The 2011 NFL season starts in less than 24 hours. The Thursday night opener with the New Orleans Saints traveling to Green Bay is probably the best opening night matchup since its inception in 2002. To have a little fun and to get acquainted with the post-lockout NFL after an offseason of disregarding the lockout shenanigans, I have 10 predictions for the 2011 season:
1) The Rams will not win the NFC West:
First 8 weeks of season. Philly, at NYG, Baltimore, Washington, BYE, at Green Bay, at Dallas, New Orleans. Also play at a better Cleveland and at Pittsburgh. Strong possibility that don't win more than 2 of those games. Sam Bradford still doesn't have any signature weapons to throw the ball to and is working with a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. I sense a sophomore slump.
2) Lions make the playoffs:
Most people are picking the Lions to be better, but I will go a step further and put them in the playoffs, which will be no tall task in the NFC. In my opinion the first 5 positions are accounted for with the Eagles, Packers, Saints, and whoever comes out of the NFC West. Falcons are heavily picked to win a wild card spot, so that leaves strong competition for the last spot. If Suh and Fairley can wreak havoc like a young Bryant Young/Dana Stubblefield and Matthew Stafford can stay healthy all year, I believe they can take the step they haven't taken since 1999, which actually isn't as long a playoff drought as I imagined.
3) Packers reach the Super Bowl again.
The lockout was most beneficial to teams that stayed mostly intact through the offseason, whether it be personnel and/or scheme. Therefore if there was a year for a team to repeat, it would be this year and the Packers. Roster stayed largely intact and the offense will have Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley back after season ending injuries last year. With the caveat of an injury to Aaron Rodgers, I see the Packers winning at least 12 games and being the class of the NFC again, which means...
4) Aaron Rodgers will win NFL MVP.
Only twice in the past 10 years has a non-QB won the MVP. Just makes sense that the most valuable player would come from the position widely regarded as the most important position in professional sports. With a Super Bowl championship and MVP under his belt and a full repertoire of weapons at his disposal, he is poised for his best year yet.
5) Giants finish last in the NFC East
The season hasn't started and the Giants defense has been decimated with injuries.
Jonathan Goff - starting MLB, out for year with ACL
Terrell Thomas - starting corner, out for year with ACL
Clint Sintim - backup linebacker, out for year with ACL
Marvin Austin - D-tackle depth (2nd round pick), out for year with torn pec
Prince Amukamara - cornerback (1st round pick), out for a month with broken foot
Osi Umenyiora - starting D-end, recovering from knee surgery and will miss at least the first week...hasn't practiced due to holdout and surgery.
Plus Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka are coming off injuries from last season. This Giants offense excels when Eli Manning can rely on a ball control offense with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in the backfield. I don't believe Eli Manning can win shootouts with a bad defense. I smell trouble for the G-Men this season.
6) Texans will win AFC South
After the recent cloud of doubt over Peyton Manning's availability for this season, this isn't really going out on a limb. The starting QBs for the rest of the division 5 weeks into the season have the potential to be Luke McCown, Kerry Collins, and Jake Locker. Oof.
7) Eagles will not make it out of the divisional round
I just think the expectations are too high for this team, especially for Michael Vick. Last year he came under the radar and surprised when very few believed he still had the ability to be the explosive player he was in Atlanta. One year and $100 million dollars later, the Eagles have placed all their eggs in the Mike Vick basket and expectations are high. Vick will have some great games running and throwing and the Eagles will beat down bad opponents this year, but Vick will need to be an elite passer in the playoffs to win and I don't think he is capable.
8) Bengals will finish with the worst record
Rookie QB starting on a team that went 4-12 last season. Both Andy Dalton and Cam Newton will struggle mightily in their first seasons as starters, but Cam will have the ability to win some games with his legs. This could be Dalton's only chance as starter if they finish with the worst record, as the Bengals would draft Andrew Luck next year.
9) Terrell Owens and/or Randy Moss will be on a NFL roster this season.
I am looking at your Bill Belichick.
10) 49ers will finish at least 7-9
Saving your homer pick for last. Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree on the outside. Vernon Davis working the middle. Frank Gore in the backfield. Better offensive line. Top 5 defensive player in the game at LB in Patrick Willis. By all reports better pass rush with Aldon Smith. Jim Harbaugh bringing back the west coast offense. There are things to be excited about this year.
But for the past three years its been Groundhog Day for 49er fans at the QB position. We wake up the first Sunday morning of the regular season and somehow Alex Smith is still the QB even though he hasn't had a winning record yet in his career. But somehow Jim Harbaugh has convinced me one last time that this is the year Smith puts all together. We has fans can only hope that our patience will finally pay off.