2011 NFL Predictions: All 32 Teams' Records
Now that the NFL has finished its lockout and the aftermath has completed, the tail end of the preseason can only mean one thing—the regular season is about to begin.
This is the time of the year where fans can feel good about their team’s offseason additions before they turn out to be disappointments. Fans can get hyped for the marquee matchups before going and being humiliatingly upset. Fans can buy jerseys and shirts before contemplating burning them at the season’s end.
Now that almost all the pieces are in place for the NFL season, it’s time to appropriately analyze the eight league divisions and predict every team’s records for the upcoming campaign.
The rosters are being cut down and the position battles have all but been decided by now. So while the preseason begins its long overdue wind down, let’s take a look at how this year’s NFL will shape up.
Green Bay Packers: 11-5
Chicago Bears: 9-7
Detroit Lions: 7-9
Minnesota Vikings: 4-12
The NFC North should feature some very interesting battles between the Lions, Bears and Packers. Can’t say the same for Minnesota at the present moment as this season looks to be a rebuilding year towards the Christian Ponder era.
While Green Bay holds the most coveted belt in the NFL, the target on their back just opens the door for fiercer competition. The Packers have a very realistic chance to contend once more in the defense of their Super Bowl victory.
Consider the pieces Green Bay lost last year on the way to Super Bowl Sunday—Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Nick Barnett, Mark Tauscher, Brad Jones and more. Yet, somehow Aaron Rodgers was able to find replacement pieces and develop them to the point of championship contention. Imagine what this team can accomplish if they stay healthy.
Chicago had an interesting offseason laced with wide receiver and old defense concerns. Jay Cutler should perform better in year two with Mike Martz offense and a new emphasis on blocking. The playoffs may be a bit of a stretch this year for the Bears unless Chicago can come across some fortunate bounces again.
And then there are the Lions with a fierce front four on defense and a fragile, unproven quarterback commanding the offense. Detroit has weapons but they lack the discipline to come together as a single unit.
Philadelphia Eagles: 12-4
Dallas Cowboys: 7-9
New York Giants: 6-10
Washington Redskins: 3-13
Three years ago the NFC East was considered to be the toughest division in the NFL. Now it seems like everyone’s on the decline except for one team.
Philadelphia turned from Super Bowl contender to Super Bowl favorite in the span of three weeks. The additions they made with Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and plenty more. Maybe the best move was selling high on Kevin Kolb when they had the chance.
The Cowboys and Giants both have considerable ground to be made up to leap frog the Eagles in the East. Eli Manning and Tony Romo may not have enough talent on offense to score at the rate the Eagles will and neither of their defenses with injuries and offseason losses will be able to shut down all of Philadelphia’s weapons well.
This looks like it could be the runaway division of the entire league with how the Eagles are stacked right now. The only hope Dallas and New York have to bring them back to the pack is to win their head-to-head games and bestow bad luck upon them.
The last team in the division, Washington, seems to be the dark horse in the East. Quarterback issues and concerns with the front office and coaching staff don’t equal contenders. Washington needs to iron some issues out in order to move forward.
Atlanta Falcons: 11-5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-6
New Orleans Saints: 9-7
Carolina Panthers: 5-11
Perhaps the toughest division in the NFL this season will be the NFC South where three teams last season finished with 10 wins or better.
The Saints, Falcons and Bucs all had great records in 2010 even though Tampa was left on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in at the season’s end. Plenty of power fights will occur in the three aforementioned teams with their head-to-head contests. Every game could determine being playoff bound or being on a six-month vacation.
Atlanta made the best defensive splash of any of those three teams by adding defensive end Ray Edwards to compliment Jonathan Abraham to create a dominating one-two pass rush. Getting to Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Josh Freeman will be key to slow their respective offenses down.
New Orleans added a durable running back with rookie Mark Ingram to help balance its offense. Reggie Bush and his knack for getting hurt departed for Miami to make room for Ingram and free-agent Darren Sproles. Being able to run the ball will help pace the Saints attack and make them more unpredictable.
The Buccaneers are an inspiring young squad with a young coach and a “we don’t care if we’re a bunch of kids” attitude. There’s no doubting this team can win six or seven home games (remember, they play the Bears in London) but can they win on the road in the Georgia Dome and SuperDome?
St. Louis Rams: 10-6
San Francisco 49ers: 7-9
Seattle Seahawks: 7-9
Arizona Cardinals: 5-11
Alas, the crème de la crème, the NFC West. This collection of teams always fails to flatter in the regular season but somehow does something once they eventually send one team to the playoffs. None the less, this division is competitive even though the teams are not exactly favorites on paper to hold the Lombardi Trophy come February.
This division could really be up for grabs amongst any of the four teams. Each of them show enough potential to win the West. Again, head-to-head wins and home victories are the easiest way to position yourself in the divisional driver seat.
Seattle won the NFC West crown at 7-9 last year, so any team that can muster up eight or nine wins will be in great shape to make it to the postseason.
Speaking of the Seahawks, many think they took a downgrade by letting Matt Hasselbeck go and bringing in Tavaris Jackson to QB the team. Jackson is streaky and inaccurate downfield which makes things hard for Mike Williams and Sidney Rice in the big play department.
Big plays seem to be all that Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald are making in the preseason. Rookie corner Patrick Peterson was considered to be the best overall athlete in the draft. The Cardinals should feel lucky he fell to them in the first round. That defense could be surprisingly good.
The Rams are without offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur who accepted the head coaching position with the Browns. Second-year quarterback Sam Bradford is looking to avoid a sophomore slump. Steven Jackson and a healthy wide receiver group will look to keep him from disappointing the fans he won over in 2010.
Then there’s the 49ers who may have been one of the worst effected teams from the NFL lockout. A brand new coaching system and no star power at quarterback will make things difficult. They did add a few nice pieces to the defense especially at the safety position. They’ll contend but may not threaten.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5
Baltimore Ravens: 11-5
Cleveland Browns: 9-7
Cincinnati Bengals: 4-12
There’s a reason the AFC North is a black and blue division with the Steelers and Ravens atop the bunch. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are two of the most ferocious and hard-hitting franchises in the entire league. Cleveland and Cincinnati are in youth movements, meaning they value divisional games against the Steelers and Ravens more than ever.
The Steelers didn’t make many additions in the offseason but did retain some key players at offensive tackle and linebacker. Cornerback Ike Taylor also inked a new deal to stay with Pittsburgh. It seems like this season will be the same old for the Steelers. More of the same, however, would be a great thing for that team.
Baltimore’s big offseason moves came at the wide receiver position by acquiring Lee Evans to go across from Anquan Boldin. Derrick Mason was lost to the Jets via free agency so that was a position that needed filling. The defense is basically the same as was before, just like Pittsburgh. This should be a very similar looking Ravens squad with a potential breakout from Ray Rice.
For the Browns, it’s all about developing Colt McCoy and the passing game to help out Peyton Hillis. With the addition of Shurmur to help transition McCoy to the NFL, the Browns will look to contend in the North with a balanced offense.
Cincinnati has a whole bunch of problems beginning with the quarterback all the way down to safety. Not really much left to say other than they’ll get their chance down the road.
New England Patriots: 13-3
New York Jets: 10-6
Miami Dolphins: 8-8
Buffalo Bills: 4-12
Even when the Patriots lose a player to retirement or free agency, they seem to just plug another one right in and keep chugging along with the Bill Belichick philosophy.
For this reason, New England will come away victorious in the AFC East in 2011. The defense is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 with tackle Albert Haynesworth and end Shaun Ellis, formerly of the rival Jets. There should be no learning curve for the Patriots. It wouldn’t be surprising if they go right into the season and play like this has been the defense for years.
If not New England this season from the East, the other contender will definitely be the Jets. As usual, New York will be carried by its defense. Rex Ryan is known for his crazy blitzes and schemes so if this team will be Super Bowl contenders, that side of the ball will get it done.
There’s no Kyle Orton in Miami, but the team can still maybe make a shot at legitimacy. The Dolphins should be a mediocre team with nowhere to go but up. Changes have occurred in the Miami backfield but the offense will still predominantly be a rushing-based attack.
Of course there’s still Buffalo but in this division there’s not much hope for the Bills with a top-heavy division like the NFC East. Boy the ‘80s feel so long ago, don’t they Bills fans?
Indianapolis Colts: 10-6
Houston Texans: 9-7
Tennessee Titans: 7-9
Jacksonville Jaguars: 6-10
Never before has an entire division relied on one man’s neck like it has this year with Peyton Manning. If his neck is fine, the Colts should take the South. If he misses any time, then the door opens slightly for the rest of the division.
The Colts have other issues to solve than just quarterback health. The defense needs to be strengthened up as well. For too long the Colts have relied on the passing attack. This may be a circumstance where it comes back to bite them in the rear. Not having any other dimension puts a huge weight on Manning’s replacement should he need one.
Houston has a chance to be one of the teams to jump the Colts if they struggle. It feels like the Texans have been a team for years now that’s worn the tag of “potential breakout team” and has failed to do it yet to date. Revamping their gruesome defense was something that needed to be done and now that it has been they could be somewhat respectful.
Tennessee made some interesting moves but all the wiser for doing them with their quarterback situation. Jake Locker was brought in to be the quarterback of the future while Matt Hasselbeck will be the guy right now. The biggest mistake the Titans never fixed was not throwing a blank check Chris Johnson’s way.
As far as the Jaguars are concerned, it’s tough to draw an interest in the team when they don’t make splashy moves and can’t even sell out their home games. There have certainly been better days in Jacksonville.
San Diego Chargers: 12-4
Kansas City Chiefs: 8-8
Denver Broncos: 6-10
Oakland Raiders: 5-11
Last season’s Kansas City Chiefs squad shocked quite a few when they captured the AFC West crown. Come playoff time though, the lack of experience playing in high pressure games got to them causing turnover after turnover. The Chargers couldn’t play special teams to save their lives. The Broncos are involved in an unnecessary quarterback debate between an NFL quarterback and a college scrap. And then of course there’s Oakland and their great logic on everything football related.
The AFC West is a division where if one team gets hot at the right time, they could take the whole thing and call it a day. Streaky play has been the Achilles heel for most of these teams.
Take for example the Chargers who seemed to be the sure-fire bet to win the West last season. Another slow start coupled with the inability to stop teams on kickoff and punt returns did them in. Assuming the necessary changes have been made then there could be a new day dawning in the Chargers future.
Kansas City just didn’t have what it took to get past Baltimore in the postseason. They were outmanned and outplayed with possession style football. This high-flying offense drove itself straight into the ground. The addition of a few new pieces could make a difference.
As for the Broncos, they need to learn to play defense and quickly. They play offense without a single glitch, but not stopping your opponents is as good as causing a hole in your boat—either way you’re sinking yourself.
Oakland just straight up needs more help than can be described here in words. Here’s the easy way to think about the Raiders: If the “he ran a 4.40, we must sign him” tactic hasn’t worked yet, why would it ever? Al Davis needs to go in order for that franchise to matter again.
Brett Lyons is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.