As we sit at home pondering the thought of the loss of the 2011 NFL season, many of us would pick up additional hobbies. Maybe do some research on college ball or the NBA.
Yet, people like me keep out hope that the labor situation will be resolved in time for a 2011 NFL season to go on. If NFL games are indeed played in 2011, the question arises as to which teams can be expected to compete for the Super Bowl.
While this list is obviously premature, having been before free agency or the draft, these are the top teams expected to be in Super Bowl contention in 2011 as things appear now.
The Ravens, despite being proclaimed favorites to win it all in 2010, fell short despite off-season splashes to acquire standout wide receivers Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh.
Ray Rice failed to make the impact that he did in 2009 and Flacco, despite good overall statistics, still suffers from inconsistent play.
However, with a defense that refuses to admit its age, a good coach in John Harbaugh and talent on the offense, this team is not going anywhere at the moment and can be expected to make the postseason yet again in 2011.
You can hate them all you want, but when it comes to talent this team is as good as any in the league. Few teams have as many playmakers on every side of the ball as Dallas does.
And perhaps most notably, Tony Romo will be returning from injury.
Don’t let that 6-10 record fool you. Dallas is a good team and are expected to be improved by the new leadership of Jason Garrett.
If Garrett can right the ship in Dallas, America’s Team may be poised to make a lot of noise in 2010.
Despite Peyton Manning’s slump, I am a firm believer that he is still capable of carrying this team on his shoulders.
Like Green Bay, Indianapolis dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season, particularly to standout tight end Dallas Clark.
The team, when healthy, has stayed largely the same as the one that gave up on the chance to go 16-0 in 2009, so Indianapolis remains in the hunt in 2011. Yet, the period of poor play by Manning last season was alarming and truly showed how much the team relied upon him to succeed.
It is possible that age may be playing a factor in his game in the coming years. Therefore, Indianapolis’s window to win a second Super Bowl with Manning may be getting narrower.
Matt Ryan is a young, talented, quarterback, and Michael Turner is a reliable franchise back. Roddy White is an excellent receiver. Yet what this team lacks is explosiveness.
They have a good team and because of that will be in the playoffs for years to come. But they are very methodical in their approach and if figured out could be defeated quite handily (see Packers Falcons divisional round).
Don’t get me wrong, this may improve as Ryan gets more experience under his belt.
But don’t be surprised if there are many first-round playoff exits in Atlanta’s near future.
Some may find it shocking that I have placed the San Diego Chargers so high on this list, but don’t be.
After boasting the best offense and defense in the league, San Diego was held back by dreadful special teams play which kept them entirely out of the playoffs.
But the Chargers have so much talent on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, they are clearly a team on the verge of contention.
Especially as the NFL has changed its rule regarding kickoffs, they may not be as affected by the need for good returns anymore.
If the Dallas Cowboys had a counterpart in the AFC, it would be the Jets.
Love him or hate him, Rex Ryan has cemented the Jets as one of the best teams not only in the conference but in the entire league.
While the offense is very lacking, the defense is dominant and boasts one of the best players in the league in Darrelle Revis.
The ability to keep games close has allowed an inconsistent Mark Sanchez and a rejuvenated but aging LaDainian Tomlinson to keep up with the offensive pace of each game.
The Jets, like any team in the league, are not perfect and have holes to fill.
With the drafting of a talented running back, a relentless pass-rusher and/or a standout at wide receiver to complement Santonio Holmes, this Jets team can easily find their way back into the AFC Championship.
When it comes to a team’s roster, few teams are as complete as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A dominant defense, a strong running game and a good passing game. Other than their offensive line there are few things the Steelers do poorly.
The young talent on the team, including the likes of Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall, has helped to ease the departure and aging of veteran players. Additionally, the Steelers have one of the best and brightest young coaches in the game, Mike Tomlin.
Furthermore, the team has proven that it can succeed without their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
With such a complete team in Pittsburgh, any off-season moves can only improve the team’s chances at adding to their collection of Lombardi trophies.
Brady’s back, tell a friend.
Having just come off an MVP-worthy season, Tom Brady’s ability to turn the likes of Danny Woodhead and Brandon Tate into red-zone threats may alone be enough to make the Patriots contenders.
Yet it is not just that. The Patriots also now boast a legitimate threat at runningback in BenJarvis Green-Ellis. Their defense, after a lackluster 2009 season, made huge strides in 2010, especially with the standout talent of young cornerback Devin McCourty.
So long as this stellar offensive line continues to protect Brady and Bill Belichick is still running the show, this is one of the best teams in the league.
And if they acquire a more capable wide receiver such as Chad Ochocinco, or perhaps get in on the Asomugha sweepstakes, this could be a truly frightening team.
The Philadelphia Eagles were easily the most explosive offense in the league ever since Michael Vick took over as the starter.
When Vick played all four quarters, the Eagles went 8-2. The defense is a bit of a liability on the team but has many playmakers, such as Trent Cole and Asante Samuel.
The offense is championship-caliber and is one of the best in the league.
Only four times in 2010 did the Eagles fail to score at least 20 points against their opponent, in which only once was Vick at the helm for all 4 quarters and with one being the season finale with all starters rested. And with a young group consisting of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek, the offense is only going to get better.
The presence of Vick has done much to resolve many issues of the team, such as red-zone inefficiency and lack of a strong running game, and what is scary is that Vick’s potential has not yet been fully realized.
With an entire offseason to learn the playbook and to improve his reads, Vick can be expected to be at least as good as he was last season.
Clearly, this team has the potential to compete for the Super Bowl next season and just may win it all if holes along the defense and the offensive line are sufficiently filled via the draft or free agency.
While being the Defending Super Bowl champions may be enough to list the Packers as the favorites to win it all, that alone is not what is putting Green Bay as the team with the highest expectations in 2011. Green Bay had dealt with nagging injuries since Day 1.
From losing Ryan Grant in the season opener, Jermichael Finley a few games later and Nick Barnett as well, Green Bay went the entire season and post-season without three of their most key players.
Still, through the strong play of Aaron Rodgers and a resilient defense, the Packers persevered and were crowned world champions.
Certainly, the team still has many flaws, such as a subpar at best offensive line and a lack of special teams play. However, the Packers are expected to receive some much needed reinforcements with the return of many of their key players off Injured Reserve.
Having won the Super Bowl without three of their best players, one can only imagine what this team can accomplish if it can stay healthy in 2011. Additionally, Aaron Rodgers is only improving with time and could be even better in the upcoming season.
A few offseason moves to solidify the line and add depth in the defense should cement the Packers as the team to beat next season and give them a legitimate chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions.