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2010 Football Forecast

Cigar Aficionado’s gridiron guru has crunched piles of stats and broken down each team’s strengths and weaknesses to predict how each will fare and who will win the Super Bowl.
Danny Sheridan
From the Print Edition:
Adrien Brody, September/October 2010

AFC East

1  NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots were the team of the decade, a tribute to the resolve and leadership of Robert and Jonathan Kraft in building a model franchise. They won three Super Bowls in four years (2002, 2003 and 2005) and got to another in 2008, and their 126 victories are the best total over a 10-year period in NFL history. An injury-free QB Tom Brady posted a 96.2 rating with 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. WR Wes Welker led the NFL in receptions (123) but comes off knee surgery, while game-breaker Randy Moss had 83 catches for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns. Adding WR Torry Holt gives Brady another weapon while LB Tully Banta-Cain (10 sacks) leads an improved defense. The Pats collected a dozen draft picks and landed the best pass-catching TE in the draft in Rob Gronkowski.

2  NEW YORK JETS
Rex Ryan rattled the NFL with his bawdy talk but delivered the Jets to the AFC title game. He put his trust in a rookie quarterback and spoon-fed him behind a strong ground game that was the NFL’s best, matching the league’s No. 1 defense. Mark Sanchez established himself as the franchise QB when the Jets won five of their last six games to make the playoffs. In Ryan’s off-season moves, he got Antonio Cromartie from the Chargers to join Darrelle Revis in what now is the best cornerback tandem around, added RB LaDainian Tomlinson, another ex-Charger, and snatched WR Santonio Holmes from Pittsburgh and DE Jason Taylor from Miami.

3  MIAMI DOLPHINS
After going 11-5 his first year as coach, Tony Sparano got a wake-up call last season when he lost QB Chad Pennington for 13 games. Replacement Chad Henne didn’t win any raves with a so-so rating of 75.2, and the Fish finished 7-9. RB Ricky Williams furnished most of the offense with 1,385 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns after Ronnie Brown went down. Bill Parcells made two large free-agent additions in the off-season, getting run-stopping LB Karlos Dansby from Arizona to fortify a defense that allowed 390 points, and WR Brandon Marshall from Denver, who has caught at least 100 passes in each of his last three seasons. The Dolphins made seven of their eight draft picks on defense to compensate for the losses of LB Joey Porter and DE Jason Taylor. 

4  BUFFALO BILLS
Nonagenarian owner Ralph Wilson should have applied for a stimulus package after watching his Bills crumble again. RB Marshawn Lynch was suspended, the Terrell Owens signing was a flop, the team had no quarterback to speak of and the offensive line was, well, offensive, which means that new coach Chan Gailey will get a migraine headache in looking at another last-place finish. It’s not a situation that No. 1 pick C. J. Spiller, the best running back in the draft, looks forward to. The two bright spots the Bills had were RB Fred Jackson (1,062 yards) and rookie DB Jairus Byrd, who tied for the league high in interceptions (9) despite missing two games.

AFC South

1  INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
The AFC champions (14-2) shunned free agency after losing 31-17 to the Saints in the Super Bowl. QB Peyton Manning is the main reason the Colts have won 12 or more games for seven consecutive seasons. Manning, a four-time MVP, finished with 4,500 yards, a team-record 393 completions, 68.8% accuracy, 33 touchdowns and a 99.9 rating. Manning has willing partners in WR Reggie Wayne (100 catches, 1,264 yards, 10 touchdowns), TE Dallas Clark (100 catches, 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns), WR Austin Collie (60 catches, 676 yards), and WR Pierre Garçon (47 catches, 765 yards, 16.3 avg.). RB Joseph Addai rushed for 828 yards, but he was the only standout on the ground, and the Colts’ running game ranked last in the NFL. Led by DE Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks), the defense allowed the fewest points (307) in the South. 

2  TENNESSEE TITANS
Jeff Fisher did a remarkable coaching job last year, pulling up the Titans from an 0-6 start to a playoff near-miss at 8-8. The strong second-half surge, with eight wins in 10 games, can be directly attributed to QB Vince Young, who started the season on the bench. RB Chris Johnson helped him big time. He led the NFL in rushing with a brilliant 2,006-yard campaign that resulted in a 5.6 yard average and 14 touchdowns. The Titans, who needed to fix their defense after giving up the second-most points (402) in the AFC, expect improvement after drafting six defensive players. Johnson was rewarded with a new contract, proving that the Titans are not the Tight Ones.

3  HOUSTON TEXANS
It was another disappointing journey for the Texans in their quest to reach the playoffs for the first time. They started 5-3 but lost four straight games before winning their last four to go over .500 for the first time (9-7). A weak rushing attack (30th in yards) undermined the offense largely because RB Steve Slaton had fumble-itis. QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson make the aerial game lethal. Nobody had more passing yardage  than Schaub (4,770), with 29 touchdowns and a 98.6 rating. Johnson led in yardage with 1,569 with a second straight year of triple-digit receptions (101). The Texans met their needs in the draft with Auburn RB Ben Tate and Alabama DB Kareem Jackson. However, they took a big hit in the off-season when Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Brian Cushing (who led in tackles with 133 along with 4 interceptions) was suspended for the first four games of 2010 for violation of the NFL’s steroid policy.

4  JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
They’re not “jacked up” in Jacksonville anymore. The Jags wound up 7-9 after a 6-4 start. Coach Jack Del Rio is a defensive specialist yet it was the defense that was his undoing. The Jags’ 27th-ranked pass defense was horrible (allowing 236 yards per game) while managing only 14 sacks. RB Maurice Jones-Drew broke out with 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns and grabbed 53 passes for another 374 yards. Del Rio fired several coaches, brought in DE Aaron Kampman and used his first four picks on defense, but it may not be enough. No playoffs could mean Del Rio’s end.

AFC North

1  PITTSBURGH STEELERS
QB Ben Roethlisberger’s exploits off the field overshadow everything he did on it and gives him less of an opportunity this season as he faces a suspension of six games that can be reduced to four. That leaves the Steelers with Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch under center, replacing Big Ben, who threw for a career-high 4,328 yards (including a 503-yard explosion against Green Bay) and earned a 100.5 rating. The Steelers, who won the Super Bowl in the 2008 season but missed the playoffs last year, must count on RB Rashard Mendenhall (1,108 yards) and WR Hines Ward (95 catches, 1,167 yards) while Big Ben is out. Losing DB Troy Polamalu for 11 games was huge. The Steelers had only five interceptions in his absence. The defense gets a boost with Polamalu’s return.

2  BALTIMORE RAVENS
GM Ozzie Newsome didn’t wait long in the off-season to address the Ravens’ No. 1 priority—opening up the offense—by acquiring play-making WRs Donte’ Stallworth and Anquan Boldin, who was fifth in the NFC with 84 receptions and 1,024 yards with Arizona. No one could be happier with the changes than QB Joe Flacco. Other than Derrick Mason (73 catches, 1,028 yards), Flacco had no one to look for deep down field. RB Ray Rice was his leading receiver (78 receptions, 702 yards) but is best at rushing (1,339 yards). The Ray Lewis defense remains menacing, allowing only 261 points, second in the AFC to the Jets, and it just got stronger with drafted newcomer DT Terrence Cody.


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