Well, it's been a year, and I've been busy. I know all of you have been impatiently waiting for my 2011 NFL Preview, so I will now bless you with it. I just looked at my picks from last year, and I did OK. I completely whiffed on my AFC pick for the Super Bowl, but nailed the Packers winning it. All that being said, here we go.
1. New England Patriots
I don't think there's any question who wins the division this year. The Patriots are the best team in the division and have bolstered their offense. With the addition of Chad Ochocinco, I think the offense will be VERY good. They still aren't the best rushing team, but they don't have to be. My questions for this team's ability to make it far in the playoffs starts with the back 8 in the defense. They have a great defensive line, and the addition of Albert Haynesworth makes them even better. That being said, they have no one who can rush the quarterback, and they just released their Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather. Most people don't question anything Bill Belichick does, but I do. Anyway, I don't like the Patriots, so I'm done talking about them.
2. Miami Dolphins
I like a lot of the things the Dolphins have to offer. I'm probably losing my mind, but I think Reggie Bush will have a career year, Brandon Marshall is an absolute freak, and their offensive line can give Chad Henne some time. I'm just worried about Chad Henne. He's not good, but he still has NFL ability, and when you're given time and throwing to a guy like Marshall, you've got a chance. Defensively, Miami has a good secondary and Mike Nolan knows what he's doing. Along with that, they have a pretty deep defensive line with the ability to get pressure on any down. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but the Dolphins appear to be rising up the ranks of the AFC and I believe that starts in 2011.
3. New York Jets
Surprise, surprise. The Jets will finish third in their division, but talk about how great they are, and how they're going to the Super Bowl. Rex Ryan is apparently getting his severe narcissism from a new tattoo, has a foot fetish, and signed a 34 year old ex-convict to somehow make his below average quarterback look better. I haven't bought into this team yet, and this year changes nothing. LT is a year older, Shonn Greene is a year fatter, and Mark Sanchez is terrible. I'm going to make a guarantee about the Jets. They will not make the playoffs this year. Write that down.
4. Buffalo Bills
What can I say about the Bills? They have a couple of players I like. C.J. Spiller, and Marcell Dareus. Goodness, that's about it. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a smart QB, with no real ability. Stevie Johnson was a flash in the pan. I think they'll be a little better than last year on both sides of the ball, but that's not saying much.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
I was wrong about them last year, thinking they would get an early boot in the playoffs. Roethlisberger is a winner and I think I just need to come to grips with that. They're the best team in the division, and probably the entire AFC. Most people believe this is the typical smash mouth Steelers team of years past, but not so fast my friend. Rashard Mendenhall plays second fiddle in the offensive gameplan to the passing attack, and it's working out well for Pittsburgh. Mendenhall is a talented back, but he likes to put the ball on the turf. I don't really need to say much about the defense, because it will be stellar as usual. If Polamalu can stay healthy, the Steelers will have the top ranked defense yet again. It won't hurt either that they get to play the Bengals and the Browns twice. It's hard to see this team losing in the playoffs.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Here's the problem with the Ravens: Age. They're too old on defense, and too young on offense. If you know me, you know my favorite player to watch on the defensive side of the ball is Ed Reed. Overall, he's been the best football player on the field for the past 8 years. You disagree? That's fine. I know more than you. But, the rest of the defense is just old. Ray Lewis is still a great football player, but he can't do what he used to, nor can Terrell Suggs. All that, and the rest of the secondary just isn't elite like it used to be. On offense, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice lead the attack, and while they're good, they don't have consistent results due to the passing game. Flacco hasn't had a good down field receiver since he's been in the league. Flacco needs to be Anquan Boldin's best friend this year. Boldin is the only receiver on the team with experience and results. The Ravens drafted Maryland WR Torrey Smith, who I believe will be a very good receiver in the NFL, but probably not this year. They traded for Lee Evans, but I don't have much faith in tiny receivers. This team just has too many questions. They make the playoffs, but I don't see a run.
3. Cleveland Browns
Oh the Browns. I like them, and it's all because of Colt McCoy. That being said, they're not good. Peyton Hillis is a tough runner, but defenses will slow him down this year. I promise you that. (I immediately regretted drafting him on one of my fantasy teams.) I think the Browns are about 3 years away from being a legitimate playoff contender, but they might not win 6 games this year. I do know they'll win two against the Bengals though. I expect Colt McCoy to have a breakout year throwing to Mohamed Massaquoi, Greg Little, and Benjamin Watson. If he does that, I don't see how anyone can say anything bad about the kid. I guarantee that 90% of America has no idea who those guys are. Without cheating, none of the 4 people who read this can name where they went to college. I think they'll be better on defense this year, especially rushing the quarterback. All I can say is, if Mike Holmgren can turn this team around, and I think he will, he deserves a Nobel Prize or something equivalent.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
I'm going to go off for a second. I love and hate this team. I'm a Bengals fan. That happened when I was a little kid and they had a blonde hair, left handed quarterback named Boomer Esiason. I wanted to be him. Then they drafted one of the best collegiate wide receivers ever, in Peter Warrick. The love became even stronger. Then, it was all solidified when my best friend/brother was drafted by them in 2004. I even said the Bengals would choose him in the 3rd round. Probably the greatest call I've ever made. Do I regret that for him? I absolutely do. So for that, I apologize. (Now picture me yelling.) THE BENGALS ARE THE WORST FRANCHISE IN ALL OF SPORTS. MIKE BROWN IS AN IDIOT. SHORT OF DONALD STERLING, HE IS THE SINGLE WORST PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS! I AM 100% CONFIDENT THAT I COULD RUN THE TEAM BETTER THAN HIM! MIKE BROWN IS A DISGRACE TO HIS FATHER. I think I've calmed down now, and I may have gone a little too far with the last one, but I don't care. My goodness, I actually was mad while typing all of that. I like what the Bengals did with the additions of Andy Dalton, and A.J. Green, but they TRADED CHAD OCHOCINCO AND WON'T GIVE CARSON PALMER A TRADE??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? PALMER HAS BEEN THE CORNERSTONE OF THAT FRANCHISE SINCE THE DAY HE WALKED IN! TRADE THE MAN. YOU MORONS! HE HASN'T SAID ONE BAD WORD ABOUT THE AWFUL FRANCHISE, FINALLY SPEAKS UP, AND YOU SAY HE ISN'T A MAN? Wow. I'm done. I hate Mike Brown. Oh yeah, about this year. Marvin Lewis isn't a good head coach, and shouldn't be one, but oh wait, there's the Mike Brown thing again. The only good things about this team are Cedric Benson, and Mike Zimmer. That man somehow turns trash into treasure. I can't write anymore.
1. Indianapolis Colts
This team begins and ends with Peyton Manning. That is a blessing, and a curse. The Colts haven't been able to get him much help lately, and that showed with him throwing 679 times last year. That is not a typo, or a guess. The receiving corps is good, but that's mostly because of Manning. I really like this team though. I actually think they make it to the Super Bowl again. Only because of a man, that currently has an injured neck. They made some defensive moves this offseason, and I like them. Their linebackers are very fast, and playing in a zone defensive scheme, that's huge. Former Lions and Eagles LB, Ernie Sims, is a great addition. I know that I'll have plenty of people disagree with me on the choice of the Colts playing in the Super Bowl, and I completely understand, I just have faith in this team.
2. Houston Texans
Will this be the year? I think so! I've picked the Texans to go to the playoffs so many times, and so many times, they've disappointed. This offseason, they went out and grabbed a great corner in Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, a serviceable safety. They're young, they're athletic, and will surprise some people, especially Indianapolis in week 1. Matt Schaub is probably the most underrated quarterback in the league, and has the second best wide receiver in Andre Johnson. (Larry Fitzgerald is number one.) I don't know how much I believe in Arian Foster though. He was great last year, but he's already slowed down by a hamstring injury. But it's time Texan fans! Rejoice! 2011 is the year you finally have a reason to watch the NFL playoffs!
3. Tennessee Titans
Matt Hasselbeck is still a decent QB. Chris Johnson can score every time he touches the ball. Kenny Britt is a good WR, but given his recent actions, may be mentally handicapped. I don't like a lot about this team, and I don't think they'll be very good. I especially don't like Cortland Finnegan.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Dear Maurice Jones-Drew,
Don't play this year. There really is no point. David Garrard is your QB, and your front office allowed your best option at WR to go to the Rams. Teams are literally going to play 9 men in the box, and you're probably going to get hurt in week 3. So, save your legs for another year, or another team, and sit out this year. Trust me, you'll appreciate it later.
That's what I would tell him if I had the platform to make that happen. The Jaguars have a chance to be pretty solid in a couple years, but that's ONLY if MJD can stay healthy and not carry the ball 400 times a year. I don't see them winning more than 4 games.
1. San Diego Chargers
This team is loaded on offense. We all know that, we've all seen it. Philip Rivers is a top 5 QB, Vincent Jackson is an excellent downfield threat, Antonio Gates (when healthy) is the best TE in the league. Offensively, the only thing I'm not high on is the running game. Ryan Mathews doesn't appear to be the excellent RB they thought they were getting when they drafted him out of Fresno State, but he's young and that could change. They let Darren Sproles go to New Orleans in the offseason, and I'm not sure what the thought process was for that. I'm not sure what to think about hem on defense. They signed the 58 year old Takeo Spikes, and Eric Weddle is just a liability in the secondary. The defensive guru Ron Rivera now has his hands full in Carolina, and I think they'll see how much they miss him. All that being said, I think we'll see the typical Chargers team this year: Start off slow, finish strong, early playoff exit.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
I think they take a step back this year. I like them though, I think just with a tougher schedule this year, they won't make it to the playoffs again. But they're doing everything right with their franchise, and it will pay off over the next couple of years when the power in the AFC West goes to the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles will be a very good running back for the next 5-7 years and the defense will only get better in the years to come. Without being long winded, I really like them.
3. Oakland Raiders
Despite all of Al Davis' efforts, the Raiders are becoming a decent football team. Jason Campbell is decent and Darren McFadden is probably the second best RB in the league, ability wise. He's huge, strong, fast, elusive, and a great receiver out of the backfield. Now he just needs to stay healthy and show the world how great he is. The defense will obviously be worse without Nnamdi Asomugha, but they have a good front 7 and can really get to the quarterback. If the offensive line blocks well this year, I really expect them to upset a lot of teams this year.
4. Denver Broncos
They're awful. Kyle Orton can't throw over 20 yards, and their number "one" receiver is Brandon Lloyd. He's had a career full of highlights, but he's only had one consistent year, and that was last year. So, we'll see if he can pull it off again. The defense won't be any better than last year, even though Elvis Dumervil is back and supposedly healthy. Josh McDaniels left this team in quite disarray, and the poor Broncos fans have to live with this for the foreseeable future.
To summarize my predictions:
AFC East - New England Patriots
AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South - Indianapolis Colts
AFC West - San Diego Chargers
Wild Card - Baltimore Ravens
Wild Card - Houston Texans
Wildcard Round - Houston over New England, Baltimore over San Diego
Divisional Round - Pittsburgh over Houston, Indianapolis over Baltimore
AFC Championship - Indianapolis over Pittsburgh
I hope you've enjoyed my rants, I'll be posting my NFC predictions later this week. Thanks.