It's that time of year again when we all prepare for the beginning of the NFL season. With a very busy free agency period, there may be several shifts of power in the NFC, but very little in the AFC. In shortened offseasons like this, only the most organized teams will succeed, and my playoff teams reflect that. Feel free to comment or criticize. Here are my predictions for this coming season:
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) This team is not even close to a dream team, but they are compared to the rest of the division. The linebacking core needs help, but barring any serious injuries, the rest of the team is set.
2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) The Cowboys look to rebound from last year's dismal season, and with a healthy Romo, and Jason Garrett at the helm, they should rebound nicely. I see Wildcard.
3. New York Giants (8-8) The Giants are the Giants. They have 40 Pro Bowl caliber defensive ends, and not much else. They will be somewhat respectable, but this will be Tom Coughlin's final year with the G-men.
4. Washington Redskins (6-10) Mike Shannahan lives a tough life. He has two delusional QBs. John Beck thinks he's better than McNabb, and Rex Grossman believes the 'skins will win the East. If I were Shannahan, I'd start Kellen Clemens.
1. Green Bay Packers (11-5) The defending Super Bowl Champs will be back to the playoffs again in a relatively weak division.
2. Chicago Bears (9-7) Before the Bears take the next step, Jay Cutler needs to become a man and the O-line needs to step up.
3. Detroit Lions (8-8) The lovable Lions will dramatically improve this year with one of the best defensive lines in the league.
4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) Leslie Frazier has a tough road ahead. McNabb has seen his best years pass him by, and I don't expect much out of this team.
1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4) With the addition of Julio Jones, this offense will be one of the best in the league. Their secondary is a bit suspect, but I think they will have no problem winning the South.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) I love what Raheem Morris has done with this team. They didn't do much of anything during the free agency period, but I think this team will be ready to go, and will get a taste of the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
3. New Orleans Saints (10-6) I'm sorry Saints fans. The roster is solid, and the schedule is favorable, but 2 losses to the Falcons and another to the Bucs will send them to the living room couch for the playoffs.
4. Carolina Panthers (2-14) This team is making moves, but it is still a huge work in progress. Having the toughest schedule in the NFL will toughen them up.
1. Arizona Cardinals (7-9) This division is the worst in North American professional sports. You could pick these teams out of a hat to determine who will win the division. I happened to pick the Cards. And for the second straight season, a loser steals a playoff spot in the NFC.
2. San Francisco 49ers (7-9) It seems like no matter what this team does, they just can't meet expectations. Luckily there aren't many high expectations for this team. I personally think they should throw the whole season so that Coach Harbaugh can reunite with Andrew Luck in next year's NFL Draft. But for now, 55 year old Joe Montana might be a better option at QB
3. St. Louis Rams (7-9) Sam Bradford is a great young quarterback, but this team is not ready to make a playoff run. Their first half schedule is also known as "death".
4. Seattle Seahawks (6-10) This team is going to have some trouble this season. The other three teams in the West have gotten better, and with trips to Pittsburgh and Dallas, and visits from Baltimore and Philadelphia, it's going to be a long season for Pete Carroll and co.
1. New England Patriots (14-2) I honestly do not see this team slowing down for anyone. A split with the Jets and a loss to the Eagles will be the only hiccups this season.
2. New York Jets (12-4) The Jets will play second fiddle to the Patriots this season. This is a very good team, but the Patriots will be too tough to overcome.
3. Miami Dolphins (8-8) The Dolphins feel like the Toronto Blue Jays of football. Forever stuck behind the Red Sox and Yankees.
4. Buffalo Bills (3-13) The Baltimore Orioles (to continue the MLB analogy) of this division have absolutely no upside and will stay in the basement this season. The defense is okay, but the offense will drag them down.
1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3) The dark horse in the AFC. This team has almost all the pieces in place to make a serious Super Bowl run. With one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, combined with veterans on both sides of the ball who know how to win, look out for the Ravens.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) The defending AFC champs are still a solid team. Just not as solid as Baltimore. This team is getting old, and I think it's going to catch up to them this season. A loss to the Chiefs in late November will cost them a playoff spot.
3. Cleveland Browns (6-10) Peyton Hillis is the talk of the town and the cover of Madden. They will get off to a 5-3 start, but the second half of their schedule is also known as "death".
4. Cincinnati Bengals (1-15) Dreadful.
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) Peyton does it again, leading this team to yet another division title. They looked vulnerable several times last season, and will be tested this season. But don't sleep on them.
2. Houston Texans (9-7) The Texans have the pieces in place to contend, but will have a tough road ahead with games against Atlanta, Tampa, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and two against Indy.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10) Jack Del Rio is on the hotseat, and will most likely get his ticket out of town after this season. The Jags have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, and will take a step back from last season.
4. Tennessee Titans (6-10) With the losses of Jeff Fisher, Jim Washburn, Jason Babin, and Vince Young, this team has little hope this season. Chris Johnson could have a career year, facing a slew of bad rush defenses.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) I am very impressed by the job that Todd Haley has done with this team. They have a tough road ahead of them, but going 5-1 in the division should help them tremendously.
2. San Diego Chargers (8-8) The Bolts will take yet another step back from the previous season. Norv Turner gets his walking papers, and it's time to rebuild in San Diego.
3. Denver Broncos (5-11) In John Fox's first year with Denver, it shouldn't be too hard to improve on that bum Josh McDaniels' record in 2010. This team is still bad.
4. Oakland Raiders (5-11) As long as Al Davis is in charge, this team will go nowhere. The departure of Nnamdi will take a toll on this defense. There are high expectations in Oakland after an 8-8 finish last year, but I think they take a step back this year.
NFC Playoff Teams
1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
2. ATLANTA FALCONS
3. GREEN BAY PACKERS
4. ARIZONA CARDINALS
5. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
6. DALLAS COWBOYS
AFC Playoff Teams
1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2. BALTIMORE RAVENS
3. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
4. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
5. NEW YORK JETS
6. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
The rest is up to your imagination. Enjoy the 2011 NFL season.