The 2010 NFL Preview
The NFC South and West



New Orleans (11 – 5) ~ You will know everything you need to know about the Saints by week 4. They start with Minnesota at home, travel to play San Francisco, then return home for Atlanta and Carolina. It’s all right there. Everything you could possibly need to know. Tough conference games… tough divisional games… and if they start 3-1 or even 4-0, they will be quite comfortably in control of the NFC South, and even at 3-1, probably the NFC.

I mean… look at that again… Vikings… 49ers… Falcons… Panthers. All NFC games. All potentially important (depending on who you are listening to) when it comes to earning a playoff spot and even playoff seeding.

I expect them to come through that quite nicely. Because here’s the dirty secret… they faced a tougher schedule last season.


See the problem with New Orleans is the defense. Drew Brees has set a high standard at quarterback since joining New Orleans, and his ability to spread the ball around and run the attack should be fine. I have no problems with the offense.

My questions involve the defense. Can they stop the opposition? Last season we had Minnesota flying high and powerful into their regular season contest. New England… Miami… Philadelphia… Dallas… teams with great players on their offenses, if not simply brilliant and outright powerful offenses overall.

But the Vikings are hurting on offense entering this year… with their top wide receiver out. And after Minnesota, the schedule offers up Baltimore and Dallas as the top offensive threats. I’m not kidding. Other than those two teams and a guy named Favre, only Ben Roethlisberger is a consistent top third of the league quarterback. Tampa Bay… Carolina… Atlanta? I like the Falcons and Matt Ryan, but let’s not get carried away just yet. Cincy? Perhaps… but time will tell on how that situation is working out. After that we have Seattle… St. Louis... Arizona… and surely you see what I mean by now.

The Saints are lined up nicely for a solid year. And if Drew Brees stays healthy, they will make the playoffs and should be in good position to defend their title.

Atlanta (9 – 7) ~ Well… let’s get the obvious right out there… if the Saints have a good schedule, the Falcons do too. And the Falcons have a nice balance of offense and defense. There’s alot to like here.

But the middle of the season provided them with terrors last year. And that’s what they need to avoid to do well this season.

In 2009, they started with two wins… finished it with three wins… and arrived at 9-7 by going 4-7 in between the great beginning and end.

When the dust settles in the AFC, I do believe 10 wins will be a must for the playoffs. (Unless you are the AFC West champion. 7 wins might get that done. (And yes, I am aware I have a 9-7 AFC club making it into the playoffs right now.)) But in the NFC, I could see 9 wins making it. And I think the Falcons will.

But they have to stay steady and avoid losing streaks, because they simply aren’t a team that can count on running off 4 or 5 in a row to make up for stretches of losses.

Carolina (7 – 9) ~ Do you want the good news or the bad news?

See… one problem for the Panthers is that they have the Saints and Falcons in their division. I think both are clearly superior teams. And that’s the bad news.

But there is an interesting light at the end of the tunnel.

See… strange things happen during the football season. Last year, after 14 games, the Jets were toast that had zero chance of making the playoffs. After playing 15 games, they needed a victory over a team that was likely to roll over and play dead. A month later, they were playing the Colts in the AFC title game. Snapping your fingers will happen more slowly than changes in the NFL. Teams we believe are good right now will look like crap by November. And before it’s over, teams looking like crap and out of it in November will have their playoff fates in their own hands with multiple games left on the schedule. It just works out that way.

That explanation noted, let’s consider the Panthers. See… if we talk for a few minutes and agree they might be decent and a good dark horse for the playoff picture, than we can agree on some games they’ll need to win. Right? Out of the gate, the Panthers play the Giants, Buccaneers, Bengals, Saints, and Bears. While not telling you about staging an upset… rising to the level of a quality opponent… or stubbing their toe against an inferior one… the reality is that a playoff team should come out of that kind of stretch at 3-2. Or better. (A playoff team will beat the Bucs at home.)

Am I right?

Well… move that along. St. Louis. Cleveland. Seattle. Arizona. All on Carolina’s schedule.

And here’s the really beautiful thing.

I think Moore could be a serviceable quarterback. Definitely better than Vince Young. And with him we have two running backs… Stewart and Williams… that are as good a pairing as the league offers outside of Miami.

If you want my biggest surprise of the year… the team I’m thinking will be in that mid-range of record (6… 7… 8 wins), and yet eventually plays above that and sneaks into the playoffs… here they are.

Tampa Bay (5 – 11) ~ They will likely be the underdog in every game they play. (Well… scratch that… Cleveland at home in week one. So we’ll see.)

I liked some of what I saw from Josh Freeman last season. Could have something there. Would you believe the Cadillac… Carnell Williams… is in his sixth season?

There’s just not much to say. 5 wins is probably too high, but again… I like the way the schedule sets up for the NFC South this year.


San Francisco (9 – 7) ~ The best of a very weak group. And because of that… buyer beware when the playoffs arrive. See…

There’s a good chance Alex Smith is going to the Pro Bowl this year.

I know… I know… and I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

(There. Feeling better? Good.)

We’ve got the widely credited, but potentially so overrated he’s underrated Frank Gore in the backfield. We add to that a Michael Crabtree that should be there for a full season, and a Vernon Davis that might just have taken some criticism to heart and stepped up his game.

And that’s not all.

Anyone watch Ted Ginn last season in Miami? There’s a reason they let him go. He couldn’t catch a football if you placed it in his lap while he was sitting in a chair. But as a special teams player… he was making lots of fantasy owners happy.

So… there’s a good chance the offense will get the ball with decent starting position on lots of possessions. And… as noted… there’s some balance in that attack. (And… even if it takes Favre or Brees expressing their gratitude and passing on the trip… Alex Smith is going to go to the Pro Bowl.)

And… oh yeah… San Francisco is planning to make their name on defense, not offense.

They won’t go to the Super Bowl. They will not lose this division.

Arizona (7 – 9) ~ I just don’t know what to expect.

Derek Anderson. Could he be Matt Cassel from 2008? You know… it looks like an impossible situation to replace the guy, and yet surrounded by some talent… and if he doesn’t make many mistakes… could he lead this club to 10 or so wins?

We’re talking about Larry Fitzgerald and other assorted contributors. Deep wide receiving group. Beanie Wells! Look at that… it’s Beanie Wells. Enough running not to wince. There’s some stuff for Anderson to work with.

Toss in four games against the likes of Seattle and St. Louis… add in Oakland and Kansas City… it’s not impossible to get to 8 or 9 wins I suppose.

And it’s not like this club is up and down any more. Playoffs last year… Super Bowl two years ago… the team is doing fine under Whisenhunt.

Instead of using that stuff though, let’s focus on something we really shouldn’t… last season’s playoff results. See… last year very few clubs cleared 20-points against the Cardinals. Happened 7 times in the regular season, and one of those was Green Bay in a must-game for the Packers to end the year. Arizona won 3 of the 7 games.

(If you tell me Derek Anderson is going to be on the field for 10 to 12 games where the opponents are going to score 21 or fewer, I’ll put Arizona in the playoffs right now.)

But in the playoffs… yeah… back to that point. Green Bay and New Orleans put up 45 in back-to-back efforts last season. The Packers lost in overtime… the Saints crushed the Cardinals. Was the defense and low scoring of opponents the reality? Or do they fade in big games against quality clubs?

For finishing first in the division last year, the Cardinals get Dallas, Minnesota and New Orleans as opponents this year. They travel to play Atlanta, San Diego and Carolina. We’ll find out about those quality clubs.

I’m just not sensing it. Too many question marks and problems. Not enough in their favor.

Seattle (6 – 10) ~ Funny thing about Seattle… I like the general attitude. Team first, unity, build a roster that wants to be there. It’s nice. Good to hear.

And nice doesn’t win many football games.

I mean… heck… Charlie Whitehurst? What the hell is that about?

No question… there are some hardnosed, dedicated football players on this roster. But I don’t see anything to suggest success in 2009.

St. Louis (5 – 11) ~ I love Steven Jackson.

I think it’s great that Sam Bradford is going to start right away.

And… umm… that’s about it.

There’s been some talk about their rookie tight end… Michael Hoomanawanui… but on a roster like this, with little else to talk about… it’s hard to see even a great rookie season contributing to much when it comes to their record.

I gave them 5 wins because I think they’ll be better than they have been, and they also play in a relatively weak division.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at