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NFL Predictions: Jumping on Chargers Wagon, Avoiding Eagles Kool-Aid and More

Thomas EmerickSenior WriterSeptember 8, 2011

NFL Predictions: Jumping on Chargers Wagon, Avoiding Eagles Kool-Aid and More

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    For those figuring out what to think of Lance Kendricks, how to re-evaluate the AFC South in wake of Peyton Manning's neck surgery or looking for analysis that doesn't quite ride the recent trends, this article might provide some insight.

    It also might completely ruin the management of your fantasy team and perception of the 2011 NFL season. I'm really pulling for the insight part.

    Read on to learn why Philip Rivers to V-Jax will be the most potent combo this season, Ray Rice possesses the highest ceiling, the Philadelphia Eagles won't win the NFC East and the new sheriff in "Worst Division" town.

    Oh, and the Saints will knock off San Diego in the Super Bowl.

NFC West > AFC South

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    Peyton Manning’s neck surgery sealed it. The ailment may or may not be career-threatening, eerily similar to the way his brother Cooper stepped down with spinal stenosis.

    But the bleak outlook of the AFC South in 2011 is all but confirmed. SI’s Chris Burke tweeted that if the Texans don’t step up then the AFC South is in the mix for worst division in football.

    This is certainly true, but I’ll take it a step further and not only predict this but also suggest that the Houston Texans can win 10-12 games and the South will still be at the bottom.

    This gloomy future for a division that at this time last year was considered the NFL's most well-rounded means nothing but sunshine for the Houston Texans, who present the only competent team of the bunch.

    The Titans could fair decently until Matt Hasselbeck potentially goes down by Week 5 and QB play sinks them like last year.

    I can’t imagine Jake Locker being ready any time soon. And I don’t even need to explain the quarterback-finalized disasters that are Jacksonville and Indianapolis.

    Fantasy football alert: Pick up and start Houston Texans Team D vs. Colts this week and five more times vs. the rest of division.

    A Wade Phillips-coordinated defense is something to trust, especially against these opponents.

    Meanwhile, this division sounds like a six-layered victory cake for Houston, who could inflate their win total further thanks to out-of-schedule matchups with Miami and Oakland.

    And while no individual squad from the NFC West will win as many games as Houston, the quartet is better top-to-bottom than the AFC South.

    I will take any three of the 49ers, Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks’ average win total over the Colts, Titans and Jaguars.

    Assuming Locker could very well get behind center for Tennessee eventually, wouldn’t you?

    Either way, that AFC South trio is hitting 2011 with all new starters at QB, a terrifying position after the summer of lockout.

    The Rams and 49ers come back with continuity while the Cardinals undeniably improve upon perhaps the worst QB platoon of the past decade.

    We all saw what that offense did in the Super Bowl vs. Pittsburgh and it didn’t look all that different in 2010 on paper, outside Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner.

    Granted, a dropoff from Warner was almost guaranteed, but some major weapons and infrastructure remained. It’ll be like night and day with Kevin Kolb even if he’s just decent.

    And let’s not forget Seattle won a playoff game last year. There might not be a team I can remember that giving credit to is so difficult, but that’s a fact.

    I have them finishing last in the NFC West at five wins, but still looking better than the Colts or Jags. Congrats NFC West, you’ve climbed from historical awfulness to No. seven in the league. Huzzah!

Who is Lance Kendricks?

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    I initially viewed John Beck as this season’s Don Draper. 

    You may scoff at this because one looks incredibly awkward in action while the other smooth as top-shelf rye.

    But there was just so much mystery as to why Mike Shanahan would bank so much of his legacy on the judgment of a quarterback everyone else thought to be mediocre.

    By the end of the preseason John Beck sat No. 2 on the depth chart after the public saw he’s not all that great nor that terrible. Boring.

    Now we move onto the still-interesting Lance Kendricks, who’s the No. 2 tight end on some team in approximately every fantasy league on Earth (or should be, check your waivers).

    Obviously, it won’t kill you to stash Kendricks on your bench, but at the same time it’s hard not to ponder what we might expect from the preseason’s most prolific rookie.

    Sam Bradford loved, LOVED the Wisconsin tight end and the Badger didn’t let him down. Bradford also targeted his slew of mediocre tight ends quite often last season. Recipe for gold, right? 

    Detractors of the Kendricks plot line will say that preseason stats—especially from this preseason—shouldn’t cause any sort of crazed excitement.

    It is important to temper expectations, even if the starting quarterback does show a concerted effort to incorporate a new player into the offense right off the bat.

    The two seem very much in rhythm and it could all change when the real games are played.

    They can also say that rookie quarterbacks typically focus more on their tight ends, as do conservative offensive schemes like the one the Rams ran last year.

    Even the schemes of new pass-happy coordinator Josh McDaniels typically don’t yield an incredible boost in tight end receiving opportunity. 

    My take? Bradford a year wiser + offense that will pass a ton under elite offensive coordinator + rhythm displayed with Kendricks in preseason = worth a fantasy roster spot. Can’t wait till week one.

AFC West: Not as Bad as Everyone Thinks

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    The Chargers will retake the AFC West with vengeance and pissed-off factor that should make Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson the NFL’s top QB-WR combo in 2011.

    With a full season of V-Jax, this passing offense will be tough to stop and will probably show little mercy, all the while remembering that previous frustrating campaign. If you drafted them, well done.

    I truly wouldn’t be surprised if the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs all hung around .500 by season’s end.

    The AFC West strength of schedule is generally regarded as a daunting terror for this year, but then again preseason vs. actual strength of schedule always end up quite different.

    So I’m evaluating purely on their improvements since last year.

    This requires checks next to each team in the division. The Chiefs will actually get better with a young squad, but fall back to spots in 2011.

    Too many “we took care of business against crap teams” Ws last season and Matt Cassel’s rib situations are big worries.

    While the Raiders lost Nnamdi Asomugha, they still possess three of the best young defensive players in the league with end Matt Shaughnessy, linebacker Rolando McClain and cornerback Stanford Routt.

    I like Jason Campbell finally having the same offensive guru two years in a row (Hue Jackson), a studly one-two punch in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, and the budding West Coast DeSean Jackson— Jacoby Ford.

    I have the Denver Broncos finishing 7-9. Kyle Orton’s fantasy value will absolutely plummet, but the Denver offense will actually have balance and won’t fall miles behind as often thanks to improved D.

    Between John Fox installing a running game and the Elvis Dumervil-Von Miller combo actually instilling some sort of pass rush, this team figures to look much less the disaster in 2011.

    It’s also hard to underrate how much of a crazed ship McDaniels ran the past two seasons. The present personnel is not that bad.

     

    AFC West Results

    No. 1: Chargers

    No. 2: Raiders

    No. 3: Broncos

    No. 4: Chiefs

NFC East: Not as Good as Everyone Thinks

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    I would be surprised to see any of these teams capture a first-round bye this year.

    Dallas and Philadelphia are two of the most hyped teams entering the season, yet neither offensive line inspires much confidence—mainly terror for their quarterbacks’ health and horrible flashbacks to 2010.

    You could argue that they only got worse than they were at this point last season.

    The Eagles added a ton of flashy parts during the free agent frenzy and certainly won the headline title, but the NFC East could just as well go to the Cowboys or Giants.

    That’s right the Giants, the team whose run blocking and pass protection both got much better in 2011, the team that has the best bookend pass rushers in the East. That means something.

    How much Eli Manning struggled this preseason or how many injuries they incurred is no death knell. And really only the latter should be considered a legitimate obstacle.

    Hakeem Nicks-Mario Manningham and Ahmad Bradshaw-Brandon Jacobs both provide a scary pair of one-twos. Alas, depth in the secondary is scaring away prognosticators.

    Then there’s the Redskins, whom NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi is bold enough to toss in the race. I think that’s fine; this division’s wide open.

    The Eagles have a spectacular set of cornerbacks and Trent Cole, but outside of that it’s all mostly a question mark on D.

    The NFC East features major flaws in each defense and three out of the four O-lines which could spell trouble.

    I wouldn’t put any Super Bowl money on any of these squads, but I would bet on a lot of scoring and a topsy-turvy division title race with competitors in the 8-10 win range.

     

    NFC East Results

    No. 1: Cowboys

    No. 2: Eagles

    No. 3: Giants

    No. 4: Redskins

NFC North and South: True to Expectations

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    Green Bay is far and away the superior team. The Lions are trendy sleepers but not playoff-ready; the secondary’s just too much of a massive hole.

    The Bears might not find as good of fortune, and they screwed their best weapon by trading Greg Olsen and not adding a legit No. 1 receiver to Jay Cutler’s repertoire.

    Minnesota will be horrible under a new (and underwhelming) signal caller, a terrible offensive line and a degenerating defense.

    The only bold NFC North prediction I really have is that Adrian Peterson’s fantasy ceiling is extremely diminished.

    That atrocious pass offense and O-line will let Peterson down all day. Not to mention this is a shredable defense, also bad for your running game.

    The Vikings will play from behind and yet still see eight in the box. I’ve got them at four wins. 

     

    NFC North Results

     No. 1: Packers

    No. 2: Lions

    No. 3: Bears

    No. 4: Vikings

     

    The way New Orleans marched into the Georgia Dome Week 16 and destroyed Atlanta’s home perfection on Monday night showed me the Saints still stand as the older brother.

    Drew Brees was dinged up and the RB position brutalized, which made the Saints only lean on Brees’ gimpy knee even more.

    Funny thing is, the Falcons are actually vastly improved. The jump from one offensive game-breaker to two with Julio Jones is a major leap scheme-wise and keeps the defense honest.

    I’ll take Atlanta over anyone in the NFC East, but down South it’s still all about Payton and co.

    The Panthers look absolutely awful, but not quite 2010 awful. It wasn’t a Clausen or a Moore problem last year. It was an everything problem. Everything was broken, so many drop backs turned jailbreak to the quarterback.

    Even a marked improvement under a first-year coach and a rookie Q still spells five wins for this team.

    The Bucs are a tough team to gauge thanks to a somewhat generous schedule in 2010. But then again, they looked quite formidable in bouts against New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore.

    And Josh Freeman is clutch, which can’t be understated. I would not be surprised if three NFC South teams made the postseason.

     

    NFC South Results

     No. 1: Saints

    No. 2: Falcons

    No. 3: Bucs

    No. 4: Panthers

AFC East and North: 4 Contenders, 4 Pretenders

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    Well, to be fair the Bengals and Bills aren’t even pretending. Meanwhile, a ton of buzz has found its way towards the Cleveland Browns as of recent, but I’m not buying it. Eric Steinbach’s injury presents a major issue considering the Browns bank on running up the left side. Really, that’s all they could do on offense with consistent success last year.

    If this is a passing league, how does one make a contender out of a team who’s most trusted receiving option is the running back? Greg Little remains in the enigma category as a rookie, and the receivers and tight ends aren’t starters on many other squads. Their defense could turn out stingy, but definitely broke down when it counted disturbingly often last season.

    Also, chock up Baltimore and Pittsburgh as four losses for Cleveland.

    Lee Evans adds a direly needed deep threat who I predict a mini-resurgence from in 2011. Not fantasy-starter status, but a missing piece the Ravens offense needed. With Vonta Leach and a mostly intact offensive line, Ray Rice surges to the top of my running back board in fantasy football. Really, the only worry about this offense rising even higher in 2011 is the Bryant McKinnie factor (admittedly a big factor).

    And of course Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh. They are who we think they are, except the offensive line still terrifies me. But it always manages to work out; mind boggling.

    Extremely difficult to choose between Steelers and Ravens up North. Last year it was a matter of dropping Joe Flacco back in the most idiotic way possible and a Polamalu strip-sack that separated the Steelers and Ravens in the division. Then more bizarre turnovers in the playoffs. I think a more experienced Ravens offense finally holds onto the ball when it needs to most.

    Winner: Ravens

    2 Steelers

    3 Browns

    4 Bengals

    Out East, the Jets lose a ton at the receiver position but one would assume that Mark Sanchez will only grow as a quarterback. Not sure if that qualifies as a wash, but admittedly a concern. Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith seemed to fit snugly into that offense. Though on the flip side, Santonio Holmes could now pose a top 10 fantasy threat at receiver. 

    New England likely won’t win 14 games again, but it will continue to produce on offense. Just still not sold on the physicality of its defense, which may bite them in the playoffs once again. New England hasn’t won a postseason game since 2007, even with Tom Brady leading each squad. The defense needs to show it can dole out a beating again.

    Winner: Patriots

    2 Jets

    3 Dolphins

    4 Bills

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