2011 NFL Predictions: Top 10 Contenders to Win Super Bowl XLVI

Carl RagsdaleCorrespondent IIIJuly 31, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions: Top 10 Contenders to Win Super Bowl XLVI

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    The Super Bowl.

    Every year, 32 NFL teams enter the season with aspirations of winning the NFL's biggest game and collecting the coveted Lombardi Trophy.

    Of course, only one team will ultimately reach that goal.

    So, which teams are poised to be the next Super Bowl champions?

    Read on to see my ranking of the top 10 Super Bowl contenders for the 2011 season.

Honorable Mention: Indianapolis Colts

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    What Happened Last Season

    The Indianapolis Colts finished the regular season 10-6 and were the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. They lost in the AFC Wild Card game to the New York Jets.

    The Colts enter this season with many of the same storylines that they always have. With Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, the Colts should enjoy having one of the top pass offenses in the league.

    Also, the defensive end tandem of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis is one of the best in the league at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    However, there are the usual questions that surround the Colts every year.

    Can the Colts run the ball?

    Can the Colts stop the run?

    Can the Colts' receivers and defense stay healthy?

    Now there is a new question to add to that list:

    Will Peyton Manning's neck surgery affect his play on the field this year?

    As long as Manning's healthy, the Colts' passing offense combined with the occasional great game by the defense will get the Colts in the playoffs.

    If the Colts are going to get any further than that, the run offense and run defense need to step up for the Colts like they did in 2006 when they did win it all.

10. San Diego Chargers

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    What Happened Last Season

    The San Diego Chargers finished the regular season 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

    Despite leading the league in total offense and total defense, the San Diego Chargers missed the playoffs. This illustrates the importance of turnover differential (having more takeaways than giveaways) and special teams play.

    The Chargers are in a relatively weak division and have a great chance of overtaking the Chiefs as AFC West Champions, simply because of the amount of talent that they do have.

    However, they need to figure out how to consistently win in the playoffs if they are going to make a run and get by teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Patriots.

    Normally considered a Super Bowl favorite every preseason, consider the Chargers a dark horse candidate to make a run this season.

9. Baltimore Ravens

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    What Happened Last Season

    The Baltimore Ravens finished the regular season 12-4 and were the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. They lost to the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

    Led by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens' defense should continue to be a force to be reckoned with. Ed Reed has considered retirement already, and the Ravens are running out of opportunities to get a Super Bowl with this current group intact.

    The Ravens' biggest obstacle to a Super Bowl title has to be their division rivals: the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Ravens have gotten close to beating their nemeses multiple times, they have yet to get over the hump.

    This means that, unless the Steelers have an off year or the Ravens take a huge step forward, the Ravens will have to go through the tough AFC Playoffs as a wild card team.

    Baltimore has a tough path to the Lombardi Trophy, but with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on your team, you never know.

8. New York Jets

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    What Happened Last Season

    The New York Jets finished the regular season 11-5 and were the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. They lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

    Despite two consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game, I have to keep the Jets out of the top five.

    LaDainian Tomlinson is now 32 years old, and Shonn Greene is relatively unspectacular. This means that the Jets' running game will likely regress this season.

    That puts the pressure on Mark Sanchez to carry the Jets' offense for the first time in his career. For the first time in his career, he will be facing defenses designed to stop him instead of making easy play-action passes against eight-man fronts.

    The Jets' defense will likely be in the top five in the league under Rex Ryan, and the Jets will most likely get a playoff spot. From there, maybe they can put together a run if the offense can avoid being a liability.

7. Chicago Bears

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    What Happened Last Season

    The Chicago Bears finished the regular season 11-5 and were the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. They lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

    The Bears' defense last year, led by Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers, was among the league's best. That should be a trend that continues in 2011.

    To address their offense, the Bears have added running back Marion Barber and wide receiver Roy Williams. Williams excelled with offensive coordinator Mike Martz when both were in Detroit and should continue to be good.

    However, Chicago's biggest issue on offense, their offensive line, remains a question mark for the team. Can rookie Gabe Carimi come in and be effective immediately? Can the Bears overcome the loss of center Olin Kreutz?

    Another thing to consider is that the Bears under Lovie Smith have had a hard time of consistently making the playoffs. The Bears had a great year last year, but now they need to come into this season ready to build on that success if they are going to make a run.

6. Atlanta Falcons

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    What Happened Last Season

    The Atlanta Falcons finished the regular season 13-3 and had home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. They lost to the Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

    With Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and rookie Julio Jones, the Falcons' offense will be among the league's best this coming season. Drafting Jones allowed the Falcons to add some explosiveness to their offense that was predominantly built around Michael Turner and the short passing game.

    The Falcons' defense is solid, but they have struggled at times against top offensive teams (see their playoff game against the Packers). With the explosive offenses of the Saints, Eagles and Packers likely to be in the NFC playoffs, it is hard to rank the Falcons higher than six.

5. New Orleans Saints

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    What Happened Last Season

    The New Orleans Saints finished the regular season 11-5 and were a wild card team in the NFC playoffs. They lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card round.

    The New Orleans Saints enter this season with one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. The Saints have the usual cast of characters with Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Robert Meacham at wide receiver as well as Drew Brees at quarterback. By drafting Mark Ingram and replacing overrated running back Reggie Bush with underrated running back Darren Sproles, the Saints have upgraded their running game.

    Overall, the Saints offense should be dominant yet again.

    The Saints' defense is usually pretty solid, although they can get torched on occasion like we saw in the wild card round versus the Seahawks. As long as the defense can play reasonably well, the Saints are easily one of the best teams in the NFL.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

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    What Happened Last Season

    The Philadelphia Eagles finished the regular season 10-6 and had the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. They lost to the Packers in the NFC Wild Card round.

    After winning the NFC East last year, the Eagles made a major upgrade in free agency to one of their team's biggest weaknesses: their pass defense. By adding pass rushers Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin along with corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles have made their pass defense among the best in the league.

    The Eagles' ability to pass protect and stop the run now become the biggest concerns for the team, but an explosive offense combined with a great pass defense makes the Eagles a legitimate threat in the NFC.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    What Happened Last Season

    The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the regular season 12-4 and had the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. They lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

    The Steelers have already made it to three Super Bowls in the past six seasons and have two Lombardi Trophies.

    Most of the key pieces to the Steelers stout defense remain intact, although how the league handles James Harrison's off-the-field controversy remains to be seen. Aside from Troy Polamalu, Harrison is the most important player on a Steelers' defense. If he does miss time, it could hurt.

    However, it is highly unlikely that Harrison would miss more than a couple of games, and the Steelers have enough talent that they might get by without him.

    With an always elite defense, a great quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and a great head coach in Mike Tomlin, expect the Steelers to be in contention for a title once again.

2. New England Patriots

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    What Happened Last Season

    The New England Patriots finished the regular season 14-2 and had home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs. They lost to the Jets in the AFC Divisional Playoff game.

    Since the Patriots are one of the most despised teams in football, people have used last year's first-round playoff loss to mask just how good this team was last year.

    Here's an impressive stat from last season though: The Patriots were 6-2 against teams with 10 or more wins, with the only two losses being to the Jets. Those six wins include a 36-7 win over the Bears, a 39-26 win over the Steelers and a 45-3 win over the Jets.

    One bad playoff loss does not conveniently nullify that, and the Patriots will be back this year.

    The Patriots were also busy in the offseason. They signed defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth to play alongside Vince Wilfork, as well as wide receiver Chad Ochocinco to give the Patriots an outside presence at the receiver position.

    There are some concerns with the Patriots defense, but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still around, and as long as that duo is still in New England, the Patriots will be a Super Bowl contender.

1. Green Bay Packers

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    What Happened Last Season

    The Green Bay Packers finished the regular season 10-6 and entered the playoffs as a wild card. They eventually went on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to win Super Bowl XLV.

    The Packers will enter this season with most of the key pieces from last year's Super Bowl run intact. Also, key players for the Packers like running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley will be returning from injury.

    The defending Super Bowl champions have great players on both sides of the ball such as Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams among others.

    On paper, this is the most complete team in the league. They have both a top 10 offense and a top 10 defense. They have great starters as well as great depth. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the game today.

    Heading into the season, there is no way that the Packers are not the Super Bowl favorite.