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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.
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 West
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (WIS Prediction: 8-8)
Absolute Record: 10-6
In his first full season as coach, Mike Singletary took the San Francisco 49ers to the cusp of the playoffs. With a weaker division in his second year, the former Bears' player may have them back in the postseason for the first time since 2002. If they get there, it will likely be because Alex Smith continued to resurrect his career. The former No. 1 overall pick finally settled in last year after taking over the gig during the second half of a Week 7 game. The 49ers have enough explosive weapons on both sides of the ball that Smith will simply have to stay solid like he was last year when he threw 18 touchdowns and 12 picks.
Biggest Newcomers: Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. The Niners showed that they're committed to protecting Smith by selecting a pair of offensive linemen with the 11th and 17th overall picks of this year's draft. Davis, out of Rutgers, is expected to start at right tackle, while Iupati, considered the top guard in the draft, will likely take over at left guard. The moves should beef up a line that already has highly regarded left tackle Joe Staley, though he was injured for a good part of last year.
Biggest Strength: Linebacker. Patrick Willis continues to be one of the top defensive players in the entire league. He led the NFL with 152 tackles last year and with three forced fumbles and three picks, it looks like - if it's possible - that he's only getting better. Takeo Spikes is a veteran that fits well beside Willis, and outside backers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson have only gotten better as their careers have worn on in San Francisco. This is a good unit that has the ability to be exceptional.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Alex Smith. Yes, what he did in the final 10 weeks of last season was pretty darn good, especially considering what the rest of his career looked like. But can he do it for a full season? He's entering a contract year, so there's plenty to play for. With an offensive line that looks stronger than ever and a receiving corps that now includes speedster Ted Ginn, Smith has been given everything he should need to become a bona fide starter. If he doesn't, the Niners have David Carr to fall back on.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Michael Crabtree. This time around, there are no holdout worries. Those who drafted Crabtree last year had to wait him out and those who did were probably pleasantly surprised. The holdout didn't seem to faze Crabtree, who still caught 48 balls for 625 yards and a pair of scores in just 11 games as a rookie. He's got all the athletic ability that the Niners could want, and with possession receiver Josh Morgan and top-tier tight end Vernon Davis alongside, defenses can't focus solely on Crabtree.
Closest Game: Week 4 at Falcons (Avg. Score 17-16 - 49ers)
Fantasy Notables: Alex Smith (19th) 3500 yds, 17 TDs, 17 INTs; Frank Gore (9th) 1359 rush yds, 12 TDs (total); Michael Crabtree (12th) 868 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Vernon Davis (8th) 811 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Joe Nedney (23rd) 25-36 FGs, 29 XPs
2010 San Francisco 49ers
|2||New Orleans Saints||22||15-24|
|3||@Kansas City Chiefs||62||17-15|
|10||St. Louis Rams||79||21-9|
|11||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||73||21-11|
|13||@Green Bay Packers||9||9-26|
|15||@San Diego Chargers||13||12-27|
|16||@St. Louis Rams||80||21-13|
ARIZONA CARDINALS (WIS Prediction: 6-10)
Absolute Record: 4-12
After two seasons of glory, the Arizona Cardinals' rein atop the NFC West could be over. The Cardinals, coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2008, made it back to the playoffs again in 2009, but a multitude of players who helped them make back-to-back postseason appearances have left the desert. Quarterback Kurt Warner and linebacker Bertrand Berry hung up their cleats. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle all left during free agency. The best thing that the Cardinals have going for them is that there may not be a clear-cut favorite to win the division. But if they're going to take that title for a third straight year, it'll be with a barrage of new faces.
Biggest Newcomers: Linebackers. The Cardinals had to find players to fill the big shoes of Dansby and Berry and they've assembled a few pieces that might be able do it. Joey Porter will bring his baggage with him, but Arizona didn't have much of a choice but to take a shot at the four-time Pro Bowler. Porter is a proven commodity with 92 career sacks, including nine last year with the Dolphins. The Cards also added TCU's Daryl Washington in the second round of the draft, bringing in a youngster to battle free agent signee Paris Lenon.
Put Me In CoachMatt Leinart finally gets his shot behind center
Biggest Strength: Defensive line. Arizona operates out of a 3-4 package, but that didn't stop the guys up front from wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. Tackle Darnell Dockett and end Calais Campbell tied for the team lead with seven sacks apiece and Campbell had a career-high 15 tackles for loss in 2009. That said, the Cardinals still gave up 4.5 yards per carry. To try and fix that, they picked Tennessee's Dan Williams with their first-round pick. He'll likely take the starting spot at nose tackle.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Quarterback. Ken Whisenhunt gave Matt Leinart his endorsement during the offseason, but how long that will hold up will only depend on Leinart's performance. The USC product is known more for his partying than his pocket passing, but will get every chance to take over a starting role that he was supposed to assume before Kurt Warner gave him no chance to do so. Leinart will be pushed by Derek Anderson, a quarterback with more game experience but not any more success than the former Heisman winner Leinart.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Early Doucet. If Steve Breaston is the new Anquan Boldin, then Doucet will be the new Breaston. That may not sound like much, but despite playing alongside two potent receivers last year, Breaston amassed 55 catches for over 700 yards and three touchdowns. Doucet had 17 grabs for 214 yards and a score playing mostly only in the second half of the season last year. Of course, this all hinges on the Cardinals having a quarterback to get these guys the ball, so respect the sleeper title and draft Doucet late, handcuff him with another Zona receiver or keep a close on him if he's a post-draft free agent.
Closest Game: Week 3 vs Raiders (Avg. Score 18-17 - Raiders)
Fantasy Notables: Matt Leinart (26th) 3328 yds, 15 TDs, 20 INTs; Tim Hightower (22nd) 856 rush yds, 7 TDs (total); Larry Fitzgerald (29th) 1006 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Ben Patrick (26th) 364 rec. yds, 2 TDs; Jay Feely (13th) 29-37 FGs, 26 XPs
2010 Arizona Cardinals
|1||@St. Louis Rams||63||18-16|
|4||@San Diego Chargers||7||9-29|
|5||New Orleans Saints||12||14-27|
|8||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||68||19-12|
|11||@Kansas City Chiefs||49||16-18|
|12||San Francisco 49ers||38||14-16|
|13||St. Louis Rams||71||21-12|
|17||@San Francisco 49ers||35||11-18|
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (WIS Prediction: 6-10)
Absolute Record: 5-11
It was a gambling offseason for the Seattle Seahawks, and we're not talking about a gentleman's bet with a friend. After going just 5-11 in 2009, Seattle went through a major shakeup, taking its first gamble by bringing in USC coach Pete Carroll. Sure, Carroll has had some NFL experience, but let's be honest, that was ages ago in NFL years. The Seahawks also gambled for the future by trading for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, the heir-apparent to Matt Hasselbeck and unloading a couple of defensive commodities.
Wait and SeaPete Carroll escaped USC for another crack in NFL
Biggest Newcomer: Carroll. The track record of coaches going from collegiate athletics to professional sports doesn't need to be rehashed. Let's just say it isn't good. What about former NFL coaches who turned to the college ranks and is now going back to the NFL? We're about to find out. Carroll had stints with both the Jets and Patriots, actually amassing a winning record (33-31) in doing so. That said, it's been a decade since he was at the helm of an NFL team and whether Carroll has more talent with the Seahawks than he did at USC is still being debated.
Biggest Strength: Linebackers. At least for the moment. During the offseason when teams are healthy, the Seahawks' linebacking corps is definitely formidable, now they just have to show they can play an entire season. Aaron Curry, the Hawks' first-round pick in 2009, had a typical rookie season filled with mind-boggling plays - both of the good and bad variety. But he ended up missing the last two games of the year with a shoulder injury. Lofa Tatupu is a proven middle linebacker and the source of leadership on defense, but missed more than half of last season. And the third starter, Leroy Hill, twice missed four-game stints a year ago. The chances of them all staying healthy don't seem high, but if they do, look out.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Quarterback. At 34 years old, Matt Hasselbeck's career is winding down, and he showed it with his worst season in 2009. He had a career-high 17 interceptions a year ago, including back-to-back four-pick games. He's proven to be injury-prone, his offensive line hasn't helped in that situation and his targets are suspect at best. Not the ideal recipe for a rebound year. And while the Seahawks paid a hefty price for Whitehurst, they don't seem in a hurry to get him under center. Then again, why would they be? He never threw a regular season pass in four years with the Chargers.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Golden Tate. Tate fell to the end of the second round of the NFL draft, but that won't stop him from having to step in right away as the Seahawks' No. 2 target. Tate, who showed off his ability to rack up yards after the catch at Notre Dame, should benefit from defenses focusing on all-Pro T.J. Houshmandzadeh and steady tight end John Carlson.
Closest Game: Week 7 vs Cardinals (Avg. Score 17-14 - Seahawks)
Fantasy Notables: Matt Hasselbeck (25th) 3262 yds, 15 TDs, 18 INTs; Julius Jones (32nd) 787 rush yds, 5 TDs (total); T.J. Houshmandzadeh (27th) 1042 rec. yds, 4 TDs; John Carlson (20th) 485 rec. yds, 2 TDs; Olindo Mare 26-37 FGs, 25 XPs
2010 Seattle Seahawks
|1||San Francisco 49ers||38||15-17|
|3||San Diego Chargers||10||12-26|
|4||@St. Louis Rams||66||19-16|
|9||New York Giants||16||16-27|
|11||@New Orleans Saints||7||12-33|
|12||Kansas City Chiefs||55||17-15|
|14||@San Francisco 49ers||30||12-21|
|16||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||57||17-16|
|17||St. Louis Rams||68||21-13|
ST. LOUIS RAMS (WIS Prediction: 4-12)
Absolute Record: 1-15
The bad news for the St. Louis Rams is that they won just one game a year ago. The good news is that there is virtually nowhere to go but up. St. Louis averaged exactly one touchdown per game and gave up more points per game than all but one team in the NFL in 2009. Now the Rams have a face to their franchise that they hope will take them in an upward direction. They picked Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in the draft, hoping to breathe some fresh air into a franchise that has won six total games in the past three seasons.
Jax to the MaxSteven Jackson will carry the load again in STL
Biggest Newcomer: Bradford. Without a proven starter in front of him, Bradford is going to be thrown directly into the NFL fire. The Rams have to be hoping that he performs to the likes of Mark Sanchez last year with the Jets. But St. Louis has considerably fewer playmakers on each side of the ball, which will make that feat nearly impossible. Bradford will also be playing competitively for the first time in nearly a full season after an injury to his throwing shoulder took away his bid to repeat as Heisman Trophy winner.
Biggest Strength: Steven Jackson. While just about everyone else on the team treaded water through the abysmal one-win season, all the Rams running back did was put together another Pro Bowl year. Jackson scored just four touchdowns, but again that was one-quarter of the Rams' TDs, and he carried the ball 324 times for 1,416 yards. If the line can stay healthy in front of him, Jackson is in for another big year.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Wide receivers (aka - somebody to take the focus off Jackson). When your top wide receiver has a season that doesn't break 600 yards, that's a problem. Donnie Avery was the last receiver standing from the training camp roster, but it's not like his counterparts are anywhere near household names. Laurent Robinson -Brandon Gibson -Danny Amendola -Keenan Burton. It's going to be a long season in St. Louis.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Gibson. If there was one of those lesser-known receivers who appeared to have a fantasy impact, it was Gibson, who finished with 34 catches, 348 yards and a touchdown despite not playing before Week 10. He had five or more catches four different times. Bradford could be a sleeper or potential injury or bye week fill-in as well as long as you're not expecting him to be a top-tier talent.
Closest Game: Week 5 at Lions (Avg. Score 19-18 - Rams)
Fantasy Notables: Sam Bradford (32nd) 2868 yds, 13 TDs, 21 INTs; Steve Jackson (5th) 1523 rush yds, 12 TDs (total); Donnie Avery (54th) 774 rec. yds, 3 TDs; Daniel Fells (24th) 415 rec. yds, 2 TDs; Josh Brown 22-31 FGs, 27 XPs
2010 St. Louis Rams
|6||San Diego Chargers||5||12-32|
|7||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||44||15-19|
|10||@San Francisco 49ers||21||9-21|
|14||@New Orleans Saints||5||10-36|
|15||Kansas City Chiefs||40||19-20|
|16||San Francisco 49ers||20||13-21|
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Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.