NFL Predictions for 2010 Season: Very Early Look at NFL Playoff Teams
Deservedly so, the New Orleans Saints, led by quarterback Drew Brees, have basked in the glory of their recent Super Bowl triumph.
What are their chances of repeating this season?
Which teams are locks to make the playoffs?
Which teams are going to live up to the hype?
Which teams are going to come out of nowhere to make the playoffs?
Keep reading to find out. I'll lay out the division winners, followed by the two wild card teams from each conference. And we'll kick things off with the NFC.
New Orleans Saints: Defending Champs
The Saints, coming off the first Super Bowl in franchise history, are poised to make a return trip to the big game this season.
Undoubtedly, the offense is loaded. Not only does Brees lead a dynamic passing attack, the Saints can line up and run the ball. They have versatility all over the offense.
Reggie Bush is great in space. Pierre Thomas can run between the tackles. David Thomas and Jeremy Shockey can make plays in the middle of the field from the tight end position. There are wide receivers all over the roster.
In addition, the defense, led by coordinator Gregg Williams, can come after people in a hurry.
Has anyone forgotten Tracy Porter's pick six? Or all the big plays Darren Sharper made last season?
The Saints are definitely an NFC powerhouse and a lock to return to the playoffs as the NFC South champ.
Green Bay Packers: Brett Who?
OK, Cheesehead Nation might not have forgotten ole (old?) Brett Favre just yet, but rising stud Aaron Rodgers is certainly helping ease the pain of a legend's betrayal.
Rodgers has developed into a bona fide super star quarterback. He might be on the covers of magazines yet, but he's no slouch. Rodgers leads a strong offense and is becoming the face of the franchise.
On the other side of the ball, the story starts and ends with the linebackers.
On a team where top 10 pick AJ Hawk is nearly an afterthought, the term embarrassment of riches comes to mind. Nick Barnett and Clay Matthews are real play makers.
Charles Woodson has shown he has not lost a step. There are space heaters on the defensive line. In short, this is a loaded defense (note: that was not a Johnny Jolly joke)
If the offensive line can bounce back from an abysmal 2009 and protect Rodgers, the Packers should win the NFC North in a tight race with their neighbors to the west, the Vikings.
Dallas Cowboys: Believe the Hype
Is this the year Tony Romo leads the Cowboys deep into the playoffs? I think there is a good chance he does.
The Cowboys have a defense that can flat out get after the passer. Harassing opposing quarterbacks and causing backfield disruption should be a staple for the Cowboys.
On offense, a collection of playmakers led by emerging stars Felix Jones and Miles Austin, dependable studs Jason Witten and Marion Barber and buoyed by rookie Dez Bryant should make things tough in the competitive NFC East.
America's Team, however, should end up on top.
San Francisco 49ers: Back to the Dance
Patrick Willis. Linebacker. Mike Singeltary. Linebacker.
The 49ers, led by their playmaking MLB and fiery coach, are made to play in the image of Willis and Singeltary. Physical. Run the ball, stop the run.
Additions on the offensive line should enable the 49ers to pound the ball with Frank Gore.
Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will make enough plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest.
On the other side of the ball, we know the Niners will stop the run. Willis can take care of that on his own. If the 49ers can rush the passer at all, they'll need more than Manny Lawson and Ahmad Brooks, they should prevail in the very winnable NFC West.
Wild Card Winners: Eagles and Vikings
The Eagles and Vikings have enough on offense and defense to make the playoffs. There are, however, enough question marks for both to keep them from winning their divisions.
Can Kevin Kolb lead a young offense loaded with talent? Can the defense regain it's image without the late, great Jim Johnson? Can the Eagles overcome the loss of Donovan McNabb and Bryan Westbrook?
Can Brett Favre buckle up for one more good season? Can Adrian Peterson hang onto the ball? Can Brad Childress find a worse sideline microphone?
New England Patriots: Still Alive
Just like the slasher in those teen horror movies, the big bad killer isn't gone until he's really gone.
The Patriots, led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, won't disappear until they are truly finished.
Sure, Brady is upset with his contract. And there are problems with an aging offensive line. And can Wes Welker really return from a horrific injury suffered in December?
But the Patriots keep on moving along and replace players on the fly. When one guy gets hurt or moves on, another guy steps up. It's the Patriot Way.
Two solid drafts have replenished much of the defense on all three levels. Julian Edelman is a Welker-like replica. And young offensive lineman have been added.
In sum, the Pats have enough to win the AFC East.
Yes, you're right, I did not pick the J-E-T-S to win the AFC East. More on them later.
Indianapolis Colts: Still Humming Along
When they drew up the prototype quarterback in the football factory, it looked like Peyton Manning. He might not have the rings of Brady or Joe Montana, but if you need a prototypical passer, it's Manning.
The Colts have a veritable cornucopia of weapons in the passing game. Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Donald Brown and Joe Addai make up a near fantasy team.
We all know the Colts don't pay linebackers and don't believe in beef on the defensive line.
They do, however, believe in speed, speed, and more speed. From pass rushers, to linebackers in the flat and to safeties flying around, the Colts play the old Tampa Two defense to a tee.
The Colts have enough to win the AFC South. Again.
Baltimore Ravens: Gettin' After It
When you think of the Ravens, you think of defense. And big hits. And more defense.
Ray Lewis is still a monster, even if he may have lost a step. Ed Reed may have a bad hip, but, when healthy, he's an all-time great at safety.
When you think of the new Ravens, you can't overlook the offense.
Ray Rice and Joe Flacco lead an emerging offense. New wideout Anquan Bolden should help holdover Derrick Mason in the passing game.
If the Ravens can defend against the pass and if Reed comes back healthy, the Ravens should win the AFC North.
San Diego: Still Ridin' High
The Broncos aren't ready, the Chiefs are full of question marks and the Raiders are, well, the Raiders. Although, I do think Jason Campbell will make the Raiders a lot better. This is a classic example of addition by subtraction. But I digress.
Even if LT Marcus McNeill and WR Vincent Jackson are threatening to hold out for most of the season, the Chargers have enough in the tank to win the division.
Replacing LaDainian Tomlinson won't be as hard on the field as it will be off the field.
Rookie Ryan Matthews, Darren Sproles and sleeper Shanbrey McNeal out of SMU will be more than capable of replacing LT's on-field production.
Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates will be incredible with or without Vincent Jackson.
If the Chargers can rush the passer, which would be easier if Shawn Merriman could help out at all, the Chargers will run away with the AFC West.
Wild Card Winners: Jets and Texans
I don't think the Jets can live up to the monstrous hype. There, I said it.
Let's not forget the Jets were 9-7 last season. Sure, they got hot at the right time, but they weren't exactly world beaters in 2009.
Thomas Jones has taken his act to Kansas City. Kris Jenkins is coming off major knee surgery. There are disgruntled players in Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold. Mark Sanchez was below average last season. Braylon Edwards has rocks for hands. Santonio Holmes has rocks for brains.
Still, having said that, the Jets have enough to make the playoffs in a loaded AFC. The defense is still very good. The offense can make plays. And Rex Ryan can motivate the squad for any game.
The second AFC Wild Card team resides in Houston.
The Texans can score points in bunches. Andre Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL.
Mario Williams, Brian Cushing (after four games) and DeMeco Ryans lead an emerging defense.
The Texans have made strides in recent years under the stewardship of Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak.
They have gotten better over the past few seasons, but ending up close to the playoffs for the first time is not the ultimate end result for the Texans.
The Texans must make noise in the playoffs to satisfy Houston fans. Look for that to start in 2010.