It seems that every season a couple of teams are still at the top of their divisions when it comes to preseason rankings. Some of these teams are still on top this year but a few look to be losing ground to franchises that have set themselves up to turn the corner.
I thought I'd take a minute to go over a few changes that I see happening this season, but first I'll hand out division titles to the teams that have been at or near the top for awhile that will be there again at the end of this season.
The Colts would be the first team that comes to mind. Peyton Manning has the luxury of working in the same offensive system with the same type of personnel again this season. If you look back at the WRs Manning has worked with it almost seems as if they have a mold hidden somewhere in Indianapolis and every other season or so they break it out and create a Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne duplicate that can just step in and contribute immediately with no drop off in offensive production. Even with a change at head coach the Colts continued to rack up yardage and points while remaining stingy enough on defense to make it to the big show.
Looking at the rest of the division it's hard for me to think the Colts will struggle much this season. The Titans are poised for a Titanic style meltdown with a QB that is facing disciplinary action from the league and possibly law enforcement and assuring that his development will be set back for another season. Star running back Chris Johnson is unhappy with his contract and most likely will hold out until he gets what he wants while the WR with the most upside, Kenny Britt, doesn't understand what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. Combine that with an underachieving defense and the problems in Tennessee are larger than the possibility of a playoff run.
The Jaguars will be second from the bottom in the South with an offense that is forced to rely on one player, Maurice Jones-Drew, in order to be consistent. The defense continues to disappoint under a head coach that is supposed to be a defensive mind. The Texans are the one team that could push the Colts for a division title but with a defense that still hasn't found it's identity and a starting QB that has problems remaining healthy the odds on Houston unseating the Colts get longer and longer.
The only other team that I have retaining their division crown is the Chargers, and to be honest I do so with a great deal of hesitation. Philip Rivers might be without his best offensive weapon in Vincent Jackson for 10 weeks making Malcolm Floyd his number one option. With a superstar TE that can't stay healthy, a rookie RB that's starting and a defense that is losing pop and aggression under Norv Turner the Chargers will still have their hands full in a division of misfits that are trying to step it up.
The Chiefs will finish last in the AFC West. Matt Cassel should see a spike in offensive production under the teaching of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss, and the offense as a whole should improve in the second season with Todd Haley. However the defense is still at a lack for playmakers in a division with some breakout offensive talent. I do believe moving into the future the Chiefs will have the opportunity to make a serious run with the young talent that they have in place but with Eric Berry being a rookie and probably the best player on a defense full of no names and retirees it will take some movement on that side of the ball to become a serious contender.
The Broncos are a bit of an enigma going into 2010. With an opportunity to draft some needed position players second year coach Josh McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow to add to a roster that had recently traded for Brady Quinn to compete with Kyle Orton. Unless McDaniels is planning on running a hybrid of the wildcat with 3 QBs in the backfield it's a real possibility that he whiffed in the draft. There's some decent talent on the defense but the offense looks to be taking a stutter step forward losing it's best option in the passing game and having no proven commodity at RB. I have the Broncos finishing third in the division.
That brings me to the Raiders and what I believe to be a team that has more upside combined with a ton of baggage than any other team in the league. Oakland took a huge step forward by releasing Jamarcus Russel and adding Jason Campbell to the roster. This gives them stability at the QB position and an opportunity to find an identity on offense. With a one-two punch at RB with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush combined with a quality TE in Zach Miller all the Raiders need to do to be consistent is find a way to run the ball and work play-action effectively. The defense has enough quality players to be steady and if they can merge to play at a high level Oakland could sneak up on teams and steal enough wins to be 8-8 which could be enough to push San Diego for a playoff spot in a weak division.
Now let's get to some changes at the top.
The NFC West is looking to be shook up this season with the Cardinals losing Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin. Coach Ken Wisenhunt will be forced to earn his pay while he finds ways to overcome the holes in the game of his new starting QB, Matt Leinart. Leinart's arm strength, or lack of, will be the first hurdle, his inability to make pre-snap reads the second and his questionable leadership the third. Losing Warner is the brick that brings the wall tumbling down. On a team that was reliant on offense to win in tight games it will now be an unproven QB who will be forced to lead the charge. The Cardinals are still talented enough to finish second in the division but the glory days will be gone for at least this season.
The Rams are rebuilding with a rookie QB that has suffered two shoulder injuries in college, to the same shoulder. It's unsettling that a team that has had it's season stole from them on more than one occasion over the past couple of seasons due to an injured starting QB would look to rebuild by bringing in a rookie QB with health concerns. Steven Jackson is still a very capable runner but the offensive line is still weak and with a rookie at QB Jackson's workload will still be high, not good news for Steven who at this point in his career would be better served by a few less carries. With Donnie Avery as the number 1 WR it's tough to see the offense scoring many points this season. I do like the Rams defense moving forward and I would have been really excited for this unit if draft day had gone a little different.
The Seahawks have made moderate strides the past 2 seasons but what intrigues me the most is how quickly they fell and stayed there after the loss to the Steelers in the Super bowl. Going into this season the Hawks have just enough on offense to keep themselves in the upper 16 of the league in yardage and scoring but there are glaring holes on defense that could lead to a quick demise. I could easily see Seattle falling to the bottom but for right now I'm going to keep them at third in the division.
And now we'll look at the 2010 NFC West division winning San Francisco 49ers. It's tough to name a division winner with Alex Smith as the starter but the second year in the same offensive system with the talent that he has around him lends the opportunity to keep it simple, limit mistakes and play pressure free. Frank Gore, Glenn Coffee, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree will make the game slow down some for Smith and by the middle of the season I look for this offense to be the cream of the division. The defense will be the straw that stirs the drink and you better believe that a Mike Singletary coached team will come hungry and aggressive every week. The 49ers easily have the best defense in this division and with offenses that have lots of question marks that will be all they really need to take the crown.
Changing of the Guard - Part 1
Posted on: June 24, 2010 3:59 pm
Edited on: June 25, 2010 2:34 pm