With the 2011 NFL Schedule being released in the last few days, morbid NFL lock-out discussions have been replaced with frenzied excitement and hope.
Bleacher Report has been inundated with game-by-game analysis' and predictions for each team's potential success's/failures, which has been a welcome change from the 'legalise' that none of us have any interest in unless it involves a resolution.
So to keep with the spirit of things, let's take a look at 20 things that are just about crazy enough to happen this year.
And remember these are only wild predictions, nevertheless, let the backlash of fan disagreement...begin!
So Alex Smith had a bad year last year, and the year before, and the year before.....etc etc.
BUT, the NFC West remains wide open, and with the shambles that was the 49ers 2010 campaign, its out with the old and in with the new, as Mike Singletary makes way for Jim Harbaugh.
Can Harbaugh dramatically improve Smith's play? Probably not, but it's make or break for him in 2011 as the 49ers have reached out and olive branch to the free-agent QB to be their starter in 2011, and it's his last chance to impress. The team's certainly loaded with talent and Smith will be desperate to impress.
With the Cardinals still a year or so away from competing and Seattle and upstart St.Louis not exactly being Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Smith has a great opportunity to start fresh and come good.
So Carson wants out, every person here there and everywhere doesn't thing there is the faintest hope of him leaving California for the rest of his days.
Which is why Carson Palmer playing for the Bengals and making the playoffs is a wild prediction worth making!
Mike Brown has made clear that Carson Palmer should honor his contractual agreements, and it wouldn't be surprising if he shows up to force a trade if the Bengals take Gabbert/Newton and Mike Brown makes him start instead.
Once Palmer is in the building whose to say he doesn't fall in love with Gruden's system and breathe new life into his game? With the Bengals weaker schedule, it's plausible that they can compete for the division with Palmer attached.
I know what you're thinking, Matt Stafford and healthy go together like milk and beer. But hey, the kids been in the NFL two years now, he's battle tested and tough.
He played with a separated shoulder, against medical advice and threw a game winning touchdown, Jay Cutler take notes!
Stafford is most certainly a tough cookie and added to that he's got a great skill set, the Lions are improving every year and while they might not make the playoffs, they will damn sure contend for them.
Stafford is a little bit older and a little bit wiser now, and should be able to anticipate bone-crunching hits and get the ball off that little bit quicker this year, as I'm sure he has no intention of re-re-re-injuring that shoulder any time soon...
DeMaurice Smith may be a polarizing figure in the world of NFL right now, but there is no denying that the man can certainly wear a hat! This coupled with his beige Dick Tracy coat, can do nothing but bring joy to the players,owners and fans during this weary process. Thanks D!
Smith has spent the better part of 2010 in intense talks and sifting through an awful lot of legal mumbo-jumbo as head of the NFLPA, and has looked damn good doing so.
Somebody give that man an award!
Raheem Morris and the Buccs narrowly missed out on the playoffs this past season at the hands of the Detroit Lions and will be looking to rectify that this year.
Josh Freeman has more than proved that he is ready willing and able at the QB position, and with winnable road games in 2011 the Buccs could be riding momentum when they take on the likes of division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans.
They've been handed the stage on which to perform with a trip to London against the Bears and a game on Monday Night Football hosting Indianapolis, these young Buccs are definitely in the spotlight, big things lie ahead for Tampa Bay and this just might be their year to surprise us and more importantly, surprise the Saints and the Falcons.
It has seemed recently, that the Carolina Panthers No.1 overall pick in the draft is a foregone conclusion.
Much like when Andrew Luck was predicted to be their surefire pick if he were available, Cam Newton has risen to snatch the same title.
The Panthers though find themselves in a bit of a predicament. The No.1 overall pick is going to get a big payday, and Cam Newton is a boom or bust prospect. With no second round pick to add talent to the roster, what is the use of throwing in excess of $50 million at Cam Newton, when he needs the talent around him to succeed?
This is why Carolina will be open to and may well trade their No.1 overall pick to a team silly enough to trade up for Cam Newton. That way they can address other issues, spend less money, give Clausen one more crack at it, and if he fails, try and bag Luck next year.
It makes sense, who will be the team to take the bait?
Arizona are in need of a QB and desperately, unfortunately for them, Gabbert and Newton will likely both be off the board by the time the Cardinals come to pick at No.5.
So how does this scenario play out? Well Yardbarker.com gives a convincing idea of what may transpire.
"If the Panthers want to trade down it will be almost impossible for them to recoup the 3,000 points that the 1st overall pick is worth according to the trade value chart. However, a package of the Cardinals 1st, 2nd and 4th round picks would equal 2,355 points and would give the Panthers seven of the first 103 picks in the draft."
So would Arizona take the bait and give away a substantial amount of picks to Carolina in return for the No.1 overall pick? It's a definite possibility, whether Arizona spread the package deal over a number of years or not, it could be something that is attractive to both sides.
Ryan Mallett has seen his draft stock fall after a couple of bad interviews and off the field issues.
Scouts dwell too much on character issues, and it can lead to big regrets on draft day. Mike Vick has character issues, so does Ben Roethlisberger, and they are two of the hottest properties in the league right now. So Ryan Mallett may have taken drugs once? So has Michael Phelps and he has 70(approx) gold medals!
Ryan Mallett has the pro-style formula down, a big arm and is said to be a great locker room leader. Provided someone like New England doesn't take him, he should start right away, and if he does he should have no trouble adapting to the pro game.
If any prospect is going to succeed at the position right away, my money is on Ryan Mallett.
The Ravens have expressed interest in T.O. in the past and could look to the veteran receiver again in 2011.
With rumors circulating that the Ravens might address the defense first in the draft as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed begin to near the twilight of their careers, the Ravens will be looking to grab a Superbowl before they part ways.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh proved fairly ineffective in 2010, with an absolute howler of a drop against Pittsburgh that pretty much sent him on his way.
Joe Flacco then, could use a veteran to provide another set of hands, and T.O. could be that guy. Locker room cancer you say? Well T.O. kept his head down in Buffalo and Cincinnati, and even if he tried to be disruptive in Baltimore do you think Ray Lewis would let him?!! T.O. would have to take a step down in terms of the depth chart, but would he really say no to the first team he could contend with in years?
This signing coming to fruition rests on whether or not Baltimore assess the receiver situation in the draft, which some have suggested they might, with interest centered on Torrey Smith.
I have to say I love Peyton Hillis, at 25 years old he's got a lot of potential to be an absolute superstar, or does he?
Hillis takes an absolute pounding every time he steps on the field, and that's when he's playing well! He runs through tackles and gets bashed around on a weekly basis, so one has to worry for his longevity.
Coupled with that he may well be on the Madden cover this year and we all know how that often goes...
We've seen it many times before, a running back has a big year and then fails to recapture it the next or anytime in the near future. This fate could await Hillis if he's not careful. With teams now aware of the threat he poses after a dramatic 1,200 yard rushing year and 477 passing yards on 61 catches, he will be getting hit like a jackhammer as much as possible.
Can Hillis withstand the backlash after a blockbuster season? I don't think so! But that doesn't mean he hasn't got a great career ahead of him!
Plaxico Burress is due to be released from prison in June. With a nice pep-talk from fellow ex-con Mike Vick to look forward to, Burress will likely try and rehab his image and get back into the league.
He said in a prison interview with Bill Cowher that he will play again, and has been working out four times a week.
So what will the market be like for Plaxico? With other older vets T.O. and Randy Moss floating about, why would teams take a punt on Plaxico Burress?
One word, incentives!
Due to Burress's legal woes any contract that he signs with an NFL team is going to be incentive based, meaning, the more Burress works his behind off, the more money he's going to get.
If this is the case, expect a positive 2011 for Plaxico.
Tim Tebow has been working hard this offseason, and generated a lot of excitement in the last four games of the 2010 season, and yet the Broncos are still weary of handing him the keys to the franchise.
While many are clamoring for Tebow Time, John Elway has expressed dissatisfaction with the current QB situation in Denver. Similarly John Fox suggested that his starter was most likely going to be Kyle Orton.
So those wishing for Tebow are going to have to wait, if Elway doesn't give you the seal of approval, you might be in a sticky situation.
Despite the record setting jersey sales, and Denver faithful dying to see Tebow take the reins, unfortunately it isn't happening anytime soon.
Tebow sits on the bench in 2011. It's Kyle Orton's job to lose.
Despite running for 1,008 yards in 2010, the Patriots will part ways with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ellis's style of play allowed the Patriots to lean on him for consistent but not explosive play.
He had some good stats by the end of the year but never really threatened to break off a 40 yard run or anything of that nature. He was never a key fixture of the Patriots offense, understandable with Tom Brady at the helm, but the Patriots will look to rectify that in the draft.
Mark Ingram could be there at No.28 and if he is I fully expect him to be taken by New England. If so the Patriots can plug the Heisman Trophy winner in and expect instant production. He's rugged, he misses tackles with ease and he studied under Nick Saban.
Bill will have his eye on Ingram...
Ok so this one's a bit of a joke, but with excitement high and celebration in the air you never know what could happen in the heat of the moment.
They certainly sauced up proceedings last year, and they will likely be watched eagerly this year to see if a similar gaffe occurs, however unlikely it may be.
Hey one things for sure, last years awkward face kiss will be hard to top!
One of the greatest players in the NFL today, Ray Lewis could call it quits after 2011.
Ray has made it clear (see Rich Eisen's podcast) that football is only one small facet of his life, and that he has so very much going on outside of it. With upstart business' and his hands in many charities and involvement with mentoring younger NFL guys, Ray certainly has his hands full.
He is verging on the latter years of his career and will likely call it a day any time now. Lewis is a family man at heart and will have no problem calling time on his NFL career, like oh...what's his name.....someone....Favre.
The Raiders went undefeated in the AFC West last year and posted their first non-losing record since 2002, finishing (8-8).
There is reason to believe in Oakland, and this year they can take the AFC West, sweeping their division rivals once again along the way. With Hue Jackson at the helm, enthusiasm is beginning to surface in Oakland for the first time in years, and all signs point to improvement.
With two games at home to close out the season, the second of which is San Diego in the finale, if that game has playoff implications, Oakland most certainly have the upper hand.
Tom Coughlin won a Superbowl with New York in 2007 making him a hero in the Big City, however ever since their success at Superbowl 42, the giants have failed to recreate that same magic.
Despite a 10-6 record in 2010 the Giants failed to make the playoffs, and despite it being respectable, it's not what Giants fans and management have come to expect.
With a brutal schedule in 2011 it could mark a third year of playoff drought in New York, and with their roommate Jets enjoying success, coupled with the fact that Coughlin will be 64 by the time the 2012 season rolls around, the Giants could respectfully part ways with Coughlin when the year is done.
Forget Marcell Dareus, forget Nick Fairley, forget Patrick Peterson and Robert Quinn.
Von Miller has the skill set to be great in the NFL, a starter from day 1, Miller can explode off the edge and chase down QB's better than anyone in this years class. He's proven this and been duly rewarded with a Butkus award. With no intention of slowing down, expect Miller to light up the 2011 NFL season with his arsenal of pass-rushing moves.
If you happened to catch Everything to Prove episode 7 over at NFL.com you'll see how much of an upstanding kid Miller really is. He's focused, he's ready and he will prove by the end of 2011 why he should have gone No.1 overall.
Double-digit sacks anyone?
Though I don't often make it my business to predict something that is so far off and could be affected by any number of different eventualities, if one was to gamble on who goes to the Superbowl in 2011, I would put my money on the Patriots and the Packers.
Why? These two teams are both clinical in their style of play. Green Bay have had the wind taken out of their sails by the NFL Lockout, which has vastly overshadowed their 2010 success. This could work out great for them however, as it will stop a Superbowl hangover from de-focusing the team.They certainly know how to get it done, and in a season where there are so many fresh schemes and coaches, they will be game ready.
New England have all the tools to play well. Hey there's a lockout on you say! However, if you play ball for Big Bill, you're not going to slack off and get away with it. The Patriots squad are one of the most hard working in the league and they really do play hard for Bill. With a point to prove in 2011 and more draft picks than you could shake a stick at, New England could be in for a barn-stormer of a year.
With the Bengals looking to rebuild Ochocinco is on the chopping block. While Marvin Lewis is keen to reiterate time and time again that 85 remains under contract, it would be highly likely that if Bill came a-knocking Ochocinco would most certainly be dealt.
The guys have great rapport, and Ochocinco has made clear that he wants to play for the Patriots, yet fans in New England continue to throw red flags. What I would suggest is that Ochocinco would be a great addition in New England, not only would he play hard for Belichick, but there is no way Bill or Tom would let Chad act the way he does in Cincinnati. I expect that to be made very clear before any t is crossed and any i is dotted on a contract.
If Bill Belichick has any interest, it will be in Chad Johnson, not Chad Ochocinco...