Looks like the lockout is about to end. Thank God.
This will likely save millions of American men from having to spend their Sunday afternoons at Bed, Bath and Beyond with their wives before attending baby showers and christenings.
It will also likely save the ER rooms of America from being over-flowed with injuries occurring from domestic disputes, from all over America's heartland.
So, though we all may be deprived of a 2011 NBA season, new ridiculous Blake Griffin dunks and another chance to see LeBron fall flat on his imaginary crown, at least we have our NFL.
I don't like to be a braggart, so let me just humbly state that last preseason, I predicted the Packers would win the Super Bowl.
And, thanks to one Mr. Wynn, I took home a nice payday.
That money has long since been spent, and it's time to earn another payday in 2011-12.
This season has variables that we haven't seen in seasons past.
For one, we don't know where over 500 free agents will land.
Secondly, there's a whole slew of new coaches and new starting QBs who have yet to get in any reps with their teams.
Thirdly, the rookies have yet to take a single snap and, depending on how long it takes them to get their contracts signed, many of them may have little to no impact on their teams this season.
Taking all that into account, and all the other impossible-to-quantify variables, I'm laying forth, for you, projections for the 2011-12 season.
If you want to take these projections to Vegas, be my guest. (Please send 10 percent of your winnings to Bleacher Report, care of J. Matthew Nespoli.)
However, if you lose, well...let me state, for the record, gambling is illegal, and I do not endorse it.
Without further ado, here are my NFL projections for 2011-12:
Last year, in my high stakes Vegas fantasy league, I took Jamal Chaarles with my second-round pick.
This was after taking Aaron Rodgers with my first pick, and before taking Arian Foster with my fourth pick.
At my table, all three of those picks received some laughter.
Then, all three of those players went on to dominate, earning me the second-place loot.
This year, I'm standing by my man, Jamaal Charles.
I believe the Kansas City coaching staff recognizes Charles' big play ability, and will give Charles a larger split of the carries. I'm expecting something close to 65 percent of the carries, or about 240 total rushing attempts, which is a nice total for a back of his size.
Anymore than that and you risk injury.
JC has moves that nobody else in the league, except for Chris Johnson, can duplicate.
And it's this prognosticator's opinion that CJ is on his way down, while JC's star is just beginning to rise.
While we're at it, can we officially get the JC nickname started? It's just too perfect—with the speed Charles possess, JC most definitely can walk on water.
With some experience under his belt, I expect Kansas City QB Matt Cassel to be all the more effective this season, and the passing game should be able to take some of the pressure off Charles.
Also, the defense should be stronger this year, and the Chiefs should be spending more time in the fourth quarter running the ball than they did last year.
Projection: 240 carries, 1379 yards rushing, All-Pro selection.
The AFC East has been dominated in the past decade by the Patriots.
Non-Patriot fans have been rooting against this team all along. Their coach is hate-able, and their supermodel-dating QB is very easy to dislike.
However, in the past two seasons, the Jets have made their presence felt. Is this the season they take over the division?
The Jets have the qualities of a champion: good quarterback, good coaching staff whom the players will follow and good defense.
The Patriots, on the other hand, have Tom Brady.
I expect the Patriots, with the greatest QB of all time, to win the division because Coach Belichick doesn't give away games. Meanwhile, I can see the Jets losing two or three games based on poor coaching decisions at the end-of-game situations, or a bad pass by pretty boy Sanchez.
1: Patriots 12-4
2: Jets 11-5
3: Bills 6-10
4: Dolphins 5-11
The Patriots will win the division, but the Jets, with their great defense, will go further in the playoffs.
Division MVP: who else? Tom Brady.
When Calvin Johnson came into the league, he was touted as the next big thing. He stands 6'5" and has blazing fast speed, giving him an advantage over any defender who tries to take him on.
However, in his first few years, though being very good, he's not lived up to the hype that has followed him since draft day.
But this year, in Detroit, he's finally got a good QB throwing him the ball, a decent offensive line, a highly competent running game and a complimentary receiver opposite him.
If Matthew Stafford stays healthy (something he's never been able to do), Calvin Johnson is your receiving champ.
Prediction: 91 catches, 1,450 yards, nine TDs.
It's got everything that is required of a great drama—a hero (Ben Rothlisberger if you're from Pittsburgh), an anti-hero (Ray Lewis), deep-seated personal hatred and history, and competing interests.
When these two teams play, there are three things that can be guaranteed:
1: There will be a winner.
2: There will be a loser.
3: There will be blood.
As a fan of the NFL, you can not miss this game.
The division will come down to these two teams again. Who will win it all largely depends on what happens when the two teams come face to face.
Ben Roethlisberger, for his career, is undefeated, starting against the state of Ohio.
For the Ravens, a team with the second greatest defense in the NFL (to Pittsburgh), it all comes down to how well Joe Flacco can lead, and how he plays against Pittsburgh. In past seasons, some would say he's choked against the Steelers; some, meaning Steelers stars LaMarr Woodley and James "future steroid scandal" Harrison.
1: Ravens 13-3
2: Steelers 11-5
3: Browns 8-8
4: Bengals 2-14
The Ravens will win the division but, once again, in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will roll Baltimore and advance further.
Division MVP: Ed Reed.
Wes Welker isn't the fastest receiver of all time, he doesn't run the best routes, he doesn't have the world's greatest hands and he will never be labeled a superstar.
However, what he is, is dependable, and Tom Brady's most trusted target.
This year, once again, with the Patriots having very little in the running game department and no star receiver to line up on the outside, Wes Welker will make a living chewing up yardage in 8-12-yard chunks, by going over the middle.
He's brave, dependable, durable and proven.
Prediction: 105 catches, 1,125 yards, eight TDs.
Peyton Manning has been dominating this division for as long as I can remember.
Last year, Houston was in just about every game they played. They very easily could've ended up 11-5. However, they didn't, because they found ways to blow games.
With a year under this unit's belt, I expect them to be better.
Arian Foster may not be back with the team, but I don't expect that will have much an effect on their performance.
Regardless, in a overall down year for the division, the Colts will squeak by.
1: Colts 10-6
2: Texans 9-7
3: Jaguars 7-9
4: Titans 5-11
This is hardly a bold projection, but I just couldn't go in any other direction.
Tom Brady is the best to ever do it, and this year his team is going to need big things from him more than ever before.
Their defense is average, as is their running game. Therefore, if the Patriots are going to win games, which they always do, it's going to be on the arm of one Mr. Tom Brady.
Prediction: 3,800 yards, 38 TDs/15 INTs, 101 passer rating.
This division is a tough one to predict, as it could go in any number of ways, depending on what happens in free agency and with some unhappy players in the division.
The only thing I know for sure is that Denver will finish last.
The Raiders are much improved and were undefeated in the division last year.
Still, they have no quarterback.
The Chiefs were the most improved team in the NFL (and my preseason division winner), but they will have a tougher go of things this season, and teams won't be surprised by them.
The Chargers, the perennial favorites, always seem to put themselves behind the eight-ball with a bad start. They also have some personal decisions to deal with concerning their wide receiving core and an unhappy Vincent Jackson.
I believe just about anything can happen here, but I like Matt Cassel and I think he will continue to improve. Meanwhile, the Chargers, in spite of all their talent, always find a way to blow it.
1: Chargers 11-5
2: Chiefs 10-6
3: Raiders 7-9
4: Broncos 4-12
Division MVP: Jamaal Charles
As per my projections, here are the playoff seedings:
Wild Card Round: Steelers at Chargers. Steelers win in Indianapolis, despite a 300-yard game from Rivers, 24-21.
Jets at Colts. Jets win in San Diego by shutting down Manning, by a score of 16-14.
Divisional Round: Steelers at New England. Pittsburgh goes into New England, where they almost always lose, and though they come close to pulling off the major upset by getting to Brady and sacking him five times, they lose on the final possession, 27-24.
Jets at Ravens. These teams have a blood brawl that looks much like a Steeler-Raven game. No touchdowns are scored, and the Ravens walk away with a 12-6 victory.
Championship Round: Ravens at Patriots. Tom Brady has been there before and knows how to get it done. The Ravens, perennial playoff chokers, realize they only have a year or two left in Ed Reed and Ray Lewis—it's this year or never. They put their noses to the ground and go after the Patriots hard, pulling off the upset, 20-16.
Ravens advance to the Super Bowl. And this fella, a life-long Steeler fan, can't bear to watch.
Every year, we are told, by the media, that this is the best division in football.
And every year, they prove us otherwise.
How many Super Bowls have been won by this division in the past 30 years?
The fact is, this division, because of the football-loving East Coast cities (New York, Philly, Washington) and Texas, is over-hyped by the media. And I don't expect this year to be any different.
Many prognosticators are predicting three teams to make the playoffs from this division. I've also heard many state that all the teams will end with winning records.
Here's what I expect:
The Giants and Manning Jr., will disappoint again. This Manning brother, because of his namesake, has been the most overrated quarterback in the game.
The Cowboys, with little at the skill positions, and a heartless QB who, much like Matt Leinart, is more interested in his celebrity than his performance, will falter again.
And the Redskins...well, why would anyone be expecting anything from this colossal failure of a team. Bad owner, bad coach and bad QB equals disaster.
1: Eagles 10-6
2: Giants 10-6
3: Cowboys 6-10
4: Redskins 4-12
Division MVP: DeSean Jackson.
Send your angry NFC Least email to: Mattnespoli@hotmail.com
Suh is one of the best pass-rushing defensive linemen this league has seen in a very long time.
And this year, he's got some help with rookie first-round draft pick, Nick Fairley.
Both these guys will command a double team. Problem is, you can't double them both, unless you want to completely expose yourself to a blitzing linebacker coming off the edge.
I expect Suh to dominate this year.
Prediction: League-leading 14 sacks.
This is another tough division to project.
You've got the World Champion Packers, who, on paper, should be better, as many of their injured starters return, and Aaron Rodgers has another year of experience under his belt.
However, with all their returning players, it's hard to say what that will do to team chemistry. How will some of the Super Bowl starters react to a demotion to the bench?
What will the locker room be like?
And how will the Packers respond to the pressure of being Super Bowl Champs?
Also in the division, we've got the young, up-and-coming Lions.
Their season seems to depend on the health of their young stud QB, Matthew Stafford.
The Vikings, seemingly quarterback-less, should struggle, depending too much on their star running back.
1: Lions 11-5
2: Packers 10-6
3: Bears 6-10
4: Vikings 4-12
Division MVP: Ndamukung Suh
There is no denying the popularity of fantasy football. Everyone, from your cubicle partner at work to your great grandmother, plays, and everyone fancies themselves to be an expert.
Sadly, the reality is that your six-year-old niece has just as much chance as winning your league as you do; fantasy football, much like gambling, is a crap-shoot.
That being said, I've won my league two of the last three years, and last year, I put my skills to the test in a high-stakes, Las Vegas fantasy league. I didn't win, but I came in second and won some cash.
I did well by doing the opposite. It may be a strategy you've heard a thousand times, but it works. Watch what is happening in your league's draft and go in another direction. If there is a run on running backs in the first round, when your pick comes around, instead of taking the guy you have at No. 8 on your RB board, go with your No. 2 WR who's still available.
Basically, what I'm saying is, as a general rule of life, people are followers and they're following idiots. So, if you stray from the pack, you will do well.
That being said, here are some projections for this year's stars and dark horse surprises, in each conference. Keep in mind that last year I picked Arian Foster in the fourth round, and Javid Best in the seventh—dark horses are my specialty.
Running Back star:
Jamaal Charles, AFC
Adrian Peterson, NFC
Ryan Matthews and C.J. Spiller, AFC
LeGarrette Blount, NFC
Tom Brady, AFC
Drew Brees, NFC
Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford, NFC
Andre Johnson, AFC
Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, NFC
Emmanuel Sanders, Jacoby Ford, AFC
Mike Williams (SEA), Danny Amendola, NFC
The Rams, along with Detroit, are my two dark-horse teams this year. They both have young stud QBs with all the tools, solid skill players and emerging defenses.
The Lions are a year ahead of the Rams and have a better shot at winning a playoff game, but the Rams are in a much weaker division, and probably have a more likely probability of winning their division.
I believe the division, on a whole, will be much improved; however, given last year's performance, that's not saying much.
Quick, without thinking, name me the four starting QBs of the NFC West... You failed, right?
Enough said about that division.
1: Rams 10-6
2: Cardinals 9-7
3: Seahawks 7-9
4: 49ers 6-10
Division MVP: Sam Bradford
Mikel LeShoure is probably not high on many prognosticator's radar. He will likely be in a platoon with Javid Best, at running back for Detroit, but I don't think that will stop him from rushing for 1,000 yards. Best is injury-prone and, frankly, LeShoure is better.
Also, this year Detroit should have a great passing game if Stafford stays healthy (big if). Their defense is solid, and I expect them to be running the ball in the fourth quarter more than they have at any other point in their recent history.
I also gave consideration to Prince Amukamara, CB for the Giants, because he is a great young talent, playing for a contender; however, this award typically goes to an offensive player.
Also in contention:
Nick Fairley (Lions)
Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)
Andy Dalton (Bengals)
Jake Locker (Titans)
Julio Jones (Falcons)
Mark Ingram (Saints)
If Dalton ends up starting, he becomes my pick.
Top to bottom, this division, which has traditionally been weak, is one of the best in football.
There are three teams in this division that will contend for the divisional title.
However, after a down year, I'm giving the nod to the former Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. They've got the best QB in the conference, Super Bowl experience, and they will be stronger in the run game this year by adding Ingram and subtracting mega-bust, mega-ego, mega-idiot Reggie Bush.
I'm picking the Saints, but wouldn't be surprised if Atlanta won it. It's going to come down to their two head-to-head games. And Tampa, if Freeman can put together a 3,000-yard season, may grab a wild card, as they are better than average in all facets of the game.
1: New Orleans Saints 12-4
2: Atlanta Falcons 11-5
3: Tampa Bay Bucs 9-7
4: Carolina Panthers 2-14
Division MVP: Drew Brees
Wild Card Round:
Giants at Philadelphia. NFL fans are expecting a great game from these two teams, but it turns into an embarrassment. Eli Manning throws three INTs, and Michael Vick throws two. Thanks to some fancy foot work by DeSean Jackson, the Eagles pull it out 17-10.
Falcons at Rams. As much as I want the Rams to pull off this home victory, they will not. The Falcons have just too much offensive fire power for the Ram's young D to contend with. Falcons win, 31-17.
Eagles At Lions. Every NFL prognosticator in the world is picking the Eagles by two touchdowns in this game. My instincts are telling me to go with the experienced Eagles as well. However, this year's Cinderella team isn't quite ready to come home from the ball. Lions 24-21, winning on the final drive, on the arm (which is hanging on at the socket by a thread) of Matthew Stafford—the NFL's newest clutch QB.
Falcons at Saints. This is the NFC playoff game everyone has been waiting for. Much like Ravens vs. Steelers, these two teams hate each other. Unlike the Ravens and Steelers, these two teams go at each other with a bombardment of air attacks. They decide to leave the jaw-shattering hits to the boys of that rivalry in the other conference. Either way, it's a great game. Ultimately, home-field advantage proves to be the deciding factor, as the Saints also win on the final possession, 35-31.
Lions at Saints. Everyone, including the Lions, are expecting a blow-out. Everyone, that is, besides Matthew Stafford, who, after about a dozen cortisone shots to his shoulder, has pulled the anti-Jay Cutler by not only showing up, but performing well in a game he wasn't even supposed to dress for. Matthew, blessed with the name of a man with heart, does whatever is necessary to win the game, even rushing for one TD when the offense breaks down. Regardless, this team just doesn't have enough to get over the hump. Next year, guys. Saints win, 31-21.
This game presents two teams whose personalities couldn't possibly be more different.
I'll spare you the drama of how this game will play out, but let me just say this: our string of great Super Bowls is over. Joe Flacco, who held it together for the playoffs, lets his true colors come out and puts forward a major choke job.
Also, because of their previous blood bath with the Steelers, both Ed Reed and Ray Rice are out.
The Saints win it, and it isn't close. Most of us have turned off our TVs at halftime, though we wait until the halftime show is over because we're hoping for a Laga Gaga nipple slip.
There's no nip-slip, and there's no reason to watch the second half.
Americans put the dip away, turn on the music, and Super Bowl parties become dance parties around this great nation.
Saints 35, Ravens 13
MVP: rookie Mark Ingram, 165 yards rushing (110 in the second half), two TDs.