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Want to be as cool as me when it comes to sports betting?

Here is a great WALL OF TEXT article for those wanting to try out American Football sports betting by my good friend Seth Burn.

Welcome to the 2010 edition of my football preview. My name is Seth Burn and I will be your host for the next 30 (hopefully) pages or so. I would like to apologize in advance if this goes a little long. Before I begin I would like to define some terms:

Expected Wins: These are the implied wins set by the trading markets. If a team were given an over-under of eight wins such that a wager of 100 would return 220 total on the over (+120), and a wager of 140 would return 240 on the under (-140) the team would have an expected value of approximately 7.7 wins (8 - .3). A basic rule of thumb is that each basis point is worth 1/100th of a win, so a team with an line of over 6.5 -160, under 6.5 +140 would be expected to win 7 games. Please note, I do not wish to condone gambling. I include these win totals because they are the de facto median expectation for the teams.

Scouting Wins: This is a formula based upon positional values. The offense gets four values: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers + tight ends, and offensive line. Quarterbacks are by far the most important offensive position, then offensive line is more important than running backs or the wide receiving corps. The defense has three values: defensive line, linebacker corps, and the secondary, with the defensive line being the most important and the secondary being the least important. And last and least are the special teams rankings. The reason special teams are valued so low is because they are so fluid and unpredictable. A team can have a top 5 special teams value one year, and a bottom 5 special teams value the next without having made many changes. Once those 8 values are given their appropriate weight I produce a team value. I then created a value for the difficulty of that team’s schedule and solved for the expected wins against that strength of schedule.

DVOA Wins: These are taken directly from Football Outsiders 2010 Almanac (a book that I highly recommend if you have a strong interest in football). Their formula, Defense adjusted Value Over Average – or DVOA – is fairly complicated and is based on the success rates of each play of the game. It creates values for offense, defense, and special teams. The formula looks for anomalies like an over performance on third down that is unlikely to be repeated. When a team has been “clutch” one season or one game, Football Outsiders generally expects a regression. Football Outsiders has been very good at predicting teams who are due for a rise or a fall, although to be fair they also had the Rams winning 8.0 games last season. I highly recommend that you check out their website (http://www.footballoutsiders.com if you wish to learn more about their methodology.) * (Since Football Outsiders updated their win projections for ESPN the Magazine I will use the win projections from ESPN and not the Almanac).

Kubiak- The head coach of the Houston Texans.

KUBIAK- The player projection system created by Football Outsiders. If you are a baseball fan you should think of PECOTA as the inspiration.

SackSEER: A secret sauce made up of vertical leap, short shuttle time, games played (or more specifically, lack of games missed), and SRAM (which is roughly an estimated sack rate). SackSEER gives an estimate of production of a player’s first five years in the NFL. Also, please note the lack of a 40-time in the secret sauce. Well done Football Outsiders.

Speed Score- A measure of effective playing speed. The two inputs are 40-time (velocity) and weight (mass). F = MV. J

Pythagorean wins- The amount of wins a team would normally win given the amount of points they scored and allowed. The formula is similar to points scored ^ 2.4 / (points allowed ^ 2.4 + points scored ^ 2.4)

Let’s start with the most valuable division in football (according to Forbes), the NFC East:

2010 Projected standings:

Dallas Cowboys 11-5

New York Giants 10-6

Washington Redskins 5-11

Dallas Cowboys

Expected Wins- 10.11

Scouting Wins- 9.88

DVOA Wins- 7.5

2009 Record- 11-5

One of those projections is not like the other. Let’s go back to 2006:

2006 DVOA Wins: 7.5

2006 Record: 9-7

2006 Pythagorean Wins: 9.8

Alright, the Cowboys outplayed their projections by 1.5 wins, and it wasn’t luck that led to that record. How about 2007?

2007 DVOA Wins: 6.4

2007 Record: 13-3

2007 Pythagorean Wins: 11.0

Oops. Better luck next time?

2008 DVOA Wins: 8.1

2008 Record: 9-7

2008 Pythagorean Wins: 7.9

Aha! I’ll call that a hit. Did the DVOA projection system finally have a read on the Cowboys?

2009 DVOA Wins: 8.0

2009 Record: 11-5

2009 Pythagorean Wins: 11.3

Nope. 4 year accumulated projections:

2006-2009 DVOA Wins: 30.0

2006-2009 Record: 42-22

2006-2009 Pythagorean Wins: 40.0

That averages out to a four-year DVOA projection of… whadda ya know, it’s 7.5! If history is any indication that means we should expect about 10 wins from the Cowboys and wow, that’s just what the boys in the desert think! As far as I can tell the biggest reason for this discrepancy is the Cowboys’ continued good health. The Cowboys have invested in a lot of top-level talent and have questionable depth behind it. Normally when teams try this, the natural wear and tear of the NFL season renders that strategy ineffective. Inevitably key players get hurt and the backups are exposed. For the most part this is a fate the Cowboys have avoided. This isn’t to say Cowboys avoid injuries entirely, but that the medical staff helps keep injured players on the field and playing at a reasonably high level. This year DVOA has a specific problem with the Cowboys: The offensive line. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s talk about the glamour boys on the ‘Boys.

QB Tony Romo has earned a reputation as a gunslinger. In 2007 and 2008 he threw for 62 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. Last year he managed to keep his touchdown rate high while throwing only 9 interceptions. He also improved his ball control when scrambling by keeping two hands on the ball. He probably won’t be quite as effective in 2010 as he was in 2009, but even so he is only a small step beneath the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. If he manages to improve in 2010 he’ll be in the discussion for the best quarterback in football. It helps that he has an pretty good group to throw to: WR’s Miles Austin, Dez Bryant

, Roy Williams, and TE Jason Witten. Miles Austin is a very good receiver with a great attitude and work ethic. He broke out last year and performed as well as people were expecting Roy Williams to perform. Speaking of Roy, he is proving to be Jerry Jones’ biggest misfire (although his previous misfire on safety Roy Williams was pretty bad too). He has tremendous physical talent but absolutely awful hands and a gutless attitude. Some wide receivers treat a pass over the middle as a chance to break a big play. Others view it as a chance to move the chains and then get on the ground before getting hit. Roy Williams seems to view it as a punishment. WR Dez Bryant was supposed to break in as the slot receiver but he has an ankle injury that has delayed his progress. The Cowboys were tremendously lucky to be able to trade for him (technically they traded for the 24th pick in the draft). I had him rated as the top WR in the draft, and the most valuable non-QB offensive player in the draft. He dropped in the draft due to concerns about his character. I felt and still feel those concerns were wildly overblown. TE Jason Witten is often referred to as Romo’s favorite target, and if that is the case it is for good reason. Witten caught 76% of the balls sent his way last season. Witten is a future Hall of Famer in his prime.

The Cowboys have three quality running backs. Marion Barber is the most physical of the three and played through nagging injuries last year. He looks to be healthy right now and should be an effective every-down back for the Cowboys. Felix Jones is explosive and has breakaway speed. Tashard Choice was highly effective but was only handed the ball 64 times. Given the effectiveness of the passing game it is clear that at least one, and possibly two, of these backs will be severely underutilized. A quote from the 2010 Almanac: “You should jump on him (Choice) if Barber gets traded. If Choice is the one who gets dealt, though, he will probably be overvalued; he won’t get to bring along the Cowboys offensive line.”

It isn’t like Football Outsiders is out on a limb when criticizing the offensive line, the scouts agreed it was the major offensive weakness. The truth of the matter is last year the offensive line was excellent at run blocking, particularly to the left side. OL Coach Hudson has been highly successful for years working with oversized offensive lineman and getting them to work effectively as a unit. Tony Romo was a sitting duck vs. the Vikings with Flozell Adams out with an injury. Adams has since been let go. The Cowboys traded for Alex Barron, a move that can not be particularly comforting for Romo. Left guard Kyle Kosier will likely miss the start of the season with a strained MCL. Right tackle Marc Colombo might miss the start of the season due to arthroscopic knee surgery. The Cowboys understand that their offensive line could be a problem and have made efforts to bolster the depth of the unit, but if any more starters miss time Romo could be in trouble again.

LB DeMarcus Ware gets most of the attention, but it might be NT Jay Ratliff who causes the most offensive consternation. Both are elite players. Ratliff usually draws a double-team and frees up other players on defense to attack the ball. He also provides a solid pass rush while maintaining strong gap coverage against the run. Ware is solid against the run and one of the best pass-rushers in football. Like Ware, LB Anthony Spencer is an aggressive pass-rusher and good run stuffer. Both often play on the line, giving the Cowboys a 5-2 look. DE’s Igor Olshansky and Marcus Spears are good run-stuffers who eat up blocks. Inside linebacker Keith Brooking appreciates that. His strengths are recognition and tackling and he is highly effective within the Cowboys’ system. The Cowboys have pretty good depth throughout the front seven (a rarity, as depth is usually not a Cowboy specialty), but their reliance on a few elite players has led the Cowboys’ defense to wear down as the game proceeds.

In 2009, CB Mike Jenkins made the leap to elite cover corner and just needs to add run support to his skills to be one of the best at his position. Opposite him, Terence Newman is fading but is still a serviceable #2. The Cowboys are looking to move Jenkins around so that he consistently covers the #1 receiver. Free safety Alan Ball is effectively a 3rd cornerback. The Cowboys lack quality depth in the secondary and are vulnerable to teams with deep receiving corps.

The Cowboys have above-average special teams. Kicker David Buehler has one of the strongest legs in the NFL. It is unclear who will be returning kicks and punts but the fact is the Cowboys have plenty of good options in both cases. Punter Mat McBriar is pretty good at both booming punts and finesse punts. The biggest weakness for the Cowboys’ special teams was field goal accuracy, but history has shown that past years’ field goal accuracy is not very predictive.

In addition to Dez Bryant, I think the Cowboys got great value with their 2nd round pick Sean Lee (inside linebacker from Penn St.) and their 4th round pick (free safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah from Indiana, PA). Lee will probably see some playing time on 3rd down. The Cowboys didn’t have a 3rd round pick.

Coach Wade Phillips doesn’t get a lot of respect but he has performed quite well over the past few years. There is some friction between him and owner Jerry Jones, mostly due to Jones feeling that he has the best idea of how to run the Cowboys.

On paper the Cowboys are the best team in the NFC East and if they stay healthy they will be one of the NFC favorites to go to the Super Bowl. If they make it the Cowboys would be the first team to host a Super Bowl.

New York Giants

Expected Wins- 8.88

Scouting Wins- 9.51

DVOA Wins- 8.7

2009 Record- 8-8

In basketball there is the problem that you have a short supply of tall people. You might find a lot of people who have the requisite skills to be a great NBA player, but unfortunately almost all of them are shorter than 6-4. In the NFL the Giants ascribe to “The Planet Theory.” There simply aren’t that many people on the planet who can control the line of scrimmage. The Giants managed to win three Super Bowls with a plan of acquiring as many of these people as possible. What happened last year? The other part of the defense not covered by this philosophy was absolutely destroyed. Injuries were a part of the problem, but the fact is the Giants had people on their roster unqualified to play in the NFL. The new defensive plan is to play Tampa-2. There are some benefits and problems with this plan. The benefit is that Tampa-2 can mask athletic limitations in the secondary. The main problem is that it requires speed throughout the front-7 and secondary players who can provide run support. The Giants showed their lack of commitment to traditional Tampa-2 principles by going after DE Jason Pierre-Paul and DT Linval Joseph. I’m pretty happy with adding Joseph, but drafting JPP was a mistake. George Selvie was the best defender on the South Florida Bulls. Selvie ended up going in the 7th round to the Rams due to injury issues while JPP blew people away with his freakish physical skills. Unfortunately Sackseer was not impressed by said skills and doubts they can pay the bills. I’ll come back to the defense; right now let’s talk about the offense.

Eli Manning doesn’t get a lot of respect. When he won a Super Bowl, people rightly credited the defense for dominating the game. Since that game he has raised his level of performance to the point where he is now one of the 10 best quarterbacks in football, albeit not in the discussion for top 5. It would be exceedingly helpful if he cut down on his turnovers, particularly his fumbles. It might not be reasonable to expect him to pass like his brother, but Eli has fumbled 29 times in the last three seasons, while Peyton has fumbled 10 times. Just a little something to work on. While neither are stars, Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks provide a nice pair of receivers for Manning. Nicks is a 6-3 monster who is very difficult to tackle after the catch. Smith has become the flanker. Mario Manningham still has the potential to break out but even if he doesn’t, he is fine as a third option. Tight end Kevin Boss is a fine option, particularly near the end zone, although Manning sometimes seems to forget he’s available.

The air attack looks good for the Giants, but the ground game has some issues. Ahmed Bradshaw isn’t particularly versatile and was nagged by a sprained ankle and cracked foot bones last season. Last year rookie Andre Brown looked to be a speed score sleeper in the 4th round but tore his left Achilles tendon and then had some setbacks in rehab. If he returns to 100% he’ll be an intriguing option. Brandon Jacobs absolutely sucked last year. He sucked in short yardage, particularly in the red zone. He sucked in terms of yards per carry. He sucked as a receiver. He did have nagging injuries and the offensive line severely regressed, but let’s be clear, Jacobs was a shadow of himself last season and he has a lot of work to do to restore the trust of the Giants’ coaching staff.

The offensive line might have had a tough season last year, but I love how it looks for 2010. If William Beatty can handle a promotion to left tackle, former left tackle David Diehl can move to left guard. Center Shaun O’Hara and right guard Chris Snee are both quite good, although Snee has some nagging injuries which are hurting his play, as does O’Hara. The Giants weren’t particularly happy with Kareem McKenzie at right tackle and they may have found a much better option with the… surprising? Stunning? Shocking Shawn Andrews signing. Andrews was a bust in Philadelphia, but his potential was tremendous and if the Giants can get him to perform up to his level of talent they will have a mammoth upgrade on the right side of the line. The other option is to use Andrews to spell Snee when Snee needs to nurse his injuries.

The Giants have invested a lot of high draft picks and free agency cash on the defensive line. Defensive ends Justin Tuck, Matthias Kiwanuka, Osi Unenyiora, and JPP are expected to provide a serious pass rush. Umenyiora had a down year in 2009 but I expect him to bounce back. He clashed with the coaching staff before last season but is in a markedly better frame of mind this year. Tuck and Kiwanuka were unlucky to only have 9 sacks between them given how often and active they were in the offensive backfield. Look for them to be more effective this season. You know how I feel about JPP (pretty effing bad.) Tuck, Kiwanuka, and Umenyiora all want to start, but there should be plenty of playing time to go around. The problem for the Giants isn’t the defensive ends, it’s everything else.

The Giants had no interior pass rush and little push in short yardage situations. While I like Linval Joseph, it will take him some time to get into NFL shape, as he had conditioning problems in college. Between Barry Cofield, Chris Canty, Jay Alford, Rocky Bernard, and Joseph, the Giants do have plenty of defensive tackle depth, but not much quality. That would be less of a problem if they were only asking the tackles to keep offensive linemen off of an elite linebacker corps.

The Tampa-2 system generally needs fast linebackers with good coverage skills. The Giants drafted a good Tampa-2 style linebacker in the 4th round. Dillard was a good coverage linebacker in the pass-happy Big 12. Michael Boley is an excellent athlete and has the physical skills to transition to the new defense. Boley wasn’t quite a bust as a free agent, but he wasn’t what the Giants were hoping for either. Perhaps the new system will redeem him. Clint Sintim is a big too large and slow to fit the traditional Tampa-2 mold, but he is very strong near the line of scrimmage. Keith Bullock has seen practice time at both inside and outside linebacker, and appears to be set to play on the outside. The Giants have pretty good depth at inside linebacker with Chase Blackburn, Gerris Wilkinson, and Bryan Kell, along with rookie Dillard. Wilkinson in particular has been impressive in practice and might move up the depth chart. 6th round pick Adrian Tracy is a Sackseer sleeper. Thank goodness.

The Tampa-2 system generally needs fast linebackers with good coverage skills. The Giants drafted a good Tampa-2 style linebacker in the 4th round. Dillard was a good coverage linebacker in the pass-happy Big 12. Michael Boley is an excellent athlete and has the physical skills to transition to the new defense. Boley wasn’t quite a bust as a free agent, but he wasn’t what the Giants were hoping for either. Perhaps the new system will redeem him. Clint Sintim is a big too large and slow to fit the traditional Tampa-2 mold, but he is very strong near the line of scrimmage. Keith Bullock has seen practice time at both inside and outside linebacker, and appears to be set to play on the outside. The Giants have pretty good depth at inside linebacker with Chase Blackburn, Gerris Wilkinson, and Bryan Kell, along with rookie Dillard. Wilkinson in particular has been impressive in practice and might move up the depth chart. 6th round pick Adrian Tracy is a Sackseer sleeper. Thank goodness.

Injuries destroyed the secondary in 2009 and it appears there will be a carryover. Safety Kenny Phillips injury woes have caused the Giants to make some bad decisions, chief among them the free agent signing of Antrel Rolle. The Giants also brought in former Seahawk Deon Grant. Grant is 31 and is on the decline, but he will be better than the flotsam the Giants had playing safety last year. 3rd round pick Chad Jones was seriously injured in an automobile accident and his playing career is in doubt. Cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster look to have won the starting jobs. Thomas was excellent as an injury replacement last year. Aaron Ross should be effective in nickel formations, although in an oddity he might be given outside responsibilities instead of playing against the slot receiver despite not being a starter. Thomas is excellent in the slot and Ross would probably stay outside. The Giants hope Webster returns to his 2008 form, and not his injury weakened 2009 performance. There is a lot of curiosity throughout the NFL as to how well the Giants secondary will adapt to the change in system. Count me in as one of the people who is wondering how this works out.

7th round pick P Matt Dodge is still working out some kinks when it comes to directional punting, but he looks like a good pick. Kicker Lawrence Tynes seems to have gotten his groove back and looks good to start the season.

The Giants are more than a dark horse threat to win the NFC. They still have an excellent pass rush and should bounce back in the secondary. If the team adjusts to their new defensive scheme, the Giants will challenge the Cowboys for dominance over the NFC East. Offensively, the biggest question is whether or not the line returns to its prior level of play. I’m also a bit concerned that the team might turn against coach Tom Coughlin if they struggle early. My prediction is that the Giants will start strong and return to the playoffs after a 1-year hiatus.

Expected Wins- 8.19

Scouting Wins- 7.02

DVOA Wins- 9.2

2009 Record- 11-5

Philadelphia won't have Donovan McNabb to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is now the era of Kevin Kolb. I fully expect Kolb to take advantage of his opportunity. He doesn’t have McNabb’s ability to throw deep, so DeSean Jackson will have to adjust his routes, but unlike McNabb, Kolb is not a proponent of the bounce pass into the post. Kolb’s accuracy should revitalize the Eagles’ passing game. Kolb might throw more interceptions than McNabb, but that is because McNabb too often threw balls that neither team could possibly catch. In addition to the accuracy bonus, the Eagles should also benefit from Kolb’s quick release. Kolb will have to improve his third down effectiveness, as the Eagles would often check down to the easy completion that failed to achieve a first down. Mike Vick might see a little more playing time now that he is more familiar with the Eagles’ system.

The Eagles rushing game was effective in 2009, but because they ran only 301 times last year,much of that success can be attributed to the surprise factor. LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver look to split most of the carries. Weaver has tremendous size and good blocking and receiving technique. McCoy is an every-down back who can pound inside and outside. Mike Bell might steal some of the carries in the red zone, although I think I’d give those carries to McCoy and Weaver until they proved ineffective.

DeSean Jackson is an elite receiver and should be highly effective with Kolb throwing to him. Jeremy Maclin had a strong rookie season and should continue to improve. He looks to fit the new offensive scheme quite well. Jason Avant was exceedingly effective in the red zone and on third down. He has great hands and can take advantage of the holes created by Jackson’s and Maclin’s speed. Tight end Brent Celek has a bit of a drops problem, but is still quite effective due to his ability to beat most linebacker or safety coverage

Left tackle Jason Peters proved to be an effective run blocker, but was poor as a pass blocker and maintained his reputation as a penalty machine. Right tackle Winston Justice had his best season and the Eagles were happy to re-sign him. Left guard Todd Herremans is quite good, and is a powerful run blocker. Herremans has been bothered by a sprained foot. Center Jamaal Jackson is very good but was severely injured late last season and his health is still a concern. Right guard Stacy Andrews has been a disappointment. The offensive line has looked terrible in the preseason, with many of the starters out nursing injuries.

Defensive end Trent Cole is a monster and was the one player offenses had to gameplan around. Juqua Parker was pretty good opposite him but the Eagles are concerned that his level of play will decline. The Eagles drafted nine defensive players, five in the first 4 rounds. They ended up drafting three defensive ends. I like 1st round pick DE Brandon Graham, although neither I nor Sackseer see him as a future star. He should be a quality player for the Eagles. I was pretty unimpressed with 3rd round pick DE Daniel Te’O-Nesheim, but Sackseer strongly disagrees. The Eagles also signed DE Darryl Tap to help with their run defense. Defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson are excellent run stuffers but combined for a measly 2.5 sacks. DT Trevor Laws will play in dime situations. The Eagles actually have excellent depth and can put together a strong front four in any situation, so long as they have a good idea of what the offense wants to do.

MLB Stewart Bradley is recovering from ACL surgery. If he’s healthy he’ll be an aggressive defender, albeit not a great pass defender. The Eagles traded for Ernie Sims and he looks to start as a weakside linebacker. 4th round pick Keenan Clayton should see some playing time. I felt he was a reach. The Eagles are still trying out different options to play strongside linebacker. They might use Moise Fokou on first and second down, and bring in Alex Hall as a pass rusher on third down. Omar Gaither can play any of the linebacker positions. Unlike on the defensive line, the Eagles don’t have too many potential linebacker stars.

Even more than the linebacker corps, the Eagles’ secondary concerns me. Cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs were a successful pairing in New England but that was three years ago. Samuel is a gambler who will produce a lot of big plays for both teams via interceptions, missed tackles, and the occasional missed interception leading to a long gain for the offense. Hobbs was hurt last season and hasn’t been a good cornerback in years. If he proves ineffective, nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson will trade jobs with Hobbs. CB Demitri Patterson has had an excellent preseason and might work his way past both of them on the depth chart. Strong safety Quintin Mikell was excellent last year despite a few missed tackles. Free safety is an open competition that the Eagles hope is won by 2nd round pick Nate Allen. Allen isn’t particularly physical, but he moves very well and with some good coaching could blossom into a star. If Allen isn’t ready to start the job will likely go to Quintin Demps. Yes, the Eagles have two safeties named Quintin. I’m as shocked as you are.

The Eagles’ special teams were very good last year but kicker David Akers and punter Saverio Rocca are both elderly by NFL standards and could start declining. Both the punt and kick coverage teams were quite good. DeSean Jackson is an excellent punt returner, but I don’t know how long the Eagles will continue to risk his health. If they decide to take away his job, the Eagles have plenty of other options.

The Eagles won 11 games last year and if Kolb is an improvement over McNabb, the Eagles could win even more games this year. Unfortunately the Eagles can’t expect to end up +15 in turnover differential (one of the perks of McNabb’s willingness to throw uncatchable balls). There are concerns along the offensive line, and for the back seven on defense, but there are no flawless teams in the NFL. Andy Reid is still one of the better coaches in the NFL and I expect the Eagles to fight for a playoff spot. I don’t see them getting that spot due to offensive line issues and a tough schedule.

Washington Redskins

Expected Wins- 6.97

Scouting Wins- 6.81

DVOA Wins- 9.2

2009 Record- 4-12

I smell a disaster. Please don’t misunderstand me, last year was a disaster for the Redskins. This year they brought in Donovan McNabb. Last year they brought in Albert Haynesworth. McNabb is already dinged up and questionable for the opener against the Cowboys. Haynesworth is currently in a battle of wills against coach Shanahan. Oh, as to Shanahan, he was a pretty mediocre coach in Denver after Elway left. However, the real problem in Washington isn’t any of the players or coaches. Let’s look at the various owners in the division:

Dallas Cowboys- Jerry Jones: A bit self-aggrandizing, but eminently professional with a strong desire to win. Occasionally makes mistakes, but overall he regularly puts a strong product on the field.

New York Football Giants- John Mara and Steve Tisch: The Giants have maintained the same organizational philosophy since they hired George Young to run football operations in the 1979. There have occasionally been hiccups and bad runs (The Giants adapted very poorly to the free agency era), but like the Cowboys, the Giants can certainly be described as a highly professional organization.

Philadelphia Eagles- Jeffrey Lurie: Not quite as wealthy as the other owners in the NFC East, and perhaps a bit of a penny pincher, the Eagles have at times been criticized as cheapskates. However, the Eagles have also been astute and unemotional when building their roster. Like the Patriots they realized the importance of loading up on young cheap talent in the draft. It seems to have worked as the Eagles have won as many divisional titles in the last 10 years as the rest of the division combined.

Washington Redskins- Dan Snyder: Sues his fans. Fires coaches and public relations people when the mood strikes him. Trades draft picks away for big name players. Throws cash at big name free agents. It isn’t just that the Redskins have a bad organizational philosophy. It’s that they can’t maintain a consistent focus and follow a long-term plan. The Redskins should be trying to get younger and build for the future, but for the Redskins the future is always now. Joe Mendes, a former capologist for the Washington Redskins, says that ultimately, money alone will never win a championship. It's "culture and personality of the franchise," that matters. Barring some tremendous luck in the draft (which is unlikely even when you don’t throw picks away), the Redskins will be bad for a long time.

That isn’t to say that McNabb is toast. I think he still has some good games left in him, but I’m not sure if he has a good season in him. For most of his career, he’s played with mediocre receivers, but his last years with the Eagles he had good options. I’m not certain the same can be said of the Redskins. The supposed star of the receiving corps is Santana Moss, but his last few seasons have not been particularly good. Moss is on the wrong side of thirty and might simply not be the speedster he once was. Third year receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas have failed to develop into the offensive threats the Redskins thought they were drafting. Kelly has been slowed by a hamstring injury. Thomas has simply been ineffective. Anthony Armstrong might have earned the #2 receiver job with a strong preseason, but that pretty much shows how little depth (and quality) the redskins have at wide receiver. Tight ends Fred Davis and Chris Cooley might become McNabb’s two favorite targets. Cooley is more of a TE/WR hybrid while Davis is the more physical of the two. Both are quite good and it would actually make sense to feature the two of them.

A lot of jokes have been made that the Redskins have 2006’s best rushing game on their roster. Running backs Larry Johnson, Clinton Portis, and Willie Parker have had success in the past, but historically one of the great strengths of Shanahan’s offenses is that they turned young unknown running backs into aggressive, one-cut, 1000-yard rushers. Of course, Shanahan is also known for being a big fan of the rushing game by committee. Portis is a good blocker so he’ll provide some value to the offense beyond his running. The breakout star could be Ryan Torain if he can finally stay healthy for more than two games. * Willie Parker didn’t end up making the final 53 man roster.

The Redskins wisely addressed their offensive line problems via trades and the draft. 1st round pick Trent Williams has tremendous talent, but was taken to school in the preseason by Terrell Suggs. There are concerns about his laid back attitude. For now he’ll start at right tackle. Left tackle Jammal Brown came from the Saints in a trade and should be able to hold down the position while Williams matures. Center Casay Rabach and left guard Derrick Dockery provide stability on the inside of the line. Dockery is an odd fit for the zone blocking system, but he’s good enough to adapt. Right guard is still open to whomever wins the job but it appears that the Redskins have multiple decent options, so McNabb shouldn’t lose too much sleep. Mike Williams is the current favorite to win the job, and like Dockery he is a bit of an odd fit for the system.

Defensively, things start with DT Albert Haynesworth. If he is out there playing hard, offenses will be forced to double team him. That will open up opportunities for DE Andre Carter and LB Brian Orakbo. I’m not sure I can remember another player like Orakbo. He is only good at one thing (rushing the passer), and he only has one good move (speed rush). Carter was having a strong season until a biceps injury slowed him down. The Redskins are moving to a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, but it isn’t a conventional 3-4. Haslett is a very aggressive coordinator and the ends and outside linebackers will be expected to attack rather than read and react. While I would disagree with that plan in general, that is a good fit for the current skill set the defense provides. Even when he is at his best, Haynesworth requires plenty of rest. Kedric Golston has performed well as a backup, but doesn’t have the size and strength you’d expect of a starter in today’s NFL. DE Adam Carriker was ineffective in St. Louis but should be a good fit in Washington. The Redskins have pretty good depth along their defensive line, but the quality of it depends entire on Haynesworth. When Haynesworth left Tennessee, their defense fell apart. If the Redskins cannot convince Haynesworth to play hard, a similar fate awaits them.

I like the starting four linebackers on the Redskins: Orakbo and H.B. Blades on the outside (and sometimes, Andre Carter might play in Blade’s spot), with London Fletcher and Rocky McCintosh on the inside. All four are good fits for their positions. Unfortunately, unlike the defensive line there isn’t much depth on the linebacking corps. Also, in a 3-4 system the linebackers need the nose tackle and defensive ends to occupy the offensive line and keep blockers from breaking into the second level. There will be a lot of pressure on the nose tackle.

The Redskins have three mediocre cornerbacks, but no great ones. DeAngelo Hall makes great plays, but is a me-first player and will take bad risks in an attempt to make great plays. Carlos Rogers simply isn’t very good. Phillip Buchanon is a serviceable nickelback. LaRon Landry wasn’t very good as a free safety, but is still quite talented and looks to be more of a natural fit as a strong safety. Reed Doughty is also better as a strong safety, but he will be asked to switch roles and handle the free safety responsibilities.

I have low expectations for the Redskins’ special teams. But wisely, the Redskins shared my expectations and made sure their late round draft picks had special teams experience. They also took care to sign undrafted free agent Brandon Banks. Banks is a former Big 12 special teams player of the year. He weighs about a buck-fifty with 4.4 speed.

Shanahan does have two Super Bowl rings, which is one more than the rest of the division has won. I don’t like what I have seen from the new coaching regime, but more than that, I don’t like the roster. There are pockets of talent, most notably at tight end, but this is an aging roster filled with big names who are long past their prime. That has been the Redskins’ plan for years, and it has produced failure after failure. The best thing the Redskins have going for them is a 4th place schedule. Another losing year and little relief in sight.

NFC North:

Projected Standings:

Green Bay Packers 12-4

Minnesota Vikings 10-6

Chicago Bears 6-10

Detroit Lions 4-12

Chicago Bears

Expected Wins- 7.72

Scouting Wins- 7.87

DVOA Wins- 9.0

2009 Record- 7-9

Mike Martz got 4,000+ yards out of Jon Kitna (a long time ago). That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Bears offensive line has already managed to get Jay Cutler sacked ten times in a little over five quarters in the preseason. The Bears hired former Vikings head coach Mike Tice to rebuild their offensive line, but it will take him some time. Left Tackle Chris Williams is an excellent run blocker, but he is overmatched in pass protection. I’ll simply say that the rest of the line as a unit is old and not particularly good at either pass protection or run blocking. In time Tice will change that.

In 2007 and 2008 combined, Jay Cutler threw for over 8,000 yards in Denver. Astonishingly he clashed with new coach Josh McDaniels and was shipped out of town. Expectations were high for the Bears last year but lousy pass protection, a weak receiving corps, and Cutler’s bad mechanics doomed the offense to failure. Ron Jawarski has suggested that improved mechanics will vastly improve Cutler’s accuracy and consistency. If Mike Martz can help Cutler improve and mature as a quarterback, we might see the explosive Bears passing game that we expected last season.

The Bears do have a nice backfield of Chester Taylor and Matt Forte. Forte had a poor sophomore season, as he was slow and hesitant after having MCL surgery last offseason. He should be back to form this year. He and Taylor have a similar skill set and both fit into the traditional Martz scheme. Both have good hands and Taylor is quite effective in pass protection. Neither of them had a good season last year, partly due to offensive line issues.

The Bears simply do not have a legitimate #1 wide receiver. Martz envisions Devin Hester as a dangerous slot receiver, which can work if Hester upgrades his route running skills. Johnny Knox might be a poor man’s Torry Holt. Martz has been working with him and will see if Knox can step up to be a #1 receiver. Devin Aromashodu has shown some flashes of talent, but has also disappeared for long stretches. Earl Bennett can serve as another possession receiver and might benefit from Martz’s schemes. Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna is expected to spend the majority of his playing time blocking. Tight end Greg Olson has never lived up to his talent, and tight ends are rarely featured in Martz’s schemes.

The Bears defense has a lot of big names who might not be as good as you remember. The most pressure is going to be on free agent pickup defensive end Julius Peppers. Actually, maybe pressure is the wrong word. Peppers has “got paid” and might be ready to relax this season, although he has looked excellent so far. The Bears released defensive ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye, so Israel Idonije and Mark Anderson will have to step up across from Peppers. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris used to be one of the best defensive players in football, but has been in decline for years. He is only 27 so resurgence is not out of the question. The Bears have solid defensive line depth.

Outside linebacker Lance Briggs is still elite, but middle linebacker Brian Ulracher isn’t the star he once was. He was lost last season to a wrist injury and hopefully the rest has allowed him to regain his speed. He still has tremendous football smarts. After Briggs and Ulracher the Bears have a solid linebacker corps. They will be best served by going back to traditional Tampa-2 principles, as opposed to pure blitzing. The Bears linebacker corps simply doesn’t have the pure straight line speed that blitzing requires (see Orakbo, Brian). The hope is that Peppers and the defensive line can provide the pass rush the Tampa-2 needs. If not, the Bears will be forced to blitz too often again. Both Briggs and Ulracher have been dinged up in the preseason (ankle and calf respectively).

Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman are a good fit for the Bears’ system, but neither is elite. Tillman is a good tackler, but injuries and time have rendered him merely very good. In Lovie Smith’s six years the Bears have had 20 free safeties and 20 strong safeties (there is some overlap). The top five safeties on the Bears depth chart have missed time due to injuries in the preseason. I like rookie strong safety Major Wright as an aggressive run stopper and occasional blitzer. Daniel Manning and Al Afalava currently top the depth charts for free and strong safety respectively. Wright might find his easiest access to the field as a nickel cornerback.

Even with Hester and Knox busy as wide receivers, the Bears still have excellent special teams. Punter Brad Maynard isn’t great, but the coverage units are excellent. Kicker Robbie Gould doesn’t have great kickoff length, but he does have good field goal length and has been an asset for the Bears.

Lovie Smith threw his coaching staff under the bus to save his job. The Bears have at least four coaches with NFL head coaching experience on their staff (Lovie Smith, Mike Martz, Mike Tice, Rod Marinelli). I am not sure how this will work out. I’ll be blunt: The offense comes down to whether or not the offensive line gives Mike Martz a chance to work his magic. The Bears might need to use TE Manumaleuna as a 6th offensive lineman. Defensively, the Bears aren’t the team you’d think they are (despite Dennis Green’s 2006 rant to the contrary). They don’t have an easy schedule and I’d view 8-8 as a solid season. I don’t think they’ll get there. The offense has looked awful in the preseason and Cutler might be losing confidence in both himself and his teammates. That would be a very bad downward spiral.

Detroit Lions

Expected Wins- 5.22

Scouting Wins- 4.24

DVOA Wins- 3.1

2009 Record- 2-14

Ousted general manager Matt Millen destroyed the Lions and it will be years before they return to respectability. They don’t have a single player on the roster from the 2002-2006 drafts. The only elite player drafted in the Millen era is WR Calvin Johnson. The fact is this roster is exceedingly bad, really only comparable to the Rams’. The good news is that there might be hope on the horizon.

Quarterback Matt Stafford was awful as a rookie. Injuries limited him to only ten games. He appears to have improved in the offseason and will have to continue that improvement if the Lions are to climb out of the cellar. Stafford has all the physical tools to be a great quarterback, now he just needs to become more accurate. If he can learn what kind of throws he can and cannot make, he’ll cut his interception rate down to a manageable level. That would help the Lions avoid repeating their -18 turnover differential from last season. I don’t worry that Stafford will have the same kind of problems that JaMarcus Russell had with the Raiders, as Stafford has a much higher work ethic and the Lions are currently a much better organization than the Raiders are (even with the terrible drafting described above). Stafford has a long way to go before being written off as a bust, but he will need to start showing signs of improvement this season.

Rookie running back Jahvid Best was highly productive in college. He had various durability issues in college, but should be able to contribute immediately. Kevin Smith will have to split carries with Best. Smith is coming off knee surgery, while Best has shown he can handle both receiving and blocking duties. The amount of carries Smith gets depends entirely on how careful the Lions wish to be with Best.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been the one Lions player defenses have focused on stopping. He will finally catch a break this season as the Lions imported Nate Burleson from the Seahawks. Bryant Johnson failed in the role Burleson is currently slated to take. Dennis Northcutt has been ineffective as a slot receiver. Last season’s second 1st round pick tight end Brandon Pettigrew was starting to develop before he tore his ACL last season. TE Tony Scheffler is an excellent receiver, but a lousy blocker. If the Lions start to feature two tight end sets look for Scheffler to be the receiver while Pettigrew stays in to block. One final note: Johnson, Scheffler, and Pettigrew are all 6-5 or taller.

I’ve busted Millen’s balls, so let me cut Millen a bit of slack here: left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola were Millen’s first picks and they are still starters. Guards Rob Sims and Stephen Peterman are both serviceable veterans. The drama is at right tackle where third year veteran Gosder Cherilus has failed to reach his potential. If Cherilus proves ineffective, the Lions will have to go with Jon Jansen at right tackle. This isn’t a great offensive line either way, but it shouldn’t be so bad as to render the offense hopeless. Oh, one last thing: the Lions signed Tyler Polumbus. If you are a Lions fan you should hope Polumbus never sees the field.

The Lions have improved their defensive line in free agency (defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch), via trade (defensive tackle Corey Williams), and in the draft (Ndamukong Suh). Williams and KVB are on the wrong side of thirty and aren’t elite players, but they should help the Lions defense in the short term. Suh looks like an absolute monster. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Jason Hunter surely appreciate the help. It came at a price, but the Lions actually have an above average defensive line in terms of both talent and depth. Kudos!

Linebacker Julian Peterson is the best of a weak group. Peterson is at his best attacking the passer, but his skills are generally needed elsewhere. I’d like DeAndre Levy a lot better if he hadn’t missed part of training camp with a back injury. He should still be an effective player for the Lions, and might even be a star in a year or two. Teams are going to attack whomever grabs the third starting spot, currently slated to be Zach Follett. As you might expect, the Lions linebacker depth is awful.

The Lions’ secondary will like include two cornerbacks that couldn’t stay on the rosters of last season’s 27th and 29th worst pass defenses in the NFL.. The best player, 2nd year safety Louis Delmas, is battling a groin injury. Quite frankly the Lions don’t have any good options in their secondary right now, so they must address these positions in the coming years. The Lions did pick up cornerback Amari Spievey in the 3rd round, but he will likely make more of an impact on special teams than in the secondary.

The Lions have bad special teams. Move on.

The good news for the Lions is that they have a very smart coach (Jim Schwartz), a young quarterback with a lot of potential, a great wide receiver, and a good defensive line with a potential future all-time talent. The bad news is that the team still has too many players that should not be on an NFL roster. It will take time for the Lions to rebuild their linebacker corps, their secondary, and pretty soon their offensive line as well. I’m also worried that the upward mobility of bad teams in the NFL has severely decreased in the modern era, but that is a topic that still requires more research.

Green Bay Packers

Expected Wins- 10.23

Scouting Wins- 9.52

DVOA Wins- 9.4

2009 Record- 11-5

Along with the Saints and Cowboys, the Packers are expected to make a run at the Super Bowl. Last year the Packers lost the division because the Vikings manhandled the Green Bay offensive line. They lost in the playoffs because the Cardinals shredded their defense. The Packers are an odd bunch in that they have a lot of young talent (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews, wide receiver Greg Jennings, among others), and a lot of old talent (defensive player of the year cornerback Charles Woodson is 34, wide receiver Donald Driver is 35, left tackle Chad Clifton is 34), and there are other key starters on the wrong side of 30. Driver had surgery on both knees during the offseason, so he is already a bit of a question mark, but the Packers are exceedingly deep at wide receiver.

Aaron Rodgers is actually a hair ahead of Steve Young on the all-time quarterback efficiency rankings. That is no mean feat. Rodgers benefits from having an elite receiving corps. If Driver returns to form he’ll be a deep threat. His ability to adapt to a ball in flight is something to see. Greg Jennings isn’t quite as good as he gets credit for being, but is still very good. James Jones and Jordy Nelson are both qualified as third or fourth receivers, and would be able to step up into the #2 slot if necessary. Nelson has a higher upside while Jones is a little better after the catch. Tight end Jermichael Finley is a breakout star. He and Rodgers have an excellent rapport. Finley is a tough cover for most linebackers and safeties.

When the Packers take the ball out of Rodgers’ hands, they generally give it to Ryan Grant. Grant isn’t the star he appeared to be in 2007, but he is an above-average running back. Brandon Jackson provides the versatility that Grant lacks.

Elderly offensive tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton had general manager Ted Thompson by the balls this offseason. The Packers simply didn’t have any good young options at tackle. Both signed new deals this offseason. The interior of the line is fine, but is not a strength. The Packers wisely added strong offensive line depth in the draft when tackle Bryan Bulaga fell to them at 23. Bulaga might be good enough to force his way into the lineup at left guard. Daryn Colledge has the job now due to Bulaga missing preseason reps with a hip flexor.

The Packers have an excellent starting defensive line. 2nd year nose tackle B.J. Raji has lived up to expectations, and might start exceeding them this season. Ryan Pickett is moving from nose to left end. Cullen Jenkins will start at right end. Jenkins was adept at getting into the backfield, so he just needs to improve his closing moves. Johnny Jolly was slated to provide depth at all three spots, but has been suspended indefinitely. The role of Jolly will now be played by 2nd round pick Mike Neal. I felt Neal was a bit of a reach, but he has the right mix of strength and technique to play both nose tackle and defensive end. The depth after those four is questionable.

A.J. Hawk isn’t the star the Packers were hoping for when they drafted him, and it is possible a lack of depth is all that is keeping him in the lineup. Desmond Bishop might steal his field time. Clay Matthews had an amazing rookie season, but is currently out with a hamstring injury. Brandon Chillar and Brad Jones help in the run department. Jones is a potential breakout pass rush threat. Nick Barnett replaces Hawk in nickel formations. Undrafted rookie Frank Zombo has made the most of his opportunity and looks to make the roster. One worry is that the loss of Aaron Kampman will lead to more blocking scrutiny for the rest of the Packers’ pass rush.

Cornerback Charles Woodson is still an elite player but at some point his level of play has to decline due to age. Free safety Nick Collins is also an elite player. Strong safety Atari Bigby is injured, so rookie 3rd round pick Morgan Burnett will be asked to step up. Burnett has tremendous range, but isn’t a good tackler and isn’t a natural fit at strong safety. Tramon Williams is a mediocre nickel cornerback who is going to be asked to start as the #2. Williams is a gambler. Al Harris is hurt and is 36 years old so it is unclear if he’ll ever play again. Elite quarterbacks shredded the Packers’ secondary last season, and that is a concern heading into this year.

The Packers’ special teams were bad in literally every facet of the game last season. Even with some regression to the mean and some new faces, the special teams still look like a weakness this season.

There is a lot to love about the Packers, and a little bit to worry about. Last year the Packers moved up from 28th to 5th against the run. Given the personnel and scheme the Packers are running, I can see the Packers maintaining their strength against the run, but teams will be able to attack the linebackers and cornerbacks not named Woodson. An improved pass rush would help but it is unlikely while Matthews is out. The Packers had an unsustainable turnover differential of +24. Take that away and the team might not be quite as good as everyone thinks.

Minnesota Vikings

Expected Wins- 9.37

Scouting Wins- 10.83

DVOA Wins- 8.6

2009 Record- 12-4

There is a very strong case that the Vikings were the best team in the NFL last season. They dominated the Cowboys and Saints in the playoffs, and only lost to the Saints due to some back luck (or perhaps Favre is simply fated to end every year with an interception). While I love the amount of talent on the roster, it looks like the Vikings missed their chance. Favre simply isn’t healthy right now. Neither he nor I foresee his ankle holding up the entire season. Star wide receiver Sidney Rice is already out for the first half of the season and it is an open question how well he will be able to perform when he comes back.

When healthy, Brett Favre is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. He doesn’t have quite the arm he had when he was younger, but his decision making has improved. Take away the ankle injury and the Vikings are one of the NFC favorites. Unfortunately, if Favre goes down the team will have to turn to Tavaris Jackson. Jackson has already proven his limitations as a quarterback. If the Vikings had faith in Jackson they wouldn’t have pressed Favre so hard to come back.

Running back Adrian Peterson is an elite back. His yards per carry have dropped every year, but he’s become a threat in the passing game. The loss of Chester Taylor to free agency means Peterson’s newfound versatility will come in handy. The major chink in Peterson’s armor is his fumbling problem, something I no longer expect him to fix. I liked 2nd round pick Toby Gerhart, but he needs to prove he has NFL speed. I couldn’t believe how bad he looked in the open field in the preseason.

The receiving corps was supposed to be an area of strength. Unfortunately, Percy Harvin’s migraines have returned, and Sidney Rice is out for the first half of the season. The Vikings traded for Greg Camarillo (good move) and signed Javon Walker (really?). Camarillo is a nice possession receiver. Walker is toast. Bernard Berrian never really formed a bond with Favre, but might have to step into the #1 receiver role. Favre no longer likes throwing the tight sideline throws that are required for the routes Berrian runs. Berrian has the athleticism to be a #1 receiver, but his hands are another question mark. Rice and Harvin are both playmakers when healthy. Harvin seems confident that his doctors have made a breakthrough in treating his condition [ed. Bullshit. Doctors don’t know jack about migraines. Harvin is amazing for playing at a professional level despite the headaches]. Greg Lewis knows the offense and can step in if the depth thins further. Visanthe Shiancoe has had a fantastic two-year run and is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Jim Kleinsasser can function as a 6th blocker who will catch the occasional pass.

The Vikings don’t seem too concerned about their offensive line, but I feel like they are whistling past the nursing home. Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson are on the downside of their careers, and both slipped noticeably last season. After John Sullivan proved ineffective, the Vikings might move right guard Anthony Herrerra over to center. Right tackle Phil Loadholt is still learning in pass protection, but has proven to be an excellent run blocker. Sullivan might keep his job depending on the next week of practice.

The defensive line is absolutely stacked. Even at age 38, Pat Williams is still an above-average defensive tackle. DT Kevin Williams (no relation) is an elite player. Both are excellent run stuffers, and Kevin produces a pretty good pass rush. The Vikings’ offensive line depth is poor, so they have to hope for good health. Defensive end Jared Allen is one of the best players in the NFL. He is a better pass rusher than run stuffer. DE Ray Edwards has played well against single blocking. The Vikings have solid defensive line depth.

The linebacker corps isn’t quite as good as the defensive line, but it isn’t bad. E.J. Henderson has come back from a hideous femur injury. He was quite good last year and looks to be back to his old form. Chad Greenway has slowly worked his way up and is now quite good against the run and in coverage. Jaspar Brinkly and Ben Leber are both strong vs. the run, weak vs. the pass.

Cornerback Antione Winfield is the star of the secondary. He’s a good player and a great fit in the system. The Vikings have excellent cornerback depth, but no clear cut 2nd option. Cedric Griffin was the #2 last year, but he hurt himself in the NFC Championship game and is still out. Benny Sapp has been a fine nickelback. The Vikings signed Lito Shephard, a formerly great cornerback who has looked a step slow. Finally, the Vikings’ first 2010 draft pick, 2nd-round cornerback Chris Cook, has looked good in the preseason. Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson are a mediocre pair of safeties, and Jamarca Johnson might steal one of their jobs [ed. cue South Park townspeople “THEY TOOK OUR JOBBBBBS!”].

The Vikings enjoyed two major improvements in their special teams last year. The first was Percy Harvin adding explosiveness to the return game. The second was the improvement of the punt coverage team. At this point I wouldn’t risk Harvin back there. The Vikings brought in Kicker Rhys Lloyd to take over kickoffs while Ryan Longwell handles the field goals and extra points.

The biggest issue for the Vikings is clearly the passing game. Injuries are a part of life in the NFL and the Vikings look to be in trouble. Also, I don’t care what anyone says, coach Brad Childress is terrible. The more I look at the Vikings the more I see a highly talented roster that simply missed its chance.

NFC South:

Projected Standings:

New Orleans Saints 11-5

Atlanta Falcons 10-6

Carolina Panthers 8-8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-12

Atlanta Falcons

Expected Wins- 9.48

Scouting Wins- 8.18

DVOA Wins- 9.6

2008 Record- 9-7

The Falcons have received some tremendous scheduling luck. They get Pittsburgh week one without Roethlisberger, and their two toughest non-divisional matchups (Baltimore, Green Bay) are at home. Apart from their road game at New Orleans, there won’t be a game on the Falcons’ schedule where they are a sizable underdog. Moreover, the Falcons were beset by injuries last season and should catch more of a break this season.

Quarterback Matt Ryan has to be looking forward to a season free of turf toe. He’ll be facing a much easier schedule this season. Ryan has an excellent work ethic. He’s a very good quarterback and I expect him to take a small step towards greatness this season.

Running back Michael Turner looks fresh after missing the end of last season with an ankle injury. I don’t see him repeating his 1,699-yard performance from 2008, partly because the Falcons aren’t going to overuse Turner again. Jason Snelling doesn’t play up to his size. Jerious Norwood has likely lost some of the speed that made him a dangerous 3rd down option. I can’t say I love the Falcons’ running game.

Wide receiver Roddy White had a mediocre season by his standards, mostly due to the fact that defenses simply didn’t have to pay attention to many other players on offense. White is an excellent receiver and should bounce back this season. Harry Douglas and Michael Jenkins are in a battle to see who gets to start opposite White. In either case, future HOF tight end Tony Gonzalez will likely be the second option. His level of play hasn’t declined and if either Douglas or Jenkins steps up and becomes a player who can regularly beat an opponent’s second cornerback in single coverage, the Falcons will be very tough to defend.

Left tackle Sam Baker is a good, young player who showed marked improvement after being benched last season. Opposite him, right tackle Tyson Clabo is a mauler with a mean streak. The interior of the line returns from last year. There is a bit of concern about right guard Harvey Dahl, as he suffered a serious ankle injury last season. Apparently, he is mean enough to have been compared to Conrad Dobler. Despite the ornery nature of the offensive line, the unit is exceedingly disciplined and was one of the least-flagged lines in the NFL last season. The Falcons have experienced backups who can be effective if injuries knock out one or two of the starters. They also added guard Mike Johnson in the 3rd round, but he is only expected to make an impact in the future.

I can’t tell if defensive end John Abraham has lost a step or if he was simply unlucky to have been in the offensive backfield as often as he was but only record six sacks. Jamaal Anderson was supposed to bookend the other side of the line, but he has only managed 2.5 sacks in 3 years combined. It appears he will lose his starting job to Kroy Biermann. DE Lawrence Sidbury has also impressed the Falcons, and might move Anderson further down the depth chart. The Falcons are very excited for the return of defensive tackle Peria Jerry. Jerry might not be 100% after missing most of last season due to a knee injury. DT Jordan Babineaux will miss the first game of the season due to an NFL suspension. Both are highly talented, although only Babineaux has actually shown that talent in the NFL. The Falcons have solid defensive line depth, including rookie tackle Corey Peters. I don’t expect Peters to contribute much this season, but could prove valuable down the line.

I really like the Falcons’ starting linebackers. Curtis Lofton has proven to be an excellent middle linebacker. Mike Peterson brings quality play and veteran leadership to the strong side, and 1st round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon will contribute significant athleticism to the weak side. Weatherspoon is a bit small for the position, but has nice agility. Stephan Nicholas is an experienced backup who can play any of the linebacker positions. No matter who is on the field, this is a fast and athletic unit, but they will need to improve their coverage skills.

The Falcons realized that their secondary needed improvement and have done what they could. They signed cornerback Dunta Robinson to take over the role as #1 CB. Robinson hasn’t regained his pre-injury form from years ago, but he’ll still be an improvement in coverage and a massive improvement in run support over what the Falcons had last season. The Falcons are happy with what they’ve seen out of CB Chris Owens. Owens would probably be at his best in the slot. CB Brian Williams was playing well for the Falcons last season before a knee injury knocked him out. The Falcons hope he can return to form and take the #2 cornerback role. Free safety Thomas DeCoud had a nice year last year and should continue to be effective in his second year as a starter. It looks like Eric Coleman will start at strong safety. He was serviceable in 2009 and might perform better with better cornerback play. The Falcons are hoping 2009 2nd round pick safety William Moore recovers from knee and hamstring injuries that sidelined him last season. The Falcons would rather not find out how much depth they have in their secondary.

The Falcons have a pretty good kick coverage team and unremarkable special teams beyond that. The Falcons hope they’ll have a little more field goal luck this season.

I don’t think the Falcons are quite at the level of the Saints. They are well positioned to be a strong team for many years, but right now I just don’t see their offense as explosive enough to keep up. They are a franchise on the upswing and I expect to see Matt Ryan in an NFC Championship game in the next few years.

Carolina Panthers

Expected Wins- 6.68

Scouting Wins- 7.10

DVOA Wins- 7.2

2009 Record- 8-8

The Panthers are in rebuilding mode. They have jettisoned the face of their offense (Jake Delhomme), and their best player on defense (Julius Peppers). They drafted their quarterback of the future (Jimmy Clausen, who surprisingly fell to them in the second round), and then drafted another quarterback in the 6th round (Tony Pike) to make sure Clausen doesn’t become too comfortable. Clausen is known for being exceedingly self confident. Clausen is recovering from surgery to his big toe. That probably was one of the causes of his draft day fall, as well as his attitude, but the biggest problem is that a lot of NFL teams felt he was more NFL ready than talented. Cocky, dinged up, and not very good is no way to go through life son.

What boggles me is why the Panthers don’t have faith in quarterback Matt Moore. He was third on the Panthers depth chart for most of his career, but played very well in seven games last season. He wasn’t pushed particularly hard, as the Panthers were a run-first offense, and will likely be again this season. A concern is that defenses will adapt to Moore now that they have had time to study him and that he will show why the Panthers didn’t consider starting him until they were out of other options. Moore has learned from Delhomme’s professionalism (think Manning, Peyton) and has done a good job of winning teammates over with his work ethic and demeanor. If the Panthers weren’t facing the Giants in Week 1, I’d be rooting for them to get off to a great start. I’d like to see Moore succeed if only because it would be a triumph of production (Moore has won 6 of 8 starts so far) over pedigree. Kurt Warner and Tom Brady needed a little bit of luck to get a chance to start, and they are both on the way to Canton. Dream big Mr. Moore, dream big.

The Panthers possess as good a pair of running backs as any in the league. Jonathan Stewart is only 5-10, but he packs 235 pounds into his frame and is one tough dude to tackle He does have a bit of an injury problem, partly due to his rushing style. He managed to average 5.1 yards a carry with over 200 carries. DeAngelo Williams has a career rushing average of 5.1 yards per carry through 751 carries. Among current players, only Chris Johnson has him beat. Williams is exceedingly fast and can take the ball inside or outside. It impresses me that both backs were able to rush for over 1100 yards and average over 5 yards a carry despite the fact that defenses pretty much knew the run was coming. That speaks not only to the quality of the Panthers backfield, but also to their offensive line. The Panthers also have good depth behind Stewart and Williams, which does come in handy as neither is a particularly good blocker or receiver.

Last year’sPanthers’ offensive line managed to maintain a very high level of play despite injuries that would have derailed (perhaps even decimated) most teams. Left tackle Jordan Gross is coming back from a broken leg. When healthy he is a strong run blocker and fair pass blocker. Right tackle Jeff Otah is one of the best run blockers in the NFL, but like his counterpart he is only a fair pass blocker. Center Ryan Kalil is the best player on a strong line. Left guard Travelle Wharton was a solid replacement for Gross when he was injured. Wharton is the kind of blocker that Vince Lombardi loved. He can hold the point or get out in space and take out the lead defender. The right guard position isn’t settled, but unlike most teams the Panthers have multiple good options. I’d like to see Duke Robinson get the job due to his sheer size and run blocking ability, but the Panthers are already loaded with great run blockers and Robinson still needs more work on his pass protection. No matter who wins the job the Panthers are in fine shape.

I’m worried about the Panthers’ receiving corps. Steve Smith missed training camp with a flag football injury and has not played in the preseason. That is not good news. Dwayne Jarrett’s production has never come close to matching his physical skills. 3rd round picks Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards add to their wide receiver depth. Edwards is a tremendous athlete. He is the only two-time winner of the Walter Payton award, and even if you don’t know exactly what that means, it HAS to be something good with that name. It is the award for best FCS (formerly Division I-AA) player. Edwards isn’t really a natural fit at wide receiver, but with his athletic skills he might be able to make the jump. He also might work as a natural wildcat quarterback to give the offense some versatility and a change of pace. LaFell is big and athletic, but the knock against him was his hands and propensity for dropping balls he obviously should have caught. So far the Panthers have been happy with his progress and his downfield blocking skills. LaFell might jump ahead of Jarrett on the depth chart. The Panthers’ tight ends are a pretty mediocre group who are mostly asked to provide additional blocking. If there wasn’t such a gaping need at wide receiver I’d probably chastise the Panthers for not grabbing a tight end in the draft.

The defensive front seven could almost be described as Jon Beason and the new guys. Beason will move from inside to weak side linebacker. He’s an excellent player. On paper the defensive line looks pretty thin, but it has looked good in the preseason. The team is hoping defensive end Everette Brown can step and replace help replace part of the pass rush lost with the departure of Julius Peppers. Charles Johnson and rookie Greg Hardy have both played well at defensive end this preseason. Defensive tackle Nick Hayden has also looked good. Dan Conner and James Anderson will start along with Beason. If Thomas Davis can return from injury (he is currently on the physically unable to perform list, generally referred to as the PUP list), the linebacker corps will be very good. Even without Davis the unit isn’t bad, but depth is a concern.

Cornerbacks Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall, and Captain Munnerlyn form a pretty nice trio. Gamble is the leader of the group and can match up well against most #1 receivers. Teams will probably feel comfortable attacking whomever wins the job as the dime cornerback. Safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey have good speed and coverage skills. Munnerlyn has put up some excellent numbers and might move up to #2 on the depth chart. Marshall might then rank as the top nickel cornerback in the NFL. There really isn’t much depth in the secondary due to the Panthers dramatic salary purge, but the front five are very good. We’ll see if they can handle their jobs as well despite a potentially weaker pass rush.

The Panthers realized that their special teams were a problem and have taken at least somewhat of an effort to improve there. Some of the better players on the coverage units will be gone due to their increased importance in other areas. The team made an effort to add solid special teams players to the roster and shouldn’t suffer too badly this season. Unfortunately, kicker John Kasay isn’t anywhere near as good as he was and punter Jason Baker isn’t among the best at his craft either.

The Panthers aren’t among either the best or the worst teams in the NFL. They have a lot more talent on their roster than the bottom feeders and could be on the rise soon if any of their quarterback options work out. I’m a big fan of coach John Fox but there are concerns he’s been there too long and isn’t the right man to rebuild the team. We’ll see how he and they perform this season. If I had a little more confidence in the Panthers receiver options I’d love them as a dark horse. As is, I see them achieving mediocrity

New Orleans Saints

Expected Wins- 10.44

Scouting Wins- 11.46

DVOA Wins- 8.5

2009 Record- 13-3

Football Outsiders is highly skeptical of the Saints defense, and with good reason. The Saints had a turnover differential of +11. Much of that came from the Saints’ defense attacking one-dimensional offenses trying to catch up. Teams can and will run on the Saints. Defensive coordinator Greg Williams has the defense programmed to attack. That means big plays for both teams. Football Outsiders sees the defensive success as unsustainable, while the offense will experience a bit of regression to the mean. I’m not so sure.

Quarterback Drew Brees completed an NFL record 70.6% of his passes last season. The Saints’ offense was versatile, unpredictable, and devastating. Much of that was due to Brees’ ability to complete any pass. Defenses were forced to focus on stopping the Saints’ passing game. Brees is still in his prime and playing as well as anyone in the NFL. It is astonishing to think that he was a free agent after losing a quarterback battle in San Diego, although the Chargers were one of the few teams who could legitimately claim to have as good a passing attack as the Saints managed last season. Brees will need to maintain his excellent level of play for the Saints to repeat.

Reggie Bush might not have lived up to expectations, but he did average 5.6 yards a carry last season. He also is surprisingly effective in the red zone, partially due to the fact he can take an easy to complete dump off pass and break a tackle in the open field. Pierre Thomas is the feature back, although the Saints do a good job of spreading the touches around. He’s a tough runner who benefits from the Saints system. The Saints actually did an excellent job of mixing run and pass plays on 1st down despite the temptation to simply have Brees attack the defense. Coach Sean Payton is the rare offensive genius who feels no need to impress and will take whatever the defense gives him.

The Saints wide receiver corps is as deep any in the NFL. Marques Colston is the leader and the star, He can run any route and has the size and strength to dominate in the red zone. Robert Meachem is on a path to surpass Donald Driver as the best deep receiver in the NFL. His catch rate on deep balls was astounding, and only some of the credit for that belongs to Drew Brees. Devery Henderson has refined his route-running skills and is now a dangerous possession receiver who can also beat you deep. As #4 receivers go, Lance Moore is excellent. He hasn’t shown the talent or skills that the three players above him have shown, but he hasn’t disappointed in limited usage either. Tight end Jeremy Shockey has benefited from the limited amount of attention defenses can show to him. He’s still too good to be covered by most linebackers and will punish opponents a few times a game.

The Saints returned all five starters from an excellent offense line that sent the center through the right tackle to the Pro Bowl. Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, right guard Jahri Evans, and center Jonathan Goodwin are all elite, particularly Evans. Right guard Carl Nicks isn’t quite as good as his compatriots, but he’s not a problem either. Left tackle Jerrod Bushrod came in as an injury replacement after Jammal Brown was injured in the preseason. Brown struggled at times, but his level of play rose in the playoffs. The Saints decided that to add some depth just in case and took OT Charles Brown in the second round. Brown is very talented but he probably needs some time before he can break into the starting lineup.

Defensive end Will Smith had a fantastic 2009 season. He benefited from the aggressive game plan and the fact that he could usually ignore run stopping responsibilities. Apart from Smith the only player opposing teams feel might feel compelled to gameplan against is defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. Ellis has been nagged by injuries and hasn’t shown the talent that led to him being the 7th pick in the draft two years ago, but the Saints have been happy with how he has looked in practice and he may finally be ready to unleash his potential. The Saints plan to platoon DT Remi Ayodele and DT Anthony Hargrove. Ayodele will play most of the time, while Hargrove will come in for obvious passing situations. The Saints picked up defensive ends Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson in free agency. They will play opposite from Smith. Both played well last season and should help the Saints maintain a fierce pass rush. DT Al Woods was a nice value in the 4th round. The scheme made this line look better than it was last season, but it looks pretty solid on paper.

Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is the leader of the defense. He’s an excellent blitzer and flies to the ball. Unfortunately for the Saints, he is currently sidelined with an injury to his right groin. He doesn’t need surgery and could return for the Vikings game to open the season. After Vilma, the Saints simply do not have any elite linebackers. Scott Shanle and Jonathan Casillas look to have grabbed the starting spots. Casillas has tremendous athleticism and might become an impact player with a bit more seasoning. Shanle is pretty good in pass coverage, but not as good as he used to be. The Saints signed LB Clint Ingrim in free agency, but he is currently injured and might not make it onto the field. After the starters there is very little experienced depth.

Free safety Darren Sharper was absolutely fantastic as the centerfielder reacting to quarterbacks dealing with the blitz. He is currently injured and the Saints aren’t sure when he’ll be available. Cornerback Jabari Greer has become one of the best in the NFL, just a shade below Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha. He has had some injury problems in the past, but appears healthy right now. CB Tracy Porter is on the rise. He has already become a Saints legend with game changing playoff interceptions against Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, and is only 24 years old. Randall Gay is a serviceable nickel back and occasional blitzer. 1st round pick Patrick Robinson is exceptionally fast and could make an immediate impact both as a dime cornerback and on special teams. All four cornerbacks are adept at playing man coverage. CB Malcolm Jenkins might make a move over to free safety. He has the speed to play the position, but will need to adapt to a different set of responsibilities. Strong safety Roman Harper functions best as an attacker in the box. When healthy the Saints secondary is one of the best in the NFL. Even with Sharper hurt it still looks to be a strength.

Reggie Bush is a boom/bust punt returner. We might see rookie Patrick Robinson returning kicks. If not, Courtney Roby is fine at the job. Punter Thomas Morestead is a solid punter and good on kickoffs. Garrett Hartley handles the rest of the kicking duties. He had a great postseason. The major weakness on the saints is their coverage units. Since special teams units have high variance they might simply bounce back.

The Saints are the team to beat in the NFC. They have weaknesses. You can run on them. If you handle the blitz you can make some big plays. The hard part is playing defense and shutting them down. The Saints are well coached, flexible on offense, aggressive on defense, and well equipped to repeat. Of course, if Bill Parcels has taught me anything, it’s that last season is last season and you are what your record says you are. The Saints are 0-0 and have as much work to do as anybody.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Expected Wins- 5.79

Scouting Wins- 5.16

DVOA Wins- 8.0

2009 Record- 3-13

The KUBIAK projection system loves Josh Freeman. I’m not sure why. Football Outsiders isn’t sure why. Josh Freeman isn’t sure why. Freeman had a massive interception problem last season, although they were generally caused by him being forced to throw due to game circumstances. Perhaps historically young quarterbacks who continue to throw into danger (when required) area good bet to grow up to be Brett Favre. If Favre and Tony Romo can do it, why not Freeman? I’m glad I asked. Freeman’s biggest problem is an awful receiving corps.

Wide receiver Michael Clayton has never lived up to his [identify] draft position. The Eagles gave up on Reggie Brown and traded him to Tampa Bay for a 6th round pick. Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall, and Mark Bradley would all struggle to make most NFL rosters, although Stovall might grab a spot due to his special teams contributions. Such a gaping lack of talent would be obvious to any general manager. The Bucs took action in the draft, grabbing Arrelious Benn in the 2nd round and Mike Williams in the 4th. Benn has a fantastic combination of size and speed, but his production in college never matched his potential. Williams has major character issues. Syracuse pretty much kicked him off the team twice despite not having anyone near him talent wise. If the Bucs can keep his head on straight they’ll have nabbed one of the steals in the draft. The Bucs’ best receiving threat is tight end Kellen Winslow. He has the size and strength to work short and the speed to get open deep. He might be the only Buc considered to be at the pinnacle of his position, although his propensity for injuries lowers his value a bit.

Running back Cadillac Williams finally managed to stay healthy for 16 games. His production wasn’t all that impressive, but you have to consider both the quality of offensive line he ran behind and the lack of a passing game to threaten defenses. Backup Derrick Ward is a good second option. Their level of production will depend more on the quarterback and offensive line play than on their own merit. Fullback Earnest Graham and speedster Kareem Huggins will also see situational use.

The Bucs consider their offensive line to be the strength of their offense, and looking at the rest of the offense I’m inclined to agree. It was a down year for the line last year, particularly in run blocking. Center Jeff Faine and right guard Davin Joseph are both quality players. Left guard Jeremy Zuttah is good in pass protection, but ineffectual as a run blocker. He might lose his job to Keydrick Vincent. Left tackle Donald Penn was much better than expected and could become an elite player with more experience. He was a pickup off of the Vikings’ practice squad. Right tackle is a question mark. Jeremy Trueblood currently holds the job, but the Bucs would love to see someone step up and put Trueblood on the bench. For now, no one has shown the skills necessary to do so.

The Bucs aren’t huge fans of defensive end Stylez G. White, but the numbers say he belongs as a starter. DE Kyle Moore will start across from White. Moore has to mature and maintain a consistent effort. The real strength of the Bucs’ defensive line is the new tandem of defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. They’ll join holdovers Ryan Sims and last year’s 2nd-round pick Roy Miller. It isn’t always easy for rookies to make an immediate impact, but this group should be strong for years to come.

Linebackers Barrett Ruud, Gerald Hayes, and Quincy Black form the core of the best unit on the Bucs. Ruud in particular was a monster last year, and the entire unit should be stronger this year because they are much more familiar with the defensive system. The Bucs have surprisingly good depth as well. Upon further consideration, if the Bucs had better defensive ends, their front seven would be pretty scary.

Cornerback Aqib Talib and free safety Tanard Jackson are both quality players. Unfortunately, two players do not a secondary make. The decline of Ronde Barber has left them without a second good option at cornerback. Truth be told they don’t even have depth in place of quality here. They hope Myron Lewis or Elbert Mack develops into a #2 CB, which would allow Barber to move into the slot. Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli was a disaster last year. They signed Sean Jones to replace him. We’ll see how well that works out.

Special teams were a strength last season and could even be improved this year due to the addition of rookie punter Brent Bowden. Bowden has to work on his hangtime, but they have good coverage units so they shouldn’t suffer too much while Bowden develops. The one real weakness was the kicking game. Conner Barth has the leg to remedy that issue; he just needs to improve his accuracy. Clifton Smith is a major threat on returns, but has had concussion issues.

I’ll admit, 8 wins out of the Bucs would shock me. I simply don’t have that kind of faith in Josh Freeman and the rest of the offense. They do have a fairly easy schedule and they are a step up from the dregs, so perhaps they will double their win total from last season.

NFC West:

Projected Standings:

San Francisco 49ers 10-6

Arizona Cardinals 7-9

Seattle Seahawks 6-10

St. Louis Rams 4-12

Arizona Cardinals

Expected Wins- 7.6

Scouting Wins- 8.94

DVOA Wins- 9.4

2009 Record- 10-6

It looks like the Cardinals have given up on Matt Leinart. The rumors are that they are looking to trade him as soon as possible. I am not sure they have a lot of faith in Derek Anderson, but they’d rather lose with the Devil they don’t know. * Apparently they are cutting Leinart. Goodbye Matt.

Anderson managed to throw for almost 3800 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2007 with the Browns. Since then he has only managed to throw for a little over 2500 yards and 12 touchdowns in 18 games. He has a big arm but accuracy has never been his strong suit, even during his best year (56.5% completion rate, 19 interceptions). Leinart’s immaturity has been a problem and he simply doesn’t have many friends in the locker room. If he had lived up to his potential years ago we might never have seen Kurt Warner’s final resurgence. Rookie quarterbacks John Skelton and Max Hall have vastly exceeded anyone’s expectations so far, and the Cardinals are loathe to cut either. If the Cardinals do keep and start Leinart, look for opposing teams to sit on short routes and force him to beat them deep.

Running back Beanie Wells was very impressive late last season. Wells was a bruising runner inside the red zone and has worked on his speed in the offseason. Tim Hightower had a decent season considering the defensive attention he faced. He is a good backup and change of pace when Wells needs a rest. One problem for the Cardinals is that they no longer have any good fullback options, as Dan Kreider is no longer on the roster and Nehemiah Broughton hurt his ACL.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is on the short list for top wide receiver in the NFL, along with Andre Johnson. Fitzgerald is the total package of speed, size, technique, and hands. He is a bit dinged up right now with a knee injury. Steve Breaston is a quick #2 option. He showed how effective he can be with a 7-catch, 125-yard effort against the Packers in the playoffs. He’ll miss Kurt Warner. Early Doucet is still a bit raw, but he looks to be a potential Anquan Boldin 2.0. He has toughness but lacks great speed. They grabbed Andre Roberts in the 3rd round, but it’s been undrafted free agent Stephan Williams who has impressed in the preseason. He appears to have grabbed the 4th WR job. The tight end by committee system has worked well. Anthony Becht blocks, Ben Patrick catches passes, Stephan Spach gets hurt. Each knows his role and performs it admirably.

On paper, the offensive line looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Center Lyle Sendlein is the only player returning to his position. He’s a good player but not a difference maker. Levi Brown is a poor pass blocker and now has to take over at left tackle. Brandon Keith has been groomed to take over at right tackle. He has serious size and power, but might still be a bit raw. Left guard Alan Faneca looked awful with the Jets last season. The starting right guard job is still up for grabs, although Reggie Wells appears to have the edge. The Cardinals have decent depth along the offensive line, but right now I’m more worried about the quality of the starting five.

Defensive ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are quite good. Dockett in particular is a monster and will face the brunt of the blocking attention. The real problem along the defensive line was a breakdown at nose tackle. They were ecstatic when Dan Williams fell to them late in the 1st round. The rest of the defensive line (Gabe Watson, Alan Branch) is a mix of has-beens (Bryan Robinson) and never-weres. Branch and Watson seem to realize that this is their last chance to show how good they can be and have worked out hard this offseason.

Losing linebacker Karlos Dansby hurts. He was their best linebacker and leader from the middle of the defense. They picked up Daryl Washington in the second round of the draft. He has great speed and can play inside or outside, but it will be a while before he is as polished as Dansby. Ex-Steelers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are on the downside of their careers. Gerald Hayes is slated to take over for Dansby on the inside, but he currently is slowed by a herniated disk. Paris Lenon will hold down the other inside slot while Washington develops. There is decent linebacker depth but they will need a strong performance from the defensive line.

Strong safety Adrian Wilson has established himself as a star in the NFL. There were concerns about his battery mate, but Kerry Rhodes has looked excellent in practice and in the preseason. They seem to have a natural chemistry. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is outstanding in coverage and can make big plays but needs to work on his physicality. He can be a bit of a weak tackler and isn’t good at fighting downfield blocking. Greg Toler appears to have won the job across from DRC. An injury at cornerback would really hurt as there isn’t much depth.

Improved coverage units led to a resurgence in their special teams. Punter Ben Graham had a strong season.

Kicker Jay Feely replaces Neil Rackers, but apart from that there aren’t any big changes.

The loss of Kurt Warner is the big news in the desert. There are no great quarterbacks or great teams in the NFC West, making it the weakest division in football. The 2010 schedule lets the NFC West face the second weakest division in football, the AFC West, so the Cardinals might end up with a decent record despite being a lousy team. I expect the Cardinals’ playoff streak to come to an end. Quite simply: There is no quarterback on the roster I trust to lead this team.

San Francisco 49ers

Expected Wins- 9.2

Scouting Wins- 9.48

DVOA Wins- 6.2

2009 Record- 8-8

I can’t fault DVOA here, as the 2009 49ers had a lousy offense and great defense last season. Defensive success is much harder to repeat than offensive success. In fact, offensive failure is pretty easy to repeat. They have addressed their main problems by upgrading their offensive line and keeping the same offensive scheme from last year. That last bit is key as this is the first time quarterback Alex Smith gets to return to the same offense instead of learning a new one.

Alex Smith has acquired a few more detractors each season. Last year he managed to throw for 18 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions, but anyone who watched those games know that Smith didn’t play particularly well. Smith is clearly best out of shotgun formations but those don’t fit the kind of offense that coach Mike Singletary (Samurai!) is trying to install. Singletary wants them to be defined by their physicality and aggressiveness on both sides of the ball. There is a tension here and we’ll see which way they go.

Aggressiveness starts with the offensive line. They drafted a pair of offensive lineman in the 1st round. Rookie Anthony Davis will start immediately at right tackle while fellow rookie Mike Iupati will start at left guard. Center Eric Heitmann broke his leg in practice and will miss the 1st month of the season. David Baas will take his place. Let tackle Joe Staley is their best offensive lineman and his injury last season hurt the offense. Right guard Chilo Rachel will have to help Davis adjust to the NFL. This is a massive and physical offensive line. It’s a line built for power running. It is not a line built for shotgun formations.

Running back Frank Gore isn’t built for shotgun formations either. Gore is an excellent pass protector, but that isn’t where his value comes from. Gore is an elite runner and effective receiver. Backup Glen Coffee found he had a higher calling. To replace Coffee they signed Brian Westbrook. I suspect Westbrook will have difficulty running with the giant fork stuck in his back, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong about that. Anthony Dixon and Michael Robinson are other options who could see a look if Gore is injured again (he’s had ankle injuries each of the past three years) of if Westbrook proves to be ineffective. Dixon needs to work on being more aggressive at the line of scrimmage. Fullback Moran Norris is one of Singletary’s favorites, although not for carrying the ball as much as being a punishing lead blocker.

It isn’t often that I’ll start a review of a team’s receiving corps with a tight end, but I’ll make an exception in this case. Vernon Davis is the truth. I give Singletary a lot of credit for turning Davis’ career around. Davis has reached his potential and is now on of the best tight ends in the NFL. Davis has recently clashed with Michael Crabtree over Crabtree’s attitude. It will be a test of Singletary’s leadership skills to see if he can instill the same kind of work ethic in Crabtree that he has in Davis. Despite only playing 11 games last year, Crabtree led the 49ers in receiving. Crabtree was good but the rest of the 49ers receiving corps are pretty bad. Ted Ginn has shown both his great speed and his stunningly awful hands. Josh Morgan would be a reasonable option as a 4th receiver. Unfortunately he’s #2 on the depth chart. I think I understand why Singletary wants to focus on a power running game instead of throwing to most of these guys.

I love defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin. He’s the monster that sparks the defense. Almost as important is defensive tackle/end Justin Smith. Both manage to make plays while drawing most of the attention from the offensive line. Defensive Isaac Soporaga is considered one of the strongest players in the NFL. Ricky Jean Francois played quite well win the preseason while Franklin was out with a contract dispute. There is some decent depth behind them, but those are the players the 49ers are counting on at the point of attack.

Linebacker Patrick Willis sets the gold standard for middle linebackers. He’s the star of the defense, and one of the best players in the NFL. Outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralsan aren’t particularly feared pass rushers. They did a decent job of getting into the backfield, but rarely in enough time to drop the quarterback. Takeo Spikes has lost a step and now gets by with his intelligence and technique. Injuries have taken away the depth here. Ahmad Brooks has a lacerated kidney. He’s the one impact linebacker that doesn’t start and I’m not sure when he’ll be back.

Cornerback Shawntae Spencer has become the 49ers’ #1 cornerback. That job was supposed to belong to Nate Clements, but injury and poor play have left him with a tenuous hold on the #2 job. Free safety Dashon Goldson rapidly improved and became a playmaker. He still has room for improvement, particularly with his open-field tackling. Strong safety Michael Lewis might just be holding the position warm until 2nd round pick Taylor Mays is ready to take over. Lewis is a fierce hitter but is weak in coverage. Cornerback Reggie Smith will probably take some plays at strong safety in nickel or dime situations.

Ted Ginn’s awful hands don’t stop him from being a good punt returner, something the 49ers needed. Punter Andy Lee is the NFC’s best. Kicker Joe Nedney has lost some leg strength but is still a net plus. The 49ers have good coverage units, so adding Ginn should give the 49ers above-average special teams production.

In any other division, the 49ers would be chasing 2nd place or worse. In the NFC West, however, their strong defense makes them the clear favorites. They aren’t a threat to make it to the Super Bowl yet, but they are definitely on the upswing and could return to glory in a few years.

Seattle Seahawks

Expected Wins- 6.68

Scouting Wins- 5.99

DVOA Wins- 7.3

2009 Record- 5-11

Rebuilding, thy name is the Seattle Seahawks. Pete Carroll fled USC one step ahead of the law. In his short time in Seattle he has turned over the roster, making well over 100 roster moves. As a general rule, there aren’t too many highly talented football players waiting around for jobs, and the current roster is a big light on talent. It’s too early to know for sure but they had what appears to be a fantastic draft, grabbing 3 potentially elite playmakers in the first two rounds, all at positions of extreme need.

One of the positions of need that wasn’t addressed in last year’s draft is quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck has seen his best days come and go. Now he needs to adjust to a new offense that doesn’t seem to fit his skill set. It might not be long before Charlie Whitehurst takes over. He apparently has looked good in practice, but the truth is he is a known unknown.

The running game has some huge question marks. Julious Jones has been ineffective for the last two seasons. He was protected while GM Tim Ruskell was in charge, but with the new regime in town, he’s in trouble. Justin Forsett will likely benefit from the change. Forsett shredded Carroll’s USC defenses. Think of a poor man’s Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew. Leon Washington is similar in stature to Forsett. We could see a 1-2 mighty mite punch if Washington returns to form after breaking his leg last season.

Their wide receiver depth is almost universally derided, but I see serious breakout potential here. A bad attitude combined with a lack of production knocked Mike Williams out of Detroit. He’s been reunited with his old college coach and appears determined to prove himself. Deion Branch has failed to impress since coming over from New England. Enter Golden Tate. Tate was a wunderkind at Notre Dame. It seems to have reached the point where Golden Domers are underrated coming out of college. I had Tate as the second-best receiver in the draft, behind only Dez Bryant. We’ll see how quickly he can adjust to the pro game. Tight end John Carlson is poised for a breakout season. Stunningly, T.J. Housmandzadeh did not make the 53 man roster after being their most effective receiver last season.

Rookie left tackle Russell Okung is hurt and might not make it back for the start of the season. Their line was destroyed by injuries last season and things look almost worse this year. Legendary coach Alex Gibbs has a very tough job to do. I really don’t have a lot of good things to say about this offensive line, so I’ll move on.

No pass rush in the NFL looks as bad as this one. There have some decent run stuffers in tackles Brandon Mebane, Chris Cole, and Kevin Vickerson, but none of the defensive ends provides anything resembling a threatening pass rush. Lawrence Jackson is the best of the incumbents, but there simply hasn’t been much production here and things don’t appear to have improved.

There is better news in the linebacker corps. Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, and David Hawthorne form the most talented unit on the team. The team needs Tatupu to stay healthy, as he is the leader of the defense. Curry is going to get more chances to attack the passer as an edge rusher in the 3-4. Hawthorne had a good season in the middle after replacing the injured Tatupu, but he doesn’t have Tatupu’s experience or coverage skills. In addition to being the most talented unit on the team, it is also the deepest.

I’m amused that the Ravens turned to Seattle to help solve their cornerback problem (CB Josh Wilson for the Ravens 2011 5th round pick). It’s not quite like asking a panhandler for a loan, but it’s pretty telling. Marcus Trufant got destroyed last season, possibly due to a nagging injury. He’ll need to be 100% to give them a fighting chance. Across from Trufant Kelly Jennings is going to get a(nother) chance to prove himself. Given the lack of depth among the cornerbacks, I’d say an injury could prove disastrous, but I’m no fan of the starters. That doesn’t hold true for the safeties. Strong safety Jordan Babineaux is good in almost any role the defense asks of him. He’ll be joined by 1st round pick Earl Thomas. Thomas has a great mix of speed and smarts. That combination translates into great “game speed” and while he’ll have to adjust to the speed of the NFL, he should be a perfect fit at strong safety.

Kicker Olindo Mare continues to provide value. He’s still one of the better kickers in the NFL. Punter Jon Ryan had a strong season as well. Unfortunately they didn’t have good coverage units, but they have taken efforts to improve them. They also have a slew of good options for returning kicks and punts.

The Seahawks were decimated by a poor general manager (Tim Ruskell) and it will take Pete Carroll some time to rebuild them. I like how he’s started. A lot comes down to how good Charlie Whitehurst is. The modern NFL is defined by the passing game. If Whitehurst turns out to be good, the Seahawks will be back competing for division titles soon. If not, they’ll have one more hole to fill via the draft.

St. Louis Rams

Expected Wins- 4.17

Scouting Wins- 4.77

DVOA Wins- 6.3

2009 Record- 1-15

Last year the Rams were the “surprise” DVOA favorite, a role currently jointly held by Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Part of it was repeated bad luck as injuries decimated the team two years in a row. Part of it was an unprecedented two years of ineptitude in the red zone. Part of it was being net -13 in the turnover battle. Part of it was simply a lack of recognition of just how bereft of talent they were.

6.3 wins is still optimistic relative to the talent, but at least there is hope. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford has looked stunningly good in the preseason. We all know that preseason results are meaningless, but Bradford has shown the accuracy and arm strength that led him to being the 1st overall pick in the draft. It looks like he’ll be starting from day 1. It’s a pity he has no one to throw to.

I’m not kidding. The Rams had the worst receiving corps in the NFL before they lost #1 receiver Donnie Avery to injury. 4th round draft pick Mardy Gilyard has been dinged up as well, but he should return. Gilyard wasn’t the most talented receiver in the draft, but he was one of the most productive. I think the Rams will be happy to have him.. Right now their starting wide receivers, Bradon Gibson and Laurent Robinson, combined to catch 47 passes last season. Tight end Billy Bajema’s best work has come as a fullback. At least running back Steven Jackson can take some of the heat off Bulger. Jackson isn’t a great receiver, but he is a punishing runner and is still one of the best backs in the NFL. Jackson might catch a break if the offensive line returns to full health.

Rookie left tackle Rodger Saffold has been so good in camp that he’ll start at left tackle from day 1. If he can do the job, previous 1st round pick Jason Smith can move over to right tackle. They’re young, but if we go by pedigree this could be one of the best tackle tandems in the NFL very soon. The interior is a bit of an issue, although last year both center Jason Brown and left guard Jacob Bell were slowed by injuries. If healthy,, they could be a nice tandem. Right guard Adam Goldberg was serviceable at right tackle when Smith was hurt last season, and is an above average guard. There is a lot of variance in how well this line could perform, and they don’t have much experience as a unit, but on paper it looks like it could be very good, especially if Saffold is starting at right tackle because of how good he looks and not due to any slippage from Smith.

The Rams have invested a lot of draft value on the defensive line, with little to show for it. Chris Long has to show signs of improvement or he’ll start getting labeled a bust. Either James Hall or Victor Adeyanju will start across from him. They are decent defensive ends, nothing more. There is more mediocrity along the line, as free agent Fred Robbins takes over as the starting nose tackle. He’ll be backed up by Clifton Ryan, although Darell Scott has the most talent of any defensive tackle on the team. Scott is only 24 and will need some time to develop. I rarely talk about 7th round picks, but I’m rooting for George Selvie. He’s battled injuries, but he’ll see time as a situational pass rusher. He was the star that allowed Jason Pierre-Paul to shine.

Amazingly the Rams will start three Buckeyes at linebacker, with a 4th on the bench. The best of them is middle linebacker Jame Laurinaitis, one of the most surehanded tacklers in the NFL. Na’il Diggs and Larry Grant start outside. They bring size and physicality to the defense, but lack great speed. 4th Buckeye Bobby Carpenter or Chris Chamberlain will play depending on whether it is a rushing or passing situation, respectively.

Strong safety O.J. Atogwe is coming off an injury, but when healthy he is the Rams’ best defender, just ahead of Laurinaitis. He’ll be joined by strong safety Chris Dahl. Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Ronald Bartell each have their question marks. For Bartell it is health. He’s a quality player when healthy, which he wasn’t last season. For Fletcher it is health and experience. The Rams knew this was an area of need, but 3rd-round pick Jerome Murphy suffered an ankle injury. When he returns he might play in nickel formations.

Thankfully the Rams had a great punting unit as punter Donnie Jones and the coverage units were among the best in the NFL. The special teams go downhill from there, as kicker Josh Brown had a lousy 2009. Danny Amendola returns both punts (well) and kicks (poorly), and given the Rams’ struggles at wide receiver, might even catch a few passes from Bradford. Not bad for an undrafted player.

It certainly appears that the Rams have found a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford. If that’s the case it is only a matter of time before the Rams return to mediocrity, and then perhaps even to glory. They’ll need some better wide receivers and some more help on the defensive line, but I see a team on the way up. For the worst team in the NFL last season, 4-12 is a long way up.

Final NFC standings:

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys 11-5

New York Giants 10-6

Washington Redskins 5-11

NFC North

Green Bay Packers 12-4

Minnesota Vikings 10-6

Chicago Bears 6-10

Detroit Lions 4-12

NFC South

New Orleans Saints 11-5

Atlanta Falcons 10-6

Carolina Panthers 8-8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-12

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers 10-6

Arizona Cardinals 7-9

Seattle Seahawks 6-10

St. Louis Rams 4-12

NFC Wildcard round:

New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers

New York Giants come into San Francisco and shut down the 49ers. Giants 20, Falcons13.

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints

New Orleans demolishes the overrated Falcons. Saints 31, Falcons 17.

NFC Divisional Playoffs:

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers keeps a pace that Eli Manning can’t match. Packers 35, Giants 24.

New Orleans Saints @ Dallas Cowboys

The drive to repeat ends in Dallas. Cowboys 27, Saints 24.

NFC Championship Game:

A classic matchup. Dallas gets revenge for the Ice Bowl and gets homefield advantage for the Super Bowl. Cowboys 31, Packers 24.

That’s right, the Cowboys are my pick to represent the NFC. Who challenges them from the AFC?
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• Bronze
Joined: 25.06.2010
AFC East:

New England Patriots: 10-6

Miami Dolphins: 9-7

New York Jets: 9-7

Buffalo Bills: 5-11

Buffalo Bills

Expected Wins- 5.09

Scouting Wins- 5.79

DVOA Wins- 5.2

2009 Record- 6-10

Think of the NFL’s smallest markets. Jacksonville is clearly a college football town and the Jaguars might not be there for much longer. Green Bay draws fans from all over Wisconsin. Buffalo is a dying city with a shrinking fan base. The Bills tested an escape plan to Toronto, but it failed miserably, as ticket sales were terrible once the novelty wore off. The NFL does a good job of ensuring competitive balance with revenue sharing and team salary minimums, but that doesn’t preclude a cash-strapped franchise trying to save money with the coaching staff and front office. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Bills will fail because of hiring general manager Buddy Smith and coach Chan Gailey, but they are symptoms of the problem. It has been ten years since the Bills have made the playoffs and it appears the drought is nowhere near over.

A lot of quarterbacks eschew going for the big play, instead choosing to take the safe but unproductive completion, but none do so as consistently and as brazenly as Trent Edwards, AKA, Captain Checkdown. From the Urban dictionary “Lee Evans and TO were open down field all day and of course Captain Checkdown didn't throw to them once.” Of course, that couldn’t have been true, as TO was almost certainly not open all day, and Evans was usually facing double coverage. Edwards might have David Carr disease (a good young quarterback ruined by taking more sacks than any man can stand). Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick is a hard worker with a great attitude and CFL level skills. Former Football Outsiders favorite Brian Brohm was an epic failure in Green Bay. If Chan Gailey can resuscitate his career and groom him into an NFL quality starting quarterback, he’ll have been a great hire. The unfortunate fact is that right now the Bills don’t have a single starting quarterback that any other team in the NFL would want to lead their franchise.

Nobody can accuse the Bills of drafting need over talent. Before the draft, theBills were already reasonably set at running back with Fred Jackson (and his stunning 2009 season with 2,516 all purpose yards) and Marshawn Lynch. It was a shock when the Bills took C.J Spiller over an offensive tackle or defensive lineman. This turned out to be a fortunate decision, as both Lynch and Jackson injured themselves in the preseason. Now Spiller is the starter and all I can tell you about backup Joique Bell is that he’s 24 years old, 5-11, 220 pounds, and that he went to Wayne State. I can’t even tell you if Wayne State is a college or university… ok, one sec, Googling… both exist, but he went to the university which is located in Michigan. Great, we know now he can play in the cold. Anyway, back to Spiller. Spiller was a great value with the 9th pick. He’s a dynamic runner, capable of busting big plays from either the inside or outside, as well as from out of the backfield as a receiver. He’s a hard worker is much more likely to be part of the solution than part of the problem for Buffalo. Lynch might be back sooner than later. So much for Mr. Bell.

Wide receiver Lee Evans deserves better. On almost any other teem he’d be a terrifying deep threat, capable of breaking the game open against single coverage (apart from Revis of course). On the Bills he’s hamstrung by lousy quarterbacks who can’t hit him downfield, and wouldn’t have the time to do so anyway due to an awful offensive line. Even if he had a decent quarterback who had time to hit him deep, there’s still the problem of a lack of other receiving threats, so he’d have to regularly beat double coverage. Sorry Lee. Apparently, supposed #2 receiver James Hardy has not fully recovered from a plethora of injuries and is buried on the depth chart. Steve Johnson has taken his place. Johnson was exceedingly productive at Kentucky, but has yet to show such production in the NFL. He’s not a bust, as he was a late round draft pick and little was expected of him. That a late round draft pick who hasn’t produced much is the Bills #2 receiver should tell you everything you need to know about the Bills’ receiving corps. I wish I could tell you that the Bills had some great options at tight end, but the starter is James Stupar, a player they cut last season. He made it back onto the roster due to injuries, and proceeded to catch a total of 6 passes for 40 yards. I’m almost baffled, how do teams end up this barren?

The Bills’ offensive line was terrible last season. Part of that was injuries, but there is also a real lack of talent here. It is going to take years of good drafting to rebuild this offense. I’m not even sure of where I’d begin. I guess I’d try to simply take the most talented player available, but what if that player is a running back? A second quality wide receiver wouldn’t be too useful without a quarterback and an offensive line. Sigh. I’m kind of glad this isn’t my problem.

The defensive line isn’t in as bad a shape as the offensive line, but on most teams it would be an area of need. Starting ends Dwan Edwards and Marcus Stroud are solid veterans. Edwards is going to have to step up as a pass rusher now that he gets to be a starter. Stroud isn’t the dominant defensive tackle you remember, but as defensive ends go, he’s a good run stuffer. The real problem is in the middle, as neither Kyle Williams nor backup rookie Torell Troup has the size and power to control the line of scrimmage. Aaron Schobel was their best pass rusher, but he decided to retire. I simply don’t see any playmakers anywhere along the line.

Thankfully, the Bills do have a playmaker in their linebacker corps. Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny has continued the tradition of great Penn State linebackers. He’s a great tackler and a good leader. Failed defensive end Aaron Maybin is learning how to play outside linebacker. He has great speed but will be a liability in coverage for the foreseeable future. Keith Ellison is quite good in coverage, but his blitzing skills leave something to be desired. Chris Kelsay and Reggie Torbor are solid backups. Torbor is dinged up right now. Andra Davis and Kawika Mitchell will work with Posluszny on the inside. The Bills have very good linebacker depth.

No team in the NFL is as strong 1-4 at cornerback as the Bills. Terrence McGee had a tough season by his standards after coming back from ACL surgery, and should be back to form this season. Leodis McKelvin is also coming back from injury, and has looked good in the preseason. Nickel cornerback Drayton Florence had a very good season as a replacement starter. Dime cornerback Reggie Corner would be a decent #2 cornerback. As a #4, he’s excellent. Free safety Jairus Byrd had a career year with 9 interceptions. He’s good, but not that good. It looks like Donte Whitner has won the starting strong safety job back from George Wilson. Whitner is fast and talented, but has declined since his excellent rookie season. Backup Bryan Scott is much better than the average backup. The more I look at this secondary the more I wonder why the Bills haven’t traded with some desperate team. There are plenty of good teams that have a soft secondary. Weird.

The Bills have historically had excellent special teams, partly due to the fact they paid more attention to them than most teams. Unfortunately the Bills no longer have coach Bobby April, as he left when the Bills hired the new regime. Punter Brian Moorman is pretty good, especially considering the conditions he has to face. Kicker Rian Lindell is merely average, except on extra points where he is perfect. I’m concerned that the coverage units and blocking schemes on returns will suffer with the loss of April.

For most bad franchises the general problem is a lack of talent. The Bills compound that with a cash flow problem, as well as a generally undesirable location. Apart from a string of strong drafts, the Bills are in real danger of being bad for a very long time. I don’t wish long term failure on any franchise. Sorry Buffalo.

Miami Dolphins

Expected Wins- 8.64

Scouting Wins- 6.59

DVOA Wins- 9.2

2009 Record- 7-9

The Dolphins have made major efforts to improve themselves this offseason. They added major playmakers on both sides of the ball (wide receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Karlos Dansby). They give the Dolphins four elite players, along with offensive tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey. Is that enough to compete with the Patriots and Jets? Well, I definitely think it is enough to compete with the Jets given how solid the Dolphins’ roster is, but the Patriots have Tom Brady while the Dolphins are going with Chad Henne.

Henne isn’t a bad quarterback. He’s certainly better than anyone on the Bills. He hasn’t shown any real signs of greatness, but he did have a solid 2009 season and is expected to be an above-average quarterback this season. Backup Chad Pennington might go for his third comeback player of the year award. Since that isn’t an award you can win in consecutive seasons, it would be truly impressive if Pennington won again after winning in 2006 and 2008. Henne would have to either get hurt or have an awful start to the season, as the Dolphins seem convinced that Pennington doesn’t have the arm to lead them to the Super Bowl.

Running back Ronnie Brown no longer threatens defenses with the elite speed and quickness he flashed coming out of Auburn. Most of his production these days comes from the excellent performance of the Dolphins offensive line. Patrick Cobbs is a speedster who will be used in the occasional trick play. Ricky Williams might be the best option despite being 33 years old. He still can be a punishing runner, and he’s become more versatile in his old age. I don’t see any game breakers in the Dolphins’ backfield, but this is a decent group.

Wide receivers Davone Bess and Brian Hartline would comprise an awful pair of top wide receivers. Hartline is a decent deep threat while Bess can work well out of the slot. They should both be grateful for the help that Brandon Marshall provides. Early in the preseason there were concerns that Marshall left his hands in Denver, but it appears that he simply was putting too much pressure on himself to perform well in front of his new team. In addition to being an elite receiver, Marshall is also an excellent downfield blocker. Tight end Anthony Fasano had an awful 2009 season and needs to return to form. He is in a contract year, so effort shouldn’t be a problem.

I’ve already mentioned left tackle Jake Long and right tackle Vernon Carey. Both are among the best at their position. Jake Grove and Joe Berger are competing to see who will win the job at center. Grove was solid when healthy last season and is expected to win the job. Injuries and trades have hurt the Dolphins’ depth at guard. Left guard Richie Incognito is a punk, but given the way his contract is structured, he should be a highly motivated punk. He has the talent to do the job but is a bit of a head case. Rookie right guard John Jerry has excellent size and strength but is a bit raw and will need to be well coached if he is to succeed as a starter.

In a surprise move, the Dolphins moved Randy Starks from defensive end to nose tackle. He was a very good end but they felt they had a greater need at defensive tackle. He did play defensive tackle in college at Tennessee, so while he is a bit undersized for the position, he does have the skills. The Dolphins are hoping he’ll be their own version of the Cowboy’s Jay Ratliff. Paul Soliai and Tony McDaniel provide solid defensive tackle depth. McDaniel also spends some time at end. Rookie defensive end Jared Odrick will start across from Kendall Langford. Odrick was a tackle at Penn State, but when defensive end Phillip Merling tore his ACL, Odrick was pushed up the depth chart. The Dolphins added defensive ends Charles Grant and Marques Douglas to add to their depth after the loss of Merling and positional change of Starks. Langford only has 4.5 sacks over the last two seasons, so the pass rush is a pretty big question mark. Another question mark is where is the 2.5 carat diamond earring that Langford lost on the practice field. Yes, professional players are different than you and me.

The Dolphins rebuilt their linebacker corps. Karlos Dansby and Cahnning Crowder form an excellent tandem inside. Dansby is a difference maker. Tim Dobbins backs them up. Dobbins has adjusted quickly to the Dolphins system after coming in from San Diego, and might relegate Crowder to the bench. Two-time CFL player of the year Cameron Wake has some big shoes to fill, as he takes over the pass rush from Joey Porter. Wake isn’t great in coverage or against the run, but his main job is to get to the passer as fast as possible. Koa Misi starts on the strong side. I felt he was a reach in the 2nd round, but the Dolphins love his athleticism and they clearly think they can turn him into a solid pro. I’m not really sure how good the depth is at outside linebacker.

Cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis were picked apart as rookies. They look like they’ll be much improved this season. Will Allen should be recovered from a 2008 ACL tear. He’ll be the nickel back. Rookie 5th round pick Nolan Carroll has impressed the coaching staff and will see work in dime formations. Strong safety Yeremiah Bell is excellent at attacking the line of scrimmage, but he’s not so good in coverage. New free safety Chris Clemons has elite speed. He needs to work on his coverage and tackling skills if he wants to keep the job.

Two years ago the Dolphins had awful special teams. Last year they had good special teams, partly due to both the kicker (Dan Carpenter), and the punter (Brandon Fields) having good years. This year I expect them to have average special teams. I’m done here.

The Dolphins are definitely a good team. They are clearly a step up from the dregs and even the mediocre teams in the NFL. Are they a great team? If the good truly is the enemy of the great, the Dolphins are in trouble despite the additions of Marshall and Dansby. I feel like the Dolphins are good enough to threaten the Patriots, but can they stop Brady or score on a 2 minute drive when the game is on the line? My gut says no. Maybe next year.

New England Patriots

Expected Wins- 9.64

Scouting Wins- 10.24

DVOA Wins- 10.3

2009 Record- 10-6

What do the Patriots, Colts, Packers, Saints, Chargers, Cowboys, and Vikings all have in common? All are Super Bowl contenders one quarterback injury away from disaster. Only the Ravens and Jets are contenders without an elite quarterback. Tom Brady spent last offseason rehabbing from an injury. This offseason he was healthy and should be much better prepared to start the season.

Brady faced a fairly ridiculous slate of defenses last season yet still managed to put up great numbers. He is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and is entering a contract year. So far the Patriots have been unwilling to show him the money, but I don’t expect that to become a distraction. Brady is still on the short list of QB’s that will kill you if you give him the chance.

The Patriots’ running game gets most of its success from the surprise factor. It really is generally an afterthought. Perhaps that wouldn’t be the case if Laurence Maroney reached the heights that the Patriots expected of him when they picked him in the 1st round. He simply does not attack the line of scrimmage. Also, he fumbles, a fatal flaw if there ever was one, although he has apparently become a decent blocker. Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and Fred Jackson all do the jobs the Patriots ask of them reasonably well.

Randy Moss is still one of the best deep threats in the NFL. His presence on the field opens holes for other receivers. Wes Welker has become a star by taking advantage of those holes. Welker has admitted he isn’t fully recovered from his ACL and MCL tears. Julian Edelman replaced Wes Welker and proved worthy. He isn’t quite as polished as Welker, but is a bit quicker and more athletic. Brandon Tate is a potential breakout player. He was tremendous at UNC but has been slowed by injuries. He’s healthy this season and Brady is on record saying he likes Tate. There are three intriguing options at tight end. Alge Crumpler is the experienced veteran who has very good blocking skills and enough muscle memory to catch the occasional pass. He’s a smart receiver and should fit in well with the Patriots (he was with the Titans last season). Rob Gronkowski has enough potential that the Patriots took him in the 2nd round despite being a major injury risk (herniated disc, potential nerve damage). 4th round pick Aaron Hernandez was productive at Florida, but has a bit of a ganja problem.

There are three very good players on the Patriots’ offensive line. Center Dan Koppen is one of the better centers in the NFL. Sebastian Vollmer was supposed to be a project but turned out to be NFL ready after coming over from NFL Europe. He had a fantastic rookie season and if he maintains that level he’ll move over from the right side to the left and be one of the elite left tackles in the NFL. The third is Logan Mankins. He was an All-Pro guard in 2009 but fell into the free agency black hole created by the uncapped season. Certain players who would have been unrestricted free agents became restricted free agents instead. This applies to Mankins, Marcus McNeill, Vincent Jackson. Nick Mangold, and others. The Jets signed a deal with Mangold. The rest of the players listed are holding out. Left tackle Matt Light has very high football intelligence and very hard to beat off the line. Left guard Dan Connolly is a large step down from Mankins. Right guard Stephen Neal is a step below Mankins, but only slightly. Apart from Nick Kaczur, the depth is pretty questionable, so any injury would put a lot of pressure on the Patriots to sign Mankins.

Ty Warren’s injury puts the Patriots in a very tough situation. Apart from tackle Vince Wilfork, the defensive line looks pretty bad. Wilfork is fantastic at controlling the line of scrimmage and stuffing the run. Defensive ends Gerard Warren and Mike Wright would be backups on most defenses. Warren has looked good in the preseason, but we’ll see if he can keep it up. As you might expect given the lack of quality in the starting lineup, the depth along the line is pretty poor.

The Patriots have as much speed at linebacker as any team in the NFL. Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo should return to his great rookie form after playing with a bum knee last season. He’ll play alongside Gary Guyton. Guyton is solid, but he might lose his job to a rookie I’ll discuss shortly. Tully Banta-Cain managed to nab 10 sacks last season and will try to improve upon that performance. 2nd round picks Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham will play inside and outside respectively. Cunningham is a converted defensive end and will take some time to adapt to his new role. I felt Cunningham was a reach, but perhaps head coach Bill Belichick sees something I don’t. I have no reservations about Spikes, he should make an impact this season. Marques Morrell will apparently start across from Banta-Cain. Morrell is a former Jet. He wasn’t good when he was in New York. I have doubts he’s improved much since then.

The injury to cornerback Leigh Bodden has put the Patriots in a very tough position. Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty each have to step up one spot. They have one year of experience between them. There is some talent here, but young cornerbacks are generally feasted upon by experienced receivers and quarterbacks. Butler did improve as last season wore on, but the Patriots can’t be happy putting him out against an opposing team’s top wide receiver. He’s a mediocre tackler, something that cannot be said for McCourty. McCourty will definitely help against the run. Strong safety Brandon Meriweather blossomed into a Pro Bowl defender. He’s good against the run and in coverage, but not yet great at either. James Sanders beat out Patrick Chung for the starting free safety job. His great speed was likely the deciding factor. I have to say the Patriots are lucky they don’t have to face any great passing games in the AFC East, but they’ll have difficulty beating the Colts or any of the elite NFC teams with this secondary.

The Patriots take special teams more seriously than most. That has enabled them to be consistently above-average. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski provides a pretty big advantage with his kickoffs. Perhaps 5th round pick Zoltan Mesko will provide a similar advantage with his punts. He’ll definitely be an improvement over Chris Hanson. Expect the Patriots to have above average special teams again this season.

Bill Belichick has his work cut out for him with this defense. It certainly does not look like a championship defense on paper. That puts a lot of pressure on Brady and the offense. They might be good enough to win a surprisingly weak division (I’m kind of in shock over how weak the AFC East looks on paper), but they don’t look nearly good enough to get out of the AFC.

New York Jets

Expected Wins- 9.45

Scouting Wins- 10.03

DVOA Wins- 9.9

2009 Record- 9-7

Yay, Revis is back. Now, can we get down to business and eat some goddamn snacks? But seriously folks, as important as Revis is, he is nowhere near as important as quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez only attempted 364 passes last season. The Jets did everything they could to protect Sanchez from being exposed. He had a good game against the Colts in the AFC Championship game, but had a pretty lousy rookie season overall. He was protected by a strong running game and an excellent offensive line. There are some great quarterbacks who started off as poorly as Sanchez did (Troy Aikman being the best case scenario). Of course, Sanchez could also turn out like fellow USC product Matt Leinart. One big difference is the Jets didn’t have a Kurt Warner to turn to (Mark Brunell says, “What?”). If Sanchez ends up somewhere in the middle he might grow up to be Trent Dilfer. Sadly, the NFL has changed since Dilfer’s time. It has become much harder for a defensively dominant team to win without an above average offense. It’s impossible to know how good Sanchez will be this season, but the preseason results weren’t promising. That’s unfortunate given the Jets’ early season schedule (Baltimore, New England, @ Miami).

Running back Shonn Greene had a nice postseason, and he put up solid regular season results in limited usage. He isn’t a threat as a receiver and can expect some regression to the mean now that he’ll be the main back. Having seen him personally I can say he’s a good young running back but I wouldn’t want to give him the ball 331 times (the number of carries for Thomas Jones last season). I still can’t believe the Jets wanted LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson has had a fork stuck in his back for two years. Sometimes that happens to running backs. Earl Campbell was a monster for three seasons, and then hit the wall. Joe McKnight is currently in coach Rex Ryan’s doghouse. Fumbling will do that. If McKnight learns how to hold onto the ball he could be a decent 3rd down option as he has excellent hands and quickness. I rarely mention fullbacks, but John Conner has been terminating potential tacklers. I’m not just saying that because of his name, he really has been fantastic. Oh, and for the Hard Knocks fans out there: Tony Richardson is back.

Wide receiver Braylon Edwards has never come close to living up to his potential. He’s relied on talent and athleticism to allow him to play in the NFL instead of working his ass off to develop and capitalize on that talent. I’m not saying he could have been Jerry Rice with Jerry’s work ethic, but he should be putting up 1,000-yard seasons regularly. He’s playing for a new contract so perhaps we’ll see what he’s capable of this season. Jerricho Cotchery is a reliable possession receiver. When Santonio Holmes comes back from his four game suspension, he’ll serve as a complement to Cotchery not a replacement. Tight end Dustin Keller has begun to build a nice rapport with Sanchez. Keller can hold up his part of the bargain and get open, but Sanchez needs to do a much better job of getting the ball to Keller accurately and on time before the defense closes in.

The Jets have to be frustrated that 2nd round pick Vladimir Ducasse couldn’t beat out Matt Slauson at left guard. They were hoping that Ducasse might beat out right tackle Damien Woody, but for now Ducasse doesn’t have the technique to go along with his massive size and strength. The other three positions on the line are held by highly talented and gruntled players. Center Nick Mangold might be the best in the NFL. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson isn’t quite as dominant as Mangold, but plays a much tougher position and handles it well. Right guard Brandon Moore is a superb run blocker. The Jets won’t miss departed left guard Alen Faneca in pass protection, but Slauson has some work to do to match Faneca’s run blocking effectiveness. This is one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and barring an injury to its top 3 players, should remain so.

Injuries giveth and injuries taketh away. Nose tackle Kris Jenkins is healthy, outside linebacker Calvin Pace is hurt, although apparently Pace’s foot surgery went well. Jenkins is expected to return to his previous level of dominance. Shaun Ellis had a strong year at end. Both he and Jenkins are pretty big health risks given their age and histories. Sione Poulha grabs the other starting line spot, but the real news is his backup: Former outside linebacker Vernon Gholston. Gholston still has a lot to learn about his new position, but he has showed some real talent for the position and might rescue his career from the dreaded bust bin. Mike Devito will also join the rotation at end. While the Jets’ defensive line doesn’t necessarily boast the star power of the Vikings, it played very well last season in Rex Ryan’s system.

Even with Pace being sidelined for a while, this is a scary linebacker corps. Inside linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott comprise the best pair of inside linebackers in the NFL. Both are capable of rushing the passer, attacking the line of scrimmage against the run, and covering a linebacker or tight end. Scott is a little better in coverage, while Harris is a little tougher against the run. Bryan Thomas and Jason Taylor start on the outside. Taylor is still good in limited doses, so look for the lets to rotate outside linebackers regularly throughout the game.

I cannot overestimate the importance of Revis. He’s one of the best players in the NFL. If he can maintain his level of play he’ll join Deion Sanders as one of the two best cornerbacks of all time (with apologies to Rod Woodson and all the great cornerbacks who played before the NFL outlawed physical coverage). Antonio Cromartie (Octocrom?) isn’t the great player people thought he might become, but he’ll likely have great statistics this season due to the fact he’ll get to face 2nd wide receivers with safety help. That’s the joy of having a cornerback that can shut down a #1 wide receiver without help. Rookie 1st round pick Kyle Wilson has impressed the Jets and was slated to start until Revis came back. In addition to a great starting lineup, the Jets have great cornerback depth. Strong safe Jim Leonhard looked great last season. It might simply be because of the system and the players around him, but give him credit for not screwing things up. Free safety Brodney Pool is the weak link in the secondary, but only by default. He’s a good player with soft hands. If some time around Rex Ryan improves his aggressiveness, the secondary could improve from great to historic.

The Jets’ special teams were pretty good last season, but awful kicker Nick Folk should put a stop to that. The return and coverage units should be pretty good. Punter Steve Weatherford is decent, although if he can handle kickoffs well he’ll mitigate the damage done by Folk.

There are some small chinks in the Jets’ armor. The pass rush isn’t elite, as there is no single guy that teams must scheme to stop. There is no elite receiver or running back. Of course, I’m dancing around the real problem: Mark Sanchez. I winced when the Jets drafted him and he’s done very little to reassure me. If Sanchez improves, the Jets are a Super Bowl threat. I don’t even want to imagine a regression or sophomore slump. The truth is that despite coming 30 minutes away from the Super Bowl, the Jets weren’t a great team last season, and they probably won’t be this season either.

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AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens: 12-4

Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-6

Cincinnati Bengals: 7-9

Cleveland Browns: 4-12

Baltimore Ravens

Expected Wins- 9.94

Scouting Wins- 9.98

DVOA Wins- 11.4

2009 Record- 9-7

Before some injuries in the secondary lowered their projections, Football Outsiders had the Ravens winning 11.6 games this season. I think everyone agrees the Ravens are a very good team, but a great one? Let’s take a look.

Quarterback Joe Flacco isn’t among the NFl’s elite, but he is creeping up behind them. He has excellent arm strength and has started adding to add nice accuracy to the his power. He completed a franchise record 63.1% of his passes last season and could improve upon that due to a better receiving corps. One thing I should note is that Flacco’s won three road playoff games in two seasons. That’s impressive. Of course, Mark Sanchez won two road playoff games last season, so let’s keep things in perspective. Flacco did have one real weakness last season: red zone effectiveness. He’ll probably bounce back this season, particularly with the addition of some new wide receivers I’ll get to shortly. Backup Marc Bulger is a bit better than the average crafty veteran. He’s had lousy numbers the last three seasons, but that has more to do with the lousy talent around him in St. Louis, and less to do with his overall talentability.

Running back Ray Rice has become a star. He managed over 2,000 yards from scrimmage last season. I personally watched him destroy the Patriots’ defense in the playoffs last season. He combines explosiveness, versatility, and consistency in a pretty great package. There isn’t a single running back in the NFL I’d clearly prefer over Rice. Backup Willis McGahee had a strong season but he isn’t likely to repeat his goal line prowess again this year. Fullback Le’Ron McClain is another good goal line option.

The Ravens realized they needed better wide receivers if they wanted to finally ascend to the pinnacle of the AFC instead of merely getting near the top. First they traded fro for Anquan Boldin. Then they signed Donte Stallworth, who proceeded to break his foot and will be out for much of the season. Then they signed surprise [Bengals?] cut T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Boldin is a tough receiver, capable of running any route. Houshmandzadeh is solid possession receiver with a strong work ethic and good hands. Derrick Mason should thrive as a 2nd or 3rd option. Mason’s age (36) suggests he’ll decline, but the fact that defenses will not be able to key on him should mitigate any slippage. Tight end Todd Heap has a pair of rookies nipping on his heels, but is still a dependable receiver and consistently good blocker. Of those rookie tight ends, 3rd round pick Ed Dickson is purely a receiver (and a deep threat no less), and should see significant playing time in 2-end sets. 4th round pick Dennis Pitta could see time in some goal line sets, and hopes to be a touchdown vulture.

There are other teams as happy with their offensive tackles as the Ravens, but none with as much youth on the line. This season Michael Oher and Jared Gaither (both only 24 years old) will switch sides. as Oher will switch move over to left tackle (The Blind Side), will while Gaither’s excellent run blocking skills will transfer over to the right side. Center Matt Birk is one of the best at his position in the NFL. Both guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda are above average, particularly as run blockers. The Ravens also have great depth with Oniel Cousins and Chris Chester waiting in the wings.

As is their nature, the Ravens had the #1 rushing defense in the NFL last season. Mammoth defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg controlled the line of scrimmage. Ngata is an elite player and a truly dominant force inside. Gregg is aging and will split playing time with Brandon McKinney and rookie 2nd round pick Terrence Cody. The Ravens were a bit lucky that Mount Cody fell to them, but as his nickname suggests, he does have to be careful with his weight. The only player on the line missing from last season is Dwan Edwards. He’ll be more than suitably replaced by Cory Redding. Trevor Pryce will start across from Redding.

Linebacker Ray Lewis is still a star at age 35. His speed may have diminished, but his tremendous football smarts remain. He’ll play alongside Dannell Ellerbe. On the outside, Terrell Suggs had an off year, but Jarret Johnson made up for it with his best season so far. 2nd round pick Sergio Kindle has suffered a head injury and is unlikely to be a factor this season. I’m not sold on the depth or the pass rush, but this is still a pretty solid untilunit, especially given the defensive line ahead of them. The real area of concern is the secondary. One important note: The Ravens play with a lot of intensity but too often that leads to some really stupid penalties that cost them games. Ray Lewis is great at pumping the up his teammates, but maintaining focus has to be one of the Ravens’ goals this season.

Starting cornerbacks Chris Carr and Fabian Washington are both coming off of ACL surgery last season. Domonique Foxworth was the one healthy safety the Ravens had, and he managed to tear his ACL in the preseason. It appears that former Seahawk Josh Wilson will be the nickel back. Strong safety Dawan Landry is a physical presence in the box, but not great in coverage. Free safety Tom Zbikowski is an average backup pressed into starting duty due to Ed Reed’s continued injury problems. Reed is on the PUP list and might not play this season. I have to say, as I look at this secondary it seems obvious where teams will attack the Ravens.

Punter Sam Koch is pretty good. Expectations are low for kicker Billy Cundiff. I’m not excited about the Ravens’ return game, but the coverage units should be good.

The Ravens get to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh week 4, the week before Ben Roethlisberger comes back. In fact, the Ravens have a pretty reasonable schedule when it comes to facing elite quarterbacks this season. I’m quite confident the Ravens will be able to return to the top of the AFC North. I’m less confident they’ll be able to maneuver past the elite pass offenses they’ll have to face in the playoffs. I’m a pretty big fan of coach John Harbaugh, and I can see Joe Flacco evolving into a gunslinger capable of outscoring Peyton Manning if the need arises (foreshadowing).

Cincinnati Bengals

Expected Wins- 8.25

Scouting Wins- 8.22

DVOA Wins- 6.6

2009 Record- 10-6

A tale of three teams:

Team A: 1st in DVOA, 11.6 Pythagorean wins

Team B: 10th in DVOA, 9.2 Pythagorean wins

Team C: 19th in DVOA, 8.2 Pythagorean wins

Team’s A & B both go 9-7 (Baltimore and Pittsburgh respectively), while team C goes 10-6 and wins the division. I think you can guess who team C is. I’ll concede that the Bengals’ statistics are weighted down by their roll over against the Jets in week 17, but they were handled fairly easily at home against those same Jets one week later. I’ll be blunt: I think the Bengals are frauds who are going to be exposed week 1 against the Patriots. Let’s start at quarterback.

Carson Palmer has never fully recovered from his elbow and leg injuries. He had a pretty good season in 2009, but eventually teams started sitting on short- to- intermediate throws and the Bengals’ offense stalled. Palmer is still one of the more accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, but with defenses fully aware of his limitations, his margin for error is exceedingly small. Palmer was very effective on 3rd down and in the red zone last season, and while accuracy is more important than arm strength in the red zone, I don’t expect his good fortune to repeat. That will put a lot of pressure on the Bengals’ running game.

Cedric Benson rushed for 1251 years on 301 carries in only 13 games. He’s not going to repeat that performance this season. Benson certainly redeemed himself after performing poorly with the Bears at the start of his career, and with the Bengals in 2008, but despite his toughness, and the fact that he’s in a contract year, I simply cannot see him repeating that performance. The Bengals tried to find someone to share carries with Benson. They failed, and Bernard Scott remains the backup. Scott should still have great speed after coming back from a toe injury.

The Bengals have a pair of diva wide receivers, although only one is still a good player. Last seen starving to death on Revis Island, Chad Ochocinco isn’t the star he used to be. Still, he’s a better than average receiver, and a Hall of Fame Ttweeter. Owens is a shell of himself. He’s a 37- year-s old former malcontent, whom even the lowly Bills want nothing more to do with. He was actually well behaved well in Buffalo, but he still drops too many balls and not longer has other game breaking skills to make up for it. I love the Bengals’ 3rd round pick, of Jordan Shipley. Shipley is a much better athlete than his lack of melanin would suggest. Although he is just a rookie, He he had a great preseason, but is still just a rookie, and the Bengals’ receiver depth leaves much to be desired. Fellow rookie, 1st round pick tight end Jermaine Gresham, is as talented as any tight end in the NFL. He can stretch defenses and is a potential surprise rookie of the year candidate. He is still a bit raw, so it might be a little while before we see all he has to offer.

Generally when a team takes an offensive lineman near the top of the first round, they prefer that player break into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. The Bengals cannot be happy that Andre Smith hasn’t risen above backup right tackle/guard since the Bengals drafted him with the 6th pick in 2009.[since they drafted him in 20XX]. Between contract issues and injuries, Smith has never spent a full offseason [offseason? What do you mean?] with the Bengals and is ian awful physical condition. The Bengals’ offensive line had a very good season2009, particularly in run blocking. It isn’t one of the most talented lines in the NFL, and there are legitimate concerns about pass protection. The Bengals were forced to use a lot more max protect than they would have liked, due to serious issues against the blitz.

In a similar fashion toLike the Ravens, the Bengals’ defense is built around two tough defensive tackles, Domata Peko and Tank Johnson. Peko is a great run stuffer, and makes up for what he lacks in size with superb effort and toughness. He is recovering from a knee injury that knocked him out last season. I should point out that he has the most underrated hair in the NFL. Gaze upon his mighty locks, ye mortals, and weep. Pat Sims and 4th round pick rookie Geno Atkins provide a good pair of backups to raotate in. Atkins has had a monster preseason and was the breakout training camp star. On the outside, Robert Gaethers and Antwan Odom provide the main pass rush. Odom was off to a blazing start with eight sacks in six games before an Achilles injury ended his season. He’s had a tough preseason, primarily due to a virus that caused him to drop twenty pounds. Gaethers has never recaptured his 2006 form (10.5 sacks), and only has 9.5 sacks since then. Rookie 2nd round pick Carlos Dunlap and 2nd year end/OLB hybrid Michael Johnson will see significant playing time. The Bengals would love to see one of them break out as a stud pass rusher.

Dhani Jones, Keith Rivers, and Rey Maualuga lead an effective linebacker corps. There are no stars here, and truth be told they produce few big plays,. bBut they do have provide good field coverage. The depth here isn’t as good as it is along the defensive line.

Cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall form the best young tandem in the business. Each managed six interceptions last season, and that doesn’t tell the whole story. Hall is elite in coverage, while Joseph combines good coverage skills with strong physicality against the run. Since character is never an issue in Cincinnati, the Bengals signed Adam Pacman Jones [what did he do wrong?] to be their nickel cornerback. Safeties Roy Williams and Chris Crocker are both punishers against the run, as is backup Chinedum Ndukwe. None of the three are particularly good in coverage.

The Bengals have lousy special teams, which is actually better than the normal borderline incompetence usually on tap in Cincy. Their one area of strength in 2009 was punt returns, where Quan Cosby had a great year. He has since lost his job to Adam Jones.

I like the Bengals’ defense. I don’t like the Bengals’ offense or special teams. I really don’t like the Bengals’ schedule. A winning season would stun me. There was a time when a team built on rushing and defense could consider themselves a Super Bowl threat. The Bengals’ defense isn’t quite good enough, the running game isn’t nearly good enough, and the era has passed. We live in the age of the passing game, and the Bengals simply don’t have one that is good enough.

Cleveland Browns

Expected Wins- 5.52

Scouting Wins- 5.46

DVOA Wins- 5.4

2009 Record- 5-11

Head coach Eric Mangini is a weasel and a punk. I’m sure Bill Belichick regrets ever giving him an opportunity to coach. New boss Mike Holmgren left Mangini keep his job for purely Machiavellian reasons: Either he wins, in which case everyone is happy, or he gets to take the blame for the poor season. It’s a CYA world, we’re all just living in it.

OK, here’s the good news: The left side of the offensive line (left tackle Joe Thomas, left guard Eric Steinbach, and center Alex Mack) is fantastic. Running back Jerome Harrison finished strong last season. New tight end Ben Watson is the best tight end the Browns have had in years (although the elderly among you might remember one or two that were better). [wasn’t Winslow on the Browns? Better than him?]. Josh Cribbs will produce the occasional huge play [at RB? WR?]. Defensive tackle/end Shaun Rogers is still one of the best defensive linemean in the NFL (when healthy,: he is still recovering from an ankle injury and was just activated off of the PUP list). Fellow tackle Ahtyba Rubin is a young potential breakout player. D’Qwell Jackson had a great 2008 [do you mean 2009?], although he has to recover from a brutal shoulder injury that ended his 2009 season.[when did he suffer it?]. The linebacker depth is fantastic (even if the talent isn’t). Cornerback Eric Wright might soon form an elite tandem with 1st round draft pick Joe Haden. Cornerback Sheldon Brown [did he sign as a FA?] brings serious physicality that the Browns have lacked. 2nd round pick free safety T.J. Ward has started across from Abram Elam from day 1. He’s a fierce hitter, but will need some time to adapt to the NFL (I felt he was a reach). Oh, and 3rd round pick quarterback Colt McCoy? The guy who is too small? He’s taller than Drew Brees and tremendously accurate. He’ll need to be developed, but the Browns have to be happy to have him. Quarterbacks with that much potential rarely fall into the 3rd round (The patron saint of 3rd round quarterbacks, Joe Montana, looks on).

OK, enough with the rose colored glasses. The Panthers were as loyal as could be to Jake Delhomme but he eventually he intercepted his way out of town. He’s the Browns’ new starting quarterback. The Browns had such little faith in [position?]running back Jerome Harrison that they traded into the 2nd round to draft Montario Hardesty. [who is this guy again?] Cribbs is a great talent, but he isn’t a great wide receiver. Speaking of wide receivers, where did Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey go in your fantasy draft? I thought so. They are the Browns’ top three wide receivers. Apart from linebacker David Bowens, the pass rush looks stinky. Bowens didn’t even win the starting job, he appears to just be coming in for pass rush situations. He is behind Scott Fujita, so perhaps a platoon isn’t that bad an idea.

Give credit to Mike Holmgren, he’s thinking three moves ahead. He knows the Browns will stink in 2010, why not let them stink under Mangini’s watch before he brings in his own guy? I really do have faith in Colt McCoy. The Browns will eventually need better wide receivers and help with their defensive line. Cleveland deserves some good luck. I hope they get some (post Mangini).

Pittsburgh Steelers

Expected Wins- 8.17

Scouting Wins- 9.31

DVOA Wins- 9.9

2009 Record- 9-7

For the next four games it is Dennis Dixon time. Ben Roethlisberger is suspended. Byron Leftwich has an MCL injury. Dixon is the last man standing. That’s not a great way to choose a quarterback. Dixon was a star at Oregon and his mobility can give defenses fits. The downside is his poor accuracy and inability to read a defense. I’m pretty sure the Steelers would accept a split of their first four games (Atlanta, @ Tennessee, @ Tampa Bay, Baltimore).

After week four, Pittsburgh gets a bye and Roethlisberger comes back. At that point the sacks will come back (because real men don’t throw the ball away), but so will the very high yards-per-attempt (over eight YPA for his career, that’s fantastic). I have to imagine Roethlisberger will be a little rusty in his first game back, but thankfully it is against the Browns. After that, the Steelers go to Miami, New Orleans, and Cincinnati. You know what? I like their chances in all three of those games. Roethlisberger is in great physical shape and should be near peak form after the Cleveland game. Also, if Football Outsiders is to be trusted, he’ll have help from one of the new stars of the NFL, running back Rashard Mendenhall.

I’m not certain Football Outsiders is right about Mendenhall. He managed to rush for over 1,100 yards as a rookie (in only 242 carries). That’s pretty good. He’s lost about 10 pounds this offseason so he might have lost a little power but should have improved quickness. Backup Mewelde Moore isn’t particularly good on the ground, but both he and Mendenhall are quality receivers out of the backfield. If Roethlisberger realizes this, he might be able to cut down on his sacks (then again, not only do real men not throw the ball away, real men don’t check down!).

Hines Ward has continued to play at a very high level, particularly for someone his age. He’s 34 years old and might start to slow down a bit this season, if not due to the natural aging process, then perhaps due to natural wear and tear given how physical a player Ward is. No receiver in the NFL is more respected for being his willingness to take or dish out a shot as the situation requires. However, Ward is not the receiver that will keep defensive coordinators up at night. Mike Wallace, however, is blazingly fast. , aAnd unlike some other speedsters, he can actually run a variety of routes quite well. He’s a legitimate deep threat and should challenge Ward for the title of Steelers #1 receiver. Antwan Randle El and Arnaz Battle are a pair of 4th wide receivers. Unfortunately for the Steelers, one of them has to be 3rd on the depth chart. Well, that is, until 3rd round pick Emmanuel Sanders learns the offense well enough to see some playing time. Tight end Heath Miller might be the Steelers’ best overall receiving threat, and so expect defenses to key on him, particularly inside the red zone. The Steelers will play Matt Spaeth in 2-end sets. Spaeth won a the [year] Mackey award as the best college tight end, but has never lived up to his potential in the pros.

The Steelers’ offensive line has undergone a couple of nice upgrades. The first is 1st round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey. He has been even better than the Steelers had hoped and easily won a training camp battle over incumbent Justin Hartwig. The Steelers also signed Flozell Adams. Adams’ skills have diminished, but even so he’s still a good option at right tackle. The rest of the Steelers’ line returns intact from last season. After a tough 2008, the offensive line bounced back in 2009. There is a lot of quality depth, but the question will be, can Max Starks regain his form at left tackle. I have confidence he’ll bounce back from a mediocre season. * Upon further consideration I’m worried that both tackles are fading. If that’s the case the depth will be tested.

Barring decline due to age or injury, this is the best 3-4 defensive line in the NFL. Right end Brett Keisel is good, nose tackle Casey Hampton is very good (so much so that he actually got paid this offseason despite being 34 years old), and left end Aaron Smith is excellent. Smith is coming back from a torn rotator cuff, so we’ll see if he still has his fastball. The backup defensive line consists of Chris Hoke (best backup nose tackle in the NFL), Ziggy Hood (Last year’s 1st round pick, had a fantastic offseason and would be starting on any other team), and Nick Eason (solid player, but not as high a ceiling as his fellow backups).

Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for 23.5 sacks, 23 hits, and 52 hurries. They’ve still got it. Unfortunately, inside linebacker James Farrior showed his age (35). , and tThe fact that he kept his job bodes ill for the Steelers. Lawrence Timmons was slowed by an ankle injury last season. He had a fantastic great offseason [how does one have a great offseason? Did he play in the Dominican league?] and looks ready to make the leap to greatness. If Farrior’s decline continues, he’ll likely be replaced by Larry Foote. Like Farrior, Foote has a great mind for the game, but limited (by NFL standards) physical skills (at least by NFL standards). The Steelers understood that they needed to reload their linebacker corps (they drafted three linebackers) but it will take time before those players are ready to contribute.

The importance to the Steelers of free safety Troy Polamalu cannot be understated. The Steelers’ defense fell of a cliff without him. His field coverage and football smarts are outstanding. Like Darrelle Revis, the quality of his play makes improves the rest of the secondary. Strong safety Ryan Clark is a good player and played well in Polamalu’s absence, but the dropoff was still stark. Will Allen is a pretty good backup and should serve admirably so long it as is Clark and not Polamalu who goes down. Cornerback Ike Taylor has great size and strength, but doesn’t quite have the speed of the elite of his ilk. He’s very good in the Steelers system. Bryant McFadden and William Gay are decent second and nickel cornerbacks respectively, but neither should be asked to step up the depth chart. The Steelers do have some promising youngsters at cornerback (Keenen Lewis, Joe Burnett), but neither is ready to start. Lewis might challenge Gay for the nickel job.

The Steelers’ kickoff coverage was bad enough to warrant specific consideration. The aforementioned Will Allen and Arnaz Battle will help solve that problem, as will a few other less-er publicized players (remember those three linebackers from the draft). Kicker Jeff Reed is a quality veteran who might be underrated due to the difficulty of his home field. Punter Daniel Sepulveda had a pretty good season despite having lousy traditional stats. One weakness is kickoffs. Neither Reed nor Sepulveda are good at the job, Onside kicks anyone?

There may have been some roster turnover since their most recent Super Bowl, but this team is still good enough to get back and win the big game. They have an excellent defense with only some minor weaknesses. Roethlisberger might be frustrating to watch, but his success has not been an accident. So long as Dixon doesn’t dig the Steelers into too big a hole, they should find their way back into the playoffs.

AFC South:

Indianapolis Colts: 11-5

Tennessee Titans: 9-7

Houston Texans: 9-7

Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-11

Houston Texans

Expected Wins- 8.93

Scouting Wins- 8.62

DVOA Wins- 6.0

2009 Record- 9-7

I probably should explain why DVOA dislikes the Texans. It can’t be the Brian Cushing suspension, because that’s taken into account by the other measures. It can’t be the tough schedule they face this season, again for the same reason. The biggest reason seems to be the tremendous health the 2009 Texans enjoyed, particularly quarterback Matt Schaub. Matt Schaub played 16 games last season, after playing in only 11 in each of 2007 and 2008.[ Insofar as health is a skill, Schaub doesn’t seem to have it. In fact, he had to play with a shoulder brace and ankle cast to make it through all 16 games. If Schaub goes down, the Texans are pretty much screwed. The two backups are Dan Orlovsky (last seen accidentally running out of the back of the end zone for the Lions), and Matt Leinart (a failure, still in the league only due to his high draft status).

Let’s presume for a second that Schaub stays healthy, or at least in the lineup. Over the last three seasons Schaub has averaged a sterling 8.03 yards-per-attempt and a little better than 3 touchdowns to every 2 interceptions. When Schaub is able to get on the field he is a very good quarterback. How about the rest of the backfield?

The Texans drafted running back Ben Tate in the 2nd round, but he promptly injured his foot and is out for the season. 2008 rookie sensation Steve Slaton had an awful 2009, but it might have been due to a nerve issue. He has since had surgery and is #2 on the Texans’ depth chart. No one really knows what to expect from Slaton this season, and he’s already been slowed by a toe injury.. The man who was supposed to be the new #1 running back is Derrick Ward. However, the Texans found out what the Buccaneers already knew: Ward is a pretty lousy back without the New York Giants offensive line opening up holes for him. Last year’s backup, Arian Foster, isn’t quite getting the #1 job by default, as he rushed for 257 yards in only 54 carries last season. Furthermore, Foster has been exceedingly diligent is his offseason conditioning. He’s an undrafted player who worked his way up from the practice squad. Talent might be a question, but heart and toughness aren’t. Foster is a bigger back who can run inside, bounce outside. He hasn’t proven himself as a receiver, as he’s only caught 8 balls in his career, but Schaub seems confident he’ll be helpful in the passing game.

The Texans’ best player is wide receiver Andre Johnson. He pulled of the Ricean feat of leading the NFL in receiving two years in a row. He managed to do this despite facing double coverage almost every play of every game (his time on Revis Island excluded). He’s probably the best wide receiver in the NFL and opens up holes in the defense for the rest of the Texans receivers to exploit. Kevin Walter is a fine possession receiver. The potential breakout star is Jacoby Jones. Jones has been fantastic in VERY limited usage the last two seasons (30 catches total), and the Texans’ staff are excited about using him more in 3-WR formations. If he can increase his workload while maintaining the quality of his work, the Texans’ offense will be even more dynamic than it was last season. Tight end Owen Daniels was an excellent receiver before an ACL injury knocked him out last season. His best attribute was his speed. If that’s gone, he’ll probably be just an ordinary tight end. That’s a rough beat for the Texans because backup Joel Dreesen earns his paycheck with his blocking skills.

Right tackle Eric Winston is a very good player who continues to get better. He doesn’t quite have the skills to move over to the other side. Left tackle Duane Brown vastly improved upon his 2008 disaster and is now a serviceable left tackle. Unfortunately, the Texans’ interior line is a problem. They are decent in pass protection, but absolutely abysmal as run blockers. Sorry Mr. Foster.

Defensive end Mario Williams has proven that the Texans made the right call taking him over Reggie Bush. Despite being slowed by some nagging injuries last season, Williams managed 9 sacks and a contributed fairly dominant performances against the run. Free agent pickup Antonio Smith wasn’t quite as good as Williams, but did have a solid season, providing a pretty significant pass rush. It really helps a defense when both starting ends demand offensive attention. Football Outsiders wasn’t impressed with Smith’s production. I respectfully disagree. Smith will split time with Connor Barwin. Barwin had a great season as a situational pass rusher and has added some bulk to improve his run stopping power. The Texans are also high on Jesse Nading and Tim Jamison, but I haven’t seen enough from either to have a read on them. Inside tackles Shaun Cody and Amobi Okoye are decent. The Texans hope Okoye is still improving. 3rd round pick Earl Mitchell has been very impressive in training camp and will be part of the defensive rotation. Overall, the Texans have a pretty good defensive line with a lot of upside.

Outside linebacker Brian Cushing will take four games off due to a suspension. He was absolutely dominant as a rookie and I see no reason for his play to fall off this year. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has already proven himself as a great player. Zac Diles is a pretty good player on the weak side. Kevin Bentley will start in Cushing’s place. Bentley is a good option as a backup and should be okay as a starter in the short term. Injuries have robbed the Texans of quality linebacker depth, so avoiding further injuries here will be pretty key. If Xavier Adibi returns to form after a groin injury, this unit is pretty tough.

2nd year cornerback Glover Quin, 1st round rookie Kareem Jackson, and 2nd year player Brice McCain hold down the #1, #2, and nickel positions in the Texans secondary. Quin played in 12 games last year and didn’t allow a touchdown pass. No one saw Jackson going in the 1st round, but the Texans apparently found a diamond in the rough, as he’s been fantastic in the preseason. There is a lot of talent here, but obviously very little experience. We’ll see how good these cornerbacks are in Week 1, when Indianapolis comes to town. Strong safety Bernard Pollard was cut by the Chiefs before last season. I cannot fathom why as he was quickly scooped up by the Texans and was the best player in their defensive backfield. He’ll play along free safety Eugene Wilson. Wilson is merely adequate these days, solook for the Texans to draft his replacement after the season.

Take away kicker Kris Brown’s awful season and the Texans had pretty good special teams. Brown has since lost his job to Neil Rackers. The coverage units are consistently strong. This should be another above-average year for the Texans’ special teams.

Alright, I haven’t really focused on it but I have to mention it: The Texans are 1-15 vs. the Colts over the last 8 seasons. The Colts are a great team, but the Texans have had their chances and simply haven’t put the Colts away. If you want to be the man you have to beat the man. If I had a little more confidence in the secondary I’d say the time has come, but Peyton Manning will likely eat those guys for breakfast. Maybe next year.

Indianapolis Colts

Expected Wins- 10.45

Scouting Wins- 10.28

DVOA Wins- 11.3

2009 Record- 14-2

I should probably make something clear about the 2009 Indianapolis Colts: Despite their 14-2 record, according to DVOA they were they 8th best team in the NFL, and if you prefer to go by Pythagorean wins they were 9th with 10.8 wins. They were a very good team, not a great one.

If the Colts recover the Saints’ onside kick to start the 2nd half of the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning probably has a second ring. The first ring should have an asterisk because he won it over Rex Grossman, although he could claim the real win was over Tom Brady and the Patriots in the 2007 AFC Championship game. As is, Manning is still the best quarterback in the NFL, just ahead of Drew Brees and Tom Brady. He had minor neck surgery in the offseason but it shouldn’t be an issue. The real pain in Manning’s neck is the new umpire positioning. The slow speed at which the umpire spots the ball and gets into position has neutered no huddle offenses for the first 28 minutes of the first half, and the first 25 minutes of the 2nd half. Manning will simply have to adapt. The Colts almost take pride in not having a competent backup, so if Manning goes down the Colts’ season is pretty much over.

Joseph Addai is a pretty good receiver but only a mediocre runner. He isn’t a difference maker for the colts offense. Backup Donald Brown is now simply known as God damn it Donald. YouTube is your friend if you want more details. Brown was terrible last season so the Colts might have to look elsewhere if they don’t decide to re-sign Addai next season.

Speaking of injuries, I’m not sure the Colts have a single healthy offensive lineman. The Colts wanted to improve their run blocking and brought in a variety of players to compete for starting spots. I’m not sure the Colts are impressed with the results. There aren’t any great players on this offensive line, although center Jeff Saturday is better than average.. This line is pretty good at pass blocking, but their run blocking has been bad for a while. I’m actually a bit concerned that not even Peyton Manning will be able to make this line look good when they come across some of the better defensive lines in the NFL.

Defensive end Dwight Freeney had another monster season in 2009. Robert Mathis had a strong season across from Freeney. 1st round pick Jerry Hughes looks like Freeney 2.0. Sackseer agrees and puts Hughes as the top pass rush prospect of the 2010 class. Hughes will need to work his way up the depth chart. While there is some top shelf talent at end, that’s not the case on the inside. Defensive tackles Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson are decent players, nothing more. Johnson is dinged up so we may see Eric Foster in his place.

Inside linebacker Gary Brackett isn’t quite up there with the elite, but he is very good and the leader of the unit. Clint Session isn’t bad against the pass on the outside. Philip Wheeler is decent against the run but doesn’t provide much of a pass rush, and he lacks both the speed and the route recognition to be great in pass coverage. 2nd round pick Pat Angerer has decent athleticism and should see some playing time. The Colts generally don’t value linebackers (or defensive tackles, truth be told), and this isn’t a great unit overall.

Cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden, Jerraud Powers, and Jacob Lacey form a pretty nice coverage trio. Their tackling does leave something to be desired. Strong safety Bob Sanders is healthy, although we’ll see how long that lasts. He used to be in impact player, but even if healthy I’m not sure he still is. Free safety Antione Belthea is quite good and if Sanders or Belthea can’t go, backup Melvin Bullitt has proved he can play well at this level. There are concerns about depth in the secondary, as 3rd round pick Earl Mitchell is on injured reserve. Powers has soreness in his foot. Lacey is recovering from a concussion. The Colts’ secondary could be in trouble early in the season.

The Colts pay just enough attention to special teams to make sure they don’t hurt the team. Expect their special teams to be below average again this season.

General manager Bill Polian has a pretty clear philosophy. Find a franchise quarterback, get him some excellent targets and a line that can pass protect. Make sure your running back can catch the ball. Find at least two defensive ends that can get to the quarterback. Invest in a defensive backfield that won’t get you killed. Don’t worry too much about run blocking, or running the ball in general. Don’t worry too much about stopping the run either. Focus your resources 1st on building a good passing offense, and 2nd on building a good pass defense. That seems to be the right plan in the modern NFL and so long as Peyton Manning is leading the offense, the Colts will be contenders.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Expected Wins- 6.65

Scouting Wins- 6.44

DVOA Wins- 6.7

2009 Record- 7-9

The Jaguars’ first four picks in the draft: 1st round DT Tyson Alualu, 3rd round DT D’Anthony Smith, 5th round DE Larry Hart, 5th round DE Austin Lane. The Jaguars realized they had a problem and they targeted it. Fine. They still need a quarterback, wide receiver, multiple interior offensive lineman, linebackers, and another cornerback. Oh and safeties, send safeties. The good news is that apart from Smith (injured reserve), all of the Jaguars’ other 15 picks from the last two drafts are on the 53 man roster. Partly that shows the weakness of the roster, partly that shows some solid drafting.

Quarterback David Garrard has proven his limitations. He can play well for short stretches but isn’t good enough to maintain that level of play for any length of time. Part of the problem is that he takes way too many hits due to a lousy offensive line and a mediocre receiving corps.

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is an excellent multipurpose threat. He can produce big plays in both the running and passing game. He had 365 touches last season and has already shown some signs of wear and tear. He has missed some practice time with an injured knee. If he misses significant time, the Jaguars will have zero top playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Well, maybe. Backup Rashad Jennings was a 7th round steal in 2009. He played well in limited usage last season and might be able to produce big numbers if given the chance.

Mike Sims-Walker is a decent possession receiver. Mike Thomas plays pretty well in the slot. What the Jaguars are missing is an elite #1 receiver that would allow the two Mikes to play in the roles they are best suited for. Tight ends Mercedes Lewis and Zach Miller both played well last season. In fact, if Lewis can maintain that level of performance, he’ll join the ranks of elite tight ends. Overall this is a pretty weak receiving corps with a few bright spots.

Let’s cut some slack to young tackles Eugene Monroe and Ebon Britton. Both had tough rookie seasons. I expect both to bounce back this season now that they’ve had a full year to learn and a full offseason to train. While I have some faith in the outside of the line, I have no faith in the interior of the line. This isn’t a strong unit.

I already mentioned the resources the Jaguars invested in the defensive line during the draft. Tyson Aluala was considered an epic reach with the 10th pick, but he’s looked like he was worth it in the preseason. He’ll start at tackle next to Terrence Knighton. Knighton was a huge surprise last season. Knighton massively surpassed expectations as a rookie and the Jaguars are excited that they have a strong pair of young tackles. Defensive end Aaron Kampman is a star when healthy. He is still recovering from an ACL injury. If healthy, he’ll start across from bust Derrick Harvey. You know, even with all the upgrades, this defensive line still looks pretty sketchy.

I like the addition of middle linebacker Kirk Morrison. The Raiders had no use for him and pretty much traded him to the Jaguars for a ham sandwich. He’s a locker room leader and a tough run stopper. Daryl Smith and Justin Durant start on the outside. Smith has superb versatility and can do any job the Jaguars ask of him. Durant is an excellent tackler. The depth here is pretty sparse, so good health would be appreciated.

I gaze upon this secondary and cringe. It might look worse than it really is due to the lack of a pass rush, but there really is no one to love here. I suppose one could argue that Rashean Mathis is still a good player, but his recent performances and health issues suggest otherwise. Derek Cox might be a good cornerback one day. I have no love for any of the Jaguars’ safeties, and the defensive backfield depth is exceedingly poor.

Kicker Josh Scobee sucks. The rest of the special teams are fine (or, better said, the least of their problems).

Every time I read a projection of the Jaguars that has them going 8-8 or better I pause and wonder how. The defense is below average from start to back. I don’t trust the quarterback, and even if I did, he doesn’t have much support around him. The star running back is dinged up. Oh, and coach Jack Del Rio can keep chopping wood. He’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Tennessee Titans

Expected Wins- 8.01

Scouting Wins- 8.81

DVOA Wins- 7.4

2009 Record- 8-8

159-43. That was how badly the Titans were outscored against their four toughest opponents in 2009 (Colts twice, Patriots, Chargers). The offense was obviously poor in those games, but the real culprit was the defense. It collapsed with the departure of Albert Haynesworth. His departure affected every aspect and level of the defense. First, there was no longer a fierce pass rush up the middle. Second, teams no longer had to focus their blocking schemes on the inside and were able to shut down the defensive ends. Third, the linebackers had to fight through significantly more blocking to get to running backs. Fourth, with the pass rush gone the secondary was exposed and destroyed. It can be hard to measure the impact of a single player, but Haynesworth’s impact was clearly measurable by his absence. As I type this, ESPN is flashing that the Redskins and Titans are in trade talks regarding Haynesworth. Even if a trade occurs I’m not sure Haynesworth is still the player he was, but the Titans would clearly like to find out.

Running back Chris Johnson had a great year last season (2006 yards rushing, 503 receiving), and has stated a goal to rush for 2500 yards this season. He won’t, partly because no one can do that, and partly because he had 408 touches last season and regression to the mean is calling. As great as Johnson may be, he isn’t the player that will determine the Titans fate. Has Vince Young turned the corner?

Was it a fluke that the Titans went 8-2 with Young under center? No. Young has improved a great deal since his first time as the Titans’ starter. He’s still not one of the most accurate quarterbacks around, but he has great mobility and arm strength. The key is improved decision making. His benching inspired him to improve his work ethic. There is the possibility he’ll regress, but I doubt it. Success leads to stagnation, stagnation leads to failure, failure leads to maturity, maturity leads to success.

Nate Washington had a tough year as the lead receiver. The Titans are hoping it was simply a tough year of adjusting to being the lead. Like Washington, Justin Gage needs to work on his consistency. He’s a big receiver who can fight off cornerbacks for the ball. It is third receiver Kenny Britt who has the most potential. He had a good rookie year, spending most of his time doing mid-range routes or longer. The Titans would be in excellent shape if Britt developed into a #1 receiver such that Washington could move into the slot. Britt and Gage have a similar skill set, but Britt has a much higher ceiling. 3rd round pick Damian Williams will have to cut his teeth as a kick returner. Tight end Bo Scaife has managed to get paid in amounts far beyond his production would suggest. Jared Cook has better physical skills than Scaife. Cook was slowed by an ankle injury last season. If he’s healthy he will try to steal the starting job.

Left tackle Michael Roos had a tough (by his standards) season, but is still one of the better left tackles in the NFL. Right tackle David Stewart had a great season. He’s a mauler who’s finally developed his pass protection skills. Eugene Amano is moving over from left guard to center. Leroy Harris is taking over at left guard. There is a pretty clear power setup on the right. This was one of the best lines in the NFL in 2007 and 2008, and likely will return at least near that level of performance this season.

I have already discussed how the loss of DT Albert Haynesworth demolished the defense. That shouldn’t be considered an indictment of Haynesworth’s replacement, Tony Brown. Brown played very well. So did Jason Jones, until a shoulder injury ended his season. DT Jovan Haye failed miserably. Jones and Brown will start at tackle this season. Kyle Vanden Bosch couldn’t handle being one of the players the offense schemed to stop. Ditto for Javon Kearse. Kearse failed so badly that the team simply told him to stay home. Ouch. The Titans like defensive ends Jacob Ford, William Hayes, and Jason Babin. All three have some ability to get into the backfield, and it would be very helpful for the Titans if one of the three blossoms into an elite pass rusher.

Stephen Tulloch starts at middle linebacker. He has great field coverage and is a sure tackler. He isn’t as good moving backward, so his coverage skills aren’t great. Will Witherspoon and Gerald McRath will flank Tulloch, although McRath is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s PED abuse policy. Stanford Keglar will take McRath’s place during the suspension. This isn’t a great unit. If the defensive line can provide a pass rush and keep blockers off the linebackers, they’ll look good. Otherwise the Titans will wish they had a bit more talent back here.

The secondary is looking for a collective bounce-back year after a terrible 2009. Cortland Finnegan had the best season of the group. He’ll be starting across from Jason McCourty. McCourty was a 6th round pick in 2009. He has decent speed and agility, but his physicality is a question. The Titans are hoping McCourty is ready to make the leap. If not, 4th round pick Alterraun Verner will get thrown into the fire. Verner had a fantastic training camp and really shocked the Titans with his coverage ability. He needs to work on his man coverage deep. 2009 3rd round pick Ryan Mouton is another option. He has even better speed and quickness than McCourty, but is even less physical. He’ll probably be better served as a nickel or dime corner against smaller receivers. Free safety Michael Griffin followed up a Pro Bowl season in 2008 with a terrible season last year. He claims his head wasn’t in the right place and perhaps he’ll bounce back this season. At his best he has amazing field coverage and can make plays all over. Strong safety Chris Hope played worse than Griffin in 2008 and better than Griffin in 2009. He doesn’t have Griffin’s physical skills but does a good job making do with what he has. He reads plays well and the less ground he has to cover, the more aggressive he can be. This secondary has tremendous upside, but perhaps it simply comes down to the pass rush. The less time a secondary has to cover receivers, the better it looks.

Kicker Rob Bironas had a poor season on kickoffs. Perhaps it was simply a bad year. Perhaps age has robbed him of some of his leg strength. He continued to be a good field goal kicker, so perhaps it simply was a fluke. 3rd round pick Damian Williams is tasked with improving what was a pretty terrible return game. Punter Brett Kern has a strong leg. He needs to fine tune his punts as the situation requires.

Of all the teams that didn’t have a winning season in 2009, the Titans have the most upside. Vine Young is 26-13 as a starter and is better than he’s ever been. Chris Johnson can’t hope to repeat his 2009 performance, but even a 20% drop off would be a great season. The offensive line can regain the glory of 2007-2008. The linebacker corps isn’t great. The secondary showed how great it could be in 2008. The defensive line and its pass rush are what will determine the strength of the defense. They have a very tough schedule, but I see the Titans fighting for a playoff spot down to the bitter end.

﻿

AFC West:

San Diego Chargers: 11-5

Oakland Raiders: 7-9

Kansas City Chiefs: 6-10

Denver Broncos: 6-10

Denver Broncos

Expected Wins- 7.00

Scouting Wins- 6.43

DVOA Wins- 7.6

2009 Record- 8-8

Words I had never thought I would type: The Broncos would be devastated if quarterback Kyle (Neckbeard) Orton got hurt. The so called injury bug has bitten the Broncos hard this offseason. I wasn’t too high on this team even before Elvis Dumervil and his seventeen sacks got hurt. Let’s take a look at this roster and see what they’re capable of:

Orton has developed into an above average quarterback. Not significantly above average, and not good enough to scare an opposing defensive coordinator, but good enough to avoid being the cause of death of a failed season. Orton threw for 3778 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Don’t expect a repeat of the yardage, but he could maintain the touchdown rate. He had an excellent preseason and any thought of a quarterback competition between him and Brady Quinn, or the sainted Tim Tebow, was quickly put to rest. He’ll certainly miss Brandon Marshall. The loss of Brandon Stokley to injury isn’t too big a concern.

Running back Knowshon Moreno failed to live up to expectations his rookie year. He’ll certainly be expected to put up a lot more than 1,160 yards from scrimmage. Backup Correll Buckhalter was a much more effective rusher last season. Both are currently dinged up. Moreno hurt his hamstring and has looked hesitant this preseason. Buckhalter has missed time due to neck and back injuries. The Broncos realized they had a problem with running back depth and signed LenDale White. White proceeded to tear his Achilles tendon and will miss the season. Lance Ball is now the third man on the depth chart. Trust me, you already know all you need to about Mr. Ball. Tough times in Denver.

I’ll already mentioned the losses of Brandon Marshall (clashed with coach) and Brandon Stokely (injury). That leaves Brandon Lloyd as the only Brandon remaining on the wide receiving corps. Let me quote football Outsiders regarding Lloyd: “Lloyd’s never been a remotely competent NFL wide receiver, and that’s not going to change seven years in.” Ouch. Lloyd was a healthy scratch for 14 of the 16 games last season, and only managed 8 catches on the season. He is currently #3 on the Broncos’ depth chart. Eddie Royal had a promising rookie season in 2008, but he followed it up with a nasty sophomore slump in 2009. He’s currently slated as the #1 wide receiver. Perhaps last year was simply a fluke, but the team clearly needs him to return to form. The only receiver I like among the Broncos’ top 3 is Jabar Gaffney. Gaffney has a good mix of size and athleticism, and he managed to become extremely adept at finding holes in the zone or beating man coverage inside. Without Marshall, he’ll probably find his job has become much tougher. 3rd round pick Eric Decker has picked up the offense quickly and will see some playing time. The real question is will 1st round pick Demaryius Thomas be able to contribute this season? He’s battled foot injuries. He’s easily the most athletically gifted receiver on the Broncos roster. Tight end Daniel Graham earns his paycheck as a blocker. He’s dinged up with bruised ribs, but it shouldn’t keep him out of the lineup. Upon further review there really isn’t that much offensive skill talent on the roster right now. Sorry, Neckbeard.

Left tackle Ryan Clady wrecked his knee in the offseason and has missed the entire preseason. Right now he’s slated to start but it is anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be. The talent dropoff between him and D’Anthony Batiste is steep. 2nd and 3rd round picks Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton will start at left guard and center respectively. I had both players rated at least two rounds lower than where the Broncos took them, but the Broncos liked what they saw in training camp and the preseason. Right guard Chris Kuper is dependable. Right tackle Ryan Harris missed time with a toe injury last season but appears to be fully healthy now. He isn’t as strong as you would like a right tackle to be, but he does have good technique and can handle the position. Depending on Ryan Clady’s health and the quality of play provided by the rookies , this could either be an area of strength or a major problem. I’m guessing that the line will end up a little below average, but as I said, it’s just a guess.

The Broncos’ defensive line collapsed last year and has been rebuilt. The biggest culprit was nose tackle Ronald Fields. He’s been relegated to backup duty behind Jamal Williams. Williams missed last season with a triceps injury but was a very good player prior to the injury. If he returns to form, he’ll be the Broncos’ best defensive lineman. He’ll be flanked by Ryan McBean and Justin Bannan. McBean and Bannan combined for zero sacks last season. There is a fair amount of defensive line depth, but you should be able to draw the obvious conclusion about the talent level.

The loss of Elvis Dumervil will actually help the Broncos a bit against the run, as he was a pass rusher first and an easily blocked lightweight second. His pass rush will be severely missed. The combination of outside linebackers Robert Ayers and Mario Haggan looks pretty bad on paper. Haggan doesn’t really have the correct skill set for the position, while Ayers is projected as a Sackseer bust. His zero sacks last season don’t inspire much confidence either. D.J. Williams and Joe Mays patrol the inside. Mays has no business being a starter, but Williams might make up for him. Williams has the range, power, and play recognition to be an elite linebacker. He’ll need to live up to his prodigious talent for the Broncos’ linebacker corps to be anything other than lousy.

Cornerback Champ Bailey’s fantastic technique has made up for any steps he’s lost. He is no longer one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, but he’s still close. He’ll start across from Andre Goodman. Goodman wasn’t too effective in 2009. Faster receivers can simply blow by him, while more physical receivers muscle him away from the ball. Nate Jones might steal his job. Jones is a decent nickel back, but it would be a bad sign if he became a starter. Strong safety Brian Dawkins is the best 37 year old safety in the NFL. His physical skills have diminished a bit, but he still has great football instincts and is still an above average player. The end has to be near, but it isn’t here yet. Free safety Renaldo Hill is a solid defender. David Bruton provides good depth off the bench if either safety goes down.

Apart from the addition of punter Britton Colquitt, the Broncos’ special teams remain unchanged from last year. They are neither a weakness nor a strength, which is a level most teams would gladly accept from their special teams.

A dearth of skill talent and an absolutely abominable pass rush will likely doom the Broncos to a lousy season. One thing that they, and the entire AFC West, have going for them is that they get to face the NFC West as well as the rest of their own putrid division. The Broncos will likely finish with more wins than their overall talent suggests, but don’t expect a playoff run. One last note: Coach Josh McDaniels is a disaster and it is only a matter of time before he destroys the Broncos. OK, given that he already drove off a franchise quarterback and an elite wide receiver, I suppose I should say it is a matter of time before he destroys the Broncos even more than he already has, but we’re splitting hairs at this point.

Kansas City Chiefs

Expected Wins- 6.49

Scouting Wins- 5.65

DVOA Wins- 8.9

2009 Record- 4-12

8.9? Really? Explain thyself Football Outsiders. Yes the Chiefs have an easy schedule, but that is taken into account by the other projections. The Chiefs have been fairly healthy over the last three seasons so a bounce back in that area isn’t the reason. An elite running game? Maybe, but the Chiefs certainly don’t seem too enamored with late season stud Jamaal Charles. He’s second on the depth chart behind Thomas Jones. A breakout season for linebacker Tamba Hali? Maybe, he certainly was fantastic last season and will produce double digit sacks this season if he maintains his level of play. The Chiefs also upgraded their center from awful to average and filled a hole in their secondary with 1st round pick safety Eric Berry. Of course, they could have simply not released Bernard Pollard before last season. The DVOA projection system has become a bit of a black box and it generally embarrasses itself when it strays too far from conventional wisdom. I suspect that will be the case here.

Quarterback Matt Cassel excelled in the shotgun for the 2008 Patriots. Same thing in 2009 for the Chiefs? Not so much. The Chiefs only averaged 4.4 yards per play from the shotgun. That’s abysmal. It is becoming increasingly obvious that success within the Patriots organization isn’t repeatable elsewhere. The KUBIAK projection for Cassel has him throwing 24 touchdowns and close to 3,700 yards. Even with the Patriots, he didn’t manage that many touchdowns. Opposing scouts within the division have openly called Cassel a bust. Having seen how poorly Cassel played last season, I’m inclined to agree. Backup Brodie Croyle has managed to compile a record of 0-9 as a starter.

Running back Jamaal Charles ran the ball 257 times for 1477 yards over the last two season. You’d think the Chiefs might give him a chance to prove what he could do as the lead back. You’d be wrong. He did have shoulder surgery in the offseason, but appeared to be 100% in the preseason. Thomas Jones is almost certainly going to be a victim of the curse of 370 despite only having 331 carries during the regular season. He was worn down by the time the playoffs came around. In fact, over the last three years Jones has had over 1,000 touches. He’s 32 years old. Give Charles a chance, please?!

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe had a decent season three years ago and has declined since. It’s unclear if he still has the talent that made him a first round pick. He’ll start across from a similarly inconsistent Chris Chambers. Chambers was stunningly awful for the Chargers and they released him midseason. The Chiefs picked him up and he played exceedingly well for them. Odd. The Chiefs gave him a contract extension and they hope he’ll maintain his level of play for them. It seems unlikely given his career history. 2nd round pick Dexter McCluster is an odd case. He was a highly productive running back with great pass catching skills out of the backfield. He is quite small and didn’t have the blazing speed required to get a decent speed score given his size. He’ll be asked to use his hands and elusiveness as a slot receiver. There are concerns that the 2nd round is too high a place to take such a gamble, but I had his overall talent and skill set rated about where the Chiefs took him. Tight end Leonard Pope is slowly developing into a solid blocker and decent receiver. Given his size (6-8), and overall talent, he really should be a very good tight end. Perhaps this is the season the light comes on.

Left tackle Branden Albert has never lived up to expectations and appears to simply not have the talent that the Chiefs thought he had. Right tackle Ryan O’Callaghen is a good run blocker but is borderline incompetent at pass protection. The Chiefs rebuilt the interior of their line by adding former Chiefs Casey Wiegmann and Ryan Lilja. Both are undersized but will be upgrades over the dreck they are replacing. On paper this is a weak offensive line, but that’s still an improvement over last season.

The defensive line is what should eventually cost general manager Scott Pioli his job. Nose tackle Ron Edwards is adequate. Backup Shaun Smith has a bit more talent, but attitude problems have kept him back. Neither should be expected to provide any pass rush. The real problem is the two top-5 draft picks played defensive end. Both Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson appear to be busts. Jackson is simply blocked far too easily while Dorsey is inconsistent, and perhaps just not strong enough to do the job. Jackson has admitted he still doesn’t fully understand the techniques the coaches are trying to teach him. Given the kind of resources invested in this line, the Chiefs should have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. Instead, they have one of the worst.

Outside linebacker Tamba Hali is a budding star. Hali is a brilliant pass rusher and should make a name for himself this season. Unfortunately, apart from the declining Mike Vrabel, there simply is very little talent in the rest of the linebacker corps. Derrick Johnson is a decent player at inside linebacker, but he’d be a situational backup in nickel situations on most other teams. Javon Belcher would be buried on the depth chart (if he even made the 53 man roster) on most teams. Obviously the Chiefs linebacker depth is awful.

Young cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr were a bright spot for the Chiefs last season. Carr is good, but isn’t the potential future star that Flowers is. Carr has struggled during training camp. The depth behind them is poor. 1st round pick free safety Eric Berry was an excellent ball hawk in college. He has bulked up to improve his effectiveness against the run while maintaining the speed he needs to fly around the field. He’ll pair with strong safety Jon McGraw. McGraw doesn’t have the athleticism to play the position and teams will surely point that out to the Chiefs.

Punter Dustin Colquitt is the older brother of Broncos punter Britton Colquitt. How cool is that? Dustin has a strong leg and is one of the bright spots on an otherwise mediocre special teams unit.

I gaze upon this roster and do not see 8.9 wins. Yes the Chiefs play a soft schedule, but that only goes so far. Somehow the Patriots have managed to sabotage two AFC West teams (Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli). That comes after they screwed Notre Dame with coach Charlie Weis. The list goes on and on. In any event I don’t see the Chiefs challenging the Chargers for supremacy of the AFC West, or even competing for a wild card spot.

Oakland Raiders

Expected Wins- 6.95

Scouting Wins- 5.77

DVOA Wins- 4.6

2009 Record- 5-11

Anachronism. Raiders owner Al Davis is an anachronism. There was a time when he was at the vanguard of NFL theory. No longer. Times have changed while Al has simply gotten older. The entire Raiders front office and scouting staff is shrouded in secrecy. The biggest problem might be a coaching staff that has proven incompetent at developing talent. The Raiders have made some odd picks (most notably Darius Heyward-Bey), but they still should have gotten a lot more value out of most of them, Nnamdi Asomugha excepted.

Now that the Raiders have given up on quarterback JaMarcus Russell, they have a chance to win. That’s the theory anyway. No doubt Jason Campbell will be an improvement over Russell, but so was Bruce Gradikowski. Campbell has to learn yet another new offensive system. Worse, the Raiders’ system isn’t one that caters to his strengths. The Raiders’ offense is designed around explosive deep strikes, while Campbell is much better inside 15 yards. This will end badly. Campbell currently has an injured wrist and Gradikowski might start week 1 at Tennessee. Gradikowski is a decent quarterback, but not a long term solution.

Darren McFadden has been a bust with the Raiders. Perhaps it is because they failed to develop his talents beyond his natural straight line speed. Perhaps it is because he simply didn’t have much else to offer. In either case, his 3.5 yards per carry is miserable. Michael Bush managed 4.8 yards per carry and really should be given the starting job. As is, they are slated to split carries with McFadden currently resting atop the depth chart. Bush has a broken thumb, so the depth chart makes a little more sense. Of course, McFadden hurt his hamstring as well, so maybe the Raiders simply have no good options here.

Darius Heyward-Bey had the worst rookie campaign of any wide receiver in modern history. What was the problem? Well, it could be his pathetic unwillingness to fight through coverage. Perhaps it is his small hands (not to be confused with his alligator arms). Or maybe it is the fact he was (and is) pathetically out of shape. He wasn’t very productive at the university of Maryland and the Raiders have to regret taking him in the 1st round last year, though not regretful enough to actually admit their mistake. He’s still slated to start as their #1 wide receiver. Louis Murphy would have had much better numbers had it been anyone other than JaMarcus Russell throwing to him. His presence in the starting lineup is a good thing. Johnnie Lee Higgens would probably have lost his job to Chaz Schilens if not for Schilens having arthroscopic knee surgery. Higgins has been called out by the Raiders staff for cutting off his routes to protect himself. Higgins simply isn’t a very good receiver. Tight end Zach Miller is the Raiders’ best receiver and will likely become Jason Campbell’s new best friend.

Left tackle Mario Henderson has the job by default. Epic draft bust Robert Gallery is an oft-injured but decent left guard. Center Samson Satele is lousy. Right guard Cooper Carlisle has steadily declined. He’s still serviceable, but his time is coming. Right tackle Langston Walker is a good run blocker but deficient in pass protection. Pass protection looks like it will be a problem. The Raiders have decent depth, but obviously no real talent given the quality of the starters.

Richard Seymour leads a surprisingly talented defensive line. He’ll start alongside Tommy Kelly, Matt Shaugnessy, and 2nd round pick Lamarr Houston. Former Jaguar John Henderson is as high quality a backup as exists in the NFL. There is a lot of talent on the line and the Raiders should finally be able to stop the run while providing a decent pass rush.

Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley is a good pass rusher, although not too versatile. 1st round pick Rolando McClain comes in with very high expectations. He was rated as the best inside linebacker in the draft class. He has elite speed and was a sure tackler for the university of Alabama. Trevor Scott and Thomas Howard will split time at weak side linebacker. Scott is more of a pure pass rusher while Howard is better in coverage or chasing down a ball carrier.

The Raiders have wised up and will start moving cornerback Nnamdi Osumugha around the field to cover an opponent’s top receiver. Neither Chris Johnson nor Stanford Routt is much better than the average nickel back. Currently Johnson is slated as the starter, but it doesn’t really matter who wins the job. Strong safety Tyvon Branch is quite good. He can attack the line of scrimmage and is a very sure tackler. Free safety Michael Huff has the speed and strength to play either safety position, but not the skill. Better coaching might have turned Huff into a star. Instead he is merely a great athlete forced to lean on his natural ability when he makes mental mistakes.

Kicker Sebastian Janikowski and Punter Shane Lechler are two of the best at their positions, particularly Lechler. On the other hand, the Raiders’ kick and punt return units were two of the worst in the NFL. Thus the Raiders ended up with average special teams overall.

What does one make of the Raiders? Their defense actually looks pretty solid. They should have average quarterback play, which is a major upgrade over what they’ve had lately. Unfortunately the offensive line is poor, the receiving corps is worse, and the running backs are injured. If things break right the Raiders could sneak into the playoffs, but I don’t see it.

San Diego Chargers

Expected Wins- 10.17

Scouting Wins- 11.63

DVOA Wins- 8.6

2009 Record- 13-3

The 2009 San Diego Chargers were a one trick pony with one heck of a trick: They had one of the best passing offenses of the modern era. Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, tight end Antonia Gates, and running back Darren Sproles were all highly effective receivers, as was wide receiver Legedu Naanee in limited usage. Philip Rivers managed to throw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions. LaDainian Tomlinson and Sproles were awful rushing the ball, but an easy schedule, a very good defense, a little luck, and that passing game led to 13 wins. Football Outsiders doesn’t think that the Chargers will be able to maintain that aerial success, and you know what, I think they’re right, although not for the reasons they gave.

The Chargers’ passing offense wasn’t just the best in the NFL (with all due respect to the Saints), it was one of the best of the DVOA era (1993-present). Simple regression to the mean suggests that the Chargers can’t maintain that level. Perhaps that’s the case, but a bigger problem is general manager A.J. Smith’s ego. The New York Jets want to win so they cut deals with Darrelle Revis, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and Nick Mangold. The New England Patriots are cheap bastards who think almost everyone is fungible and simply won’t overpay unless they have to, so Login Mankins is out of luck. A.J. Smith likes to win, particularly in contract negotiations and trades, so Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill are stuck in limbo. McNeill is one of the best pass blocking left tackles in the NFL. Jackson is the best deep threat in the NFL. Losing both to contract squabbles will surely damage the offense.

Quarterback Philip Rivers is a great player just entering his prime. He doesn’t have the best technique (to put it mildly) but managed to put up great results each of the last two years. I have him just slightly behind the top tier of Manning, Brady, and Brees.

The Chargers understood that Tomlinson was done and that Darren Sproles can’t take the full load. To rectify this problem they traded up to the 12th pick and grabbed Ryan Matthews. Matthews was exceedingly productive in college and has a very good speed score. He has looked good in the preseason and the Chargers might finally have a good running game to go with their elite passing game.

Well, formerly elite passing game. Wide receiver Malcolm Floyd played very well as the third option. Legedu Naanee caught 24 of the 29 passes sent his way, but that won’t continue, particularly now that he is the #2 wide receiver. Patrick Crayton was little more than a slot receiver and punt returner for the Cowboys after Miles Austin took his job. He’s a poor replacement for Vincent Jackson and will likely see significant playing time week 1 against the Chiefs. Tight end Antonio Gates is the best receiving option left. He might struggle a bit as teams focus more on stopping him. He’s an excellent player that should still produce, and might have more balls sent his way.

Asking 2nd year player Brandyn Dombrowski to step in a replace left tackle Marcus McNeill is part wishful thinking and part pure folly. Right tackle Jeromey Clary bounced back from a tough 2008 with a solid 2009. Left guard Kris Dielman had a good season and returned to the Pro Bowl, but we’ll see how well he does without McNeill by his side. There is pretty good depth on this line, partly owing to the fact that injuries ravaged the line last season. The backups have proven that they can do the job and despite the loss of McNeiill, depth isn’t a problem. The real problem is a significant drop off in talent at the most important position on the line.

The Chargers are going with a defensive line by committee. In other words, they don’t have anyone particularly good on their line so they simply play whomever is fresh. It’s a novel strategy and I don’t foresee it being all that effective.

Sean Phillips is a pretty good pass rusher and is easily the Chargers’ best linebacker overall. Sean Merriman is a shadow of the player he used to be. If Larry English is any good, he’ll steal Merriman’s job by week 5. The interior of the linebacker corps is filled with mediocrity. I am starting to see why Football Outsiders sees just an 8.6 win team.

The Chargers have a Jekyll and Hyde secondary. The cornerback Dr. Jekyll is Quentin Jammer. Jammer never became the elite player the Chargers hoped for, but he’s been consistently good and rarely makes mistakes. Antione Cason couldn’t hold down a job as a nickel cornerback. He’s going to be targeted mercilessly until he proves he can cover someone. Free safety Eric (Dr. Jekyll) Weddle is a very good player who has earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. Strong safety Steve (Mr. Hyde) Gregory is simply out of place. He’s a nickel cornerback at best, and doesn’t have the size or speed to do the job the Chargers are asking of him.

Don’t hate Nate Kaeding because he choked vs. the Jets. Hate him because he’s a crappy on kickoffs. The rest of the special teams are fine.

The Chargers should roll to the playoffs due to the easiest schedule in the NFL. At that point their defense will be exposed. Coach Norv Turner doesn’t inspire much confidence. At least they all get to live and work in one of the nicest places to live in the United States.

AFC Wild Card round:

Miami Dolphins @ San Diego Chargers

Dolphins come in and steal a game. Dolphins 24, Chargers 21.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots

The Steelers’ defense overpowers the Patriots’ offense. Steelers 27, Patriots 20.

AFC Divisional Round:

Miami Dolphins @ Baltimore Ravens

We’ve seen this picture before. The Ravens’ defense is much too tough for the Dolphins’ offense. Ravens 34, Dolphins 10.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Indianapolis Colts:

The Steelers’ run continues as they shock the Colts. Steelers 31, Colts 24.

AFC Championship Game:

Pittsburgh’s run ends as the Ravens finally climb the mountain. Ravens 24, Steelers 13.

This sets up a great matchup for Super Bowl VL:

Baltimore Ravens @ Dallas Cowboys (Dallas is technically the home team since it is an odd numbered Super Bowl).

The first ever Super Bowl home game leads to the first ever Super Bowl overtime. The Ravens win the flip and never give the ball back as they drive down for the winning field goal. Ravens 27, Cowboys 24.

And there you have it. Joe Flacco takes the next step and the Ravens win their second title. I hope y’all enjoyed reading this and that your favorite team, be it real or fantasy, carries the day on Sunday.

Seth Burn
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Joined: 03.09.2008
Did Ribbo just post the longest post ever on this forum?

Didn't quite have the patience to read through it, besides the moment I saw "American Football", I lost interest. I thought it was about real football.
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Joined: 08.06.2008
Holy mother of walls!! is my contribution to this thread.
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Joined: 25.10.2008
But how much did you lose in 2009/2010??????

Jk, nice graph, that's way tl;dr for me now, will read it later.
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Joined: 05.04.2009
.
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Joined: 22.11.2009
Once I saw the spelling mistake in the 375th paragraph I lost interest. What would I do with all that money anyway?
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Joined: 18.09.2008
Must. Resist. Urge. To. Start. Quote. Chain.
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Joined: 02.07.2008
Originally posted by Ribbo

And there you have it. Joe Flacco takes the next step and the Ravens win their second title. I hope y’all enjoyed reading this and that your favorite team, be it real or fantasy, carries the day on Sunday.

Seth Burn
• Bronze
Joined: 25.06.2010
Originally posted by alejandrosh
Originally posted by Ribbo

And there you have it. Joe Flacco takes the next step and the Ravens win their second title. I hope y’all enjoyed reading this and that your favorite team, be it real or fantasy, carries the day on Sunday.

Seth Burn
FYP
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Joined: 20.07.2009
Do you bet on a variety of sports or just American Football?
I work for a betting agency here in Australia... I've always wondered if any of the punters were long term winners (I suspect that out of the thousands of losing degenerates paying my wages there must be at least one or two winners )
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Joined: 25.06.2010
Originally posted by gedwashere91
Do you bet on a variety of sports or just American Football?
I work for a betting agency here in Australia... I've always wondered if any of the punters were long term winners (I suspect that out of the thousands of losing degenerates paying my wages there must be at least one or two winners )
Broken down by sport for you.

5% ROI and overcoming a 20% vig from the sports books. You have to put a lot of work into sportsbetting to show a profit.
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Joined: 22.11.2009
Can't you get 4.5% on \$5.5M by putting it in a bank for a year? And why haven't you retired? If I ever bump into you in a pub, it's your round!
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Joined: 23.12.2006
bookmarked
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Joined: 25.06.2010
Originally posted by jbpatzer
Can't you get 4.5% on \$5.5M by putting it in a bank for a year? And why haven't you retired? If I ever bump into you in a pub, it's your round!
Your first mistake is assuming I have \$5.5 million dollars.

If for example I own \$100,000, I will place in one day 200 bets each of \$500 in size. At the end of the day I will have \$104,500 which then will carry forward to the next day..

Over the whole year the total bets made will come to \$5,500,000
At no point did I own over five million dollars :p
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Joined: 26.05.2007
Wow that's a fortress of text.

I got a bit into sports betting during the world cup, but broke even and kind of lost interest. Rake is hiiiiiiiiiigh.
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Joined: 22.11.2009
Originally posted by Ribbo
Originally posted by jbpatzer
Can't you get 4.5% on \$5.5M by putting it in a bank for a year? And why haven't you retired? If I ever bump into you in a pub, it's your round!
Your first mistake is assuming I have \$5.5 million dollars.

If for example I own \$100,000, I will place in one day 200 bets each of \$500 in size. At the end of the day I will have \$104,500 which then will carry forward to the next day..

Over the whole year the total bets made will come to \$5,500,000
At no point did I own over five million dollars :p
Oh well. I'll get the beers in then.
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Joined: 28.07.2010
Kicker Josh Scobee sucks.
Clearly this inspired him to kick a career best 59 yarder this weekend to beat the Colts..
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Joined: 05.06.2008
Ribbo, I just added you as a friend on PS because I'd like to pitch you an idea, this post sparked the idea to contact you. I'd loveto get in touch via email or instant messaging if you'd be willing to listen for a couple minutes!

Thx
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Joined: 11.11.2009
so what is the strategy? can we talk soccer aka real football?