Good: Fantastic card design, Great box value, Excellent product presentation, Sturdy stock cards, One of the best base sets in the business, Short print speculating, Fantastic rookie auto checklist, Rookie Ticket auto variations, Golden Ticket cards made out of 14 karat gold
Bad: Not all Rookie Ticket autographs are on-card, Inserts can get annoying, Card backs don't offer enough stats and information, Insert parallel system makes little sense per usual
The Bottom Line: 4.7/5
2010 Playoff Contenders is not only the best football product of the year (so far), it's also one of the finest moments in the history of the storied card series. The card design hearkens back to the early days of the Rookie Ticket auto when Peyton, Randy and the rest of the 1998 rookie class paved the way for what would become one of the hobby's biggest draws.
Sharp set design, short print madness, variations and the all-new 1/1 Golden Ticket collide to make the latest incarnation of Contenders the first must break product of the 2010 football card season. If you have any interest in football cards whatsoever, this product shouldn't disappoint.
This year's Contenders isn't as fancy as past years, but that's probably for the better. The simple, yet nostalgic card design might be my favorite in Contenders history. Even the non-auto base cards look great this year, there's something extremely appealing about the clean, crisp white color scheme.
The only real complaint I have with card design is the lack of information and stats found on the card backs. Each card gives a player's 2009 stat line with a brief recap of a big performance from a 2010 game, which will lead to a great deal of confusion for future generations. I'll never understand why card companies skim on the stats, they are free after all.
In many ways Contenders is a prime example of how every modern checklist should look. On one hand, you have big time chase cards that will draw in the rookie auto collecting crowd. Then on the other hand, you have what is one of the best conceived base sets in the business, which brings set builders into the fold. This is the beauty of strategically short printing cards within a product's base set - which Contenders does as well as anyone.
The one area where the checklist is lacking is in an all too familiar place. The non-autographed inserts are confusing, un-collectible and worthless. The insert parallel system is beyond confusing, it's a box within a box within a box within a box within a box within a horse within the pocket of a Member's Only jacket within a house boat within a box sitting on the desk of space and time. That last sentence probably made little sense - the essence of Panini's parallel system. It would be great if Panini created a uniform, easily identifiable parallel system like Topps has with their refractor system.
Contenders is a perfect example of how the simple act of short printing base cards can take a product's value to a whole new level. Not only are the big name rookie autographs worth something, so are many of the no-name rookie autographs thanks to short printing. In many cases these can wind up being worth far more than the big names due to the amount of set builders Contenders draws in (example - Kenny Irons).
This year's Contenders also receives an extra box value boost thanks to the new "Golden Ticket", which is a redemption for one of 52 one-of-one cards made completely out of 14-karat gold. Though the odds of pulling one aren't good, they add a degree of mystery and intrigue to the product, which in turn gives a slight boost to every box and card in the product.
Fun Factor: 4.7/5
In the world of football cards, there's not a more exciting and intriguing mid-end product on a yearly basis than Contenders. The amount of autographs per box (4+) and the mystery of cracking the short print code has made Contenders one of the most popular products in the hobby, 2010 accomplishes that and some. If you're a football fan, 2010 Playoff Contenders is an absolute must.
Review box courtesy of a trusted hobby store: Billy's Sports Treasures in Savage, MN