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After a five month hibernation, the NFL is about to poke its head out of the cave. Training camps around the country break out in a couple weeks. We are less than a month from the Bengals versus Cowboys and the first pre-season game in Canton. The September 9th regular season kicks off down in the bayou and sends the defending champs out on to the field against the same NFC team they beat to reach the Super Bowl.
A sober Sean Payton (read his book) on the sidelines toting Lombardi's Trophy versus a hungry, white stubble faced, Wrangler wearing quarterback with a surgically repaired ankle (we think) and a talented cast around him.
The National Football League knows how to make an entrance.
We know your Whatifsports.com football diet has been craving nourishment. Well, we are about to provide you a pre-season appetizer before training camps start. Beginning Monday July 12th, Whatifsports.com will preview a NFL Division-a-Day for eight straight days.
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, Whatifsports.com will provide Foxsports.com its game predictions and
Fox Sports Fantasy Football fantasy projections on a weekly basis. Using our NFL simulation engine, we have "played" the entire 2010 NFL season. Each game was simulated 501 times. The simulation engine has provided us game-by-game predictions and projected fantasy stats for all 32 NFL teams and 350 players.
Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 30, 2010. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here.
Also, we account for players with injury histories who are considered likely to miss games despite currently being healthy by randomly taking them out of what the analysis dictates is the correct number of games throughout the season. For players who will begin the season injured or who are assumed to replace the current starter during the season, we deliberately make those roster changes in the appropriate weeks. All of these items can cause some perceived inconsistencies with the scores, especially when a team plays one opponent from its division with one set of starters and uses different personnel later.
Today we preview the AFC South
Houston Texans (WIS Prediction: 8-8)
Absolute Record: 7-9
The 2009 Houston squad became the first team in Texan history to secure a winning record. Matt Schaub turned in a remarkable campaign, leading the league in passing (4,770) and earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. USC alum Brian Cushing garnered Rookie of the Year honors, albeit chemically-enhanced. Despite their individual and collective achievements, skepticism abounds heading into 2010. After a promising rookie start, Steve Slaton was horrendous in '09. Gary Kubiak remains on the hot seat in spite of his club's 9-7 record. And some critics contend that Houston will be unable to replicate last season's success against a tougher 2010 schedule. It's this abundance of uncertainty that makes Houston a must-watch this season.
Most Significant Newcomer: Kareem Jackson. With the departure of former 1st rounder Dunta Robinson, rookie Kareem Jackson will be looked to aid a team that ranked 11th in the AFC in passing. The 20th pick out of Alabama, Jackson possesses exceptional hands and a knack for breaking up the pass. However, rookie cornerbacks historically have not excelled in their first tour of duty in the league, which will make Jackson an interesting case study as he is forecasted to start for the Texans.
Strength: Passing. Luckily Matt Ryan has performed admirably in his first two seasons, otherwise the Falcon front-office would be feeling the heat for dealing Matt Schaub to Houston. With a loaded arsenal of aerial weapons at his disposal, Schaub has become one of the NFL's elite signal callers. Schaub's favorite target, Andre Johnson, just turned in his second-straight season of 100-plus receptions. Owen Daniels racked up 40 catches through eight games in '09 before going down with an injury. Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones are two underrated assets, and Steve Slaton is one of the better receiving running backs in the AFC. In short, the only thing that will stop the Houston air attack is themselves.
Weakness: The Indianapolis Colts. If Houston plans on becoming a permanent playoff contender, they'll eventually have to beat their neighborhood bully. And I do mean "bully," as Peyton Manning and company are 15-1 lifetime against the Texans.
Fantasy sleeper: Kevin Walter. At initial glance, one could claim it's erroneous to label a newly-minted 5-year, $21 million-player a sleeper. Yet most preseason fantasy rankings tab Walter in the low sixties after an underperforming 2009, one which was hampered by a nagging hamstring injury. While Owen Daniels is transforming into one of the league's preeminent tight-ends, a healthy Walter will still be Schaub's security blanket over the middle. If he replicates his 2008 season (60 catches, 899 yards, 8 TD), Walter will be a steal.
Closest Game: Week 1 vs Colts (Avg. Score 20-18 - Texans)
2010 Houston Texans
|5||New York Giants||47||22-23|
|6||Kansas City Chiefs||86||28-14|
|9||San Diego Chargers||34||20-23|
|11||@New York Jets||54||15-14|
Indianapolis Colts (WIS Prediction: 9-7)
Absolute Record: 10-6
An errant Peyton Manning throw/Reggie Wayne slip put a blemish on one of the more noteworthy seasons in the franchise's history. Manning and first-year head coach Jim Caldwell won the first 14 games of 2009, before sitting the starters in their last two contests. Pierre Garcon and rookie Austin Collie filled the void of Marvin Harrison and an injured Anthony Gonzalez, combining for over 100 receptions and 11 scores. With all the integral parts back for 2010, the Colts will be the prohibitive favorite in the AFC.
Chin Up PeytonManning tries to lead Colts back to the Super Bowl
Most Significant Newcomer: Jerry Hughes. The Colts ranked 11th against the run and 9th in pass defense in '09. Hughes, a two-time All-American from TCU, should improve the standing in both categories. Extremely quick and agile, Hughes was able to enter the backfield with relative ease. This type of pressure was almost non-existent in Indianapolis, despite the play of Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. An additional pass-rusher in Hughes suddenly transforms Indy's D into a tenacious front seven.
Biggest Strength: Effectiveness. Indianapolis ranked last in time of possession in '09, yet was third in points per game. This was accomplished with two receivers (Collie and Garcon) who had a combined 4 receptions heading into 2009 and without the help of a formidable rushing attack (the Colts placed last in rushing yards in '09).
Most Exploitable Weakness: Rushing game. Bill Polian is a guru when it comes to the Draft; however, his recent selections of running backs have been questionable at best. Joseph Addai hasn't fulfilled his 1st round-promise, Donald Brown didn't exactly "wow" in his rookie season, and Mike Hart has been unable to stay off the injured list. Since Edgerrin James left for Arizona in 2006, the team has been unable to find a consistent performer in the backfield.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Anthony Gonzalez. Along with Houston RB Steve Slaton, Gonzalez was one of the biggest fantasy disappointments in 2009 thanks to a knee injury in the season opener. Back to full health, Gonzo should take the reins as Manning's third option behind Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Gonzalez could be a valuable pickup as a third or fourth WR.
Closest Game: Week 3 @ Broncos (Avg. Score 18-17 - Broncos)
Fantasy Notables: Peyton Manning (8) 4275 yards, 26 TDs, 14 INTs; Joseph Addai (19) 874 yards, 6 TDs; Reggie Wayne (17) 1073 yards, 6 TDs; Dallas Clark (4) 860 yards, 5 TDs; Adam Vinatieri (19) 25 FG, 33 XP
2010 Indianapolis Colts
|2||New York Giants||54||23-19|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||90||29-12|
|11||@New England Patriots||47||18-21|
|12||San Diego Chargers||38||20-22|
Jacksonville Jaguars (WIS Prediction: 5-11)
Absolute Record: 3-13
Although they improved off their 5-11 mark in 2008, last season's 7-9 record was a bitter disappointment for Jacksonville, as the team lost four consecutive games to end the season. Off the field, the team has been rumored to be a potential candidate for relocation, as the city failed to sellout seven of their eight home games. This, combined with the prevailing sentiment that Jack Del Rio's job status is in danger, makes success for 2010 imperative for the Jaguars.
The Little EngineMaurice Jones-Drew was 4th in the NFL in rushing
Most Significant Newcomer: Aaron Kampman. Jacksonville's lack of pressure on the quarterback contributed to their 14th rank in pass defense in 2009. Kampman, who accumulated 37 sacks from 2006-2008 before succumbing to an injury in '09, was brought in to help revamp the Jaguar line. The former Packer, along with Jacksonville's 1st round selection Tyson Alualu, should make an immediate impact.
Biggest Strength: Backfield. Fred Taylor's exodus to New England enabled Maurice Jones-Drew to take center stage in the Jaguar offense, and he did not disappoint. MJD ran for 1,391 yards and scored 15 TDs. Fantasy owners might have been dissatisfied with his receiving totals, which were the lowest output in his four years in the league, but this was more of a byproduct of not taking as many third-down snaps. If David Garrard and the passing game's efficiency improve, more lanes and opportunities will open for Jones-Drew in '10.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Pass defense. As noted above, the addition of Kampman and Alualu will help alleviate the shortcoming of pressure on the quarterback. However, opposing signal callers averaged a 96.0 QB rating against Jacksonville, tops in the AFC. Local products in the secondary like Reggie Nelson and Rashean Mathis haven't played to their potential thus far, and will need to live up to their billing if the Jags don't want to get torched in '10.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Mike Sims-Walker. Sims-Walker had a phenomenal three-game span in Weeks 2-4 in 2009, hauling in 278 yards and 3 TDs. Unfortunately, #11 was suspended in Week 5 for missing team curfew, and while he responded with a 120-yard performance in Week 6, his season was never quite the same. Sims-Walker is ranking in the late 30's in most mock fantasy drafts. As Sims-Walker projects to be Garrard's #1 target in 2010, this would be a fantastic value pick.
Closest Game: Week 5 @ Bills (Avg. Score 18-15 - Bills)
Fantasy Notables: David Garrard (15) 3429 yards, 19 TDs, 9 INTs; Maurice Jones-Drew (6) 1406 yards, 11 TDs; Mike Sims-Walker (35) 883 yards, 5 TDs; Marcedes Lewis (16) 594 yards, 3 TDs; Josh Scobee (31) 20 FG, 32 XP
2010 Jacksonville Jaguars
|2||@San Diego Chargers||11||14-30|
|7||@Kansas City Chiefs||62||21-19|
|12||@New York Giants||23||16-27|
Tennessee Titans (WIS Prediction: 9-7)
Absolute Record: 10-6
After completing a 13-3 record in 2008, the '09 Tennessee season was quite the roller coaster. The Titans lost their first six games, including a 59-0 shellacking in Foxborough. Following the Patriot pummeling, former Rookie of the Year Vince Young was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time since Week 1 of the 2008 season, and the Titans rolled off victories in seven of their next eight games. Yet right when the playoffs seemed like a possibility, an embarrassing 42-17 loss in San Diego put an end to a tumultuous season.
Most Significant Newcomer: Derrick Morgan. The former All-American from Georgia Tech arrives in Nashville as one of the Draft's top defensive playmakers. After ranking 4th in yards allowed in 2008 (surrendering just 3,196 yards), the Titans plummeted to last in the AFC in 2009 (allowing a whopping 4,139 yards). This standing could be correlated to the departure of Albert Haynesworth, who commanded double teams and forced pressure in the pocket. Enter Morgan, who amassed 19 sacks in the past two seasons in the ACC. With the versatility of Morgan, a hybrid DE/LB, the Titans are well on their way to improving their beleaguered defensive woes.
Biggest Strength: Rushing attack. The Titans accrued nearly 2,600 yards on the ground in 2009, 2,000 of which game from All-Pro Chris Johnson. What's more remarkable is their effectiveness with the run. The New York Jets, who ranked just ahead in team rushing with 2,756 yards, need 100 more attempts to total just 150 additional yards of rushing than Tennessee. This efficiency is highlighted in the yards per attempt category, as the Titans had a league-leading 5.2 figure.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Receiving. Since Derrick Mason left for Baltimore, the Titans have been without the services of a dependable receiver. Kenny Britt, a rookie out of Rutgers, led the team in receiving with just 701 yards and 3 TDs. Admittedly, this lack of output has correlation to the inconsistent play at quarterback, but the WR corps will need to drastically improve if Vince Young is to ever flourish on a constant basis.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Javon Ringer. Chris Johnson carried the rock 358 times in 2009, which equated to 30 more attempts than the nearest competitor. While Johnson will remain the focal point of the Titan attack, Jeff Fisher will try to cut back on the amount of carries Johnson receives in order to prevent overuse. With LenDale White no longer on the roster, Javon Ringer seems to be in line to benefit from this increased workload. An All-American at Michigan State, Ringer was a 5th round steal for Tennessee in 2009, as his stock fell due to injury concerns. Now 100% healthy, Ringer could be an x-factor for the Titan ground attack in 2010.
Closest Game: Week 12 @ Texans (Avg. Score 23-21 - Texans)
2010 Tennessee Titans
|3||@New York Giants||44||21-26|
|8||@San Diego Chargers||27||19-28|
|16||@Kansas City Chiefs||81||26-17|
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Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.