I will discuss what the 'X' factors are for each team in the NFC to have a successful season. Obviously, success is different for each team as I think just being competitive in each game will be a success for some teams. Playoffs are not in the cards for every team even though they are all 0-0 right now. I will have in-depth predictions before the season starts.
Dallas Cowboys- Jason Garrett- Garrett is probably the most overrated offensive coordinator in the NFL. His offense is often predictable (Ray Lewis said the Cowboys were the easiest team he has ever game planned against) and with all the weapons the Cowboys have had the past three years, they have only won one playoff game. The Cowboys couldn't even muster a touchdown, or even move the ball after the first quarter, in the embarrassing loss to Vikings last year. If that horrible offensive output didn't put Garrett on the hot seat this year, I'm not sure what would. This year, the talk is about how good the wide receivers are on the Cowboys and it will be up to Garrett to utilize those weapons.
Philadelphia Eagles- LeSean McCoy- The biggest mistake the Eagles could make this year is putting too much pressure on Kevin Kolb. He already inherited a lot of pressure after the Eagles traded their franchise QB Donovan McNabb to division rival Redskins. Taking away that pressure will mean McCoy running well. McCoy has high expectations for him as the Eagles do not have depth at RB. He never broke 100 yards in a game last year and he will have to break the 100 yard mark several times this season if the Eagles want to succeed. His 4.1 average per carry will have to improve as well. Just like Kolb, McCoy is replacing a fan favorite, Brian Westbrook, who was a major reason for the Eagles success the last seven years.
New York Giants-Defensive line- The G-men had one of the strangest seasons last year in which they started off 5-0 and finished their 8-8 season losing their last two games by a combined 85-16 score. Eli Manning had his best year in the NFL last year and Steve Smith emerged as a legit number one receiver. The biggest problem was their bread and butter that won them a super bowl three years ago, defensive line, had a bad year. Can’t put all the blame on the defensive line last year, but if the Giants want to go back to their winning ways, it will start with the defensive line.
Washington Redskins- Devin Thomas / Malcom Kelly- Last year, the Redskins bored everyone to death with their offense, but the Redskins have some excitement this year bringing in Mike Shanahan as the new coach and trading for Donovan McNabb. McNabb has solid TEs in Fred Davis and Chris Cooley, but they’re lacking a second receiver to compliment the aging Santana Moss. In 2008, the Redskins believed they drafted possibly two possession receivers to compliment the short Moss (6’2” Thomas and 6’4” Kelly), but both have been disappointments. Davis worked out as he was a second rounder as well. For the ‘Skins to be successful in 2010, one of the two, perhaps both will have to step up and start producing.
Chicago Bears- Mike Martz- Martz has a lot of work to do. His first priority is to instill confidence in his QB, Jay Cutler, who had his worst year after publicly demanding a trade out of Denver. Cutler has to improve his attitude and become a better leader because the Bears success depends on him. The Bears were 1-9 last year when Cutler’s TD-INT ratio was equal or in favor of the INTs. That means they were 6-0 when Cutler threw more TDs than INTs. Martz’s second priority is finding the rookie phenom, Matt Forte, who had a bad sophomore slump. If Forte can go back to his ways as a rookie, that can only help Cutler out. Finally, Martz has to get production from his WRs. The WRs didn’t help Cutler’s QB rating last year as they dropped a lot of balls and some of those drops resulted in INTs. They have the speed, but somebody has to step up and be a go to guy that Cutler can depend on.
Detroit Lions- Matthew Stafford- There are a lot of problems with the Lions, who infinitely improved with two wins last year (yeah, that was a cheap shot), but winning more games will start with Stafford. Stafford will have to manage the game better because turning the ball over won’t help a bad defense that already gives up a lot points. He has an elite receiver in Calvin Johnson to depend on and hopefully the newly acquired Nate Burleson will help as well. The Lions drafted Jahvid Best last year who will compete with Kevin Smith who a down year last year and may not be ready by the start of the season after tearing his ACL at the end of last year. Stafford will have to make quick decisions as the offensive line will probably still be a problem.
Green Bay Packers- Dom Capers- the Packers have an explosive offense and improved throughout the season last year after Aaron Rodgers stopped holding on to the ball, but the Packers defense was inconsistent and at times, looked like a red carpet leading to the end zone. Capers installed his 3-4 defense last year so he needs to get the defense more consistent this season. Capers will have to find a replacement for Johnny Jolly who had a solid season last year, but was recently busted for an amazing amount of codeine.
Minnesota Vikings- Adrian Peterson- Yes, I’m going to beat a dead horse, but that dead horse will be beaten until it’s proven to be gone. That dead horse is Peterson’s fumbling issues. Peterson has to become the leader of the Vikings and a leader has to have the coach’s confidence. Right now, Coach Childress will cringe every time Peterson’s number is called in close games and nobody can blame him. I don’t consider Brett Favre a leader because Favre doesn’t attend OTAs and may not attend a full camp again. People claim his absence is okay with everybody, but that isn’t true with all his teammates. Everybody thought that was the case for the Packers and Jets and as soon as Favre and it wasn’t. Peterson has to be the leader on the field and the locker room as he is the Vikings future.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Defensive line- The Buccaneers continue to struggle on offense and this doesn’t look like it’s going to be any different. That means, once again, the defense will have to pick up the slack. The defense attempted to use something different from their famous Tampa-2 defense, but it didn’t work out at all. Coach Raheem Morris is bringing it back and that means he has to find the right players on the defensive line to put pressure on the QB. The Bucs drafted DT Gerald McCoy who will have a lot of pressure as a rookie as he will have to lead the line made up of unknowns. DE Stylez White led the team in sacks last year with only 6.5 sacks. That total will have to increase to make the Tampa-2 effective enough to win games.
Atlanta Falcons- Michael Turner- the Falcons had two consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history after last season, but that didn’t mean much without a playoff berth. After having a monster season in 2008, RB Michael Turner couldn’t get himself out of the training room last season and the Falcons were ineffective and sophomore QB Matt Ryan struggled. The Falcons need Turner to keep the pressure off of Ryan and that will mean staying healthy. The Falcons will have to manage Turner's carries (over 370 carries two seasons ago) better so they do not over use him.
Carolina Panthers- Matt Moore- the Panthers finished the season strong last year, 4-1 in their last five, after benching QB Jake Delhomme in favor of Moore. In those five games, Moore finished with a 98.5 QB rating throwing 8 TDs to 2 INTs. The Panthers have two great RBs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who both finished with over 1,100 yards rushing, the first time a team has done that in the NFL. It will be up to Matt Moore to manage the game and hopefully he can build off of last season’s success. It will be a tougher job if WR Steve Smith isn’t ready by the start of the season.
New Orleans Saints- Darren Sharper- the Super Bowl champs won’t have any worries on offense as long as Drew Brees is there, but there were some concerns with the defense last year. The defense made huge plays throughout the season and during Saints playoff run last year, including the pick six in the super bowl that put the game out of reach, and a huge part of those big plays was defensive leader, SS Darren Sharper. Sharper had micro-fracture knee surgery this past offseason and his health will be the key factor the Saints defense.
San Francisco 49ers- Alex Smith- Alex Smith has to prove this year he was worth the first overall pick. This is a make or break season for Smith. He is in his sixth season and he has some very good talent around him with second year wide out Michael Crabtree, TE Vernon Davis who has the potential to be the best TE in the league and RB Frank Gore who can reel off 200 yards in any given game. The 49ers success will be in the hands of Smith. In past seasons, the 49ers have started multiple QBs, not because of injuries, but because of no production. If Smith can play consistently and manage the game, the 49ers can live up to their high expectations. They are the favorite to win the NFC West by many.
Arizona Cardinals- Matt Leinart- the Cardinals have lost their starting QB, Kurt Warner, to retirement, and now it’s time for Leinart to show what he is worth. Leinart will have higher expectations than other first time starters because he has been in the league for a while. He will probably be compared to Tony Romo’s first year as Romo didn’t start until mid-season of his fifth year. Leinart has had a few starts prior to this season with little to no success and that will have to change for the Cardinals to have success this year.
St. Louis Rams- Offensive line- Let’s be honest, the Rams don’t have much hope this year. They can, however, do some things that will be stepping stones to success in future seasons. One of those things is going to be protecting rookie first pick, Sam Bradford. Coach Spagnuolo will have to make sure he keeps Bradford out of obvious passing downs. Bradford had shoulder issues in college and missed most of last year’s college season. Bradford also has added pressure with a league record deal. Part of taking that pressure off will be feeding the beast in the backfield, RB Steven Jackson. Jackson had an outstanding year last year, considering his circumstances. The best thing for the Rams this year will be getting Bradford experience and building his confidence up. If Bradford shows progression this year, the season will be a success.Seattle Seahawks- Matt Hasselbeck- in Hasselbeck’s best NFL season, the Seahawks went to the super bowl and lost. Since that 2005 season, Hasselbeck has completed only one full season and the Seahawks have not been competitive. The Seahawks are giving Coach Pete Carroll a second chance after he failed in New England years ago. Carroll had great success as USC head coach, but he left the school in probation for rules violations so his motive for joining the Seahawks is in question after Carroll repeatedly turned down NFL offers throughout the year. Carroll has shown no loyalty to his ex-USC players as he has cut a few of his former players. He will have to create an offense that will keep Hasselbeck healthy and that may be a tough task as there aren’t too many weapons on offense that will scare the defenses in the league. Hasselbeck will have to manage the game better than he has in the past and stay healthy for success in Seattle.