The preseason is over. The final 53 are set. On Thursday, September 9th, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints square off in the official NFL 2010 season opener. As I sit here writing this piece today, I have come to realize that this is the last Sunday until February, that we won’t have NFL football. Makes you want to take a step back and say….aahhhhhhhh.
So as we sit here, finally, on the cusp of another NFL season, I offer to you these predictions on how I think the season will shape up. As I wrote last year, please DO NOT waste any of your hard earned money on my untrained, biased opinions….while I don’t think the Steelers are going 0-16, I can still hope, can’t I? Anyway, here goes. First by division, then by conference.
As much as I hate them, and as poor as they have played in the preseason, the Dallas Cowboys are too talented not to win this division. They’ll post an 11-5 record, and Tony Romo will again fail to lead them past the second round of the playoffs. I don’t think this division is as tough as it has been in recent years. The Philadelphia Eagles seem to be the forgotten team in this division, as a lot of folks have counted this as a rebuilding year following the trade of QB Donovan McNabb to Washington. I completely disagree. They have the best young receiving corps in the conference, and a defense that comes into 2010 looking to prove they are better then last year’s unit. I look for a 10-6 finish in Kevin Kolb’s first season as a starter, and a wildcard for Andy Reid’s team who always seems to be competitive no matter the circumstances. As for the New York Giants, I do see this as a team in transition because they’ve kind of lost their way a tad. The have two bruising, game controlling running backs in Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, but because they have a Manning at QB, they seem to want to become pass happy. I’ve never been a big believer in Eli’s ability to lead the offense, they won the Super Bowl a few years back because of their defense and David Tyree’s miracle catch. And I don’t see a record any better then 8-8 this year in what may be Tom Coughlin’s swan song. Now, the hated Redskins. I hate them. But I do like Donovan McNabb. Always have. The problem is, this isn’t the McNabb of 10 years ago, and this isn’t the same talented team that he has been playing for the past 11 seasons. Give credit to Mike Shanahan for trying to some in and run things his way (Albert Haynesworth) and his two Super Bowl rings earn him credit amongst the players, but he just doesn’t have the talent around McNabb or on the defensive line, to do any better then 7-9 this year. To my delight, the Redskins finish in the cellar, yet again.
As a die hard Ravens’ fan who is filled with uncontrolled optimism about the upcoming season, it pains me to say that the football guy in me, really thinks the Super Bowl champion is coming out of this division this year. And that will be, the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers showed last year why the Pack’s decision to move onto life with Brett Favre was not only easy, but the right thing to do. Rodgers, in my opinion, may just be the best quarterback in the NFL, and on a team that sees it’s window closing with an aging defense, many of the players seem to understand that this may be their last best shot. Packers win this division with a solid 13-3 record. The Minnesota Vikings, I think, take a step back this year, mainly because of they quarterback most people think they can’t live without. Look, Brett Favre had his best season last year, but was beat up, and exposed by the Saints last year, to the point that his ankle still isn’t 100%, and from what I’ve heard, won’t be all year. That, coupled with the loss of Sidney Rice is going to bring his production down, and hurt the Viking offense. They still have All-World RB Adrian Peterson, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to beat out the Packers. It will, however, be enough for a 10-6 record, and a wildcard. In Chicago, Jay Cutler is Kyle Boller. He will tantalize you on one play with his arm strength, and then break your heart on the next with his poor decision making and inability to lead. A lot of the Bears’ problems mirror that of the Ravens for the better part of this decade….a good to great defense, with an offense that will always allow the opponent to remain in the game with a chance to win. Chicago goes 7-9 this season, and Cutler is jettisoned in the offseason. Under head coach Jim Schwartz, the Detroit Lions will continue their climb back to respectable in the NFL, and the emergence of a young, but talented offensive unit, brings Detroit their best record in a few years. Unfortunately, in a division that houses the Packer and Vikings, 6-10 won’t get you into the postseason. But the Lions may only be a year or two away.
This division belongs to the New Orleans Saints, hands down. Even if they take the expected Super Bowl step back, they are still the class of the NFC South. An 11-5 record is probably a good bet for this team, but it will still be at least two games better then anyone else. With team leader Drew Brees running the offense, the Saints will again be one of the top units in the league. I see their defense coming back down to Earth a little bit, and the uncertainty with Darren Sharper cannot be overstated. Coming in second, but missing the postseason yet again, is the Atlanta Falcons. They’ll finish at 9-7, a respectable record, but the NFC is just too good for that to be good enough to earn a playoff spot. Matt Ryan continues his development, and year 3 should be his best. But it won’t be enough. I’m not exactly sure how Carolina QB Matt Moore intends throw the ball while constantly looking over his shoulder to see how close Jimmy Clausen is getting to him. And I think that could play a big part in why the Panthers will only win 7 games this season, despite having one of the best 1-2 running back punches in the league. Moore isn’t a championship-caliber quarterback, and Clausen is a rookie. The rest of the squad is talented enough to earn 6 or 7 victories, but not seriously contend in the Saints’ division. Tampa Bay is awful. It almost feels like old times with the Bucs being a perennial doormat, and a team that may be no better then 3-13 this year.
Easily the conference’s weakest division, the NFC West should be won, rather easily, by the San Francisco 49ers. With one of the league’s top defensive units, and a rejuvenated QB Alex Smith, there’s no reason not to think the Niners won’t run the table in the division and finish 10-6. Pete Carroll’s third coaching stint in the NFL should pull the Seattle Seahawks closer to .500 then they have been in recent years. It’s still going to be a struggle behind an aging Matt Hasslebeck, but a 7-9 record may not be out of the question in the Pacific Northwest. Arizona takes a step back without QB Kurt Warner, but the could leapfrog the Seahawks if Derek Anderson can recapture his 2007 form. With running back Beanie Wells and WR Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals should have a formidable offense, but their gaping holes in the defense will be their undoing. Poor Sam Bradford showed that he is an NFL quarterback, but unfortunately, he won’t be playing for an NFL-caliber team. The St. Louis Rams are the worst team in the NFL, and with their rookie QB getting battered all season, a 2-14 flop should surprise no one this year.
NFC CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS
Wildcard weekend: Dallas over Philadelphia, Minnesota over San Francisco
Divisional: Green Bay over Dallas, New Orleans over Minnesota
Conference Championship: Green Bay of New Orleans
Tomorrow, I will be publishing my predictions for the AFC, along with my Super Bowl pick. Thank you for reading, and as always…..