Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 Playoff Prediction: Super Bowl XLVI

Regular Season Awards:
MVP: QB Philip Rivers (San Diego)
DPOY: OLB Jerod Mayo (New England)
OROY: WR Julio Jones (Atlanta)
DROY: CB Jimmy Smith (Baltimore)

NFC Playoffs
#1 - New Orleans (13-3)
#2 - Green Bay (13-3)
#3 - Philadelphia (12-4)
#4 - Arizona (8-8)
#5 - *Dallas (10-6)
#6 - *Atlanta (10-6)

AFC Playoffs
#1 - Pittsburgh (13-3)
#2 - New England (13-3)
#3 - San Diego (12-4)
#4 - Houston (11-5)
#5 - *Baltimore (12-4)
#6- *Indianapolis (11-5)

* = Wild Card

NFC Championship Game:
Green Bay vs. New Orleans

AFC Championship Game:
San Diego vs. New England

Super Bowl XLVI - Green Bay over San Diego.

-- OK. So I know nobody cares that I correctly nailed my Preseason Super Bowl pick last year: GB over PIT, but this is my official 2011 projection. All across the NFL, no team strikes me as being quite as complete as the Green Bay Packers. The team is stacked with weapons around a stud, young, and hungry QB in Aaron Rodgers. I think Philip Rivers or Aaron Rodgers wins the regular season MVP this year, and both QBs meet in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. Repeating as Super Bowl Champs is always a difficult feat to accomplish, as it doesn't happen often, but the Packers are reloading with talent this year for a serious run at it. Let's see what happens in 2011, I'm stoked.

NFC East: 2011 Outlook

The self-described "Dream Team" had an offseason unlike any other offseason in recent memory. Adding free agent after free agent, the Philadelphia Eagles appear to be making a serious push to take the next step as a team. In 2011, the NFC East will play against the AFC East and NFC West.

1 - Philadelphia (12-4)
While I'm not jumping all the way in on the Philadelphia Eagles, they're definitely one of the best teams in the NFC. I think they'll struggle in a couple games early, as they try to find their identity as a team. The additions of Nnamdi, Cullen Jenkins, DRC, and Jason Babin certainly won't make the Defense any worse. To go along with their improved Defense, the Offense lines up as impressive of a lineup as you'll find in the NFL in Mike Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin. Good team, wins the NFC East, and looks beyond.
2 - Dallas (10-6)
The Cowboys are flying a little under the radar heading into this year. With Tony Romo healthy again, Dallas figures to have an explosive Offensive attack under Jason Garrett's lead. I'm fully expecting Felix Jones to break out this year, a la LeSean McCoy's 2010 campaign. What will take this team to the Playoffs is the improved Defense under new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. Watch out for the Cowboys - this team could contend for the NFC East title, or they could tank if the injury bug bits again.
3 - New York Giants (9-7)
In the Preseason, the G-Men have lost starting CB Terrell Thomas for the year, rookie CB Prince Amukamara until probably October, and rookie DT Marvin Austin for significant time. This is not the way they wanted to head into 2011. It sounds as if the team never really thought WR Steve Smith leaving was a real possibility, but he did, and will now play for divisional foe Philadelphia. I think Eli bounces back and throws fewer picks, but the Giants remain just a tad above average.
4 - Washington Redskins (3-13)
John Beck or Rex Grossman? Both have looked better than I expected in the Preseason; however, when those two are battling to become your team's starter, you can't be in great shape. I like Tim Hightower this year from a Fantasy standpoint, as he should put up good numbers for Mike Shanahan and Co. I like the pick of Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan to play bookend to OLB Brian Orakpo. This team struggles all year, could be in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

AFC East: 2011 Outlook

The AFC East has recently been a two-horse race between the Jets and Patriots, and I don't see any reason why 2011 will be different. This division will play against the AFC West and the NFC East in 2011.

1 - New England (13-3)
Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft... The New England Patriots have been as consistent as they come for the past decade. I think the Jets have the personnel and coaching to overtake them someday, but I don't think that day will come this season. Adding Chad Ochocinco should prove to be a huge addition to the Offense, giving them another weapon on the outside to open things up even more for their impressive duo of Tight Ends. Once again, the Pats will be in the Super Bowl conversation.
2 - New York Jets (10-6)
I like a lot of things about the Jets - their coach, their defense, their running game... However, I'm not a big fan of Mark Sanchez. I just can't see him getting to the big game. He deserves all the credit in the world for 2 AFC Championship appearances in his first 2 seasons as starter, but I just don't think he's anywhere near the QB that other Super Bowl contenders have (NE, GB, IND, SD, PHI, NO, HOU, ATL, etc). The Defense is among the league's elite, and the Offense is good enough. The Jets will contend for a Wild Card.
3 - Miami (8-8)
Listening to Mike & Mike last week, their expectations for the Dolphins were incredibly low. I like the Dolphins quite a bit more than Golic and Greenberg; I think they have an extremely underrated Defense and an Offense that could surprise some people. While I'm not a believer in Reggie Bush as an every-down back, I do believe rookie Daniel Thomas can do enough to give them a reliable tandem on the ground. Cameron Wake continues ascent, remains among NFL's sack leaders in 2011.
4 - Buffalo (5-11)
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a solid year in 2010, and I think he continues his strong play this season. I like what Stevie Johnson gives their Offense (except for the ill-advised tweets blaming a higher power for dropping a TD pass to beat the Steelers... but... anyhow...) I'm anxious to see what happens at RB between C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and I also am anxious to see how their Linebackers perform. Adding Kirk Morrison and Nick Barnett to a LB corps that already had veterans Andra Davis and Shawne Merriman... could be something to watch.

NFC West: 2011 Outlook

The NFC West was the worst division in all of football last year, and I don't expect 2011 to be any different. The Cardinals appear to be improved on paper, and the Rams should be competitive with a year of experience under QB Sam Bradford's belt. This division will face off against a couple of the deeper divisions in the NFL: the NFC East and the AFC North.

1 - Arizona (8-8)
The Cardinals were atrocious on Offense last year because of their porous QB play. The combination of Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, and Richard Bartel produced just 10 Passing TD all year, against 19 combined INT. Wow. By acquiring QB Kevin Kolb and extending WR Larry Fitzgerald's contract, the future looks a little brighter for the Cardinals. I think this team improves, and they battle St. Louis down the stretch for the NFC West title.
2 - St. Louis (8-8)
The Rams had a successful year in 2010; they were a Week 17 win shy of winning the division and heading to the Postseason. Sam Bradford looks the part, and I'm expecting big things from him this year with Josh McDaniels in charge of their Offense. The Defense is better than most give them credit for, and in a weak division, the Rams could make some serious noise. I have both STL and ARI going 8-8; however, it came out that I had the Cardinals sweeping the Rams to win the NFC West.
3 - San Francisco (5-11)
I was a bit surprised that the 49ers were so passive in Free Agency. They let go of CB Nate Clements, and then waited around to replace him with Carlos Rogers. Bringing in Braylon Edwards should prove to be a good move for their not-so-explosive Offense. This team has decent talent; they boast probably the best Linebacker in the league in Patrick Willis. San Fran is good enough to beat anyone in their division, but I think they fall short of being a Playoff contender in 2011.
4 - Seattle (4-12)
How the hell did the Sea-chickens make the Playoffs last year? Outside of a memorable Marshawn Lynch TD last year in the Playoffs, the team didn't make any league-wide noise whatsoever. They tried to bolster their Offense with the additions of WR Sidney Rice (MIN) and TE Zach Miller (OAK), but when they gave Tarvaris Jackson the keys to the Offense, I knew there was no way this team could contend in 2011. Just not a good football team.

AFC West: 2011 Outlook

The AFC West appears to be a division completely up for grabs; San Diego seems to have the most talent, yet Oakland is coming off a season where they went 6-0 in the division, all while the Chiefs are the defending division champions. The West has a bit of a tough draw as far as scheduling in 2011, playing against the NFC North, and the AFC East.

1 - San Diego (12-4)
I'm just waiting for the year that the Bolts put it all together and make a deep playoff run. While I'm not a huge fan of Norv Turner, the Chargers boast one of the league's elite QBs, and serious MVP candidate, in Philip Rivers. If I had to make a Preseason MVP pick, I'd go with Rivers or Aaron Rodgers. Not only is Rivers a great player, but they have formidable weapons around him in the form of huge WR Vincent Jackson, and All-World TE Antonio Gates. The Defense is good enough, the Offense can keep up with anyone. I'm on the San Diego bandwagon this year.
2 - Kansas City (7-9)
The Chiefs caught me, and a lot of others for that matter, by surprise last season. I had previously considered Jamaal Charles as a speedy change-of-pace back, certainly not the first-tier NFL RB he's become. K.C. is coming off a successful season that ended with a home playoff game against Baltimore. I think Dwayne Bowe comes up a bit short of his 15 TD campaign in 2010, and the team takes a small step back in 2011. Chiefs will beat some good teams, not be a contender.
3 - Oakland (6-10)
The Raaaaaidaaas *Chris Berman Voice* enter 2011 with a higher level of confidence than they've had in recent years past. Last season, Oakland went 6-0 against their divisional foes. Darren McFadden stayed healthy and finally looked like the dynamic player they thought he'd be when drafting him #4 overall in 2008. Losing Nnamdi won't help anything for the Raiders, and I just flat out don't like this team's roster enough to consider them a contender. However, I think one of OAK's WRs will break out - J. Ford or D. Moore.
4 - Denver (3-13)
Pretty much all you hear out of Broncos camp is "Tebow this, Tebow that." With Kyle Orton cemented in as the team's opening day starter at QB, the Broncos should be a more competitive team. Orton orchestrated a solid passing attack for Denver in 2010, and I think the Offense should remain a step ahead with him than where they'd be with Tebow. The Defense was porous last year, but the pass rush should improve drastically with the return of Elvis Dumervil, and the addition of 2nd overall pick Von Miller. The team struggles in 2011; could Stanford Alum John Elway be staring Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the face?

NFC South: 2011 Outlook

The NFC South will play against a couple tough divisions in 2011: the NFC North, very tough from top-to-bottom, as well as the AFC South.

1 - New Orleans (13-3)

For being the defending Super Bowl Champs, The Saints flew under the radar much of last year despite having a solid season. While they had a poor showing in the 2010 postseason against Seattle, the team gave a solid defense for their Championship. I think this Offense continues to be among the league's best, and the Defense plays more consistent football in 2011. One of the best couple teams in the NFC.
2 - Atlanta (10-6)
The Falcons were already a good team last year, but they figure to be even more explosive on Offense in 2011. The addition of Julio Jones should be an instant upgrade over Michael Jenkins as the 2nd WR playing opposite stud #1 WR Roddy White. Originally I thought by trading up for Jones, Atlanta ignored bigger problems on the Defense. That's not the case. The team brought back Brent Grimes, and bolstered their pass rush by signing Ray Edwards. The Saints win the division, the Falcons go back to the Playoffs.
3 - Tampa Bay (8-8)
The Bucs came out of nowhere last year, and really caught the league by surprise. Called "youngry" by Head Coach Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay is an exciting young team that's looking to build on a successful 2010 campaign. QB Josh Freeman appears on the verge on stardom, and he has some real weapons in RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Kellen Winslow and WR Mike Williams. This is a good team, capable of making the Playoffs, but I think they take a step back in 2011.
4 - Carolina (4-12)
I think the Panthers have more talent than people may realize. If they're completely healthy, and that's a big "if", Carolina's got some serious potential on Defense. Jon Beason is an absolute beast; he should continue his ascent among the top LB's in the league, and Thomas Davis is as quick of a LB that you'll find. This team will struggle behind a 1st-year Head Coach and a Rookie QB, but they're good enough to beat some good teams.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

AFC South: 2011 Outlook

I'm as excited to see what happens in the AFC South as I am about any other divisional battle in football. In 2011, The AFC South plays against a couple solid divisions - the tough NFC South and the consistently top-heavy AFC North.

1 - Houston (11-5)
It seems weird not putting the Colts atop the South in a season projection; however, The Texans have been on a team consistently getting more and more competitive in the division. Arian Foster should have another solid year on the ground; the passing game has been among the league's in elite for several years. I think Wade Phillips improves this Defense this year, and that's the difference for the Texans as they win the AFC South for the first time ever.
2 - Indianapolis (11-5)
As much as I'm expecting from the Houston Texans in 2011, I'm equally as confident in the Indianpolis Colts being contenders yet again. It remains to be seen what the situation is with Peyton Manning's nick, but signing Kerry Collins can't be a good sign for his Week 1 availability. Manning is a warrior, so I don't expect him to miss much time. I have the Texans sweeping the Colts, giving them a slight edge over Indy for the AFC South title.
3 - Tennessee (4-12)
The Chris Johnson holdout has to be getting to be a little worrisome for the Titans, though I think a new contract will be in place before Week 1. While Matt Hasselbeck should provide some stability at the QB position, I don't expect him to drastically improve this team. I'm not expecting much from this team on either side of the ball. Kenny Britt should put up good numbers if he can stay healthy and out of trouble.
4 - Jacksonville (3-13)
Though they suggest otherwise every now and again, The Jags just don't strike me as a serious contender. Maurice Jones-Drew has been among the best players at his position since he became the team's starter, but the wear and tear of recent years may be adding up. MJD played hurt much of last year, and I outside of emerging TE Marcedes Lewis, I don't expect much more out of their Offense.

NFC North: 2011 Outlook

The division will play the AFC West and NFC South; the AFC West is one of the more favorable draws from top to bottom, while the NFC South is a strong division overall. Similarly, last year the North played a tough division in the form of the NFC East, as well as a top-heavy division in the AFC East.

1 - Green Bay (13-3)
The Super Bowl Champs are back in 2011; the Packers figure to be better this year than they were last year. With the return of TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant, Green Bay is poised for another deep Playoff run. Defense should remain among NFL's elite, and the Pack is hungry for NFC North Title after finishing 2nd last year. I think this is a huge year for Finley, watch for RB James Starks to become the feature back over Grant early in the year. Rodgers will have his best year yet.
2 - Detroit (9-7)
There are a lot of people drinking the Detroit Lions Kool-Aid heading into the 2011 season. Last year, the Lions narrowly lost to numerous good teams such as Chicago twice (though they basically won the 1st game: Calvin Johnson TD), Philadelphia, Green Bay (once), the New York Giants, and the New York Jets. I expect them to win some of these close games this year. Suh and that D-Line are downright scary. If team stays healthy, I see the Lions having their first winning season since 2000.
3 - Chicago (7-9)
In my personal opinion, their 11-5 record wasn't indicative of the quality of team they were. Chicago has one of the better Defenses in the NFC, behind veterans Peppers, Urlacher, and Briggs. However, while their Defense should be strong again, I'm not sure that I trust the Offense, namely the Quarterback. This is one of my bold predictions of the year as far as teams taking a step back in 2011; I don't see the Bears better than .5oo.
4 - Minnesota (6-10)
It looked for a while like the Vikings were prepared to roll with Rookie QB Christian Ponder as the team's starter. After acquiring Donovan McNabb from Washington, the Vikings appear to be in a more promising place for the upcoming season. I think Leslie Frazier utilizes Adrian Peterson better than Childress did, and he has a huge year individually. The team is good enough to beat some good teams, but just not a great team.

AFC North: 2011 Outlook

After going through the schedules, it's clear that the heavyweights of the AFC North have a relatively favorable schedule. The divisions on their schedule are the NFC Worst (, West) and the AFC South.

1 - Pittsburgh (13-3)
While they figure to their share of tough games against Baltimore, Indianapolis, Houston, and New England, the Steelers will be favored in most games in 2011. I think they lose 3 all year, and contend for Home-Field Advantage again in the AFC. Behind Ben's big arm, I see another big year from Mike Wallace; Pitt is a mainstay among the AFC Elite.
2 - Baltimore (12-4)
The Ravens are a team on the rise - one of these years I think they'll make a run to the Super Bowl behind that always great Defense. Self-described "damn good Quarterback" Joe Flacco will be under the microscope this year, as the team looks to have all the right pieces around him. Expect a huge year for Ray Rice, this is a playoff team.
3 - Cleveland (5-11)
After an impressive start to the 2011 Preseason, there are a lot of people on the Colt McCoy Bandwagon. While I was a huge fan of Colt at Texas, I wasn't sure about his NFL future. If McCoy can be a reliable NFL QB, then along with Peyton Hillis, Cleveland's Offense should be improved. Watch for Greg Little to emerge as #1 WR.
4 - Cincinnati (2-14)
Bengals fans have been reeling for a while now. At least they had a slight glimmer of hope in dynamic, albeit diva WR Chad Ochocinco and QB Carson Palmer. With both players out of the picture, Cincinnati turns to rookie replacements at both positions, 2nd round QB Andy Dalton and #4 overall pick WR A.J. Green. Rebuilding year.

Jermichael Finley: YOTTO2

Jermichael Finley has been active for the Pack's past two Preseason games, Arizona and Indianapolis, respectively. Say what you want about his lack of a filter, but it's been exciting to see 88 back in action. QB Aaron Rodgers seems to look Finley's way the most of any other option when he's at full strength. Along with an All-Pro on the outside in Greg Jennings, opposing Defenses are going to have their work cut out for them trying to stop the spread attack of the Packers. Finley is the very definition of a "matchup nightmare"; he is too big for D-backs, and too quick for Linebackers.

We saw a glimpse of what may be to come for the Pack TE this season when we saw a beautiful 18-yard TD strike from Rodgers to Finley. J-Mike got a couple steps on Colts LB Pat Angerer, and capitalized on a beautiful ball from A-Rod for their first (unofficial) TD hookup of the season. Jermichael labeled last season as "YOTTO", for the "year of the takeover". We know how last season ended for the Pack; Finley is now slapping the "YOTTO2" label on the 2011 season. Pack Nation can only hope for a similar result, ideally ending right where we saw J-Mike's first TD last night - Indianapolis.