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You would think the fact that the NFL season is nearly over by the time 2011 hits, would make it a little easier to predict. But you would be wrong, especially this season, when it seems like the best team in the league changes from week to week.
The Saints won the Super Bowl early in 2010 and have been worthy as defending champions. They currently sit at 10-4, and although they are in a tough spot to win the division, a playoff spot is all but inevitable for them.
The biggest story of the year, though, has been the resurgence of Michael Vick. He has led the Philadelphia Eagles to a 10-4 record, currently first in the NFC East, and is arguably in a two-man race with Tom Brady for MVP honors. He has been playing the best football of his career,in a season in which he was supposed to be the Eagles' backup quarterback, but was forced onto the field by a Kevin Kolb injury in week one.
Looking ahead to 2011, the big fear is a lockout and a work stoppage. I am not going to get into those messy details, but will instead focus on the on-field action and the looming playoffs.
At this point, you would think that one team would have emerged as the likely favorite to win either conference and go to the Super Bowl, but this year has seen a number of teams play great one week and falter to a lesser opponent the next week.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears are the two biggest surprise division leaders, while the Jacksonville Jaguars currently sit in a first place tie with the Indianapolis Colts atop the AFC South. While all three have made for nice stories, I don't see any of them resulting in fairytale endings.
So, on to the predictions. While the Atlanta Falcons are 12-2 and have been playing at a very high level all season, I think that ultimately the NFC Championship is in the hands of Vick and the Eagles. Players with his skills, athleticism and ability come along once in a lifetime, and he has currently put it all together and right now just looks unstoppable.
While the New England Patriots are currently the top team in the AFC, I think the team to beat come playoff time will be the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has really matured into a great leader, and has been surrounded by great weapons on offense. And as long as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are out there, the Ravens defense will always be one of the best.
So, when looking ahead to 2011, just imagine the possibility of Michael Vick versus Ray Lewis on the greatest stage in sports. Can you think of a better way to start the 2011 sports year?