2010-2011 NFL Predictions: 10 Guarantees for the Upcoming Season
The NFL season begins today. Millions of people have completed their fantasy drafts, purchased their favorite players' jerseys, and made all their silly predictions for the 2010 season.
After months of following the drama that is the preseason, the time for football is now.
Will the dark horse contenders emerge? What stars will go down to injury? What championship contender will watch its season go up in flames? Where is the next Miles Austin or Pierre Garcon? What face in a new place will have the biggest impact on his new team?
So many questions, but soon we will have answers.
Here is my list of 10 things you can expect to happen this season.
10. At Least Six New Teams Will Make the Playoffs
Do not confuse 2010 with 2011; you must understand what happened last year will have no bearing on this season.
It’s popular for people to assume that many of the powerhouses from the year before will carry momentum into the next season. Not going to happen.
Last year only three NFC teams that made the playoffs the previous season returned. Two seasons ago, only the New York Giants made it back to the playoffs.
The AFC trend is a little better. In 2009, four teams that made the playoffs in 2008 made it back the next season. Three of those teams returned to the playoffs last season.
Thus expecting the Patriots, Chargers, Colts, Bengals, Jets, and Ravens to be playing in January is not a smart bet. History says at least three and possibly four will not make it back to the playoffs.
You can count on an even higher turnover rate of playoff teams in the NFC.
Perhaps the Lions make a run this season.
9. No Super Bowl Hangover for the Colts
Seven of the last 10 Super Bowl losers did not make the playoffs the following year. Even the 2007 New England Patriots, who finished 18-1, didn’t make the playoffs the next season. History has not been kind to the losers of the championship game.
The Indianapolis Colts are different.
In a league where teams go from contenders to pretenders overnight, the Colts have managed to stay a cut above the rest of the NFL. They won more games than any other team in the last decade and have won at least 12 games each of the past seven seasons.
Peyton Manning will enter this season more motivated than he’s ever been. His legacy took a hit after the Super Bowl, and the only way to fix it is to make it back to the title game and win.
This season the Colts bring in arguably the most talented defense they’ve ever had in Manning's career. As well, they have slipped under the radar because of the attention being given to teams like the Ravens and Jets.
On paper this team is every bit as good as the team that lined up last year, and with Anthony Gonzalez healthy, Peyton will have the deepest group of receivers he’s ever had. With a chip on their shoulders and history against them, this might be one of the most inspired Colts teams in recent memory.
8. The Texans Won't Win More Than Eight Games
They are the trendiest sleeper team, but they never seem to wake up. Yes, with players like Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster you might win a fantasy league or two, but this team fails to produce.
For the past three years we’ve heard how “this is the year for the Texans,” and every year they disappoint.
Last year, for the first time in franchise history they had a winning record, but they did not make the playoffs. On paper, their division is not any easier, and while they should be exciting to watch, they should not be counted on to deliver too many wins.
Andre Johnson figures to put up great numbers, but his production depends on Matt Schaub staying healthy. Schaub is yet to play a complete season. The Texans have a number of receivers opposite Johnson, but no one has emerged as a dependable second option.
They also have a concern at running back. Arian Foster seems to be the answer, but he is entering his first year as a starter and is unproven. How he performs might go a long way in determining team success.
The biggest problem for this team is not its talent level but the fact that division rivals the Colts and Titans are better. Houston will be a lot of fun to watch this year, but don’t count on them winning more than eight games.
7. Brett Favre Will Take a Step Back This Season
It would be hard for Favre to have a better season than last year. He had a career-best 68.4 completion percentage, had his best TD-INT ratio, and his 107.2 passer rating was also a personal best. The only thing Favre failed to do last year was guide his team to a Super Bowl.
The 2010 Vikings will find they cannot lean on their gray-bearded gunslinger as much this season. He comes in this year with a damaged ankle and a lot more pressure on his shoulders than the previous year.
Not to mention he has a target on his back the size of the super screen in Cowboys Stadium. Every defensive player in the league would love to be able to boast about how he ended the legendary Brett Favre’s career.
More importantly, the Vikings are missing some key pieces. Chester Taylor is no longer there to fill in on third downs and in the passing game. Star receiver Sidney Rice is out for at least the first six games, and no one knows what impact he’ll have when he returns. Percy Harvin’s migraines are a serious issue and can knock him out of action at any time. There is also the issue of the strained relationship between Favre and coach Brad Childress.
The Vikings were the best team in the NFC last season and should have gone to the Super Bowl. Now they may have fallen back with the pack and might need a few lucky bounces to wind up playing in Super Bowl XLV.
6. Chris Johnson Won’t Run for 2,000 Yards
The man makes it look as if he’s running on four legs while the rest of the world is running on two. He is the most elusive back in the game and runs behind one of the best lines in football.
With 2,006 yards rushing and 5.8 yards per carry in 2009, he delivered one of the all-time great seasons for running backs.
Most men would be satisfied with that, but Johnson believes he can do better. If he were to gain 2,000 yards this season, he would be the first running back in league history to have multiple 2,000-yard seasons. Johnson’s shot at achieving this phenomenal feat is as long as the dreads that hang from his head. So far it’s been impossible to do.
What isn’t impossible is Johnson leading the league in rushing again.
Johnson is one of the few running backs left in the game that isn’t splitting carries. He should carry the ball well over 250 times. Defenses that stack the box with eight- or nine-man fronts must worry about him breaking through and burning them with long runs.
If he can remain healthy, the rushing title is his for the taking.
5. Two NFC East Teams Make the Playoffs
For the past five years at least two teams from this division have made the playoffs. This year should be no different.
The Dallas Cowboys are the odds-on favorite to win the division, and more than likely they will. The question then becomes, who is the second team out?
The Eagles made the playoffs last year but decided to send veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins, a trade that will greatly affect both teams this season.
The Eagles will take a step back with new signal caller Kevin Kolb. Nothing against Kolb, but he is the most inexperienced guy under center in a division full of Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Kolb has a big arm, but it was McNabb’s decision-making and ability to buy time in the pocket that made the Eagles winners for so long.
Can Kolb lead a veteran team to the playoffs and deal with the pressure of playing in one of the toughest sports cities in the NFL? Not this season, and his team will pay for it.
As much as the Eagles are set back by the McNabb trade, the Redskins look to benefit equally. He is a talented veteran who will be able to make all the throws that Jason Campbell could not. The weapons at his disposal are not the greatest, but McNabb is one of the best at getting the most out of the players he has.
In Washington, McNabb will play under a Super Bowl-winning coach in Mike Shanahan. Jake Plummer had the best years of his career under Mike Shanahan and twice led the Broncos to the playoffs. If Shanahan can get that kind of production out of Plummer, imagine what he can do for McNabb.
Washington’s offense will look to be more balanced than the one McNabb played in with Philadelphia. The addition of McNabb under center and Shanahan at coach will make this team better, but not good enough to make the playoffs.
The Redskins won five games last year, and I don’t see them winning more than nine this season. The defense has a lot of question marks, and the offensive line needs work. The Redskins are a year or two away from making a playoff run.
That leaves us with the New York Giants as the second team out of the East.
4. The Cardinals Will Win the NFC West
Hear me out on this one.
The NFC West is bad, and I mean real bad. We can eliminate the Seahawks and Rams right now, but the NFL has this crazy idea about actually playing the games.
The 49ers are the popular pick to win the division, but they have a lot of concerns of their own. Michael Crabtree was good last season, but he seems to be a bit of a nuisance. Vernon Davis had a Pro Bowl season, but was it a mirage? Then there is Alex Smith...and is anyone really sold on him being good enough to lead a team to the playoffs?
Now look at the Cardinals. Derek Anderson guided a far less talented Cleveland Browns team to 10 wins. In Larry Fitzgerald, he has arguably the best receiver in the game to throw to. Anderson doesn’t lack arm strength and loves throwing downfield. In Arizona he won’t have a shortage of options. The Cardinals also have two young running backs that they can pound for 20-plus carries a game.
Yes, Anquan Boldin is gone, but Steve Breaston is a more than adequate replacement, and Early Doucet isn’t too bad either.
In fact, the biggest question about the Cardinals is their defense. The secondary should be strong, and if Joey Porter has anything left, he looks to be an upgrade to a linebacker unit that lost Karlos Dansby. If the defense can carry its weight, there is no reason why this team should not repeat as division champs.
3. The Steelers Will Make the Playoffs
Suspended players, injuries, and a sour finish to the 2009 season were all the Pittsburgh Steelers heard about this offseason.
Known for being one of the classiest and most accomplished organizations in the league, the Steelers enter this season full of questions.
How will off the field troubles affect Ben Roethlisberger? Was it a wise move to get rid of Santonio Holmes? Can they survive the first four games of the season without their starting quarterback?
The biggest question for the Steelers may be the long-term health of safety Troy Polamalu. With Polamalu the defense is second to none, but without him it can at times appear vulnerable. If he is injury-free, look for the Steelers defense to go back to its stingy ways.
The Steelers' conference is as tough as it has has been in some time, but even with their poor play down the stretch last season, they only finished a game out of the playoffs.
The toughest part of this season will come early. Roethlisberger will miss the first four games while serving a suspension, and veteran backup Byron Leftwich is out with an injury suffered in preseason. Third-year quarterback Dennis Dixon will start the opener against Atlanta. Dixon has played in a total of two games in his brief career and has thrown 27 passes.
If Dixon can lead the Steelers to a 2-2 start, then they should be in pretty good shape the rest of the way. Love Big Ben or hate him, he is a winner, and the Steelers are the model of consistency. They don’t always win pretty, but they win. With Roethlisberger at quarterback the Steelers have only had one losing season and have won two championships in the past five years. It’s hard to believe that they could go two years straight without making the playoffs.
My bet is the 2010 Steelers block out the distractions, and Mike Tomlin’s no-nonsense approach leads them back to the playoffs.
2. The Jets Will Miss the Playoffs
I know everyone has this team pegged as one of the favorites to win the AFC. They brought in some talented players in Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, and LaDainian Tomlinson. They even have their own reality show on HBO.
Still, we should not forget that this was a team who needed to win its last two regular season games just to make the playoffs a season ago.
The Jets finished a mediocre 9-7 last year, and it might have been 8-8 had the Colts decided to play that last quarter. At any rate, Mark Sanchez is still green (no pun intended), Shonn Greene is unproven, and their best receiver is going to miss the first four games.
The Jets must rely on their defense to play every bit as well as it did last season, and even if it does, there is no guarantee the offense will give them enough support to make a serious playoff run.
The Jets ran the ball well last season, but that was with Thomas Jones doing most of the banging. He is now playing in Kansas City. The Chicago Bears saw a huge drop-off in run production when they let Jones leave town. Could the Jets be staring at a similar situation? If this team cannot run the ball effectively, they will not win more than seven games. My money says they can’t and they won’t.
1. A Manning Will Play in Super Bowl XLV
The Colts are one of the top teams in the AFC and will continue to be as long as Peyton Manning is playing for them. The New York Giants were champions just three years ago and have much of that talent still on the roster.
Therefore it is not hard to see either the Giants or Colts in the Super Bowl.
Let’s start with the Colts. They return the same group of players that led them to the Super Bowl last January. If Bob Sanders can manage to stay healthy (big if), he will help boost a defense that was in the middle of the pack without him last year. Peyton Manning knows how to win, and if it comes down to it, there may not be another quarterback in the AFC who can match his skill set (including Tom Brady).
The Colts' biggest obstacle is going to be how to maintain a rhythm if they clinch a playoff berth early. Last season, head coach Jim Caldwell decided to rest players, a decision that was questioned by many after the Colts lost the Super Bowl. They were a few plays away from winning it all last season.
The Colts are the top team in the AFC and should win the conference again and play in Dallas for the Lombardi Trophy.
As far as the New York Giants go, their defense has to play the way it did in the first half of last season. The Giants looked like a team well on its way, but they hit a rough patch in the middle of the season and never recovered. Some of it can be blamed on injuries to running back Ahmad Bradshaw and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, but this team clearly lost its groove.
Eli Manning has found a core group of receivers he trusts and who can make big plays when called upon. The offensive line is one of the top in the NFL, and if healthy Brandon Jacobs and Bradshaw are a deadly combination of power and speed.
The addition of linebacker Keith Bulluck and safety Antrel Rolle gives the defense two Pro Bowl-caliber players. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are still two of the best defensive ends around and should have strong seasons.
The NFC is a crapshoot, and if the Giants can make the playoffs, there is no reason why they can’t get back to the title game.