2010 NFL Predictions: What Are The "X-Factors" For All 16 NFC Teams?
As of today, it's on.
The 2010 NFL season has kicked off, and every team’s fan base gleams with optimism. “This is the year,” they say, “especially if…”
Well, it’s what comes after the “if” that you’ll find in this article.
Every team has an “X-Factor.” Be it a person, a place, or a—notion, there’s one thing every team is counting on to a key piece in a successful season.
Along with 15 other NFC Featured Columnists, I’ve set out to identify those factorsyou know, so that you have an answer for the prevalent what if question.
So what is the linchpin to every team’s success? Is Sam Bradford involved in the Rams' slide?
Read on to find out!
Arizona Cardinals: Derek Anderson
Cards FC Jack London says:
"Are you surprised? I hope not, because given the quarterback issues/competition/fiasco the Cardinals have undergone this past week, this should come as no surprise.
But what is lost among all this is that now Derek Anderson has a huge opportunity in front of him.
Back is basically the same lineup that was one of the top offensive teams in the league last year; the Cards have lost Anquan Boldin, but the run game should be better, so it will likely even out. All Anderson has to do is step up to the plate.
Can he do that though? Will we see the Derek Anderson that was a Pro Bowl alternate for the Browns with 29 TDs? Or will we see the Derek Anderson with three TDs and 10 INTs last season?
Only time will tell."
Atlanta Falcons: Michael Turner
Falcons FC John Reid says:
“I believe that the X-Factor for the Atlanta Falcons this year will be a healthy Michael Turner.
I know that's no big surprise, but when the Burner is healthy, he has the ability to move the defensive line and keep Atlanta's balanced offense on point so QB Matt Ryan can operate the play action pass.
Remember that back in 2008, his fourth quarter rushing numbers were higher than in the previous three quarters, so he was able to wear down defenders and keep the Falcons' young defense fresh for the stretch run.
Although backup Jason Snelling did establish himself as a solid option last year, he lacks the ability to complement breakaway speed with bruising power.
Atlanta will also look to use Turner as a pass catcher out of the backfield, which makes him doubly dangerous in the open field.
Ryan may be the leader in the huddle, but as Turner goes, so does the Falcons!"
Carolina Panthers: Overcoming Inexperience
Panthers FC Keith McGonigle says:
“It is hard to predict exactly what you will see from the Panthers this year, because there are so many guys on their roster that have not started a full year in the NFL.
On offense, the biggest question is QB Matt Moore and his weaponry. The Panthers hope that Moore, who is 6'2"as a starter, can be the next franchise quarterback…but outside of Steve Smith, who will Moore be throwing to?
Rookie wideout Brandon LaFell and underachiever Dwayne Jarrett are battling it out for the No. 2 receiver spot, but after that, it is pretty much a crap shoot.
Things aren't much better on the defensive side of the ball.
On the line, Carolina will be starting three defensive linemen that have started a total of five games for them prior to this year. The linebacking core, which has been a strength in the past, is in flux due to the inkjury to Thomas Davis; former middle backer Jon Beason is moving to Davis’ outside spot, and Dan Conner will be making his first starts in the middle in Beason’s stead.
The Panthers have the talent, it is just a matter whether these young guys overcome their lack of experience and gel as a team."
Chicago Bears: Keeping Cutler Upright
Bears FC Bob Warja says:
“The biggest X-factor facing the Chicago Bears is whether or not the offensive line can protect Jay Cutler, and keep him from getting killed.
Former first round draft choice Chris Williams has been moved to Cutler's blind side, and so far he looks like a sieve.
Cutler has been sacked 10 times this preseason (in limited playing time) and the Bears’ red zone offense is performing as badly as it did much of last season.
Cutler isn't blameless, of course, as he tends to hold on to the ball too long at times. But for a Mike Martz offense, one that features a lot of five and seven-step drops which require precise timing, the blocking better improve or this could be a really, really bad football team."
Dallas Cowboys: Can The Defense Cause Turnovers?
Cowboys FC Derek Major says:
“The biggest X-Factor for the Cowboys this season is definitely turnovers.
Dallas had the ninth-ranked defense in the league last season, but they were 26th in interceptions and 16th in fumbles recovered.
One of the reasons they replaced FS Ken Hamlin with Alan Ball is that Ball has better range and puts himself in better positions to cause turnovers.
Last season the Cowboys defense was more preventative than anything else, relying on sacks and stuffing the run to force teams into third-and-long situations.
If they can put the same amount of pressure on the QB this season as they did last year and intercept more passes in the process, their efforts will go a long way towards helping the ‘Boys host their own Super Bowl.”
Detroit Lions: Secondary Concerns
Lions FC John Farrier says:
“I think the biggest “X-Factor” facing the 2010 Detroit Lions is the collective health of the team’s defensive backfield.
If the Lions are to enjoy success on the defensive side of the ball, then it will have to start with Chris Houston. He must be effective as a shutdown-type corner for them to have a chance.
That’s because the rest of the group is a mess.
Their other projected starting corner, Jonathan Wade, has a finger injury. Strong safety C.C. Brown is nursing an arm injury, and should free safety Louis Delmas continue to struggle with a nagging groin injury, the 2010 campaign could be equally long and painful for Detroit Lions fans.
There is a bit of hope in their depth, but it’s not a cure-all.
This past week, the Lions shifted their 2010 third-round draft pick, Amari Spievey, from cornerback to safety.
Spievey is so stiff in the hips he will likely never be the NFL cornerback he was “supposedly” drafted to become, so this could be a pre-emptive strike.
Rookie undrafted free agent safety Randy Phillips is contributing as well, but if the Lions are forced to play the tandem of Spievey and Phillips at safety quite a bit, Detroit could be picking high in the 2011 NFL Draft.”
Green Bay Packers: Get The Offense Going
Packers FC Ryan Cook says:
“Green Bay's biggest X-Factor in 2010 comes from the offensive side of the ball.
With their 2009 transition to the 3-4 defense a success, it is time for Green Bay to put forward a consistent and balanced regular season on the offensive side of the ball—and stray away from any offensive line issues or sack worries that plagued the team last year.
Much of this turnaround is of course due to Aaron Rodgers' brilliance, but it is also important to realize how vital young starting tight end Jermichael Finley is to this side as he looks to hit the ground running this season.
Other key players include top draft pick Bryan Bulaga, who looks to solidify the offensive line, and Ryan Grant, who has transformed into the back that all fans expected him to be much earlier in his career.”
Minnesota Vikings: It's Not Number 4...It's 4 Times 7
Vikings FC Tim Arcand says:
"For many, the Vikings' X-Factor is obvious: Brett Favre.
Sorry, not this year. The 2009 season was the greatest in Favre's career, statistically speaking…so please, don't expect a repeat in 2010.
This fall, the Vikes’ X-Factor is Adrian Peterson.
Simply put, Peterson needs to pick up this team and carry it, especially at the start of the season.
With the Vikings thin at wide receiver, and with only three healthy cornerbacks, the key for the Vikings will be to dominate time of possession.
That means running the ball and sustaining time-consuming drives. With an effective ground game from Peterson, Favre will not have to drop back as often and take as many hits.
The Vikings could get a boost if and when Sidney Rice returns from his hip injury, but until then, they’ll need “All Day” to live up to his nickname."
New Orleans Saints: Curing a Super Hangover
Saints FC Paul Augustin says:
“We know the Saints handle adversity well, but their biggest X-Factor will be how well they handle success.
After they won the NFC South in 2006 and made it to the NFC Championship Game, they were convinced they were going to the Super Bowl the next year. Well, they started 2007 0-4 and finished out of the playoffs. Then, in 2008, they had no consistency and finished 8-8.
This year, everyone will know “Who Dat?,” because the Saints will be circled on every opponent's calendar as a benchmark game—just as the game against the Patriots was for them last year.
New York Giants: Rush, Rush
Giants FC Jeff Shull says:
"The biggest X-Factor for the Giants will be the pass rush getting back to its usual form: dominating offensive lines and making their secondary look much better than they are.
The Giants secondary is much better this year, so the pass rush will not have to be a dominant as they were in the Super Bowl when they made Tom Brady look like Chris Weinke.
They will, however, need to be much better than last season, which was a disgrace by Big Blue standards.
The addition of 15th overall pick Jason Pierre-Paul should help, and Osi Umenyiora being one more year removed from knee surgery will boost his confidence.
On paper, rotating those two with the likes of Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka spells disaster for opposing quarterbacks. They've even been packaged on the field all at the same time in Training Camp during drills.
All of this should make for an exciting year for the defense...assuming they don't play like they did against Baltimore in the preseason."
Philadelphia Eagles: This One IS Number 4
Eagles FC Lou DiPietro (that’s me!) says:
“The Eagles’ X-Factor is definitely their biggest “replacement,” and that’s Kevin Kolb.
No. 4 has a lot of young weapons at his disposal, a handful of guys he can grow old with if he succeeds. So far, he’s looked a little lost in the preseason; granted, the offensive line has more closely resembled “offensive” than a line, but Kolb has to be ready for that.
He doesn’t necessarily have the legs that Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick do, so his decision-making ability will be under the gun quite often.
The Eagles’ season will be much like a choose-your-own-adventure book. If Kolb makes the right decisions, they succeed and have a shot at the playoffs. But if he continually fails, well, it’ll be a sub-par campaign at best and “Vick-a-Mania” running wild at worst.”
San Francisco 49ers: Turning Potential Into Success
Niners FC Pat Goulding says:
"The San Francisco 49ers enter 2010 with high hopes, but realization of those hopes depends on the fulfillment of so far largely unproven potential across the roster.
Players like Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree have shown enough potential to prove that they have the ability to become serious weapons for the 49ers, but lack the NFL track record to lend confidence that they could realize that potential in 2010.
With the defense being much more of a proven entity than the offense, ultimate success will depend on how well the offense can produce and help the team control games.
Smith, Davis, and Crabtree will be keys in this regard, but not the most critical elements. That honor falls to the offensive line.
Without sufficient protection and blocking, Smith, Davis, Crabtree, and even multiple-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore will be severely hampered in their efforts.
The 49ers invested heavily in fortifying an offensive line which showed definite lack of depth last season, drafting two linemen in the first round—both of whom have already ascended to the starting role.
Still health, cohesion, and execution are concerns.
Center Eric Heitmann and tackle Joe Staley have already shown susceptibility to injury, and while David Baas has stepped in admirably at center, the 49ers are already guaranteed to face a transition when Heitmann returns early in the regular season.
Their ability to adjust, coupled with the long-term durability of the other starters and communication among the entire unit, will be key factors in determining how far the 49ers can go this season.
In preseason action, the line has shown a few kinks trying to pick up blitzes and both rookies have had their share of execution penalties. This will improve with time, but the question is how fast can it get to the point the 49ers need it to be to compete, and how long can it stay that way."
Seattle Seahawks: The Offensive Line
Seahawks FC Chris Cluff says:
"More than any other, one thing will determine whether the Seahawks are any better this year than they have been the last two: the offensive line.
So far, things are just as bad as they were in 2009, when they went through four left tackles, three left guards and two centers. First-round tackle Russell Okung will miss at least the opener as he recovers from a high ankle sprain, line guru Alex Gibbs retired suddenly last weekend and left guard and right tackle are question marks as well.
It's simply the Curse of Hutch, as this unit has plummeted to new depths every year since Steve Hutchinson was allowed to leave in 2006. It looks to continue in 2010, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck can't be happy that he will face the 49ers—the team that broke his ribs last season—with a brand-new left tackle in the season opener. If he can survive until Okung comes back, the offense has a chance to improve."
St. Louis Rams: Howie's Baby Boy
Rams FC Armen Dacity says:
"The Rams have a rich history at the defensive end position. From David “Deacon” Jones, who coined the term “sack,” to Jack Youngblood, who perfected the art, the legacy is strong.
When Chris Long was selected with the second overall pick in 2008, Rams fans hoped he’d be the next in line. For his first season-and-a-half, though, his play was more aptly described as “steady” and “solid” rather than “impactful.” In the second half of 2009, though, things started to shift; Long was getting to the quarterback more regularly, and recorded five sacks in the final nine games.
In 2010, he takes over the coveted left defensive end spot from long-time starter Leonard Little. Lining up against right tackles, Long should excel and become the player he was expected to on draft day 2008.
If he does, and the Rams can thereby mount a consistent pass rush, the Rams’ young secondary should fare well and O.J. Atogwe should be able to add to his impressive interception total. That, and father Howie will be beaming with pride."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: "Joshy Franchise"
Bucs FC Tom Edrington says:
“Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris have bet their futures and the future of the franchise on quarterback Josh Freeman.
"I'm married to him," is what Morris said when Freeman was drafted, and it's quite simple: for the next three years, as Freeman goes, so go the Buccaneers. As Freeman grows, so grow the Buccaneers…and as he fails, so fail the Bucs.
With the work ethic he's shown and the extraordinary amount of time he spent at the team's facility in the offseason, it's apparent that Freeman has the desire and an attitude necessary to develop into a good quarterback.
He was in the midst of a fine preseason when he broke the tip of the thumb on his throwing hand in the second preseason game but he should be ready to go against Cleveland in the season opener.”
Washington Redskins: Trench Warfare
Redskins FC Shae Cronin says:
“Believe it or not, there’s actually news out of Redskins Park that doesn’t pertain to the Haynesworth Saga. In fact, Fat Albert’s attitude nor his direct contribution will serve as the determining factor for the Redskins in 2010.
The real X-Factor for the Redskins this season will be their play from within the trenches, especially the offensive line.
The Redskins’ offensive line hasn’t been much to talk about for a few years now, and the loss of All-Pro left tackle Chris Samuels last season doesn’t help matters. The line currently consists of an aging center, a banged-up right tackle, and a rookie at the blind side—and to say that the protection of 33-year-old quarterback Donovan McNabb is important would be an understatement.
If the o-line doesn’t do a better job of blocking for McNabb than they did for the recently departed Jason Campbell, they can kiss a possible 8-8 season goodbye. And let’s also not forget about the new zone-blocking scheme being implemented by Mike Shanahan. How will the line adapt?
As far as the defensive trench, it’s just as important. With or without Haynesworth in the lineup, or on this team, the Redskins play on. New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is implementing his new 3-4 scheme in order to create some chaos and hopefully cause some turnovers, but that result will correlate directly with the pressure that’s put on opposing quarterbacks. The more the defensive line pressures the quarterback and clogs the running lanes, the better chance of the linebackers or defensive backs making a play.
Games are won in the trenches, and the Redskins’ 2010 season will depend on it.”