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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 NFC South
New Orleans Saints (WIS Prediction: 12-4)
Absolute Record: 15-1
The New Orleans Saints' offense produced video game numbers week after week in 2009. In the 16-game regular season, they racked up over 400 yards of offense on average. Then they averaged 35.7 points per game in the post-season more than the 31.9 points they averaged through the regular season. Drew Brees' arm should be insured by Lloyds of London if it isn't already. Ironic, considering a few years ago his shoulder was shredded and rebuilt surgically. Then, in front of the largest television audience ever, Sean Payton led his team to a dramatic upset win over Peyton Manning and the Colts. Tracy Porter's interception return for a touchdown in the 4th quarter will go down as one of those classic Super Bowl highlights. Before repeating as Super Bowl champs, the Saints first must win the NFC South again, a feat nobody has been able to achieve since 2002.
Most Significant Newcomer: Alex Brown, DE- Super Bowl champions or not, the Saints still need to clean up their defense. They lost Scott Fujita to Cleveland, but signed former Chicago Bear Alex Brown to aid the defensive line. He will work with playmaker Will Smith to make opposing quarterbacks' lives hell. Brown recorded 48 tackles and 6 sacks in 2009, but the Saints are hoping Smith can help motivate him to boost those numbers in 2010.
Biggest Strength: Offense- This is what we call a profound statement. Drew Brees is going to fly off fantasy store shelves because of the numbers he's tallied the last two seasons. Seven players had 35 receptions or more last season for the Saints. Marques Colston had the most with 70, so Brees is sharing the wealth. The running game also surged onto the scene with Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell bursting on to the scene. The tandem rushed for over 1400 yards and 11 touchdowns. The offensive line's ability to keep Brees off the Superdome turf will need to continue. Brees was only sacked 20 times in 2009, 4th best in the NFL.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Defense - Coach Payton's heart may not be able to deal with 42-35 shootouts for much longer especially if he continues to sleep with Lombardi's Trophy. Google for more information on that story. The Saints' defense ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL allowing 357.8 yards per game. The good news is their secondary is strong with Darren Sharper returning and Porter, Jabari Green and Roman Harper prowling down field.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Reggie Bush, RB- His name is not one people have been sleeping on, but his fantasy output has been suspect since his rookie season. Last season, behind Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell, Bush put together a well-balance season with 390 yards on the ground with five touchdowns and 335 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns. His punt return skills need to improve and could kick in some bonus points if he makes a house call. Perhaps cutting Kim K. loose may clear his mind. Great flex position draft pick.
Closest Game: Week 15 @ Ravens (Avg. Score 23-22 - Saints)
Fantasy Notables: Drew Brees (3rd) 4635 yds, 33 TDs, 11 INTs; Pierre Thomas (18th) 786 rush yds, 11 TDs (total); Marques Colston (12th) 1075 rec. yds, 7 TDs; Jeremy Shockey (14th) 604 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Garrett Hartley 27-35 FGs, 48 XPs
2010 New Orleans Saints
|2||@San Francisco 49ers||78||24-15|
|6||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||91||27-11|
|14||St. Louis Rams||95||36-10|
|17||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||95||34-11|
Atlanta Falcons (WIS Prediction: 6-10)
Absolute Record: 6-10
The 2009 Atlanta Falcons could be a health care epidemic by themselves. The team's 2008 playoff pedestal started to crumble when both Matt Ryan and Michael Tuner caught the injury bug. Matty Ice (I thought it was too early to give him a nickname and a razor blade commercial) was nagged by turf toe the second half of the season and his play on the field showed the effects. He threw 14 interceptions in his 14 games. The "Burner's" production hit the skids in '09. From 1,699 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns two seasons ago to 871 yards and ten scores in 2009, Turner recently admitted to SI he got too fat last season. That added weight plus 376 carries in 2008 and his body, more specifically his ankle, gave out. The tender ankle residing at the bottom of the beast muted Turner's explosiveness that made him so dangerous in 2008.
Most Significant Newcomer: Dunta Robinson, CB- The Falcons' rush defense ranked in the Top 10 in 2009 only letting up 106.8 yard per game and forcing 12 fumbles (3rd best). Their secondary was sub-par and was ranked 28th in total yards allowed through the air, while conceding 25 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. Robinson joins the Falcons after spending the past six seasons with the Texans. This guy should shore up the pass defense. He will join guys like Jamaal Anderson, Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham who have laid the foundation for the Atlanta defense.
Biggest Strength: Offense- Matt Ryan to Roddy White is becoming a regular occurrence on Sundays. The sixth-year wide-out continues to fly below the radar of upper echelon receivers, but racked up over 1000 yards receiving and caught 11 touchdown passes in 2009. The return of fellow wide-out Harry Douglas could benefit Ryan and White as the Falcons missed having a #2 option in the passing game (though Mike Jenkins did his best). Douglas will sway double-teams away from White and provide Ryan a trio of aerial weapons (White, Douglas and Tony Gonzalez). The Falcons also have insurance if Turner's health comes into question; Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling have proven themselves worthy of playing time should the situation arise.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Health - Injuries to Ryan and Turner forced the Falcons to take two monster steps back in 2009. The franchise needs both commodities on the field to have any crack of making the playoffs. I'm sorry, but Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson, and D-J Shockley will not be leading you into January. After missing last season, Douglas' playmaking ability will be questioned early on, but the team is high on this guys upside. You can dock me two points for using the term "upside." I tried my best.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Harry Douglas, WR- Returning from a torn ACL in football is like heading back to the office after an intense fight with you boss. You are hesitant and anxious, yet still stoked that you still have a job. Douglas missed all of 2008 when it was thought he and White were ready to do some serious damage down field. He may have to battle Michael Jenkins early on for playing time, but if he can build on what he did in 2008 (23 receptions, 320 yards), Douglas could be a steal in later rounds.
Closest Game: Week 1 vs Steelers (Avg. Score 17-16 - Steelers)
Fantasy Notables: Matt Ryan (22nd) 3387 yds, 17 TDs, 18 INTs; Michael Turner (13th) 1261 rush yds, 11 TDs (total); Roddy White (15th) 1137 rec. yds, 5 TDs; Tony Gonzalez (10th) 729 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Matt Bryant (29th) 21-34 FGs, 29 XPs
2010 Atlanta Falcons
|3||@New Orleans Saints||9||14-32|
|4||San Francisco 49ers||42||16-17|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||73||23-13|
|11||@St. Louis Rams||71||21-15|
|12||Green Bay Packers||8||12-28|
|13||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||68||19-16|
|16||New Orleans Saints||15||17-28|
Carolina Panthers (WIS Prediction: 11-5)
Absolute Record: 13-3
It's been a busy off-season in Charlotte. Jake Delhomme packed his bags for the bright lights of Cleveland, Ohio. Carolina drafted Jimmy Clausen with their first pick. This automatically makes quarterback Matt Moore's starting role shaky at best. Steve Smith recently broke his arm in a flag football game, creating panic attacks inside Panther nation. Dwayne Jarrett is option number 2. Yikes. The success of Carolina depends on the 1-2 combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and their Top 10 defense from a year ago.
Two-Headed MonsterD-Will and J-Stew combined for over 2200 yards
Most Significant Newcomer: Jimmy Clausen, QB- Clausen is a welcomed sight for Carolina head coach John Fox. Not only is he a viable option at quarterback, but he may deter some of the attention away from the common news story surrounding Fox's job security. Clausen will also force Matt Moore to raise his game to the next level if he indeed wants to keep the starting gig he assumed late last season following Delhomme's meltdown. Clausen's 161.4 QB rating while at Notre Dame is hard to ignore. He threw 28 touchdowns and only four picks his junior season in South Bend. As long as he realizes the need to improve to survive the NFL, he could move into the starting slot sooner rather than down the road.
Biggest Strength: Rushing Offense- Sharing is caring. DeAngelo and J-Stew proved two superstar running backs can co-exist within a line-up. Remember, when you were a kid and mom scooped out some ice cream for you and your sibling? You had to make sure both rations were distributed evenly. Carolina did a great job keeping both boys happy when it came to touches. J-Stew had 221 carried to Williams' 216. Together they rushed for over 2200 yards. Carolina's 156.1 rush yards per game trailed only the Jets and Titans for tops in the NFL. So load up the box because this duo are options 1 and 1a on offense come 2010.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Wide Receivers - Kenny Moore, Charly Martin, Dexter Jackson and Wallace Wright combined for 9 receptions in 2009. These are John Fox's options behind Steve Smith (broken arm) and Dwayne Jarrett (who, by the way, had 17 receptions for 196 yards in 2009). Armanti Edwards, the rookie QB turned WR out of Appalachian State, could get some reps too if the previously mentioned don't find a niche. Jeff King and Dante Rosario will rule the tight end position, but don't expect huge numbers with Moore at QB. He only had one game where he threw for over 200 yards the last five games of last season.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Jimmy Clausen- This could be considered a cop-out, but Clausen wasn't drafted in the 2nd round to hold a clipboard for long. Fantasy sleeper is a tough category to judge down in Carolina because the offense runs through its running backs. Steve Smith is the obvious choice for wide receiving fantasy option and Dwayne Jarrett hasn't showed us anything yet to be drafted ahead of a kicker. Carolina's defense, ranking in the top 5 in interceptions and forced fumbles a year ago, may have been a Fantasy Sleeper had they not lost so much talent.
Closest Game: Week 11 vs Ravens (Avg. Score 20-18 - Panthers)
Fantasy Notables: Matt Moore (13th) 3689 yds, 22 TDs, 7 INTs; DeAngelo Williams (4th) 1435 rush yds, 15 TDs (total); Steve Smith (9th) 1228 rec. yds, 6 TDs; Jeff King (27th) 341 rec. yds, 2 TDs; John Kasay (8th) 27-35 FGs, 42 XPs
2010 Carolina Panthers
|1||@New York Giants||52||23-22|
|2||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||92||29-10|
|4||@New Orleans Saints||37||21-27|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||78||23-12|
|8||@St. Louis Rams||92||28-12|
|9||New Orleans Saints||44||23-24|
|10||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||88||25-11|
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (WIS Prediction: 4-12)
Absolute Record: 2-14
Tampa Bay has a long way to go before they are a threat in the NFC South and a playoff contender. The Buccs lost their first seven games in 2009 and Josh Freeman had to take his lumps, as a rookie, in the middle of the misery. The quarterback of the future did lead TB to its three wins, but desperately needs a supporting cast to help him carry the offensive load. Tight end Kellen Winslow is his best option right now. Antonio Bryant was plagued by injuries in 2009 and is now a Bengal and Michael Clayton is not earning much of his $24-million contract. Cadillac Williams' history with injuries is always a cause for concern. Their defense didn't help matters, ranking 27th overall in 2009. Raheem Morris has a lot of work to do to get this team back to prominence.
Most Significant Newcomer: 2010 Draftees- Tampa Bay needs some new blood and the 2010 Draft was the place to start. The Buccs plugged a huge hole by taking defensive tackles Gerald McCoy with their first round pick and Brian Price with their second rounder. McCoy is automatically a starter, while Price could work his way into a starting gig if the veterans in front of him don't perform. Raheem Morris also got some help for Freeman at wide receiver. The Buccs drafted Arelious Benn out of Illinois and Mike Williams out of Syracuse. Though veteran newcomer, Reggie Brown holds the advantage right now, don't be surprised if Benn gets some touches before mid-season.
Biggest Strength: Kellen Winslow- The soldier returns for a second tour of duty with Tampa Bay. He's coming off his best season since 2007. Winslow caught 77 balls and averaged over 11 yards a reception in 2009. He found the end zone five times matching his 2007 output. Josh Freeman has no choice but to make Winslow his go-to-guy until others show they have what it takes to make plays every Sunday.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Rushing Defense- If you participated in a fantasy football league in 2009, you knew if one of your running backs were facing the Buccs, you were in for a good week. If neither of your running backs were playing the Buccs, you hit the waiver wire ASAP to add a running back that was. Tampa Bay made every team feel like they had Barry Sanders coming out of the backfield last season. They allowed 158.2 rushing yards per game, dead last in the NFL. Though the team addressed needs on the D-line in the draft, they are young and untested, which could make for a ground game feeding frenzy this season as well.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Reggie Brown, WR- Though his final two seasons in Philly left little to be desired from a fantasy standpoint, Brown has found the zone on a number of occasions in the past. From 2005-2007 he scored 16 touchdown for the Eagles. The pickings are slim in Tampa and this could be a case of right place, nobody else to throw to, right time for Brown to resurrect his career down in FLA.
Closest Game: Week 1 vs Browns (Avg. Score 18-16 - Browns)
Fantasy Notables: Josh Freeman (18th) 3530 yds, 19 TDS, 27 INTs; Cadillac Williams (34th) 758 rush yds, 6 TDs (total); Reggie Brown (21st) 1077 rec. yds, 5 TDs; Kellen Winslow (7th) 758 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Connor Barth 22-34 FGs, 28 XPs
2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|6||New Orleans Saints||9||11-27|
|7||St. Louis Rams||56||19-15|
|11||@San Francisco 49ers||27||11-21|
|17||@New Orleans Saints||5||11-34|
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Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.