2011 NFL Preview: Felix Jones, the Atlanta Falcons and 5 Bold Predictions
The National Football League prides itself on parity and the element of surprise. Every single season players and teams emerge out of the dark to shine bright by seasons end. How many people had the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs last season or Arian Foster dominating defenses?
On the contrary, parity also means that teams and players are sure to disappoint. Remember this time last year, the Dallas Cowboys were suppose to be the first team in Super Bowl history to play the big game at their own house. The script does not always go as planned.
Here are five bold and realistic predictions for the 2011 NFL Season.
5. Ben Roethlisberger Will Lead the AFC in Passing Yards
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Asterisk: Peyton Manning looks like he will miss a significant chunk of the 2011 season.
Startlingly, five different quarterbacks have led the AFC in passing yards over the last five seasons. Last season it was Phillip Rivers who led the entire NFL in yards with 4,710. That number will come back to earth this year.
Despite a talented offense and defense in 2010, the Chargers trailed late in many games which inflated his yard total. Yes, he gets back a few electric weapons, but expect a more balanced attack.
Tom Brady and Matt Schabb will be in the conversation, but Roethlisberger has more weapons than both of them.
The emergence of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, along with the addition of Jericho Cotchery will force offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to put the ball in Ben's hands.
The Steelers have a difficult schedule the first two months of the season and will play in some highly contested games.
Expect Rashard Mendenhall to slow down as the season dwindles to its conclusion. He had nearly 400 carries last season, including the playoffs, and lingering affects should be expected. Isaac Redman carries will increase, but Roethlisberger's attempts will get the biggest boost.
He threw for 3,200 yards last year in only 12 games. That was after being banned from practicing with the team for the first month of the season as well. Roethlisberger threw for 4,328 in 2009 while playing in 15 games. He is do to break 4,500 yards.
The offensive line is improved. Jonathan Scott will prove that is a very capable left tackle. Ben's timing with his plethora of weapons has never been better. Mike Wallace is a top 3 wide receiver in the conference and Hines Ward will get his. Not to mention Heath Miller is No. 7's favorite target.
Roethlisberger will throw for 4,600 yards and lead the conference making it six different leaders in the last six seasons.
4. The Detroit Lions Will Make the Playoffs
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Yes, the Detroit Lions are getting a lot of media attention. It is obvious that they are improved and ready to finally be a force in the NFC North.
But it seems every expert is picking the Lions to be the first team out of the playoffs.
Newsflash: The NFC is not full of elite teams.
The Green Bay Packers will win the division, but the Lions will easily be one of the wild cards. They are one of the most balanced teams in the entire league.
Ndamukong Su, right now, is the best defensive player in the NFL. He made rookie mental mistakes last year, but he is only going to get better. He will be opening lanes for one of the best linebacker cores in the NFC. The team will still give up a lot of big plays in the secondary, but fortunately they have the offense that can sling it with the best of them.
Calvin Johnson is one of the best playmakers in the game right now. Megatron demands a double team which opens up the middle of the field for players like Brandon Pettigrew. Matt Stafford looks healthy and his meticulous accuracy will turn heads this season.
It is easy to play it safe by predicting the Lions will compete, but just miss the playoffs. They have plenty of talent in all three facets of the games and will reach double digit wins.
Expect the Chicago Bears to tail off in 2011, while the Lions play football in January.
Here are some predictions from major sports outlets on the Motor City squad:
ESPN.com: Three out of 12 experts picked the Lions to reach the playoffs.
Foxsports.com: One out of seven experts picked the Lions to reach the playoffs.
USA Today: Two out of nine experts picked the Lions to reach the playoffs.
That is less than 20 percent from that sample size.
3. Felix Jones Will Lead NFC Running Backs in Total Yards
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It's all about the Jones' in Dallas.
His weight is ideal and his confidence is skyrocketing. Jones still has a lot to prove, being that other running backs in his draft class have excelled, while he has been banged up.
The AFC is loaded at running back with the likes of Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, MJD, Darren McFadden and Ray Rice. The NFC has talent too, but there are only a couple candidates for total yards. Jones will compete with Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy for that title.
Outside of Peterson, Jones is the most physically gifted back in the conference. A healthy Tony Romo will enable the Boys to stretch the field, opening up lanes for the back out of Arkansas.
In his first two season, Jones has been known to make a few splash plays while struggling to stay on the field. He appears to be in the best shape of his professional career and consistency will follow.
Rookie DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice will spell Jones in certain situations, but Jones will get an ample amount of touches. He will emerge as one of the rare backs that will be the primary ball carrier, short down back and even be on the field for certain 3rd down situations.
Jones will put up 1st round draft pick numbers for all the fantasy football geeks who lucked out and selected him in the 3rd or 4th round.
In reality Felix Jones will help carry the Cowboys back to playoff contention.
2. The Philadelphia Eagles Will Not End the Season as a Top 5 Team in the NFL
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The 1992 USA Olympic basketball team did not have nearly as many question marks as the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles do.
The Eagles' front office did bring in a lot of talent, there is no denying that. They still have some serious issues.
With the addition of Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles secondary is elite. Their linebackers? Not so much.
The defense will struggle to get pressure on the quarterback and consistency stop the run. Cullen Jenkins might be the most underrated acquisition following the lockout, but he will not turn this front seven into one of the game's best.
Michael Vick is not one of the best signal callers in the game. He did have an exceptional season in 2010 under Andy Reid. Inconsistency plagued Vick in Atlanta and it is going to come back to haunt him.
He has a career 55.3 percent completion percentage and less than two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio for his career. When Vick was at his best in Atlanta, he had an above average offensive line, especially in 2004. The Eagles have major issues up front which puts even more pressure on Mike.
If Vick is forced to run more in 2011 (and he does have 66 career fumbles) how durable will he be? He has only played 16 games once in his career and has only won more than eight games in a season once as well.
The team is full of weapons and Vick is capable of taking over games. Andy Reid is sure to get this team into the playoffs, but there will be five teams better than the Eagles at season's end.
1. The Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons Will Not Make the Playoffs
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Nearly every season preview of the Baltimore Ravens mentions that the bottom line is that the Ravens must get over the Pittsburgh Steelers hump. That is false. They must overcome a slow team that lost significant pieces to even make the playoffs.
The offensive line is horrific. A healthy Matt Birk at center will not be enough. Before trading for Lee Evans, the Ravens only had one wide receiver on the roster with a NFL reception. Evans is a vertical threat, but he already has a bum wheel. It was a good move by a desperate team to pick up the former Bills standout, but he does not have the elite lateral speed that will change games for the Ravens.
The defense will be sluggish this season. Kelly Gregg was a constant leading force on that defensive line and Terrance Cody is not ready to be a dominant starter at defensive tackle. Terrell Suggs, who is an absolute force, is the only player that can get to the quarterback on a regular basic. Holiuta Ngata is an All-Pro, but Ray Lewis is a shell of his former self. The defense will be good, but not great.
Joe Flacco is not good enough to win games by himself. Expect the Cleveland Browns to be improved, especially with Colt McCoy running the west coast offense. The Ravens will win between 7-9 games in 2011, as will the Cleveland Browns. Neither will make the playoffs.
The future is now in the NFC South. Here is a bold statement for all the bleacher report readers. Tampa Bay's trio (Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams) will be more explosive and productive than the Falcon's trio (Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White).
Running back Mike Turner's season will be extremely disappointing. He turned the dreaded 29 years of age which is never good for backs and looked old the last quarter of last season.
The passing game will be tremendous, but that alone will not be good enough. Matt Ryan has been impressive and many think he is on the brink of super stardom, but he is nowhere near the level of his division rival Drew Brees.
Their defense added Ray Edwards, but the defense is pretty much the same from the 16th ranked group of 2010. They should be decent, but do not expect an encore performance from the likes of Brent Grimes. The Ravens defense still possess enough play makers to possibly win games on their own, but the Falcons do not.
The latter prediction also has just as much to do with the division they play in. The Tampa Bay Bucs are ready to take the next step into the playoffs. The Saints will win the division. The Lions and Falcons have similar offenses, but Detroit has a better defense.
The Ravens and Falcons will both win a good amount of games, but will not reach double digits and their golfing plans will come earlier than most expect this year.
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