The Saints finished 7-9 in 2007. They went 8-8 in 2008. This season they broke through and won the Super Bowl. Who is a middle of the road team to watch for next year? I think the Houston Texans could be ready to take the next step. They just had their first winning season, finishing 9-7. Only one of those losses was by more than eight points. That's pretty impressive.
I'm not sure people realize how good quarterback Matt Schaub has become. He threw for 4,770 yards this year. That is just over 298 yards per-game. The standard for quarterbacks is 300-yard games. Schaub almost averaged 300 yards a game for the entire year.
The Texans didn't win with just offense either. Safety Bernard Pollard arrived about a month into the season, but once he got there Houston became one of the stingiest run defenses in the entire league. Rookie linebacker Brian Cushing had a great season. I haven't even mentioned the two best players so far, defensive end Mario Williams and receiver Andre Johnson. Each of those guys is an elite player that is amongst the best in the entire league. If Houston can develop a consistent run game they could be a team to watch in 2010.
Brett Favre has to return for the 2010 season. Things went too well this year. I just can't see Favre leaving at this point. He did take a beating in the NFC title game, but he'll have five to seven months to rest his body and get ready for another season.
I think the Dolphins are going to look around for a veteran receiver with some size. Miami has a small, quick guy in Davone Bess. They have a fast guy in Tedd Ginn. They have a good possession receiver in Greg Camarillo. Brian Hartline is a complete receiver and promising young player. The one thing the team lacks is a big receiver who can out-muscle defensive backs on key plays and in the red zone. Hartline led the team with three touchdown catches, hardly an impressive total. I'm sure Miami will call Arizona to inquire about Anquan Boldin. The best free agents will be Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant. I doubt very much that Bill Parcells will want any part of Owens after their time together in Dallas. Bryant and Parcells also had a falling out in the past, but they have patched things up. Brandon Marshall could be available in a trade. He would bring a lot of baggage, but could be the kind of dynamic presence that the Dolphins passing game really needs.
The most important coaching hire of the offseason was Mike Martz going to Chicago as the offensive coordinator. The Bears got a franchise quarterback last spring when they traded for Jay Cutler. Now they have someone who knows how to coach quarterbacks. Martz did great things with Kurt Warner, but also had success with Trent Green, Marc Bulger and Jon Kitna. Cutler has elite physical ability. Now he's got to show that he can handle a complex offense like Martz's system. Cutler will have to make good reads and quick decisions. He'll then need to be on time and on target with his throws.
Where will Terrell Owens end up? Seattle would be an interesting possibility. New coach Pete Carroll isn't the typical NFL boss. He might be the kind of guy to take a chance on a player with Owens ability, as well as his baggage. The Seahawks spent good money last year on T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but he didn't bring the kind of impact they wanted. Owens is a more explosive player than him and could be the kind of quick fix they need.
Will the Eagles trade quarterback Donovan McNabb? My guess is that they will deal him. The timing of the situation just makes too much sense. McNabb is still a good starting quarterback, which gives him serious trade value. Kevin Kolb got two starts in 2009 and showed that he has NFL ability, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards in each of his first two starts. There is a weak group of quarterbacks available in free agency as well as the draft. Only a few teams will be able to find the quarterback they want. That means that other teams will have to make a trade to find their guy or wait for next year.
McNabb will easily be the best veteran passer available. He could be a big boost to the coaching future of Eric Mangini in Cleveland or Mike Singletary in San Francisco. McNabb could be a savior in St. Louis or Buffalo. Several teams have a veteran in place, but could decide to make a change. Carolina, Arizona, Jacksonville and Seattle all fit into this category. And Oakland is always a wildcard. You never know what Al Davis is thinking.