While the NFC East features a truckload of players in their primes, their western counterpart's theme is players on the cusp of theirs. 2010 will go a long ways in determining whether LeSean McCoy, Mike Wallace, Shonn Greene, Felix Jones and Jamaal Charles are the YFFL's next superstars or merely flavors-of-the-year. Plus, with three of the top five picks in this year's draft, the division will also be getting an influx of new talent. Once one of the league's most feared divisions, the NFC West may return to that perch as early as next year.
We've been collectively waiting for several years to write a postmortem for the Chickens dynasty-that-never-was, but just when you think they're down, they pull you back in. Sure, Donovan McNabb has moved on, LT2 is no longer an every-down back and T.O. is bouncing from team-to-team, but the Chickens still have the best player in the division (Philip Rivers), Rivers' top target in Antonio Gates, an exciting young RB in LeSean McCoy, an up-and-coming WR in Mike Wallace and Anuqan Boldin, who will be looking to make a name for himself in Baltimore. Depth will be an issue for this Chickens team, but if everyone stays healthy they have enough to edge out the Beans for another division title.
Projected Record: 8-5
Mexican Humping Beans
The Beans were in the mix for a division title up until a 69-47 shootout loss to the Chickens in Week 12, and there's little evidence to doubt they'll be right there again in 2010. Jay Cutler didn't live up to expectations in 2009, but new offense coordinator Mike Martz could help the young QB bloom in Chicago, Shonn Greene is now the go-to guy for the Jets and DeSean Jackson is coming off a breakthrough 70-point season. How much of a workload Felix Jones receives in Dallas will be the wild card for the Beans, as they traded away immediate impact (McCoy) in exchange for possible larger dividends down the road in Jones. The Beans improve by a game and could steal the wild card as the NFC East beats up on each other.
Projected Record: 7-6
The Brothers were a popular dark horse pick in 2009, but the combination of 6 points from 2008 #1 overall pick Darren McFadden and a 40-point drop in production from Eddie Royal was too much to offset the emergence of Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles as legitimate NFL running backs as they finished 5-8. 2010 will hinge on former YFFL Co-MVP Carson Palmer, who returned from a career-threatening injury to post a solid 2009 and may be the league's biggest boom-or-bust player in 2010 thanks to the addition of T.O. Along with Reggie Wayne and the combination of Palmer, Benson and Charles, the Brothers will be competitive, but need a big splash at pick #5 to make a push for the playoffs.
Projected Record: 6-7
No other team's future will be decided more by the 2010 YFFL Draft than the UCornn Huskers. With three picks in the first round, the Huskers will be looking to hit the jackout after shipping Peyton Manning, Owen Daniels and Jeremy Maclin out of town. They will certainly need the help, as their projected lineup right now includes Derrick Mason and Bernard Berian, who scored a combined 36 points last year (2 more than their average age). Joe Flacco will be their QB and showed flashes of brilliance in 2009, but took a nosedive after his bye week, posting only 18 points (3 zeroes) during the final 6 weeks of the year. In the backfield, Tim Hightower and Brandon Jacobs have both been solid performers, but are poised to start losing carries. A couple homeruns could change the fortune of the Huskers, but at this point, it looks like another rebuilding year.
Projected Record: 4-9
Philip Rivers, Chickens
The Chickens, much like the Chargers, is now Philip Rivers' team. Rivers emerged from the Chickens QB carousel as the definitive starter in 2009 and posted a career-high 149 points en route to a division title. Expect his numbers to take a hit with the contract status of Vincent Jackson up in the air and a new feature back in Ryan Mathews, but the Chickens will go as far as he can lead them.
Stephen Gostkowski, Beans
Kickers are largely expendable in fantasy football, but a consistent one can reap big dividends. Stephen Gostkowski has led all kickers with 308 points scored over the past three seasons and has scored less than 5 points only 3 times over that span. With a brand new 4-year contract from the Patriots (a team that spends plenty of time in the red zone), Gostkowski's consistency is sure to continue.
Steve Smith, Brothers
Smith's numbers have been eroding every year since his 100 point effort in 2005 (you would have been better off with the other Steve Smith last year) and with his ever present injury concerns and an unsettled quarterback situation in Carolina, things don't appear to be turning around anytime soon.
LeSean McCoy, Chickens
Among the young RBs in the NFC West looking to make a name for themselves, LeSean McCoy will lead the way in 2010. Brian Westbrook is gone and McCoy will be running and catching plenty of balls out of the Eagles backfield. Plus, no other player may benefit more from the scoring change in the off-season. As Bobby Sansone said in an email sent approximately 76 times, "this rule is practically tailor made for Eagles running backs."