NFL Predictions Week 1: Five Teams Ready To Surprise
With the NFL season set to start in a little over 24 hours, expectations are high for fans and players alike.
Before the opening kickoff, they can dare to be a little unrealistic in their hopes for the upcoming year.
Right now the defending champion New Orleans Saints and the NFC cellar-dwelling St. Louis Rams both have the same record: 0-0.
Once week one is in the books reality must set in for some of those fans. Those who are convinced that their team's 5-11 record in 2009 was simply a mirage will be jolted back to the real world.
However, some teams actually will surprise in the upcoming season. Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals shocked the NFL by finishing at the top of the AFC North division.
Every season there are a few teams that exceed expectations, justifying their fanbases' wild dreams.
Here are a few teams that have a shot to be the 2010 version of the Bengals.
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The Lions are only two years removed from the only 0-16 season in NFL history. And their 2009 record of 2-14 was barely an improvement.
However, the Lions are a team on the road to respectability. Second-year head coach Jim Schwartz appears to have succeeded in changing the culture in Detroit and optimism has run rampant through Detroit training camp.
But the main reason that the Lions could surprise this year is their potentially dynamic offense.
Calvin Johnson is one of the most physically-gifted receivers in the game today, in the same class as perennial Pro Bowlers Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. He spent most of 2009 dealing with nagging injuries, but he is healthy now and appears primed for a great year.
His success will depend on the development of Matthew Stafford, who had a poor rookie season but showed flashes of greatness. His 71.2% completion percentage in the preseason also bodes well for his overall development.
2010 first-round pick Jahvid Best is a potential gamebreaker at running back, while Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson fill out a very solid receiving corps.
Detroit will score this year. Their success will likely depend on their ability to stop the other team.
The defense is filled with young players packed with potential. Ndamukong Suh is a building block on the defensive line, while safety Louis Delmas played like a future star in his rookie season last year.
If the Lions get some unexpected performances out of the youth on their defense, they could easily take a run at respectability for the first time in years.
Kansas City Chiefs
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The Chiefs were cited as a potential surprise team by some last season after hiring a new coach in Todd Haley and acquiring a new quarterback in Matt Cassel.
Instead, the team was a disappointment. They only won four games and finished with the worst record in the AFC.
This year they are flying under the radar. But upon closer inspection, they are much more capable of surprising observers this season than they were last year.
The offense should experience a boost, aided by the hire of Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator. Dwayne Bowe came to camp this season in shape, which is a sizable improvement over last season. Coach Haley, a former critic of Bowe, has raved about his new attitude and work ethic.
Jamaal Charles broke out at the end of the season, and will likely receive a larger role in 2010. He will be spelled by Thomas Jones, coming off a 1000+ yard season with the Jets in 2009.
The offensive line has issues, but the addition of Ryan Lilja at guard should help. And former first-rounder Branden Albert could easily improve at left tackle.
The Chiefs defense was awful last season. But the hiring of Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator should help in that area. The Chiefs do not lack pure talent on their defense; in fact, two of their three defensive linemen were picked in the top five of the NFL Draft (Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson).
Adding a great defensive coordinator could do much to get the best out of their talent.
In addition, Scott Pioli remains one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL. Now that he has coaches that know how to utilize his acquisitions, expect an improvement by the Chiefs in 2010.
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The Titans have not received much hype leading up to the 2010 season.
The Colts are yet again a Super Bowl favorite. The Texans are coming off their first winning season and again have playoff aspirations.
The Titans? How quickly it is forgotten that, just two years ago, they won the AFC South and finished the regular season with the best record in the conference.
Tennessee had a disastrous start to the 2009 season, but fought back, going 8-2 in their last ten games. Their only losses came to the two best teams in the conference, the Colts and the San Diego Chargers.
There is no reason to believe that the Titans cannot make the playoffs. They are well-coached, have talent on defense, gamebreakers on offense, and solid depth.
Running back Chris Johnson established himself as one of the best players in the NFL in 2009. He will carry the offense again in 2010.
After re-taking the starting job from Kerry Collins, Vince Young played very solid football in the second half of last season. His 82.8 passer rating was a career high.
The defense has lost stalwarts such as Keith Bulluck and Kyle Vanden Bosch. But talent remains in safety Michael Griffin and cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
If the Titans play like they did in the final ten games of the 2009 season, they will compete for a wild card spot and possibly even pressure the Colts.
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What are the two most important roles on a football team?
Quarterback and head coach.
The Redskins, following an awful 2009 season in which Coach Jim Zorn was essentially fired six games into the regular season, have made wholesale changes, especially at those two key spots.
Mike Shanahan was hired to replace Zorn. Shanahan has coached two Super Bowl championship teams and is looking for redemption after his exit from Denver.
The Redskins also traded for Donovan McNabb, the former Eagles star quarterback. While McNabb is aging, he is still a borderline-elite signal caller and provides a significant upgrade over Jason Campbell.
These upgrades should give the Redskins direction. Shanahan has clashed with star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth over the course of training camp, seemingly in an attempt to change the culture of the locker room.
The Redskins' defense was not the problem last season. They were 10th in yards allowed in the NFL. The problem was the offense. The addition of McNabb should serve to help revitalize a moribund unit.
Trent Williams, the Redskins' first round pick, will start at left tackle, while Jammal Brown is the new right tackle. Shanahan obviously values the improvement of his offensive line greatly.
As long as McNabb can stay healthy for most of the season (always a question mark), the Redskins could easily battle for a wild card spot.
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Long one of the league's most respected franchises, the Raiders have become something of a joke in recent seasons.
Owner Al Davis has often been criticized for his inexplicable decisions and his controlling personality.
However, there is reason to hope in Oakland in 2010.
For starters, the Raiders finally have a legitimate NFL quarterback. Finally giving up on the JaMarcus Russell era, Oakland dealt for Jason Campbell in the offseason. While not an elite quarterback, Campbell is a drastic improvement over the Russell-Bruce Gradkowski combo of 2009.
The Raiders have some weapons for Campbell as well. Zach Miller continues to develop into one of the league most underrated tight ends. Michael Bush looks to gain the lion's share of the carries at running back once he returns from a broken thumb.
The Raiders struggled on defense last season, but some new additions will help. Rolando McClain is a significant upgrade at MLB and could follow in the footsteps of fellow first-round rookie LB producer Patrick Willis. Kamerion Wimbley will bring pass rushing ability to the outside linebacker position.
The Raiders will also need strong seasons from their stars on defense, meaning Nnamdi Asomugha and Richard Seymour must play to their capabilities.
But the season will likely be decided by Campbell. He upgrades the Raiders' weakest position, a position that happens to be the most important in the sport. If the offensive line can protect Campbell, the Raiders could easily battle for a playoff spot.