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2011 NFL Preview: Between the 10's

My NFL preview continues with a look at teams I term "between the 10's." That means I think they have too much talent to do worse than 6-10 but probably not enough to do better than 10-6. If they catch some breaks with injuries, they could make the Playoffs. If they do not, it will be tough. Things could go either way with these teams. As you might note, I think there is more uncertainty on the NFC side of the ledger than the AFC side.

Arizona Cardinals

I am not at all sold on Kevin Kolb as a franchise quarterback. For all the hype, he has proven nothing, but surely he has to be better than what the Cardinals were sending out there. They won 5 with that mess last year. Kolb has to mean an extra win. He will certainly have help with Larry Fitzgerald there to catch his passes. Todd Heap will too.

The defensive line looks pretty good as well. Their secondary has potential, and in the NFC West, any game is winnable.

Why is their ceiling not higher? The offensive line is not good at all. Their linebackers are old. Their run game has been inconsistent in the Whisenhunt Era.

Dallas Cowboys

Getting back Tony Romo will certainly help things. There is an abundance of talent in skill positions.

This will be a telling year for Rob Ryan on the other side of the ball. I have always thought he has been living on the family name. In his career as a defensive coordinator, his units' numbers have never been very good. Sure, he was stuck with lousy Oakland and Cleveland teams, but a coach's job is to make them play better. Aside from 2006, his units have never overachieved. His defense has some big talent, some talented guys who have underacheived, and some legitimate holes. We are really going to find out how good he is. If he can get the unit into the top ten, he could get some head coaching looks.

I tend to bet on the Cowboys being closer to 6-10 than 10-6. Why? Ryan's lack of a stellar resume is one point. So is the fact the release of Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode leaves the Cowboys projecting an undrafted second year guy and a seventh round rookie starting on their interior line along with a rookie at tackle. On top of this, the core here always seems to find some way to somehow underacheive.

More after the jump.

Miami Dolphins

It is tough to win in the AFC East. I think Mike Nolan's defense will keep Miami competitive, and there are some very good players on that side of the ball from Cameron Wake to Karlos Dansby to Randy Starks to Paul Solai to the two young corners, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.

The offensive side of the ball I am less sold on. True, Miami is likely upgrading three offensive line spots, Mike Pouncey at center and Marc Columbo  at right tackle, which will allow them to slide Vernon Carey to guard. It is impossible to upgrade on Jake Long on another spot on the line.

I am just not sold at all on the rest of the offense. Do the Dolphins have running backs capable of taking advantage of a decent line? Daniel Thomas is an unknown, and Reggie Bush is really a receiving threat only out of the backfield.

How about the passing game? A young quarterback coming off a rough year like Chad Henne really could have used OTA's to further his development. He is a huge question mark. I also do not see any real big play threats on this offense outside Brandon Marshall and maybe Bush.

Furthermore, I cannot think of a coordinator who got less production the past two years than Brian Daboll in Cleveland. Was this the best they could do to replace Dan Henning. It also seems odd that a team going with more of a shotgun offense is playing Pouncey at center instead of guard. He had 18 bad snaps last year in Florida's shotgun based offense.

I think they will be competitive. I do not think they have upgraded the skill positions enough (or at all) to make a big step.

Minnesota Vikings

Any discussion of why they will not be one of the worst teams in the league begins with Adrian Peterson. I also think it is premature to write Donovan McNabb off after one year with a coaching staff he clearly never meshed with. His play has to be better than what the team got from Brett Favre last year. There is still a lot of talent on the defense in the form of Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams, and Antoine Winfield.

The problem is there used to be more talent on defense. Pat Williams and Ray Edwards are gone. While McNabb has carried offenses in the past with nobody near Percy Harvin's talent level at receiver, he seems like he is in decline (just not as pronounced as it was last year) and probably not capable of lifting a team on its back anymore. I see this as a recipe for a middle of the road season.

New York Giants

I worry about their secondary depth with all of the injuries they suffered early. I also worry about their new look offensive line, Will Beatty at left tackle in particular.

I cannot see them being a disaster, though, for two reasons. Say what you will about Eli Manning. He always makes the offense productive enough to stay in the mix. They also have plenty of guys who can rush the passer well to hide whatever problems there are on the defense. If I needed to choose one thing I wanted in an offense, it would be a quarterback. If I had to choose one thing I wanted in a defense, it would be a good pass rush. I do not think the Giants are well rounded enough to top the Eagles, but I think they will be in the mix for a Wild Card spot.

San Francisco 49ers

Many have felt this team was a quarterback away the past few years. They are still going with Alex Smith as their starter. They added a quarterback guru in Jim Harbaugh, though. I am leery of a college coach moving the pros. Nobody has done it successfully since Tom Coughlin. Harbaugh is great with quarterbacks, though, and I am not just saying that because he played the position in the NFL. Everybody knows about Andrew Luck. Do you know about Josh Johnson, though? Johnson was coached by Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. He is now a backup in Tampa. How many Division II quarterbacks get drafted? Harbaugh gets people to max out on their talent. I am not really sold on rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I viewed him as Brad Smith with a better arm, a great athlete who put up big numbers in a wacky college system. Harbaugh might be able to make him a player, though. The Niners have a good run game and will likely have a solid defense. Losing Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle hurts, but I do not think a team is going to struggle against the run with Patrick Willis in the middle. They also play in the NFC West, meaning all divisional games are in play.

I cannot rate them higher, though, because as sold as I am on Harbaugh developing quarterbacks, I am not sure whether he can handle the entire load. College and the pros are different. So are playing quarterback in the NFL and running an NFL team. They also have offensive line questions, which make the quarterback situation a bit dicier.