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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 North
Baltimore Ravens (WIS Prediction: 12-4)
Absolute Record: 14-2
Baltimore's Bold MoveAnquan Boldin collected 1024 yards in 2009
Although the record did not necessarily reflect this sentiment, the Ravens continued to make progress under second-year head coach John Harbaugh, highlighted by a road win in New England during the playoffs. Sophomore Joe Flacco made enormous strides from his rookie campaign, improving his yards (3,613 in '09, 2,971in '08), TDs (21 compared to 14), and completion percentage (63.1% to 60%). Ray Rice emerged as a star in the backfield, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in only his second season. And as icing on the cake, lineman Michael Oher's life was the focal point of the Academy Award-winning film The Blind Side.
Most Significant Newcomer: Anquan Boldin. Derrick Mason has performed well in his five-year stint with Baltimore, accumulating over 4,970 yards receiving. However, the Ravens have lacked a game-changing presence at the wideout position since, well, since moving to Baltimore. Boldin not only gives Flacco a go-to target across the middle, but someone who will create space for other receivers. The only knock on Boldin in his violent nature on the field tends to lead to injuries, as #81 has missed nine games in the past three seasons.
Biggest Strength: Front seven. The Baltimore defense surrendered just 93.2 yards a game, good for 2nd in the AFC. Though Baltimore's domination on D is nothing new, '09's performance was particularly astonishing considering the team lost the services of defensive mastermind Rex Ryan, Pro Bowler Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard to the Jets. To further cement their supremacy, the Ravens have added All-Americans Sergio Kindle (LB) and Terrence Cody (NT) in the Draft. If Ray Lewis and Ed Reed stay healthy, Greg Mattison's unit will be a wrecking force.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Kicking. Baltimore kickers were just 15-for-24 in field goals longer than 30 yards last season, and hit just 70% of their attempts overall in '09. The Raven's resolution to this predicament? Former Bengal booter Shayne Graham, who was not resigned by Cincinnati after missing 2 FG attempts in a playoff loss against the Jets.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Ed Dickson. While Todd Heap turned in a respectable performance last season, he has been unable reclaim his 2002-2006 Pro Bowl form. Dickson, a 3rd round selection out of Oregon, will challenge Heap for the starting TE spot. Dickson possess good hands and has a knack for getting to the ball. If he improves his blocking, Dickson could develop into a red zone threat.
Closest Game: Week 11 @ Panthers (Avg. Score 20-18 - Carolina)
Fantasy Notables: Joe Flacco (16) 3625 yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs; Ray Rice (3) 1343 yards, 12 TDs; Derrick Mason (26) 981 yards, 5 TDs; Todd Heap (19) 481 yards, 3 TDs; Billy Cundiff (11) 26 FG, 40 XP
2010 Baltimore Ravens
|1||@New York Jets||74||17-12|
|6||@New England Patriots||61||19-17|
|12||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||94||29-8|
|15||New Orleans Saints||48||23-22|
Cincinnati Bengals (WIS Prediction: 9-7)
The Bengals bounced back after a 4-11-1 '08 campaign to win the AFC North in 2009. Cincinnati seemed to be a collection of the NFL wretched refuge, assembled of cast-offs (Cedric Benson), has-beens (Dhani Jones) and never-wases (Chris Crocker). Despite dealing with the deaths of teammate Chris Henry and Vikki Zimmer, wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals went 10-6 before falling to New York in the playoffs. But the question remains: will the Who-Deys make the "next step," or fall back into irrelevancy?
Most Significant Newcomer: Jermaine Gresham. Carson Palmer's been in the NFL since 2003, yet has not had the luxury of a receiving TE in his tenure with Cincinnati. Enter Jermaine Gresham, a 2008 All-American from Oklahoma who missed all of the '09 season with a knee injury. The season off did not stop the Bengals from spending their 1st round selection on Gresham, who pulled in 26 TDs in three years at Norman. Gresham will give Cincinnati a middle-of-the-field force in the aerial attack, something that's been nonexistent in the Queen City since All-Pro Rodney Holman in the late '80s.
Biggest Strength: Mike Zimmer. No disrespect to Marvin Lewis, who earned Coach of the Year in 2009, but it's Mike Zimmer who's the mastermind behind the Bengals' recent success. Before Zimmer arrived in Cincinnati, the Bengals were ranked fourteenth in the AFC in total defense in 2007. In Zimmer's first season, the team jumped to sixth, and in 2009, the Bengal D was ranked third. Given that Zimmer is working his magic with players left for dead by other NFL teams instead of Pro Bowlers, it's amazing he hasn't been handed the reins to a head coaching position.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Special Teams. The men in orange-and-black ranked 15th in net punting and had numerous extra-point faux pas, which led to the dismal of long snapper Brad St. Louis midseason. The special teams atrociousness culminated in the playoff loss to the Jets when kicker Shayne Graham led two FG tries astray. The Bengal brass brought in former Buckeye Mike Nugent and journeyman Dave Rayner to compete for the vacant spot, but odds are these two vagabonds won't fix this glaring weakness.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Bernard Scott. Despite missing three games with health or fatigue issues, Cedric Benson managed to rack up 301 attempts in 2010. History has proven that high mileage for running backs in one season usually correlates to an injury-prone campaign the following year. Scott, Cincinnati's explosive 2nd-stringer, could see ample time if Cincinnati elects to preserve Benson for an extended playoff run in 2010. Scott should flashes of greatness in '09, amassing yardage totals of 119 against Oakland and 87 versus Cleveland while filling in for Benson.
Closest Game: Week 12 @ Jets (Avg. Score 15-14 - Bengals)
Fantasy Notables: Carson Palmer (20) 3325 yards, 17 TDs, 14 INTs; Cedric Benson (7) 1555 yards, 12 TDs; Chad Ochocinco (20) 1058 yards, 5 TDs; Jermaine Gresham (30) 312 yards, 2 TDs; Dave Rayner (15) 26 FG, 32 XP
2010 Cincinnati Bengals
|1||@New England Patriots||43||16-19|
|5||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||90||25-8|
|12||@New York Jets||57||15-14|
|13||New Orleans Saints||34||19-23|
|16||San Diego Chargers||31||17-20|
Cleveland Browns (WIS Prediction: 4-12)
Absolute Record: 1-15
The Eric Mangini Era picked up right where the Romeo Crennel Experience left off. If you are a Browns fan, this is not a good thing. Following a 5-11 record, Mike Holmgren was brought in to clean house, and did he ever. Once anointed as the franchise savior, Brady Quinn was shipped out to Denver after three lackluster years. LB Kamerion Wimbley was traded to Oakland, and former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson was released to little fanfare. However, hope is on the horizon, as rookie Colt McCoy projects to be a future force in the NFL. Unfortunately for Cleveland, while McCoy is the future, Jake Delhomme is the present.
NFL CribbsJosh Cribbs scored 4 TDs on returns in 2009
Most Significant Newcomer: Colt McCoy. If things go as planned, McCoy won't step onto the field in 2010. While his impact won't necessarily be reflected in the standings, McCoy's presence is essential in revitalizing the collective downtrodden mood of Brownie fans. Ohio-bred Brady Quinn didn't pan out, and besides lineman Joe Thomas and versatile Joshua Cribbs, no one on the roster installs long-term promise. McCoy gives Cleveland that star to pin their hopes on, that brighter day right around the corner. Sure, those in the 216 area code have already been down this road with Tim Couch and Quinn, but the tandem of McCoy and Holmgren should be enough to reverse that trend. Speaking of Holmgren -
Biggest Strength: Mike Holmgren. Two reasons Holmgren gives long-suffering Browns fans hope. 1) Holmgren has a history of transforming his quarterbacks into stars: Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and to a lesser extent, Matt Hasselbeck. Cleveland is praying that Holmgren has the same success with former Longhorn McCoy, one of the top QBs in the 2010 Draft. 2) After taking two franchises to the Super Bowl, Holmgren has proven his decisions on personnel and strategy is unparalleled. If Mangini starts off slow in 2010, don't be surprised if Holmgren takes the reins to help put this team back on track.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Pass defense. The Cleveland D was torched for over 3,900 yards in 2009, second-worst in the AFC. Furthermore, the defensive unit was horrendous at causing turnovers, accumulating just 10 interceptions on the season, also good for second-worst in the AFC. To help alleviate this dilemma, the Browns used their first two selections in the Draft on cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward, as well as trading for Philadelphia corner Sheldon Brown.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Jake Delhomme. Granted, his 2009 season was bad. Extremely bad (just over 2,000 yards, 8 TD and 18 INT). However, if Delhomme can hop in the DeLorean and revert to his 2008 form, where he was one of the better game-managers in football (3,288 yards, 15 TDs, 84.7 rating), Delhomme could serve as an effective backup on most fantasy teams.
Closest Game: Week 2 vs Chiefs (Avg. Score 20-18 - Browns)
Fantasy Notables: Jake Delhomme (27) 3330 yards, 16 TDs, 27 INTs; Jerome Harrison (29) 841 yards, 5 TDs; Mohamed Massaquoi (18) 1149 yards, 5 TDs; Benjamin Watson (23) 437 yards, 2 TDs; Phil Dawson (25) 26 FG, 23 XP
2010 Cleveland Browns
|1||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||51||16-18|
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||50||20-18|
|7||@New Orleans Saints||8||12-35|
|9||New England Patriots||20||14-25|
|10||New York Jets||33||13-18|
Pittsburgh Steelers (WIS Prediction: 9-7)
Absolute Record: 12-4
A winning record usually equates to a successful season. Yet a 9-7 record in 2009 kept the Steelers home during the playoffs for only the third time in the past decade. Lowlights on the field included losses to Kansas City, Oakland, and Cleveland. Worse, numerous off-the-field issues involving the likes of Santonio Holmes, James Harrison, and Ben Roethlisberger seemed to cast a dark cloud over the organization, one that had prided itself being an integral part of the Pittsburgh community.
Most Significant Newcomer: Byron Leftwich. After a disappointing season in Tampa Bay, Leftwich returns to Pittsburgh, where he won a ring in '08 as a backup. But in his second stint with the Steelers, Leftwich will be looked to keep the team afloat until Roethlisberger returns from suspension. While Leftwich will not be the focal point of the Steelers offensive attack, he has not played in more than six games since 2005, and his track record as a spot-starter has been shaky at best. As Roethlisberger's suspension lasts at minimum four games, Leftwich's performance could dictate the fate of the entire season.
Biggest Strength: Run defense. Pittsburgh was tops in the AFC against the run, halting opponents to only 1,438 yards on the season. This feat was achieved despite leader Troy Polamalu missing most of the year with knee issues. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison combine for one of the fiercest LB corps in the league, and Casey Hampton continues to dominate the line up front.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Offensive line. The Steeler o-line let up an AFC-leading 50 sacks in 2009, despite Roethlisberger's superior scrambling abilities. This ratio could increase with Leftwich under center for the first fourth of the season, as teams will stack the box and force Mike Tomlin to throw rather than run. Worse, RT Willie Colon will miss the entire season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon. Pittsburgh addressed their line issues in the Draft by selecting center Maurkice Pouncey from Florida.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Heath Miller. Miller's production has steadily increased since joining the league in 2005, culminating with a Pro Bowl berth in 2009. With Holmes in New York and Hines Ward rapidly aging, Miller's targets could skyrocket. Miller currently sits outside the top-10 TE in most fantasy rankings, meaning you could get a steal drafting #83 in the later rounds.
Closest Game: Week 1 vs Falcons (Avg. Score 17-16 - Steelers w/o Roethlisberger)
Fantasy Notables: Ben Roethlisberger (21) 2847 yards, 18 TDs, 9 INTs; Rashard Mendenhall (14) 1047 yards, 8 TDs; Mike Wallace (5) 1303 yards, 7 TDs; Heath Miller (12) 680 yards, 4 TDs; Jeff Reed (7) 28 FG, 34 XP
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers
|3||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||59||17-16|
|8||@New Orleans Saints||33||21-28|
|10||New England Patriots||62||24-19|
|15||New York Jets||79||22-12|
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Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.