2010 NFL Predictions: Top 15 Surprises That May Occur in the AFC
Each new season brings excitement, certain anticipation, and things fans consider to be expected. But with all the expectations come certain surprises as well.
Surprises such as unexpected players, the failure of teams everyone expects greatness from, and the Saints actually winning a Super Bowl.
Here are the 15 surprises that may occur in the AFC this season.
15. LT Has More Receiving Yards Than Rushing Yards With Jets
With the emergence of Shonn Greene to the top of the Jets depth chart as Thomas Jones departed for Kansas City, LaDainian Tomlinson seemed like the fit for a team that needed a veteran back.
Tomlinson failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career in 2009. It may be that he lost a step, or it may be that he was unhappy with his situation sharing time and having his abilities questioned.
Regardless of what it was, he is going to find himself in a similar situation with a young Shonn Greene coming into his own.
If Tomlinson is going to have an impact for the Jets, he is going to have to make the most of his time. A lot of it will come in third down situations where he will be just as valuable using his receiving skills as he will toting the rock.
LT has been a notoriously great double threat out of the backfield, averaging almost 500 yards a season receiving over the course of his nine years in the league.
With Mark Sanchez still figuring things out, it is going to be an invaluable asset having Tomlinson there to dump the ball off to out of the backfield.
While some are expecting LT to have a bounce-back year running the ball, he may surprisingly have more receiving yards than rushing yards as Shonn Greene continues to develop and he finds himself on the field in more and more passing situations.
14. Roddrick Muckelroy Cracks the Starting Lineup at Linebacker for the Bengals
The linebacker out of Texas has the potential to make an impact right away at the pro level.
His running times tested out slower than expected and they caused him to drop into the fourth round of the 2009 draft, but don’t be surprised if it is Muckelroy, not Brandon Spikes, that has slower times and makes an impact in the NFL.
Muckelroy’s keen awareness on the field is second only to natural instincts and ability to use his great size (6’2”, 246 lbs), strength, and athleticism to shed blockers and attack the running game.
His cerebral approach to the game allows him to read and defend the pass extremely well despite his lack of straight-line speed. His use of angles makes up for that small lack of speed and allows him to excel in combination zone play.
At first Muckelroy will be expected to play special teams coverage, but as the season progresses he should see his way to the lineup if he plays up to the potential and natural ability he possesses.
13. Mike Wallace Has a Better Year Than Santonio Holmes
Santonio Holmes was a Super Bowl MVP and the Steelers' leading receiver in two of the last three seasons.
Mike Wallace was a third round pick out of Mississippi in 2009 and burst onto the scene with little fanfare to go with his 756 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie.
While many would argue that the attention Holmes and Ward drew away from the rookie allowed him to get open as often as he did, others would point out that Wallace is far superior than Holmes was at this point in his career.
In fact, during the 2009 season, Wallace was often so fast that he was under thrown on deep balls that cost him yards and touchdowns.
The Steelers obviously thought highly enough of Wallace’s abilities to rid themselves of Holmes’ off the field headaches by trading him to the Jets in 2009 for as little as a fifth round pick.
Holmes will no longer have the high-powered passing attack of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the arm of Ben Roethlisberger to depend on with the Jets. His addition to the Jets offense will help them, but Mark Sanchez is certainly not going to throw the ball 40 times a game in New York.
The increase in chances for Wallace with Holmes gone should not only allow him to break the 1,000 yard mark in his sophomore season, but also increase on his touchdown totals as well.
12. Damian Williams Proves To Be the Second Day Steal of the Draft for the Titans
While there are sure to be faster receivers, there may not be a better route runner in this year’s draft class.
Williams has drawn many comparisons to former USC standout Steve Smith, who led the NFC in receptions last season.
Williams is a tall, tough receiver whose frame will allow him to grow even bigger. Perhaps what stands out the most is his ability to chew up yards after the catch. Williams will bring all of this to the table as he teams up with last year’s first round pick, Kenny Britt.
Arellious Benn and Golden Tate seem like the second day values of the draft at wide receiver. Yet Williams may surprise a few people as he uses the motivation of slipping into the fourth round to have a breakout rookie campaign in an offense that truly needed another playmaking receiver to go with Britt.
11. The Baltimore Ravens Throw the Ball More Than They Run It
Baltimore has always been a running team with a great defense.
The Ravens’ quarterbacks used to play to not lose, rather than to play to win. Game managers that would hopefully protect the football and make few enough mistakes to win games, like Trent Dilfer.
All that has changed in recent years. While they have yet to become a pass-first team, the emergence of Joe Flacco will be met with gifted receivers like Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and Donte Stallworth.
As always, the sure handed Todd Heap anchors the tight end corps and now has two exciting young rookies in Ed Dickson from Oregon and Dennis Pitta from BYU.
Still not sure the passing numbers are on their way up in Baltimore?
The team’s leading rusher last season was Ray Rice. Guess who also had over 700 yards receiving and was second on the team in receiving in 2009?
While defense with Ray Lewis and running the ball with Jamal Lewis has been the equation for winning football games for the Ravens so far, Jamal is gone and Ray is aging to say the least.
With issues at cornerback and Ed Reed beginning to take issue with his contract, the Ravens defense, while still strong is not the dominant force it once was.
The Ravens are going to have to put up some points if they want to win games and the high-powered passing attack in Baltimore will afford them the ability to do so.
10. Tim Tebow Beats Brady Quinn for the No. 2 QB Spot in Denver
Despite his pedigree and reputation coming out of Notre Dame, Brady Quinn has been a major disappointment thus far in his pro career.
His inconsistency has been matched only by his inability to stay healthy, and despite many opportunities to keep the starting job in Cleveland, Quinn has proven to be less than stellar under pressure.
The pressure faces him in Denver, as he will be competing against arguably the best college football player of all time, and the much-hyped Tim Tebow will be immense to say the least.
A guy who has the tools, but has a hard time staying healthy and living up to the pressure, against a guy that thrives under pressure and proving his naysayers wrong, will be the storyline to follow during training camp.
9. Cincinnati Bengals Miss Playoffs After Winning AFC North Last Season
The Bengals swept the AFC North last season, but don’t count on such a performance again this season.
The Baltimore Ravens are much improved on offense with the additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth. The expectations of a much better passing game combined with the explosiveness of Ray Rice out of the backfield will make the task of beating the Ravens that much harder in 2010.
While the Steelers will be without Ben Roethlisberger to start the season, the Bengals have no such luck as to play them during the six-week stretch, or for another three weeks after his return.
The Steelers' defense will be much improved with the return of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, along with the reacquisition of Bryant McFadden at the cornerback position.
Roethlisberger will be back with enough time to shake off whatever rust may be left from his layoff, and should be in some form of rhythm by the time the two teams meet in Week Nine.
The North will be a much tougher test for the Bengals this season. Add that to the fact that they play the NFC South, who are always tough despite recent records, and it is not hard to imagine the Bengals missing the playoffs in 2010.
8. Monterio Hardesty Wins Offensive Rookie of the Year Honors
There are some rookie runningbacks in the AFC that have high expectations coming into the 2010 season, but the biggest surprise may be the emergence of Monterio Hardesty over the likes of CJ Spiller and Ryan Matthews.
Jerome Harrison lacks the size to be a featured back by himself, and Hardesty has proven to be the big powerful runner that the Browns need to complement him for the short term.
By season’s end, Hardesty should prove to have the tools not only to get the short yardage carries, but also the speed and cutback ability to be an explosive every-down back.
7. Rookie Kyle Wilson Will Have More Interceptions Than Darelle Revis
Let's leave the contract disputes and all the preseason posturing out of the equation for a minute.
Revis has established himself as the best defensive back in the NFL, and that will not likely change any time soon. Assuming of course, that he doesn’t decide to stop playing until he is paid what he is worth.
Teams have paid dearly for the decision to go after Revis, and it is not likely that they will continue to pay the price for trespassing on his side of the field again this season.
With the addition of Cromartie, Kyle Wilson will most likely become the nickel/dime back in Rex Ryan’s defense, the perfect position for a young athletic ball-hawk.
The defense is set up in such a way that Wilson should have more opportunities for easy picks than anyone else on the Jets defense.
Revis meanwhile, will most likely deal with the Deion Sanders effect. His numbers will be lower, but only because teams will try to throw away from him at all costs.
At season's end, Wilson could be looking at higher totals, but only thanks to the dominance of Darelle Revis.
6. Terrell Owens Finds a Home in the AFC North
With the exception of Cleveland, the Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers all look to be deep enough to make a playoff run in 2010.
With the new acquisitions of Boldin and Stallworth in Baltimore, Bryant and rookie Jordan Shipley in Cincinnati, and the new, albeit limited, depth at the wide receiver position in Pittsburgh, Owens may still be most likely to land in the AFC North.
T.O. Still has no home at this point, and most of the legitimate interest in the often-troubled wide receiver has come from the AFC North division.
Chad Ochocinco has campaigned for Owens to come to Cincinnati, but to no avail.
Questions continue to be asked of Pittsburgh, who were high enough on second-year player Mike Wallace to trade Santonio Holmes away for a fifth round pick.
Despite the acquisition of Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle, the Steelers are one training camp injury or less away from needing a player that will take a one-year deal and be able to contribute right away, as are the Ravens.
The Browns could definitely use the help for Jake Delhomme in an offense that has lost significant offensive weapons in recent years, including Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow.
If T.O. can convince someone that he can be a team player without making a situation worse, he could surprisingly find a home amongst the no-nonsense teams of the AFC North.
5. Raiders Seriously Contend for Wild Card Berth
Believe it or not, the Raiders had a great draft in 2010.
When you take the prospects of adding Rolando McClain to an already solid defense, and combine that with a legitimate quarterback in Jason Campbell on the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders look like a team that could surprise people.
They play in what may be the weakest division in football, against three teams that are all in some form of transition or change.
Denver’s experience with McDaniels has been less than enchanting thus far, and with the loss of Brandon Marshall, the offense will likely feel the effect of the growing pains that are sure to take place within a young team.
The Chiefs will be starting the process of adapting to Charlie Weis’ new system in KC, while trying to revitalize their lackluster passing game.
San Diego is still the odds on favorite to win the West once again, despite the state of disarray it finds itself in, with the contract situations of numerous key players turning ugly.
Oakland has every reason to be optimistic concerning its chances, given its easy schedule including its own division and matchups against the NFC West and Jacksonville.
If it can find a way to pull off a key win against one of the tougher non-conference teams like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Miami, we could be talking about Oakland as the final wild-card team in the AFC.
4. Colt McCoy Ends Up Starting for Browns by Season’s End
Colt McCoy won more games than anyone in college, and by season’s end, the Browns are likely to ask him to come win at the NFL level.
The Browns' quarterback situation is as up in the air as any in football this season.
Sure, they brought in Jake Delhomme this offseason, but they are going to ask him to make fewer mistakes with fewer weapons than he had in Carolina.
The results in the past…
Well, just ask John Fox how frustrating it can be to count on Jake Delhomme.
While Seneca Wallace was also brought in this offseason by his former head coach turned front office guru Mike Holmgren, he is not going to be the answer to the quarterback woes in Cleveland.
Assuming McCoy grasps the NFL playbook, and shows the maturity to lead his team the way he did as a freshman for the Longhorns, the quarterback of the future could be the quarterback of today in Cleveland.
3. The New England Patriots Miss the Playoffs for Second Time in Three Seasons
A ticked off Pro Bowl offensive lineman, Wes Welker is coming off of a major knee injury, and a defense that is somewhere between a 3-4 and a 4-3 base scheme minus Mike Vrabel and several other veteran cogs that made their defense run.
The Patriots have some questions that have no answers right now.
Once Tom Brady is signed, the Patriots still have the Logan Mankins situation to deal with.
The question of how Welker’s knee will hold up, and the defensive transition where they may need to run more 4-3 than 3-4 to take advantage of the “depth” on the defensive line as opposed to their linebacking corps, without Vrable and Adalius Thomas, still remain.
With the Jets and Dolphins making great strides this offseason, it is more than possible that the Patriots could be one of the 10-6 or 9-7 AFC teams to be watching the playoffs from the couch next season.
2. Andre Johnson Holds Out to Start 2010 Season
While Andre Johnson says he will not hold out of training camp this summer, don’t be surprised if there is a holdout situation at the beginning of the regular season in Houston.
The Texans have a policy in place that prevents them from negotiating with any player not participating in mandatory team activities.
Johnson will report to camp in efforts to get something done in talks to restructure his current contract.
However, with Johnson expecting to become the highest paid receiver in the league, it may turn into a surprising holdout at summer’s end if nothing gets done.
1. Ben Roethlisberger Serves Full Six Game Suspension
Ben Roethlisberger has had his fair share of issues this offseason—most recently a public urination charge that was blown way out of proportion.
I am not sure what guy who plays golf doesn’t use a tree from time to time, but regardless, trouble seems to follow Roethlisberger everywhere he goes.
Big Ben has been on his best behavior since being suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell, and all signs have pointed to him earning the abbreviated version of his six game suspension, since he has followed the instructions down to the last detail.
The biggest surprise of the 2010 season would be seeing Roethlisberger sit out the full six weeks of his suspension, but don’t put it past Sheriff Goodell.