Thursday, September 30, 2010

NFL Week 3-4

 Week 3 thoughts

searching for answers in the Big Apple
 New York football Giants are in need of a change...Head Coach Tom Coughlin appears to have lost this team...the strategy - the execution - the discipline have all been horrible...a new home stadium, plus a great young core of WR's for Eli Manning to throw to, should make the Giants a desirable destination for someone else to take over for Coughlin

Wade Phillips post-game speech to his players further outlined how no one pays any attention to him, and again I say the 'Boys will fall well short of expectations in 2010 despite a stacked roster

KC and Chi Town are 3-0...if you are a regular reader of my blog then you knew both of these were coming...Da Bears have Lovie Smith rejuvenating the D, and Mike Martz giving the O a much needed face lift...KC gets to play in the AFC West vs the other AFC West teams (terrible teams) and in 2010 they also play the NFC West (lucky bastards..NFC West is also brutal)

Don't look now but the New Orleans Saints are the worst running team in the NFL (?)

Bills release QB Trent Edwards...you already know I think Edwards is about as bad as it gets...to replace him though with Ryan Fitzpatrick is very underwhelming...Fitzpatrick had a good debut, but it was vs a terrible Pats D...Fitzpatrick is no saviour...he is not even a legit NFL QB

Polamalu and Smith
 Pittsburgh 3-0!!!  Wow...I did not see that coming, but with the return to health of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith the D has me believing again that the Steel Curtain is back in effect as a game-winning unit

Does your team need an upgrade at Defensive Coordinator?!?! Current Carolina Head Coach John Fox will be fired at any point now...brutal Head Coach, but great Defensive Coordinator

Breathe easy Jets fans...the panic was evident after week one, but week two and week three brought victories over Division rivals New England and Miami which puts the Jets in first place

Norv Turner continues to be the AFC version of Wade Phillips...Turner too has a ton of talent to win with, but he too is a glorified Coordinator playing the role of a Head Coach on TV

side note - A quick look at the RB's in the NFL currently...Where is Ray Rice? Where is Shonn Greene? Where is Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown? Where is DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart?  Where is Cedric Benson?  Where is Felix Jones/Marion Barber/Tashard Choice?!?!?  Where is Maurice Jones-Drew?  Where is Pierre Thomas?  Where is Brandon Jacobs?  Where is Clinton Portis?...all of the above have had s l o w starts to 2010...meanwhile Arian Foster, Darren McFadden, LeSean McCoy, and Rashard Mendenhall are all off to terrific starts...heck let's acknowledge Peyton Hillis from Cleveland and his 144 rushing yards in Week 3

Week 4 thoughts

NY Jets @ Buffalo...the sky was falling in Gotham after Week 1...since then QB Mark Sanchez has beat New England (3 TD...0 INT) and Miami (3 TD...0 INT) putting the Jets atop the AFC East...Week 4 is a chance to get a three-peat vs AFC East foes as they tangle with Toronto's own Buffalo Bills
Detroit @ Green Bay...the Lions try to snap a 22 game road losing streak (yikes)
Houston @ Oakland...either the Texans go to 3-1 or Jokeland goes to 2-2...either way the winning team is ahead of most 2010 projections

2009 teammates Vick and McNabb
Washington @ Philly...amazing story lines everywhere you look in this one...the return of QB Donovan McNabb to the City of Brotherly Love is certainly chief among them...but also the first decent (at best) challenge for Eagles QB Michael Vick (his first 2 wins came against the Jags and the Lions...everybody beats the Jags and the Lions)...first NFC East road game for Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan...sadly we know that Phat Albert Haynesworth will somehow creep into the storyline too :(
New England @ Miami...this looks like a 38-35 game to me...Pats D is bad...Dolphins D struggles to apply consistent pressure on opposing QB's...Tom Terrific and Chad Henne (both former Michigan Wolverines) should each be able to get up-and-down the field on Monday Night...to me the predictable end is Tom Brady taking his helmet off as he jogs off the field triumphantly, shaking out his increasingly growing locks, the ladies swoon, and the Pats go to 3-1...the alternate ending is a Miami victory which would put them at 3-1, and the Pats at 2-2...do we see Miami as a 3-1 team?  Doubt it...do we see the Pats as a 2-2 team?  Doubt it...
send me an email with your thoughts folks...keep em coming... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Thursday, September 23, 2010

NFL Week 2 - Week 3

The only place to start is the bizarro-world start to the records in the NFL...KC, Miami, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Houston, Pittsburgh are all 2-0...Dallas and Minny are both 0-2...odd

The best 2-0 team in my opinion is Houston...great teams win games they shouldn't and we may have seen that in week 2 at Washington...that coupled with their impressive home route of Indy have me watching them...

Lucky 2-0 teams KC and Miami...the Chiefs have used other ways to score other than just offense which is of course a top recipe for success, but we still see a lot if work required on offense...A poor offense is also why I say the Dolphins are fortunate to be 2-0...the D for Miami has been very good...big future for 2nd year CB's Vontae Davis and Sean Smith...

Dallas coach Wade Phillips' days at the helm have to be numbered...talent at every position but no leadership...

ATL may be the NFC version of the Patriots in that if you are on the road vs the Falcons you had better bring your A+ offense...

Bills rookie C.J. Spiller has 9 yards on 8 carries in his brief NFL career...likely more was expected of him, especially when you consider he was the opening day starter

The Patriots trade RB Laurence Maroney, and now lose RB Kevin Faulk for the season with a torn ACL...that leaves Fraud Taylor, sorry Fred Taylor, with his wonky toe, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the RB's going forward for the Pats

even Ragnar the Viking is concerned
 The Minny offense struggled for the 2nd straight week...for me no WR Sidney Rice should mean a heavier dose of RB All Day Adrian Peterson and TE Visanthe Shiancoe..All Day was good against Miami, but he has only 1 TD to open the season...he had 18 a year ago, and 4 after week 2, but his only TD in 2010 came courtesy of a gift from fellow RB Ricky Williams as Ricky fumbled at his own 1 yard line to set up the Vikings with first and goal from the Miami 1 (yikes)

 Pittsburgh's D has them at 2-0...the only TD the O has scored was Rashard Mendenhall's 50 yard scamper in OT to win week 1...I really thought this team was in trouble and had to have the D be amazing to win games...to their credit they have been amazing...the return of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith have this unit looking TOUGH

Going Forward...Week 3 thoughts

All Day and Shiancoe get 2 TD's each in Minny's first W

It took all of one week for Andy Reid to change his mind at insert Michael Vick over Kevin Kolb as the Eagles QB

The ATL at NWO is a huge game for me...I feel the winner of the NFC South will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLV

Tennessee at New York football Giants...one of these 2 teams will be a very disappointing 1-2 after this game...after getting pulled for poor play in week 2 QB Vince Young is back as starter...since Young took the starting job back mid-2009 the Titans are 9-3

Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris

Either Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay will be 3-0 after this week...Head Coaches Mike Tomlin (Pitt) and Raheem Morris (TB) have their teams on very positive paths currently

Wade Phillips is not and NFL Head Coach

The Battle Of Texas goes in Houston where the Texans host the Cowboys...I like Houston to win this game and put Wade Phillips on the Hot Seat big time in Big D

Sunday Night game is Jets at Miami...the criticism has been there for Jets QB Mark Sanchez, but he has a 3 TD game under his belt...Dolphins QB Chad Henne has not received similar criticism, and has been under the radar as far as a guy who is not leading a potent offense, and he himself has played decent at best...the running game gets the decent at best review too...WR Brandon Marshall has shown that he is a guy who makes all the catches (deep ball...intermediate routes vs CB's and Safeties...short catches in traffic against CB's and LB's...he is the complete package, but more is needed from all 11 players on O in South Florida...if the Jets can get a Division road win that would be huge, and at 2-1 and in first place in the Division all would be right in Gotham again

Monday Night Game is Green Bay at ChiTown...For me all Green Bay analysis begins and ends with their ability, or usually non-ability, to keep QB Aaron Rodgers upright...this guy was sacked 50 times in 2009...3 times in week 1, but Buffalo did not get to Rodgers at all in week 2...Julius Peppers may have 3 on his own...


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

1987...George Bell

My name is Craig Ballard, and I am a Jays fan

No this is not another AA meeting (Alex Anthopolous) but rather a look at a piece of Jays history...

1987 debut
For many Jays fans thoughts of 1987 start and end with the collapse of the team down the stretch that cost them the AL East Title (back in the day when there were 2 Divisions in the AL and 2 in the NL and you made the playoffs by winning your 7-team Division - period - there was no Wild-Card...1987 had the Iran-Contra affair...debut of the Simpsons on the Tracy Ullman Show...debut of the Loonie...the birth of Kristin Cavallari...but the idea of 3 Divisions, or the Wild-Card, were years away)...

The '87 Blue Jays were managed by the soon-to-be maligned Jimy Williams...the beginning of his end came in the summer leading into the 1988 season when he wanted reigning AL MVP George Bell to DH instead of playing Left Field like Bell insisted...but 1987 had everyone still pulling for Jimy...heck it was a 96 win team...the issue was those 96 wins were in the books after 155 games were played...those 96 wins had the Jays ahead of the Detroit Tigers by 3.5 games with 7 left to play...alas those 96 wins would be all the Jays would muster as they collapsed to the tune of 7 straight loses to end the 162 game season in 2nd place by 2 games

But...if you are like my Grandpa, my cousin David, or yours truly then 1987 has other, much happier memories...courtesy of Jorge (George) Antonio Bell Mathey ...Let's remember that Bell averaged 31 HR's and 104 RBI's during a 5 year span from '84 through '88 in the powder blue Toronto uni...all that while enduring Fergie Oliver and his sure-to-be stupid question to you in the dugout (side note - Good Lord do we all remember Fergie Oliver?!?!  Not Just Like Mom Fergie Oliver, but worse, in-the-dugout reporter Fergie Oliver!!!  A complete sideshow in itself...this guy would create such bazaar questions with horrible timing and it got old fast with the players)

Now when the 2010 MLB season concludes in a few short weeks for YOUR TORONTO BLUE JAYS we will certainly take a look at the amazing season put together by Jose Bautista...a season that has him as the Jays new single-season HR leader...he passed George Bell's Blue Jays record of 47, hit in 1987...

Here are Bell's #'s from 1987 - .308 batting average...111 runs scored...47 HR's...134 RBI's...AL All-Star (side note - Bell put up this historic season at $1.175 million...imagine what these #'s would pay these days?!?!)

We remember an RBI machine in 1987...if George came to the plate with runner(s) on base they were about to be coming home...369 total bases for Bell...188 hits...this all added up to the Blue Jays only MVP award in their 33+ year history...

There was a game in late April where Bell hit just his 2nd HR of the season, it was a 10th inning game winner at Chicago against Bob James...just 5 RBI's at this point too, and this is after 16 games...2 days later he hits 2 HR's in a Jimmy Key 5-2 victory...another the next day off Frank Viola...by the time May ended Bell was up to 15 HR's and 39 RBI's and it was on...a 12 HR, 30 RBI June cemented Bell on the scene as one of the premier hitters in MLB...July saw Bell start in the All Star Game, but hit just 3 HR's for the month...he was back at it though in August with 11 more before finishing with 47...

The pride of San Pedro de MacorĂ­s (Dominican Republic) was one of my fav Jays ever and 1987 was a historic season for #11


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Week 1 thoughts...Week 2 thoughts...

What was confirmed in week one...

Much like past teams, the 2010 Jets, Ravens, and Steelers will still put their ticks in the WIN column by leaning on a stifling defensive attack...

With the loss of long time coaches Tom Moore and Howard Mudd the Colts will need some time to adjust, and as a result their streak of 7 straight 12+ win seasons is surely in jeopardy...

Kansas City is back on the map as a tough tough place to play...

If you are playing the Patriots in Foxbourough you had better bring your A+ offense - your 30+ points with no turnovers kind of offence...Wes Welker missed several games in 2009 and still led the League in catches...Randy Moss is in a contract year so we know he is focused and motivated...Tom Terrific has never thrown a regular season INT in the Red Zone at home in his career...when he gets near the end zone he racks up points, especially at home...

In order for Arizona to win a 3rd straight NFC West Title we know that WR Larry Fitzgerald will have to be huge...he gets the game winning TD in week one which counts as a great start...he is just starting to develop a chemistry with new QB Derek Anderson

Tennessee is on a 9-2 run since giving the starting QB job back to Vince Young

What was interesting in week one...

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster picked up on the momentum he had when he got a lot of carries in the last 2 games of 2009...he starts 2010 with an amazing 231 yards with 3 TD's to beat the Colts      

Giants QB Eli Manning and WR Hakeem Nicks continued to develop their chemistry to the tune of 3 TD's

11 games finished with the final margin of victory at 7 points or less - most ever in the NFL

The Broncos trade for Patriots RB Laurence Maroney...what about #1 round draft pick from 2009 Knowshon Moreno?  And how do the Pats figure they have any talent/depth at that position to trade any RB?!?!

New York Jets lose DT and anchor Kris Jenkins for the year

Green Bay loses RB Ryan Grant for the year

Philly likely loses QB Kevin Kolb for a bit with a concussion

What will have to improve from week one...

  • Falcons RB Michael Turner 42 yards
  • Jets convert just 1 Third Down
  • Bills RB C.J. Spiller 7 carries for 6 yards
  • Packer QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked 3 times...he was dropped 50 times last season and this is a major area of concern that needs improvement for the Pack
  • the wording of the NFL rule that defines what a catch is needs to be adjusted to take out the words End Zone...did anyone see the Calvin Johnson End Zone catch vs Da Bears at the end of the game and not think that was a TD?!?!  I have been all over this rule for a while now and this was a great example of why the rule needs tweaking...if a ball carrier breaks the plane the play is over in that instant and it is a TD, but a player trying to make a catch in the End Zone has to do a lot more to have it be an official TD

Week 2

New England at New York Jets
A HUGE game...with all the press that the J-E-T-S JETSJETSJETS got this summer it would be a disaster to lose this game...that would put the Pats at 2-0 (1-0 in the Division and 2-0 in the AFC) and the Jets at 0-2 (0-1 in the Division and 0-2 in the AFC) which would put the Jets behind the 8-ball as far as tie-breaking scenarios go...not to mention a loss would put the Jets at 0-2 in their new home stadium...

Baltimore at Cincinnati
Cincy went 6-0 in the Division last year, and have won the last 4 games vs Baltimore in Cincy with Carson Palmer at the helm...The Ravens D looked great in week 1, but this is a different offence and the home debut for Batman and Robin (Ochocinco and Owens)...WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh makes his return to Cincinnati, this time as a Raven

Buffalo at Green Bay
I am looking at the RB's here...for Buffalo the debut of C.J. Spiller was horrible as they were unable to get him the ball in open space which would allow his speed and athleticism to dominate...for GB Brandon Jackson is the man now with the injury to Grant

Pittsburgh at Tennessee
Titans RB Chris Johnson's streak of 12 straight 100+ yard games could be in jeopardy...We know the Steelers O will struggle sans Big Ben, but the D is great and this is a classic strength vs strength

St Louis at Oakland
I mention this game because either Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford will get his first win, or new Raiders QB Jason Campbell will get his first Raiders win...for these 2 teams and their fans there is normally not a lot to get excited about, but someone will likely win this game (could I have just jinxed this?!?!  are we destined for a 3-3 tie now?!?!)

Hotlanta, Cincy, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Minny, Carolina, Denver, Oakland, San Diego, INDY, SF...all these teams lost week 1, but have their home openers in week 2 and will try to get back on track...


Friday, September 10, 2010

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers
For the first time in years the 'Niners return the same trio at Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, and Defensive Coordinator...that sort of consistency is coming at a perfect time as the recent kings of this Division, Arizona, have numerous changes and have lost several key players meaning the NFC West is wiiiide open...

The O struggled again in 2009, but there is room for optimism...QB Alex Smith is in a contract year and he needs a breakout season badly...in an attempt to help kick-start his season the 49ers have Smith as one of their Captains...fellow Captain TE Vernon Davis called out WR Michael Crabtree a few days ago and these Captains are trying to help Head Coach Mike Singletary establish a particular culture of hard hard hard work in the belief that is the way to improve and get results...the team insists that the spat between Davis and Crabtree is in the past, and if it is then it looks like message delivered and received...one surprise in Training Camp was the abrupt retirement of 2nd year RB Glen Coffee...that became a positive though as he was replaced by veteran RB Brian Westbrook...the 'Niners have talented RB Frank Gore, but Gore has missed multiple games for years in a row due to a wonky ankle so to have a veteran like Westbrook to pick up that slack is huge
A BEAST coaching a BEAST

The D is already a great unit...Top 5 as far as fewest points allowed...LB Patrick Willis is a-m-a-z-i-n-g and it likely helps that his Head Coach (Mike Singletary) is one of the greatest to ever play the position...there is a lot of talent on D but Willis is really on a different level

PREDICTION...this team gets to 9 wins in 2010 and that will be enough to win the NFC West Division

Arizona Cardinals
Plain and simple - if Derek Anderson is your starting QB (hey good luck with that) then the terrible running game from 2009 has to improve in leaps and bounds...Beanie Wells would likely be the starter, but he is banged up so the carries early on will go to Tim Hightower...the O-Line is decent

Larry does not have much help anymore
WR Larry Fitzgerald says he is rested and ready to go, although he too is banged up...that leaves Steve Breaston and Early Doucet to pick up the slack left by Fitzgerald not being 100%, plus of course the massive hole left by Anquan Boldin being traded to Baltimore

On D the '09 Cards sacked a lot of QB's, and it was really spread out with many players getting in on the fun...the 2010 draft was D heavy for 'Zona...Camp did not show that it was a particularly good draft...DT Dan Williams will play some, but none of the rookies have earned starting roles...there are 5 new starters including LB Joey Porter who is currently banged up

PREDICTION...8-8...the 2010 Arizona Cardinals will take the biggest step back in the NFL this year...from 2-time defending AFC West Champs to no play-off birth in 2010

St Louis Rams
#1 overall pick in 2010 QB Sam Bradford
#1 overall 2010 draft pick QB Sam Bradford earned the starting job in Camp...he has a tough job ahead of him...an O-Line that is bad...his best WR Donnie Avery is out with injury...his WR's are guys like Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson , Laurent Robinson, and rookie Mardy Gilyard... a whole lot of yikes there...a few days ago they did trade for WR Mark Clayton who became expendable in Baltimore when the Ravens inked T.J. Houshmandzadeh...the running game does have the consistently good Stephen Jackson, but even Jackson only had 4 TD's last season - a # that has to triple in 2010...rookie O-Lineman Roger Saffold joins Bradford as rookies who will start in the Gateway to the West this season...

For you to only win 1 game in a season A LOT has to be bad...the O was bad, the D was pretty much as bad...too many area of improvement to mention...if you can think of it - the Rams need to improve it...the good news is 2nd year Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo learned from the great Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson (R.I.P) for years before being the D-Coordinator for the NY Giants during their 2008 Super Bowl season so if there is a man for the job of rebuilding this D to respectability it is Spagnuolo

PREDICTION...a rise from 1 win in 2009 to 4 in 2010

Seattle Seahawks
Qwest Field is one of the great facilities that offers amazing Home Crowd atmosphere in the League...they dub the stadium/fans the 12th man as they are so loud and into the game...opposing teams get flagged for False Starts at Qwest Field more than anywhere else...the fans had a 5-11 team to cheer for in 2009...enter new Head Coach Pete Carroll...I am a believer that this guy is an absolute joke as an NFL Head Coach...he did show that he could run a College program though as his days at USC were good...of course now some of that is certainly tarnished by his, and others, violations that have led the USC Football program (amongst several USC sports programs that got hit with penalties due to NCAA violations) to be banned from post-season play for 2 years - lose 30 scholarships over the next few years - be on probation for 4 years...all that had Carroll running away from that situation as fast as possible...

The Carroll era did get off to a great start as the team had 2 draft picks in the first 14 picks of the 2010 draft...#6 overall pick OT Russell Okung is currently hurt and his return date is unknown...#14 FS Earl Thomas will start alongside veteran Lawyer Milloy in the Secondary...rookies Walter Thurmond (CB) Kam Chancellor (S) and E.J. Wilson (DE) also made the team and will get playing time on D too...the D was one of the worst in the NFL in 2009 so plenty of room for improvement

QB of the future Charlie Whitehurst
On O QB Matt Hasselbeck is the starter, but QB Charlie Whitehurst was acquired from San Diego in the off-season and will likely get a shot to be the guy going forward at some point...Matt had just 17 TD's to go with 17 INT's last season...very underwelming #'s...the O should get a boost though as the running game is good with young Justin Forsett to pair with veteran Julius Jones...rookie WR Golden Tate will start for the 'Hawks...the other starter will be Deion Branch, but it is WR Mike Williams (formerly with Carroll at USC) who is the wild card here...Williams was one of the zillions of WR's that then Detroit GM Matt Millen used high draft picks to take during his horrible stint as Lions GM...Williams was out of the League in 2008 and 2009, but word is that he looks great and ready to show that he can play at this level...all of these guys will benefit from the play of Russell Okung when he is able to return from injury...

PREDICTION...when you look on their schedule who can they beat?!?!  I think a 4 win season is the upside in Seattle

check out the other Division previews too... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings
The bad news is obvious when it comes to the impending work stoppage coming in 2011...the good news is it will mean no Brett Favre saga next summer :)

gunslinger Brett Favre
Favre returns again to suit up for what will surely to gracious be his final season...that constitutes as just about the only good news on O...RB Adrian Peterson is an out-of-this-world talent, but his fumble-itis is crazy bad...especially with 2009 #2 RB Chester Taylor gone to the rival Bears...this means more emphasis on Peterson as the every-down back...the Vikes only have Albert Young and his 15 career carries to back up the awesome, but fumble-prone, Peterson...WR's Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, and Sidney Rice all need a return to health asap...we know that Rice (who is a stud-in-the-making WR) will miss at least 6 weeks...TE Visanthe Shiancoe will be a key for Favre in 2010, especially early on

The D has Ray Edwards (awesome), Pat Williams (awesome), Kevin Williams (awesome), and Jared Allen (awesome) on their Front 4...these guys sack QB's as good as any team, and shut down the oppositions run game as good as anyone

PREDICTION...10-6...2010 is the year that the Packers fans get their revenge on Favre and pass him in the standings...

Chicago Bears
QB Cutler with Coach Martz
Da Bears interest me this season...mainly to see the development of the offence with the pairing of QB Jay Cutler with new Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz...Cutler and Martz both were relevant in the League at one point in their careers...lately neither has been...throw Lovie Smith into that mix too as he could very well be on the hotseat in Chitown...

That being said I still think the key for Da Bears is a return to the rookie 2008 form for RB Matt Forte...all of his #'s took big dips in 2009...between Forte and new Bear RB Chester Taylor there must be production for Cutler to have a better chance to improve on his 26 INT's (yikes) from 2009...starting WR's Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, plus Devin Aromashodu off the bench, give the O speedy weapons who can be dangerous after the catch...Earl Bennett is out with injury currently, but should be back soon

The D adds Julius Peppers and he is sure to get more than the 6.5 sacks Adewale Ogunleye led the team with in 2009...it is not all good news on D though...rookie S Major Wright and veteran LB Lance Briggs are both out right now, but are both hoping to return soon (best case scenario is week 1 vs Detroit)

PREDICTION...this is a very under-the-radar team with Minny and Green Bay getting the pub in this Division...the early injuries don't help...8-8 with a 9-7 upside

Detroit Lions
QB Matthew Stafford...RB Javid Best...DT Ndamukong Suh...in the past 2 years the Lions have added talent like this to this roster...all 3 have me very excited...Suh especially...

6'5'' WR Calvin Johnson
That being said I still think the key to the O are 2 guys that are already there...RB Kevin Jones has a chance to form a nice 1-2 punch with Best...but it is WR Calvin Johnson that has the most talent here...it has been toooo easy to double-team Johnson because the Lions have no other threat on O...free agent signing WR Nate Burleson should help

On D the Lions were horrid in 2009...well actually horrid for some time now...Suh helps, but newcomers like DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Corey Williams, CB Jonathan Wade (hurt currently), and CB Chris Houston will all start and have a chance to improve the unit immediately

Week 5 Detroit hosts the St Louis Rams in what should be #1 overall from 2009 QB Matt Stafford vs #1 overall from 2010 QB Sam Bradford...that could be a lot of fun

PREDICTION...this team has won 2 games total in the last 2 seasons...I will be generous and double that # this season...4-12

Green Bay Packers
The Pack won 11 games in 2009, and I think they have a chance to get even better in 2010...

O-Line must do a better job at keeping QB Rogers upright
QB Aaron Rogers put up video game #'s in 2009...he did however get sacked an amazingly bad 50 times...clearly that has to improve, and if it does that will allow Rogers to add to his already impressive #'s...I actually think he will be Offensive Player Of The Year, and if he can get GB to 12 wins he will get MVP consideration too...he has talent to throw to in WR's Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, plus up-and-coming TE Jermichael Finley...all that plus the running game appears to be in good hands with Ryan Grant

Would it surprise you to see that the Packers were the #2 D in the NFL last season...amazing vs the rush...amazing vs the pass...amazing 30 INT's (wow wow wow)...so really the strategy for 2010 is keep on keepin' on...the Pack do have several players banged up on D currently as we are set to open week one

PREDICTION...I like a repeat of the 11-5 2009...if it weren't for the early injuries I would surely have this team at 12 wins...when this team gets healthy we will be looking at a Super Bowl contender in my opinion

check out the other Division previews too... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Tashard Choice...Marion Barber...Felix Jones
How 'bout them Cowboys?!?! There is a lot of expectation about the 2010 Cowboys season...Super Bowl XLV will be held at Cowboys Stadium...fans in Dallas think their team can represent the NFC in that very Super Bowl...the offense adds rookie Dez Bryant to go with Roy Williams (Roy is a guy who really needs to have a strong 2010) and Tony Romo BFF Jason Witten...last year was the coming out party for WR Miles Austen...all that plus the 'Boys are l-o-a-d-e-d in the backfield...Marian The Barbarian is very good...Felix Jones is Ray Rice-level good...heck third stringer Tashard Choice is a 5+ yard per carry guy too...ultimately this unit will lead this team as far as the Cowboys will go, and this unit will only go as far as the O-Line takes them...there is a ton of talent at the skill positions

The D is in the Top 10 as far as generating pressure on the QB...Head Coach Wade Phillips leaves the O to Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett, but he has his fingerprints all over what they do on D...very aggressive 3-4

PREDICTION...the Cowboys are an 11 win team

New York Giants
The New York football Giants won a Super Bowl on the strength of a highly productive running game, mixed with a D that featured a heavy pass-rush...2009 saw none of that...

new starting RB Ahmad Bradshaw
The O needs a return to a 5+ yards per carry average from RB Brandon Jacobs...his 3.7 with just 5 TD's in '09 is not going to cut it...Ahmad Bradshaw battled injuries and needs a return to health...in an attempt to kick-start a better running attack for 2010 Head Coach Tom Coughlin has named Ahmad Bradshaw as the starter ahead of Jacobs...word is that Jacobs is pissed

QB Eli Manning still put up big #'s last season, but only enough to help to an 8-8 record...in the mediocrity that is 8-8 the team did discover new talent at WR...Steve Smith set team records...Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks showed that they can be counted on the be in the mix...

On Defense I am watching rookie DE Jason Pierre-Paul...this rookie has upside as a pass-rusher in my opinion, but he will come off the bench early on...the truth is it is more the likes of Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Osi Umenyiora that will need to revitalize the pass rush...a repeat of 2009's 32 sacks is sure to be not good enough to be a factor in this tough Division

PREDICTION...9-7 is the best case scenario for this team...I predict Tom Coughlin will not be the coach of this team in 2011+

Philadelphia Eagles
Head Coach Andy Reid watches QB Kevin Kolb
For a loooong time the Eagles were going to go as far as QB Donovan McNabb and RB Brian Westbrook would take them...neither is there as we enter the 2010 season...in is QB Kevin Kolb who had mixed reviews for his 2009 performance...he actually set records in his first 2 starts, but there were struggles too...I think it is entirely possible that Andy Reid and company have mis-evaluated their QB situation and it could end up with the type of team, and the type of record, that could cost Big Andy his job...Reid's off-season moves mean that this team has 12 rookies on the opening day roster, and 5 new players from other teams...a HUGE overhaul for a team that won 11 games in 2009

QB controversy aside, there is a ton of young up-and-coming talent on this O...2nd year RB LeSean McCoy replaces Westbrook, and this kid has upside...WR DeSean Jackson is the next amazing WR that people will soon have in the same breath as Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald etc...last season was a coming out party for TE Brent Celek who looks like he is a great target for Kolb going forward

I mentioned earlier the amount of rookies on this 2010 squad...the Eagles drafted HEAVY on D and it paid off...DE Brandon Graham and S Nate Allen have already earned starting jobs, and Ricky Sapp should be a factor for years to come too when he is able to return from recent knee surgery

PREDICTION...losing McNabb and Westbrook seems to me like it will really hurt this teams play-off chances...we see a TON of young talent on this roster, but that may be good news for 2011+ and not so much in 2010...7-9...with a break here or there 8-8

Washington Redskins
If your owner is Dan Snyder then you are certainly no stranger to controversy...the 2010 'Skins are no different...big-moves-a-plenty in the Nation's Capital...new Head Coach Mike Shanahan has a new fav player in QB Donovan McNabb, plus a new headache in Phat Albert Haynesworth...the Haynesworth story is really sad as here is a guy who knew the team was going to go to a new 3-4 D scheme so he was told he would be released or traded so he could play elsewhere in a system that he prefers...only catch was do not cash the $21 million chq from the 'Skins for April 1/10...he of course did cash that which made him a Redskins player going forward...now at that point the writing was on the wall as to the fact that Albert would be the Nose Tackle in the 3-4...to now have Haynesworth carrying on the way he is, and to have him expose himself as the selfish teammate that he is is super disappointing...newcomer DT Maake Kemoeatu is thrilled with the baby act of Haynesworth as it means that he has passed Haynesworth on the depth chart and it is now Kemoeatu who will start...good news is McNabb is sure to be a great addition, and model teammate...and good news for McNabb (who is currently nursing an ankle injury) is that #1 draft pick Trent Williams will start at Left Tackle and protect his blindside

The RB spot is a 2005 NFL who's who...Clinton Portis is joined by Larry Johnson, and the team just released Fast Willie Parker...an aging McNabb surely needs a huge contribution from the running game in 2010...WR's Santana Moss and Joey Galloway have speed and experience, while TE's Chris Cooley and Fred Davis are great pass catchers too...a lot of experience on this side of the ball for Shanahan to work with

The D will be interesting...we already talked about Haynesworth, but this is another team switching rom the 4-3 base D to the 3-4 base D...interestingly enough the 'Skins were a Top 10 D in 2009, but some time to adjust to the new packages/schemes/strategies will be needed

PREDICTION...I want to say 7-9, but with McNabb not starting the season at 100% I am going to go with 6-10

check out the other Division previews too... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Thursday, September 9, 2010

AFC West

San Diego Chargers
rookie stud-in-the-making Ryan Matthews
I don't see a bigger sure thing as far as Division winners go in the entire NFL than the SuperChargers...now I am no fan of Head Coach Norv Turner, but the talent in San Diego is top notch...the team loses the face of the franchise in LaDainian Tomlinson, but Chargers fans are about to have a new fav in rookie RB Ryan Matthews...real deal talent...real deal upside...Matthews will start as a rookie, and to have a back-up RB like Darren Sproles as Plan B is pretty good

The passing game was Top 5 in 2009, but they lose Vincent Jackson (Jackson is a hold-out who is looking like he will be traded or sit out 2010) and his back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons...that leaves 6'2'' Legedu Naanee and 6'5'' Malcolm Floyd as the starters, with 6'1'' Buster Davis and newly acquired 6 foot Patrick Crayton...a lot of size and talent there, but losing Jackson will hurt as he was awesome last season...one thing remains constant which is TE Antonio Gates who continues to be a Top 3 TE

The 2009 D had injuries, but was still pretty good...a return to health for studs like Shawne Merriman should of course provide quite the boost...a lot of talent at LB for this 3-4 D...in the Secondary Antoine Cason replaces the traded Antonio Cromartie...this Secondary does not create enough turnovers in my opinion

PREDICTION...the Chargers are the best team in the AFC that will never win a Super Bowl as they have a bad Head Coach (Dallas is the NFC equivalent with Wade Phillips)...a weak Division will help this team get to 11 wins

Oakland Raiders
Jokeland is still run by Skeletor aka Al Davis and he continues to be the #1 thing wrong with the franchise...Tom Cable is likely the worst Head Coach in the NFL, and he would not be in charge of the on-field product in any other NFL city, but when your meddling owner is the joke that Davis is no legit NFL coaches will entertain the career-suicide move of going to Jokeland...

QB Jason Campbell will try to revive his career
Hard to have a more futile offense than the Raiders had in 2009, but gone is the brutal QB JaMarcus Russell...in is under-achiever Jason Campbell...I think the jury may still be out on Campbell...his time in Washington was very underwhelming, but he seems to have the talent to be an NFL QB and sometimes a change of scenery is the cure for what ails you...

The running game is in need of major improvements...will this team get Michael Bush back from injury any time soon? Will RUN DMC aka Darren McFadden be able to reach his potential?

The passing game needs WR Darrius Heyward-Bey to greatly improve from his rookie season of '09...he started 11 games, but only had 9 catches and 1 TD...other targets for Campbell are TE Zach Miller - WR Johnnie Lee Higgins - WR Louis Murphy - rookie WR Jacoby Ford...very young, but not a lot of talent there

On D the team added a stud-in-the-making with the #8 overall pick LB Rolando McClain...he will get plenty of playing time and could be a beast for this franchise for years to come...in the Secondary Nnamdi Asomugha is a Top 3 CB...after that the cupboard is bare

PREDICTION...2009 was a 5-11 finish...since 2003 that ties for their best record (yikes)...that is 7 straight seasons of at least 11 losses...2010 will be year 8 of the ridiculous futility...5-11 again this season

Denver Broncos
this fan is amongst the growing majority
Head Coach Josh McDaniels is starting to redefine the whole "my way or the highway"...this guy is a sharp-shooter on the roof picking off anyone who looks at him cross eyed...it doesn't matter to him if you are a talent like Jay Cutler or Brandon Marshall, or even a Coordinator like Mike Nolan, if you are not willing to follow his ideas/strategy (his completely unproven ideas/strategy) then away you go...

2010 begins with a lot of injuries on both sides of the ball...on O rookie WR Demaryius Thomas is out...on D the loss of Elvis Dumervil is crippling

On O we know the story is how much playing time will rookie QB Tim Tebow get...I am not a fan of his ability to be a drop-back QB in the League, but perhaps in a specialty formation he can contribute...the good news is that QB Kyle Orton is 29-19 as a starting QB in the League...RB Knowshon Moreno is also down with injury leaving veteran Correll Buckhalter and Lance Ball as the ball carriers...hey good luck with that...

The D was Top 3 vs the pass in 2009...now a lot of that success came from the amazing season Elvis Dumervil had as far as the pressure he applied to opposing QB's...that is set to take several steps back as Elvis has left the building

PREDICTION...I will enjoy watching this team struggle and enjoy the backlash for McDaniels who has severely screwed up this franchise...4-12 with 5-11 as their upside

Kansas City Chiefs
The 2009 Chiefs were 4-12...I think that they will be the NFL's most improved team in 2010...

2nd year Head Coach Todd Haley adds Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis and Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel...both are BIG moves and both will have those units headed in the right direction

real deal RB Jamaal Charles
The team also added talent like RB Thomas Jones and rookie WR Dexter McCluster...that should help Matt Cassel rebound from a poor 2009 season...the main focus will continue to be RB Jamaal Charles whose workload will be shared with Jones and the 2 of them could be a very strong thunder/lightning combo

The D has a lot of young talent and Crennel is the coach to develop them...guys like Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and rookie Safety Eric Berry have a ton of talent, but do need to develop at this level...add rookie CB Javier Arenas to that list...he will not be a starter like those other guys, but he has upside too

PREDICTION...this team should get to 7 wins...I like this team going forward

check the other Division previews too... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

AFC East preview

New England Patriots
these 2 will be on the attack in '10
I am really surprised to see how under-the-radar this Pats team is heading into 2010...the Jets are getting the pub in the AFC East, but to overlook New England during the Belichick-Brady era seems insane to me...this team limped to a 5-11 finish in 2000, but won the Super Bowl the following year and have had 9-7 as their worse season since...fans around the NFL would love for their team to win 10+ games this season...the Pats have been in double-digits in the W column for 7 straight years...2010 will be the 8th straight...

On your stats sheets at home go ahead and take a permanent pen and mark down Tom Terrific for 4,000+ yards...28+ TD's...go ahead and mark WR Randy Moss at 15+ TD's (Moss is in a contract year so I am anticipating a monster season from this stud)...it may be a slow start to the season for WR Wes Welker as he continues his incredibly quick recovery from a brutal knee injury which just 7 months ago required reconstructive surgery...but Brady has depth to throw to in WR's Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate...plus rookie TE's to play catch with in the Red Zone like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez...

The running game and the defense are hardily Super Bowl contending units...any sense of excitement for the career of RB Laurence Maroney is gone...2004 is the last time the Pats had a 1,000 yard rusher, and Maroney has never reached that #, yet he will be the starter as the cupboard is pretty bare at the RB position...veterans Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk round out the underwhelming crew...I hope the plan is to run to the right where 6'8" 315 pound Sebastian Vollmer is entering his 2nd year and will be the starting Right Tackle

The D was likely going to be a unit that was going to struggle, but injuries and cuts have made the unit sure to struggle in 2010...The Pats were a Top 5 team in 2009 as far as points allowed, but 2010 will not be a repeat...I think the Pats will be in the bottom third of the NFL this season on D...losing Ty Warren hurts...losing CB Leigh Bodden hurts...the other starting CB from last season Shawn Springs is no longer a Patriot, plus S Jarrad Page is in to replace the injured Brandon McGowan leaving S Brandon Meriweather as the only returning starter to the Secondary

A lot of holes and issues for the 2010 New England Patriots, but I am a believer in Tom Terrific and Bill Belichick's ability to raise the level of play from their teammates...not a lot of love for the Pats entering the season and I think that works for them...these guys as an under-the-radar team could be dangerous, and a play-off squad...for me as I said I see a lot of holes here, but if you want to sleep on a Belichick/Brady team then you go right ahead...

PREDICTION...10-6...if the D can step up and provide stops better then I am projecting, and pressure the opposing QB better then I think, then the Brady Bunch should be able to outscore opponents and win 11+

Fireman Ed
Has Fireman Ed ever had a team to be so optimistic about?!?!  The 2010 Jets have fans thinking about a Super Bowl...heck the 2009 Jets had fans 1 half of football away from a Super Bowl...

The Jets were the best D in the NFL in '09 but we know that a massive part of that was the incredible campaign put together by CB Darrelle Revis and he is just getting there now...the good news is the Jets do have rookie CB Kyle Wilson for depth in case Revis Island takes a few weeks to get back to his high level of play...as I have wrote before the fact that the Jets had such a talent like Wilson fall in their laps with the #29 pick was great for this organization...the 2009 season from Revis was the best from that position that I have ever seen so there is certainly may be a drop-off if he is not quick to get back to his 2009 form, but to be able to have depth with a talent like Wilson is pretty damn good for the Gotham Green

The running game was great in 2009...the passing game not so much...of course that is because of how Head Coach Rex Ryan wants to win games which is with an aggressive/attacking D with a ball-controlled/run-oriented offense...the running game loses Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, but adds LaDainian Tomlinson, and of course a TON is expected from 2nd year man Shonn Greene...the passing game adds Santonio Holmes (after his NFL imposed 4 game suspension to begin the season)...the unit does have to help 2nd year QB Mark Sanchez improve on his 2009 stats of 12 TD's and 20 INT's...I think the addition of Tomlinson will help as he is a good check-down option for Sanchez to dump the ball to instead of trying to force the ball down field to covered WR's...as impressive as Greene was in his rookie 2009 season he had zero catches so he did not help his QB in the passing game at all...

Sanchez's #'s have to greatly improve, as does the 2009 home record of 4-4...Ryan and the Jets truly consider themselves an elite team capable of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl this season, but teams who are .500 at home are not traditionally huge contenders...more like pretenders...

PREDICTION...this was a 9-7 team in 2009 and I see some steps forward and some steps backwards...I do like their chances to continue to improve and contend in the AFC...10-6...a schedule that could allow the team to get to 11-5 (especially if they can repeat their 5-3 road record from '09 as this team is built to win on the road)

Miami Dolphins
3rd year Head Coach Tony Sparano  saw his 11-5 dream season from 2008 come back to reality in 2009 as his 'Phins lost the final 3 games to limp to the finish at 7-9...last season saw the team lose the first 3 games, and last 3 games, with a 7-3 middle...a 4-2 Division record included 2-0 vs the Jets...but just 4-4 at home which certainly has to improve

The celebrity owners of the team (Stephen Ross, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Jimmy Buffett, Marc Anthony and J-Lo, Venus and Serena Williams, Fergie) invested a ton of $$$ into the franchise this off-season with the signing of free-agent LB Karlos Dansby, and trading for WR Brandon Marshall...the 2 of them a looking at a combined $93 million over the next 5 years...Dansby is the type of talent that can lead the D, and Brandon Marshall is an absolute beast at the WR position who is sure to be the #1 target going forward for young/developing QB Chad Henne...

A couple of years ago in Week 3 the Dolphins introduced the Wildcat offense in a game at New England and it has been a staple of their O ever since...the good thing about the Wildcat is it allowed their 2 best players (Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams) to be on the field at the same time...look for this to change in 2010...firstly Brown and Williams are no longer the best players on O (Marshall and Henne) secondly 2009 2nd round pick QB Pat White who was drafted to be the QB for the Wildcat was just cut, thirdly with WR's like Marshall, plus young talent like Brian Hartline and Devone Bess you don't want to run "gimmick" formations...even with the fact that Henne has limited experience I still think a more traditional running game and passing game should be the strategy going forward in South Beach...

For me, and if you are a reader of my blog then you know I have said this before, I want the 'Phins to re-establish TE Anthony Fasano as an every-down target for the QB - especially in the Red Zone...in 2008 Fasano and QB Chad Pennington developed a wonderful chemistry to the tune of 7 TD's which plummeted to just 2 last season with Henne at the helm...the WR unit is going to be very good for Miami which should allow a softer middle of the field for Fasano to operate...

part-owners Fergie and J-Lo
The pash-rush for Miami was very good in 2009 and that will of course need to continue...the Secondary has 2nd year starters Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, who both look like they have big careers ahead of them, but both have certain room for improvement...I actually am pretty optimistic that the D can take strides forward in 2010...rookies Jared Odrick (DE) and Koa Misi (LB) earned starting roles in Training Camp and should have a chance to contribute immediately

PREDICTION...this looks like a sure 8 win team to me, with a fortuitous break here-and-there I can see 9-7 with the highest upside of 10-6 (even as a Dolphins fan I think 10-6 would mean that a LOT of things went their way)

Buffalo Bills
Toronto's own Buffalo Bills have not made the play-offs in the 2000's...2010 will not change that...in is new Head Coach Chan Gailey (side note, and rant - why oh why do fossil-franchises like the Bills continue to hire re-tread Head Coaches like Dick Jauron and now Chan Gailey...the first-time coaches they gave chances to in the 2000's did not work out - Gregg Williams and Mike Mularky - but NFL franchise-after-franchise is going with the trend of hiring up-and-coming coaches and giving them the keys to the franchise and we see when it is done properly the results are immediate up-turns for the franchises...in their own Division Miami and New York have first-time coaches putting their teams back on the map...Baltimore has John Harbaugh - Pitt has Mike Tomlin - INDY has Jim Caldwell - Minny has Brad Childress - Hotlanta has Mike Smith - NWO has Sean Payton - Tampa Bay has Raheem Morris - SF has Mike Singletary - 'Zona has Ken Whisenhunt...all examples here have their teams on the right paths going forward so we see numerous examples of this working out, so why give a glorified Offensive Coordinator with zero career play-off wins your Head Coach job?!?!)

The roster is full of holes...the O-Line is comical...the QB is terrible...the WR unit has no talent to keep opposing D's from keying in on WR Lee Evans...just a whole lot of yikes on this roster...

TD for C.J. Spiller at Rogers Centre
I do like the RB unit...Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson are the best players on the Offense (Lee Evans is really good though) and rookie C.J. Spiller is the best Home Run hitter on this team...if Gailey can game plan ways to get Spiller the ball in the open field he can put 6 points on the board in a hurry...

The key for me for this '10 squad is to improve their decade-long home futility...Buffalo was once a sure "L" for teams coming into Orchard Park, but the team is 38-42 in the 2000's at home...not even at .500...since the NFL expanded in 2002 the Bills are the only non-expansion team in the AFC to have not yet made the play-offs...I have good friends and family who are lifelong Bills fans and their suffering will continue in 2010, but for me I think if they can get back to a 5-3 home record then at least there will be cause for optimism going forward...

PREDICTION...if the Secondary can continue its impressive play from last season then perhaps we are looking at a 6 win team (if things really go well for them the upside would be 7 wins) but if they cannot create the turnovers in 2010 then this is a 4 or 5 win team...

check out the other Division previews... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

AFC South season preview

Indianapolis Colts
Super Bowl XLIV was the only game in 2009 that the Colts tried to win, but failed...a 14-0 start to the regular season allowed Indy to rest players in the final 2 meaningless regular season games - both losses...Peyton Manning lost great WR Marvin Harrison, and had the worst running game in the League, but was able to be amazing (as usual)...pen him in for 4,250+ yards and 30+ TD's this season...the Colts drafted heavy on defense, and brought in zero new toys for Manning during free agency, which means Manning will have to help young guys like Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, and Donald Brown further develop...Anthony Gonzalez returns from injury, and Peyton has a great chemistry with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark...overall we see a TON of talent here...longtime Offensive Line coach Howard Mudd, and longtime Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore are both gone, so there may be slight adjustments to be made on O

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis
On D I think they can only be as good as DE's Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis allow them to be...the other 9 guys on the field are all good (at best) but the pass rush must be able to force opposing QB's into mistakes...as always the key question mark for this D is the health of talented, but injury prone Safety Bob Sanders

PREDICTION...this teams amazing - honestly say it again - amazing - run of 7 straight seasons of at least 12 wins is insanely good...many franchises have not won 12 games in the last few seasons combined, but Peyton and Sons get there every year...AFC South good and has the potential to get really good, in my opinion, as far as being an extremely deep/talented Division...a Division that is about to be on the rise...for the first time in a long time there looks to be a contender(s), instead of the usual pretenders for the AFC South Champs, and Super Bowl runner-up Colts...for that reason I am going to go below the 12 win mark and put the Colts at 10-6...they have the longest current streak of making the play-offs at 8 straight, and this season will surely pump that to 9

Tennessee Titans
I am as interested in how the 2010 season will turn out for the Titans as any other team in the NFL...in 2009 when the team put QB Vince Young back at the helm the Titans regained their relevance going 8-2 in the last 10 games...the O got going, as did the D...

2,006 rushing yards for Johnson in '09,  his 2nd season
RB Chris Johnson is amazing...he is currently riding an 11 game 100+ yard streak...he is the only player ever to have three 85+ yard rushing TD's...the plan in 2010 is to try to have a repeat of last years amazing 2,000+ yards rushing, plus his 50 catches also led the Titans...he had an amazing 358 carries to go with 50 catches...that is 408 touches which is wow wow wow...Titans plan to give the ball to Johnson an enormous amount of the time this year too...RB Javon Ringer is entering his 2nd season and has skills, so if Johnson does falter for whatever reason Tennessee does have a talented back-up

Veteran's Justin Gage and Nate Washington will start at WR, while veteran TE Bo Scaife will also start, but there is a lot of young talent behind them...at WR rookie Damian Williams is solid, and WR Kenny Britt is very talented...2nd year TE Jared Cook will be healthier this season and he has a ton of upside...The Titans have a very good O Line providing QB Vince Young time to find one of these talented targets on every play...it does need to be mentioned in any analysis of Young that he is an X-Factor kind of guy...the opposing defense covers everyone in the patterns-blows up the pocket, Young still scrambles for 13 on 3rd and 8 for a first down kind of guy...

On D the word is that Tennessee is trying to re-acquire DT Albert Haynesworth...the 2009 pass rush (and really their D overall) was very poor so Phat Albert would be an instant help...the real key to the Titans D is the extreme improvement required in the Secondary...Top 10 from last year as far as generating INT's, but they were such an all-or-nothing Secondary as they took chances on just about every pass which either resulted in an INT, or a big reception with room for YAC afterwards (YAC is Yards After Catch) for the opposition...more solid play will be needed in Tennessee for 2010

PREDICTION...looks to me like this team builds on their 8-2 finish to 2009 and get to double-digit wins in 2010...10-6

Houston Texans
This team is also interesting...a 9-7 2009 saw the team struggle to 1-5 within the Division which surely cost Houston their first ever play-off birth...in the first 8 games of 2010 they will only play a Division foe twice - both times (week 1 and week 8) it will be the Colts...weeks 2 through 7 feature only 1 2009 play-off team (at home week 3 to Dallas) as the 2010 Texans could be a team like the 2009 Broncos who surprise everyone early with a great record to start the season, but will they put together enough of a finish to the season to finally qualify for post-season play?!?!

On offense there is some talent in the backfield...only 2 teams were worse than Houston in 2009 when it came to running the ball...Adrian Foster used Training Camp to win the starting RB job and will be backed up by Steve Slaton...I was optimistic that rookie RB Ben Tate would figure in to the Texans game plan for 2010, but an ankle injury sustained during Camp will have him out for the season...

from the U...100+ catches 2 straight seasons
The passing game is really a top-heavy affair...WR Andre Johnson (from the U...aka University of Miami...my fav!) is as good as any WR in the NFL, but after that the talent drop off is huge...to try to add depth the Texans signed Arizona cast-off QB Matt Leinart to back-up Matt Schaub...Schaub will be looking to duplicate his gaudy 2009 #'s of 4,770 yards and 29 TD's vs 15 INT's...wow...a lot of the Texans WR had career years in 2009 which is why I am less than optimistic about their talent on the unit after Johnson, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak will continue to run his version of the West Coast offense

There is room for optimism on the D side of the ball...2nd year Defensive Coordinator Frank Bush had this team D ranked #13 in his first year, and that was with a down year from star Mario Williams...Texans ranked in the bottom third of the NFL as far as INT's and sacks, but a return to health for Mario Williams should provide a massive boost to the unit...in the Secondary #1 round draft pick Kareem Jackson used Camp to earn a starting spot on the corner

PREDICTION...a repeat of 2009 9-7...and yet again the Texans will flirt with their first ever play-off birth, but I believe they will fall just short

Jacksonville Jaguars
At 7-9 last season the Jags were the last place team in the AFC South...they lost their last 4 games and the thought was that would surely mean the end of the Jack Del Rio era...he is certainly on the hot seat, but he does remain as the man in charge...Del Rio will take over the play calling for the D which will hopefully mean a much more aggressive unit...last year this team recorded a pathetic 14 sacks...not even an average of 1 per game which is yikes...rookies Tyson Alualu and Austen Lane are not listed as official starters, but they may both see a lot of action on the D-Line (especially Alualu)
Pocket Hercules
With the room for optimism on D it is likely that the O that will need to carry the team to the play-offs...QB David Garrard is entering his fourth season as the main man...his best option is to hand the ball to great RB Maurice Jones-Drew, but for the Jags to leapfrog the Titans, Texans, and Colts they will have to get much much bigger play from Garrard than his 15 TD's from '09...especially in the early going as star Jones-Drew is battling a wonky knee currently...reports are as varied from he requires arthroscopic knee surgery, to he requires a few days of rest...this team can only go as far as Pocket Hercules aka Jones-Drew and David Garrard take them...WR Mike Sims-Walker is a nice story in Jacksonville...3rd year man had a breakout season in 2009 and will start, and likely be the #1 target in 2010

PREDICTION...interest for Jaguars football in Jacksonville is at an all-time low...if you want to go to sunny Florida and take in a Jags game then good news - PLENTY of seats are available...this is a decent team in a Division full of very good, to great teams...a repeat of 2009 7-9 will be tough...I am going with a 6-10 season which would surely result in a regime change in Jacksonville

check out the other Division previews too...send me an email with your thoughts to craig.ballard@hotmail.com