So, yes, it's true: we weren't exactly the first outlet in the nation to post our 2010 NFL predictions.
But our picks did go up this week, with our resident Potentate of Pigskin Kerry J. Byrne sharing his selections as part of SI.com's panel of NFL "experts" (see part 1 here;
see part 2, with the divisional picks, here
). The panel included Peter King, Don Banks and Jerome Bettis.
We've been a little high on the Packers; or maybe that's the model glue. Not sure anymore. In any case, we were surprised that so many of SI.com's pigskin "pundits" were high on Green Bay, too: seven of the nine analysts on the panel picked the Pack to win the NFC
You can see the list here
. But it's only a list. No analysis. Below are the thoughts and the Cold, Hard Football Facts behind our Potentate of Pigskin's preseason predictions. High? If so, let us know
AFC East winner: Jets
We touched on this pick in the Welcome Back, Revis
piece this week. We're not exactly sold on the Jets. We're certainly not drinking the Rex Ryan Kool-Aid. Yes, we know, the J-Men made a nice run with a couple big playoff wins last year. But they were also a 9-7 team that struggled to pass the football effectively and that was smoked badly – nearly doubled up in fact – in their last two games against major AFC rivals New England and Indy (outscored 61-31 in the two defeats).
This pick is more an acknowledgement that the Patriots don't seem like they've done much to shore up a continuously poor pass rush and pass defense. The window should be just big enough for the Jets to sneak up on the division crown with a 10-6 or 11-5 record.
AFC North winner: Ravens
Joe Flacco showed some nice improvement from his rookie year of 2008 to 2009: from 14 TD tosses to 21; from 6.9 YPA to 7.2; from an 80.3 passer rating to an 88.9. A little more juice like that, and Baltimore suddenly has an offense to pair with its typically outstanding defense (No. 3 last year in scoring D, total D and Bendability; No. 1 in run defense at 3.43 YPA; ).
With Pittsburgh Big Ben-less for the first month of the season, the window is open for Baltimore to capture the division for the first time since 2006.
AFC South winner: Texans
The pick here is along the lines of our AFC East pick: the Colts have been consistently dominant in the AFC South, just as the Patriots have been in the East. But they're also a flawed team and sooner or later somebody has to catch up with them and capture a division crown.
Houston has a very realistic shot, provided all those big-time picks on defense finally start to gel. The Brian Cushing suspension (four games) doesn't help. But the passing attack under Matt Schaub is already at a Super Bowl-caliber level; and Indy's defense has vulnerabilities (No. 30 in Defensive Hog Index last year).
As is the case with the Jets in hte AFC East, we see a small window of opportunity for the Texans to finally reach the playoffs and win a division crown for the first time in franchise history.
But this prediction could go, well, South, as early as Week 1: Indy visits Houston, and owns a 15-1 all-time record against the Texans.
AFC West winner: Chargers
San Diego fielded the league's best passing attack in 2009 (7.96 YPA
), which instantly makes them a contender in 2010. The Chargers also play in a very weak division, with half the teams likely to be non-contenders pretty much from the get-go (Kansas City, Oakland). Stranger things have happened, but we don't see either team posing a serious threat to San Diego: the Chargers have not lost to either team since September 2007.
We don't think the division will be a complete cake walk, though: if the Broncos can actually piece together a complete season for once, they'll challenge for the crown.
AFC wildcard: Colts
Put most simply, the defending AFC champs have way too many weapons in the arsenal and way too many wins under their belt to be a non-factor.
AFC wildcard: Patriots
Same reasoning as with the Colts, above: too many weapons in the arsenal. Provided they stay healthy, we see another potential 500-point season out of the Patriots offense. For the record, New England has not reached the playoffs as a wildcard team since 1998, the year that the old AFC East sent a record four of its five members to the playoffs.
NFC East winner: Cowboys
Tony Romo is putting up record regular-season numbers. In fact, right now, he's No. 3 all time in career passer rating (95.6) and No. 4 all-time in career average per attempt (8.10)
– the highest average by any player in the last 50 years (min. 1,500 career attempts).
In other words, Dallas will produce enough in the passing game to win its fair share of games. But we still have no confidence that the organization has taken the steps needed to be a true contender come the postseason. The Curse of Flutie
NFC North winner: Packers
Green Bay was a statistical monolith
in 2009, with an average across-the-board rank of 7.0
in all of our Quality Stats. They put up big numbers in critical indicators on both sides of the football ... but only to watch as the defense let it all fall apart on that epic 51-45 loss to the Cardinals in the wildcard round.
We don't anticipate that kind of meltdown happening again, because Green Bay was just too good in too many areas last year. Live and learn, we s'pose.
If they can protect Aaron Rodgers this year, then the sky is truly the limit. Rodgers is on pace to become the highest-rated passer in NFL history: with a 97.2 career passer rating, he enters the season just ahead of Steve Young (96.8) on the all-time list. Of course, with a mere 1,136 pass attempt, he's still shy of the min. 1,500 needed to qualify for official NFL records.
But so far, the pace speaks volumes about his production and instantly makes Green Bay a contender. Rodgers has produced a tremendous 7.75 YPA in his brief career, too, also among the highest ever
NFC South winner: Panthers
We've talked about Carolina in a number of places this year: One, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make for a deadly combination
; Two, quarterback Matt Moore showed plenty of promise
when he replaced Jake Delhomme last year, as the Panthers went 4-1 under his leadership and he threw 8 TD against just 2 INT; and on defense, Carolina brings back a unit that ranked No. 5 last year
in the all-important Defensive Passer Rating Quality Stat. Only the mighty Jets surrendered fewer touchdown passes last year than Carolina's 14.
All of those factors add up to a team on the brink of Super Bowl contention.
NFC West winner: 49ers
The quarterback situation is a disaster in San Francisco
. But it's a disaster throughout the division. The 49ers at least have the defense needed to dominate their local unfearsome foursome and become your typical 9-7/10-6 NFC West champ.
NFC wildcard: Redskins
It's amazing what a difference a quarterback makes. Donovan McNabb was an unloved winner in Philadelphia, even though he was the organization's best quarterback in a half century. We don't know if he'll be loved in Washington, but we do know he instantly makes the Redskins a better team, at least he provides the kind of production we saw in Phi-Town.
Is it unreasonable to think that a team with a decent defense and a Pro Bowl quarterback can improve five or six games in a single season? We don't think so.
NFC wildcard: Saints
Drew Brees is playing at a razor-sharp level and fresh off one of the great passing seasons in NFL history
, highlighted by a record 70.62 completion percentage and a Super Bowl MVP award. So we know that the team has weapons and will put up points; we also know they had a game-breaking defense last year. However, we have plenty of confidence in the offense again in 2010, not quite as much in the defense, for reasons based more on instinct than Cold, Hard Football Fact.
Of course, it was this same instinct that declared the Darren Sharper acquisition last year the biggest off-season move of 2009 and made us early members of what became a very crowded New Orleans bandwagon. So our instinct is typically correct, though we understand not as consistent or trustworthy as our Cold, Hard Football Facts.
We also know that repeating as champs in the NFL no easy feat. So New Orleans will be in the mix. We just don't expect lightning to strike twice.
AFC Championship: Ravens over Jets
Baltimore destroyed the Patriots last year in the wildcard round, but then fell flat at the Colts the next week, losing 20-3. But we expect the Ravens will improve here in 2010 – more so than the self-hyped Jets will improve. So Baltimore will be in prime position to capture the AFC crown at home.
NFC Championship: Packers over Panthers
These should be the two best teams in the conference in 2010. So, naturally, we expect them to meet in the conference title tilt.
Super Bowl: Packers over Ravens
We pegged the Packers as a darkhorse Super Bowl candidate last year. Clearly, we fell flat with that pick. But we're back on the horse this year. Giddy-up, Green Bay! Ride that fat ass all the way to the Super Bowl.
And when they do, rest assured that grown men throughout Wisconsin will finally put away that No. 4 jersey and wonder what they ever saw in him in the first place.