The 2010-2011 NFL season is less than a week away, and after roster cuts to 53, the teams are as accurate about as accurate as they're going to get for the upcoming season. There has been speculation since the Super Bowl of break-out and break-down seasons. Between summer story lines of holdouts, suspension, and retirement, there are a handful of teams who can make the playoffs this year who hadn't a year ago, and there are teams who might struggle to repeat success.
Last year Brett Favre came into Minnesota and proved many doubters (including myself) wrong. Breakout success of Receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin won't all be there between Rice's injury and Harvin could miss time with his "extreme" migraines. Adrian Peterson will still be great, but Chester Taylor's production could be missed if rookie Toby Gerhart doesn't have an instant impact. The Vikings aren't bad this year, but an emerging Packers team should win the division, and the Saints, Falcons, Giants are all wildcard threats if they don't win their divisions.
Last year the Falcons missed the playoffs, but a deal of this resulted from injury to Michael Turner. Turner had an incredible year in 2008, which resulted in the Falcons appearing in the playoffs. If he is able to do so again the Falcons could win the division if the Saints struggle to recreate the take-aways on defense. Also the defense is improved by adding rookie LB Sean Weatherspoon and CB Dunta Robinson from Houston. If all goes right the Falcons have a good shot at finishing better than last years Super Bowl champions.
Jermichael Finley truly emerged in last years Wildcard Playoff Round against the Arizona Cardinals. Anyone who watched the game knew that Finley showed flashes of greatness all game. Finley also has arguably the best emerging QB in Aaron Rodgers passing him the ball which makes his job a lot more easier. If Finley possesses the greatness he has flashed, than in 2010 and beyond he will have a lot of personal and team success.
Breaston had been part of the Cardinals trio of great receivers up to this year. While Breaston has succeeded 1,000 yards in a season, he still hasn't had a breakout season. In the shadow of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Breaston was solid, but now that Boldin is gone, Breaston can truly emerge as a great receiver. With David Anderson as the QB, Breaston has a handicap as far as whose delivering him the ball, but he should make do. Also if he continues to return punts and finds success he can make an even bigger name for himself.
The Raiders made a lot of moves this offseason, mostly good, and in a year that the entire division will have personal struggles, could help them emerge division champions. First off getting Jason Campbell to replace JaMarcus Russell makes them that much better. Adding Rolando McClain, Kamerion Wimbley, Lamarr Houston, and John Henderson to the defense also helps the Raiders add a possible identity as a solid defense. If Vincent Jackson doesn't play (at least for the Chargers) and Ryan Matthews doesn't have an Adrian Peterson type rookie year, the Raiders could win the division.
The Lions offense is looking solid after adding Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler, and Jahvid Best. If Matthew Stafford can put everything together and Calvin Johnson stays healthy the offense should find a lot of success this season. However, the defense still doesn't look good. The additions of Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Ndamukong Suh will help, but the true struggle will be in the backfield. Louis Delmas appears to an elite Free Safety, but there are no stand out corners. There will still be more years of constructing, but the Lions should have their first taste of success in years.
Ray Rice had a breakout season for the Ravens last year. Something they needed last year, and this year the need was at WR and Defensive Backfield. They traded for Anquan Boldin, and signed TJ Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth at the WR position boosting their core to arguably the best. Ray Rice receiving value could be hurt to the team because of all the receiving weapons they added. However, he could lead the league in rushing, while adding 400 so receiving yards. If Rice can do this he could emerge the most all-around RB in the game.
Patrick Willis is the best Line Backer in the league. Since coming to the league in 2007, he has taken it by storm. Willis could likely lead the league in tackles once again, and if he can rack up 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and force 5 fumbles (which isn't far off from last year) he should easily be a top candidate for DPOY. Also he is the heart of an emerging defense who is poised for a great season which could push him to be the best defensive player in the National Football League.
Ryan Matthews will most likely win the OROY because he is the only rookie RB that is going to be the every down back. Unless Sam Bradford has a rookie season similar to Matt Ryan's, and Matthew fails to reach 1,000 yards, Matthews has to be the favorite to win. Another option is Dexter McCluster from Kansas City. If McCluster can catch for 500 yards, run for 200, and return a kick or two for a TD he could also be in contention for OROY.
Brandon Graham from Philadelphia appears like he is going to be a stud. He is in a great position to succeed being on a heavy blitzing team, and being across Trent Cole. Graham is going to have a lot off success as an Eagle, and if he can register 10.0+ sacks he could be the best defensive rookie. An alternate is Oakland's Rolando McClain. McClain is in position to get 100+ tackles as a MLB. If he can generate a few take-aways he will be in position to also receive DROY.
This statement is not so bold at this point. Earlier in the preseason i predicted this and it got more doubt, but at this point, Rodgers is favored by most to win MVP. Rodgers has all the weapons he needs, and the question will be how the Offensive Line plays this year. Rodgers was under-pressure often, and drafted Bryan Bulaga in the first round to help bolster the line. If Rodgers has a little more help from the line and Jermichael Finley progresses, Rodgers should win the NFL MVP.