Teams to Rise
1. Houston Texans:
Houston was hit hard by the injury bug last year losing star wide receiver Andre Johnson and rising tight end Owen Daniels early in the season really hurt the passing game. Then the benching of running back Steve Slaton and injury to Chris Brown put the load on the third stringer Ryan Moats at the end of the year.
With Johnson and Daniels coming back and newly found running back Adrian Foster looking extremely well in preseason and a draft focused on the teams needs, look for the Texans to break 10 wins for the first time in franchise history and make a wild card bid.
2. Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons also limped to a 9 and 7 record last year with Matt Ryan and Michael Turner missing significant time during the season and playing hurt. The Falcons didn't have the defense to support the injured offense.
With the acquisition of CB Donte Robinson and the coming back of 2009 1st round draft pick DT Peria Jerry and a good 2010 draft with OLB Sean Witherspoon while filling other defensive needs and depth on the offensive line. Look for the Falcons defense to improve and Matt Ryan to have his best season propelling the Falcons into the playoffs.
3. Miami Dolphins:
The injury to Ronnie Brown really effected the offense and how they play, forcing them to rely more on Chad Henne throwing the ball when Miami didn't have the weapons at WR to rely on the passing game alone.
With Ronnie Brown coming back this year look for a better combination of the wildcat and the new look passing game with Chad Henne throwing the ball to the Brandon Marshall. Also with a defensive emphasis during the draft look for the defense to improve. I predict the Dolphins grabbing the other wild card spot in the AFC.
Look for 1st round draft pick Ndamukong Suh and Javed Best to have a big impact as rookies. Suh will help free up the linebackers to make more plays on run defense. The tandem of Best and Smith should really help make the offense more versitile. I don't see the Lions making the playoffs by any means but 6 or 7 wins is a possiblity with the schedule they have.
The Redskins had problems throughout the organization and fired head coach Jim Zorn.
The Redskins organization made good moves with the staff and the roster. Hiring Mike Shanahan as the head coach and acquiring QB Donovan McNabb, only improvement can occur. Expect maybe 6 wins for the Redskins this year.
Teams to Fall
With Brett Favre having the statistical year of his life last season and making the whole offense more effective along with a top defense its no wonder the Vikings were a game away from a super bowl.
But with Favre coming of of ankle surgery, plus getting a year older and loosing his top WR is Sidney Rice and his number two Percy Harvin looking like migraines may cost him a potentially great career. Not to mention the loss of the very effective running back Chester Taylor. I excpect the Vikings to beat the bottom teams like the Bears and Lions, they'll struggle against the top half of the NFL. I see a 8 and 8 season.
Unfortunately no one in the NFC South has been able to repeat division titles since the Divisional realignment. I do expect the Saints to make the playoffs but in a wild card situation behind the Falcons.
The New York Jets were the big surprise team of the 2009 season with rookie QB Mark Sanchez lead the team to a 9 and 7 record and a wild card birth into the playoffs where they then beat the Cincinnati Bengals.
Even with the improvement that Sanchez is bound to have and the Jets acquiring as many valuable pieces as possible. With Darrelle Revis holding out and all the attention that situation has brought. I expect the Jets to finish 3rd in the AFC East with 7 or 8 wins.
With the retirement of Kurt Warner and today's cutting of long time back up Matt Leinart, that puts Derek Anderson in his first year with the team as the starting QB. While Anderson has struggled in his career the Cardinals have the weapons to make him look better. But it takes a very special QB to replace someone like Kurt Warner. The Cardinals will still be weak at defense. I think the 49ers will win the NFC West and the Cardinals will miss the playoffs.
The Eagles and a good regular season last year full of big plays on offense, defense and special teams. The coming out of DeSean Jackson and effective play by LeSean McCoy really help the offense under both Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb.
But I don't see the Eagles doing as well under Kolb as McNabb its going to be a transitional period that may take some time for Kolb to start making some of those big plays. While they tried to strengthen the team through a defensive draft. I see a small drop off by the Eagles something like 9 and 7.