2011 NFL Predictions: The Game Each Team Will Suffer Its 1st Loss
The 2011 NFL season will hopefully be upon us before we know it. When the season begins in earnest, which we believe will be September 11th, every team starts off with a clean slate in hopes of capturing their own division title. Obviously, some teams have more realistic title aspirations than others. How far will each team go in 2011 before they taste defeat? That is the question we want to address in this presentation.
Based on the labor lockout, without OTAs and mini-camps, the players that will be creating more mistakes than usual will be the rookie class of 2011. In fact, some of those rookies that were initially drafted to be starters, may need to bide their time until teams have been able to coach them up sufficiently to warrant a starting role much later in the season.
As for this writing, we have no idea where all the free agents are going to land, so perceived team weaknesses and strengths in their particular division may actually be quite different than they appear to be two months from now. Of course, all it takes are one or two key injuries to star players that can drastically alter the landscape for many teams.
So with what we know right now about each NFL team, we will look ahead and attempt to predict when every team will lose their first contest in 2011.
Coming off of a 5 - 11 record from the 2010 season, the Arizona Cardinals won their first road game to open up the season, and then proceeded to drop their final seven contests away from home.
I suspect that when free agency is wrapped up, the Cardinals will have either Kevin Kolb or Donovan McNabb throwing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts. The Cardinals defense will also be boosted by the presence of Patrick Peterson, who won't be hurt as much by the limited coaching he will receive due to his natural athletic talents. On the surface, that looks like a winning formula, so let's examine the Cardinal's early opposition.
This season the Cardinals open up at home in a favorable matchup with the lowly Carolina Panthers, and then are on the road for two straight weeks against the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks, before they return home to face the New York Giants.
I can see the possibility of a 3 - 0 start before that Giants game, and then losing that contest to start out 3 - 1. How can they start out 3 - 0 ? Match ups are the key.
In Carolina, they face a team that will be starting either Jimmy Clausen or Cam Newton, for a team that won only two games. We do need to point out however that one of those wins was against the Cardinals.
Next up is a Redskins team that could very well be starting John Beck at quarterback. Since he has not had any recent work with Redskins coaches, his ability to come in and effectively run the team may not take hold until somewhere down the road after the first month of the season. They catch a break in facing them in week two.
After that is a NFC West battle in Seattle. The big question regarding Seattle is who is their quarterback. If it is Matt Hasselbeck, then it is business as usual. If it is somebody new, there would be a sharp learning curve and they might not be all that ready by week three. Remember that 2011 is going to be a very unique season, and teams may not start hitting their stride until somewhere in October. It is quite possible that the Cardinals lose this game due to their issues playing on the road.
If they somehow start out 3 - 0, then their first loss would come at the hands of the Giants in week four, who will put on a pass rush that will overwhelm the Cardinals offense.
After opening up the 2010 season with an overtime loss on the road at Pittsburgh, the Atlanta Falcons went on to record a win in an impressive 12 out of the next 13 contests in route to a NFC best 13 - 3 record. Since then, we had the bold draft day move of trading up to select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. Out of the various projected playoff contender teams, no other team is probably as vulnerable to more key losses than are the Falcons.
While the Falcons brace themselves for the potential departure of right guard Harvey Dahl and left tackle Tyson Clabo, they can only hope that the replacements they have been grooming, Mike Johnson and Jose Valdez, will be able to step in and be competent. Jason La Canfora of NFL.com writes that general manager Thomas Dimitroff will be judicious in his approach towards free agency.
Dimitroff being judicious is all well and fine, but based on the Green Bay Packers scoring 48 points on the road in a playoff game against the Falcons defense, it appears that debacle has somehow all been forgotten based on how the Falcons addressed the draft. Akeem Dent in round three helps but running back Jacquizz Rodgers in round five won't help the defensive shortcomings.
The NFL schedule maker did not do the Falcons any favors. Four of the first five contests in 2011 are tough games. They open up on the road at the Chicago Bears, are home against Philadelphia Eagles, travel to Tampa Bay, travel to Seattle and then return home to face the Super Bowl champion Packers.
Based on the assumption that the Falcons lose both Clabo and Dahl, it is hard to believe that Johnson and Valdez will be game ready to handle the talented Bears front seven on defense. I think the Falcons first loss comes on the road in week one.
The Baltimore Ravens started out 2010 winning two tough road games against the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, but somehow lost to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals on the road, which doesn't make any sense. But as we all know, on any given Sunday.....
In 2011 the Ravens open up with a home game against the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Nothing like finding out how good you are right off the bat with a stiff test. In 2010, both the Ravens and Steelers beat each other when they were the visiting team. It should be noted that the Ravens won that game in 2010 while Ben Roethlisberger was still serving his suspension.
Looking at both teams, it appears that the Ravens have more potential to be hurt by free agent defections than does the Steelers. The Ravens could be losing personnel in the secondary as well as the offensive line. Baltimore drafted Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith and Jah Reid with their first picks. They will serve as protection from the free agent departures.
Based on losing to Pittsburgh at home in 2010, it is difficult to see how their fortunes will change in 2011, so am predicting the Ravens first loss comes in week one to the Steelers.
Same old Buffalo Bills in 2011? No, not at all. The Bills look to be a new team in 2011, in more ways than one. The Bills come in to 2011 with new uniforms, new turf, a new assistant head coach in Dave Wannstedt and most importantly a new and improved defense.
The Bills know they will be stronger at the line of scrimmage with the addition of their first round draft pick Marcell Dareus. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard will allow the Bills to be more physical against the run. Aaron Williams and Da'Norris Searcy bring some new energy and athleticism to the Bills secondary.
While all of those additions will help the Bills defense to make a jump up in the defensive rankings, there are three things that I am personally looking forward to that will truly determine the amount of success that the Bills will enjoy in 2011, or not.
Those three things are: health and subsequent ability of Shawne Merriman to provide strong pass rush, the Bills ability to sign a better free agent tackle in free agency like Tyson Clabo, Willie Colon or Jared Gaither, and finally, will wide receiver Marcus Easley emerge to be the home run threat the Bills offense needs.
Regarding the 2011 first loss, let's look at the schedule.
The Bills open up at Kansas City, where they dropped a game in overtime due to Todd Haley icing Rian Lindell late in the fourth quarter. The Bills extract their measure of revenge in that one. Week Two they open up their home schedule against the Raiders with their new head coach Hue Jackson. The Bills will win two straight. Week Three the Bills face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at home. That is when the bubble bursts and the Bills taste their first defeat.
Growing pains. When you are 2 - 14, you expect to have some growing pains as you attempt to turn your new franchise around. While the Carolina Panthers have found the new face of their organization in quarterback Cam Newton, it doesn't necessarily mean that the 2011 season will be that much different from a results standpoint.
New head coach Ron Rivera will have his work cut out for him. Does he start Jimmy Clausen or Cam Newton at quarterback? What key free agents do they lose from the 2010 squad? If the Panthers lost Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Richard Marshall or Charles Johnson, each one of those veterans would set the team back if they left for a different team.
As it stands now, the Panthers are facing an uphill battle in 2011. Ron Rivera will have limited time to implement his philosophies and schemes to his new team. As a result, I don't see the Panthers coming out of the gate very strong, in fact, more on the opposite side of the scale.
The Panthers open up the season on the road against Arizona Cardinals. This is one of the two teams that Carolina actually beat last year, but the Cardinals are expected to have an upgrade at quarterback this time around. I expect the Panthers to drop their season opener on the road. And so the growing pains start all over.
Jay Cutler will be anxious to see the 2011 season begin, so that he can remove whatever lasting impressions, or nightmares, that he suffers from based on being booed off the field in the NFC Championship game. Coming out of the gate strong in 2011 would be a very good way to exercise the demons.
The Bears got a little tougher at the line of scrimmage with the additions of draft picks Gabe Carimi and Stephen Paea. Many observers will be curious to see which wide receiver the Bears opt to add from a fairly deep class of free agents, that could boost the Bears offense, not to mention adding more options for Jay Cutler to throw to.
Turning to the schedule, the Bears are faced with three huge challenges right off the bat. They open up at home against the team with the best NFC record in the 2010 season in the Atlanta Falcons. Then they go on the road to New Orleans to face Drew Brees and company. If that isn't bad enough, then they take on the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers at home in week three. That makes two straight weeks against the last two Super Bowl winners.
Don't see how the Bears escape from this gauntlet without at least one loss. For a projection sake, let's state that the Bears beat the Falcons at home in week one, but drop the week two game in New Orleans. Drew Brees is tough to defend against and he now has more weapons with Mark Ingram at his disposal as well.
Will any team have undergone a greater transformation in the NFL than the Cincinnati Bengals of 2010? It seems likely as of now, that Carson Palmer, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and possibly Johnathan Joseph may have all departed in one short year.
In their place are Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Dontay Moch. Granted, Joseph has not left yet, but the Bengals are going to have to step up with a large contract to keep him in house. There are so many teams that need help in the secondary, that it would be considered a major victory if the Bengals can re-sign him. Hopefully the Bengals re-sign Cedric Benson. If not, that would pose a major problem for Andy Dalton.
Regarding the 2011 season, who starts out at quarterback in Week One? Will Andy Dalton be ready? It is a long shot, without any OTA's, mini-camps or hands-on coaching from the Bengals at this point. Due to the reality of who plays quarterback, and how ready the quarterback is for NFL competition, it is conceivable that the Bengals will be faced with a very difficult road in the early going of the upcoming season.
The Bengals open up the season at Cleveland, then travel to Denver before returning home for two weeks to face the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills. What is interesting about that lineup, is that only Buffalo is returning their same head coach from 2010. The other three will all be going through their own struggles of too short of a training camp for implementing all the new changes that typically arrive as part of a new regime. That alone gives the Bengals reason for hope.
But for the quarterback issues we sighted, and the lack of experience at key positions, I project that the Browns will beat Cincinnati in the opener, and so it goes.
The Cleveland Browns came up with a very solid haul in their 2011 draft, when they selected Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, Jordan Cameron, Owen Marecic and Buster Skrine. They got tougher on the line of scrimmage and added some new weapons for Colt McCoy.
The Browns are slowly but surely building their team with an eye for the future. That is consistent with the direction at the draft, when they were willing to trade down so far in the first round with the Atlanta Falcons to stockpile draft picks, ala Bill Belichick.
As far as the 2011 season goes, the Browns open up with three home games out of their first four contests. The Browns host Cincinnati in week one, travel to Indianapolis in week two, and then host two games, facing Miami and Tennessee. It is possible that when the Browns hit their bye week (week five) that they could be sitting there with a 3 - 1 record. But it doesn't seem probable that they will escape from Indianapolis with a win. From a forecasting standpoint, their first loss occurs in week two.
The dream of hosting the Super Bowl and having the Dallas Cowboys playing in the game in their own backyard has come and gone. The Cowboys can now forget all of that and focus on the task at hand, trying to return to a playoff caliber football team.
In 2011 the Cowboys face some salary cap decisions regarding their skilled positions. They have a crowded backfield to sort out, and the issues at wide receiver with Dez Bryant acting up and an expensive Roy Williams. The Cowboys need to re-sign Doug Free and hope they don't have too many defections in free agency. But due to cap limitations, they don't expect to be able to be big players in free agency.
Tony Romo should be recovered and healthy to begin the 2011 season. He still has weapons to throw to in Miles Austin and Jason Witten and a new toy in DeMarco Murray, who should catch quite a few passes as well. Besides Murray, the Cowboys also drafted Tyron Smith and Bruce Carter to bring in some new blood.
The Cowboys open up 2011on the road for two straight weeks as they travel to the New York Jets and then on to face the San Francisco 49ers. They have their first home game in week three against the Washington Redskins. While it is likely that the Cowboys could come out of their first three games with a record of 2 - 1, the task of going in to New York and facing that Jets defense to start out the year seems like a challenge that they can not win. Project them to lose the season opener and win the next two.
John Elway and John Fox join forces to turn around the Broncos fortunes. This will not be an overnight deal, and the Broncos will have a long way to go after the 2010 season. The Broncos started out all right as 2 - 2, but then went 2 - 10 after that to finish with a 4 - 12 record.
After the draft, the Broncos have taken some positive steps to improve the worst defense in the NFL from 2010. They drafted Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Nate Irving, Quinton Carter, Mike Mohamed and Jeremy Beal to help out on defense and give them some needed depth.
But like we said, they have a long way to go. They will get a tough test as the Oakland Raiders come in to Denver in the season opener on Monday Night Football. After that, the Broncos are home against Cincinnati and then take to the road to face Tennessee. Those three games should give the Broncos an idea about where they are with respect to other teams that failed to make the playoff last year.
With a new head coach to introduce his own system, and limited time to do it in, the regular season probably begins on a sour note. The Raiders come in and hand the Broncos a loss in week one.
In 2010 under head coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions started out with a dreadful 2 - 10 record, and then things started to click, and they finished up 4 - 0. That is a strange but promising season, to be sure.
So, can they build off of that momentum from the end of 2010 and turn that into a positive start in 2011? The Lions drafted Nick Fairley, Titius Young and Mikel Leshoure with their top three picks in the draft, to add some more talent to their core.
However, unless the Lions step it up in free agency and address some key holes in the linebacking and secondary units, they are doomed to miss the playoffs again. There are some strong potential free agents available to come in and support the strong defensive line, but there will be other teams after those same players as well. This crazy free agency period will be a good test for the Lions front office to determine if they have their act together and are able to put together a team that could challenge in the NFC North.
Regarding the first loss in 2011, let's look at the early schedule. The Lions open on the road at Tampa Bay, are home against Kansas City and then travel to Minnesota and to Dallas. Tampa Bay was a very strong team in 2010, and they are being held to be accountable by their head coach to prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke. Matthew Stafford needs to have a strong season to prove that he is not injury prone and that he can be the man to carry the Lions to the promised land.
On the road at Tampa Bay is a hard way to open the season, and I see that as the Lions first loss. They should be able to take Kansas City at home and then have the Vikings who might have Christian Ponder at quarterback. That is a 2 - 1 start, but the first loss should come in week one.
Green Bay Packers
People always wonder how hungry and motivated a team will be after they win the Super Bowl. That is a reasonable question to ask, since so few teams in the past 20 years are able to repeat in consecutive years. In fact, some teams fail to even qualify for the playoffs the following year, so it will be interesting to see what happens to the Packers as they defend their title.
Another aspect of being the world champions, is that other teams want your players, especially when they become free agents. If the Packers can limit their loses to James Jones and Cullen Jenkins that is something that they could still manage to deal with. Remember, this is a team that lost a large number of players to I.R. in 2010, and have all those players coming back healthy in 2011. Strong depth to be sure.
The Packers drafted Derek Sherrod, Randall Cobb and Alexander Green to add some new talent. This will however be largely a veteran seasoned team that will take the field in 2011. The first Thursday night contest will feature the last two Super Bowl champions as the Packers host New Orleans. They follow that up at Carolina, then go to Chicago, home against Denver Broncos and then back on the road to face Atlanta.
It is interesting how the Super Bowl champions are able to get games on their schedule against Carolina and Denver, the teams with the two worst records from 2010, but that is the way it is set up. I think the Bears are going to be ready for Green Bay this time around, so I have their first loss happening in Week Three.
The 2010 Houston Texans started out of the gate at 4 - 2 coming in to the bye week, and then promptly went on a horrendous stretch that saw them go 1 - 8 over the next nine games. Somebody must have turned the switch off during the bye and forgot to turn it back on the next week.
In 2011, the Texans are determined to repair their secondary, which was last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. To that end, they made their first five draft picks all on defense. Selections included J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, Brandon Harris, Rashad Carmichael and Shiloh Keo. The first two will help out on the pass rush and the last three will work in the secondary.
As far as the 2011 schedule goes, the Texans start out with as rough a four-game stretch as anyone in the league. They are home against the Indianapolis Colts, go to Miami, travel to New Orleans and then host the Pittsburgh Steelers. That is far from an ideal way to open up the season.
With so many additions to the secondary, and limited time to get them ready to play, Week One should belong to Peyton Manning and the Colts high-powered offense. That takes care of the prediction. Texans lose in the first week.
In 2009, the Indianapolis Colts went an identical 7 - 1 at home and on the road. In 2010, both marks suffered somewhat, as the Colts were 6 - 2 at home, but only .500 on the road, going 4 - 4. So, the Colts decided they wanted to fortify the line of scrimmage and drafted three linemen with their first three picks in the draft, as they took Anthony Castonzo, Ben Ijalana and Drake Nevis. Then they snuck in a sleeper running back pick with Delone Carter from Syracuse.
Coming in to the 2011 season, we suspect that the Colts will take care of priority one and make sure that they have signed Peyton Manning to a long term deal. With that out of the way, Manning can re-introduce himself to Dallas Clark, who missed a large chunk of the 2010 season due to injury, and get back on the same page with all of his weapons.
From a schedule standpoint, the Colts open at Houston, host Cleveland, host Pittsburgh and travel to Tampa Bay. I don't see any problem with the first two games, but the Pittsburgh contest should be a true test. I think the Colts are going to drop the week three contest, as the Steelers front seven is better than the Colts front seven, and that will be the difference in the game.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were looking okay in 2010 at 8 - 5, until they lost their final three games to finish at .500 for the year. The fact that two of those losses were against non-playoff teams like Washington and Houston had to be especially painful.
The Jaguars decided to give David Garrard some competition this year by drafting Blaine Gabbert. In addition to Gabbert, they drafted Will Rackley and Cecil Shorts to add some new talent.
In 2011, the Jaguars have this every other week kind of format to open up the season. Every other week in that they face a non-playoff team, then a playoff team, and back and forth for the first six weeks. It goes like this: home versus Tennessee, at New York Jets, at Carolina, hosting New Orleans, hosting Cincinnati and at Pittsburgh.
Tennessee figures to be struggling early on with whoever they have at quarterback, so Jacksonville will be tested in Week Two at the New York Jets. Facing the Jets defense on the road is not something to look forward to, and that also represents the Jaguars first loss of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Will the real Kansas City Chiefs team stand up? Are they the team that went 10 - 6 in the regular season in 2010 and won the AFC West, or are they the team that was embarrassed at home in the playoffs to Baltimore 30 - 7 and knocked out after one game? Perhaps they are something in between those two.
The Chiefs scratched some heads when they took a reach for Jonathan Baldwin in the draft. After that, they selected Rodney Hudson, Justin Houston and Allen Bailey. So they improved their pass rush and got a little tougher at the line of scrimmage.
Kansas City starts out the year with an interesting game in 2011, as they host the Buffalo Bills on 9/11. This game is interesting to me based on the way this same matchup went down last year. The Bills were set to kick a winning field goal late in the fourth quarter, but Todd Haley was able to secure a time out and iced the Bills kicker, Rian Lindell. The Chiefs wound up winning the game in overtime. After that the Chiefs travel to Detroit and then move on to San Diego.
I have a feeling that the Bills are going to be improved enough on defense that they make it another competitive game. This time Buffalo is the one that squeaks out a win, so the Chiefs first loss will happen early.
The Miami Dolphins had a strange 2010 season. Strange in that they were a 7 - 9 team overall, that went 6 - 2 on the road and 1 - 7 at home. It is usually the other way around, as it is far easier for most players to play at home and harder to play on the road. But then again, the Dolphins do things somewhat differently.
There was the over the top recruitment of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh while Tony Sparano was still under contract. Then we come to the issue of the Dolphins trying to decide if quarterback Chad Henne is the real deal or not.
The Dolphins are trying to determine if either of their free agent running backs Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown make sense to bring back to the team. The Dolphins drafted Mike Pouncey, Daniel Thomas and Edmond Gates to bring some new talent. Thomas should take over primary running back duties.
Regarding their first loss, we probably won't have to wait very long. On Thursday Night Football, the Dolphins are hosting New England. Tom Brady and company coming in to Miami on national television is never a good way to start a season. Tom Brady versus Chad Henne, no comparison, Patriots will win.
The Brett Favre era in Minnesota is over. Some may say that it went on for too long, and I would agree. The Christian Ponder era is set to begin, but he may not be ready by week one, but rather sometime later in the 2011 season. He does need a little coaching after all, before he takes over the reigns.
The Vikings had a disappointing 2010 season. After losing in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, they were hoping for a repeat performance. However they started out with a disturbing trend of losing two out of every three games, and they repeated that, and then repeated that again. So, after nine games they were already 3 - 6, and seemingly out of it.
For the 2011 season, the Vikings still have some wily veterans to go with some of their new blood. The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph and Christian Ballard with their first three picks, and all three should fare well in Minnesota.
But when it comes to predicting their first loss in 2011, we don't have long to wait. The Vikings open the year by facing the NFL's number one offense and number one defense from 2010 in the San Diego Chargers. Playing on the road, facing a tough team, and starting a rookie quarterback, or even a rented veteran, will be too tall of an order. Vikings lose in week one.
New England Patriots
We all know the Patriots are a talented team. With Tom Brady running the show and Bill Belichick controlling his team and the draft, the Patriots continue to reload with new talent and set themselves up for another good draft in 2012. By the time three rounds had ended, the Patriots had drafted Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Ryan Mallett.
Not sure how many of those rookies will see significant time in 2011, but based on the contributions of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010, no rookies should be overlooked.
Regarding the 2011 season, a case can be made for the Patriots to come in to their bye week undefeated at 6 - 0. They face non-playoff teams on the road and have harder games at home. They start at Miami, home versus San Diego, at Buffalo, at Oakland, home versus the New York Jets and then host to Dallas, before their bye. Of the six the hardest game appears to be in week five when they play the Jets. That one could be tough.
So, for the record I will say they start out 6 - 0. Then they hit the bye week and trouble starts. After the bye they travel to Pittsburgh (win that to become 7-0). Then they are home to New York Giants, but the Giants defensive line is too much for New England (first loss). Then they face the Jets in New York (second loss). Maybe I took this too far. Oh well. Patriots fans get seven straight wins and two straight losses. There you have it.
New Orleans Saints
It's bad enough that the New Orleans Saints got bounced out of the playoffs in 2010 by the Seattle Seahawks, a team that finished the regular season with a losing record. It is even worse when you realize that Seattle finished 23rd in the NFL by scoring an average of only 19.4 points a game. The Saints gave up 41 points in that playoff loss, which is hard to fathom.
So, what did the Saints to improve for 2011? They addressed the anemic defensive showing in the playoffs with the addition of Cameron Jordan, Martez Wilson and Johnny Patrick. They also added Mark Ingram, who will make an impact running the ball.
Regarding the 2011 schedule, the Saints travel to Green Bay to open the season. The last two Super Bowl champions square off, and one of them has to lose. Based on the fact that the game is in Green Bay, and they will probably get the Packers fans fired up with the unveiling of a Super Bowl banner, the odds seem to be stacked against New Orleans winning that game.
So, let's say that the first loss is also the first game. If that isn't bad enough, then they face the other team in the NFC Championship game, the Chicago Bears.
New York Giants
With an 8 - 8 record in 2009 and a 10 - 6 record in 2010, the New York Giants have been absent from the playoffs for two years running. They are looking to reverse that trend in 2011.
The Giants defense, which is already pretty strong, is now even better with the addition of talented corner Prince Amukamara and defensive lineman Marvin Austin. They also drafted a wide receiver in Jerrel Jernigan. The Giants have some key free agents in many areas of their team, so this upcoming free agency period will be an important one to determine if the Giants will have enough talent and depth to make a playoff run.
Looking ahead at their schedule, I have the Giants dropping their contest in Week three at the Philadelphia Eagles. But aside from that one game, I can see them starting out with a 5 - 1 record before they hit the bye week in Week Seven. If they miss the playoffs after starting out 5 - 1, that might be the end of Coach Coughlin.
New York Jets
In the 2010 season, the New York Jets went 9 - 1 in one stretch, but then lost three out of their final five games to end the regular season. Still, the Jets were able to knock the Colts and the Patriots out of the playoffs. Now, with two straight losses in the AFC Championship game, the Jets are looking to overcome that hurdle and reach their goal of appearing in the Super Bowl.
The Jets drafted two players that they hope will make an impact on the defensive line in Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis. Ellis though may have some legal troubles, but what happens to him is up in the air. They also drafted Bilal Powell to add to their mix of running backs.
How badly will free agency help or hurt the Jets? They certainly will have questions coming in to free agency about their wide receivers, so until they have signed contracts in hand, that unit will be suspect.
The Jets open up the season with a nationally televised game at home against Dallas. Then they host Jacksonville, travel to Oakland, and then have another Sunday night game, this time at Baltimore. I see the Jets winning their first three games, but the back to back road games at Baltimore and the New England Patriots seems like that is where they encounter their first loss. For the record, I will say they drop the week four game at Baltimore.
With a new head coach in Hue Jackson, the Raiders will be hoping to build off of the momentum they had in the 2010 season, when they swept the AFC West with a 6 - 0 record.
The Raiders addressed their offensive line by drafting Stefen Wisniewski and Joe Barksdale. They also drafted speedy corner Demarcus Van Dyke.
Jackson was at least on board last year as the offensive coordinator for the Raiders, so assuming that he carries over the majority of his philosophies and playbook from last year, there shouldn't be much lost in continuity.
Regarding the 2011 season, the Raiders open up at Denver, and then travel to Buffalo. Then they are home against the New York Jets and New England Patriots, as they finish up a quick tour through the AFC East. I see the Raiders defeating Denver, and then the game with Buffalo as more of a toss up. If they get by the Bills I don't see them beating either the Patriots or the Jets. Prediction on first loss is week three.
In a season where the Philadelphia Eagles went 10 - 6 and qualified for the playoffs, they sure didn't play that great at home. In home games during the regular season, they were just a .500 team, going 4 - 4, and then they dropped their first playoff game at home as well, losing 21 - 16 to the Green Bay Packers. As road warriors, they fared very well, going 6 - 2. Guess home field advantage doesn't mean that much after all.
The Eagles drafted a solid offensive lineman in Danny Watkins, then addressed their secondary with Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh. But, will the Eagles land Nnamdi Asomugha? That would be a huge boost to their secondary. The Eagles expect to be players in free agency, and depending on who they land, it might be sufficient to put them over the top in the NFC.
In 2011, the Eagles open up on the road at St, Louis, and then travel to Atlanta. After that, two home games versus the New York Giants and San Francisco. Predicting that the first loss will come to the Atlanta Falcons in week two. The Falcons expect to have a high-octane offense, so it will be curious to see if the Eagles secondary is ready for a major test or not.
James Harrison is a major topic in the news this week due to the need he felt to have his name crossed off the Christmas card list of Rashard Menhenhall, Ben Roethlisberger, Rodney Harrison and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Just google James Harrison crazy comments and a whole slew of options will pop up. Just learned that there were other things that Harrison said about Big Ben, but those didn't make it in the Men's Journal article.
We have no way to knowing if this will cause any kind of problems inside the Steelers locker room. You would like to think that it is no big deal, and it may turn out to be much ado about nothing. But if the Steelers come out flat in 2011, you know full well that people will point back to this incident as the start of when things began turning bad.
However the Steelers have a way of overcoming adversity. Reflect back to one year ago when Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of 2010. They managed to survive that situation just fine.
The Steelers addressed the line of scrimmage with their first two picks when they added Cameron Heyward and Marcus Gilbert. Pittsburgh added a good corner in Curtis Brown with their third pick.
As for the Steelers schedule, they open up at Baltimore, home against Seattle, at Indianapolis, at Houston and home versus Tennessee. Out of those five games, the toughest games should be Baltimore and Indianapolis. I see the Steelers storming out of the gate at 7 - 0, but will lose in week eight to New England. Sorry Steelers fans, you won't go undefeated this year.
San Diego Chargers
After finishing the 2010 season with the best offense and best defense in football, and not being able to make the playoffs, the heat has been turned up on Norv Turner. If he doesn't get his team back into the playoffs this year, he may find that San Diego isn't so classy after all, when they show him the door.
The Chargers managed to survive the big contract holdouts of 2010, but one has to wonder if the new CBA and labor lockout will change the way players view summer camp this year and bring everybody in together on day one. Maybe not, but it is an interesting topic.
At the draft, San Diego picked up four defensive players in the first three rounds, in addition to wide receiver Vincent Brown. The defensive picks were on Corey Liuget, Marcus Gilchrist, Jonas Mouton and Shareece Wright.
The Chargers schedule in 2011 doesn't look overly difficult as their first five games are: home versus Minnesota, on the road at New England, home versus Kansas City and Miami, and then at Denver. After those five games are done, I think 4 - 1 is a reasonable guess, with the only loss coming in week two to New England.
San Francisco 49ers
Can Jim Harbaugh bring his winning ways from Stanford over to the San Francisco 49ers? He may be able to, but it might not happen that much in his rookie year. As is the case with any new NFL head coach, there is always an adjustment period for a team to take on the persona of its' coach. Well that simply is going to be hard to do in 2011, so expect this season to be more abnormal than anything.
As a result, the 49ers organization will have to be patient with this year, but that may be wishful thinking. Unless one team steps up with a winning percentage of at least .650 or .700, then a sub-.500 record might be sufficient to gain entry into the playoffs again in the NFC West.
The 49ers expect to bring back quarterback Alex Smith in perhaps his final hurrah. They drafted a couple skilled players to help the offense in quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Kendall Hunter. The 49ers added a couple top defenders in Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver.
As for the new season, the 49ers start out with two home games, when they face Seattle and Dallas. After that, they are on the road for two weeks at Cincinnati and Philadelphia. I see the 49ers winning the season opener but dropping the second game to Dallas. The Cowboys just have too many weapons.
Will Marshawn Lynch be able to duplicate his awesome long touchdown run in the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints, with another playoff performance in 2011? The answer to that comes down to two factors. Which NFC West team filled in their holes the best in free agency, and then who exactly is going to be the quarterback in Seattle this season?
If the quarterback is anybody but Matt Hasselbeck, then it could be a long year in Seattle. But, we will have to sit it out through free agency and see where the chips fall.
The Seahawks addressed their offensive line by drafting two players in their first three picks in James Carpenter and John Moffitt. They also added linebacker K.J. Wright.
The Seahawks appear to have a favorable schedule (considering that they were a 2010 playoff team), in that they only face three playoff teams from 2010 over the span of the first 10 weeks of the season. They may even start out 0 - 2, which is my personal guess that they will, and still have time to recover and get back in the NFC West race. They open with two on the road at San Francisco and at Pittsburgh, and I think they lose both games.
St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams added some new toys for Sam Bradford to throw to when they drafted tight end Lance Kendricks, and wide receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. The Rams may not be done, as it is quite conceivable that they will be a player in free agency and attempt to land some veteran talent to go along with the rookies. They did address their defense with the addition of Robert Quinn.
The Rams look like they got a raw deal from the NFL schedule maker. If you look at the Rams first four games and then compare that to Seattle, you would have to conclude that the Rams must have been the 2010 playoff team. They start out with three of their first four games at home against Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. The only road game is in week two at the New York Giants. Week Five is the bye week, so the Rams can take a breath and see if they have progressed from 2010 or not.
Due to their killer early schedule, I see the Rams probably starting out at 0 - 3. The rough start will test their resolve, but with the influx of rookies that will be worked in as the season moves along, they should improve as the season advances.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head Coach Raheem Morris did a great job in 2010 of turning around the Bucs mindset to becoming that of a winning team. Although they fell short of reaching the playoffs, the Bucs look to be a team on the rise.
The Bucs made an amazing jump last year, when they went from 3 - 13 in 2009 to 10 - 6 in 2010. A seven game improvement in one year is not very common. So, can they improve on their 10 - 6 record this year? They are not going to be able to surprise anyone this year, so there work will be cut out for them.
The Bucs drafted some serious talent for their defensive line when they selected Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. They also got a linebacker in Mason Foster, so their defense should improve.
From a schedule perspective, the Bucs are home for three of their first games, as they host Detroit, Atlanta and Indianapolis. The only road game comes in week two when they travel to Minnesota. I think the Bucs will start out with two straight wins, but don't think they can beat Atlanta in week three. They probably are looking at 2 - 2 after their first four games, but can still save their season after the .500 start.
Not sure when I heard some good news coming out of Tennessee Titans headquarters lately. Jeff Fisher is already gone. Vince Young and Randy Moss are probably gone. Kerry Collins retired. Chris Johnson is preparing to hold out. Stephen Tulloch will probably be lured away by a bigger contract offer.
So it goes for the Tennessee Titans. A new head coach coming into a shorter summer camp with no OTAs or mini-camp for his rookie quarterback. Welcome to the NFL.
The Titans drafted Jake Locker, Akeem Ayers and Jurrell Casey. If the Titans plan to start Locker, he really needs Chris Johnson to be signed, in camp and happy to offer some degree of protection. If Johnson does hold out, then Locker might be running for his life. It could be a long year for the Titans.
They open at Jacksonville and then play at home against Baltimore. That looks like two quick losses right out of the gate, so the learning curve starts early.
Between Donovan McNabb and Head Coach Mike Shanahan not seeing eye to eye, the Albert Haynesworth debacle, and trying to decide between John Beck and Rex Grossman at quarterback, the Redskins have seen their share of turmoil and setbacks.
The Redskins expect to make a splash in free agency, but they need to because this is a team in need of repair, following a 6 - 10 season under Coach Shanahan.
Washington drafted Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins for the defense and Leonard Hankerson and Roy Helu to offer some new talent for the offense. But the real issues for the Redskins will be either addressed in free agency or will hold the team back again this year. Nobody knows yet what to expect from John Beck, if in fact he starts the season at quarterback.
The Redskins open up at home for the first two games against the New York Giants and Arizona. Their first loss will probably be the home opener, as the Giants appear to be a more complete team right now than the Redskins do.