Hit The Ground Running: 10 NFL Teams That Must Start The Season Well

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2010

Hit The Ground Running: 10 NFL Teams That Must Start The Season Well

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    Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb faces a pivotal season in 2010

    If there's one thing that most NFL coaches become infuriated by year after year, it is a team's lack of motivation in the early goings of the regular season.

    In the past, we've seen numerous prime examples of this scenario, and whether it be the San Diego Chargers' tedious 0-4 starts year after year, it is an issue that often plagues a handful of teams when the season firsts swings around.

    For the most part, just about every team has its positive aspects this season.  Many teams are on the verge of Super Bowl success, while others are a step or two behind the game, but are still striving for an above .500 record.

    But who will fail to get off to a more than decent start this season?  It's a tough call to make, but the following 10 teams should give you a firm understanding of who needs to 'hit the ground running' this year, and get off to a perfect start.

10. San Diego Chargers

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    Philip Rivers is a good quarterback, but must become a solid leader for the Chargers this season.Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Although the Chargers were just mentioned, no one can deny the struggles that have plagued San Diego every year.

    Given that the Chargers have been a rather consistent postseason team the past four to five years, the way they've gone about business in the early stages of the season certainly hasn't been pretty.

    For any NFL fan, most of you would remember one analyst or two debating year after year if the Chargers early season slump would continue throughout the season. 

    Luckily for the San Diego faithful, this scenario hasn't played out, and the Chargers have continued to defy the odds, and somehow reach the postseason.

    But will San Diego be able to pull of the exact same miracle this season?  Well, looking at the Chargers on paper, it certainly will be a lot tougher.

    Firstly, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie are now missing from the team.  It's arguable that these two guys were big-time playmakers for the Chargers, but they did contribute when the team needed them the most.

    Therefore, this factor alone sets San Diego back a peg. 

    Secondly, given the Chargers latest lapse in confidence after their early exit in the playoffs last season thanks to the New York Jets, a losing streak from the beginning of the season isn't a favorable option for Norv Turner and his coaching crew.

    Yes, the days have finally come where the Chargers may not be as dominant as they once were. 

    Keep in mind that the AFC is now a very tight conference, and if the Chargers start off poorly, it may cost them in the long run.

    A hot streak is desirable for this team, and although 4-0 after the first month may not play out the way Charger fans would like, it certainly would help their confidence immensely this season.

9. Baltimore Ravens

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    Super Bowl favorites or not, Baltimore are competing in a tough AFC North division.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Prior to the NFL Draft, just about everybody had Baltimore marked down as Super Bowl favorites. 

    However, funnily enough, the Ravens have slipped down the rankings recently, as bigger and better teams are now looking more likely to take their spot.

    Still, you can't help but love the Ravens, right? 

    They may not have been the No. 1-ranked defense last season, but their firepower and newly found offensive arsenal certainly is impressive heading toward their preseason Week One clash with the Carolina Panthers.

    But before we go ahead and put Baltimore in the Lombardi Trophy picture, a few things have to happen first. 

    To begin, Joe Flacco needs to step out of his own shadow and take on the role as the starter. 

    No more "I'm the new guy"-style attitude; now comes a time for the talented young man to take the reins and steer the sleigh towards yet another postseason spot.

    Away from Flacco though, how Baltimore's season plays out will depend on what type of start they get in the early months of the season.

    For you see, the AFC North is an everyday struggle.  Gone are the days of one-team dominance (usually Pittsburgh), and now we arrive in a triple threat contest, between three very strong teams.

    One slip up, and it may cost the Ravens dearly.  It's simple: They need to win the games they should, and they need to win the games they must.

    No half-hearted performances against teams like Green Bay, and more importantly, no silly mistakes. 

    If Baltimore can capitalize on these factors, then they shall remain in the hunt for the crown.

8. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Falcons are back, and are now flying high once again.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Have you ever heard the term "Bring back the biff"  Well here's a team that is doing just that, and are now back to what appears to be their 2008 best, much to the delight of Atlanta fans.

    Last season saw the Falcons collapse both mentally and physically.  Once Michael Turner went down with an ankle injury, life was instantly sucked right out of the Georgia Dome, and the focus then started to turn toward next season.

    Fortunately though, the Falcons did finish 9-7, which is good considering how things could have turned out given Atlanta's lack of confidence toward the midway point in the season.

    However, the Falcons' injury and confidence bug wasn't the only disappointing story. 

    Yes, the bigger story was the New Orleans Saints, as they began to strangle the NFC South division, and take over like Conan O'Brien took over The Tonight Show, only to actually succeed.

    But like my elders always say "That was in the past, focus on today," and that is exactly what the Falcons are doing in the present time.

    Michael Turner is back, and looking great I might add, and the teams confidence for this season is underrated, but definitely existent.

    So when it's all said and done, will the Falcons capture the NFC South?  Look, it won't be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is doable.

    Before that is to happen though, the Falcons must keep their offseason confidence rolling. 

    This will be easier said than done though, as the Falcons have Pittsburgh, Arizona, New Orleans, and San Francisco all in the first month of the regular season.

    Like I said, it is doable.  But the Falcons must form a hot streak first, before they are to move forward.

7. San Francisco 49ers

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    The NFC West is notably weaker this season, but tests do lay ahead for San Francisco.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Even though San Francisco hasn't been labeled as "Super Bowl favorites," they have been labeled as a sleeper team to watch in 2010.

    So what's new in San Francisco?  Not a whole lot actually, except for two newly drafted standout offensive lineman, whose names are Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

    If you're unfamiliar with their work, let me put it simply: They are immovable objects.

    And how does this help San Francisco?  Well it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the 49ers had serious pocket-presence troubles last season, and that quarterback Alex Smith was rushed on many different occasions.

    Therefore, this season expect to see a new 49er team, who are stronger and ready to take on some of the league's toughest teams.

    The problem for the 49ers though hasn't all been on the field.  They have become accustomed to some inconsistency in the win department, and haven't always been able to piece the puzzle together, and form a consecutive group of wins.

    Although the 49ers' new draft picks are impressive, San Francisco now needs to start winning if it is to have any shot to make the postseason.

    More importantly though, the 49ers need to jump off to a good start and at least knock Seattle and Kansas City off in their opening month.

    Tough times do lie ahead for San Francisco, and it is important we don't look at them through rose-colored glasses.  Still, the division is weak, and if it wins, it will visit the postseason.

6. Denver Broncos

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    Denvers season hangs in the balance between failure or success. Which one will it be Josh McDaniels?Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Did I say that San Francisco had some tough times ahead?  Well that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what awaits the Denver Broncos this season, as failure may be imminent for this team in 2010.

    Ah, the Broncos, it's been all laughs about town the past week, hasn't it?  Tim Tebow has a new do, and it appears that nothing bothers this team right now.

    Perhaps I'm a party pooper, or am I the only one that sees the concern for the Broncos in 2010? 

    In case you still don't know what I'm talking about, take a look at the Broncos roster, and tell me whether all three of the teams quarterbacks could potentially fail this season.

    Concerned now?  I thought so.

    Of course, all of this concern could wind up to be worthless, and in fact we may see Kyle Orton excel this season. 

    But still, let's be realistic, Josh McDaniels is on a hotseat like no other, and I hate to think how a Denver riot due to a losing season would compare to the Cleveland riot over LeBron James right now.

    Away from what could happen, lets have a look at what we already know.  First up, the Broncos started out well last season. 

    They had a few hiccups, but for the most part looked like one of the favorites to play January football.

    But we know how that turned out.  So this season, the Broncos need to get on that streak, and ride it hard. 

    No under-the-radar losses, a team effort is needed.  There is no doubt in my mind that most of you know this, but it doesn't hurt to get the point across.

    Denver is a very uneasy team right now, and the slightest rock of the boat could upset that.  Let's hope things go according to plan.

5. Tennessee Titans

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    The Titans are underrated, but thats just the way they like it.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    I find it hard to comprehend why Tennessee is still failing to receive any love from fans.  Have they done something that I don't know about?  Or is everybody still thinking that Vince Young isn't the real deal at this point in his career?

    Whichever one it may be, forget it.  Tennessee is a real threat this season.  We all know they have the greatest running back in the game, and given how great Vince Young did look last season barring his seven interceptions, he is primed for another good year, if not better this season.

    For the Titans, their opening month of football isn't all that difficult.  In Week One they play Raiders, followed by Pittsburgh, the New York Giants, and finally the Denver Broncos.

    Realistically all of these games the Titans could win, and we may be looking at another 2008 undefeated streak unfold before our very eyes.

    However, although the Titans are on this list, there consistency hasn't been a massive issue.  They normally start off well, and even if they don't, they tend to pick up the slack toward the midway point of the year.

    Still, if you can win, why not get the job done, right?  Exactly.  A hot streak is preferable for this side given the tough division they are in, and now that Houston is a threat along with the obvious inclusion of Indianapolis, Tennessee need to win everything they can.

    Personally I have confidence in this team, as they seem to be all together.  Yes Chris Johnson has created a stir recently, but that should all blow over.  Mark Tennessee down as a sleeper pick if you will, if they get off to a great start, you'll be wishing you jumped on the bandwagon earlier.

4. Chicago Bears

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    The pressure is all on Jay Cutler this season to perform at his very best.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    As tough as other divisions are, some simply don't compare to the NFC North, where winning is everything.

    In 2009, the Bears struggled.  The team looked down, Jay Cutler was making an eyesaw of his passing attempts, and the team defense had taken a step down from where it once was in the NFL.

    Fortunately, Chicago have taken many necessary steps to getting their franchise back in the right direction.  The first was of course the additions of Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor, both of whom will add a presence to the team.

    The second, was to keep Lovie Smith.  The Bears easily could have fired Smith, but instead chose to hold onto him, and give him one last chance to turn the Bears luck around.

    However, as promising and delightful as this all sounds, Chicago face a very tough year.  Firstly, they must outdo Green Bay and Minnesota if they want to make the postseason.  Secondly, Jay Cutler needs to stand up and prove to us all that he is worth those extra zeroes in his paycheck that the Bears are offering him.

    Right now, Chicago's opening month does look tough.  Week One sees the Bears take on Detroit, followed by the tough Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and finally the New York Giants.

    Looking at it on paper, the Bears could potentially lose all four games, and be in quite a rut.  Therefore, this team must start off well, or things could easily go from bad to worse, and the season may be over in the blink of an eye.

    Start off well, great the Bears are back.  Start off poorly, well I hate to think what may happen, let's just say, Chicago's nickname may be changed from 'The Windy City' to 'The Frustrated City' in a matter of time.

3. Arizona Cardinals

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    Larry Fitzgerald is minus his old throwing buddy, but must make the most of what Matt Leinart offers him.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Cardinals are a tough team to get your head around right now.  On one hand you have Larry Fitzgerald, who is brilliant.  On the other you have Matt Leinart, who is a massive question.

    For the Cardinals, expectations are quite low this year.  Many analysts believe we'll see a very different Cardinal team this season, and they may slip to become a very underperforming team.

    The problems that face the Cardinals are also simple.  They have a young quarterback who must replace a legend.  Sure, Aaron Rodgers pulled off what many thought to be impossible in Green Bay after replacing Brett Favre, but perhaps Matt Leinart isn't capable of doing the same.

    Luckily, time will tell, but in the meantime, this team needs to take what it can get.  Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the Cardinals will defeat the tougher teams this season, but that doesn't mean they can't pick up the easy wins that would have been a certainty last season.

    The Cardinals' opening month of games isn't extremely tough.  Two of the four games are winnable, and considering that Oakland and Atlanta are in the cards, well Arizona may find themselves at 2-2 after the first four weeks.

    Panicking won't solve anything, but it does appear that some Cardinal fans think the opposite.  I guess the fall from grace is a little hard to swallow, but who knows, they may just surprise us all, and not for the first time.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    With Ben Roethlisberger out for the opening 4-6 weeks, the Steelers winning ways must come into affect early this season.Doug Benc/Getty Images

    As mentioned in the photo caption, Steelers quarterback  Ben Roethlisberger is set to miss 4-6 weeks of action due to a league suspension.

    Although this is rather old news, it still makes the issue of the fill-in starters all that more worrying in Pittsburgh right now.

    For you see, the Steelers season may be over before they know it.  If they lose the opening four games, then the climb back to the top will become all that more tougher once Ben Roethlisberger does return to the side.

    However, what's to say that either Dennis Dixon or Byron Leftwich can't get this team a win or two?  Realistically, nothing.

    Sure, either quarterback is questionably talented, but we have seen enough of them to know that they are capable of getting the job done when the pressure is on.

    Steeler fans, I know that you are experiencing a tough time.  The team is no longer the favorite in the AFC North, and with Baltimore and Cincinnati both proving to be massive threats, a third-place spot may be the likely outcome right now.

    Don't get to depressed though.  If the Steelers do win their opening four games, then there is no reason to worry.  Ben Roethlisberger will then be back, and even though Santonio Holmes is now a New York Jet, the Steeler offense isn't all that different.

    Winning is important for this team, just to remain in the competition.  Let's remember this is the Steelers though, and if history does prove to be noteworthy, winning is in the blood of this team.

1. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Eagles face a potentially tough year in the NFC East, as they place full trust in new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Since Donovan McNabb left Philadelphia, the entire city has felt the pressure being mounted on new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb this season.

    Unfortunately for all of us, no one has seen this young man in action much.  He has taken a few snaps, but as for the old saying "don't judge a book by its cover", well that's what all of us have to do right now.

    However, that isn't to say that the Eagles won't have a good season.  No, what is to say that the Eagles won't have a good season is their schedule, as they have the toughest fixtures in all of the league this season.

    In the opening month the Eagles take on Green Bay, Jacksonville, Detroit and Washington.  Three out of the four games are winnable, and if the Eagles keep a cool head and remain calm, they may get through some of the tougher games this season.

    Still, a mammoth task awaits them.  First they must coax a new quarterback, and secondly they must rely heavily on the teams two talented players DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuel.

    Right now The City or Brotherly Love is rightfully concerned.  Their beloved Eagles are in quite a jam, but could get out of it nicely if God plays a factor, and all things go right.

    Personally though, I do feel if the slightest injury bug bites this team, all else will fail.  The NFC East is still the toughest division in football, and even the Redskins look good right now. 

    Slipping up is certainly not in the Eagles game plan, but it may be the inevitable fate that awaits them this season. 

    If the Eagles can win their opening three or four games, then confidence should begin to build, and who knows, the green and white may be still flying high come this time next year.