In the NFL, the playoffs are what separates the men from the boys, the elite from the amateur; and predictions are what keeps fans pondering about if their team will make the 2011 NFL playoffs.
You might see some familiar faces, you may see some teams who barely make it, and there could be a team that you just say, "How the heck did they make it?" This is a rundown on how the 2011 NFL playoffs may come out.
Shocker, the New England Patriots make it to the playoffs with their astute offense led by 2010 MVP winning QB Tom Brady. Add Chad Ochocinco to the mix of veteran wide receivers including Wes Welker and Deion Branch, along with the young, up-and-coming tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and you got yourself a malicious offense to contend with.
To go with this offense is a balanced defense, with speedy defensive backs Devin McCourty, and Brandon Meriweather, and a monstrous front 7 including DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo.
I won't even forget to mention their "work now, play later" coach Bill Belichick. He is just one of the best in the league and has the credentials to prove it, and he's looking for another Super Bowl to add the collection.
Another surprise? Didn't think so.
The Steel Curtain has made the playoffs in 8 of the last 10 seasons; and 3 of the last 4 under head coach Mike Tomlin. He wants to go back to the Super Bowl after last season's letdown against the Green Bay Packers.
You know who else wants to go back to the Super Bowl for the 4th time in his career?
QB Ben Roethlisberger. He hasn't just made it to the playoffs five times in his first seven seasons, he has made it to the Super Bowl in four out of those five times.
Big Ben has a lot of experienced receivers to throw to at wide receiver such as Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Jerricho Cotchery, and Emmanuel Sanders. As well as a workhorse in TE Heath Miller. Expect Roethlisberger to throw up big numbers.
What you also should be expecting is a return of the hardcore defense the Steelers had last year. The defensive line with DT Casey Hampton, DE Brett Keisel, the linebacking corps led by smash mouth LB James Harrison, LB LaMarr Woodley, and LB James Farrior, and a backfield containing CB Bryant McFadden, CB Ike Taylor, and the always so menacing S Troy Polamalu.
The Bolts are back.
The San Diego Chargers will bounce back from their 2010 mishap when they proceeded to miss the playoffs with a 9-7 record, going 11-5 in 2011.
A charged up offense led by franchise QB Philip Rivers, is looking to head back to the playoffs with an elite team that had potential, but just couldn't get past the slow start they had last season, thanks to injuries and the horrific special teams. This should be improved though, with the addition of new ST coach Rich Bisaccia.
The offense has a "same old, same old" look to it. WR Vincent Jackson is ready for the season and looking to put up big time yardage from his quarterback. Just as much wanting to make big plays is TE Antonio Gates who battles foot injuries often in his career. The Chargers need their RB's Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert, and Jacob Hester to pick up their load in the 2011 season.
With the addition of LB Takeo Spikes and S Bob Sanders, San Diego also gets leadership and a well-structured defense. They got back S Eric Weddle from free agency which was a major decision for the franchise. Look for LB Shaun Phillips to shine in the sack game.
Yes, this should be a surprise team in 2011. They have an offense that is poised to make some upsets and reach the playoffs.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio is looking to make sure that this Jacksonville team will shine in 2011.
QB David Garrard leads the offense along with Maurice Jones-Drew a.k.a. MJD who I'm expecting is to have a Pro Bowl season with possibly 1,500+ rushing yards. Also, watch for a receiver to unexpectedly rank high in receptions.
The Jags' defense will be backed up by DE Aaron Kampman, CB Rashean Mathis, and newly acquired LB Paul Posluszny. These veterans will be encouraged to step up their game and hopfully let it seep into the younger players and give a boost to the whole team.
You're probably asking yourself, "What happened to the Colts?" We'll get to them soon enough.
The Baltimore Ravens get the first Wild Card spot as they come in 2nd place in the AFC North behind the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens, known for their dominant defense, will kick it up a notch to earn a spot in the playoffs. This defense, led by future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis, will be tremendous in stopping runs and eliminating half of most opposing offensive forces. S Ed Reed can still make plays as a veteran and will continue to do so in 2011.
QB Joe Flacco starts his 4th year with the Ravens and will be playing up to snuff as he gradually enters the realm of elite quarterbacks. If he had more weapons to throw to, or had the Ravens signed some receivers, Joe Flacco could have led the team to a better spot in the playoffs, but Flacco is going to have to work with what he's got.
They say, "Everything is bigger in Texas."
I can agree with that statement when applied to the Houston Texans. They will be improved enough to get into the 2011 NFL Playoffs. I predict them ending the season 9-7 yet lose the tiebreaker to the Jacksonville Jaguars, thus obtaining the second Wild Card spot.
The Texans are going to make it big by having their trio of stars on the offense, QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster, and WR Andre Johnson. Schaub is probably one of the most underrated QB's in the league having thrown over 4,000 yards the past two seasons, and I'm expecting him to do the same in 2011 and he'll probably start turning some heads.
The Houston defense will improve after last year's disappointing pass defense. DE Mario Williams, LB Brian Cushing, LB DeMeco Ryans, and CB Jonathan Joseph hope to be noted as being on a team with an elite defense. This is that year to show the league what they're really made of.
Indianapolis Colts (8-8), New York Jets (8-8), Denver Broncos (7-9)
"The Indianapolis Colts finish the 2011 season at 8-8." A bold statement indeed.
Peyton Manning and the neck surgery he has undergone may make him weaker than in past years. Quarterbacks need to use their neck to scan downfield for receivers, fool the defense in what receiver he is looking at, and when handing the ball off to the running back, he needs to turn his head and make sure the ball gets in the running back's hands. Those abilities, to me, are important for a quarterback, and to have those somewhat "crippled" it may be safe to say that the Colts might not do as well as in the past five to ten years.
The New York Jets finish 8-8 and 2nd place in the AFC East.
They have plenty of star power on their team; but all that star power may be too much to handle for the Jets and Rex Ryan. They are a good team, no doubt, with QB Mark Sanchez, WR Santonio Holmes, CB Darelle Revis, newly acquired WR Plaxico Burress, and plenty other veterans. I just see the Jets making a good run, but falling just short of the playoffs.
The Denver Broncos finish 7-9 and 2nd place in the AFC West.
This Broncos team could have what it takes to have a little jump in wins after last season. They also have a bit of star power, but need to use their stars effectively. I'm talking about WR Brandon Lloyd, CB Champ Bailey, S Brian Dawkins, and even QB Kyle Orton. If new head coach John Fox can get this team straightened out, they can be significantly better than they were last season.
The Atlanta Falcons will finish 1st in the NFC with a 12-4 record
QB Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan is leading the Falcons in the right direction. Ever since he was drafted in 2007 he is doing nothing but getting the once "in-the-gutter" Falcons to the 2011 NFL Playoffs. This year seems to be Atlanta's year to go all the way to the Super Bowl. Ryan has three hot receivers in WR Roddy White, rookie WR Julio Jones, and TE Tony Gonzalez. These guys along with Michael Turner running the football could be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
The defense consists of veteran DE John Abraham, DT Jonathan Babineaux, and CB Dunta Robinson. This defense will withstand some of the elite offenses in the NFL.
Head Coach Mike Smith is planning on picking up where he left off, 1st in the NFC last season, and looking to be 1st place in 2011.
The Philadelphia Eagles will end 2011 with a 12-4 record in 2nd place in the NFC
Let's start off by saying that the Eagles have done all the right things in free agency – acquiring CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RB Ronnie Brown, DE Jason Babin, and QB Vince Young. These former free agents will contribute and take the Eagles another step up to reach the playoffs.
The Eagles have veteran QB Michael Vick, star WR DeSean Jackson, and young RB LeSean McCoy to carry the load for the offense; and Head Coach Andy Reid has been in the business long enough to handle this "Dream Team".
Philadelphia will be an elite team that has something to prove to the league. This year they're pulling out all the stops to get themselves onto the 2011 NFL Playoffs.
You can probably consider the Seahawks a surprise team in 2011. I think the Seattle Seahawks will finish the 2011 season 10-6 and winning the NFC West.
This is my considered "bold move". The Seahawks may have only made the playoffs in two of the last five seasons, but I see the Seattle, behind RB Marshawn Lynch, QB Tarvaris Jackson, and Head Coach Pete Carroll, making it to the playoffs on 2011.
The Minnesota Vikings are looking good and seek a finish worthy to get in the 2011 NFL Playoffs. I see them going 9-7 and winning the NFC North.
RB Adrian Peterson is looking as good as when he started his career in 2007. Early on, he has been a force to be reckoned with and has been a dominant rusher for the Vikings.
The addition of QB Donovan McNabb gives Minnesota a smart quarterback to work with and provide experience at the position.
When retired QB Brett Favre went into Minnesota he wound up going to the NFC Championship in his first year as a Viking in 2009, which finished with a loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Hopefully McNabb can have the same luck and get the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl.
The first Wild Card spot in the NFC will go to the Arizona Cardinals with a 9-7 record.
Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb will get the job he's always wanted, starting quarterback for a whole season (that is, if he doesn't screw up). I have confidence in Kolb to raise this team's hopes of getting in the playoffs. He did more than a well done job in Philadelphia when he started after QB Donovan McNabb was sent to Washington, and now is in Minnesota. Kolb has a superstar receiver with WR Larry Fitzgerald and is already set to have a decent season.
The Buccaneers are looking to play their role as swashbucklers and make their way to the 2011 NFL Playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will finish 9-7 and be placed in the 2nd Wild Card spot in the NFC.
Bucs QB Josh Freeman is slowly but surely making his way into a level of good QB's including Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco (Even though they were all drafted in the same year; I think Josh Freeman is barely up to where they are).
Second year WR Mike Williams looks to repeat his excellent performance as a rookie last year. He caught 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. Not bad for a rookie, eh?
Green Bay Packers (8-8), New Orleans Saints (8-8)
The Super Bowl repeat hopeful Packers will fall just short of making the playoffs. They didn't acquire a lot of big names in free agency and probably slip a few times to hurt their chances of making the playoffs again in 2011. Give them credit though, I like Aaron Rodgers, although I'm not seeing an exact repeat.
The Super Bowl Champions before the Packers, the New Orleans Saints, wont seem to get to the playoffs. They have a tough schedule and seem to be losing the championship luster they had in 2009. Drew Brees will put up some big numbers, I'm thinking of high 3,000 to low 4,000 passing yards.