27 August 2011

2011 NFL Season Preview & Predictions

Well as we all know, the 2011 NFL season will go on as planned as the dreaded lockout ended without interfering with any regular season games. The Green Bay Packers will try to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions since the New England Patriots did so in 2004. Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Steelers will try to avenge their loss to the Pack and build on their record of six Super Bowl Championships. The other 30 clubs will try to reach the promise-land as well. But which teams do I think will be playing for the Super Bowl and which one will be the champion?
It's time for my 2011 NFL season preview.
East
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots are not as loaded as in season's past at the skill positions on offense but when you got Tom Brady at quarterback, it's not that big of a problem. The team will have a revolving door again at running back where BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, and the returning from injury Sammy Morris will be joined by draft picks Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley. Wide receiver could be a sore sport unless Chad Ochocinco has something left to complement Wes Welker but both tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, are very talented and figure to see a lot of targets. The offensive line should be solid once again, as usual.
Bill Belichick made a couple of great acquisitions to the defensive line in Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter, and Albert Haynesworth. Ellis appears to still have some left after he destroyed the Patriots in the playoffs while with the Jets. Carter has struggled of late in the 3-4 but looks to benefit from the Patriots adopting more of a 4-3 look on defense Meanwhile the Haynesworth acquisition, for a low draft pick, was brilliant because not only will Belichick get the most out of him, he'll be more at home by the aforementioned to the 4-3 on defense where he should form a fearsome pairing inside with Vince Wilfork. The linebackers should be solid, although Gary Guyton struggles in pass coverage, and the secondary should be very good
Prediction: 13-3 (1st seed)


2. New York Jets
Mark Sanchez has had tremendous success in his first two seasons in the NFL but he has been very inconsistent in the regular season, throwing a bunch of interceptions. He was impressive in the playoffs and showed a lot of promise which indicates that he looks to be in line for a breakthrough. He benefits from a solid running game featuring Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. The Jets have a star at wideout in Santonio Holmes but the rest of the corps has some questions. Plaxico Burress will be rusty after coming out of jail and Derrick Mason is ancient. Dustin Keller is a good weapon at tight end but he needs to be utlized more. The line has a couple of weaknesses but should be solid as usual.
It's odd that a Rex Ryan defense with one of the top two cornerbacks in football in Darrelle Revis struggles to rush the passer. The defensive line is stout against the run but Ryan is looking for a big impact from rookie defensive end Muhammed Wilkerson. Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace should have higher sack numbers but the Jets may have the best pair of inside linebackers in David Harris and Bart Scott. The defense as a whole would be nasty if the team managed to bring in Nnamdi Asomugha but the returning Antonio Cromartie is a nice consolation prize.
Prediction: 11-5 (6th seed)


3. Buffalo Bills
The Bills were surprisingly effective on offense last season and Ryan Fitzpatrick was very good at times and nearly led the team to victories over the Ravens, Bears, and Steelers. He doesn't have the arm to be a long-term solution but for this organization that does not believe in long-term solutions, it works. Gailey showed his skills as an offensive coach last season and Steve Johnson came out of nowhere to become a dangerous threat at receiver. The team traded away Lee Evans to Baltimore but made a great acquisition in Brad Smith, who figures to be this team's Kordell Stewart. Buffalo has a solid back in Fred Jackson but Gailey really needs to better utilize C.J. Spiller's varied talents. The offensive line was not very good last season but look better down the stretch.
The defense really struggled last season in stuffing the run and rushing the passer. The team drafted Marcell Dareus at the third pick in the draft and he's a great fit at defensive end and is very stout against the run. Kyle Williams is a very good nose tackle and Dwan Edwards is a fine 3-4 end. The team's only hope for the pass rush is if Shawne Merriman can return anywhere close to his dominating form in San Diego. The team's only other good linebacker in Paul Posluszny and they found a servicable replacement in Nick Barnett, formerly of Green Bay. The secondary is very good as Terrence McGee and Jairus Byrd are impact players. George Wilson is a solid strong safety but Drayton Florence is clearly the weakness of the unit opposite McGee.
Prediction: 6-10


4. Miami Dolphins
Stephen Ross basically put this team in a no-win scenario. He tried to screw Tony Sparano behind his back by openly luring Jim Harbaugh then gave him a half-assed contract extension. Ross is to blame for this team having an awful season.
Then again, Chad Henne will play his fair part as well. Why the team brought him back or brought in no competition for him (they could've had Kyle Orton so the team would have an average QB but instead they elected to sign Matt Moore. Why?) despite the fact he was pretty bad last season and was even worse down he stretch. And besides the mercurial Brandon Marshall, he has no weapons in the passing game, although Reggie Bush should contribute out of the backfield and I do like fourth round selection Edmond Gates. After both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams left South Florida, second round pick Daniel Thomas will get the load of the carries and he projects to be a solid every-down back. Outside of blindside protector Jake Long, left guard Richie Incognito, the line is bad but first round pick Mike Pouncey has a lot of promise.
The defense will have to lead this team and the unit as a whole was very good in 2010. The 'Phins have one of the better nose tackles in Paul Soliai as well as a solid pair of ends in Randy Starks and Kendall Langford. Cameron Wake has proven himself to be an elite pass rusher and Koa Misi has the talent to be a very good complement but really dropped off in the second half last season. The inside backing tandem of Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett is very good. The club has a very talented cornerback pair in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, although both need to work on their maturity and Yeremiah Bell is a fine strong safety. The free safety spot is a major hole.
Prediction: 4-12


North
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The line has been the sore weakness for this offense and it does not look too much better for 2011. Maurkice Pouncey is an elite center and Willie Colon is very good when healthy but there are questions everywhere else. Ben Roethlisberger helps out his line so much because of his tremendous skill in evading the rush when in the pocket. His big arm is what help makes Mike Wallace such an elite deep threat as well as Wallace's awesome speed. He's the clear top receiver in the Steel City as Hines Ward's skills are starting to erode. Ward may be pushed bu Emmanuel Sanders. Heath Miller is a solid tight end but he will need to help block instead of running routes. Thankfully, Big Ben also has a great back alongside in Rashard Mendenhall who helps keep the pass rush at bay.
The Steelers have seemingly always had a tremendous pass rush but there are questions with James Harrison's health as he had some back problems of late. James Worilds may spell Harrison often and the team is very high on him. LaMarr Woodley has really blossomed into one of the elite pass rushers in his own right. The inside backers are both very good in Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior but Farrior will turn 37 in January. The defensive line is solid and Casey Hampton at the nose and Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel at the ends are all solid veterans, although we may see a lot of recent first rounders Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward. The secondary has questions except for the simply amazing Troy Polamalu.
Prediction: 13-3 (2nd seed)


2. Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco has all the skills you want out of your quarterback and has been very good in his three seasons in the NFL, leading the Ravens to a playoff victory every season. Unfortauntely, he does not have a great receiving corps by any means. Anquan Boldin looked old and a couple of his favorite targets in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap are no longer on the team. Lee Evans was brought in via trade from Buffalo but there are questions as whether he still has his speed. The Ravens need guys like Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson to step up at tight end. But Flacco will benefit from Ray Rice because not only should he have another terrific season on the ground thanks to the acquisition of Vonta Leach, the game's elite fullback, plus Rice's great skill at catching the football out of the backfield. Ricky Williams, if he has another left, will spell Rice at times. The offensive line is tremendous in the interior but has some questions on the outside as rookie Jah Reid will start on the right side and left tackle Michael Oher really struggled last season.
When have the Ravens not had a strong defense? Well in what appears to potentially be the swan song for Ray Lewis, he leads one of the best defenses in the league. Lewis is an elite leader and still a very good middle linebacker but strongside 'backer Jarret Johnson is one of the most underrated players in all of football. Weakside linebacker Jameel McClain is serviceable. The linebacking unit benefits from a very good line which is led by Haloti Ngata, who is one of the best lineman in all of football. The mountainous Terrence Cody will take over for Kelly Gregg and the interior shouldn't miss a beat. Terrell Suggs is great on the right end but there is a question mark opposite him. The secondary is very good as well with the exception of the question mark at strong safety.
Prediction: 12-4 (5th seed)


3. Cleveland Browns
Peyton Hillis was simply a monster last season but it became ever so clear that he was overworked at the end of the season last year and it appears he will split more carries in 2011 with either Montario Hardesty, well-liked rookie from a year ago that missed the season with injury, or Brandon Jackson, who was the third-down back in Green Bay. Colt McCoy showed some promise last year and new coach Pat Shurmur has put into place a West Coast offense which will take advantage of his accuracy on short passes. His receiving unit is pretty mediocre which a lot of uncertainty. McCoy has some solid tight ends in Ben Watson and Evan Moore plus the talented rookie David Cameron. The offensive line has to step up, although left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack are both very good.
The Browns are really going to struggle to generate any pass rush this year. The only proven pass rusher on roster is Marcus Bernard, who had 7.5 last year but seems to be a poor fit in the new 4-3 alignment. The tackles are Ahtyba Rubin and the rookie Phil Taylor and both should be strong stuffing the run as both would make really good 3-4 noses but offer nothing in terms of a pass rush. The linebacking unit has a lot of questions because two of the starters, Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita, are poor fits in a 4-3 and the middleman D'Qwell Jackson has had a lot of trouble staying healthy. The secondary has some issues as well but do not count Joe Haden as one of them as last year's first round pick was tremendous. T.J. Ward should be passable at strong safety but the other spots are holes.
Prediction: 6-10


4. Cincinnati Bengals
It will be a return to the Bungles for Cincinnati as Mike Brown continues to hamstring the organization with his putrid ownership style. His handling of the Carson Palmer scenario was predictably awful. Plus his decision to retain Marvin Lewis was similarly questionable and I would doubt he would make it to 2012 but then again, this is Mike Brown we are talking about.
Meanwhile, the Bengals plan on starting their future early as Andy Dalton figures to be the starter from Day 1 and while Dalton definitely has talent and won a bunch of games at TCU but it is always tough for a rookie to get thrown right into the fire and especially a mess like in Cincinnati.  Not to mention he is working for a first-time coordinator in Jay Gruden, Jon's brother, who's only NFL coaching experience is when he was an offensive assistant (no specific position) from 2002-08 for his brother in Tampa Bay. Dalton does have a veteran but overworked back in Cedric Benson, who may see his playing time curbed slightly due to his weakness in catching passes out of the backfield. If everything clicks, the Bengals could have a solid receiving unit led by first rounder A.J. Green who has star potential, as well as slot receiver Jordan Shipley and the talented tight end Jermaine Greshem. The line is subpar save for left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is coming off a terrific 2010 and was robbed of a Pro Bowl berth.
Mike Zimmer cooks up a solid defense year in and year out in the Queen City of the West. The defensive line needs to keep up the progress made down the stretch in rushing the passer led by the emergence of Carlos Dunlap as well as the solid play of fellow end Michael Johnson and tackle Geno Atkins. The other tackle Domata Peko is coming off a down season. The linebacking unit in Cincy is very good but it will be interesting to see how Manny Lawson plays know that he is in a 4-3 instead of the 3-4. Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga are both very talented. The secondary took a hit with the departure of Jonathan Joseph but Nate Clements is a solid replacement opposite Leon Hall.
Prediction: 3-13


South
1. Houston Texans
I think that this is finally the year that the Texans break out. We know the offense will be a strength and will put up a lot of yards and points on the scoreboard under coach Gary Kubiak. Matt Schaub has been a yardage machine since he's come to Houston and the connection between him and wideout Andre Johnson is arguably the finest in the league. Schaub has to prove he can win games in crunchtime and he has been inconsistent when the games are close in the fourth quarter. Nobody foresaw Arian Foster leading the league in rushing a year ago and while he had a tremendous season, not many are thinking he will reach the numbers he put up a year ago thanks to fullback Vonta Leach signing with the Ravens. But it's not like he'll fall off the face of the earth because he's got a great offensive line and a prolific passing attack that should only get better if tight end Owen Daniels is finally healthy.
The defense is vital to the team's success and the team is hinging on whether Wade Phillips can take a laughable defense and make it good enough where it's not such a liability. One of the key positions in any 3-4 defense is the nose tackle but Houston does not have any quality or experienced noses on roster. The ends should be in good shape in veteran Antonio Smith and the rookie J.J. Watt out of Wisconsin. The outside linebackers provide most of the pass rush in the 3-4 and the Texans are taking a risk in lining up Mario Williams at outside linebacker despite his appearing to be too big for the position. Rookie Brooks Reed or the talented but injury plagued Connor Barwin will line up opposite him. If DeMeco Ryans is fully healthy, he and Brian Cushing should form a nasty combo in the inside. The Texans were brutal in the secondary and I mean brutal. Knowing this, they made two excellent acquisitions in cornerback Johnathan Joseph and strong safety Danieal Manning. The holdovers from last year's unit are corner Kareem Jackson, who has talent but really struggled in his rookie season in 2010, and free safety Glover Quin, who moved over from corner and showed some promise at times last year.
Prediction: 12-4 (3rd seed)


2. Indianapolis Colts
Peyton Manning did as much as he could with an injury depleted receiving corps and backfield as well as a brutal offensive line in 2010 and still nearly got the club to the divisional round. He did throw 17 picks last season, his most in a season since 2001, but he was playing with a much worse supporting cast than usual. He also did undergo neck surgery in the offseason and the lockout certainly did not help his recovery, and there seems to be concerns in the organization over whether he will start the season, hence the signing of Kerry Collins. I do not think the Colts will get much from their running game once again, unless Joseph Addai realizes his talent and stays healthy, Donald Brown realizes his talent, Delone Carter has a good rookie campaign, or maybe Dominic Rhodes will re-sign and plays like it's 2001. The receiving corps has it's flaws, Reggie Wayne is not getting any younger (33 in November), Pierre Garcon has some of the worst hands in the NFL, and both Austin Collie and Dallas Clark are coming off injuries. The offensive line desperately needs rookies Anthony Costanzo and Ben Ijalana to have strong seasons because the unit flat out sucked in 2010.
You would think that the Colts would have a strong pass rush with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis at the end positions and both were strong in 2010, combining for 21 sacks. The team as a whole only had 30 and one of the big culprits for the low sack totals was last year's first round pick, Jerry Hughes, who contributed almost nothing and really has to step up to avoid the dreaded b-word being tossed around. The Colts are usually soft at defensive tackle and look to be again, unlike third rounder Drake Nevis surprises and contributes a lot as well as acquisition Tommie Harris staying healthy. Staying healthy is something that MLB Gary Brackett has always struggled to do and when he is out boy the rush defense is awful. Both Pat Angerer and Ernie Sims, formerly of Philadelphia, struggled last year but the teams needs solid contributions from both. Bob Sanders and Kelvin Hayden are gone from the secondary because they, predictably, could not stay healthy (sensing a trend) and thus a secondary that could've been very good last year has some questions outside of free safety Antoine Bethea.
Prediction: 10-6


3. Tennessee Titans
I have made it clear that I do not like Jake Locker as a quarterback prospect at all but then again, I'm also the guy who said that Jimmy Clausen was a better prospect than San Bradford. Judging by my analysis, watch Locker turn out to be really good but of what I've seen of him in college and before the draft, I do not think he can be a good NFL quarterback. He is being afforded the luxury of sitting and waiting under free agent signee Matt Hasselbeck, who showed in the playoffs he can still play and at the very least should be a very good tutor for Locker. Chris Johnson is one of the game's best running backs and can go the distance on every carry. He did have an off year by his standards, which meant only 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Kenny Britt has the potential to be very good at wideout and had a strong rookie season but also seems to find trouble and could potentially face suspension. Jared Cook is a solid weapon at tight end who played well down the stretch. The Titans usually have a terrific offensive line thanks to the coaching of now head coach Mike Munchak but this unit did struggle at times last year. I expect this unit to rebound if at the very least due to stability.
The defense has lost a lot of late and the front four looks to struggle. Losing defensive line coach Jim Washburn to Philadelphia is a big loss, most importantly as there is only one proven player in this unit and it's defensive end Jason Jones, who is moving from tackle to team up with last year's first round pick Derrick Morgan, who's rookie season was marred by injury. The tackles are the subpar Shaun Smith and the rookie Jurrell Casey. The linebacking unit lost its leader in Stephen Tulloch, who signed with Detroit, and his replacement is Barrett Ruud, who struggled last year in Tampa. Will Witherspoon does not have much left but Akeem Ayers looks to be a very good outside 'backer. The secondary should be strong and they are led by Cortland Finnegan at corner, who also has his contract coming up. Fellow corner Alterraun Verner and safeties Chris Hope and Michael Griffin are also solid players.
Prediction: 5-11


4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have been on the fringe of the playoffs but do not seem set on making a playoffs run or rebuilding. Teams that are stuck in the middle road unsure of whether they are contending or rebuilding often will fall apart, kinda like the Panthers did in 2010. The Jaguars brought upon themselves a quarterback controversy with the consistently underperforming David Garrard as well as first round pick Blaine Gabbert, who the Jags traded up to acquire. There seems to be no faith in Garrard from the organization and thus you will probably see Gabbert under center at some point this year, despite the fact that he, like all rookies, was hurt by the lockout. Maurice Jones-Drew is the steady rock that powers the offense and he has clearly made himself one of the elite backs in football but he does have some injury concerns with his knees, which should mean plenty of Rashad Jennings. The receiving corps, outside of tight end Marcedes Lewis, is awful as the two starting receivers right now are a decent possession guy (Mike Thomas) and a scrub (Jason Hill). The offensive line is a major weakness and the only proven, consistent player is centet Brad Meester, who recently turned 34. The team really needs Eugene Monroe to improve on the blindside. 
The club has a pretty good and talented tackle tandem in 2010 draft picks Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton but the ends are in a state of flux. Aaron Kampman is coming off two seasons marred by torn ACL's, signee Matt Roth is a poor fit in a 4-3 but Jeremy Mincey showed some promise down the stretch. The linebackers will be the top unit on the defense as the team brought in two quality players in Paul Posluszny and Clint Session to team up with Daryl Smith. This could be one of the more udnerrated linebacking units in football. Jacksonville's secondary was really bad last season but three of the starters from a year ago in corners Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, plus strong safety Courtney Greene. Dawan Landry was a good signing but he's not a natural free safety.
Prediction: 4-12

West
1. San Diego Chargers
The fact that this team missed the playoffs last year in this awful division speaks volumes to two things; Norv Turner is a terrible coach and that their special teams was pitiful. Unfortunately, Turner returns but since the special teams really cannot get any worse than it was last year and thus the Chargers will be back in the playoffs.
Philip Rivers did all he could last year with the offense around him in dire straits and although the club did not make the playoffs, it was by no means a reflection on Rivers' superb season. He threw for over 4,700 yards and 30 touchdowns despite little running game and all of the major receivers missing five games or more. ryan Mathews, who the Chargers paid a steep price for in the 2010 NFL draft, disappointed last year and only started nine games. He did play very well in the season finale last year, rushing for 120 yards and three touchdowns but did not come to training camp in shape. Look for fullback Mike Tolbert to get the carries if Mathews is hurt again. The receiving unit, which returns their top trio of Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates, returns completely healthy and in Jackson's case, not disgruntled about a contract. The Bolts' o-line has questions on the right side but has quality players at left tackle, Marcus McNeill, left guard, Kris Dielman, and center, Nick Hardwick.
The Chargers' defense was very strong last year but has a new defensive coordinator in Greg Manusky who replaces Ron Rivera, who is now coach of the Panthers. The defensive front consists of two very good players in defensive end Luis Castillo and nose tackle Antonio Garay with first round pick Corey Liuget at the other end spot. Liuget is not a very good fit in a 3-4 however. Shaun Phillips is one of the game's better pass rushers but the team has nothing opposite him as Larry English has done nothing in his NFL thus far. Stephen Cooper will man one of the inside spot and either the veteran Takeo Spikes or the rookie Jonas Mouton will man the spot opposite him. The secondary is very good and could be lethal if Bob Sanders could return to past form after missing 39 games the past three years.
Prediction: 10-6 (4th seed)


2. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs took advantage of an easy schedule in 2010 to win the AFC West as well as great coaching jobs from Charlie Weis on offense and Romeo Crennel in defense but not only is the schedule tougher but Weis is down in Florida as he took the job of offensive coordinator for the Gators. That is a really bad sign for quarterback Matt Cassel, who figures to struggle without Weis. Quite frankly, Cassel sucks. He doesn't have a strong arm and his accuracy is mediocre at best. He was already showing signs of regression down the stretch and was awful in the NFL playoffs. At least he has a talent at running back like Jamaal Charles alongside. Charles is one of the top breakaway threats at the position in the NFL but the team has to utilize him more despite his small frame. Thomas Jones is a capable back in reserve who helps keep Charles fresh by spelling him. Dewayne Bowe was ridiculous in 2010, catching 15 touchdowns, and while it's unreasonable to see him catch that many TD's, he should still have a good season, especially as the team has some help opposite him in first round pick Jon Baldwin. Baldwin has a lot of maturity issues but he's very talented and has plus size and speed. Steve Breaston was also brought in but he has knee concerns. Tony Moeaki proved to be a find at tight end as he was great as a rookie last year. The offensive line is a mess and the team will miss left guard Brian Waters.
The aforementioned Crennel did a tremendous job with this defense last year and the unit hopes to build on last year's success. The run defense was not great though and the hope is that Kelly Gregg, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, will help solve the problem. Defensive end Glenn Dorsey overcame a couple of disappointing seasons and rebounded with a solid 2010 and the hope is that Tyson Jackson on the other end slot can do the same in 2011. Tamba Hali was awesome last year rushing the passer off the edge as he totaled 14.5 sacks. Imagine how good he will be if the Chiefs can get third rounder Justin Houston, who dropped from the first round due to character concerns, up to speed on the other side. The best part of this defense is the secondary, led by corners Brandon Flowers and Brendan Carr, one of the best tandems at their position, as well as talented safety Eric Berry,
Prediction: 6-10


3. Oakland Raiders
New head coach Hue Jackson did a terrific job with the offense last year as coordinator and the player that seemed to benefit the most was Darren McFadden, who broke out last season and was simply terrific. In only 13 games he rushed for 1,157 touchdowns and seven touchdowns plus also caught 47 passes for 5-7 receiving yards. He looks like a star on the rise. He still has some injury concerns but Oakland has a very good backup in Michael Bush. Another player that was superb under Jackson was rookie wideout Jacoby Ford, who used his gamebreaker speed to become a feared weapon in the passing game. Unfortunately the rest of the receiving corps is thin and got even thinner when consistent tight end Zach Miller signed with the Seahawks and he will be sorely missed by quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell is an average quarterback at best and he needs great players around him. The team also does not seem to have much confidence in him. The offensive line looks to struggle again but there are high hopes for rookie center Stefen Wisniewski and the second year players at left tackle and guard in Jared Veldheer, who really struggled last year, and Bruce Campbell respectively.
The defense took a massive hit (not unlike the earthquake I just felt here in D.C. on August 23rd) when Nnamdi Asomugha, arguably one of the top two corners in football, signed with the Eagles. His departure will be felt throughout the defense. The team, which was third in the NFL in sacks a year ago, will not be as effective rushing the passer but the defensive line should still be good, even with Richard Seymour not getting any younger or less lethargic. Tommy Kelly is a solid tackle and the team has a promising end tandem in Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston. Kamerion Wimbley played really well at outside linebacker rushing the passer and also was surprisingly good in coverage. Rolando McClain looks to be a budding star at middle linebacker but Quentin Groves at the other outside linebacker spot is mediocre. The defensive unit most hurt by the Asomugha departure is obviously the secondary. Stanford Routt is no Asumugha but he's no slouch either and should be fine at the top corner spot but there are questions opposite him as well as at safety. Michael Huff was really solid last year but he's got a record for being lackadaisical and now with a new contract will probably return to his lazy self.
Prediction: 6-10


4. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have a competent head coach in Denver for the first time in a couple years as John Fox takes the reins of a depleted roster thanks to Josh McDaniels' bizarre personnel decisions. The quarterback appears to be Kyle Orton in 2011 but I've already touched on his mediocrity while also saying that Tim Tebow should be the starter but he's been so bad this preseason that he's been passed on the depth chart by Brady Quinn. In other words, the Broncos will be selecting one of the top quarterbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Fox loves to depend on the running game but starter Knowshon Moreno has disappointed in the last couple of seasons so look for signee Willis McGahee to potentially see the bulk of the carries. Brandon Lloyd came out of nowhere to have an impressive season in 2010 but there is very little around him, especially as last year's first round pick Demaryius Thomas returns from injury, likely in December. Outside of left tackle Ryan Clady, the offensive line is a major question mark.
The defense was awful in stopping the run and filled major holes at defensive tackle with a pair of major injury concerns in Patriots castoff Ty Warren as well as Eagles castoff Brodrick Bunkley. As the defense converts to a 4-3, look for an improved pass rush as Robert Ayers, who was sorely misfit in the 3-4 and Elvis Dumervil, returning from injury, should help the pass rush. Another who should help the pass rush is the number two pick in the draft, Von Miller, and while he's less effective as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 than a 3-4, he's still a tremendous athlete and a superb pass rusher. D.J. Williams will complement Miller on the weakside and he was great last year while middleman Joe Mays is decent. The secondary was killed often last year thanks to the poor pass rush and should improve but not by leaps and bounds. Champ Bailey is getting up there in age and his partner Andre Goodman is subpar. The ancient Brian Dawkins will start at strong safety despite the fact that he is a sore weakness in coverage and promising rookie Rahim Moore will start at free safety.
Prediction: 3-13






East
1. Philadelphia Eagles
This Eagles squad looks geared up for a Super Bowl run and the offseason they had proves that that is the case. Michael Vick does have his flaws but one cannot deny how electrifying he was last year after taking over for the soon to be traded Kevin Kolb in the season opener against Green Bay. The Eagles knew that he will probably miss some games and brought in Vince Young to be a backup, actually one of the better backups in the league. LeSean McCoy developed into one of the more versatile and explosive weapons out of the backfield and he's just as good at catching the football and he is at running with it. I don't get people who criticize DeSean Jackson for his route running but wouldn't you want a deep threat like him running pretty much go routes every play? Jeremy Maclin's bizarre illness could pose some problems as he really had a solid 2010 and thus the team brought in Steve Smith from the Giants but he won't be able to play until probably November. Tight end Brent Celek needs to hang onto more passes but he's one of the better tight ends in football. The line really had to improve and made great acquisitions in bringing in Ryan Harris and drafting Danny Watkins but the most important is legendary line coach Howard Mudd. The rest of the line looks solid.
This is going to be one of the toughest defenses in all of football thanks to a multitude of great pickups. The defensive line should be terrific rushing the passer with Trent Cole and Jason Babin on the ends and Cullen Jenkins at one of the tackle spots and you can't forget about legendary line coach Jim Washburn. The linebackers are a question mark with an exception of strongside 'backer Jamar Cheney. But the big move of the entire offseason was the Eagles signing Nnamdi Asomugha, making easily the best cornerback trio in football right now with him joining Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, acquired in the Kevin Kolb trade.
Prediction: 14-2 (1st seed)


2. New York Giants
Eli Manning threw an absurd amount of interceptions last year with 25 and while some were the fault of Hakeem Nicks and other tipped passes or deflections but that number has to come down and it will. The Giants' offense will benefit from the return of Ahmad Bradshaw, who chose to re-sign in the offseason and he and Brendan Jacobs should provide a solid rushing combo. Nicks was terrific last year with the exception of some lapses of concentration but he looks to be a stud. Mario Manningham takes over opposite him for Steve Smith and while he has inconsistent hands, he's a solid deep threat. The offense will miss Kevin Boss at tight end and the talented but unproven Travis Beckum takes over for him. The offensive line has some questions as well as guard Rich Seubert and center Shaun O'Hara departed in free agency with David Diehl and signee David Bass as replacements respectively. Diehl moves back to left guard from left tackle, which leaves the position in unproven Will Beatty's hands.
The Giants' pass rush has been one of the better in the league over the last several seasons and fans are wondering what will happen with the mercurial Osi Umenyiora, who after an awesome 2010 whined for a new contract, wanted to get traded and then faked an injury to get out of practice. Fortunately, Jason Pierre-Paul looks poised to have a breakout season and could fill Umenyiora's shoes if he leaves. But for now, the Giants have the makings of a lethal pass rush in Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Pierre-Paul. One of the tackle spots is set with Chris Canty but there is a hole next to him. The linebacking unit is solid with Michael Boley, Jonathan Goff, and the now healthy Mathias Kiwanuka. The secondary has major questions after both Prince Amukamara, the team's first round steal, and Terrell Thomas are out due to injury with Amukamara out indefinetly with a broken foot and Thomas for the season with a torn ACL. That leaves Corey Webster to have to pick up the slack and he's been inconsistent of late. At safety, Kenny Phillips is a very good strong safety but free safety Antrel Rolle is awful in coverage.
Prediction: 9-7


3. Dallas Cowboys
Now that the Cowboys  a competent head coach in Jason Garrett, the team should improve over the disappointing 2010. Having Tony Romo back from injury should help also and say what you want about him but Romo has been strong under Garrett and has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Running back Felix Jones looks poised for a breakthrough year and not only has great speed but is terrific out of the backfield in the passing game. Plus the team drafted DeMarco Murray out of Oklahoma and the tema is high on him. The Cowboys have a potentially great receiving trio in Miles Austin-Jones, Dez Bryant, and tight end Jason Witten. The offensive line was subpar last year but the team made the effort to try and improve the unit, most notably drafting Tyron Smith out of USC with the ninth pick and he should start at right tackle.
While the offense should be good, the defense quite possibly will suck again. The defensive front in this 3-4 has one saving grace in nose tackle Jay Ratliff because the ends, Igor Olshansky and Marcus Spears, are mediocre. DeMarcus Ware was tremendous as usual off the edge but Anthony Spencer has to step up his play. Bradie James is a very good inside linebacker but Keith Brooking is pretty far past his prime. The secondary is the major weakness here, especially at cornerback. Terence Newman's play has fallen off and Mike Jenkins has a pretty poor work ethic. Abram Elam is a solid free safety but forces Gerald Sensabaugh to convert to the strong safety position.
Prediction: 8-8


4. Washington Redskins
Don't worry Skins fans, Rex Grossman thinks this team will win the division. You know, with Grossman as the quarterback. If not John Beck. Mix in a little Kellen Clemens and folks in D.C. will be doing the hambone. Mike Shanahan has a reputation of turning mediocre backs into quality rushers and his new project is Tim Hightower, acquired via trade from Arizona who is a very good fit in the one-cut rushing attack plus he's a solid receiver. Whatever scrub the Redskins trot out at quarterback can either throw to the ancient Santana Moss, whatever mediocre receiver the Redskins trot out next to Moss, or to the tight end Chris Cooley, who would probably drop it plus is dealing with some injuries so it would be Fred Davis in that case. The line is pretty awful, save for Jammal Brown at right tackle, and left tackle Trent Williams greatly has to improve his play over a really poor 2010.
The Redskins did a great job in converting to a defense without the players equipped for the switch to a 3-4 last year and thus the pass rush was putrid. Plus in hopes of generating more pass rush outside of Brian Orakpo, the Redskins drafted a player, Ryan Kerrigan, who does not fit as a 3-4 edge rusher. Brilliant. Plus the inside 'backers aren't that much better off because London Fletcher can't play this well forever and Rocky McIntosh certainly did not last year.  The defensive line could be solid if two of the players, free agent acquisitions Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, live up to their big contracts that Dan Snyder loves to give out. Adam Carriker was a find. The secondary made a couple of solid signings in corner Josh Wilson and free safety O.J. Atogwe who will be joined by the mediocre DeAngelo Hall and the usually injured LaRon Landry. So basically, a division champion.
Prediction: 2-14


North
1. Green Bay Packers
Well the defending Super Bowl Champions have all the pieces in place to repeat and the conversation will always start with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has developed into one of the game's top quarterbacks following a terrific 2009 and 2010 plus an awesome run in the playoffs. His arm is tremendous he has great accuracy and he is one of the best at evading the rush. Rodgers is a complete quarterback. It also does not hurt that he has a strong receiving corps that gets better with Jermichael Finley returning from injury, who gives the Pack a big-time receiving threat at tight end. Greg Jennings is the lead dog of the unit and he has been working his ass off in the postseason. Donald Driver is clearly in decline and he has gotten passed by Jordy Nelson and James Jones. The running game is in question and it appears that Ryan Grant, returning from injury, and James Starks, the breakout performer of the playoffs, will share carries. Rodgers' knack for evading the pass rush makes the line look better but the unit as a whole really stepped up their game down the stretch, especially the tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga.
The offense may be lights out but the defense is pretty damn good as well and the face of this 3-4 is Clay Matthews, who has developed into one of the elite edge rushers in football. The Packers have been unable to develop a consistent pass rusher opposite Matthews and Erik Walden, Frank Zombo and Brad Jones will compete to try to fill that slot. The inside linebackers are very good in Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk. The defensive line should be tough to run the ball against with B.J. Raji, quietly becoming one of the best nose tackles, and Ryan Pickett at end, even with a hole at the other end. The secondary is stacked as well with Tramon Williams coming off an awesome 2010, the declining but still solid Charles Woodson, and the rising Sam Shields at cornerback plus one of the game's best free safeties in Nick Collins
Prediction: 14-2 (2nd seed)


2. Detroit Lions
The Lions are a chic team to make the playoffs after the run they made at the end of the season (including winning a road game) but if they want any shot at reaching the postseason they have to keep Matthew Stafford healthy as he has shown flashes of becoming a franchise quarterback but he has been consistently hurt. The reason why Stafford has been injury prone is because the Lions refuse to improve their offensive line with using high draft picks. Left tackle Jeff Backus has been consistently mediocre during his career and right tackle Gosder Cherilus has been worse. The guards, Rob Sims and Stephen Peterson, are fine but the center Dominic Raiola is subpar. The Lions were hoping to have a consistent running attack with the selection of Mikel Leshoure to form a little thunder and lightning action with the electric Jahvid Best but then Leshoure tore his Achilles tendon and is out for the season. The brittle Best cannot handle the load of being an everydown back. Fortunately, Stafford does have a strong receiving corps headline by Calvin Johnson, arguably the second best receiver in football, unless you consider him better than Andre Johnson. Nate Burleson is a solid number two receiver, rookie Titus Young has blazing speed, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew is coming off a solid season last year.
Folks are drooling over how good a defensive tackle tandem Ndamukong Suh and rookie Nick Fairley could be. The defending Defensive Rookie of the Year, Suh is a dominant pass rusher who seems to want to kill the quarterback every play. Fairley has his concerns with his maturity and his work ethic since he was a one year wonder but he does project to be a very good pass rusher. Reserve tackle Corey Williams would start for most teams. The ends combo of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril is an underrated one and should pile up sack numbers with all the attention drawn inside. The Lions made a great signing in Stephen Tulloch and he will form the middle of a solid linebacking crew where he'll flanked by fellow signing Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy. With the exception of talented free safety Louis Delmas, the secondary is pitiful once again as the corner tandem will be Chris Houston and Eric Wright.
Prediction: 8-8


3. Chicago Bears
Everyone made the Bears out to be a worse team than they really were last year but I doubt they will be able to duplicate last year's success. Jay Cutler got a lot of unnecessary crap after spraining his MCL in the NFC Championship Game and for no real reason. If you're hurt, quite frankly you're hurt and this wasn't turf toe he was dealing with. Anyways, Cutler was solid last year under Mike Martz, throwing a lot of interceptions but a solid chunk were not his fault and working with Martz for a second season will only help. He's got a quality weapon in Matt Forte, who got better running the football as the season wore on and is a great pass catcher. The receivers figure to be quality deep threat Johnny Knox and Cowboys castoff Roy Williams, who shall you not forget had the best season of his career under Martz in Detroit. Look for a lot of Devin Hester at wideout too. The Bears will miss Greg Olsen at tight end. Mike Tice will have his work cut out again on the offensive line as there are holes throughout the unit.
Julius Peppers proved to be worth the money he got in the offseason before last season as he had a terrific 2010 and helped his fellow end Israel Idonije have a breakthrough season. There are holes at defensive tackle, however. The linebackers will always be in good shape with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs leading things and the decent Nick Roach rounding out the bunch. Besides the hole at strong safety created by the departure of Danieal Manning, the secondary is a good featuring solid players in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings at corner and Chris Harris at free safety.
Prediction: 8-8


4. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are in a bit of a rebuilding mode under new head coach Leslie Frazier and while they won't be awful and they could certainly finish at 8-8, they're not a playoff team. Donovan McNabb does not have much in the tank left but he will be the placeholder for first round pick Christian Ponder. Ponder was a reach at the twelfth pick but he's a perfect fit for the West Coast offense in place. Either quaterback will benefit from having a running back like Adrian Peterson who, despite his fumbling problems, is one of the elite rushers in football. The top playmaker on offense outside of All Day is wideout Percy Harvin who has tremendous speed and has worked on his hands but his migraine problems are one to watch out for. Sidney Rice departed for Seattle so the other starter at receiver will be either Bernard Berrian or Michael Jenkins. Ouch. Forunately the Vikes have a potentially strong tight end pairing in Visathe Shiancoe and rookie steal Kyle Rudolph. The offensive line is a mess with only one quality starter in left guard Steve Hutchinson. The team finally cut ties with the fatass Bryant McKinnie but replaced him with Charles Johnson, formerly of the Colts. Ouch.
Even with Jared Allen and Kevin Williams returning, the defensive line will not be as stout as before thanks to the departures of Ray Edwards and Pat Williams. The run defense will suffer as a result but the team should still be able to rush the passer well. The linebacking unit also has two studs returning in E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway but Henderson's unproven brother Erin will fill out the unit on the weakside. The cornerbacks are in good shape with Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin and they are paired with the average strong safety Husain Abdullah and the below average Tyrell Johnson at free safety.
Prediction: 6-10


South
1. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has a strong 2010 but he threw an abnormally high amount of interceptions with 22. Expect that number to go down as Brees is fully healthy entering this season plus he's still one of the elite quarterbacks. He should have a much improved running game thanks to the selection of Mark Ingram in the 2011 NFL Draft plus the replacement of Reggie Bush by Darren Sproles. The receiving units will be solid as usual even with Marques Colston's injury concerns thanks to the solid possession receiver Lance Moore and Robert Meachem who seems ready for a breakout in 2011. Plus Jimmy Graham will be the full time tight end and the athletic Miami product showed a lot of talent towards the end of last season. The offensive line is stout on the inside, particularly after the acquisition of Olin Kreutz, who's still one of the better centers in football but the tackles need to step up their game.
The defensive line got some nice additions in the massive nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, an elite run stuffer, plus the skilled and versatile rookie Cameron Jordan. The line should get a solid pass rush from defensive end Will Smith and tackle Sedrick Ellis. The linebacking corps is inexperienced and unproven and it's critical for middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma to return to form. The secondary is pretty deep, especially with free safety Malcolm Jenkins back from injury, so they should be able to withstand Tracy Porter's injury problems by plugging in Patrick Robinson opposite Jabari Greer.
Prediction: 13-3 (3rd seed)


2. Atlanta Falcons
Not quite sure why teams are down on the Falcons. They had a great 13-3 before getting whupped by the Packers and had a successful offseason. The team is putting more of the load on Matt Ryan than ever this season thanks to the decline of the overworked Michael Turner and he seems more than ready to seize the opportunity. Ryan is one of the rising stars at his position in the league. Turner has carried the rock quite a bit the last two seasons and he seems like he could be in for a potential fall-off so we may see a healthy dose of Jason Snelling this year. Roddy White is awesome and he could be even better since he finally has a capable receiver opposite him in first round pick Julio Jones, who the Falcons paid a pretty penny to acquire but he looks the part of a very good complement to White. Can't imagine that Tony Gonzalez has anything left to be able to contribute. The offensive line was kept together, which was important for the Falcons to do but there is a pretty big hole at right guard.
The Falcons made a tremendous move to acquire Ray Edwards at defensive end rather than to overpay for Charles Johnson from Carolina. He should make a strong pairing with John Abraham plus Jonathan Babineaux at defensive tackle. The Falcons also have a solid linebacking corps with Stephen Nicholas, Sean Witherspoon and Curtis Lofton rounding out the unit in the middle. The Falcons made waves for bringing in Dunta Robinson before the 2010 season but Brent Grimes came out of nowhere to have a terrific season. There is a hole at strong safety and free safety Thomas McCoud is unspectacular.
Prediction: 12-4 (5th seed)


3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raheem Morris led a remarkable turnaround in Tampa last year and main reason why the team made the stark turnaround was the play of quarterback Josh Freeman, who had a terrific 2010. Freeman threw 25 touchdowns against only six picks and he improved during the stretch run as the club was in playoff contention. Also helping the Bucs was the emergence of LaGarrette Blount at running back, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and gave the team a punishing rusher. Freeman also has a talented receiving corps to work with as the talented second-year players Mike Williams and Arrelious Been at wideout and the returning from injury Kellen Winslow at tight end. The offensive line improved as the season wore on last year and the entire unit returns intact.
The Buccaneers have been working on building a strong offensive line and after spending their top two picks last season on defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, they spent their first two picks on defensive ends in Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. Clayborn and Bowers, who really fell in the draft after being projected by some to go to the top pick to Carolina, are already upgrades at end and if they play to their potential, Tampa could have its best defensive line in years. The linebacker unit has a hole at middle linebacker flanked by a pair of solid outside linebackers in Quincy Black and Geno Hayes. The team needs third round pick Mason Foster to contribute at the middle spot right away. Aqib Talib cannot stay out of trouble off the field and will likely be suspended for some time next season but for now, he's one of the top corners in football. The ageless Ronde Barber complements him and the secondary gets a big boost with Tanard Jackson back from injury.
Prediction: 11-5 (6th seed)


3. Carolina Panthers
Say what you want about Cam Newton and the draft pick but the Panthers had to take a quarterback at the top pick and Newton was their guy. Can't really fault them for that and Newton has the talent to be a stud with the big arm, athleticism and the leadership you want out of your franchise quarterback. He's still pretty raw however and this is not the season you want to break in a rookie quarterback so Newton is in for a rough start. He has little to work with at receiver as Steve Smith is pretty much done and there aren't any other proven wideouts but the team made a great acquisition in bringing in tight end Greg Olsen, who is easily now Newton's top target. Newton does have the advantage of a plus running game as the team has two starting caliber backs in DeAngelo Williams, who I wonder why they re-signed for so much money, and Jonathan Stewart plus Mike Goodson is a solid scatback as well. The Panthers, with right tackle Jeff Otah and left guard Travelle Wharton back from injury, have a very good offensive line with two of the best at their respective positions in left tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil.
New coach Ron Rivera made his money coaching defense and he has some pieces to work with. The defensive line is unproven outside of Charles Johnson at end, who broke out with 11.5 sacks last season. The Panthers way overpaid to keep him, in fact they paid him more than Nnamdi Asomugha, and they're hoping a one year wonder turns into a many year wonder (like how I did that? Sorry, no more, I promise). The Panthers boast a talented linebacking unit with four solid players competing for three slots. Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and James Anderson figure to be the starters with Dan Conner riding the pine. The team could have a solid corner duo in Chris Gamble and Captain (Jack) Munnerlyn is Gamble retuns from injury in top shape but the safeties are mediocre.
Prediction: 2-14


West
1. St. Louis Rams
You know I thought that Jimmy Clausen would have been a better quarterback than Sam Bradford. Well clearly, I'm a dumbass. Sam Bradford was awesome as a rookie last season despite the fact that his receiving corps was abysmal. Now not only has his receiving corps has improved but he has a brilliant new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels, who has made Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton look really good and Bradford is way more talented than both COMBINED. The Rams brought in Mike Sims-Walker and while he's no star, he is clearly the best receiver on the roster. Some are thinking Mark Clayton or Danario Alexander could break out and Danny Amendola is the team's Wes Welker. There are high hopes for rookie tight end Lance Kendricks. There are always high hopes for running back Steven Jackson, who gets some help this year with an improved offensive line and some quality backups in Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood, which should make him fresher. Speaking of the offensive line, the Rams filled up a void at left guard by signing Harvey Dahl, one of the better players at his position. The line is waiting for right tackle Jason Smith to reach his vast potential but the rest of the line is solid, particularly left tackle Rodger Safford.
Steve Spagnuolo has worked wonders with the defense in the Gateway City and instilled a strong pass rush as career years were gotten from tackle Fred Robbins and ends James Hall and Chris Long, who finally tapped into his immense potential. Robert Quinn, the Rams' first round pick, should offer some more reinforcements for the pass rush and Justin Bannan is a solid signing to pair with Robbins inside. If it wasn't for James Laurinaitis, the linebacking unit would be near the bottom of the league but fortunately the Ohio State product into someone on the verge of greatness. The corners are solid in Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher as well as solid as strong safety thanks to the addition of Quintin Mikell but there is a big hole at free safety.
Prediction: 8-8 (4th seed)


2. Arizona Cardinals
The quarterback position was a mess last year as Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton all made starts. The end result was an awful season and left Ken Whisenhunt in hot water. But the Cardinals made a brilliant move in swinging a deal for Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia as it appears that he and Larry Fitzgerald will make a top flight QB-WR connection. Fitzgerald wanted Kolb in Arizona and he got that wish and thus Fitz is happy and you never want an elite receiver like him disgruntled. The Cardinals have nothing proven opposite Fitzgerald and took a risk on tight end Todd Heap, who can be a vital weapon if he is healthy. The Cardinals need more out of their rushing attack and it's all on Beanie Wells now that talented rookie Ryan Williams is out for the season. Wells has had his ups and downs but he has been unable to put it all together and this may be his last chance. The offensive line is a mess as there are questions at every position except center with Lyle Sendlein. The team hopes that signees Daryn Colledge and Floyd Womack can help upgrade the line but the team is really subpar at tackle.
The defensive front in Arizona's 3-4 is pretty solid as ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are solid pass rushers and noseman Dan Williams is stout against the run. The pass rush from the outside linebackers is non existent as Joey Porter and Clark Haggins are both way over the hill. The Cards really need to replace the both. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington has a positive rookie campaign and the club is excited about him but his partner in crime Stewart Bradley, newly acquired in the offseason, hasn't been solid in a couple years. The team did lose Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kolb trade but more than made up for it with the Patrick Peterson selection in the first round as he has star potential. Greg Toler opposite him is a scrub but the Cards have a solid safety combo in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes.
Prediction: 8-8


3. San Francisco 49ers
There is excitement in the Bay Area with Jim Harbaugh running the show in San Fran after he got Stanford to an Orange Bowl victory. But that excitement is tempered by the fact that Alex Smith is still the quarterback despite his consistently subpar play. Maybe Harbaugh can get something out of him but it's doubtful. The team looks to be developing the athletic and strong armed Colin Kaepernick, who I'm a big fan of, but he's raw and coming out of a Pistol offense that does not get played in the NFL. Frank Gore is a stout back but cannot stay healthy worth a damn so the team is hoping rookie Kendall Hunter and second year back Anthony Dixon can help carry the load when Gore is hurt. The team has a solid receiving trio in Michael Crabtree, Braylon Edwards, and Vernon Davis. If Crabtree can stay healthy he can be a solid No. 1, Edwards is only on a one year deal so he'll actually have some motivation, and say what you want about Mike Singletary but he lit a fuse under Vernon Davis that turned him into a touchdown machine. The offensive line is a grab bag of good (Mike Iupati, Chilo Rachal, Joe Staley if healthy), decent (Jonathan Goodwin) and bad (Anthony Davis) with a hole at center.
Justin Smith has been a stud on the defensive line for San Francisco since he signed there a few years ago but he's the only source of pass rush on defense. The hope is that first round pick Aldon Smith can tap into his massive potential but he's converting from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and the lockout really hurt his development, which is a shame because the 49ers sorely need a solid rusher off the edge. The run defense took a massive hit when nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin signed with the Saints and the team does not have a solid replacement on roster. The team still has Patrick Willis, who's one of the elite linebackers in football. The secondary is shaky now that Nate Clements left for Cincinnati because while Carlos Rogers is a solid replacement, he is a clear downgrade. The rest of the unit is very inconsistent.
Prediction: 4-12


4. Seattle Seahawks
We may never know how the Seahawks made the playoffs last year (I would say winning in the playoffs was less surprising because the Seahawks are a very good home team and nobody was giving them a chance) because that team was awful. They actually made the team worse, starting at the quarterback position where Matt Hasselbeck gives way to Tarvaris Jackson which is such a downgrade, it's a joke. What will make Jackson look even worse than he did in Minnesota is that fact he will not have Adrian Peterson but rather Marshawn Lynch. I don't care about that epic run against New Orleans in the playoffs, Lynch sucks and was not good in Seattle before that game. The receiving unit could be pretty good if Mike Williams builds on his resurgent 2010 and if Sidney Rice bucks the trend of big money receivers failing in Seattle but the signing of tight end Zach Miller from Oakland was a great one. The line needs to be improved and fortunately line coach Tom Cable is one of the best at doing just that. He has a solid left tackle in Russell Okung to work with.
The defensive line was pretty solid last year and generated a solid pass rush and stout at times against the run. The key will be if Chris Clemens and Raheem Brock can repeat the sacks numbers they put up last year. The team really gave Lofa Tatupu the shaft even though his skills were in decline and the team had David Hawthorne waiting in the wings. The outside linebackers are mediocre as if the secondary which struggled as a whole last year with the exception of rookie free safety Earl Thomas
Prediction: 4-12



Wild Card
(6) Jets over (3) Texans
(5) Ravens over (4) Chargers

Divisional
(1) Patriots over (6) Jets
(2) Steelers over (5) Ravens

over 

Wild Card
(3) Saints over (6) Buccaneers
(5) Falcons over (4) Rams

Divisional
(5) Falcons over (1) Eagles
(3) Saints over (2) Packers

over

over


Awards Predictions
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
Offensive Player of the Year: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City
Defensive Player of the Year: Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona
Coach of the Year: Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams
Comeback Player of the Year: Plaxico Burress, WR, New York Jets

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