Times staff writer Tom Jones looks forward to the 2010 NFL season.
Three teams that will be better than you think
1. Arizona Cardinals
Right now, everyone is picking on the Cardinals. QB Kurt Warner retired. QB Matt Leinart wasn't the answer as his replacement. And questions remain about the defense. But, statistically, they play the weakest schedule in the NFL, including some of the league's worst defenses. They still have WR Larry Fitzgerald, above, who will make any quarterback look good, and what should be an improved defense.
2. New England Patriots
It's stunning how quickly we've forgotten about this team. The Patriots went from one of the greatest teams in NFL history to playing backup to the Colts and Chargers and flavor-of-the-month teams such as the Jets and Ravens. But they get back WR Wes Welker, add TE Aaron Hernandez, a former Florida standout, and still have WR Randy Moss. And who's throwing the ball to them? A fella named Tom Brady, above, who is still one of the best QBs this game has ever seen.
3. Oakland Raiders
This team won five games last season with JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski playing quarterback. Newly acquired QB Jason Campbell, above, alone ought to be worth two or three more victories, don't you think? And the Raiders play only four teams that made the playoffs last year. Heck, this team could go 8-8, which, considering all that has happened in Oakland during the past few years, isn't half bad.
Three teams that might not be as good as you think
1. New York Jets
Everyone is talking up the Jets, possibly because of all the attention they are getting from HBO's Hard Knocks. But let's think about this. They have a second-year quarterback who struggled mightily at times last season, and this was a team that barely sneaked into the playoffs, won a couple of postseason games against traditional playoff chokers (Bengals, Chargers) then got blown out by the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. So let's not pencil the J-E-T-S and coach Rex Ryan, above, into the Super Bowl just yet.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
It's not that we don't like the Bengals and QB Carson Palmer, above. We do. We just don't like their schedule. Games at New England, Atlanta, Indianapolis and the Jets, home games against the Chargers and defending-champion Saints and the home-and-home series against the Ravens and Steelers. They have the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL based on last year's numbers and must face seven 2009 playoff teams — and that does not include the Steelers or Falcons because neither made the playoffs.
3. Dallas Cowboys
One of these years, the Cowboys are finally going to live up to expectations and win the whole darned thing. Maybe this will be that year. But something doesn't feel right about this team. It had a shaky-looking preseason, we're still not completely sold that QB Tony Romo, above, will show up in must-win games, and they're facing a ton of pressure from their owner to get into the Super Bowl, which will be played in their stadium.
Three QBs with major Q's … as in questions
1. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Big Ben is going to miss four games because of a suspension. But even after he returns, how long will it take before he's into form, especially because he can't have any contact with the Steelers during his suspension? And how will he react if (when) the fans turn on him?
2. Jay Cutler, Bears
All I keep hearing is how talented Cutler is, but the last time he led a team to a winning record was in high school. That's not a joke. In four seasons at Vanderbilt, three seasons with the Broncos and last year with the Bears, Cutler never had a winning record in a season. This guy has 63 interceptions in 53 career NFL starts. Why do so many people like this guy?
3. Donovan McNabb, Redskins
The Redskins are putting an awful lot of faith in a quarterback who is 33 years old and hasn't played a full season in five of the past six years. You can't help but wonder: If he had so much left in the tank, why did the Eagles let him go?
Three reasons to be excited about the 2010 season
1 You just know that a team that missed the playoffs last season will look like a Super Bowl possibility in December. How do we know? It happens every year.
2 Jon Gruden didn't get a coaching job, which means we get to listen to him for another season on Monday Night Football.
3 Bucs QB Josh Freeman is no Johnny Unitas, but isn't it fun to watch a young kid full of potential getting better each week?
Three reasons to be depressed about the 2010 season
1 It was one thing to miss a couple of lousy preseason games, but now it appears as the blackouts are going to hit the Bucs in the regular season, too. Does this mean we now have to do yard work on Sunday afternoons?
2 In the offseason, the following players officially retired: Derrick Brooks, Kurt Warner, Zach Thomas, Walter Jones, Isaac Bruce and Junior Seau. It's hard to imagine the NFL without these classy guys.
3 Another season without the NFL Network on Bright House.
Official award predictions
• Most valuable player: QB Peyton Manning, Colts
• Offensive player of the year: RB Chris Johnson, Titans
• Defensive player of the year: SS Troy Polamalu, Steelers
• Offensive rookie of the year: WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
• Defensive rookie of the year: DB Eric Berry, Chiefs
• Coach of the year: Tom Coughlin, Giants
• Comeback player of the year: WR Wes Welker, Patriots
Other bold predictions
• Team to beat in the AFC: Colts
• Team to beat in the NFC: Packers
• First coach to be fired: Lovie Smith, Bears
• Last team to be undefeated: Chargers
• Last team to be winless: Bills
• Story we will get sick of hearing: The CBA and a possible strike.
• Super Bowl champs: Colts