Every year in the NFL one or more things occur that shock analysts and fans to some degree. Whether it is the Kansas City Chiefs winning the AFC West or Michael Vick as a possible NFL MVP, plenty of stuff in an NFL season comes right out from left field.
That, as they say, is why the games are played.
Everyone "knows" that Peyton Manning will throw for 4,000+ yards, and that the Buffalo Bills will be terrible. But if these things were always true, there would be no point to the NFL season at all.
Here are just a few of the occurrences that are sure to surprise during the 2011 season.
For the first time in 20 years, fans might be able to go a full day without hearing Brett Favre's name in relation to football.
Now that Aaron Rodgers has won the Green Bay Packers a title, there should be no more comparisons between them and no more talk of Favre's legacy. There will be no more talk of lewd pictures sent to really hot stadium hostesses, no more talk of his imminent return or betrayal by joining a rival team.
Finally, we will be able to go a full NFL Sunday without hearing the name Brett Favre—unless Troy Aikman is talking of course.
Though this is a foregone conclusion, many young NFL fans have not been alive long enough to have seen the days where Favre was not a daily mention. We are unused to it. By week four, you'll be wondering why he hasn't announced his unretirement.
(Do not expect Dan Marino to stop talking about Drew Brees, though. That's just wishful thinking.)
The Buffalo Bills have been appearing consistently at the bottom of most—if not all—NFL power rankings during the preseason. Their status as a bust for 2011 is well earned, though it does not explain why most pundits seem to believe the Miami Dolphins are any better.
The Buffalo Bills know who their starting quarterback is (Ryan Fitzpatrick), and they actually have faith in him, unlike the Miami Dolphins with Chad Henne. The Bills have the better running back tandem with Fred Jackson and C.J Spiller.
Though neither of these teams is likely to have a winning season, there is cause to believe the Bills can shock the Miami Dolphins and have a better record for third in the AFC East in 2011.
Very few people, if any, are picking the Kansas City Chiefs to defend their AFC West title and not without cause.
The Chiefs are facing one of the NFL's hardest schedules, if not the hardest. They play the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Green Bay Packers, among others.
I believe the Chiefs are legitimate enough to fight through this schedule.
The Kansas City Chiefs made significant offensive improvements with the additions of fullback Le'Ron McClain and wide receivers Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston, which should offset the departure of Charlie Weis. Locking up Tamba Hali and Brandon Carr was likewise crucial.
More importantly, the Chiefs will benefit from another San Diego Chargers flop. That team is dead in the water with Norv Turner as the head coach. Their secondary is suspect even with Eric Weddle, and Ryan Matthews has yet to prove that he is worth a dime.
The Chargers will have yet another gaudy statistical season, and the Chiefs will shock the world.
With the retirement of Brett Favre, Peyton Manning holds the league's longest active streak of games started among quarterbacks with 227.
That streak is in actual jeopardy this year with Manning's mysterious neck injury keeping him on the PUP list. His status is unclear for the first game, and it is entirely conceivable that the Indianapolis Colts will start the year without Manning for the first time in his career.
Even if he does start the first game, this injury increases the likelihood that he will aggravate it or get hurt in some other way during the regular season.
If there were ever a chance that Peyton Manning might miss a game, it will be in the 2011 season.
Ray Rice has made a name for himself during the last two seasons as a prolific running back, replacing Willis McGahee in the Baltimore Ravens' lineup and flying near the top of the charts in fantasy football.
This season, the young Rutgers product is primed for a career year. The departure of Willis McGahee and arrival of Ricky Williams signals a lower percentage of shared carries, given Williams' relatively advanced age.
Rice's biggest offensive threat is his pass catching ability, and with the release of Todd Heap the Ravens have lost a major check down option for Joe Flacco, meaning Ray Rice could see more targets on collapsing pass plays.
Most importantly, Ray Rice has received a solid upgrade to his lead blocker. Though Le'Ron McClain is a premiere run blocker, Vonta Leach is the best blocking fullback in the NFL right now. Rice's rushing numbers can only go up when ground pounding behind Leach.
Look for Rice to put up huge numbers in the receiving and rushing departments and surprise everyone to lead the league in yards from scrimmage in 2011. If the Ravens make the playoffs, he might even find himself an MVP candidate.
Don't get me wrong, I am the first person to criticize Albert Haynesworth. In fact, I can't stand him at all. Having said that, he is going to rebuild his image as a player in 2011.
His main problems have been with work ethic and on-the-field effort, not talent. Despite his being branded by many as the worst free agent bust ever, Haynesworth is primed for a return to his Tennessee Titans' form.
Under a coach like Mike Shanahan (who hates his own players and loves his own "genius"), playing in a system that clashed with his desires, Albert Haynesworth was less than useless with the Washington Redskins.
However, Bill Belichick is no Shanahan. He doesn't respond to troublesome players with biting comments and public displays of his power against them; he just benches them. Point blank, if Albert Haynesworth wants to play football for Bill Belichick on the New England Patriots, he'll have to earn it. The fact that Vince Wilfork is already there will also put pressure on Haynesworth to perform up to snuff.
He can wash away all the bad press with a solid season on a new team.
The Philadelphia Eagles are entering the 2011 NFL season much like the Miami Heat entered the 2010 NBA season—with a huge target on their backs.
The so-called "Dream Team", compiled of big name free agents and trade pieces from across the NFL, is being widely looked at as a "Super Bowl or Bust" type of squad.
There is good cause to look at the Philadelphia Eagles as one of the top five teams in the NFL, and there is little doubt that they will make the postseason. But it won't be in the way fans are expecting of them.
I'm not saying the Eagles will be a Wild Card, but whether they win their division or not, they will be the NFC's third seed at best.
First off, this is a team where a large number of starters were brought in during the last month; in a shortened offseason like this, players on new teams are the ones who struggle the most. The Eagles will be no different; and there will be pains as they try to gel in a short amount of time.
The bulls-eye on them is another problem because they will find most of their opponents playing with chips on their shoulders. Michael Vick's style of play also lends itself to injury. Like last season, he is likely to get hurt for at least a couple of games this season, and Vince Young is not ready for the pressure of leading the "Dream Team."
The Philadelphia Eagles will make the playoffs, but don't expect them to be sitting on a first round bye. They'll be mixing it up with a Wild Card team come January.
This one will probably drop some jaws. I can't quite believe I'm writing it. The New York Jets will get more production out of their passing game than their running game in 2011.
This is possible for a few reasons. Chief among them is the likelihood that LaDanian Tomlinson is out of gas. He will still produce but not another 900 yard season. Shonn Greene will be seeing more carries, translating into more short yardage running.
The departure of Brad Smith takes away a few solid rush plays per game because of the loss of his Wildcat contribution.
Mark Sanchez is now in his third season during the hump year many people call the "sophomore slump." His performance in the 2011 playoffs is likely to have inspired confidence in the New York Jets organization, who have been waiting for the right time to fully unleash him.
With the additions of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason and the ability to play 16 games with Santonio Holmes, Sanchez will likely flourish this year in a way he hasn't before.
The reason the New York Jets traded up to draft Sanchez was to obtain their quarterback of the future.
Watch the training wheels come off in 2011.
Matthew Stafford has been one of the most painful (literally) stories of the NFL these past two seasons. The young quarterback from Georgia has all the potential in the world, and the Detroit Lions cannot benefit because he can't stay on the field.
However, Stafford has already guaranteed that he will play 16 games in 2011, and I, for one, believe him. The real shocker should be that he will play the whole season because if he does, 4,000 yards passing should be child's play for him.
Because he has yet to even play 10 games in a season, this is still a long shot. But if he believes it that much, how can you go against him?
It is certainly odd to think that a team, which has never made the postseason in its 9-year existence, could win the division from the Indianapolis Colts, but the 2011 Houston Texans can do it.
Their offense remains one of the best in the NFL, and their defense has seen such major improvements in the offseason that they have got to be a playoff contender. The Indianapolis Colts' middling roster can only ride the greatness of Peyton Manning for so long, and now that he has a neck problem, the Texans' position only improves.
J.J Watt, Brooks Reed, Mario Williams and Brian Cushing create an extremely formidable pass rush, but the most important new pieces are Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, who will fortify the abysmal secondary into a true force.
This is the Texans' year (for real this time)