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2009 NFL PREDICTIONS/FORECAST
AFC East New England Patriots 12-4 Sure, the Patriots have the third-hardest schedule in the NFL, but they also have QB Tom Brady back in the lineup. Given their recent success, how can anyone bet against the Pats at this point?
Miami Dolphins 9-7 The Dolphins own the league's toughest schedule, but with the exception of the Patriots, this team should have success in the East. The Dolphins have a good defense, and QB Chad Pennington should be aided by a strong running game.
Buffalo Bills 7-9 Terrell Owens should be good for a few more wins in Buffalo, but QB Trent Edwards is throwing it to him. That's cause for concern, along with RB Marshawn Lynch's suspension and some question marks on both sides of the ball.
New York Jets 5-11 As talented as he is, it's difficult to see QB Mark Sanchez having the same type of success Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco had as rookies, especially in the competitive AFC East division.
AFC North Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 History suggests the defending Super Bowl champs will have a difficult year, but QB Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's defense suggest otherwise.
Baltimore Ravens 10-6 With another year under his belt, Joe Flacco should be even more successful in '09, especially with a great defense and running game led by a committee approach. The receiver position is a concern.
Cincinnati Bengals 6-10 The Bengals have too many holes on defense, and Chad Johnson might not be as productive without his sidekick, T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Carson Palmer gives the Bengals hope.
Cleveland Browns 5-11 The Browns had a difficult time anointing a starting QB, but does it really matter? Cleveland has too many holes on offense and defense, and the Browns seem poised to embark on a difficult year under new head coach Eric Mangini.
AFC South Tennessee Titans 11-5 Wide receiver could be a concern, but WR Justin Gage and TE Bo Scaife should be good enough for QB Kerry Collins. Tennessee's defense is once again its strength, and early indications suggest the Titans don't miss DT Albert Haynesworth.
Houston Texans 9-7 Surprise, surprise. Houston won five of its last six games to finish 2008, and this young, improved team can ride that success to a winning record in 2009 as long as it stays fairly healthy.
Indianapolis Colts 8-8 They still have Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, but the Colts will miss Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison. The coaching turnover might be too much for the Colts to overcome.
Jacksonville Jaguars 7-9 Head coach Jack Del Rio is on the hot seat. The ground game still is strong with Maurice Jones-Drew, but a leadership void was created by the loss of Fred Taylor. David Garrard will be hard pressed to deliver in the passing game due to a lack of talent at receiver, unless, of course, Tory Holt finds the fountain of youth.
AFC West San Diego Chargers 10-6 The Chargers won four straight to make the playoffs in '08. This team is very talented on paper, but head coach Norv Turner's teams are notorious for underachieving. But it's still good enough to win the West.
Oakland Raiders 8-8 On paper, the Raiders are much more talented than they're given credit for. However, as an organization, Oakland is in turmoil and has become the laughing stock of the league. JaMarcus Russell didn't have a bad preseason. He will be the difference between another losing season and a surprising.500 outing.
Denver Broncos 7-9 It's a good thing Josh McDaniels came from New England, but he and the Broncos are going to display similar mental toughness after an offseason of distractions. The Broncos have talent, but they are lacking talent at quarterback. They'll never admit it, but Kyle Orton's preseason performance is making the Broncos miss Jay Cutler big-time.
Kansas City Chiefs 6-10 The Chiefs should be improved from last year thanks to the addition of some veterans. However, QB Matt Cassel is injured and didn't have a good preseason with the Chiefs. That's not good news for the fans hoping Kansas City can follow in the footsteps of Miami and Atlanta from a year ago.
NFC East Philadelphia Eagles – 12-4 Philly won four of its last five games to finish 2008 strong. The Eagles got even better with an active offseason. As long as Brian Westbrook stays healthy the Eagles could be poised to win the division and make a trip to the NFC Championship Game for the sixth time in nine seasons.
New York Giants – 10-6 Although they invested two high draft picks in receivers, the Giants are lacking experienced talent there, and that's what hindered their efforts in the playoffs. The ground game and defense will be strengths, but can the Giants overcome the losses of RB Derrick Ward and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo?
Dallas Cowboys – 9-7 The Cowboys have finished three of the last four seasons with nine wins, so why predict anything more or less than that for Dallas, especially when head coach Wade Phillips is on the hot seat, and QB Tony Romo is without WR Terrell Owens?
Washington Redskins – 7-9 The Redskins had a shaky preseason and will be hard pressed to get a full return on their $100 million investment on DT Albert Haynesworth. Washington's defense is good, but it doesn't get to the quarterback enough. Speaking of QBs, Jason Campbell doesn't make enough plays to be a difference-maker in Washington.
NFC North Minnesota Vikings – 11-5 Say what you want about Brett Favre, but he has to be considered a significant upgrade at the quarterback position for the Vikings, even at 39. Minnesota has a potent ground game and defense, and now a future Hall of Famer at quarterback. As long as Favre, who hasn't missed a game since 1992-93, stays healthy the Vikings could be one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, and one of the most victorious. Owning the second-easiest schedule in the NFL certainly won't hurt, either.
Green Bay Packers – 10-6 Aaron Rodgers appears poised to have a breakout year at quarterback. He's got plenty of talent to work with on offense. The real question is on defense, where the Packers are adjusting to their new 3-4 scheme.
Chicago Bears – 9-7 The Bears finally have a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Jay Cutler, but he doesn't have much to work with at receiver. That is concern, although the Bears will run the ball a lot behind Matt Forte. Chicago's defense might be considered a strength, but the Bears didn't do much to address their secondary, which ranked 30th vs. the pass in 2008.
Detroit Lions – 3-13 Despite a solid preseason turned in by Daunte Culpepper, the Lions are starting rookie QB Matt Stafford. It would be difficult for the Lions to not improve on their 0-16 season from a year ago, but don't expect rapid success from this rebuilding team.
NFC South New Orleans Saints 10-6 The Saints have underachieved over the past two seasons. Their defense had a lot to do with that. But new defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who is creative and effective in terms of drawing up blitz packages, could be the difference this year, especially with QB Drew Brees, RB Reggie Bush, WR Marques Colston and TE Jeremy Shockey on the offensive side of the ball. Even if you don't buy this logic, look no further than the NFC South trend, which has seen the last place team make the playoffs the following season for six straight years.
Atlanta Falcons 9-7 It wouldn't be shocking to see the Falcons take a step back after their Cinderella season last year, but this team should still challenge for a playoff spot, especially with RB Michael Turner, who helped the Falcons rank No. 1 in rushing offense, leading the way.
Carolina Panthers 8-8 The Panthers have one of the most potent ground attacks in the NFL, but QB Jake Delhomme was exposed in the playoff loss to Arizona last year. Expect opponents to follow a similar blueprint; double-team WR Steve Smith, limit the ground game and force Delhomme to throw. Their defense has some question marks as well, but pass-rushing DE Julius Peppers is no longer one of them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-10 The Bucs have one of the youngest teams in the NFL, led by first-year head coach Raheem Morris and first-year G.M. Mark Dominik. They are the youngest head coach-G.M. duo in the league. Tampa Bay lacks depth at several positions. The Bucs need to run the ball effectively to limit Byron Leftwich's throwing opportunities. Otherwise, bad things will happen. The first-team defense looks strong in Jim Bates' system, but pass rush still is a concern, especially in this man-to-man scheme. The Bucs will play hard for Morris, but this team's schedule is simply too tough (fifth-hardest in NFL).
NFC West Arizona Cardinals 10-6 Despite losing offensive coordinator Todd Haley to Kansas City, the Cardinals should still have an explosive offense led by QB Kurt Warner and WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. If rookie RB Beanie Wells can stay healthy the passing game could open up that much more. The defense has some holes, but this unit made some real progress in the playoffs and en route to the Super Bowl. Arizona should be able to defend its title in a weak NFC West division.
San Francisco 49ers 8-8 The biggest concern the 49ers have is at quarterback, where Shaun Hill beat out Alex Smith for the job. Outside of that position and wide receiver, the 49ers have a lot of pieces in place, including RB Frank Gore and LB Patrick Willis. A .500 record would be a lofty prediction for the 49ers, but not in the West. Expect the 49ers to show some real progress under head coach Mike Singletary.
Seattle Seahawks 6-10 The Seahawks are immediately a better team because they're much healthier than they were a year ago. But QB Matt Hasselbeck is no longer in his prime or playing in the West Coast offense (Seahawks are playing in a zone-blocking scheme now), and the team has changed defensively as well, going to a Cover 2 scheme. Seattle also is adjusting to life without head coach Mike Holmgren, who has been replaced by Jim Mora Jr. That might be too much change for one team to handle.
St. Louis Rams 3-13 New head coach Steve Spagnuolo has his work cut out for him. He inherits a team littered with talent and high draft picks, but some of those players have yet to pan out. He's charged with getting the most out of them. A healthy RB Steven Jackson should help QB Marc Bulger rebound from a sub-par year, but the Rams don't have much talent at wide receiver, and the O-line is a big question mark.
PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS AFC Playoff Teams: New England, Tennessee, Pittsburgh San Diego, Baltimore and Houston
NFC Playoff Teams: Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans, Arizona, New York Giants and Green Bay
AFC Championship Game Tennessee over New England
NFC Championship Game Minnesota over New York Giants