2011 NFL Predictions | Who’s Headed to Indy?
As Kevin Roberts did here, it’s now time for me to do some research and make my preseason picks.
Super Bowl XLV feels as though it was ages ago, and we’re more than ready for the preseason to end and to get the season kicked off on September 8.
So, while there’s still a little bit of time, here’s how I’m projecting the 2011 NFL season to pan out.
1. New England Patriots (11-5)
The Patriots certainly have a few question marks, but what would possibly compel me to challenge Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at this point? As long as the young defense can continue to grow together and force turnovers (like they did last season), the Patriots will be right near the top, once again.
2. New York Jets (10-6)
Shockingly, Rex Ryan promised a Super Bowl title…yet again. Two consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game is quite impressive, but it’s tough for me to imagine them getting there once more in the top-heavy conference. They say a quarterback is supposed to make “the leap” in his third season. Is Mark Sanchez there yet?
3. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
The ‘Fins have a nice, young defense in place, but their lack of offensive firepower may ultimately be their downfall. Chad Henne was incredibly inconsistent last season, and failed to take advantage of having a guy as talented as Brandon Marshall running routes for him. Daniel Thomas has reportedly struggled throughout camp, and we know by now that Reggie Bush is not an every-down back in the NFL. If you can’t score, you can’t win.
4. Buffalo Bills (4-12)
The Bills had a decent offseason, but still lack what it takes to climb out of the cellar of one of the league’s toughest divisions. Looks like it’s going to be another long, cold winter in Buffalo.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
The defending AFC champs did nothing during the offseason to make me believe they won’t be right back on top of the division again. They’ve historically struggled in the seasons following their Super Bowl runs, but I still don’t think the Ravens are quite ready to overtake Pittsburgh.
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
I like what Baltimore has done to boost their receiving corps, but I still don’t completely trust Joe Flacco to make the most of it. The defense (if healthy) will still be a terror, but there’s still something missing here…
3. Cleveland Browns (8-8)
Nobody has been as impressive as Colt McCoy thoughout the preseason, as he’s quickly taken the controls of head coach Pat Shurmur’s new offense. Can Peyton Hillis avoid the Madden curse and duplicate his breakout season of 2010? The Browns look to be a team on the rise.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (3-13)
I think Andy Dalton is a decent prospect, but he’s going to take his fair share of lumps if he winds up being the starter from day one. A.J. Green looks electric, but there’s not much else to like about the Bengals on either side of the ball. This should be Marvin Lewis’ swan song in Cincy.
1. Houston Texans (10-6)
You can call this a homer pick if you want, but I think it’s completely feasible that the Texans are FINALLY ready to take the next step. Assuming Arian Foster can shake the hamstring problems, the offense will continue to be one of the most efficient in the league. The defense has undergone a makeover under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and we’ve already seen glimpses of greatness from that side of the ball during the preseason.
2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
This race will come right down to the wire, but I think this is the year the Colts finally start to show their age. They have no running game to speak of, and the defense looked quite porous at times throughout last season. I still have a very hard time doubting Peyton Manning, but I think the decline begins in 2011.
3. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
I like the overhaul at QB (bringing in Matt Hasselbeck and drafting Jake Locker), but they obviously need to get the Chris Johnson situation handled before they can be taken seriously. The Titans should be competitive, but not competitive enough to make much noise in the division.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
The Jags were able to surprise some people last season, but I can’t see that success carrying over to this season. The defense still sucks, and who is David Garrard supposed to throw to? Maurice Jones-Drew is a health concern, as well. This one could be rough.
1. San Diego Chargers (12-4)
San Diego was decimated by injuries last season, and still found a way to finish 9-7 and on the brink of the postseason. With Vincent Jackson in the fold for a full season, and if the rest of the receiving group can stay healthy, I think they’re easily the team to beat in the AFC West. Philip Rivers could be poised for an MVP season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
KC was a nice surprise last season, winning 10 games and the division title, but a weak schedule played a large part in their success. Their wins last season came against San Diego, Cleveland, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Denver, Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis and Tennessee. Not exactly murderer’s row. The offense will take a step back with Charlie Weis now in Gainesville, and the Chiefs will miss the playoffs.
3. Denver Broncos (6-10)
I like the hiring of John Fox, and, with the drafting of Von Miller and the return of Elvis Dumervil, the defense should be much improved. Kyle Orton is a steady QB, and I think the Broncos may be headed in the right direction.
4. Oakland Raiders (5-11)
Their offseason left much to be desired, and I’m not a big fan of any of the improvements they did make. They went undefeated against the rest of the AFC West in 2010, but that’s not happening again.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
I don’t completely buy into Philly being the “dream team” they’re often made out to be, but they’re still the best team in this division. I’m skeptical with regards to how Michael Vick will perform after being handed a new, massive contract, especially considering his history of inconsistent play and injury concerns. If he’s as good as he was last season, though, this team could be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.
2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
They’ve overhauled the offensive line almost completely, as they’ll be returning just two starters from last season. Felix Jones has looked very strong in preseason, so he could be in for a breakout season. The problem here is still the defense. Rob Ryan is a nice hire, but do they have the on-field personnel to be successful?
3. New York Giants (8-8)
Injuries are already starting to pile up for the G-Men, which, obviously, isn’t a particularly encouraging sign. I’m not the biggest Eli Manning fan, and you can’t have your $100M quarterback throwing 25 interceptions. Having a healthy Hakeem Nicks for an entire season would help, but they seem to have a nasty habit of collapsing late in the season.
4. Washington Redskins (6-10)
I actually think the Redskins will be better than some think. While Rex Grossman/John Beck may be a no-win situation, they’ve quietly been compiling some solid talent. They’ll finish last, but they won’t be a total doormat.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
This team steamrolled its way to a Super Bowl title with a roster completely ravaged by injuries throughout the season. With the full complement of players back healthy (minus a few departures, like Cullen Jenkins and Nick Barnett), I think this is the best team in football. Aaron Rodgers already looks to be in midseason form, and could be headed for an MVP trophy.
2. Detroit Lions (9-7)
Yep. That’s no misprint. If they can keep their core healthy (most notably Matt Stafford), I think we’re going to see a massively-improved team. I can’t wait to see the interior combo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley at work (assuming Fairley can get onto the field), and they should be able to score fairly consistently. Jahvid Best showed flashes at times during his injury-riddled rookie year, and he could be a nice fantasy sleeper.
3. Chicago Bears (8-8)
The Bears snuck into the NFC Championship Game last year, but I can’t see similar success in 2011. Jay Cutler still has no real go-to weapons in the passing game, especially with Greg Olsen now in Carolina, for some reason. Meh.
4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
Other than Adrian Peterson, what, exactly, are we supposed to like about this team?
1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
The Saints made some very, very good moves during the brief offseason, and are once agian ready to make a strong push towards the Super Bowl. Opening night in Green Bay will be quite the show, indeed.
2. Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
The Falcons went into the playoffs as the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed last year, but flamed out against the Packers following their first-round bye. Aggressive moves to bring in Julio Jones and Ray Edwards should pay off, but I like the Saints slightly more in this division.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Like the Chiefs, the Bucs benefited largely from a very weak schedule in 2010. Even with their 10 wins, they were on the outside looking-in on the playoffs. They have strong, young talent on both sides of the ball, but their development will stall a bit in the tough NFC South.
4. Carolina Panthers (4-12)
I think the two-headed rushing attack will be more effective this season, but who’s playing quarterback for this team? Cam Newton? Jimmy Clausen? Derek Anderson? No, thanks. No, thanks. No, thanks.
1. St. Louis Rams (9-7)
The Rams were on the brink of a playoff berth last season, and Sam Bradford looked like a potential stud quarterback even as a rookie with a watered-down receiving group. They now have very good depth at the position, and Steven Jackson is still as steady as they come out of the backfield. It doesn’t take much to win this division.
2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
Kevin Kolb is instantly a major upgrade at QB for the Cardinals, and Larry Fitzgerald should see his production get back to normal as a result. The problem I have with Arizona is the defense. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in Philly and Greg Toler out for the season, rookie Patrick Peterson will have a ton of weight on his shoulders.
3. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)
The 49ers were the sexy pick to win the division last year, but an 0-5 start coupled with inconsistent QB play and Mike Singletary being fired killed their season. Alex Smith continues to look painfully mediocre so far in the preseason, even with solid weapons at his disposal.
4. Seattle Seahawks (4-12)
Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. Need I say more?
AFC Playoff Representatives: (1-Bye) Pittsburgh Steelers, (2-Bye) San Diego Chargers, (3) New England Patriots, (4) Houston Texans, (5) New York Jets, (6) Baltimore Ravens
NFC Playoff Representatives: (1-Bye) Green Bay Packers, (2-Bye) New Orleans Saints, (3) Philadelphia Eagles, (4) St. Louis Rams, (5) Atlanta Falcons, (6) Dallas Cowboys
AFC Wild Card: Patriots over Ravens, Jets over Texans
NFC Wild Card: Eagles over Cowboys, Falcons over Rams
AFC Divisional: Chargers over Jets, Patriots over Steelers
NFC Divisional: Packers over Falcons, Saints over Eagles
AFC Championship: Patriots over Chargers
NFC Championship: Saints over Packers
Super Bowl: Saints over Patriots