2011 NFL Predictions: The Top 10 Teams Heading into This Season
As it stands as of this writing, we are three days away from the preseason, a month away from the regular season and training camps have been taking place for a little more than a week.
Like any other NFL preseason, there's due to be injuries/holdouts that change the outcome of the season and the chances of NFL teams, but seeing as it's early August, it's not too early to be power ranking the top teams in the NFL heading into 2011.
Due to the ever-constant parity in the NFL, there are many favorites heading into 2011.
On the NFC side, will the Green Bay Packers repeat as Super Bowl champions with a young nucleus led by QB Aaron Rodgers, who happens to be in his prime? Will the Philadelphia Eagles, with their "dream team," prove to be the cream of the crop in the NFC? Or will a team from under the radar, such as the NFC regular-season champion Atlanta Falcons be the team to beat heading into the season?
On the AFC side, you have the constantly reloading Jets and Patriots battling for supremacy in not only the division, but the conference itself. Ditto goes for the Ravens and Steelers.
So, just who are the Top 10 teams in the NFL come kickoff on Sept. 8?
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Call me crazy, but I had to put the Buccaneers on this list.
They are one of those teams that aren't flashy, but they get the job done. They have the perfect recipe for success.
They have a very good young QB who threw for 25 TD's and only six INT's last season. Josh Freeman is one of the top QB's in the league at taking care of the ball, ranking second last season in INT percentage with a 1.3 percentage only to Tom Brady, and 12th of all time.
Tampa Bay also has a stout run game that ranked ninth in the NFL last season with LeGarrette Blount and a defense that ranked ninth in points allowed.
The Bucs finished 10-6 with one of the youngest teams in the league and two players (Blount and Freeman) who were starting their first full seasons in the league. They ranked fifth in turnover differential, which is one of the best indicators of how good a team is. The five best AFC teams in this statistic went to the playoffs; the top three out of the four in the NFC went the playoffs (TB was the one team that didn't).
Tampa Bay won't have an explosive offense this season with a below-average receiving corps and a safe care-taking offense, but with a stout defense that epitomizes Bucs football and an offense that takes care of the ball as well as anyone in the NFC, expect the Bucs—not the Saints—to contend with the Falcons for the NFC South title this season.
9. New York Giants
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The Giants are a good team, but not a great team.
They are one of those teams that aren't the most structured football team around (aka Patriots and Falcons), in that they don't take care of the football and they don't have a good defense, but yet, they're always up there contending for a division title or a playoff spot.
The Giants may be the only team in the NFL that goes against this recipe for success and yet still remains a top football team.
New York finished 10-6 last season and lost the division mainly due to their double-digit meltdown against division rival, Philadelphia.
In a game where they led by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia managed to racket off 28 straight points to win the game 38-31 on a punt return for a touchdown by DeSean Jackson.
The Giants may not win the division this year with the Eagles becoming the "Miami Heat" of the NFL, but expect New York to be up there yet again, contending for a playoff spot like they have every season since 2005.
8. San Diego Chargers
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I really considered putting this team higher on the list. They'll probably prove it to me by the time the season ends.
This is an overall great team, as they have been the past five years. The only difference is heading into this season, there's no Super Bowl hype for the Chargers. The "experts" have been picking this team to make a run to the Super Bowl for about five years now, and the team has yet to even play in one.
This season might be different, though.
The Chargers, unlike last season, have their entire roster locked up going into the season. Having re-signed their top two receivers in Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, their top blindside LT Marcus McNeill back for the entire season and with Ryan Mathews having a season under his belt, not to mention being fully healthy for the year, will only work in the Chargers' favor.
The Chargers started off slowly (big surprise) in 2010, but finished the year 7-2 in their last nine games to finish the season at 9-7. They were second in points scored, 10th in points allowed and fifth in point differential.
Expect the Chargers to win the AFC West easily and unexpectedly make a decent run in the playoffs, if not a deep one.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Steelers will remain one of the top teams in the AFC—they just won't be the top one.
Pittsburgh has a history of making it to the Super Bowl only to fall off the next season.
In 2006 and 2009, the years after their Super Bowl victories, the Steelers finished the seasons 8-8 and 9-7 as clear runner-ups in the tough AFC North.
Expect this season to be a little bit similar, but the Steelers will more likely make it as a Wild Card and contend with the Ravens for the North until the very end.
6. Baltimore Ravens
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This team is a definite dark horse heading into next season.
The Ravens have all the experience to make a run to the Super Bowl. Since the drafting of Joe Flacco in 2008, Baltimore has made the playoffs all three years, only to fall short of the Super Bowl every season. They have made it the AFC Championship game two times in that span, both losing to the Steelers.
The Ravens have a top defense, a top young QB, an excellent running game that was bolstered by the signing of Ricky Williams and one of the main ingredients for success in the NFL: motivation.
The one thing that might hold the Ravens back from reaching their destination though is a lack of quality receivers.
5. New York Jets
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Some people may think I'm putting this team too low considering they've made it to the AFC Championship game both times in the past two years, but I can't get over the weakness of this team: Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez remains a below-average QB; I don't think you can really argue that. This team has clearly been the second-best team in the division during the regular season for the past two years, but they are the exact opposite of the Patriots in that they come out to play in the postseason.
This team, unlike the other top teams on this list though, have glaring deficiencies.
The lack of a quality QB. The running game led by an aging 32-year-old RB. The terrible red zone offense (they ranked 28th last year in red zone scoring).
But yet, the Jets make up for it with a brutal defense, taking care of the ball and a head coach who has more guts than probably any head coach in the NFL today.
Expect another second place finish in the division, but don't be surprised to see the Jets in the AFC Championship game—again.
4. Atlanta Falcons
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I loved this team heading into the postseason. Bringing up, yet again, my "recipe for success," the Falcons have a great QB-RB duo, take care of the ball, have a stout defense and absolutely thrive in the turnover differential department.
They were clearly the team to beat in the NFC in the regular season, but they had a pitiful showing in the Divisional playoff game versus the Packers, embarrassing themselves in front of the home crowd.
Expect Atlanta to come out motivated and finish as one of the top teams in the NFC, due to the obvious media attention toward the Packers and Eagles, plus the memories of last year's playoff game.
The running game will slow down a little bit with Michael Turner getting up there in age, but the Falcons re-signed their backup RB Jason Snelling and drafted diminutive but versatile Jacquizz Rodgers, who can be a threat on third down and passing situations, in the vain of Darren Sproles.
Expect Matt Ryan to take on more of a role in the offense and truly become one of the top QB's in the NFL with Roddy White and Julio Jones.
3. Phliadelphia Eagles
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This team had by far the best offseason of any team in the NFL.
The Eagles signed/acquired numerous starters in Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Ryan Harris, Ronnie Brown, Jason Babin, etc.
This is definitely one of the top three teams in the NFL.
But like many teams that are given the "Super Bowl" before the season starts due to their free-agent signings and acquisitions, I don't expect the Eagles to win the Super Bowl this season.
There's one team in the NFC that remains just a little bit better than Philadelphia.
2. Green Bay Packers
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This team has everything going its way heading into this season.
The Packers re-signed and brought back all of their key players from their Super Bowl run last year, but are now overshadowed by the Eagles due to the 2011 offseason. That is perfect for a defending championship team, as most defending champions lack the main ingredient for success: motivation.
Green Bay will be neck-and-neck with Philadelphia during the regular season for the best record in the conference, and the Eagles will probably finish with the best record. Expect the Packers to upend the Eagles in the playoffs for the last laugh, though.
With Ryan Grant back healthy and James Starks as a capable backup, not to mention the Packers having a rather young nucleus at defense with Clay Matthews leading the charge, Green Bay remains the team to beat in the NFC.
1. New England Patriots
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Yes, I know what happened last year.
Yes, I'm aware the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since 2004.
Yes, I'm aware the Eagles are the trendy pick for Super Bowl champions.
The Pats remains the team to beat in the NFL, though.
They have the best QB in the NFL, an improved receiving corps with the addition of Chad Ochocinco and a defense that will be improved with the acquisition of Albert Haynesworth.
The team takes care of the ball, with Brady only throwing four INT's last season to finish first in the NFL in turnover differential. The team, despite their only real weapon being Wes Welker, led the league in points scored. The red zone offense was sixth in the NFL and the defense was eighth.
This team will be extra motivated after the painful loss to the Jets in the Divisional playoffs. New England has the most complete team in the NFL, and only got better with the additions of players such as Ochocinco, Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis.
Their one weakness is their defensive backfield. The Pats ranked 30th in passing yards allowed and 21st in passing TD's allowed. That may be their downfall if they don't finish the season as the Super Bowl champions.