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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

(continued from page 1)

3  CINCINNATI BENGALS
Winning all six divisional games (10-6) and the North championship saved coach Marvin Lewis’ job and earned him Coach of the Year honors. RB Cedric Benson emerged as a star with 1,251 yards, fifth best in the AFC. The passing game struggled because QB Carson Palmer didn’t have enough weapons. WR Chad Ochocinco (72 catches, 1,047 yards) was his only deep threat. Palmer did as best he could (3,094 yards, 21 touchdowns). Signing ex-Buc WR Antonio Bryant (83 receptions, 1,248 yards in 2008 before missing much of 2009 with a knee injury), ex-Jaguar WR Matt Jones, volatile WR Terrell Owens and rookie TE Jermaine Gresham will open up the passing game. The Bengals, who love to give second chances to those who have exhausted their third chances, signed Adam (Don’t Call Me Pac-Man) Jones, likely to help most on returns.

4  CLEVELAND BROWNS
The inept Browns won their last four games, saving coach Eric Mangini’s job. New president Mike Holmgren spared Mangini but not QBs Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. He replaced them with his backup Seattle QB, Seneca Wallace, and ex-Panther Jake Delhomme, neither of whom will sell more season tickets. Holmgren got lucky by drafting Texas QB Colt McCoy in the fourth round. He also got good ones in RB Montario Hardesty and DB Joe Haden. RB Jerome Harrison (862 yards) and WR/return specialist Josh Cribbs gave Browns fans something to cheer about. Holmgren added veterans LB Scott Fujita and TE Ben Watson but the Browns still look beige.

AFC West

1  SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The Chargers seem to be the NFL’s heartbreak hotel the last three years. The Bolts got close, but never reached the Super Bowl and disappointed with a divisional 17-14 loss at home to the Jets last year, adding another blot to their playoff record. LaDainian Tomlinson, the centerpiece since 2001, is gone and so is CB Antonio Cromartie. QB Philip Rivers is their flash of lightning and finished as the AFC’s top-rated passer (104.4) with 4,254 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions. Rivers flowed smoothly with TE Antonio Gates (79 catches, 1,157 yards) and WR Vincent Jackson (68 catches, 1,167 yards) as the Chargers led the AFC in scoring (454 points) in a 13-win season, which will be tougher to equal since Jackson was suspended by the NFL for the first three games of 2010. The Chargers expect Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews, their No.1 draft pick, to replace Tomlinson.

2  OAKLAND RAIDERS
The Al Davis smarts were evident in the draft as the savvy owner got his ship righted after only 29 wins in the last seven years. He had solid draft picks, the best being LB Rolando McClain and DT Lamarr Houston to create a run-stop barrier. The Raiders possess budding stars on offense in RB Michael Bush (589 yards, 4.8 avg.) and WR Louis Murphy (34 receptions, 521 yards, 15.3 avg.) and hope RB Darren McFadden can stay healthy. Davis had enough of QB JaMarcus Russell, the Leaning Tower of Pizza, and dumped him for former Redskin Jason Campbell. Oakland will be an improved team. 

3  DENVER BRONCOS
The cockiness of first-year coach Josh McDaniels worked halfway into the season when Denver surprised by going 6-0. It proved illusory as the Broncos stumbled to an 8-8 close. In one of his first moves, McDaniels shipped QB Jay Cutler to Chicago for QB Kyle Orton, which was bizarre. McDaniels then got into a love-hate relationship with WR Brandon Marshall and traded him to Miami. He will be missed. Orton had a creditable year but it apparently didn’t satisfy McDaniel, who acquired Brady Quinn from Cleveland and surprised everyone by drafting Tim Tebow in the first round. RB Knowshon Moreno (947 yards) and LB Elvis Dumervil with his NFL-leading 17 sacks have to wonder how
McDaniels handles a three-headed quarterback.

4  KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chiefs are beginning to look like the Patriots of the West. GM Scott Pioli brought in ex-Pat Charlie Weis to run the offense and another ex-Pat, Romeo Crennel, to take charge of the defense and change the culture of a 4-12 team that has gone 10-38 the last three years.  Ex-Pat QB Matt Cassel had a so-so 69.9-rated season but in all fairness the Chiefs led the league in dropped passes. The one standout on offense was RB Jamaal Charles, who ran for 1,120 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He’ll be joined by Thomas Jones, who had career highs of 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Jets. Kansas City needs to reconstruct a defense that got barbecued for an AFC-high 424 points.

NFC East

1  DALLAS COWBOYS       
The Cowboys didn’t do anything in free agency and didn’t have to. Dallas won the East (11-5) and got its first playoff win in 13 years. Tony Romo’s maturation led to his best season (4,483 yards, 97.6 rating). The QB cut down on his interceptions and delivered 26 touchdowns. Jason Witten was his favorite receiver (94 catches, 1,030 yards) but WR Miles Austin emerged as a big-play force (81 receptions, 1,320 yards, 11 touchdowns). Rookie WR Dez Bryant adds more big-play presence. Dallas has a loaded backfield with Marion Barber (932 yards), Felix Jones (685 yards, 5.9 average), and Tashard Choice (349 yards, 5.5 average).

2  PHILADELPHIA EAGLES   
Coach Andy Reid said sending QB Donovan McNabb to divisional rival Washington was the hardest decision he’s ever made. Former backup QB Kevin Kolb owns a strong arm and is an accurate passer, and the Eagles are expected to throw more. He’ll have three good wideouts in DeSean Jackson (1,156 yards, 10 touchdowns), Jeremy Maclin (773 yards), Jason Avant (587 yards), and a productive TE Brent Celek (971 yards, 8 touchdowns). Running backs LeSean McCoy (637 yards) and Leonard Weaver (323 yards) must minimize the loss of eight-year veteran Brian Westbrook. New GM Howie Roseman will remake the roster after trucking in fresh talent with 13 draft picks.

3  NEW YORK GIANTS
Entering the 2009 season with giant expectations, the Giants crumpled like 97-pound weaklings. Eli Manning did all he could, producing his most complete season, setting career highs in passing yardage (4,021), completion percentage (62.3), touchdown passes (27) and yards per attempt (7.9). He had great rapport with a group of young receivers led by Steve Smith, who topped the NFC in receptions (107), and Mario Manningham (57 catches, 822 yards). Despite Brandon Jacobs’ 835 yards, the running game faltered. The defense was very un-Giantlike, lacking a pass rush and leaking against the run, which cost defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan his job. Replacement Perry Fewell must refuel that unit.
 
4  WASHINGTON REDSKINS
It’s time to clean up the mess in Washington. And the football team didn’t do well either. However, owner Daniel Snyder is finally letting his football people do their jobs. New GM Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shanahan quickly pruned the roster after an awful 4-12 campaign. Their major move was getting the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb, who should revitalize the 16th-ranked passing game, and drafted a building block left tackle in Trent Williams. WR Santana Moss should improve on a 70-catch, 902-yard season. Shanahan stabilized the ground game by adding Larry Johnson and Willie Parker to challenge Clinton Portis.

NFC South

1  NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
New Orleans wasn’t active in free agency and didn’t have to be. Led by All-World QB Drew Brees, the champion Saints head into 2010 with their offensive powerhouse intact. Brees was phenomenal with a league high rating of 109.6, producing 4,388 yards, 34 touchdowns, only 11 interceptions and an NFL-record 70.6 completion percentage. Pierre Thomas supplied a much-needed ground game (793 yards, 5.4 avg.). DB Darren Sharper led a gutsy defense with nine interceptions while DE Will Smith weighed in with 13 sacks. Sean Payton showed why he is one of the best play-calling coaches in the business with a brilliant second-half onside kick in the Super Bowl, which turned the game’s momentum and helped the Saints win. I picked the Saints, a 25-1 underdog last year, to win the Super Bowl and I like them to go marching in again. 

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