, 20 INTs; Shonn Greene (28) 987 yards, 7 TDs; Braylon Edwards (45) 832 yards, 4 TDs; Dustin Keller (22) 429 yards, 2 TDs; Nick Folk (30) 21 FG, 28 XP
2010 New York Jets
|2||New England Patriots||39||13-14|
|8||Green Bay Packers||16||12-21|
|13||@New England Patriots||33||10-17|
New England (WIS Prediction: 10-6)
Absolute Record: 11-5
Most teams would consider a 10-6 season with a divisional crowd a success. However, most teams aren't the New England Patriots. Defensive stalwart Richard Seymour was sent packing to Oakland, and 2008 hero Matt Cassel was traded to Kansas City. Five of their six losses were contests decided by seven points or less. Yet in their first round playoff match-up against the Baltimore Ravens, the Pats were embarrassed at Gillette Stadium 33-14, with Baltimore putting up 24 on the scoreboard in the first quarter. With the Jets and Dolphins gaining ground, how long will New England be able to control its grasp on the AFC East?
Most Significant Newcomer(s): Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes. The New England defense has been somewhat of a leaking ship since their (almost) undefeated season in 2007, to the point where "Patriots call Junior Seau out of retirement" has become a running joke. The three draft picks of McCourty, Cunningham, and Spikes should revitalize and stabilize the Patriot D.
Biggest Strength: Passing game. Although looking uncomfortable and timid at times in '09, Tom Brady remains one of the game's best signal callers. Brady's arsenal of weapons was replenished this offseason with the addition of three TEs (veteran Alge Crumpler and rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) and two new WRs (7x Pro Bowler Torry Holt and third round selection Taylor Price). If Wes Welker returns from a devastating ACL/MCL injury, the Patriot air-attack could be as explosive as their record-setting '07 campaign.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Running back. Or should I say, a lack thereof. The Brady-Belichick Era has never been blessed with a dynamic back (save for a brief tour of duty from Corey Dillon), as they have always counted on a committee to get the job done. The upcoming season will be no different as Brady has the following to work with: Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris , and Fred Taylor. Unless the Patriot brass can pull off a trade for a competent rusher, and don't put it past them, New England's ground game will be stuck in neutral. For those who question if the Patriots inferior rushing attack will haunt them, must I remind you of the 4-and-2 blunder in Indy last season?
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Torry Holt. At 34, most in the NFL believe Holt is washed-up. His numbers seem to indicate this perception as Holt as failed to reach 800 yards in receiving the past two seasons. In his defense, not many wideouts with Marc Bulger and David Garrard passing to them would be able to put up great numbers. However, Holt could find new life as New England's third receiver in a pass-happy offense.
Closest Game: Week 11 vs Colts (Avg. Score 21-18 - Pats)
Fantasy Notables: Tom Brady (11) 3,989 yards, 24 TDs, 13 INTs; Laurence Maroney (37) 774 yards, 6 TD; Wes Welker (7) 1,179 yards, 7 TDs; Rob Gronkowski (31) 290 yards, 2 TDs; Stephen Gostkowski (10) 27 FG, 37 XP
2010 New England Patriots
|2||@New York Jets||61||14-13|
|7||@San Diego Chargers||27||19-28|
|13||New York Jets||67||17-10|
|15||Green Bay Packers||29||17-22|