NFL 2011 Predictions: Divisional Winners, Super Bowl Champion and More

WesAnalyst ISeptember 2, 2011

NFL 2011 Predictions: Divisional Winners, Super Bowl Champion and More

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    Someone needs to lock me up.

    Last year, I said the Green Bay Packers would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV behind the play of Mr. Aaron Rodgers.

    Thank you, thank you.

    In 2009, I said the Indianapolis Colts would beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl XLIV. It wasn't dead on, but at least I had the Colts in the game and I wasn't too far off with the New Orleans Saints. I had them playing the NFC Championship despite finishing 8-8 and in last place in the NFC South the year before.

    Go ahead and appreciate my greatness for a moment. I correctly picked three of the four teams to compete in the Super Bowl over the last two years.

    That's documented, time-stamped proof.

    To be honest though, I had plenty of low points along the way. I said the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings would be in their respective conference championship games last year.

    Yikes.

    I also said the Buffalo Bills would make the playoffs in 2009 and the New York Jets would miss the playoffs last year.

    Um, not so much.

    So what do I have in store for you all this year?

    I'm going to correctly pick the NFC and AFC Championship games while also drilling the Super Bowl for the second straight year and having five of the last six teams compete in the Super Bowl over the last three years.

    Bribes came in from New England, Philadelphia, and New York.

    Keep your money. I cannot be bought because I made a fortune over the last two years with my incredible prognostication skills.

NFC East

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    Predicted Finish

    1. Philadelphia Eagles
    2. Dallas Cowboys
    3. New York Giants
    4. Washington Redskins

    I can hear people whining: "Oh, you're an Eagles writer, of course you have them winning."

    I have more pride in making correct calls instead of blindly picking my team. All I have to say about the Eagles is they have the best players and the best coaches in the division.

    Does that combo always win? Of course not. But would you do okay if you always backed teams fitting that mold?

    Yes. This is what I did and I don't have time to justify this pick any further.

    Let's move to the Dallas stinkin' Cowboys.

    They can actually give the Eagles some problems in the division this year despite their salary cap issues. The Cowboys have a couple things I look for in teams heading into a season; they finished the the previous season well, and the reason they struggled was due largely to injuries at key positions.

    Winning five of eight games to wrap up the 2010 season, Jason Garrett not only showed he is ready to coach in the NFL, he also proved he has the respect of his players. The same could not be said for Wade Phillips, who lost his team early in the season and was fired after a 1-7 start.

    I know Dallas didn't beat a ton of great teams down the stretch, but the NFL does not lend itself to giving a team many opportunities to compete against the best teams in the league on a weekly basis.

    The story within this division may be Eli Manning. Outside of his lucky Super Bowl run in 2007, Manning will have zero playoff wins and back-to-back seasons of missing out on the playoffs. 

    But the biggest joke in the division and league will be Mike and Kyle Shanahan. John Beck and Rex Grossman? Really guys?

NFC North

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    Predicted Finish

    1. Green Bay Packers
    2. Minnesota Vikings
    3. Detroit Lions
    4. Chicago Bears

    The news here is not seeing the Green Bay Packers are the top, it's looking at the bottom of the standings and reading "Chicago Bears."

    Everyone knows they were in the NFC Championship game last year and they just assume things will be fine in the Windy City.

    But take a look at what the Bears have done since 2000. They have registered back-to-back winning seasons only once. And following years in which they've won 13 games, they went on to a 4-12 and 7-9 records.

    So what's up?

    Chicago tends to get lucky in close games, with their defense bailing out inconsistent quarterbacks. Eventually the luck runs out, the defense falters and the quarterback gets exposed.

    If that doesn't describe the Bears this year, I don't know what does.

    Last year, seven of the 11 Bears wins were decided by one possession. Jay Cutler has seven games in which he threw two or more touchdowns and four games where he tossed two or more picks. The Bears' defense ranked ninth in overall defense and fourth in points allowed.

    Spare me your comments Bears fans. Your team stinks. I also don't care that Chicago beat the Eagles last year. Cleveland beat New England too, so what's your point?

    As for Detroit and Minnesota, I think they will get a major upgrade at quarterback.

    Ironically both teams have to wonder if either will survive the entire season given their track record of injuries.

NFC South

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    Predicted Finish

    1. New Orleans Saints
    2. Atlanta Falcons
    3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    4. Carolina Panthers

    If Atlanta can learn to win on the road, they can post the best record in the NFC for the second consecutive year.

    They have division foes Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay on the road as well as Chicago, Seattle, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Houston.

    The only layup on the list is Carolina.

    If Atlanta slips up on the road, teams like Philadelphia and Green Bay will pass them for a bye in the playoffs. Or even more importantly, the Saints will take away the division title and force Atlanta to play on the road in the playoffs.

    How bad do you feel for Tampa Bay?

    They have some nice young players in Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams, but they will once again have a tough time making the playoffs even with 10 wins.

    Can someone please use Carolina as the perfect example for contraction?

NFC West

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    Predicted Finish

    1. Arizona Cardinals
    2. St. Louis Rams
    3. Seattle Seahawks
    4. San Francisco 49ers

    I ran this picture last year and called this collection of teams a "Mickey Mouse Division." They will continue to carry the label until someone can win the division with a winning record.

    At least this year the quarterbacks aren't as bad thanks to Kevin Kolb and Sam Bradford.

    No one should waste their time figuring out who will win this thing or how they will do it.

    Next.

AFC East

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    Predicted Finish

    1. New York Jets
    2. New England Patriots
    3. Buffalo Bills
    4. Miami Dolphins

    I love the additions of Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. New England appears to be a better team than the one that got handled by the Jets in the playoffs last year.

    New York didn't add a lot to their offense, but their biggest addition, Plaxico Burress, will significantly help Mark Sanchez.

    I know this because I saw what Burress did for Eli Manning and how much Manning has struggled since his departure.

    Burress is not going to haul in 80, 90 or 100 catches. But when Sanchez feels the heat on a blitz or can't find an open receiver, all he has to do is heave one up for Burress. Manning worked the duck and chuck to perfection and rode it all the way to a Super Bowl in 2007.

    I don't know if Burress is ready to help the Jets get there this year, but Sanchez will certainly look like a quarterback capable of winning the big one with Manning's former go-to guy.

    I always think Buffalo is ready to surprise the league and make a push to the playoffs. I have officially given up with them, so maybe this is the year they finally do something.

    As for the Dolphins, good luck with Chad Henne. If he can last past week six, it means one of two things: either the Dolphins are attempting to tank the season and land Andrew Luck, or Henne is playing out of his mind.

AFC North

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    Predicted Finish

    1. Pittsburgh Steelers
    2. Baltimore Ravens
    3. Cleveland Browns
    4. Cincinnati Bengals

    This is where the you-know-what hits the fan.

    Baltimore fans may be the biggest whiners in sports.

    Last year, I said they would finish third in the division and still make the playoffs. The long list of insufferable complainers was mind-blowing.

    This year, I wrote a piece about the worst mistakes made in the NFL Network's Top 100 Players list. In it I said Troy Polamalu was better than Ed Reed and I said Ben Roethlisberger should have been ranked higher than Mike Vick and Philip Rivers.

    I guess I love hearing grown men cry, Or is it a 15-year-old brat? Either way, there are tears on the keyboard.

    My message to the Ravens is simple: your offense stinks.

    I do like Joe Flacco a lot, but I don't like the players around him on offense, particularly at receiver and tight end. Ray Rice is a stud and Vonta Leach is a great addition at fullback.

    At a certain point, they need to throw the ball and Anquan Boldin can't shoulder the load by himself. Sorry, but Lee Evans is not going to cut it.

    Do you think fans in Cleveland and Cincinnati are happy to see the lockout end?

AFC South

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    Predicted Finish

    1. Houston Texans
    2. Indianapolis Colts
    3. Jacksonville Jaguars
    4. Tennessee Titans

    Houston still stinks.

    I don't care how good the weapons are on offense because at the end of the day, their roster is littered with players who have underperformed and contributed to one winning season in nine years.

    The only reason they win this division is because I don't think Peyton Manning will be himself this year and the rest of the division is bad enough to make the NFC West look good.

    How bad is the AFC South?

    There is a chance Kerry Collins, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker will be starters during the same week.

    It's not a likely scenario, but it is a possibility. And the fact that a chance of this even occurring is alarming because all three of them stink.

    At some point, Gabbert and Locker may appear on a Pro Bowl roster. but right here, right now, in this very moment, they are nothing more than rookies who have a lot to learn and prove.

    The only thing Houston can do to counter-balance such putrid play is to trot out a pathetic defense.

    But wait. They actually improved their defense and may have picked up the best free agent cornerback.

    Johnathan Joseph may not be the sexy name everyone talked about this offseason, but I fully believe he will be the name everyone mentions when the Texans make their first trip to the playoffs. He will provide a huge improvement to the worst pass defense in 2010.

    And if Peyton Manning can somehow be on the field twice against the Texans, you simply can't win with the worst defense against the pass.

    Houston needs to pray Arian Foster is the only injury they have to worry about because they can't afford to lose Andre Johnson for any time this year. When healthy, he gives Houston the potential to have one of the most dynamic offenses with Matt Schaub and a healthy Arian Foster. But how many times are we going to use the word potential with this team only to see them buckle?

    Tennessee caved and gave Chris Johnson a raise, but they can still finish with one of the worst records in the NFL.

    This is easily the second-worst division in football.

NFC West

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    Predicted Finish

    1. San Diego
    2. Kansas City Chiefs
    3. Denver Broncos
    4. Oakland Raiders

    Americans love the underdog and we hate the underachiever.

    Connect the dots Chargers and Philip Rivers fans.

    Since Rivers was named the starting quarterback in 2006, the Chargers are 18-19 in September and October. As the season unfolds, Rivers and San Diego step it up and hold an impressive 23-3 record in December and January.

    If they could find a way to start the season well, they would have a legitimate shot to win 13 games or more and wrap up homefield advantage in the playoffs.

    It will finally happen this year.

    Their first five games are home against Minnesota, on the road against New England, home against Kansas City and Miami and back on the road against Denver before hitting their bye week.

    A 4-1 start is not inconceivable, but even a 3-2 record puts them in a great spot to make everyone go through San Diego on the way to the Super Bowl.

    Kansas City felt like a fraudulent team last year and then proved it when they got destroyed by Baltimore in the playoffs at home. Maybe they win nine games this year, but who really cares?

    If Denver wants to have a respectable year, they will stick with Kyle Orton. His record may not have been great last year, but I put a lot of the blame on Josh McDaniels.

    And then there's Oakland. They swept the division last year and only finished 8-8. Can you imagine what's going to happen when they split a couple series this year?

NFC Playoffs

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    Seeding

    1. Green Bay Packers
    2. New Orleans Saints
    3. Philadelphia Eagles
    4. Arizona Cardinals
    5. Atlanta Falcons
    6. Dallas Cowboys 

    Wild Card Round

    Philadelphia Eagles (3) vs. Dallas Cowboys (6): I hate this pick more than I hate the Cowboys, but I have to be honest about how good Dallas will be this year. Maybe this a reverse jinx. At some point the defensive line and linebackers will let this team down. When it happens here, it will be clear how badly Andy Reid needs to address both. That's assuming he's still the coach next year.

    Arizona Cardinals (4) vs. Atlanta Falcons (5): The Falcons finally learn how to win on the road. 

    Divisional Round

    Green Bay Packers (1) vs. Dallas Cowboys (6): I don't think I could live with myself if I gave Dallas too much credit.

    New Orleans Saints (2) vs. Atlanta Falcons (5): New Orleans will have their number in the regular season, but I think as the season unfolds, Matt Ryan will become a better quarterback on the road. It will spill over to the playoffs where he goes on a run.

    NFC Championship

    Green Bay Packers (1) vs. Atlanta Falcons (5): The Pack went into Atlanta and rolled on their way to a Super Bowl win. Maybe this is Atlanta's turn.

AFC Playoffs

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    Seeding

    1. San Diego Chargers
    2. New York Jets
    3. Pittsburgh Steelers
    4. Houston Texans
    5. New England Patriots
    6. Baltimore Ravens 

     

    Wild Card Round

    Pittsburgh Steelers (3) vs. Baltimore Ravens (6): Take salt and apply to wound. Repeat as needed.

    Houston Texans (4) vs. New England Patriots (5): Houston isn't ready for this. One step at a time people.

    Divisional Round

    San Diego Chargers (1) vs. New England Patriots (5): The Patriots get the Chargers in the playoffs. We all know how this movie ends. At least we thought so. The Chargers and even more importantly, Philip Rivers gets the monkey off his back.

    New York Jets (2) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (3): Take revenge, place in freezer, serve when cold.

    AFC Championship

    San Diego Chargers (1) vs.New York Jets (2): It's pretty fitting to see the Chargers advance to the Super Bowl by beating the Jets and Patriots in the same postseason. They've had some forgettable moments against both and it will make this moment that much better.

Super Bowl

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    San Diego vs. Atlanta

    This pick is such a lock that the NFL was going to use it to crown a Super Bowl champ if the lockout canceled the 2011 season.

    True Story.

    I have never been a big fan of Philip Rivers, but I think it's only a matter of time until he finally emerges as one of the game's elite quarterbacks. He has the stats to suggest he is a top-five QB, but he doesn't have the postseason success.

    A Super Bowl win puts him in the discussion with Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees and the potential to be as great as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

    The Chargers quietly enter the season with one of the most complete teams in the NFL. I know it sounds cliche, but the only team who can stop San Diego is San Diego. I think they finally get out of their own way and make people wonder how many more they will win under Rivers.

    I love the team Atlanta put together this year, and their improvements on defense will help them late in the year, but I don't know if they will be able to stop an offense that should be the best in the NFL.

    San Diego 31, Atlanta 24

Awards

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    Individual Awards/Honors

    The Best

    MVP: Philip Rivers

    Offensive MVP: Philip Rivers

    Defensive MVP: DeMarcus Ware

    Offensive Rookie of the Year: Julio Jones

    Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jimmy Smith

    Coach of the Year: Norv Turner

    Best offseason acquisition: Johnathan Joseph

     

    The Worst

    Biggest Offensive Bust: Jay Cutler

    Biggest Defensive Bust: Brian Urlacher

    Biggest Offensive Rookie Bust: Cam Newton

    Biggest Defensive Rookie Bust: Von Miller

    First coach to be fired: Jack Del Rio

    Worst offseason acquisition: Braylon Edwards

     

    Team Awards/Honors

    The Best

    Best Regular Season Record: San Diego Chargers

    Biggest Surprise Team: Dallas Cowboys 

     

    The Worst

    Worst Regular Season Record: Cincinnati Bengals

    Most Disappointing Team: Chicago Bears