So without further ado, here is my 2011 NFL Season Predictions and how I see the playoffs happening. I'm sorry Steelers fans for having us lose to San Diego at home. That might be my way of not being overly cocky going into the season ;-)
New England 12-14 Wins
This team remains a juggernaut on offense and as the defense improves (I love the move to a 4-3 system), I see no way they don’t continue their recent regular season dominance. The only thought in New England’s mind this year is Super Bowl of bust. They have to start winning playoff games again.
New York Jets 9-11
The most telling statistic for the Jets? A minus .6 in passer rating differential. Until I see the Jets offense be able to step up and be a 90+ passer rating team, I can’t imagine a situation where they squeak out more than 11 wins. A flamboyant coach and complex defensive schemes can only get you so far.
Chad Henne is fortunate to get another year to prove himself. Defensively, the Dolphins are big, physical and solid in all areas. But 30th in scoring is a problem that I don’t see addressed this offseason enough to make a huge difference vs. last year’s performance. Even an improvement to 20th likely yields a .500 record.
Buffalo is like the knife at a gun fight. While you want to like them, their talent, firepower and resources just lack in comparison to the other teams in their division. How long can Gailey’s feel good message work as the losses continue to pile up and the reality of no playoffs and in a division with three established big-market teams sinks in?
The 2011 schedule is favorable and similar to last season. They return all 22 starters that are familiar with the offensive and defensive systems. This is one of the few teams that consistently places in the top-10 both offensively and defensively. I predict Roethlisberger gets serious MVP consideration as the Steelers stay in contention for the #1 seed most of the year.
A tough team for me to predict because the vibe I’m getting out of Raven’s camp is really sketchy right now. Questionable roster decisions have made for a weaker team on paper and contract situations (Flacco, Ngata) still seem outstanding. While a collapse back to mediocrity seems unlikely, I can’t rule it out completely at this point.
The Browns are poised to make a surprise run if Baltimore or Pittsburgh falter. This team is still behind on experience and talent, but there is enough there to catch a little lightning in a bottle if the cards play right. Colt McCoy seems just gritty enough and just tough enough to shut some people up if taken lightly.
Unless Palmer materialized to save Andy Dalton from himself, this is a train wreck waiting to happen. Almost every piece of the puzzle looks to have question marks and the whole organization seems hanging by a thread. It just wouldn’t surprise me at all if Cincinnati was the worst team in the league this year, Dalton’s play leads to more questions than answers, and Marvin Lewis finally gets fired. If any team seems headed for a complete makeover, it’s the Bengals.
Is this the year? Does Wade Philips weave some defensive coordinator magic? Is it even possible to allow a 100.5 passer rating two years in a row as a defense? In 2009, the defense allowed an 83.2 passer rating. If Philips can find that unit, this team will win its first division title.
Peyton Manning’s vague injury clouds what will happen to the organization this year. Is their regular season run finally hitting the wall? I know Bill Polian gets a lot of props, but they have had some serious management question marks over the past three seasons and look thin and undertalented in numerous areas. Manning is the ultimate deodorant for poor GM work and I wonder if we will finally see how talented a team Indianapolis really is without Manning under center.
Tennessee’s season will be determined by how quickly they realize they are going nowhere with Hasselbeck and plan for next year throwing Locker to the wolves. I have no doubt Hasselbeck can squeak out 8 or 9 wins under the right circumstances, but that still doesn’t do anything for the organization (nor likely make the playoffs).
Similar to Tennessee the final season record will have more to do with when they stop “trying” with Gerrard for the sake of getting experience for Gabbert. That will have as much to do with mid-season record, how Indy and Houston are doing and how the starters perform than any prediction I can make about their off-season or roster.
San Diego 11-13
San Diego is too good on both sides of the ball not to have a huge bounce back season and soundly win the NFC West. This is one of the few teams that have the talent to be a #1 seed (along with New England and Pittsburgh). All the key statistical indicators point to 2010 being a crazy unlucky season for the Chargers that won’t be duplicated.
Despite all the criticism Al Davis gets, his teams always seam loaded with talent, fast and intimidating walking off the bus. Too bad they don’t have a quarterback I can trust. While the Raiders were 6th in league scoring last year, they were only 16th in points per possession. Something’s fishy and a crash back to reality on the offensive side of the ball seems likely. Expect another .500 season.
Kansas City 6-8
The Chiefs went 2-4 in its division and still squeaked out the title. And unlike last year, their out-of-division schedule is murder (playing the AFC East and NFC Central). No way this team is even in the picture after @Patriots-Steelers-@Bears-@Jets-Packers in Nov./Dec. Say goodnight.
As with many bad teams, how often they switch quarterbacks and give up on mediocrity can determine everything. The same applies to Denver, where any hiccup at all by Kyle Orton will cause the fan base to yell for Tim Tebow. An easy early schedule might buy time for the Fox/Orton marriage to work, or it could backfire with a few bad losses and lead to a disaster season.
The darling of the business season, the Eagles are loaded with a mishmash of talent. The more relevant questions remain how major changes at offensive line, defensive coordinator and who wears the “green dot” on defense affect this team long-term. In no way to I see this team as a lock for anything. Not in the crazy NFC East.
Like San Diego, there is too much talent on this team and too many statistical indicators of success not to expect a bounce back season. I like the combination of Garrett/Romo steadying the offense and Rob Ryan improving the defense. I strongly think this team will be in the mix for a playoff spot until the end.
New York Giants 8-10
No team oozes “above average” more than the Giants. Every year they seem the same with a couple good or bad plays from Eli Manning determining their fate. And every year they seem involved with some weird “what if” game that could have changed history.
While the Redskins clearly have the worst QB in this division, Shanahan still could pull a rabbit out of his hat and come up with an 85+ rating for the team. The problem isn’t the offense, it’s the defense where I am not at all sold on Haslett as a coordinator, the new 3-4 system, or see improvement in their woeful 90.0 QB rating allowed.
New Orleans 11-14
I really like how under-the-radar New Orleans has been this off-season. While Atlanta seems to be “going all in”, the Saints are improving the foundation blocks of the team long term. There are no chance injuries at running back that will derail this team like 2010 and almost every aspect of the team seems poised to improve. I think the opening night game vs. Green Bay will be talked about come December as deciding the #1 seed in the NFC.
There is growing pressure internally (based on their aggressive offseason) to take the next step, but I’m just not convinced the talent level is there; particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Unless Julio Jones is the next Randy Moss style rookie sensation I still see a conservative offense and average defense that lacks explosive plays on both sides of the ball.
Tampa Bay 7-9
Tampa Bay had a perfect storm of success in 2010. And on many levels, I like the upside of their top-end talent better than Atlanta. But this is a young team that will be hard pressed to catch the same magic they did in last year. Josh Freeman is a favorite of mine (I like him better than Matt Ryan), but a small step back might be what this team needs most.
There has been a lot of hope among Panther fans for a solid running game, good defense and a Roethlisberger-type rookie season from Cam Newton, but that’s a pipe dream. This team lacks playmakers everywhere and the defense is below average. All signs point to a struggling season for rookie head coach Ron Rivera in perhaps one of the toughest divisions in football.
Green Bay 12-14
There hasn’t been a team more poised to repeat since New England in 2004. Green Bay is stacked with talent and has a premier, playoff tested quarterback in Aaron Rogers. I see little to no weaknesses on the roster. Only injuries will derail a deep playoff run for this team in my opinion.
The Vikings pin their hopes on another aging quarterback, this time Donovan McNabb. I do think this is McNabb’s best fit and see the potential for a very average to good offense this season. If the aging defense can hold it together up front and on the back end, sneaking into playoff contention might not be impossible.
As much as indicators tell us to expect bounce back seasons from Dallas and San Diego, all signs point to Chicago taking a big step back and missing the playoffs. This team has a history of not maintaining their flashes in great defense and I suspect a drop off in 2011. If that happens, I don’t see an offense capable of making up the difference.
The Lions ended the 2010 season with four straight wins and spawned growing optimism for this upcoming season. But this is still mostly the same team that was 2-10 on December 5th. How much can a healthy Matt Stafford help a 26th ranking YPA passing attack? Or a 20th ranking YPC rushing attack? Detroit continues to make strides, but the metrics say they still have a long way to go before becoming a playoff caliber team.
Even an average season from Kevin Kolb should stabilize this team enough to reach .500 this year. The Cardinals remain a well coached team with a decent roster that plays the most physical of any NFC West franchise. While their ideal peak season might not be as high as the Rams, they are the safer bet to retake the division title in my opinion.
St. Louis 7-10
St. Louis is the media darling, underdog selection of the 2011 season. Many pundits are citing the growing maturation of Sam Bradford as the reason the Rams soon separate themselves from their opponents in the NFC West. But I still see more holes and inexperience than on the Cardinals and think this division will once again go down to the wire.
Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst have combined for 178 passes thrown in the NFL with a 65.0 passer rating since the end of 2008. To try and guess how the next 550 throws Seattle attempts will work out (and by whom) is a crap shoot. Pete Carroll has gutted this roster in two seasons but whether it’s for the better is completely up in the air.
San Francisco 4-7
Another team in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes in my opinion, the 49er’s decision to stand pat with Alex Smith lends itself to a rather conservative prediction of the “same” heading into 2011. As a fan of Jim Harbaugh I could see a surprising run to a .500 record but could also see Smith booed off the field and growing pains for the new coach.
San Diego (#3) over Indianapolis (#6) 30 - 23
New York Jets (#5) over Houston (#4) 19 - 17
Philadelphia (#3) over Atlanta (#6) 23 - 22
Dallas (#5) over Arizona (#4) 27 - 24
New England (#1) over New York Jets (#5) 27 - 23
San Diego (#3) over Pittsburgh (#2) 24 - 21
Green Bay (#1) over Dallas (#5) 34 - 17
New Orleans (#2) over Philadelphia (#3) 31 - 14
New England (#1) over San Diego (#3) 31 - 24
Green Bay (#1) over New Orleans (#2) 30 - 20
Super Bowl 46
Green Bay (NFC) over New England (AFC) 33-28