2011 NFL Predictions: Division-by-Division, Playoff Picks for Year of Parity
The clacking cleats through the tunnel as the cheers and chants reign down on stadiums across the country open as they for business, filled with fans. Players storm onto the crisp, freshly painted gridiron. From the Bayou to the San Francisco Bay, from the soon-to-be frozen tundra of Lambeau Field to the dry desert picturesque landscape of Arizona. The smell of fall in the crisp autumn air.
Fall is not upon us yet, but the start of the NFL season marks that time of year again, the time when we gather around the TV to watch our favorite team, sit in a crowd of 50,000 with our stomachs bare so everyone can see the team colors we bleed. The time when you scramble to find the best-friend-for-a-day co-worker to cover your shift on Sunday so you can watch some NFL. Calling in sick (admit it - we've all done it). Humming the theme to Monday Night Football as you ask your boss if you can head home a little early to get situated for the game. Face paint, game day jerseys, rituals that can't be described.
The wait isn't any longer than any other season or year, but it sure feels that way, with shortened camps, and a raffle of Free Agents moving coast to coast.
The first preseason game is only a day away, what better time to crank out predictions for the Super Bowl and the Big Game's winner. Besides, it's always fun to come back and see how off I was.
There is sure to be some surprises this season. Will Any Dalton and Bengals make a run at the playoffs? Will the Lions contend for the NFC North crown? Will the Texans jump the hurdle and into the playoffs for the first time ever?
Amidst those like the Eagles, who have made a splash in Free Agency and the like to make sure their run at ultimate glory has not faded into the sunset.
McNabb in Minnesota, but the Vikes got (younger) at QB?
Will any NFC West team not fall into the Pacific Ocean?
Alright, time to begin!
AFC East: New England Patriots
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New England Patriots 12-4 (14-2 last year). Every year, the Patriots seem to be the Favorites, and like last year it looks like their rival New York Jets will be the front runner in contending for the AFC East Title. The Patriots however have bolstered their Offense with Chad Ochocinco, and added Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter to their Defense. New England reigns the crown this season.
New York Jets (10-6) (11-5). Rex Ryan and the Jets love to talk the talk, they have that issue of backing it up consistently. The Jets and Quarterback Mark Sanchez lost offensive weapons and a couple defensive players. They'll get to 10-6, but that's borderline for making the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills (5-11) (4-12). A marginal improvement from last season, but let's face it, the best going for the Bills is the return of the old uniforms.
Miami Dolphins (3-13) (7-9). Every year we hear Brett Favre say he's retiring, then someone somewhere says they heard from a trusted source that Favre is coming Back. So while it's hard to truly believe anything in the Favor-retire-unretire-rumor mill, Favre said he's not coming to Miami, and until I see him in the Teal and Orange, I'll believe him. That leaves the Dolphins with Henne and Moore as the one-two QB.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
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Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4 (12-4). Staying even from last season will see the Steelers fight off the distractions, and just play football - didn't seem to phase them last season, why would it start now? Big Ben, married and the team, like all 31 other teams are ready to play.
Baltimore Ravens 10-6 (12-4). Ravens easy schedule down the stretch helps them get to 10-6. Will that be good enough to get them into the playoffs remains to be seen.
Cleveland Browns 4-12 (5-11). A tough start dooms the Browns as they won't be able to recover, especially with a tough schedule in the last part of the season. Good new - they'll finish better than instate rival Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Bengals 3-13 (4-12). Palmer and Ochocinco era all but over in Cincinnati. The Bengals turn their focus to Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. The Bengals may need a year to find the missing pieces to the puzzle that is the Bengals.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
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Indianapolis Colts 11-5 (10-6). Peyton Manning seems to always find a way to get his team to the playoffs, not to mention win the division. He's coming of (minor) neck surgery, if there is such a thing. We'll see how he does, but another thing Manning has done throughout his playing career is prove doubters wrong, yet the doubters still show up. I'd say Manning says "Game-On".
Houston Texans 7-9 (6-10). Houston improves by the slightest of margins, but fails to secure a winning record. They're on the rise though.
Jacksonville Jaguars 6-10 (8-8). The Jags Garrard may not have his job secure for much longer. Blaine Gabbert waits in the wings and will get a preseason start against the Pats right out of the gates. This might be his best audition. Garrard is likely to see the starting role when the regular season opens up, but for how long?
Tennessee Titans 4-12 (6-10). New QB Matt Hasselback is an upgrade to Kerry Collins, but not by a whole lot. With uncertainties in the offensive backfield the Titans may struggle when they need to air it as they could be prone to being one-dimension.
AFC West: Denver Broncos
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Denver Broncos (11-5) 4-12. Surprise! Yes, I could be nuts. Then again there's always one team that you don't expect to do much. Again, like the Chiefs last year it comes from the AFC West. Sure the Broncos are having QB issues... well at least Broncos fans are. Even if Orton is the starter, look for some Tebow packages near the goal line or on critical third and shorts. I think anything short of a Spurrier-esque rotating QB scheme anything goes. The Broncos will once again be the benefit of a strong start and some gritty road wins.
San Diego Chargers 10-6 (9-7). Not far behind are the Chargers. Phillip Rivers and company start slow and make a late season push winning seven of their final eight games to be right in the playoff hunt at season's end.
Kansas City Chiefs 9-7 (10-6). The Chiefs are on the wrong end of some close losses that ultimately sends them barreling to third in a competitive AFC West.
Oakland Raiders 7-9 (8-8). The Raiders slow, 1-4 start proves costly, as they rebound to close out the season, but settle for the bottom of the division.
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San Diego Chargers 10-6. The Chargers edged out the Jets for a Wildcard spot, by virtue of their conference record.
Baltimore Ravens 10-6. The Ravens beat out the Jets due to their head-to-head victory over New York.
AFC Wildcard Matchup. No. 6 Baltimore Ravens at No. 3 Indianapolis Colts
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No. 6 Baltimore Ravens at No. 3 Indianapolis Colts.
A defensive struggle that sees a total score of under 20 points on the board. Manning engineers last minute game winning drive.
AFC Wildcar Matchup. No. 5 San Diego Chargers at No. 4 Denver Broncos
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No. 5 San Diego Chargers at No. 4 Denver Broncos.
A high powered offensive shootout. Rivers and Orton let the air out of the ball, but the game is won on a redzone rushing TD by guess who... fan favorite Tebow.
AFC Divisional Machup. No. 3 Indianapolis Colts at No. 2 New England Patriots
No. 3 Indianapolis Colts at No. 2 New England Patriots.
Another AFC barn-burner. Not as high scoring as the Denver/San Diego matchup, however Manning and Brady attempt to outduel one another. In the end Manning ices the deal with a TD pass to one of his offensive playmakers.
AFC Divisional Matchup. No. 4 Denver Broncos at No. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers
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No. 4 Denver Broncos at No. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steelers clock consuming offense won't allow Denver's offense on the field enough to beat them and the Steelers blitzing Defense proves too much for Kyle Orton and the Broncos.
AFC Championship. No. 3 Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers
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No. 3 Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Frigid Heinz field is the site as the Steelers host the Colts for the right to go to Super Bowl XLVI. The game is close throughout as Pittsburgh's defense shows up once again, keeping the Steelers lead. However the Sheriff won't be denied to play the Big Game in the Colts own backyard. Manning engineers, yet again a 4th quarter comeback, capped off by a game winning drive, setting up an Field Goal as time expires.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
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Philadelphia Eagles 13-3 (10-6). Eagles offseason acquisitions should help the Eagles soar to familiar heights. They're poised to run away with the NFC East and the top seed in the NFC.
Dallas Cowboys 10-6 (6-10). Romo's back, Head Coach Garett's first full season. The Cowboys have immense pressure to get back to the playoffs, will their 10-6 record be enough?
New York Giants 9-7 (10-6). The Giants slow start hinders them in the playoff race, but they don't falter too bad. All in all, though, it's a disappointing year for the Giants.
Washington Redskins 3-13 (6-10). Redskins seem to be in transition period. Their big name QBs are long gone. Defensive players lost to Free Agency and trades.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
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New Orleans Saints 12-4 (11-5). Drew Brees and his band of wideouts, along with Mark Ingram and a Saints Defense shouldn't have any problem repeating as NFC South Champs.
Atlanta Falcons 11-5 (13-3). Matt Ryan and company may not win the division, but 11-5 should be good enough to get them into the playoff mix, right?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-9 (10-6). Bucs stumble down the stretch on a five game skid, sends them packing for next season.
Carolina Panthers 4-12 (2-14). Cam Newton is sure to bring some energy and fans to the Panthers, but there are question marks on both sides of the ball.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
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Minnesota Vikings 11-5 (6-10). McNabb still has gas left in his tank, at least the Vikings better hope he does. If he does, he's got Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and the like to get the ball to. If the Vikings can score points and get some critical stops on Defense, they will challenge the Packers for the NFC North.
Green Bay Packers 9-7 (10-6). Super Bowl Champs, rarely do they repeat their performance from previous seasons. Though this Packers team is the team to do it, and this is the year to do it. However, the Vikings may have something to say about that.
Chicago Bears 8-8 (11-5). Kind of slumping year, for the Bears. After a good start, they falter in the second half as their schedule gets stronger.
Detroit Lions 4-12 (6-10). Some are picking the Lions as the "sleeper" pick to surprise people and/or make the playoffs. I'm not one of those people. A gritty, physical division, and the Lions Defense might be improved as is the offense, just not enough to climb over the other three teams.
NFC North: San Francisco 49ers
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San Francisco 49ers 11-5 (6-10). The 49ers as a whole in terms of personnel have the most talent of the division. Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon in the backfield. The Wide Receiver core is very talented along with Vernon Davis at TE. The 49ers singed Braylon Edwards to help Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Morgan. The BIG question mark is Quarterback Alex Smith. However being local, there's a feeling that with Coach Harbaugh this year is different, and this time different in a good way. The players seem to have responded to Harbaugh more than they did with previous coaches. The energy and atmosphere is almost electric. It's almost as 49ers football is exciting again and fans are getting anxious waiting for the season to start. That's what Coach Harbaugh brings to thing organization. He's passionate, fiery, and loves the game.Harbaugh, if anyone is the right person to help Alex Smith. I'm not saying he's going to turn Alex into a MVP candidate or Pro Bowl QB, but Harbaugh can help Alex improve. How much Alex will improve, if any is the big question, and there's no doubt the fans in San Francisco will be calling for Kaepernick, or anyone for that matter if Alex Smith makes a mistake. That's a lot of pressure, but Alex can take it and has taken the heat, and he's yet to back down, why would he start now? Media tries to bait him into saying negative things, he's resisted. The 49ers go 4-1 down the stretch and that will be enough to win the division.
Arizona Cardinals 7-9 (5-11) Kevin Kolb should improve the QB situation that was all sorts of chaotic last season. Though it may not be enough, at least for this year to return to the top of the Division.
Seattle Seahawks 5-11 (7-9). The loss of QB Matt Hasselback, and the new Wideouts, the Seahawks may need some time to figure out the pieces. Tavaris Jackson looks to be the number one QB in Seattle. Time will tell if that's the right move.
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Atlanta Falcons 11-5. The Falcons earn a wildcard birth Division rival New Orleans snatched back the NFC South crown.
Dallas Cowboys 10-6. The Cowboys get back into the playoffs, thanks to strong play and key wins down the stretch.
NFC Wildcard Matchup. No. 6 Dallas Cowboys at No. 3 San Francisco 49ers
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No. 6 Dallas Cowboys at No. 3 San Francisco 49ers.
An old rivalry renewed in iconic, old Candlestick Park. The wind swirling and cold temps will likely be in the mix. 49ers running game and Frank Gore runs wild over the Dallas Defense, and the 49ers new kicker David Akers kicks the game winner as time expires.
NFC Wildcard Matchup. No. 5 Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings
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No. 5 Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings.
McNabb brings the Vikings back into the playoffs to face off against the Falcons and Matt Ryan. Vikings kick a Field Goal late to extend the lead and the Purple and Gold defense holds on for the win.
NFC Divisional Matchup. No. 3 San Francisco 49ers at No. 2 New Orleans Saints
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No. 3 San Francisco 49ers at No. 2 New Orleans Saints.
The surprising 49ers and Coach Harbaugh travel into New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints. A high scoring affair sees score and after score. Though in the end Drew Brees and the Saints prevail.
NFC Divisional Matchup. No. 4. Minnesota Vikings @ No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
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No. 4. Minnesota Vikings at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles.
Donovan McNabb returns to the Linc to face his old team. Another high scoring affair. However not so much a barn-burner as the 49ers-Saints game. A calculated Eagles scoring offense puts away the Vikings and McNabb.
NFC Championship: No. 2 New Orleans Saints at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
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No. 2 New Orleans Saints at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles.
Two vaunted offenses and two resurging defenses collide in city of brotherly love. The Eagles host the Saints for the right to go to SuperBowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Back and forth they go. Remember that early season game in Philadelphia a few seasons ago? Yeah, pretty much that's how it will be. However this time, the Eagles shall be the victors.
Super Bowl XLVI: Philadelphia Eagles vs Indianapolis Colts
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SUPER BOWL XLVI: Philadelphia Eagles vs Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts become the first team to play the Super Bowl in the full time home stadium. The 49ers played in Palo Alto , but not Candlestick. The Los Angeles Rams also played close to home, but not in their home stadium. The Eagles will get rolling and jump out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter. In the second quarter Manning will cut the lead to 14-10 just before the half.
In the third quarter the defenses will take over and give us a scoreless third. The fourth quarter will see a little more offense as the Eagles get a Touchdown from Michael Vick and then a Colts turnover provides the Eagles with a Field Goal, to extend the lead to 24-10 in the first five minutes of the quarter. On the ensuing drive, Manning and the Colts go to work, engineering a lengthy and time consuming drive that ends with a TD to Clark. Colts cut the Eagles lead to 24-17 with about four minutes to play.
A crucial 3rd down stop by the Colts defense gives their offense the ball back with under two minutes to go. Manning drive seventy-five yards and finds his favorite target in the endzone. Vinateri ties it up at 24-24. Eagles miss a Field Goal that would have won it, and we're headed to Overtime.
The Eagle win the toss and elect to receive. Vick takes them down inside the redzone, but the Colts D stiffens, and the Eagles have to settle for a Field Goal, they lead 27-24. On the kickoff, the Colts return team gets Manning and the offense good field position near the 40-yard line. Manning wasting no time hands off to his back and Addai scampers 15-yards into Eagles territory. two short check downs to Clark sets up a third down from the Eagles 33-yard line. The Colts hand the ball off to Addai who gets a couple yards, but stopped one yard short of the first down. Electing to go for it, Manning sets up under center and takes the snap, a quick through as the Eagles send the house. Clark takes it for 20-yards inside the Eagles 15-yard line. First and ten from the 13-yard line, Manning play-action pass to Collie, complete inside the ten to the 8-yard line. After the Eagles use times outs to rest some guys and a ice the Colts. Manning tosses a couple of incomplete passes out of the endzone. On third down, Manning drops back, Clark is covered, Wayne is covered, Harrison is covered, he sees Addai in the flat, and flicks him the ball, Addai races to the corner, and dives in for the game winner.
Colts win 30-27.
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Super Bowl MVP: Peyton Manning
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Welcoming in a New Season
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While we love to predict, analyze and in reality make educated (or random) guesses as to what team will end up where in the standings, all 32 teams can look at this prediction and know that, that's all it is.
The NFL isn't played on paper, it's a tough grueling season played on the gridiron, where anything can happen on any given Sunday.
Now: Are You Ready for some Football?
Thanks for reading, and here's to a great NFL Season!