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Archive for August, 2010

Last week I posted my NFC X-Factors, or the guys flying below the radar whose performance I think could impact their team’s record more than the average player.   Today it’s time to tackle the AFC.

Baltimore Ravens – Fabian Washington, CB

Baltimore Ravens Parade Car

Will this car be driving to the house that Jerry built?

A thin unit became even more so when cornerback Domonique Foxworth went down in the preseason with a season-ending injury.  Now it’s up to Washington to come back strong from offseason knee surgery and hold down one side of the Ravens’ pass defense.

Buffalo Bills – Demetrius Bell, T

The Bills offensive line was atrocious last season.  A seventh round pick in 2008, Bell was forced to start halfway through 2009.  They’ll need him to be a big anchor at left tackle if they hope to have any sort of success.

Cincinnati Bengals – Terrell Owens, WR

I’m sure Owens would not want to be considered anybody’s X-Factor.  But he is not the player he once was.  The Bengals were handcuffed at the end of last season when it became clear Chad Ochocinco was their only option in the passing game.  If TO can capture some of his past glory Cincinnati could make a Super Bowl run.

Cleveland Browns – Brian Robiskie, WR

Robiskie barely played in his rookie year, finishing with seven measly catches for 106 yards.  The Browns need a spark for their passing game, which finished last in the NFL in 2009.  Jake Delhomme is used to just heaving the ball and having his main receiver make a play for him.  Perhaps Robiskie can be that receiver for him this year.

Denver Broncos – Robert Ayers, LB

Even without the injury to Elvis Dumervil the Broncos were going to be pushing Ayers to improve their ability to get to the quarterback.  Now that Dumervil will be out for the season, Ayers needs to step up to be their featured pass rusher.

Houston Texans – Glover Quin, CB

Ranked 18th in the NFL, the Texans had a respectable pass defense in 2009.  But they lost free agent cornerback Dunta Robinson to the Falcons in free agency.  Quin will be in only his second year in the NFL but Houston hopes he can step into Robinson’s position as shut down corner.

Indianapolis Colts – Donald Brown, RB

The Colts could not muster a running game last season, finishing last in the NFL.  Brown has the power and breakaway speed that Joseph Addai lacks.  He could be the difference maker when carrying the ball for Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Aaron Kampman, DE

After finishing last season dead last in the NFL in sacks the Jags sought out to improve their pass rush.  They hope that Kampman will help them out greatly in that department.  He missed seven games last year after a season-ending knee injury but had 37 total sacks in the three seasons before that one.

Kansas City Chiefs – Glenn Dorsey, DE

Two years into his professional career, the man many thought would be a brute force on the defensive line has struggled.  The time is now for Dorsey to step up and be an anchor for the Chiefs’ front seven. 

Miami Dolphins – Cameron Wake, LB

With the loss of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor the Dolphins need Wake to step up and become a complete player in 2010.  He was strong with the pass rush last season, his first in the NFL, finishing with 5.5 sacks.

New England Patriots – Devin McCourty, CB

There is no doubt that New England’s most questionable unit is the secondary.  They drafted McCourty in the first round to help them solve the issues.  He’ll have every opportunity to start alongside Leigh Bodden at the cornerback position.

New York Jets – Braylon Edwards, WR

Nobody questions the ability of Edwards.  It’s his heart that is questioned and it’s usually after he goes through one of his episodes of dropped passes.  With high expectations and the progress of Mark Sanchez at stake the play of Edwards could be the difference between the Jets having a great season and a good one.

Oakland Raiders – Tommy Kelly, DT

The Raiders were 29th in the NFL against the run last year.  If the Raiders are going to achieve respectability in 2010 they need Kelly to become the player they thought he would when they gave him a big contract a few years ago.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Wallace, WR

Coming off an excellent rookie campaign, Wallace will be expected to provide even more bang for the Steelers’ offense in 2010.  They need to replace the 79 receptions, 789 yards and six touchdowns Santonio Holmes provided last season.  Without a doubt, Wallace is the best candidate to do it.

San Diego Chargers – Antoine Cason, CB

Antonio Cromartie’s trade means it’s time for Cason to step into a starting cornerback role and be productive.  To get to the Super Bowl the Chargers will need to be able to depend on Cason to help slow down the air attack offenses of the Patriots, Colts and Ravens.

Tennessee Titans – Kenny Britt, WR

Britt put up some good stats in his rookie year, finishing with 42 receptions, 701 yards and three touchdowns.  If the Titans are going to strongly contend for a playoff spot and win the division, Britt will have to expand his game and provide a consistent downfield target for Vince Young.

Who do you see as the X-Factors for AFC teams?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: Maryland National Guard

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The letter x carved in stone

Is this the difference between success and failure?

I recently finished all of my 2010 NFL divisional previews.  Now I want to take a look at the X-Factors for each team.  In looking for an NFL X-Factor I wanted to find a player that would be a little bit off the radar but whose performance will impact their team’s record more than the average player.  

Arizona Cardinals – Joey Porter, LB

New to the Cardinals, Porter will be counted on to supply an outside pass rush and leadership for Arizona.  At 33 there are concerns about him wearing down but he did have nine sacks for the Dolphins last year.

Atlanta Falcons – Peria Jerry, DT

After missing most of last season due to injury, Jerry comes into the 2010 NFL season with high expectations.  The Falcons are hoping he will be able to provide some pass rush up the middle to open things up for John Abraham and Kroy Biermann at the ends.

Carolina Panthers – Tyler Brayton, DE

Somebody will need to fill the void left by the departure of Julius Peppers.  The Panthers are hoping Brayton will be one of the defensive ends to do it.  He looked excellent in the first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, racking up two quick sacks before getting hurt.

Chicago Bears – Chris Williams, T

New offensive coordinator Mike Martz loves to use seven step drops and long developing plays.  Jay Cutler will have no chance to complete those passes if he’s laying on his back.  Williams, who only has five NFL starts, will have to quickly get up to speed at left tackle.

Dallas Cowboys – Alan Ball, S

Coming into the season the Cowboys are pretty solid at every position on defense, with the exception of strong safety.  Having forced only 21 turnovers in 2009 they need a playmaker to come in and make things happen.  The third year man from Illinois will have every opportunity to be that player.

Detroit Lions – DeAndre Levy, LB

As the middle linebacker in the Lions 4-3 scheme, Levy will be called on to make plays and be a leader.  That may be a tough task for the second year man from Wisconsin, especially when there is not a lot of talent surrounding him.

Green Bay Packers – B.J. Raji, NT/DE

Raji will be an important piece of the Packers’ defense in 2010.  In a 3-4 scheme, Green Bay relies heavily on their front line to clog the lanes and stop the run.  Raji is likely to move around between end and nose tackle depending on where he’s most effective.

Minnesota Vikings – Percy Harvin, WR

With the injury to Sidney Rice, Harvin becomes even more important to the Vikings.  The question will be – how will his migraines affect his ability to play.  He was very effective as a rookie and if he can stay on the field he appears ready to take a step toward stardom.

New Orleans Saints – Alex Brown, DE

While solid in the playoffs, the Saints defense gave up a lot of yards in the regular season, ranking 21st in the NFL against the run and 26th against the pass.  Brown takes the spot of Charles Grant and will be expected to be a run stopper and a pass rusher.

New York Giants – Kenny Phillips, S

Expected to have a breakout year in 2009, Phillips got hurt, had knee surgery and missed 14 games.  A healthy return by Phillips will go a long way toward helping the Giant defense return to prominence.

Philadelphia Eagles – Jason Peters, T

Peters was signed prior to last season with the expectation that he would be cemented at left tackle for years to come.  Unfortunately for the Eagles, he struggled.  For new quarterback Kevin Kolb to succeed steady pass protection and solid run blocking will be critical.

San Francisco 49ers – Anthony Davis, T

The Niners took Davis with the 11th pick in the NFL Draft and expect him to deliver dividends immediately.  They’ve slotted him in at right tackle and are counting on him to improve the pass protection for a unit that has allowed more sacks than any other team in the NFL over the last three season.

Seattle Seahawks – Chris Clemons, DE/LB

Clemons was traded from the Eagles to the Seahawks in March.  Seattle was a disappointing 26th in sacks last year.  They hope that Clemons will be a dangerous pass rusher in coach Pete Carroll’s hybrid 3-4/4-3 attack.

St. Louis Rams – Rodger Saffold, T

Whoever lines up at left tackle will be a critical piece in the Rams’ protection of number one pick Sam Bradford.  Saffold, a fellow rookie, has seized that position by playing well in training camp.  He will have to be a key part of keeping Bradford healthy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Williams, WR

The Bucs need a lot of help in a lot of places.  They are building solidly through the draft and if this year’s fourth round pick Williams, who is generating a lot of training camp buzz, can offer a dynamic option for last year’s first round pick Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay will be well on their way toward solidifying the offense.

Washington Redskins – Clinton Portis, RB

He’s the most well known name on this list and will be an important factor in the success of Washington in 2010.  Portis is only 28 but has a lot of miles on the treads.  A solid, healthy season would provide a big boost to the Redskins.

What do you think?  Who are your NFC X-Factors?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: Editor B

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Heading into the 2010 NFL season there are a lot of interesting storylines in the AFC South.  Can the Colts hold on to the top spot in the division or will age at key positions finally catch up with them?  Can the Titans maintain the momentum they had at the end of last season?  Will the Texans finally take the next step and make the playoffs?  Can Jack Del Rio keep his job by coercing a good season out of his Jaguars?

Division Winner

Indianapolis Colts

Admittedly, this is a boring and predictable pick.  But, the Colts are as solid as they come, having won between 12 and 14 games in each of the last five seasons.  Some of their personnel losses will hurt them, but with Peyton Manning running the show and a healthy Dwight Freeney, I expect the Super Bowl runner up to have another excellent season.

Peyton Manning at Super Bowl

Will Peyton Get Another Shot at the Super Bowl?

Most Valuable Player

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Despite a lot of youth in the receiving corps and a very minimal running game, Manning was still tremendous, winning his fourth MVP.  The way he broke in new receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie was brilliant.  Expect continued excellence in 2010.

Most Important Player

Bob Sanders, S, Indianapolis Colts

The story of Bob Sanders is well-documented.  A highly-talented safety, he has a hard time staying on the field.  In fact, he has missed 49 games while appearing in 47.  Sanders is a critical piece of the Colts defense.  If the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year stays healthy, the Colts will have a much better shot at working their way back to the Super Bowl.

Offensive Player of the Year

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

Considering the number of touches he gets (408 carries and receptions in 2009), at some point I think you have to start worrying about Johnson’s ability to stay effective and healthy.  I think he’ll be fine this season though and will continue to be a huge part of the Titans offense.

Defensive Player of the Year

Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans

Williams will rebound from last season, in which he played mostly hurt and had only nine sacks.  In fact, I expect him to have a monster year.

Top Newcomer

Aaron Kampman, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

Interestingly, this division does not have a lot of newcomers.  These four teams will be depending on the development of the players already on their roster and rookies for improvement.  Regardless, Kampman is a solid addition to the Jaguars.  After tallying 37 sacks in the previous three seasons, Kampman was never comfortable with Green Bay’s 3-4 defensive alignment and only had three and a half sacks last season before going out with a season-ending knee injury.  The Jaguars desperately need help with the pass rush and Kampman will provide some.

Top Rookie

Derrick Morgan, DE, Tennessee Titans

All four AFC South teams focused on defense in the draft.  I like Morgan (not just because of his last name) to have the best rookie season of the bunch.  He is very athletic and has a lot of promise as an NFL pass rusher.  Another advantage he will have is playing time, as he should get plenty of it in Tennessee.

Most Improved

Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

The Texans are searching for a back that will step up and fortify their running game.  With the season ending injury to rookie Ben Tate, Foster will be the man.  In the last two weeks of the 2009 season Foster ran for more than 200 total yards and three touchdowns against the Dolphins and Patriots.  If former star Steve Slaton is fully recovered from injuries and the fumbling issues that plagued him in 2009, he will certainly compete for playing time.  But ultimately I think Foster will be the answer to Houston’s running game questions.

Most Pressure

Vince Young, QB, Tennessee Titans

After playing his way into the dog house and out of a starting role, Young resurrected his career by taking advantage of the opportunity to play given to him after the Titans crashed and burned at the beginning of the 2009 season.  When he entered the starting lineup last year he had nothing to lose.  Now the expectations will be much higher.  Young’s offseason strip club altercation only added to the pressure.

Biggest Loss

Keith Bulluck, LB, Tennessee Titans

Bulluck was the second leading tackler for the Titans last year and also had three interceptions.  It will be difficult for Tennessee to replace his production, but even more importantly, it will be almost impossible to replace his leadership skills.

Can the Titans or the Texans challenge the Colts for AFC South supremacy?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: IAN RANSLEY DESIGN + ILLUSTRATION

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Last year the AFC North was truly a battle of elite defenses.  With three of the top five ranked defensive units in the NFL it was not easy to generate yardage against the Bengals, Steelers or Ravens.  The battle for the top of the division in 2010 will be no less bloody.

Division Winner

Baltimore Ravens

There is concern about the Ravens defensive backfield, and rightfully so.  Already a thin unit, they’ve lost Domonique Foxworth for the season and leader Ed Reed for an undetermined amount of time.  The key to success for the Baltimore defense will be their ability to generate a pass rush and protect the d-backs.  After losing 25 pounds in the offseason, I think Terrell Suggs will be back in that speed rushing role that will lead to much more pressure on the quarterback.  I really like the Ravens offense.  With wide receivers who can actually catch the ball, I think Joe Flacco takes a step toward elite status.

Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens

Is this the NFC North MVP?

Most Valuable Player

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

After that last sentence it should be no surprise that I’m choosing Flacco for MVP.  The addition of Anquan Boldin will be a huge asset for him.  I watched the Ravens play a fair amount last year and one of my lasting memories of those games is that their receivers always seemed to drop the ball.  By bringing in Boldin, Donte’ Stallworth and two rookie tight ends that specialize in catching the ball Baltimore has really enhanced the potential of their passing game.

Most Important Player

Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

This division has two of the best safeties in the NFL and quite possibly two of the best to ever play the game.  Polamalu’s leadership and ball hawking ability were sorely missed during the 11 games he was out last year.  For the Steelers to contend for the division they are going to need their defense to be in the top two or three in the NFL.  The key to that happening is Polamalu being on the field.

Offensive Player of the Year

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Another person who will benefit by the improved personnel in the Ravens passing game is Rice.  While his receiving numbers may go down slightly, his ability to find openings in opposing defenses should multiply now that they will have to give much more respect to the Ravens’ ability to move the ball through the air.

Defensive Player of the Year

LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

This one was a tough call.  I debated between picking Woodley or Suggs.  Ultimately I chose Woodley because I think Aaron Smith returning to health and the growth of Lawrence Timmons will lead to more opportunities for Woodley and James Harrison to disrupt offenses.  Over the last two seasons Woodley has 11.5 and 13.5 sacks.  I would not be surprised to see that number continue to grow along that trajectory.

Top Newcomer

Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Boldin is a huge addition to the Ravens’ offense.  In four of the last five seasons he has had at least 80 receptions and 1,000 yards.  He also has 35 touchdowns in that period of time.  Boldin adds a whole new dimension to the Baltimore passing game, a true go-to guy, and will be a big factor in the growth of Flacco.

Top Rookie

Montario Hardesty, RB, Cleveland Browns

At six feet tall and 225 pounds, Hardesty has a more traditional look of a running back than the projected starter for the Browns, Jerome Harrison.  The second round pick’s speed and size should give him a good chance to at least split duties with Harrison, if not get a majority of the carries.

Most Improved

Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have a long history of stellar linebackers and Timmons is positioned to take his place as the next one.  Ankle injuries slowed him down greatly last year, but his athleticism combined with the mentoring of James Farrior and Larry Foote should help him take a leap up in 2010.

Most Pressure

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

After a tumultous offseason, Roethlisberger goes into the season serving a suspension that is likely to be four games but could be as long as six.  The glow had already started to wear off of Big Ben during last season as information started coming out that he was not the best of teammates.  While the Rooneys quickly jettisoned Santonio Holmes for his indiscretions, they held on to Roethlisberger.  He has a lot to prove in 2010 after letting his teammates and the franchise down by already being suspended for at least a quarter of the season.  And he’ll have to do it with a weaker receiving corps.

Biggest Loss

Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Speaking of Santonio Holmes, I believe he’s the biggest loss in the division.  Last year was Holmes’ finest season as a pro.  He caught 79 passes for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns.  Those are tough numbers to replace.  You’ve got to figure age is going to catch up with Hines Ward and you have to wonder how much of the success Mike Wallace had last year was due to the presence of Holmes as a bigger threat.  Behind those two the Steelers have another aging veteran (Antwaan Randle El) and a bunch of unproven youngsters.

How do you think the NFC North will play out in 2010?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: jeffweese

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With three solid playoff contenders and quality skill players everywhere you look, the AFC East should be a fun division to watch in the upcoming NFL season.  I also happen to think that the Bills will not be as bad as many others are predicting. 

Division Winner

New England Patriots Receivers

"Moss run the fly...Welker button hook."

New England Patriots

I know the Jets are the trendy pick to win the division, conference and Super Bowl.  I can see the Jets making another run in the playoffs but I think the Patriots will win the division title.  I like Tom Brady to be fully recovered from his knee surgery.  I like Wes Welker coming back from injury and young receivers stepping up.  I like all the talent they added in the draft.  I like their front seven to pull them through on defense even though the backfield has question marks.  And as much as I can’t stand the guy, I think Bill Belichik will be ultra-motivated to return to prominence.  Plus, they can’t possibly have as many injuries this year as they had last year.

Most Valuable Player

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

The Tom Brady that so incredibly frustrates the opposition will be back in 2010.  While having a “down” year in 2009 he still ranked fifth in the AFC in quarterback rating, throwing for 28 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.  He’ll be stronger and more confident this season while working the ball to the open receiver after reading the defense perfectly.  Ugh!

Most Important Player

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets

Some would say the pick here should be Darrelle Revis because of the holdout controversy.  However, I believe the contract dispute will be resolved before the season starts.  To me the real key for the Jets will be Sanchez.  He matured in the playoffs and needs to continue along that path of development.  The Jets have surrounded Sanchez with more weapons and he must improve his decision making and utilize his backs and tight ends more when the receivers are taken away.

Offensive Player of the Year

Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

The second year back from Iowa will start the 2010 season where he left off in the playoffs.  With the offense the Jets run Greene will get plenty of opportunities to show off his nice balance of power and speed. 

Defensive Player of the Year

Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots

Mayo will be the key to what I believe will be a return to excellence for the New England defense.  Playing in the middle of the Patriots’ defense, Mayo is a huge talent whose leadership and ability to play every facet of the linebacker position well are critical components of the team’s success.  After battling injuries in 2009 I expect him to have a huge year in 2010.

Top Newcomer

Brandon Marshall, WR, Miami Dolphins

After inconsistent and uninspired play from the receiving unit the past couple of years the Dolphins decided they would take it no more and went out and got one of the top five receivers in the NFL.  Marshall is a huge addition to the Miami attack and should greatly aid the development of Chad Henne.

Top Rookie

C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills

Spiller should be poised to help the Bills on offense and special teams.  With a solid backfield already in place in Buffalo (although Marshawn Lynch may still be traded), Spiller is likely to be used in third down situations.  But don’t expect that to mean he will not have the chance to be effective.  The Bills will surely use him in the short passing game and will also set him up for screens.  In addition, he’ll be another weapon in an arsenal of return specialists that will be among the most deadly in the NFL.

Most Improved

Aaron Maybin, LB, Buffalo Bills

A lot was expected from Maybin last year after the Bills took the Penn State product with the 11th pick in the NFL Draft.  The rookie defensive end struggled and didn’t record a single sack.  That will change drastically in 2010 as Maybin moves to the outside linebacker position and the Bills switch over to the 3-4 defensive alignment.  His explosiveness will make him a dangerous pass rusher coming off the edge.

Most Pressure

Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo Bills

While he doesn’t have the pressure of competing for the division or the playoffs, this is the last shot for Edwards.  He must show that he can effectively play the quarterback position and make good decisions.  If not, he’ll be looking at a career as a backup.

Biggest Loss

Joey Porter, LB, Miami Dolphins

Porter had 26.5 sacks over the last two seasons and served as a leader on the Dolphins’ defense.  He’s certainly getting older but the Dolphins have unproven talent trying to step into his shoes in 2010.

Who do you like to top the AFC East?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: the_junes

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The AFC West is likely to be the most noncompetitive divison in the NFL in 2010.  The Chargers will continue to have a stranglehold on the division title and a lot more talent than the other three teams.  I do believe there is some hope for continued improvement by the Chiefs and Raiders.

Division Winner

San Diego Chargers

Unless their holdouts have a bigger effect than I expect, the Chargers could have the division locked up early.  The Chiefs and Raiders made nice moves in the offseason and also drafted impact rookies, but they are both still at least a year or two away from competing with the Chargers.

Philip Rivers in Chargers Practice

Philip Rivers with Friendly Fire

Most Valuable Player

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

Spectacular is a good word to describe the season Rivers had in 2009, at least until the playoff game against the Jets.  I expect him to rebound from that set back and have another outstanding season in 2010 that comes close to exceeding the 104.4 quarterback rating, 65+ completion percentage, 4,254 yards, 28 touchdowns and 9 interceptions he had last year.

Most Important Player

Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers

Looking at the bigger NFL picture I’ve chosen Jackson as the Most Important Player in the AFC West.  To me it’s as simple as this – if Jackson plays the Chargers should have as good a chance as any other team to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  If he sits out the whole season, and that is a real possibility, the Chargers will not be challenged for the division but will likely go down again in the first or second round of the playoffs.

Offensive Player of the Year

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

Those of you that know me know how hard it is for me to continue to give Rivers all of these accolades.  But he has absolutely earned them.  Through determination and hard work Rivers has minimized the deficiencies in his game and week after week comes through for his team.  He earned my respect when he played in the 2008 AFC Championship game just days after knee surgery and without an ACL. 

Defensive Player of the Year

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders

The Elvis Dumervil injury makes this pick an easy decision.  Because of the Jets run through the playoffs last year, Darrelle Revis got a lot of well-deserved recognition as the top cornerback in the league.  Asomugha is just as good, always taking away the receiver on his side of the field.  He’s a big reason why the Raiders finished the 2009 season ranked seventh against the pass in the NFL.

Top Newcomer

Thomas Jones, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

I love the pickup of Jones by Kansas City.  The Chiefs have a fine young running back in Jamaal Charles, but in today’s NFL most teams rely on two backs to carry the load.  Jones seemed to wear down last year after getting 331 carries in the regular season.  Splitting duties with Charles will lead to Jones taking less of a consistent beating and help him to be more effective when he is carrying the ball.  If the Chiefs offensive line improves they should have a very dangerous running game.

Top Rookie

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers

After considering Oakland’s Rolando McClain and Kansas City’s Eric Berry and Dexter McCluster, I’m choosing Mathews as the top rookie.  The Chargers will instantly insert Mathews into their backfield and expect the rookie to produce.  In an offense with a good number of weapons he should be able to carve up defenses while relying on his strenth, running between the tackles.

Most Improved

Jason Campbell, QB, Oakland Raiders

Despite the constant negative attention and the zoo-like atmosphere that surrounded the Redskins last year, Campbell did not have that bad of a season.  With a quarterback rating of 86.4 and completion percentage of 64.5, Campbell threw for more than 3,600 yards with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.  Throughout his career he has had no offensive stability and very little support from the Redskins organization.  With a new beginning in Oakland playing for a team that wants him I think Campbell will have a solid season in 2010.

Most Pressure

Norv Turner, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers

At first I was going to pick Josh McDaniels.  But as a second year coach who clearly has the support of ownership to make big moves, I rethought that choice.  Turner is a more obvious candidate and he may be fighting for his job.  The Chargers have won four straight division titles but have nary a Super Bowl appearance to show for it.  San Diego’s window may be starting to close and my guess is that if the Chargers do not at least go to the Super Bowl, Turner’s window will be slammed shut.

Biggest Loss

Elvis Dumervil, LB, Denver Broncos

Losing Dumervil to injury is a crushing blow to the Broncos.  He led the NFL in sacks last year with 17 and is a major disruption to every Denver opponent.  The Broncos rely on his aggressive pass rush heavily.  Until Dumervil’s injury I had pegged another Bronco, at least a former one, Brandon Marshall, as the biggest loss.

The AFC West race seems to be for second place.  Who do you like as the runner up?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: SD Dirk

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Time to tackle the division that seems to be more up in the air than any other.  We all know why the uncertainty exists, two words – Brett Favre.  The NFC North could go a number of different ways.  Here’s how I think it will go.

Division Winner

Green Bay Packers

This is a little bit of a surprise.  I think that even if Favre does play this year Green Bay will win the division.  There’s a lot to like about the Packers – the continued development of Aaron Rodgers, the potential for improvement on the offensive line, a defense that was first in the NFL against the run and another year of experience and increase in maturity in some key defensive players. 

MVP

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers was brilliant last season, posting a 103.2 quarterback rating with a 64.7% completion percentage, 4,434 yards, 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.  The one area Rodgers could improve in is dumping the ball off to running backs more and not continuing to hold it to wait for a receiver to come open down field.  That and improved offensive line play should lead to Rodgers taking far fewer than the 50 sacks he took in 2009.

Most Important Player

Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings

The difference between Favre playing and not playing is the difference between the Vikings making a push for a division title and maybe even an NFL championship and a season where they are fighting to make the playoffs.  I think Favre will play, but I don’t think he’ll end up playing all 16 games.  I think he’ll definitely miss the first game against New Orleans.  Based on the condition of his ankle some are speculating that he may not play until after the bye in week four.  If the ankle is going to be an issue, the Vikings would be smart to preserve him for the playoffs even if it means they lose the division as a result.  I think that will be the case.

Offensive Player of the Year

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

With the Vikings losing Chester Taylor to the intra-division rival Bears more of the backfield burden will fall on Peterson.  I think he’ll be up to the task and more.  Peterson’s ability to run the ball and accelerate through a hole with speed and strength may be second to none in the NFL.  I think that he will also take better care of the ball in 2010 after working on it in the off season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers

Matthews made a big impact in his rookie year racking up 10 sacks.  He’ll be even better in his second year as he discovers how to do more than just rush the passer.  I’ll give this to him by a very small margin over Jared Allen.

Top Newcomer

Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears

To me this is a battle between two new teammates, Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor.  Ultimately I think Peppers will make a bigger difference than Taylor.  If Peppers is motivated he can be an absolute beast and terrorize quarterbacks.  He can also open up opportunities for his teammates to make big plays.  I think he’ll play with much more passion in his new surroundings.

Top Rookie

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

There is no doubt Suh was the most dominant player available in the NFL Draft.  He’ll be the anchor of the Lions defense for years to come.  However, his ability to shine in his rookie year may be limited by the lack of talent around him.

Most Improved

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

Stepping in as a rookie to play starting quarterback in the NFL is one of the hardest things to do in all of professional sports.  As should be expected, Stafford was inconsistent in his first year in the league.  With some additional weapons and a full off season to work on his game I think he’ll take a big step toward his potential in 2010.

Jay Cutler Faces High Expectations in 2010

Most Pressure

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears

Cutler has all the tools to be a top five quarterback in the NFL.  He seems to struggle in making the right decisions.  With new offensive coordinator Mike Martz in Chicago Cutler is likely to either have a spectacular year or go down in a gigantic wreck of flaming ash.  I think he’ll succeed.

Biggest Loss

Larry Foote, LB, Detroit Lions

This was a tough one to choose because the division did not lose much talent.  The most talented players that left the division were replaced by a solid pickup or a budding youngster.  He may not have been spectacular, but the fact is that Foote led the Lions in tackles last year and was the key to the middle of the defense.  The Lions don’t have much to replace Foote with but they probably needed to tear the defense all the way down in order to build it back up.

Let me know your thoughts on the NFC North in the comments section below.  Will Favre play?

Photo source: Monica’s Dad

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