Thank God for football. There is only one sport in America that could make the President change his speech. Prez knows what Americans need. Not another economy/jobs speech, but some red-blooded, hard hitting American football. Now that the speech isn’t on gameday, I can actually pay attention to it and have an opinion. That is for another day, This day (and the next 120+) is for football. For my first ever post, I decided to do a season preview. I figured it would be hard to screw it up too bad. I will highlight my picks for division winners, storylines I will be watching, and, of course, Super Bowl picks. So, without further ado, the 2011 NFL Season preview (teams are listed in the order they will finish):
The AFC is my favorite conference, so we will be starting with that. I know, I know, it is the weakest conference, and if it weren’t for the Steelers, Colts, and Patriots, the NFC would have a 10 year SB streak going. But it is getting better, more competitive. We now see teams like Baltimore and San Diego, who have been competitive for a few seasons now, and rising teams like Miami, Houston, Tennessee, and the Jets. There is much more parity in the NFL now than in years past, and it makes for great football.
San Diego: The Chargers will take this division once again. Philip Rivers will have another monster season, seemingly willing his team to win. Expect big things from Ryan Matthews.
Kansas City: The Chiefs will give the Chargers a run for their money, but Matt Cassel is not yet on the same level as Rivers.
Denver: My Broncos still have a few years to go before they make the playoffs, but John Fox as head coach was an excellent move after the disaster that was Josh McDaniels. Kyle Orton will put up gaudy numbers, but Tim Tebow needs to be given the reigns so he can fuse his guts to win and talent with a knowledge of the game.
Oakland: The Raiders season is best summed up with a conversation during our fantasy football draft. McFadden is yhe only Raider near the top 10. It’s now the 5th round. Me: “I love that McFadden is still on the board.” other dude:”Dude plays in Oakland, that’s all I need to know.” Truth.
New York: The Jets put together a “Super Team” last year, and a lot of people thought they would win it all. I thought it would take more time to gel. They ended up playing well towards the end of the season, and I expect more from them this year.
New England: The Patriots will be solid as ever. The villain has to be strong to be a good villain right? I do like Chad Ochocinco, though, and am glad he was able to get out of his toxic situation and into a healthy clubhouse.
Miami: It’s going to be hard for the Dolphins to do much with Chad Henne at QB. They did get Reggie Bush, but since they lost Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, that really just brings them back to where they were before, at best. It definitely does not make the Dolphins better.
Buffalo: New Uniforms doesn’t mean new Bills unfortunately. CJ Spiller will have a great year, but losing Lee Evans was too big for them to overcome.
Baltimore: The Ravens are in perfect position to overtake the division crown this year. Flacco and Rice have been playing together for a few years now, and they brought in Lee Evans to aid Boldin and Flacco. Not too many changes, but enough to take the Ravens over the top.
Pittsburgh: As much as we cheer against the Steelers, they really are a class organization. They always seem to find their way into the playoffs and do a ton of damage when they are there.
Cleveland: This is the year for the Browns to get out of the AFC North cellar, and Colt McCoy is the guy to lead them up. Don’t expect the Madden curse to mean much to Peyton Hillis, he will have another monster season.
Cincinnati: Andy Dalton is one of those guys you would really like to see succeed, and you have to hate that he got picked by the Bengals, a notoriously toxic organization. This will be a growing year for the whole team, but Dalton will have a great rookie year, if he makes it unscathed.
Houston: The Texans will make 2011 their breakout year, not only making the playoffs for the first time, but winning the division along with it. The Texans have all the necessary weapons, and if they are healthy that could lead them to 12 or more wins.
Indianapolis: The Colts are now on the decline. Peyton Manning is getting older, and his body isn’t healing the way it used to. They have no running game. They are getting beat at their own game with a terrible pass defense. If the Colts make the playoffs, it will be just barely.
Tennessee: The Titans got their monster RB back on the field when they signed Chris Johnson to 4 more years last week, but it didn’t help with their QB issue. Matt Hasselbeck is a great guy, but he will not lead the Tennessee Titans to a playoff appearance. Hopefully we will see some Jake Locker before the year is up.
Jacksonville: The Jaguars have another exciting rookie QB in Blaine Gabbert that should be taking progressively more snaps as the season goes forward. David Garrard is not the future, but Gabbert could be. Nobody knows until he gets a few games under his belt.
The NFC has long been looked at as the strongest conference, as one could pick (almost) any team within reason to go to the Super Bowl, and have a chance to be right. NFC fans say that if their team was in the AFC, they would have multiple trophies at this point. That is an argument that is for guys who have time for it, and will not be addressed here, at least not in this post.
Arizona: The Cardinals made two very large investments in their future over the summer: Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has put in his time and proven himself, and deserved the commitment the Cardinals made to him. Kolb has a total of 7 starts in his career. Seven. He is a good QB, but that is too few starts to have real confidence in him. That duo, though, will win them the division.
St. Louis: The Rams have a very promising team, and the addition of Mike Sims-Walker only gives Sam Bradford another weapon along with Steven Jackson (still going strong) and Danny Amendola. They will improve, but wont make the playoffs this year.
San Fransisco: The 49ers are years from being a playoff team again. The addition of Braylon Edwards was a desperate one, and will not improve this bayside squad much.
Seattle: The Seahawks lost their best chance at the playoffs in Hasselbeck, and replaced him with Tarvaris Jackson. Marshawn Lynch can only do so much.
Philadelphia: The Eagles have a strong team this year. They beefed up their defense, but will be easy to take at least 1 of their 3 star CBs (Rodgers-Cromartie, Asomugha, Samuel) out of the play by running a “big” offense and forcing them to play the run. Ronnie Brown will be good in the backfield along with Lesean McCoy. The biggest question, though, is whether Mike Vick will earn his shiny new contract.
Dallas: Tony Romo is back. The Cowboys (and their fans) are wondering how the defense and O-line will hold up after being waived to shreds after the lockout. All will be well, and the Cowboys will meet expectations by going to the playoffs this year.
New York: The Giants have a disappointing year in front of them. They have a solid team, but it’s not a dominating team, nor is it a Super Bowl winning team. Their pass defense is all kinds of hole-y and they have Eli Manning as QB. Manning is an above average QB, but he really needs a better line and some new running backs to help him out.
Washington: The Redskins have one good thing going for them: Mike Shanahan. Shanahan is known for bringing order to chaos, and even he hasn’t decided which terrible QB he will be starting in Week 1.
Green Bay: The Packers did well in not changing up the team much, and on top of that, they have Ryan Grant in the backfield again. The only competition they have in the division is Detroit, so expect them to repeat as SB champs.
Detroit: The Lions are going to annoy a lot of teams this season. The rush defense, led by Ndomukong Suh, 2010’s ROY, will leave QBs with bruises. Matthew Stafford has the arm and brains to be an elite QB, and Jahvid Best has the speed and power to be a perennial 1,000 yard rusher. No playoffs for 2011, but it’s coming.
Minnesota: Even though they have Adrian Peterson, the Vikings will not make the playoffs this year. They couldn’t do it with Tarvaris Jackson, and Donovan McNabb out of is prime is not much better.
Chicago: Jay Cutler. That is almost all you need to say about the Bears, who have given away more games with Cutler as QB than any team in recent memory. Cutler is the epitome of overrated.
New Orleans: The Saints will once again lead what used to be the most competitive division in the league. Darren Sproles is a giant step upward for the running game, and Sean Payton knows how to use Drew Brees and his slew of receivers to win.
Atlanta: “Matty Ice” will lead the Falcons to another playoff appearance, and Michael Turner and Roddy White will have great seasons as well. Look out for Julio Jones to do big things as well.
Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers had their breakout year last year, and they will continue to surprise teams this year. Just don’t expect their young QB-RB-Coach (Freeman, Blount, Morris) tandem to take them very far.
Carolina: The Panthers have a good problem. They have two starting QBs on their roster. They made a great choice in going with Cam Newton. He is the future of the franchise, and Jimmy Clausen is great trade bait. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams will be solid as ever running the ball. This is a rebuilding year for the Panthers, but they, with Newton, have great potential.
The top 3 storylines I will be watching this year are:
Michael Vick: Will he be able to continue his surprising redemption story? Will he crumble under the pressure of a new contract?
Detriot Lions: Will this year be their first playoff year since 1999? How many QBs will miss games after being hit by Ndomukong Suh? Can Matthew Stafford be elite?
Second string QBs that should be starting: Tebow (Broncos), Gabbert (Jaguars), Locker (Titans). Will they get their chance mid-season (or before)?
Super Bowl 46
Indianapolis will host their first Super Bowl on February 5, 2012. My prediction is:
Green Bay over New England, 35-17
What are your predictions? What stories are you most excited about? How do you think your team will do?