With the first game just a day away, it is time to make my picks for the 2010-11 NFL season.
In a general preview, it seems to me that the AFC has a lot more depth than the NFC. There are at least ten teams in the AFC that are legitimate contenders. The NFC, on the other hand, is only about six or seven deep. In both conferences, the West division seems to be the weakest of them all.
The pick: New England Patriots
The reason: Experience, mainly at the quarterback position. The two other main contenders in this division, the Dolphins and Jets, have to rely on young quarterbacks and the Patriots have Tom Brady (even if his haircut makes him look like the new star of High School Musical). Combining him with a healthy Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Julian Edelman gives the Patriots a pass offense that gives defensive coordinators nightmares.
Don’t be surprised if: The Jets or Dolphins make a serious run. Both teams are improved from last year and will have a legitimate shot to contend for the division title. The AFC East may be as wide open as any division.
The pick: Baltimore Ravens
The reason: On paper, it is hard to find a better team than the Ravens. They have a solid running game with Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. Also, the addition of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh give Joe Flacco two more big-time targets at wide receiver. The Ravens' defense should also be very solid, as usual.
Don’t be surprised if: The Bengals challenge the Ravens for the division.
The pick: Indianapolis Colts
The reason: Peyton Manning. One player rarely makes or breaks a team; however, in the case of a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback like Manning, he does make the Colts on his own. He has a lot of help around him and will need his offensive line to stay healthy and protect him. If the past few years are any indication, another 12-win season is in store for Indy.
Don’t be surprised if: The Colts offensive line doesn’t stay healthy. If that is the case, Manning and the Addai/Brown combo will have a tough time producing on offense. Also don’t be surprised if the continual improvement by the Texans finally culminates in a division title.
The pick: San Diego Chargers
The reason: Out with the old, in with the new. LaDainian Tomlinson is out and Ryan Mathews is in. This rookie from Fresno State is supposed to be the real deal. He will be an excellent feature back to complement the speedster Darren Sproles. The Chargers also benefit from a very weak division in which 9-7 may be good enough to be crowned division champion.
Don’t be surprised if: The lack of quality at receiver dooms the Chargers, as well as a defense that lost their best cornerback in Antonio Cromartie.
AFC Wild Cards
The picks: Miami Dolphins and New York Jets
The reason: Both teams have solid running games, have improved at wide receiver and have improved on defense. Both are young teams and should have enough firepower to take home wild card spots in the playoffs.
Don’t be surprised if: Quarterback play lets both teams down. Chad Henne and Mark Sanchez are still young and in their second year as full-time starters. Both teams also have to go through the AFC North and the NFC North, as well as playing teams in their own division two times. The schedules look difficult, which could provide a chance for the Bengals, Texans, Titans or Steelers.
The pick: Dallas Cowboys
The reason: Consistency and experience. Tony Romo, depth at running back, a solid offensive line, and a very solid defense give them the edge over the rest of the NFC East. The Eagles will be decent, but may find it tough to win with a first-year starting quarterback. The Redskins have a new coach and a new quarterback who are both improvements from last year but will take too much time to adjust. The Giants and Eagles are the closest contenders to the Cowboys, but the Giants’ defense is a giant question mark and Kevin Kolb makes the Eagles a liability.
Don’t be surprised if: Either the Giants play tough on defense or the Eagles' offense really clicks to leap ahead of the Cowboys and become division champs.
The pick: Green Bay Packers
The reason: Health. The top two teams in this division are so close that Sidney Rice's injury, Percy Harvin's headache problem, and Brett Favre’s questionable ankle make the Packers the more solid team. Not to mention that Aaron Rodgers is in line for a very big season, and the Packers defense is excellent as well.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings get healthy and the Packers get hit with injuries. This division is really a toss-up between the Vikings and Packers, so any little thing that happens can make a huge difference.
The pick: New Orleans Saints
The reason: Drew Brees. Just as the Colts will win the AFC South because of Peyton Manning, the Saints will succeed because of Drew Brees. You can strap the football team to his back and he will keep them moving along. The Saints have a fairly balanced team, but the difference-maker is Brees.
Don’t be surprised if: The Madden Curse comes true. I know it is a bit silly to believe in something like the Madden Curse, but every year the cover athlete seems to either get injured or have a poor season. If Brees succumbs to the curse, the Falcons are waiting in the wings.
The pick: San Francisco 49ers
The reason: Right place, right time. The Niners benefit from being in the worst division in football. They have a very solid defense and a great running back in Frank Gore, provided he can stay healthy. Alex Smith must show that he can be consistent at quarterback; if he can, the Niners will be okay.
Don’t be surprised if: Eight wins are enough to win the NFC West. The only other team with a slight chance is the Seahawks, but they have too many question marks to be a legitimate contender.
NFC Wild Card
The picks: Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles
The reason: Minnesota is the easy pick here. Even though they have a few health issues, they are still one of the best teams in the NFC and will no doubt cruise to a playoff spot. The Eagles are a more difficult pick. Three very average teams are competing for the sixth playoff spot. The Giants and the Falcons are both very close, but the Eagles have far too much potential on offense to be overlooked. Their defense should be good enough to get them that last Wild Card spot.
Don’t be surprised if: Kevin Kolb isn’t the answer this year and the Eagles finish somewhere around .500. If that happens, the Falcons are next in line as long as Michael Turner stays healthy. The Giants could also put together a serious run for the Wild Card.
Playoffs??? Yes, I am going to talk playoff predictions:
Wild Card Round
Dolphins defeat Patriots
Jets defeat Chargers
Vikings defeat 49ers
Cowboys defeat Eagles
Colts defeat Jets
Ravens defeat Dolphins
Packers defeat Vikings
Cowboys defeat Saints
Ravens defeat Colts
Packers defeat Saints
Super Bowl XLV
Ravens defeat Packers
There you have it, my predictions for 2010-11. It should be an interesting year of football with some great story lines that are sure to develop.