Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions

     The day has finally come.  The NFL returns tonight, August 11, 2011.  Okay, so maybe it doesn't REALLY return, it is just the first pre-season games, BUT STILL, we went through a summer of uncertainty.  Instead of hearing about where which free agents would go where and who Brett Favre sent a picture of his penis to, we heard about lawyers and money.  The lock-out was a long & annoying process we as fans had to anxiously sit through as we dreaded the thought of the greedy powers that be taking away our precious football.  Now we rest easy at night knowing the labor stoppage is now over and the NFL season will begin right on time.  In just one month, September 8 the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers will take on the 2009 champion New Orleans Saints.  I'm currently engulfed in a cornucopia of fantasy football goodness (3 leagues and counting) so I figured, what better time to post my NFL predictions post?  You know what I love about having this blog?  I can post my predictions for the world to see and when I get it right, I can totally brag and use this post as proof...or...when I have egg on my face at the end of the season when everything I predicted went the other way, I can pretend this post never happened.  This will be one mega-comprehensive analysis of the teams and the eventual champions, I will also include my predictions for all the awards as well.  Be forewarned, this post is LONG.  So perhaps you just look up your favorite team and/or their division as well?  Whatever you do, I loved writing this and I am damn proud of it, no matter what happens this season.  So I have one question for you.  Are you ready for some football?

AFC East

1 - New England Patritos (13-3)

The AFC East is going to be a two team race from the beginning of the season down to the very end.  I have the Patriots coming out on top.  They have a complete team with BenJarvus Green-Ellis running the ball up the gut and the utility man himself, Danny Woodhead doing whatever is needed to garner a victory.  They bolstered their wide receiver core that already included veteran Deion Branch, Brandon Tate, & All-pro receiver Wes Welker by adding 6x Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco.  They just re-signed offensive lineman Logan Mankins to help protect their golden boy, Tom Brady at quarterback.  On defense they added Andre Carter to the defensive line as well as Washington's headache, Albert Haynesworth.  Bill Belichick and the Patriots have a history of turning around players with bad attitudes, I believe they'll do it again with former Pro Bowl lineman, Albert Haynesworth.  These two guys standing alongside Vince Wilfork will be more than enough to add to already stifling Patriots defense that has returning players such as Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung, and Jerod Mayo.

2 - New York Jets (12-4)

I may not have the Red Ryan led Jets winning the division this year, but they'll still be a team to fear.  The number one reason why I don't believe this team can overtake the Patriots is because I'm not a complete believer in Mark Sanchez.  He's a solid QB who will help win them some games, but he can't take over a game like Brady can.  Shonn Greene & LaDainian Tomlinson are a very formidable duo at RB while Plaxico Burress & Santonio Holmes are good at WR.  I love that they added veteran receiver, Derrick Mason who was let go by Baltimore.  Their O-line is nothing to sneeze at with one of the best centers in Nick Mangold and one of the best tackles in D'Brickashaw Ferguson.  As always with the Jets, it's not about offense, it's about defense.  This is a defensive core that includes stars such as Sione Pouha, David Harris, Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Antonio Cromartie, Jim Leonhard, and of course one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Darrelle Revis.

3 - Miami Dolphins (5-11)

The Dolphins are going to have their fans begging for the NBA season to start on time so they can watch LeBron and the Heat because this team will be abysmal.  Sorry, but I cannot get behind a team that has Chad Henne manning the QB position.  They have question marks at RB with newly acquired Reggie Bush who had fallen out of favor in New Orleans and rookie Daniel Thomas.  Brandon Marshall is a very talented WR, but at the same time, is a complete headcase.  Who's to say he isn't going to snap at Chad Henne in the middle of the season?  Their O-line isn't terrible with Richie Incognito at guard and newly drafted C Mike Pouncey, so there's a slim ray of hope for the future with Bush, Pouncey, & Thomas.  Jake Long returns as one of the best offensive lineman in the NFL, he's definitely someone you can build around.  Karlos Dansby is a beast at linebacker alongside Cameron Wake.  Will Allen, Yeremiah Bell, Chris Clemons, Vontae Davis sure up the back of the field defensively, so they aren't HORRIBLE, they're just not very good.  I would be remiss if I didn't point out that their kicker Dan Carpenter is a joy to watch when he's nailing 60+ yard field goals.

4 - Buffalo Bills (4-12)

You're in for a long season, Buffalo.  Ryan Miller makes all the saves for the Sabres, but not even he can save this team.  They're just completely outmatched by the studs of this division at every position.  They have a mediocre at best QB with Ryan Fitzpatrick and an aging Lee Evans.  The two bright spots for this team on offense are Stevie Johnson who was a pleasant surprise for them last year at WR and RB Fred Jackson.  They also have  C.J. Spiller at RB who was a pretty big disappointment as a rookie last year, it remains to be seen if he'll have a bounce back year.  You look at this team defensively and tell me who excited you.  Newly acquired injury prone LB  Nick Barnett?  Perhaps the other injury prone LB Shawne Merriman?  Needless to say, I'm not impressed with this team.  It's going to be a while before they're relevant again, especially with two power houses at the top of the division.

AFC North

1 - Pittsburgh Steelers (14-2)

Just like its East counterpart, the AFC North is topped with two powerhouses who are miles ahead of their competitors.  The Steelers are coming off a season where they lost in the Super Bowl, I'm pretty sure they'll be hungry to get back and win it this year.  They have a chance.  This team is riddled with veterans who have Super Bowl experience.  Ben Roethlisberger didn't get into any motorcycle accidents nor did he get too frisky with any girls this off-season, so he should be ready to lead an offense that includes Rashard Mendenhall at RB and Mike Wallace, who I believe is the most underrated WR in the NFL.  Of course, Hines Ward returns to don the black & yellow for his 14th year.  Big Ben & Mendenhall will have the privilege of standing behind an O-line that is filled with Willie Colon & Maurkice Pouncey, who is one of the best centers in the NFL.  Also, not to mention Heath Miller at tight end, they compose a very good offense to go along with their stellar defense.  The Steelers have an amazing defense, what else is new?  Casey Hampton at tackle alongside Brett Kiesel who grew a beard last year that even Brian Wilson would be proud of.  Linebacker LaMarr Woodley signed an extension so you know he's happy to be back with Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Larry Foote, & James Farrior to form the best LB core in the NFL.  Good look throwing the ball against guys like Will Allen, Ryan Clark, William Gay, Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, & one of the best defensive players in the NFL, Troy Polamalu.

2 - Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

The Ravens are almost a carbon copy of their rival Steelers.  A great defensive team that has a decent offense to fight alongside it.  The Steelers are just slightly better though.  You could do a lot worse than Joe Flacco at QB and Ray Rice is in the top tier of running backs.  They just signed Ricky Williams who is ready to smoke the AFC, finally playing for a contender.  Here's where I lose faith in the Ravens offense, they only have one legitimate threat down the field for Flacco to throw to, that being Anquan Boldin.  They released Derrick Mason & Todd Heap and that is going to hurt them.  Flacco may not have a very good season without those two reliable guys to throw to.  A LOT of pressure is going to be placed on Ray Rice.  The defense is going to have to carry this team, which I believe they can do.  Ray Lewis is going to go down as one of the greatest linebackers in the NFL and Ed Reed is already one of greatest safeties of all-time.  Terrell Suggs at LB and Chris Carr, Bernard Pollard, Ladarius Webb, & Tom Zbikowski will all more than hold their own in the back of the defense.

3 - Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Look Cleveland!  You won't be last in the division!  That will more than make up for LeBron leaving, right?  No?  Oh well, let's look at this team that is barely better than the team below it.  Start off with a major question mark at QB with Colt McCoy, who could very well end up having a decent year, or could also have a dreadful year that leads to him being benched for Seneca Wallace.  Your guess is as good as mine, but I think McCoy will hold his own this year.  They now need to worry about the infamous Madden cover jinx now that RB Peyton Hillis was put on this year's cover, although I believe he'll smash through the so-called jinx and have another stellar year.  He's so strong, it's damn near impossible to stop this man.  Joshua Cribbs is a mediocre WR but a decent kick-returner, but he isn't getting any younger.  You tell me who else strikes your fancy at the receiver positions.  Peyton Hillis had better be ready for a heavy work load this season.  Colt, just line up, step back, and hand the ball off to Hillis so he can run behind Eric Steinbach & Joe Thomas.  This defense is so abysmal that I don't even feel the need to discuss any of them.  Did I mention they have Peyton Hillis?

4 - Cincinnati Bengals (3-13)

Cincinnati is bad.  Like, really bad.  I wouldn't be surprised if this team went down as being historically bad.  It looks as though long-time QB Carson Palmer isn't going to return to this team so rookie QB Andy Dalton is going to have to take the reigns.  I think he may be this year's version of Jimmy Clausen, which means the Bengals will be looking for a QB in next year's draft.  Cedric Benson is a solid RB who is a complete headcase, we'll see if he can put together another decent year despite the fact that he's a moron.  Their WR core is young, but promising.  They have rookie A.J. Green who I think could develop into a Pro Bowl type of playmaker to go with Jordan Shipley & Jerome Simpson.  If they want these guys to develop, they'll need a QB who can throw them the ball.  They brought in veteran CB Nate Clements which is a good move, he can be the veteran leader on the defense that includes little to no other noteworthy players.  Basically, when it comes to the battle of the suck between Cleveland & Cincinnati, it came down to one deciding factor.  Peyton Hillis > Cedric Benson

AFC South

1 - Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Oh look, the Colts will win the division for the millionth year in a row, big surprise.  The Colts may not be the powerhouse they once were, but they're still miles ahead of their divisional competition.  Peyton Manning is arguably the best QB in the NFL and Reggie Wayne is one of the best wide receivers to throw to.  A healthy Joseph Addai will be a God send for this team, if he can return to form, it just opens up more opportunity for guys like Austin Collie (provided he doesn't die on the field, seriously did anyone else take more of a beating last year than Collie) & Pierre Garcon.  It'll also be interesting to see if Anthony Gonzalez finally takes that step forward into being a more reliable WR.  They have a great TE tandem in Dallas Clark, who when healthy, is one of the best in the league and Jacob Tamme who filled an admirably for Dallas last year.  Peyton Manning is coming off off-season neck surgery so you best believe opposing defenses are chomping at the bit to get at him.  Luckily for Peyton, he has guys like Ryan Diem & Jeff Saturday (the BEST C in the NFL, in my opinion) protecting him.  The defensive end duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will give O-lines fits and if Tommie Harris can stay healthy and return to his Pro Bowl form, it could be one of the best D-lines in the NFL.  It'll be interesting to see how the defense plays without Bob Sanders, the once leader of the squad.  Just in case the Colts have some nail-biters coming down to the final seconds, they can always turn to the most clutch kicker in the history of the NFL, Adam Vinatieri to win the game for them.

2 - Houston Texans (9-7)

Good for you, Houston, I think you'll finish above .500!  Bad news?  You're still not making the playoffs.  This team just has far too many inconsistencies and holes to believe they can finally have that break-out year.  Matt Schaub is an above-average QB who has a tendency to sink his team when he gets bad.  Arian Foster was a beast last year, leading the league in rushing, but can he do it again?  I think he'll be a good RB, but not near the level he was last year.  Andre Johnson remains on this team while being arguably the best WR in the NFL.  Owen Daniels is at TE and it'll be interesting to see if he can return fully healthy and be a productive member of the offense again.  When you flip over to the defensive side of the ball, you stop at Mario Williams.  He is dynamic on defense and the Texans STILL look like geniuses for taking him over Reggie Bush in the draft years ago.  DeMeco Ryans returns healthy and sures up a LB core that also includes Brian Cushing.  Punter Brad Maynard joins this team and he'll provide stability alongside kicker Neil Rackers on special teams. 

3 - Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)

Here's my tough luck team of the season.  On paper, I don't think the Jaguars are indicative of a team with a horrible 3-13 record, but their schedule is so rough, that's what I ended up going with.  This is a team undergoing a transition.  Right now, David Garrard is their starting QB, I believe rookie Blaine Gabbart will end up with the job by mid-season.  You can't get much better than Maurice Jones-Drew at RB but unfortunately, their WR core is nonexistent.  Something that is going to cost Garrard his job and hinder Gabbart's growth.  The only bright spot is Marcedes Lewis who is the most underrated TE in the league if you ask me.  But, just like in Cleveland, expect a lot of handing off to the RB.  There aren't many people on the defensive side who strike much fear in the opponent.  Aaron Kampman isn't terrible at defensive end but he's getting old, same for LB Paul Posluszny.  CB Rashean Mathis is the franchise defensive player, but he can't do it all alone.

4 - Tennessee Titans (3-13)

Unlike the Jaguars, I do believe the Titans are a team worthy of a pathetic 3-13 record.  Matt Hasselbeck has been brought in to be the QB while rookie Jake Locker gets ready.  Like in Jacksonville, I expect the rookie to overtake the veteran before season's end.  Hasselbeck doesn't have much left, he was in Seattle where they believed at one point, that Charlie Whitehurst would be a better option.  When you think Titans, you immediately go to Chris Johnson, one of the best running backs in the NFL.  He'll get the job done for them but their WR core is mediocre at best.  Kenny Britt is another stereotypical talented WR with attitude problems.  Justin Gage & Nate Washington aren't getting any younger, I don't see these guys helping to keep Hasselbeck's career going.  Jason Jones is a respectable player on defense at the DE position, along with Barrett Ruud at LB.  Cortland Finnegan is a solid CB, who unfortunately is more known for his antics than his actual playing.  Chris Hope & Jason McCourty provide hope in the defensive backs area of the defense, while Rob Bironas returns as the reliable kicker.  There's reason for optimism with this team, but not for this year.

AFC West

1 - San Diego Chargers (11-5)

Here's a division that came down to the wire last year, I think it could again this year.  The Chargers are notorious for having early season struggles, flirting with mediocrity, then finishing strong as they enter the playoffs.  I believe that is going to happen again this year.  Much to their fans' frustration, stellar QB play from Philip Rivers and wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, Patrick Crayton, & Kelley Washington will still not propel this team into the top of the AFC.  Ryan Mathews was a HUGE disappointment last year as a rookie and I don't think he'll be much better this year.  That puts a lot of pressure on Mike Tolbert.  Antonio Gates returns as one of the best tight ends in the league and is Rivers' favorite target.  The Chargers LB core was bolstered with Takeo Spikes, he'll fight alongside Shaun Phillips and should upgrade this defense.  Bob Sanders was also brought in and if healthy, could end up being a huge plus for this team, desperately looking for a defensive playmaker to play alongside Antoine Cason & Quentin Jammer.  Free safety Eric Weddle re-signed with the team which was huge, he would have left a major hole on the team had he left.  Nate Kaeding returns as kicker, while he may not have proven himself as a clutch kicker, he's still one of the most consistent in the NFL.

2 - Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

Kansas City surprised a lot of people last year by winning the division and sneaking into the playoffs.  I think they'll take a few steps backwards this year.  Matt Cassel is an average QB who needs to learn how to do one thing this year.  Hand the ball off to Jamaal Charles.  Charles had a breakout year last year and he'll garner even more touches.  I think Jamaal Charles is going to have a fantastic year.  He has one of the best back-ups in the league with Thomas Jones.  Dwayne Bowe had a phenomenal year last year but I don't think he's going to repeat it.  I see him having more of an average year, which will only hurt the game of a guy like Steve Breaston.  Tony Moeaki had a decent year at TE last year, I think he'll be a solid option for Cassel.  Kelly Gregg, cut from Baltimore, was brought in to be the presence they need on the D-line.  Tamba Hali & Andy Studebaker lead the LB core that is still developing.  Eric Berry & Brandon Flowers are two pieces they can build upon on defense.  This is a team that is going to take a step back from last year, mainly because of an improved & more focused San Deigo team, but still has a bright future.

3 - Oakland Raiders (7-9)

Oakland is a team slowly making strides towards respectability.  Their owner, Al Davis, is seen as an absolute joke in the NFL and they've long been the laughing stock of the NFL.  That is beginning to change, this is a team with a light at the end of the tunnel.  They're still improving and Jason Campbell at QB is far from a building block for the future, but he's better than JaMarcus Russell at least.  Darren McFadden had some spectacular games last season and he's become the cornerstone of this offense.  I look for him to have a consistent year and a Pro Bowl selection, near the top of the leaders in rushing.  Jacoby Ford is their best WR, which isn't saying much.  Darrius Heyward-Bey is fast as hell, too bad he can barely catch the ball, which is his job.  The defense was dealt a critical blow this off-season due to the fact they lost their franchise CB Nnamdi Asomugha.  What you have now is a defense in transition, looking for its identity.  Richard Seymour is on the D-line and he could step up and have a big year, while Rolando McClain could be that guy in the LB position.  Tyvon Branch is someone who showed promise at safety last year.  Which one of these guys will step up and take control of this defense?  The Raiders may have the best 1-2 punch at kicking the ball with K Sebastian Janikowski who has an iron boot and P Shane Lechler.

4 - Denver Broncos (2-14)

As Homer Simpson would say, folks, "Awwwwwwwww...the Denver Broncos?!"  I have absolutely ZERO faith in this team. I think they are on the verge of an absolutely horrendous year.  They have a new head coach who the Carolina Panthers wanted out.  They have their supposedly "franchise QB" (Tim Tebow) who is sucking it up so bad at training camp, he's losing his starting job to a QB they were trying to trade just last week in Kyle Orton.  Knowshon Moreno isn't a bad RB, he'll be their consistent threat on the field while Willis McGahee will provide solid back-up for him like he did in Baltimore for Ray Rice.  Brandon Lloyd had an amazing, surprising, year for Denver last year.  Unfortunately, now he's being counted on to do it again.  I don't think he will.  Expect Lloyd to return to mediocrity that he has long enjoyed over his career.  Eddie Royal will probably emerge as the top WR on the team, but even he won't be anyone to write home about.  Elvis Dumervil is still on the defensive side striking fear in opposing QBs, he'll line up with Ty Warren.  D.J. Williams is just improving each and every year at LB and he'll take another step forward this year, I believe.  Champ Bailey is still going strong at 33 years old alongside 37 year old safety Brian Dawkins.  Two of the smartest defensive players in the NFL are on this Broncos team, too bad it won't nearly be enough to save them.

NFC East

1 - Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

Here they are, ladies and gentlemen, the Philadelphia Heat, er I mean Eagles.  The team that made the biggest bang in free agency is heading into the season with more hype than they did when they brought in Terrell Owens several years back.  When T.O. was brought in, it ended with disappointment and no Super Bowl.  Will it happen again?  Last year the Eagles were saved by Michael Vick who had returned to football and lead the Eagles to the playoffs by playing out of his mind.  Vince Young has been brought in to back up Vick so there's depth at the QB position.  LeSean McCoy is in the backfield, playing the position like Brian Westbrook used to do all those years in Philly.  Ronnie Brown was brought in from Miami to back up McCoy, so there's depth at the RB position.  The WR core is filled with some dynamic, young, & athletic guys.  DeSean Jackson is currently fighting Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace as the best big play receiver in the NFL.  Jeremy Maclin is one the best 2nd options in the NFL and Jason Avant fills out the 3rd spot.  Steve Smith was brought in from New York, which provides depth at the WR position.  Brent Celek remains the TE and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to play at a high level.  The O-line is the only cause for concern on the offense, they'll need to protect Vick if they want to play up to potential.  Jason Babin & Cullen Jenkins were brought in for the D-line that already featured a monster in Trent Cole.  The LB core isn't filled with studs, but the secondary is.  In what many called a shocking move, CB gem Nnamdi Asomugha signed with the Eagles as a free agent.  He joins Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at CB who was brought in with a trade from Arizona to play with Pro Bowl CB Asante Samuel.  Suffice to say, this is the best CB core in the NFL.

2 - New York Giants (10-6)

The Giants are a team that bores me.  Sure they'll have a decent little record, but they won't be great, they won't be terrible, they're just be decent.  Unfortunately for them, the Eagles have pulled far ahead of them and the Giants can start playing for the Wild Card on game 1, because they aren't winning this division.  Eli Manning is an average QB, slightly above average on a good day.  Ahmad Bradshaw had a decent year last year but he isn't in that top tier of running backs.  Brandon Jacobs is a solid back-up for him, the change of pace he provides is invaluable.  Hakeem Nicks is being heralded as the next top WR in the game, he'll have a lot of pressure on him to perform.  I wouldn't be surprised if he falters a bit and disappoints.  Mario Manningham should have a decent year due to the fact that Nicks will receive so much attention from defenses.  Stacy Andrews & David Diehl make up a formidable O-line that will do good job of blocking for the offense to get plenty of time to try and move the ball.  Justin Tuck & Osi Umenyiora are one of the best 1-2 punches at the D-line in the NFL, unfortunately for New York, Umenyiora is unhappy and wants to be traded.  It's uncertain if he'll even be in a Giants uniform next month and if he is, whether or not he'll be happy about it could have an adverse effect on his play.  Another major set-back to this team was rookie CB Prince Amukamara going down with an injury, he could miss a decent portion of the season.  Antrel Rolle returns as a solid safety & defensive leader for this team that is just plain lacking at everything to make a serious run at any sort of serious contention.  I suppose coach Tom Coughlin could always just blame P Matt Dodge for the team's struggles.  That seems to be his M.O.

3 - Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

Last year was a pretty disappointing year for Dallas, especially with Tony Romo losing most of his season due to injury.  This is going to be a year for them to try and correct their path to a more upward projection and I think they'll show some signs of promise.  Tony Romo returns as the starting QB and I suspect an okay year for him.  Nothing special, but it'll be a decent showing for a guy returning from injury.  Felix Jones may have a break-out year at RB now that Marion Barber is gone and he is left as the undisputed number 1 guy on the team.  He'll go for 1,000+ yards this season and be the star of the offense.  Miles Austin & Dez Bryant lead the way in the WR core that got rid of Roy Williams.  Look for Dez to assert himself as the team's new number 1 option, a development that I think will improve the offense by allowing Miles Austin to be more of a possession receiver, a poor man's Wes Welker, while Bryant becomes the deep threat.  Jason Witten returns as one of the game's best tight ends.  Igor Olshansky, Jay Ratliff, & Marcus Spears make up a semi-scary D-line that could cause some troubles to go with the star at LB, DeMarcus Ware.  Keith Brooking also returns as one of the smartest defensive players in the game and a great leader for the team.  Terrence Newman returns as the team's shut-down CB, Mike Jenkins will continue to learn from him.  Dallas is not short on talent, they're a team on the rise again, they're just not quite there yet.

4 - Washington Redskins (3-13)

QB Rex Grossman was quoted in saying that he believes the Redskins are going to win the division.  I applaud the guy for staying positive and believing in his team but, sorry Rex, your team is gonna suck.  Bad.  The QB situation is probably the worst in the league with Rex & John Beck battling it out for the job.  Ryan Torain, Tim Hightower, & Keiland Williams make up a very mediocre running game to go along with a yawn inducing WR core of Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong, Santana Moss, & Donte Stallworth.  Moss is someone who could thrive on a good team, but with guys like Grossman & Beck throwing to him, I wouldn't hold my breath.  Same goes for TE Chris Cooley.  London Fletcher returns as the veteran leader at the LB position to fight alongside stud LB Brian Orakpo.  Philip Buchanon was brought in to sure up the CB core with DeAngelo Hall.  LaRon Landry is one of the best young safeties in the game today, provided he stays healthy for the season.  Those three together should create a challenge for opposing teams to work their game-plan around. 

NFL North

1 - Green Bay Packers (12-4)

Here's a scary thought, the defending Super Bowl champions are going to be even better than they were before.  The Packers barely squeaked into the playoffs last year and then proceeded to win the Super Bowl by defeating the Steelers.  The Packers didn't really bring in any noteworthy free agents, but they are getting some players back from injury.  Aaron Rodgers can look forward to being able to throw to TE Jermichael Finley again who is returning from injury, and handing the ball off to RB Ryan Grant who is also returning from injury.  Because of the injuries, guys like RB James Starks & FB John Kuhn got to play pivotal parts in the Super Bowl run, which only  adds to the team as a whole.  Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, & James Jones make up a VERY deep WR core.  Possibly the deepest in the NFL.  Bryan Bulaga & Chad Clifton lead a great O-line who do a great job of protecting their franchise QB.  Ryan Pickett lines up next to D-line stud B.J. Raji who is poised to have a great season.  A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews, & Frank Zombo strike panic in opposing QBs.  Matthews has a shot at winning the Defensive Player of the Year award.  Nick Collins, Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, & Charles Woodson all return in the defensive backs core with Super Bowl rings to help try and defend their title.  Mason Crosby has got an iron boot and he's reliable as they come at K.  Look for Green Bay to make another legitimate run at the Super Bowl.

  2 - Detroit Lions (9-7)

Look out, NFL, the Lions are no longer the whipping boys of the league.  This is the team to look out for in the NFL this year if you're expecting a break-out year.  The Lions have managed to rebuild themselves using the draft picks they have garnered through so many years of futility, including even a year where they went 0-16.  I'd say this team's success is predicated on one thing; can Matthew Stafford stay healthy at QB?  In my humble opinion, I think this is the year he does.  They were dealt a major blow when they found out that rookie RB Mikel LeShoure will miss the entire season due to injury, but no worries, Jahvid Best will step up and lead the team.  He had a decent rookie year last year and I believe he'll become a consistent number 1 RB for them this year.  Nate Burleson will be the 2nd option behind one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, Calvin Johnson.  Look for Johnson to have his best year of his career, which will really be saying something.  Injuries have bit the Lions early on this year though, rookie T Nick Fairly will be sidelined for a small portion of the season, so the much anticipated duo of Fairly & Ndamukong Suh will have to wait a little bit.  Kyle Vanden Bosch & Suh will have to be enough for now.  Speaking of Suh, he could very well be a threat for Defensive Player of the Year.  This guy is SCARY good, and he's only in his 2nd year.  The Lions could shock a lot of people and sneak into the playoffs this year, that is definitely within the realm of possibility.

3 - Chicago Bears (6-10)

The Bears may be guilty of being the most overly optimistic team in the league.  If you listen to interviews from players & coaches, you'd think they were the Philadelphia Eagles.  They're not, they're the Chicago Bears.  A team with a decent defense and a mediocre offense.  Let's face it, the Bears going to the NFC championship game last year was a fluke.  This is the year where they come back down to earth.  Jay Cutler is a good QB, provided he has the help he needs on offense.  His offensive line was dreadful last year and even though they added rookie Gabe Carimi, it still figures to be a weakness.  Matt Forte is the team's best RB and possibly their best receiver as well.  Consider him a poor man's Marshall Faulk.  Marion Barber has been brought in to do what Chester Taylor couldn't do last year, provide a solid back-up for Forte.  Roy Williams was brought in to be the deep threat this team needs desperately, unfortunately Williams is coming off a failed stint in Dallas.  It remains to be seen if his best days are still ahead of him.  Johnny Knox is a solid receiver who should be a number 2 or 3 option on a good team, on this team, he's the number 1 guy, leading the WRs in receptions last year.  Devin Hester will need to show he can actually play a solid WR, rather than just a dynamic return man.  The loss of Greg Olsen at TE will hurt this team way more than they realize at the moment.  Julius Peppers returns after a magnificent first year with the Bears last year, look for him to put another great year together where he's at the top of some Defensive Player of the Year ballots.  Peppers was invaluable for Israel Idonije who had a break-out year at DE last year.  Brian Urlacher & Lance Briggs return as the team's leaders on defense while the team is short in the secondary.  Outside of Charles Tillman, there aren't any sure things when it comes to defensive backs.  Robbie Gould will continue to be one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL while the team plays on without two of the most prominent veterans on the team, P Brad Maynard and C Olin Kreutz, both signed to other teams.

4 - Minnesota Vikings (5-11)

What has happened to the Vikings?  They went from having a dynamic and exciting offense with Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, & Sidney Rice to becoming bad seemingly overnight.  They have brought in Donovan McNabb to play QB while rookie Christian Ponder gets ready.  McNabb, who is far past his prime, will have the job of handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson who remains as one of the league's best running backs.  Percy Harvin has developed as a decent receiver while Bernard Berrian has been largely a disappointment at WR for Minnesota.  Greg Camarillo, Juaquin Iglesias, & Devin Aromashodu will all look to provide McNabb with WR options.  Just one problem, none of them are any good.  If McNabb is looking for someone reliable to throw the ball to, he should choose TE Visanthe Shiancoe.  He's one of the most underrated tight ends in the league and should prove to be a valuable asset for this team.  Steve Hutchinson remains on the team as their leader & great offensive line-man, the rest of his linemen will have to step up and protect McNabb and create the necessary running holes for Adrian Peterson.  Jared Allen is still the man on defense, lining up with Kevin Williams looking to cause havoc for opposing offenses.  Chad Greenway & E.J. Henderson provide two building blocks to build a LB core around while Antoine Winfield will return as the team's best CB.  K Ryan Longwell & P Chris Kluwe round up a very good special teams.  This is a team that is going to be struggling, but there's still a decent future.

NFL South

1 - Atlanta Falcons (12-4)

Here's my dark-horse in the NFC.  I truly believe Atlanta has what it takes to make a serious run towards the Super Bowl.  They have a young franchise QB in Matt Ryan who matures and improves each and every year.  They have a great number 1 receiver with Roddy White for him to throw to along with rookie Julio Jones which should form a spectacular 1-2 punch in Atlanta.  Michael Turner returns as the team's very good RB who is there to change up the pace, forcing defenses to always be on the look out for the run.  Tony Gonzalez fills out the offense at TE and he continues to play at a high level, despite the fact that he could had retired as the game's all-time best TE years ago.  This is a dynamic offense, on par with Philadelpha.  John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, & Ray Edwards provide the presence on the D-line to put the pressure on the opposing QB.  Curtis Lofton & Mike Peterson lead the way in the LB core while Brent Grimes returns as the team's shut-down CB.  With an offense like this one, Atlanta can really surprise some people and make some serious nose in the Super Bowl battle.

2 - New Orleans Saints (10-6)

The Saints are a team on the decline.  They're no longer the class of the NFC, or their own division for that matter.  But, they're still a very good playoff veteran team.  Drew Brees remains as one of the game's best quarterbacks while the team will rely on rookie RB & Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to provide stability at the RB position with Pierre Thomas & Darren Sproles.  Marques Colston returns as the team's number 1 WR with a core of Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, & Lance Moore, being one of the most underrated WR cores in the NFL.  A ton of credit goes to Brees, outside of Colston, those guys would struggle on other teams.  Same goes for TE Jimmy Graham.  Drew Brees is invaluable to this team.  The defense is always a point of struggle for New Orleans teams and this year is no different.  Alex Brown & Will Smith line up with Sedrick Ellis & Shaun Rogers to form a very good D-line.  The LB core is led by 3x Pro Bowler Jonathan Vilma & veterans such as Clint Ingram & Scott Shanle.  At CB they have a bunch of solid guys like Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, & Trumaine McBride but no clear-cut number 1 guy.  New Orleans is a team that is going to suffer when Drew Brees retires or begins to decline, let's hope for their sake that isn't any time soon.

3 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)

The Buccaneers may not have the hype or overall young talent that the Lions have, but they're in the exact same boat.  They're a young team that has been bad for years that is finally showing signs of improvement and a chance to break-out.  Josh Freeman has steadily improved at QB for them and look for him to take the next step into becoming a consistent above average QB this year.  LeGarrette Blount came out of nowhere last year to overtake this team's number 1 RB slot and look for him to put it all together in a full season and really run over defenses en route to a 1,000+ yard season.  If Freeman really wants to develop as a QB, he'll need WR Mike Williams to return and have another good year like he did last year, I believe he will.  Kellen Winslow will also have a good year, I believe a Pro Bowl selection is in his future.  Da'Quan Bowers at DE could end up being a great asset to go along with Gerald McCoy on the D-line, Bowers could challenge for Defensive Rookie of the Year.  Ronde Barber returns at CB as the team's defensive leader and does so alongside Aqib Talib.  Like Detroit, Tampa Bay may be a couple years away from seriously contending, but they're certainly on the right track.

4 - Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Here is last year's worst team in the league and quite possibly this year's worst team in the league.  They spent their number 1 pick on Heisman Trophy winning QB Cam Newton who is filled with raw talent and athleticism, but may lack the instincts to play QB at an NFL ready level.  The jury is still out on him, currently he is behind abysmal QB Jimmy Clausen in the depth charts for Carolina's training camps.  Newton could provide a spark to this team that is severely lacking excitement.  RB DeAngelo Williams re-signed with the team after an injury riddled year, he'll be battling Jonathan Stewart for carries.  3rd string RB Mike Goodson may even steal a couple carries himself.  Steve Smith remains as the team's number 1 receiver with no real true number 2 guy.  Smith will continue to struggle with double-teams and ineptitude from his young quarterbacks.  Greg Olsen was added at TE and while he may be horrible at blocking, he provides the team with the number 2 option at catching the ball.  Jeff Otah returns as one of the games youngest and brightest stars at the tackle position, he'll lead the team into the future, hopefully one with a solid and reliable O-line.  The defense needs work, expect them to spend the next several years of high draft picks on guys to fill in for the abysmal LB & CB core.

NFC West

1 - St. Louis Rams (9-7)

First the Lions, then the Buccaneers, now it's time for me to gush about the future of the St. Louis Rams.  They are filled with young players on the rise, including their franchise QB who I believe is on the verge of a Pro Bowl year, Sam Bradford.  A healthy Steven Jackson will solidify a potent offense looking to take control of a weak division.  The number one concern is keeping their team healthy.  A depleted WR core hurt the team last year and cost them a playoff berth.  This year, they've filled out the WR core and added some depth.  Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery, & Mike Sims-Walker all expect to play prominent roles this year as Bradford's targets.  DE Chris Long is still searching for that break-out year, I think he puts it all together this year and really adds something to the defense of the Rams.  The defense is still a bit of a question mark, but with a flurry of young guys mixed in with some veteran leadership with Al Harris, Quintin Mikell, & Ben Leber, they'll more than be able to hold their own and take over this division.

2 - Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

Here's the team that stumbled into the playoffs last year with a .500 record and somehow managed to beat the New Orleans Saints in the opening round.  The team is going through a transition, made evident by the fact that they let go of long-time QB & face of the franchise, Matt Hasselbeck to bring in QB Tarvaris Jackson.  Jackson will most likely start over Charlie Whitehurst and the growing pains will commence.  Sidney Rice was brought in at WR and should become the team's number 1 option, but don't expect too much.  If Jackson & Rice weren't a dynamic duo in Minnesota, why should they be in Seattle?  Marshawn Lynch showed flashes of brilliance last year, but also showed flashed of ineptitude.  It remains to be seen if he'll be able to put together a consistent year this year, I don't think he will.  He doesn't have the right attitude about the game, but when he gets in the right mind-set, he's a bull in a china shop.  Just ask New Orleans.  Leon Washington returns as one of the game's most dynamic return man, a guy that can consistently put his offense into great field position is invaluable.  Just ask Chicago & Devin Hester.  John Carlson & Zach Miller make up a very solid TE tandem that is an improvement over last year.  This team is filled with questions.  Can Jackson be a number 1 QB, can Sidney Rice return to form, can Marshawn Lynch be consistent all year, can Mike Williams repeat his 2010 campaign?  Can Marcus Trufant lead the seemingly below average defense into respectability?  All these questions need to be answered and they will be, making Seattle one of the most unpredictable teams in the league.  

3 - Arizona Cardinals (7-9)

Arizona is a shell of their former self.  Just a couple years ago they had Kurt Warner throwing the ball to Anquan Boldin & Larry Fitzgerald in the Super Bowl.  Now, only Fitzgerald is left on the team and he has been going to waste with some God awful quarterbacks attempting to throw to him.  But fear not, Arizona fans, for there is some hope.  Instead of trusting guys like Max Hall & John Skelton to be their QB, Arizona traded for Eagles QB Kevin Kolb who lost his job to Michael Vick.  Kolb, who has shown promise, will finally be someone formidable enough to get Fitzgerald back into the upper echelon of receivers.  Based on raw talent & instincts alone, Larry Fitzgerald is probably the best WR in the NFL.  He deserves a good QB throwing to him, it's a disservice to the NFL and its fans by not having Fitzgerald be able to play at his highest potential.    Beanie Wells returns after a disappointing season as RB, I believe he'll bounce back and have a more respectable 2011 campaign.  Long-time Baltimore TE Todd Heap signed with Arizona and provides Kolb with another veteran option, he'll only enhance Kolb's development.  Darnell Dockett & Vonnie Holliday run the D-line against opposing QBs while LB core is lead by hot-headed veteran Joey Porter.  Kerry Rhodes & Adrian Wilson fill out a very good secondary and Arizona is left with a young team on the rise, having a chance at returning to respectability this year.

4 - San Francisco 49ers (6-10)

The NFC west is so up in the air, I think it's going to be a log-jam that will eventually feature the Rams ultimately pulling away from the pack.  The 49ers will end up being the worst team with a disappointing record, but I still believe there's reason for optimism.  Alex Smith may not have the best year at QB, but I believe he'll show enough growth to convince his team that he can be the QB of the future and maybe even live up to being the number 1 overall pick.  Fran Gore returns at RB, hopefully healthy enough for the whole year.  Without Gore, this team is in trouble, they'll need to rely on him to get the offense going.  Braylon Edwards comes in to try and help out Alex Smith.  He'll join often injured Michael Crabtree, who when healthy, provides a spark to the offense.  Ted Ginn Jr returns as the speedy and dynamic return man.  Vernon Davis is another receiving option for Alex Smith and also became quite the unexpected locker-room leader.  So with guys like Edwards, Ginn Jr, Gore, Davis, & Crabtree, there's no excuses left for Alex Smith.  If he doesn't show any improvement, his window of opportunity may be shut for good.  When it comes to linebackers, you will need to look no further than Patrick Willis.  He is arguably the best LB in the NFL and will continue to be for years to come, San Francisco has that golden piece to build a young defense around in Willis.  

AFC Playoffs
1 - Pittsburgh Steelers
2 - New England Patriots
3 - Indianapolis Colts
4 - San Diego Chargers
5 - New York Jets
6 - Baltimore Ravens

NFC Playoffs
1 - Philadelphia Eagles
2 - Green Bay Packers
3 - Atlanta Falcons
4 - St. Louis Rams
5 - New Orleans Saints
6 - New York Giants

Super Bowl
Philadelphia Eagles defeat New England Patriots

MVP - Aaron Rodgers
Offensive Player of the Year - Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Player of the Year - Ndamukong Suh
Offensive Rookie of the Year - Julio Jones
Defensive Rookie of the Year - Da'Quan Bowers
Coach of the Year - Jim Schwartz
Super Bowl MVP - Michael Vick
Comeback Player of the Year - Plaxico Burress


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