1. I think the Texans will be playing past Week 17 this season. We return 10 starters on each side of the ball. Last season, our defense over the final 13 weeks gave up just 87.6 rushing yards per game, good for fourth best in the league. Second-year defensive coordinator Frank Bush won't be starting this year from square one. On the other side of the ball, Matt Schaub has gotten better every year since his arrival. His 4,770 passing yards last season are more than Peyton Manning has ever thrown in a single season and rank sixth best all-time. Throw in the best receiver in football, Andre Johnson, and the best talent at the running back position since I have been here, and I think we will be balanced and hard to stop.
2. I think the Dolphins are my sleeper playoff team in 2010. In another division, they might not be that much of a sleeper, but the AFC East is tough. They made solid additions at spots where they needed help. Brandon Marshall will give Chad Henne a legitimate number one receiver and will add to an always solid run game. Karlos Dansby will bring athleticism to Miami's linebacking corp as well as being a good leader. You could argue that this is the most talent head coach Tony Sparano has had since he has been in Miami.
3. I think, despite my feigned confidence above, there is absolutely no telling who is going to make the playoffs this season. I think the league hasn't seen this much parity in a long time. I really think if you can pick 6 out of 12 playoff teams tomorrow you are really, really impressive. I might as well throw myself in the mix.
AFC PLAYOFF TEAMS (in no particular order)
PATRIOTS -- I think the AFC East is the hardest division to predict in the whole league. There will be a really good team that doesn't make the playoffs out of this division. The Pats know how to win those AFC East games and Wes Welker looks like he will be ready. Hard to bet against them.
COLTS -- After last season, I'm starting to be convinced that Peyton Manning could win with any starting 10 in the NFL.
RAVENS -- You have to like what they did in the draft as it relates to what they already have. Also, Anquan Boldin will be a nice addition for Joe Flacco and I really like Ray Rice's game.
CHARGERS -- They have to figure out Marcus McNeil and Vincent Jackson's contract before the season starts. Those are two core players on that offense. If they aren't happy, even if they are out there, it won't be good for that team and will make the the rest of that division really happy.
DOLPHINS -- See above
TEXANS -- See above
I know I didn't put the Jets up there, and I don't mean any disrespect by it. They are loaded, but putting the pieces together can be tough in a short time period of time. I felt like there would be an odd man out in the AFC East and I just flipped a coin. Sorry, Jets.
The Steelers are going to be a real interesting team to watch this year. If Byron Leftwich has the same magic he did a couple years ago when he subbed for Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers will be there at the end of the season with a chance to go to the playoffs.
NFC PLAYOFF TEAMS (in no particular order)
COWBOYS -- This team has everything it needs. Replacing Flozell Adams at left tackle will be the key to their success this year.
VIKINGS -- With Brett Favre, they will have the same kind of success as last year. Without him, it's anyone's guess.
SAINTS -- It's hard to see them not making it back to the postseason, although if the defense doesn't make the same big plays (pick-sixes, forcing turnovers, key stops, etc.) there could be some fall off. Drew Brees, though, is probably worth 10 or 11 wins minimum.
49ERS -- Great defense and an offense that I think will take a big step forward this year.
PACKERS -- It's a coin flip between them and the Vikings in the North.
FALCONS -- Solid team makeup. I think Matt Ryan and Michael Turner will be better this year and their defense will keep improving.
Philadelphia was hard to leave off but first-time starter Kevin Kolb will have his hands full. I got to know Kevin my first couple years in Houston when he was lighting up the scoreboard for the Cougars, and I like his mental makeup. I don't think the notorious Philly media and fans will bother him as much as people think it will. The NFC East simply will be tough sledding. They are all going to knock each other around this year.
Don't be surprised if Washington is there at the end either. Don't forget how good that defense was last year. Kyle Shanahan can run an offense and they won't leave the defense on the field nearly as much.
Call me crazy, but I think the Bears will be good. It seems like a lot of people are waiting for the Mike Martz-Jay Cutler relationship to blow up, but I see Cutler putting up big numbers if his offensive line holds up.
Don't write off Matt Leinart and the Cardinals. If he dedicates himself this offseason, there is no reason that offense still can't put up big numbers.
Obviously you can tell why I said picking 6 out of 12 right now is really hard. There are so many teams to make cases for. I could pick another 12 and might do better than my first 12.
4. I think I don't quite understand playing the Super Bowl in New Jersey. Why risk playing the most important game of the year in the elements when so many warm weather options are available?
5. I think I'd like to see Texans rookie Trindon Holliday get in the open field this season. Unfortunately, I have seen the fastest guy in the NFL, Chris Johnson, get into the open field a couple times over the past few years, but I think Trindon can give him a run for his money. This guy is ridiculously fast. This video (around the 2:40 mark) does it justice.
6. I think I'm really jealous of those who got to go to the World Cup. South Africa is a place I have always wanted to go and the World Cup is an event that I've always wanted to attend.
7. I think my teammate, David Anderson, our slot receiver, is solid gold. With a twitter name like @whiteout89, you know the kind of sense of humor he has. It's only a matter of time before he gets in front of a TV and shows everyone else what we have been seeing and hearing in the locker room for the past four years. Nobody is safe from Dave's needle. He gets after everyone, but in a way that makes everyone, including the person getting needled, laugh. This usually happens during our 10-minute stretching period before practice. One guy will get it, some more than others, but every one laughs and stays loose. Oh, and he usually does his needling in an English accent. For some reason, it makes it that much more funny! Character guys are essential to have on a team.
8. I think if soccer wants to get big in America, it needs to do what every other American sport has done: Cater to the offense. Football has done it with various penalty changes like pass interference and allowing a certain amount of holding at the line of scrimmage. Basketball has done it by not allowing hand checking. Baseball has done by shrinking the strike zone down to the size of a Happy Meal. My suggestion for soccer? Make it 10 on 10. By taking one guy off, it will allow for the skill guys to have more space to do the amazing things that on occasion you see them do.
9. I think athletes have never had a better opportunity to market themselves than through social media. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, or your own personal site -- ericwinston.com -- athletes can get their own message out to the fans in a way that presents themselves in the best possible light. Athletes that take advantage of these avenues can set themselves up for promotional and other opportunities during their career and after.
10. I think I'd like to end with a few thank-you notes. First of all, thank you to Peter for letting me be a part of MMQB. Thank you to my editor Dom for making me feel like I can put a few sentences together. I want to thank my family -- mom, dad, step-dad John, brothers Matt, Drew, and Kyle -- for always being there to push me up this hill of life. Last but not least, thanks to my daughter Julie for being beautiful and my stunning wife Jenny who's my everyday editor-in-chief. I love you and thank you for everything you do. I definitely couldn't do it without you.
More Special MMQB columns:
Raymond's late goal helps Leafs rally, end Kings' win streak
Schwartz, Blues stay hot with win over Oilers