1.) The league's defenses make a comeback.
2009 was the year of the quarterback. There were 10 QBs that threw for 4,000 yards (Schaub, Manning, Brees, Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Romo, Rivers, Favre, Manning). In 2010, there will be maximum of 7, which is more in line with years past. Even league scoring was up. There were a lot of historically bad offenses, which made the league average stable, but there were four teams that scored over 450 points (Saints, Packers, Vikings, Chargers). 2010 will see defenses return to form. I predict that the Jets, Ravens and Bengals highlight a defensive return. Most people will write that it is some sort of rebirth of defense, but that would show that they failed to see that just one season prior in 2008, defense ruled the land. Anyway, defense will make a huge comeback. There will be games played with the score of 20-17, a lot of them.
2.) Aaron Rodgers falls back to earth, but the team does not.
Rodgers has had a storybook start to his career, crossing the 4,000 yd mark in each of his two seasons, and throwing 58 tds to just 20 ints. Well, it takes a finite amount of time for a league to gameplan for someone. That time has passed. Rodgers' magic carpet ride will end. Now, he will still have good numbers, but a 3,800-4,100 yd, 27 td, 14 int season is in store. Of course, for most QBs those are great numbers, but for Rodgers off the year he had, they won't be. However, this will not spell doom for his Packers, as the Pack will get the best defensive performance in the NFC. It sounds crazy, as they were last seen giving up 51 points in a playoff game, but with a whole season under Dom Capers' belt, the Packers 3-4 should be as good as ever, now with the inclusion of top prospect B.J. Raji. Also, Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson were a great 1-2 punch late last year. They will be able to play with added dimensions, and race to the NFC top seed.
3.) The Panthers make a playoff push, setting up the best internal QB controversy since Rivers vs. Brees in Moore vs. Clausen.
I heard a lot of talk after Jimmy Clausen was drafted at the #48 spot that he would see action this year. That's bull. Matt Moore was 4-1 as a starter down the stretch. He also heads a Carolina team good enough to win 12 games. Don't believe me. That same Carolina team won 12 games in 2008. Since then, DeAngelo Williams has proved he is not a fluke, Jonathan Stewart has gotten better creating the best 1-2 punch in the league, and their defensive youth has all entered their primes. They were 8-8 last year with bad QB play for the majority of the season. Moore can provide good enough play at the position for the Panthers to threaten the Saints atop the NFC South. Now, I do not think that Matt Moore will ever be a stat-QB like a Manning, or even a Rivers. No, he has his limitations. The peak for Moore is probably Jeff Garcia. That will lead to a return of the old 2005 Brees vs. Rivers debate. It went on and on, and finally GM A.J. Smith picked Phil Rivers, packing Brees off to San Diego in the move that changed the football landscape in New Orleans forever. We might see a repeat, so one club around the league, get ready for Matt Moore mania. I'm looking at you, Buffalo.
4.) The Broncos don't win 4 games.
They stink. Plain and simple. Their top receiver is Eddie Royal, whose production last year fell off a cliff from 91 catches and 980 yards to just 37 catches and 345 yards. Their top tight end is Daniel Graham, who is a geriatric at this point. Top draft pick Knowshown Moreno had a 3.8 ypc last year. They don't even have a Brandon Marshall to command attention. Finally their QBs are the definition of average (Orton), failure (Brady Quinn) and overrated messiah (Tebow). Of course, their best player, LT Ryan Clady, decided to tear his patella tendon playing basketball. Then there's that defense, which gave up 25.8 ppg in their 2-8 finish to their season. Of course, that was with Mike Nolan as their defensive coordinator, and he's a much better coordinator than their current one. If I were Pat Bowlen, I would play this season out, go 2-14, fire McDaniels on his ass, and then hire an actual coach like Billick, Gruden or even Mike Mularkey, who deserves another chance.
5.) The Raiders win at least 7.
The antithesis of the Broncos are the Raiders, in that they have acquired talent, instead of shipping it out of town. They won draft weekend by picking the top linebacker, adding another able body to a good defensive line, and added a top-15 QB in Jason Campbell. This was a 5-11 team capable of beating Cincinnati (10-6), Philly (11-5), Denver (8-8 - they were average last year) and Pittsburgh (9-7 - fighting for their lives in Heinz) last year with JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski and without Rolando McLain. They will finally lose in the single digits, and have a shot at a wild card. It's simple math. Campbell can lead this team, and the biggest problem with the Raiders is mental. They got up for tough games. If they win the games they should win, they will be fine. I say they should go no worse than 3-3 in the division, so assuming they go 3-3, they can beat Seattle and St. Louis at home. Say they get one in trips to Arizona and San Fran, that's six wins. Then if they beat Jacksonville or Miami (in Oakland) there's seven. They can do it. They will do it.
6.) Week 17 becomes only marginally more interesting.
In his latest brilliant plan, High School Principal Roger Goodell decided to schedule all Week 17 games as division games to entice teams to play their starters. He is so dumb. This is not going to do anything. The team that essentially is responsible for this move, the Colts (who sat their starters when they were 14-0, if you somehow forgot), rested their starters two years in a row in Week 17 against the Titans, at home no less. These teams don't care. First of all, if this rule was in place this year, seven of the eight divisions were locked up by Week 17. The only intriguing Week 17 games (which makes the Week interesting at all) are Chicago hosting the Packers, which could have some division influence if the Bears do really well, and Bengals at Ravens. In fact, I am totally looking forward to the Bengals and Ravens deciding the division in Week 17 as the Sunday Night Game.
7.) There will be at least 6 coaches that will lose their job for 2011.
This past season there were only three coaching changes, with Mike Shanahan taking over in Washington, Pete Carroll in San Diego and Chan Gailey in Buffalo. That is the definition of lame. The hot seat is great. Here are my six that I predict will be goners: Wade Philips in Dallas (more on that later), Norv Turner in San Diego, Josh McDaniels in Denver (it would be two years too many), Eric Mangini in Cleveland (I'm amazed Holmgren brought him back this year), Todd Haley in Kansas City (angry will only get angrier) and Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville. Other possibilities include Mr. Bradley Childress in Minnesota, Andy Reid if this McNabb thing backfires (a long shot), Raheem Morris in Tampa and Lovie Smith in Chicago. I'm not including the "lame duck" John Fox for a reason. I think they will make the playoffs and surprise.
8.) Six of the 2009 Playoff teams don't make the playoffs, and there will be 5 new Division winners
Every year, experts make predictions as to who will make the playoffs at the start of the season. Every year those experts include like nine or ten of the previous years playoff teams. Every year it is ridiculous. Just take recent memory:
2007 Playoffs: BAL, NYJ, KC, CHI, NO, PHI out. PIT, JAX, TEN, GB, TB, WAS in.
2008 Playoffs: NE, JAX, DAL, GB, SEA, TB, WAS out. MIA, BAL, CAR, MIN, ARZ, ATL, PHI in.
2009 Playoffs: TEN, PIT, MIA, NYG, CAR, ATL out. NE, CIN, NYJ, NO, DAL, GB in.
So, in the last three years, out of the 36 teams that qualified for the playoffs, only seventeen made it the year before. So, regardless of my power rankings, I will stick to this model, and say that half of last years playoff teams don't make it. As for division winners, that's even more fungible than playoff teams. I say the AFC East and West and the NFC East, North and West have new winners. Anyway, here are the teams in and out.
- Texans: It's their time. I think they will be one of the top two or three offenses in the league. If they had a kicker, they were a playoff team last year.
- Raiders: Yes, the Raiders. I have to think of another one, and I think that the Bengals, Ravens, Jets and Colts are all better this year. My original pick was Pittsburgh replacing one of their two AFC North bretheren, but I just can't do it with Ben's suspension, and the fact that the Bengals and Ravens are, in my opinion, the 2nd and 4th best teams in the AFC. So, I'll assume Rivers gets hurt, and the Silver and Black win their division.
- Giants: The Eagles are out of it now with the McNabb trade. Its the Giants, Redskins and Dallas. The Redskins would work here too, but I have faith that the Giants collapse last year was an aberration.
- Bears: Cutler and Martz can make beautiful music together. Peppers is the perfect guy for that defense, and they get Urlacher back. They can nab that second wild card spot.
- 49ers: That is a weak enough division that they are now the class of it. I like where they are coming into the year. The Rams are at minimum three years away. The Seahawks are probably closer, but still have a ways to go. The Cardinals have to regress with Leinart, plus the 49ers own the Cardinals in recent years.
- Panthers: They have the best running game, and if they had a normal game manager at QB last year (see: Delhomme, 2008 version), instead of Turnocer McInterception (see: Delhomme, 2009 version), they were a playoff team last year
- Chargers: Someone has to be out.
- Vikings: Again, someone has to be out, and that division got a whole lot tougher. Favre cannot possibly have that good of a year again, and Peterson took a step back in 2009.
- Cowboys: Now that the pressure is back on, they might just fold again. I still don't trust that team because they still have trouble putting points up. In their last 12 games, they only scored more than 24 once.
- Eagles: McNabb is gone. Needs no explanation; however, if you must have one, see what happened to Green Bay in 2008.
- Cardinals: Read above, and replace "McNabb" with "Warner".
9.) The Patriots don't make the playoffs.
The Patriots. First, they only won that division by one game last year, and even then they were gone in the first round losing by nineteen at home, while the second place team got to the AFC Title Game where they led by 11 before inevitably being outclassed, and that second place team is better today than it was on the day of the Title Game. The thorn in the side of the Patriots, the Dolphins, also got better, getting a much needed possession receiver. Also, the Bears, Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, Colts and Packers all got better, and all six of those teams are on the Patriots schedule, including trips to Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Patriots also, if you take out their three biggest wins (59-0 over a dead Titans team, and two 35-7 wins over the Bucs in London and against a dead Jaguars team) outsocred their opponents 298-271 in 13 games going 7-6. They weren't even that good of a team last year. Sure, they had a nice draft, but so did almost every other AFC contender, and the Pats have Brady a year older, Moss a year older and Welker most likely out half a season. They did nothing to address their pass-rushing weakness either. Add it all up, and it will be a quiet winter in Foxboro.
10.) The Colts go further than the Saints
I'm not predicting a Super Bowl win now. I'm not even going to predict the playoff results (those things at the end of the last power rankings were more of early projections, not predictions). No, all I will say is this, that the Colts will be playing a meaningful game on a later date than the Saints. What is more interesting is that this is not some amazing prediction. There has long been talk of how there is a runner's-up curse in the NFL, where the team that lost the Super Bowl has faltered the following year. This is quite true, but since the 2004 Patriots went back-to-back, the super bowl winner has won all of one playoff game the following year (The 2005 Patriots beat Jacksonville in the Wild Card Round). The '06 Steelers, '07 Colts, '08 Giants, and '09 Steelers did not win a single game. Now, that doesn't mean those teams had bad years. Both Steeler teams missed the playoffs, but the Giants and Colts went a combined 25-7, but both lost their playoff opener at home after a bye. In that time, the runner up has twice missed the playoffs ('07 Bears, '08 Patriots), but the other two ('06 Seahawks, '09 Cardinals), not only made a playoff game, but won one each time. So, since the Pats went back-to-back, the Super Bowl winner has won one total playoff game, and the runner up has won two. That trend continues. The Colts win at least one more playoff game than the Saints do.