Since Paul The Octopus only predicts football ("futbol") matches, I'm here as his replacement to forecast the 2010 NFL season.
Every year around August, NFL pundits all over the country begin to make official predictions for the upcoming season. Sometimes forecasting the outcome of a season seems easy, and shapes up that way, like when the Patriots were the consensus pre-season favorite in 2007. But on other occasions, the field can be wide open; last season played out in that fashion.
This year looks like one of those seasons in which every team has a chance to win the Super Bowl, except the Lions. And the Rams. And the Chiefs, Browns, Bills, Bucs, Raiders and ... OK, so there’s around 10-15 teams that actually have a chance to win the Super Bowl. But still, at least there’s more parity than the NBA.
Making predictions is always difficult. Typically I am wrong. For example, I would have felt comfortable betting my life on Ohio State to beat Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. Thankfully, I never went through with this bet, so I am still here to make bad predictions today.
I’m not going to make my official predictions in this piece (that will be Part III of my NFL preview), but here’s how I see the bottom half of the NFL stacking up in 2010 (Part II will cover the top half). And I actually believe this season has the chance to be one of the most wide open in recent years. Once again, this order DOES NOT reflect how I believe the teams will finish this season, as I’m not taking schedules into account.
32. ST. LOUIS RAMS: How could the Rams not be last? They are doing their best to overtake the Lions as the most inept NFL franchise of the new millennium, and they are doing a helluva job. St. Louis has won a whopping six games over the past three years, causing many to wonder how the Rams hired Matt Millen without anyone knowing. They won three games in 2007, two games in 2008, one game in 2009 -- you see where this is going. Besides James Laurinaitis, Jason Smith and maybe Sam Bradford, you could scrap the whole team and they would probably still finish with the same record. Can these guys be relegated to the UFL or NCAA, English Premier League style? I think Alabama would have a decent shot to win the NFC West if it replaced the Rams.
31. BUFFALO BILLS: The Bills haven’t quite bottomed out in the last few years, like the Rams or the Lions. But that’s been their problem. Since they have been hovering around the 6-10 range for the past few seasons, the Bills have been unable to draft a quarterback. So basically they have been trying to beat the Patriots for the past five years with Kelley Holcomb, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards. Good luck! In an effort to drive the team into the ground (at least that seems like the only possible motive), the Bills’ front office hired a terrible coach this off-season (Chan Gailey) that was average in college and successful yet unproven in the NFL (he had moderate success with fairly loaded Cowboys teams). In the draft, Buffalo drafted a running back (C.J. Spiller), the only real position for which the team didn’t need much immediate upgrade. Does Toronto even want this team?
30. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Despite how terrible the Oakland Raiders have been since 2003, they do have one major accomplishment not named Asomugha: They exacted a measure of revenge on the Bucs for stealing Jon Gruden back in 2002. In Week 17 of the 2008 NFL season, Tampa just needed a win at home against the lowly Silver & Black to advance to the postseason. Instead, led by Michael Bush, the Raiders stormed into Tampa and dismantled the Bucs. Gruden was fired, and the Bucs have since fallen to the bottom of the league led by the esteemed Raheem Morris. Gruden was the definition of experience; Morris is practically still a teenager. Josh Freeman has shown some promise at quarterback, but it’s a long road back to the top for this franchise.
29. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Though the Lions have roared the loudest at the bottom of the league for the past ten or so years, the Browns have been nearly as equally horrific. Minus a random offensive explosion in 2007 (so much for that inseparable Anderson-to-Braylon connection), Cleveland has been absolutely terrible offensively for most of the past ten seasons. Josh Cribbs is the entire team, and he primarily plays special teams. He’s an awesome player, and Mike Holmgren knows what he is doing in the front office, but this Browns mess won’t be cleaned up for a while. At least the city has other professional sports teams that are better than the Browns. Wait, does it?
28. DENVER BRONCOS: Last year, I thought the Broncos were going to be horrific. For the first half of the season, they were not horrific by any standard, starting the year 6-0 before finally falling to the Baltimore Ravens. But the second half of the year represented everything we expected of Denver: A below average defense, semi-hapless offense, and rampant speculation about the off-season fate of Brandon Marshall. Now the Broncos are without their best player on both offense (Marshall) and defense (Elvis Dumervil) for possibly the entire season (Marshall is in Miami, and Dumervil underwent surgery earlier this month which could potentially end his season). Not even Tim Tebow can be the savior for this team.
27. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards famously proclaimed, “You play to win the game!” Although the message was pretty clear, his ex-team has blatantly failed to heed his words on the field the past three seasons. Since a wild-card round defeat to the Colts during the 2006 season, Kansas City has won only ten games in the past three years. In Todd Haley’s inaugural season, quarterback acquisition Matt Cassel failed to play to his New England standard, throwing 16 touchdowns and an equal amount of interceptions. The Chiefs have some young talent, and the team added to its Patriot roots this off-season with the hiring of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel as coordinators. But postseason aspirations are probably still a bit unrealistic for this team, even though the running game should be reestablished with Jamaal Charles this season.
26. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: While I don’t think the Seahawks are a very good team whatsoever, it would not surprise me too much to see them on top of the NFC West, the worst division in football. The Cardinals without Kurt Warner could easily finish third, and the 49ers haven’t yet proven that they are ready to contend for the postseason. However, Seattle has absolutely no star power; its running game is weak, the passing attack is barely an attack, and the defense has been in steady decline for the past few seasons. If Seattle was in a tougher division, then it could be one of the worst teams in the league. But expect Pete Carroll’s first year in the Pacific Northwest to fringe on mediocrity, and no more.
25. CHICAGO BEARS: Lovie Smith is clearly fighting for his job, and he has a tough road in 2010. The main issue with the Bears the past decade has been their lack of a wide receiver, and here we are in 2010 and Chicago still does not have a go-to pass catcher. For a Mike Martz offense to thrive, a good receiving corps is an absolute must. This season could be another debacle for Jay Cutler, and Smith will likely lose his job because of it. Defensively, the Bears added Julius Peppers this off-season and still maintain a good front seven. But the defensive backs are weak, and pass-happy teams in the NFC North will likely take advantage.
24. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Jags desperately need a winning season, perhaps more than any other franchise. Why? The team’s status in Jacksonville depends on it. The Jaguars averaged only 73.9 percent capacity for home games last season, even with one of the league’s best players in Maurice Jones-Drew. The team failed to add any more truly compelling pieces this off-season, passing on local hero Tim Tebow (which would have at least drawn interest and possibly salvation for Jaguars fans, if not victories) for relative unknown Tyson Alualu with the tenth pick in the NFL Draft. The pick could have been spent on one of a number of far more exciting players, instead of a lineman that has bust written all over him. The Jags play in a difficult division, but playoff contention is almost a necessity with lagging attendance. Failing to put a good product on the field, and thus failing to draw supporters, could force the ownership to transform the team into the “Los Angeles Leopards” sooner rather than later.
23. ARIZONA CARDINALS: After years as an NFL laughingstock, the Cardinals emerged in 2008 as an exciting, successful team, led by an efficient passing offense and solid defense. However, this off-season saw the retirement of Kurt Warner and the departure of Anquan Boldin to the Ravens. A multitude of questions surround Matt Leinart, once heralded as the Cardinals’ future before the resurgence of Warner. His arm strength was a question coming out of college, and it remains a question. Whether three Cardinals will fly to Kurt Warner's version of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a la Favre to abduct Warner and force him possibly at gunpoint to come out of retirement is still a possibility. The offense will likely revolve more around the running game and Beanie Wells this year. Wells was good last season, but it would take exceptional play to keep this offense playing on a high level. The defense also lost Karlos Dansby to the Dolphins. The Cards have unquestionably been the strongest team in the NFC West over the past two years. Warner’s retirement leaves the division wide open, and may in fact relegate the Cardinals back toward the bottom of the league.
22. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Oakland finally rid itself of JaMarcus Russell, possibly the worst top draft choice in history. In comes Jason Campbell, who will now be able to add to his résumé that he quarterbacked the two most dysfunctional franchises of his era. But in Campbell the Raiders will get an experienced, solid quarterback that dramatically upgrades the offense. The only problem (and it’s a big problem) is that Oakland probably has the worst group of receivers in the league; coupled with a very porous offensive line, Campbell could be running for his life on every play just like last season. The Raiders, however, have a pretty solid defense, a decent running game and most importantly a weak division. Eight or nine wins wouldn’t surprise me too much, even though it would be more a product of an easy schedule than a talented roster.
21. DETROIT LIONS: The Lions? At No. 21? How the hell is that possible? That’s probably what you are thinking/yelling right now, but I actually have Motown’s finest placed exactly where I want them. I think the Lions have a chance to surprise some people this year. Detroit’s brass has done an excellent job of rebuilding since 2008’s 0-16 debacle, specifically this offseason by adding at least five new starters. I think the first four weeks will set the tone for these Lions, as they face a brutal opening stretch (@Chicago, vs. Eagles, @Vikings, @Packers; that’s all three road divisional games within the first four weeks). If somehow they can head into Week 5 at 2-2, then Matthew Stafford’s progress and enhanced arsenal could allow this team to contend for the postseason, at least for a little while. The only issue for Detroit this season (well, not the only issue, as the Lions have an absolutely horrific secondary) is their ridiculously difficult schedule (tough division, plus games against the two toughest divisions in football, the AFC East and NFC East). I think the Lions are a lot better, but I’m not sure their record will show it this season.
20. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Are the Panthers good? Are they terrible? No one really knows, and I don’t think it would surprise too many people if they were very good or very bad this season. For Carolina, 2010 hinges primarily on the arm of Matt Moore, who presumably is the team’s quarterback until the golden boy Jimmy Clausen is ready to take over. (Hey, what ever happened to those four national championships that Notre Dame was supposed to win?). The Panthers have a semi-revamped defense, which probably is bad news considering the NFC’s premier offensive powerhouse (New Orleans) resides in Carolina’s division. But this team played well toward the end of last season, so we’ll see how far momentum can take them. And on the bright side, no more Jake Delhomme interception-fests.
19. TENNESSEE TITANS: Is it possible to compete in the NFL without a passing game? The Titans are doing their best to prove the point one way or another. Chris Johnson quite simply is the league’s most dynamic player, but even his Herculean efforts only carried Tennessee to an 8-8 record last season. Tennessee’s passing game ranked 23rd in the league last year, but here’s a stat that tops them all: In a 59-0 loss to the Patriots last season, the Titans passed for -7 yards. Yes, that is possible. Tom Brady had six touchdowns that game for the Pats, meaning that he technically passed for 13 more touchdowns than the Titans passed for yards in that game. Of course Vince Young took over as starter and revitalized the Titans after that point, and he did a great job leading this team. But they still don’t really have a prolific passing offense by any means, especially with a pretty bad receiving corps.
18. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The 49ers as a semi-sleeper team expected to finally break out this season.I think I’ve heard that story more than a few times. Most so-called experts are picking San Francisco to win a weak NFC West this season, and I think I agree. But I came to this conclusion through process of elimination, not because of San Francisco’s merits. I’m still not sold on the 49ers, as they have a major question at quarterback. How can you possibly be the consensus favorite to win a division when there are serious questions about the indisputable most important position on the field? (Answer: The division is the NFC West). The Niners have a good defense, and I really like Mike Singletary as coach. They have weapons on offense (Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to name the biggest three), and if Alex Smith can put it together, this could be a dangerous team. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the 49ers garnered double-digit wins in 2009, partly because of this team’s talent but mostly because of the NFC West.
17. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: I actually think the Redskins have a chance to be a very good team this season, but I have a few concerns with Washington. Can Clinton Portis stay healthy? He hasn’t proven that he can, and I’m not comfortable with Larry Johnson. Will the offensive line hold up? Last year it was ravaged by injuries, and the inexperience of Trent Williams will surely be costly at some point, even though he should be a good player eventually. Does Donovan McNabb have enough weapons? We really won’t know until we see Devin Thomas play this year; his production could be key to the Redskins’ season offensively. Although Washington’s 2009 season was a debacle, the defense was a very bright spot, ranking as one of the NFL’s best. It should be even better in 2010, but the biggest question (literally and figuratively) that Washington faces this season could put a stop to that: Albert Haynesworth. The big $100 million man is a ticking time bomb, and unfortunately I’m not sure that even Mike Shanahan has the Jack Bauer capabilities required to stop it from exploding. The Redskins are talented, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they made a playoff run. But for now I have a few too many concerns to place them any higher on this list.
Stay tuned for Part II of Stanley’s NFL Preview, where he will count down the top half of the league. Following that will be his official predictions for the 2010 season. Post your take on his rankings below!
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Stanley writes a Detroit Lions blog for NFL.com's Blog Blitz powered by SportsFanLive.com.