2010 NFL Season Predictions

Aug. 12, 2010 - Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America - Aug 12, 2010: Baltimore Raven linebacker Ray Lewis ( ) enjoys the pregame introductions. The Ravens led the Carolina Panthers 10-3 at the half as the teams played their first preseason game at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.

2010 NFL Division Previews & Predictions: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | 2010 Question Marks Series

We’re just days away from the 2010 NFL season opener, which means there’s no better time to make playoff and Super Bowl predictions when no team has even taken a snap yet.

Who doesn’t love being illogical?

Click the links above if you want to read detailed previews for all 32 teams. In this article, you’ll get more prediction and less gab, although seriously, don’t shortchange me here – go check out the individual previews.

All right, I’ve already wasted enough time – let’s get nasty.

AFC East:

1. Patriots
2. Dolphins
3. Jets
4. Bills

Now that Darrelle Revis is back at practice for the Jets, I admit that a small part of me wants to flip the Dolphins and Jets. But I’m going to trust my gut and say that everybody’s chic pick in the NFL this year will take a step back because of Mark Sanchez. And while I have the Pats finishing first, their lack of a pass rush is a massive concern and I wouldn’t be shocked if they fizzled in the postseason again like last year (or miss the postseason altogether, for that matter). The Dolphins are my sleeper to make the postseason thanks to the additions of Brandon Marshall and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, while the Bills are rebuilding from the top down and it’s going to take awhile.

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2010 NFL Preview: AFC South Predictions

Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning throws a pass against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of their NFL preseason football game in Toronto August 19, 2010.  REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

2010 NFL Division Previews & Predictions: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | 2010 Question Marks Series

For over a decade, the Colts have been the models for consistency in the NFL. But will things change that the Texans and Titans are strong? Can guys like Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson of Houston, and Vince Young and Chris Johnson of Tennessee help their respective teams overcome Peyton and the Colts?

We’ll find out soon.

Here’s how I see things shaking out in the AFC South this season. Be sure to check out the link entitled “2010 Question Mark” under each team’s preview, which is a breakdown of one or two potential weaknesses that could derail that squad’s hopes in 2010. (If no link is provided, check back because one will be before the start of the season.)

1. Colts

What to Like: First Name: Peyton. Last Name: Manning. As long as Peyton Manning is still playing football, the Colts are going to be contenders – I don’t care if he has to use a walker to get out to the field. The Colts retain a top 3 offense led by Manning, who has a slew of playmakers at his disposal in Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. The offensive line isn’t the best running blocking unit in the game (or the best in pass protection, for that matter), but it plays well collectively and Manning masks any weaknesses. Defensively, the Colts own two of the best pass-rushing ends in the NFL in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Gary Brackett and Clint Session are solid from their linebacker positions and the return of Bob Sanders (if he can stay healthy) will dramatically help the run defense.
What Not to Like: The defensive tackle position is a huge concern. Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson are weak as the starters and rookie Fili Moala failed to impress as a rookie. Their play is masked thanks to the ends, but the interior of the Colts’ line is soft and could become a problem come playoff time. At cornerback, Kelvin Hayden struggled with injuries but the bottom line is that quarterbacks were able to complete 65.8 percent of passes on him last season. There’s no excuse for that. On the other side, Jerraud Powers is expected to start but he had surgery to repair his foot in February and missed the final two preseason games.
Keep Your Eye On: Philip Wheeler
The 25-year-old out of Georgia Tech has the physical ability to start at the outside linebacker position – now he just has to prove he can stay there. He enters his first full season as a starter and coaches have already remarked how much he’s improved in his defensive reads. He’ll have the fortune of playing alongside quality veterans like Sessions and Brackett.
The Final Word: Another 10-plus win season is on the horizon for the Colts, who only play five playoff teams from a year ago. The interior of the defensive line, cornerback and special teams are this team’s greatest weaknesses, but the Colts have remained the most consistent team in the NFL for over a decade. They know how to win and with Manning under center, they’re going to challenge for the AFC title once again. That said, they will get pushed by the Titans and Texans in the division.

Indianapolis Colts 2010 Question Mark: Defensive Tackle

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2010 NFL Preview: NFC South Predictions

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints addresses his teammates prior to playing against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

2010 NFL Division Previews & Predictions: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | 2010 Question Marks Series

One of the best battles in the NFL this year will reside in the NFC South, where the defending Super Bowl champion Saints will be tested by an improved Falcons team coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history.

As for the rest of the South, the Panthers are in transition now that Matt Moore is under center, but they’re still going to be competitive on weekly basis and the Bucs should be improved as well. (Although I don’t see them getting out of the division cellar anytime soon.)

Here’s how I see things shaking out in the NFC South in 2010. Be sure to check out the link entitled “2010 Question Mark” under each team’s preview, which is a breakdown of one or two potential weaknesses that could derail that squad’s hopes this season. (If the links aren’t available now for some teams, check back because they will be before the season starts.)

1. Saints

What to Like: It’s hard to start a sentence about what’s to like about the Saints without first mentioning their offense. The dynamics between Sean Payton and Drew Brees are exceptional. Payton knows exactly how to attack an opponents’ weakness and Brees knows how to execute what Payton is trying to do. While the defense was certainly a surprise last year, the relationship between Payton and Brees was the main reason the Saints lifted the Lombardi Trophy last year. Of course, it never hurts to have playmakers like Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, Jeremy Shockey and Robert Meachem in the offense, either. Nor does having outstanding guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, and tackle Jon Stinchcomb along the O-line either. Defensively, Gregg Williams was a miracle worker in his first season as defensive coordinator and was fortunate to have guys like Darren Sharper, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Tracy Porter play opportunistic football. The addition of Alex Brown will also fix a major hole at the end spot opposite Smith in terms of pass rushing.
What Not to Like: This team is weak up the middle on defense. After coming off a promising rookie campaign, Sedrick Ellis struggled last year due to injuries and Remi Ayodele (who was brought in to be a run-stuffer) was highly ineffective and doesn’t offer anything in the pass-rush department. Vilma, who is an outstanding cover middle linebacker, struggled at times against the run last year and the same could be said for Scott Shanle. Former first round pick Malcolm Jenkins (who is a converted corner) takes over for Sharper at free safety and while he has the tools to be good, he’s never played the position before. Offensively, there are very few weaknesses but if I had to pick one it would be left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who struggled badly last season. Cowboys’ OLB DeMarcus Ware (who makes most tackles look bad) exposed him on national television last season and there are some concerns that he can protect Brees’ blindside.
Keep Your Eye On: Pierre Thomas
I didn’t even mention the running game in the “What to Like” section, so here it goes. One of the main reasons Payton’s offense and the Saints’ passing game is so efficient is because of the team’s ability to run the football. Now that Mike Bell is gone, Thomas should have even more opportunities than he received last season to be the rock in New Orleans’ backfield. Reggie Bush will still get his touches, but I don’t think a 1,000-plus yard season out of Thomas is out of the question – especially now that he’s fully healthy heading into Week 1 (he wasn’t at the start of 2009).
The Final Word: The Saints certainly don’t come without their weaknesses, but this is still the team to beat in the NFC South. Their offense will once again rank near the top of the league by year’s end (barring injuries, of course) and Williams proved to be an outstanding game-planner last season. The run defense is a concern, as is Bushrod at left tackle. But Brees and company are going to light up the scoreboard again this year and even if the defense takes a step back, I don’t see the Saints relinquishing the division crown quite yet.

New Orleans Saints 2009 Question Mark: Interior Defense

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2010 NFL Preview: AFC West Predictions

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates after a touchdown against the New York Jets during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

On paper, the AFC West is definitely one of the weaker divisions in football. The Chargers remain the team to beat, while the Broncos are just trying to make it to their opener without losing another starter to injury.

But the West usually produces a surprise or two along the way (i.e. Denver last year), so don’t count out the Broncos, Raiders or Chiefs before the season starts. All three of those teams come with some glaring weaknesses, but it’s not like the Chargers are the picture of perfection.

Here’s how I see things shaking out in the AFC West in 2010. Be sure to check out the link entitled “2010 Question Mark” under each team’s preview, which is a breakdown of one or two potential weaknesses that could derail that squad’s hopes this season. (If the links aren’t available now for some teams, check back because they will be before the season starts.)

1. Chargers

What to Like: After finishing fifth in the league in passing yards per game (271.1) in 2009, the Chargers should once again be explosive through the air. Losing Vincent Jackson is a major blow, but adding a pass-catching back like Ryan Mathews in the draft was a nice coup. Philip Rivers returns after compiling a 104.4 QB rating last season and developing into one of the best signal callers in the game. Again, the loss of Jackson hurts, but Malcolm Floyd is ready for a breakout campaign, Antonio Gates returns as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the NFL and the team recently acquired Patrick Crayton from the Cowboys. Brandyn Dombrowski has also looked good filling in for Marcus McNeill, who continues to holdout while seeking a new contract. Defensively, free safety Eric Weddle is coming off a great ’09 season, while Shaun Phillips and Stephen Cooper remain steady at their linebacker positions.
What Not to Like: Is there anybody left that GM A.J. Smith hasn’t pissed off? This team managed to lose its top wideout and is close to watching its best offensive tackle (McNeill) holdout well into the season. Defensively, Shawne Merriman is back but who knows how productive he’ll be after a poor showing in ’09, while Larry English failed to impress last season as well (albeit as a rookie). The defensive line lost their top run-stuffer when Jamal Williams was released and Luis Castillo has been living off his reputation for the last two years. The entire defensive line, in fact, is arguably this team’s biggest weakness. The secondary, outside of Weddle, has a ton of question marks as well.
Keep Your Eye On: Malcolm Floyd
The 28-year-old out of Wyoming will finally have his opportunity to shine now that Jackson is gone (or rather, not playing). He’s been Rivers’ favorite target so far this offseason after finishing fourth in the league last year in yards-per-catch average. If he can build off the nine-catch, 140-yard performance he had in Week 17 last year (while Jackson was out), then Floyd could be another dangerous weapon in the Chargers’ arsenal.
The Final Word: If there were another team in this division that I thought had a remote chance of overtaking the Chargers, I would probably have them winning the division. But because the West is so weak this year, the Bolts should have no problems winning 10-plus games and claiming the division again, even though they have a several weaknesses heading into the new season. Whether or not they advance in the playoffs is another story. The key is Rivers, who is an exceptional talent that has proven he can carry this team during the regular season. But the playoffs are a different animal – he’s going to need help and while Mathews looks like he has all the tools to make him a solid young player, relying on a rookie is always a dangerous proposition. Defensively, this team has way too many question marks and unless guys like Merriman or English step up, I think they’re going to struggle at every level this year. A division crown looks to be on the horizon, but so does another one-and-done showing in the postseason.

San Diego Chargers 2010 NFL Question Mark: Defensive Line

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2010 NFL Preview: NFC West Predictions

MIAMI - DECEMBER 14:  Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers looks at a replay while taking on the Miami Dolphins at Dolphin Stadium on December 14, 2008 in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the 49ers 14-9.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

While it’s counterpart in the AFC is likely in store for a rough year as well, the NFC West is by far the worst division in football. The Cardinals are going through a major transition year, the Rams will be rebuilding for a couple of years and nobody quite knows what to make of Pete Carroll’s Seahawks.

That leaves the 49ers, who don’t come without their weaknesses but is definitely the team to beat this year in the West. Now it’s just up to Mike Singletary’s squad to execute.

Here’s how I see things shaking out in the NFC West in 2010. Be sure to check out the link entitled “2010 Question Mark” under each team’s preview, which is a breakdown of one or two potential weaknesses that could derail that squad’s hopes this season.

1. 49ers

What to Like: As you would expect from a Mike Singletary-led team, the 49ers can play a little defense. They finished a very average 15th in total defense last season, but stats don’t tell the whole story. The Niners finished sixth against the run last year by allowing just 97 yards per game, largely due to the play of inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who led the league in tackles. Takeo Spikes continues to be a steady veteran presence and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is highly underrated. Staying on that side of the ball, Justin Smith may not put up flashy numbers, but he’s easily one of the best 3-4 ends in the league. Offensively, the Niners have a solid core in Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and second-year player Michael Crabtree. With more consistency at quarterback, this won’t be the dreadful unit it was at times last season.
What Not to Like: The offensive line is still a concern, although removing Adam Snyder from the starting right guard spot is a plus. There are high hopes for Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, but it’s usually not wise to rely on one rookie lineman, nevertheless two rookie linemen. There have also been mixed reviews on Alex Smith this offseason. Some think he’s ready to turn the corner, while others believe he’ll probably be just as inconsistent as ever. OC Jimmy Raye will try to balance the pass more with the run this year, which is a good thing because the team’s strengths is at running back. But Smith still has to step up and make plays when opponents successfully take away the run. Defensively, this is a unit that gave up 229.4 yards per game through the air last season, which means it needs better production out of Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer and especially, free safety Dashon Goldson (who struggled in coverage last season).
Keep Your Eye On: The two rookie O-linemen
Iupati and Davis might be the difference between this team challenging for a division title and it failing to deliver on high expectations. Both players are excellent prospects but they’re going to have to grow up in a hurry because this team expects to compete this season.
The Final Word: If the Niners played in a more competitive division I’d be saying something along the lines of, “Improving team, but will probably come up just short of making the postseason.” But since they’ll be able to feast on the trash that is the NFC West, there’s little to no excuse for San Fran to win a division title this year. I’m not completely sold on Smith turning a new leaf, but there’s enough talent on both sides of the ball for this team to produce a 9-7 or 10-6 record. I don’t foresee them advancing in the playoffs unless a couple of players overachieve, but I still think this is a solid football team and you know they’re going to compete every week under Singletary. Plus, don’t forget that the year the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl, they were highly average in the regular season, only to turn it on during the playoffs. I’m not saying…I’m just saying.

San Francisco 49ers 2010 Question Mark: Offensive Line

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