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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 2)

Atlanta produced consecutive winning seasons for the first time in its history and might have made the playoffs if RB Michael Turner hadn’t been injured and missed eight games. He was heading for another 1,000-yard campaign with 871 yards and 10 touchdowns. Team newcomer TE Tony Gonzalez provided QB Matt Ryan with a valuable weapon with 83 receptions and 867 yards that allowed WR Roddy White to shake loose with a big year (85 catches, 1,153 yards, 11 touchdowns). Atlanta shored up its defense, drafting three defenders as well as signing DB Dunta Robinson from the Texans.

Catching Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen in the second round was manna from heaven as coach John Fox enters his lame-duck year without ever having back-to-back winning seasons. His biggest mistake was sticking with Jake Delhomme too long after the QB threw 23 interceptions in his last 12 games. Delhomme’s poor play negated the Panthers powerful one-two running attack of Jonathan Stewart (1,133 yards, 10 touchdowns) and DeAngelo Williams (1,117 yards). Playmaker receiver Steve Smith (65 catches, 982 yards) missed the start of training camp with a broken arm suffered in an offseason game of flag football. Clausen has a chance to unseat incumbent backup Matt Moore. The defense is a little less spicy without DE Julius Peppers, who signed with Chicago.

One year after coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen were fired, the devalued Bucs were worth about half a buck. Under new coach Raheem Morris, the club started 1-12 with three different quarterbacks and finished 3-13. Rookie QB Josh Freeman closed out the year as the starter and got help from TE Kellen Winslow (77 catches, 884 yards) and RB Cadillac Williams (823 yards). The Bucs used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles to bolster the league’s worst rushing defense. Rookie DTs  Gerald McCoy (the Oaklahoma tackle taken third overall in the 2010 draft) and Brian Price from UCLA could both start.

NFC West

The 49ers finally appear to be a contender. In 2009 they turned in their first non-losing season in six years (8-8) as 2005 No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith finally secured the starting QB job. He finished with an 81.5 rating and got into a zone with WR Michael Crabtree (625 yards, 13 avg.) and TE Vernon Davis, who had a breakout season (78 receptions, 965 yards, 13 touchdowns). Reliable RB Frank Gore had another 1,000-yard season (1,120 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns, plus 52 receptions for another 406 yards and 3 more touchdowns) and Patrick Willis was a force with a team-high 152 tackles, leading a defense that limited opponents to 10 points or less in seven games as they went 5-1 in the West.

Nobody took a bigger off-season sack than the defending division champions, who won back-to-back titles for the first time since 1974-1975. The biggest hit was the retirement of future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner, the NFC’s fifth-ranked passer in 2009. Matt Leinart still hasn’t progressed as expected, which is why the Cardinals signed QB Derek Anderson. The Birds had three starters fall out of the nest: WR Anquan Boldin and defensive stalwarts Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle. They replaced Dansby with Joey Porter and got help in the draft with LB Daryl Washington and NT Dan Williams. Arizona still has considerable firepower on offense, and the spark is WR Larry Fitzgerald (97 catches, 1,092 yards) whose 13 touchdowns tied him for tops in the NFC.

Coach Pete Carroll returned to the NFL with more moves than chess master Bobby Fischer, dealing for nine draft picks, the No. 1 being franchise left tackle Russell Okung. He also dealt for veteran RB Leon Washington (Jets). Still, Carroll faces a number of problems, especially since the Seahawks MVP was punter Jon Ryan. The worries start with oft-injured QB Matt Hasselbeck (75.1 rating) and the loss of WR Nate Burleson and QB Seneca Wallace. Charlie Whitehurst, who did not throw a pass in four years in San Diego, is the heir to Hasselbeck. WR T. J. Houshmandzadeh (79 catches, 911 yards) is the sole remaining star. 

The Rams looked like lambs the past three years, going 6-42, and last season’s only win came against the toothless Lions. They scored only 17 touchdowns in 2009 (one on defense), which is why St. Louis couldn’t wait to get No. 1 overall pick QB Sam Bradford, the new face of the franchise. With a strong, accurate arm, Bradford lit up the sky in Oklahoma like a pinball machine, with 88 touchdowns and a paltry 16 interceptions. With an NFC high 1,416 yards, and 51 receptions for another 322 yards, RB Steven Jackson was the Rams’ offense but comes off back surgery. With draftee WR Mardy Gilyard, the trio could make some noise.

Danny Sheridan is a sports analyst for U.S.A. Today, for which he provides the daily odds on all sporting events.

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