It’s true what they say about preseason sports predictions being a lot like assholes. “Everyone’s got ’em, and most of ’em stink.” (Or something like that.) Yet here I am, sitting down to type out my bold predictions for the 2011 NFL season.
And I have to admit, I’m actually feeling rather emboldened by how my bold predictions for 2010 turned out.
Remember how Brett Favre returning was supposed to give the Vikings one more shot at glory? I correctly predicted they would not make the playoffs, and they didn’t.
Remember how last year was going to be the year for the Houston Texans, the one when they finally overtook Peyton and the Colts? I correctly predicted that a) they would beat Indianapolis in Week 1, but then that b) they’d let their fans down once again. How is that for specificity?
There were other hits (that Chris Johnson wouldn’t lead the league in rushing coming off of his 2,000 yard season) and a few misses (Dolphins and 49ers in the playoffs? What was I thinking…?) but all in all I’d say it was a pretty successful stab at predicting a wildly unpredictable league.
So here we go again: six bold predictions for the 2011 NFL season.
First, let’s start out with the playoffs.
Bold Prediction #1 for the 2011 NFL Season:
2010 playoff teams the Colts, Chiefs, Falcons, Seahawks, and Bears will not make the playoffs in 2011.
Every year there are 5-6 playoff teams from the previous season that don’t make it back the next season, and a few of last year’s playoff participants are easy to dismiss.
- Before being exposed as playoff frauds by Baltimore, the Chiefs fattened up on a rather easy schedule last year, plus they benefited from the Chargers’ numerous injuries. Also, Todd Haley gets a little too distracted by things that are irrelevant.
- The Seahawks only made the playoffs because the rest of the NFC West was so bad, and they responded by jettisoning Matt Hasselbeck in favor of Tarvaris Jackson. WIN FOREVER!
- The Bears’ major improvements this year are Roy Williams and Marion Barber. Living in Dallas, I know how ecstatic the Cowboys were to get rid of both; and I’m sorry, but I just don’t trust the Lovie Smith-Jay Cutler combo.
Dismissing the Falcons and, especially, the Colts was not so easy however.
Atlanta is coming off a very solid 13-3 season, and they would seem primed to be even better with Julio Jones being added to an already solid offense. Plus, in three seasons at the helm Mike Smith’s worst record is 9-7 and he’s led the Falcons to the playoffs two out of the three years. So why my trepidation?
First off, did you know Atlanta has never made the playoffs two years in a row? It’s true. Also, the Falcons’ schedule is not the most inviting. They don’t get to feast on the NFC West this year (they were 4-0 vs the West last year), replacing those cupcakes with four games against the four playoff caliber teams of the NFC North. Plus, while I like and trust Matt Ryan, I do not particularly trust Atlanta’s defense, which was 30th in scoring defense last year…with, again, four of those games coming against the NFC West!
This is the toughest of all the bold predictions. The Colts make the playoffs every year, so how can I say they are going to miss the postseason this year? Well, the Atlanta Braves used to win the NL East every year too, but ultimately the year came when they didn’t, and such runs usually end when a team’s lynchpin stars get hurt or start to decline; and based on what we saw last year, and so far during the preseason, such a time may be nigh for the Colts.
Peyton Manning, of course, has the neck issue and we have no idea when or how he’ll play. And this comes on the heels of a 10-6 season that was shaky for Manning and the team even with Manning supposedly in good health. Manning entering 2011 injured does little to assuage fears I would have had about the Colts even if Manning’s health were not in question. Not to mention, the Colts have offensive line issues, continue to have a questionable running game, have the catatonic and uninspiring Jim Caldwell as First Assistant to Peyton Manning, and their defense was 28th in scoring last year. Plus, I think the Houston Texans are actually, finally, really, legitimately, no…seriously, ready to seize their opportunity.
Would I be shocked if Peyton played all 16 games and the Colts made the playoffs? Of course not. But for the first time in a long time, I think there are enough question marks that it’s more likely to not happen than happen.
Bold Prediction #2 for the 2011 NFL Season:
2010 non-playoff teams the Texans, Chargers, Cowboys, Rams, and Lions will make the playoffs in 2011.
Again, a few of these are easy.
- Everything went wrong for the Chargers last year, but with a little better fortune in terms of health and even just marginal improvement in special teams, San Diego will dominate a weak AFC West.
- If I don’t think the Colts will make it, there is only one logical choice to come out of the AFC South: the Texans. With a healthy Andre Johnson and what should be an improved defense, plus the ability to fatten up on the bumbling Titans and Jags, it’s time. This team has paid its dues.
- The Rams are the only NFC West team that has its head coach-QB combo intact from last year, and that QB happens to be the best one in the division. I’d be shocked if St. Louis doesn’t comfortably win the NFC West this year.
Now to state my case for the other two:
Am I drinking the Jason Garrett Kool-Aid because I live in Dallas? Maybe. But the Cowboys did go 5-3 last year once Garrett took over, and that was with Tony Romo on the bench and Roy Williams and Marion Barber still around wasting snaps. Romo is back, Williams and Barber are gone, and the Cowboys have a decidedly new attitude that should help some of their other talented but overpaid/underperforming players live up to their contracts. And in a season of uncertainty, I like QB-coach continuity. Romo and Garrett have a lot of experience together, and that will help.
Plus, the NFC East faces the NFC West this year, so the Cowboys get to enjoy what the Falcons were able to enjoy last year. And a midseason stretch with home games against Buffalo, Miami, and Seattle in three out of four weeks should put Dallas in prime position to make a move come November and December.
This one makes me nervous. Very nervous. I essentially chose the up-and-coming but unproven Lions, along with their porcelain QB, over the proven Falcons and their rock solid third-year signal caller. What the hell is wrong with me?
Call it a hunch.
Sure, it makes me nervous to trust Matthew Stafford and Jahvid Best to stay healthy for 16 games – which I do think needs to happen for this prediction to come true – but I have to think that at some point it will happen, so why not this season? The Lions and their fans have suffered so much, you have to think the sports gods while throw them a bone at some point…right? Right?
Taking karma and sports gods nonsense out of the equation, there are actually plenty of legit reasons to like Detroit. Ndamukong Suh is the obvious one, because he’s unblockable and his attitude seems to have positively infected the entire franchise. Plus, Jim Schwartz has taken the Lions from 0-16 (the year before he arrived) to 2-14 and then last year’s 6-10 record. If they make another 3-4 game improvement, the Lions will sit at 9-7 or 10-6, right on the doorstep of the playoffs. By the power of Suh and the grace of Stafford’s shoulder, I say they get in.
So, for the record, my playoff picks are:
- AFC: Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Chargers
- NFC: Eagles, Cowboys, Packers, Lions, Saints, Rams
Bold Prediction #3 for the 2011 NFL Season:
Fantasy players beware: Arian Foster will not only not lead the NFL in rushing in 2011, he won’t lead the Texans in rushing in 2011.
Last year, I benefited from Arian Foster’s rapid rise to stardom in a number of fantasy leagues. This year, you won’t find him on any of my teams, even the keeper league I had him in (I traded him for teammate Andre Johnson), because I do not think he’ll come close to duplicating his 2010 production.
Sure, it’s somewhat foolhardy to predict injuries for a player, but none other than the great Will Carroll has been pointing out all offseason that Foster is an injury risk because of his 2010 workload (327 carries, almost 400 total touches). And wouldn’t you know it, Foster has already gotten hurt a couple of times already this preseason.
And don’t forget: Ben Tate, a 2nd round pick in 2010, was supposed to be the guy last year for Houston, not the undrafted Arian Foster. With Tate back in the mix, he was poised to siphon off some carries from Foster this year anyway. If Tate gets a chance to play in Foster’s absence, and shows that he is more talented (as his draft position suggests), and if Foster struggles to stay healthy, then the Texans could very well have a new, unexpected back leading them in rushing in 2011. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Bold Prediction #4 for the 2011 NFL Season:
The “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles will be playing on the first weekend of the playoffs…if they make the playoffs at all.
I almost chose the Eagles as one of the 2010 playoff teams that would not return this season. Why? The two main reasons are that I don’t trust Michael Vick over the course of a full season, and I don’t trust teams that enter seasons with inordinate amounts of undeserved hype.
However, I ultimately could not get past two facts when I looked at the Eagles’ prospects for this season:
- Andy Reid. Look at the man’s annual consistency in a league set up to promote parity. He’s among the most underrated head coaches in any sport during my lifetime.
- The schedule. The Eagles get to face the not-so-mighty NFC West this year, plus they get games against the Dolphins and Bills, two of the AFC’s weaker teams. And playing Washington twice doesn’t hurt.
So I do think the Eagles will make the playoffs, but they are not going to run roughshod over the NFL on their way to a first round bye like some people seem to think they will.
Vick is a nagging or season-ending injury waiting to happen, with wild card Vince Young rather than the steadier Kevin Kolb now Vick’s backup. Plus, Vick was not as good last season as people seem to think he was. (Remember, there is a difference between spectacular and good.) Vick threw 6 INTs over the team’s final five games, when the pressure was really on, and he had a number of others dropped throughout the year. Andy Reid teams go as the quarterback goes, and I don’t trust Vick to play consistently enough week-in and week-out to lead this team to the 13-3 or 14-2 record it will take to get a bye.
Having Reid, a favorable schedule, and a still-solid defense (14.7 points per game allowed this year, with Nnamdi added to the mix) will get Philly into the postseason, but they are going to have to win three games to get to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl in February. (P.S. I don’t think they’re going to do that either.)
Bold Prediction #5 for the 2011 NFL Season:
The New England Patriots will lose their fourth straight playoff game and be one-and-done again.
Here’s a stat you may or may not have realized: the Patriots a sterling 35-13 over the last three regular seasons, but they are without a playoff win. In fact, since going 18-0 on their way to Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots are 0-3 in the playoffs, losing that game to the Giants, getting pummeled by the Ravens in ’09, and then being smacked in the mouth by the Jets last year.
And while I think the Patriots’ regular season success will continue – a product of yet another year of the Belichick-Brady combo – I think their sudden playoff futility will continue as well. The Patriots without a motivated Randy Moss simply do not have enough offensive playmakers to beat really good defenses in the one-game scenarios presented in the playoffs. Plus, while the Patriots’ defense improved last year, it is still devoid of the veteran leaders that led the franchise to its three Super Bowls under Belichick.
The AFC is loaded with very good teams. The Jets, Ravens, Steelers, and Chargers are all capable of winning home-field advantage, and I think all four have what it takes to give Belichick and Brady their fourth straight playoff loss.
Bold Prediction #6 for the 2011 NFL Season:
The Cincinnati Bengals will control the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes come April 2012.
The Bengals actually have a pretty nice schedule this season. Two games against Cleveland, one versus each team in the NFC West, plus games against Denver, Tennessee, and Jacksonville seem pretty inviting don’t they? Even for a team coming off a 4-12 season, that would seem to be a nice slate of games to rebound from a 4-12 record with.
I don’t think it will matter.
The Bengals had one of the worst offenses in the NFL last year, finishing 28th in points, 28th in yards, 31st in passing yards, and 22nd in rushing yards. And now they are breaking in rookies at QB and WR, which leaves Cedric Benson as the unit’s primary building block and most accomplished player.
I just can’t see any reasons not to expect this to be a completely lost season in Cincinnati, another in a long line of completely lost seasons in Cincinnati.
The only upshot is that there is a clear-cut franchise QB waiting for whatever team has the top draft choice in 2012. I think Cincinnati will be that team, and they will have to decide whether to a) take Andrew Luck one year after drafting Andy Dalton in the second round or b) trade the pick for what I would expect to be a rather large bounty from a team like Miami or San Francisco or Washington that is desperate for a franchise QB to build around. At least they’ll have a season of watching Andy Dalton play before making the decision.
My guess: they would take Luck after being underwhelmed by Dalton, but that’s definitely silly to speculate about with so much to happen before then. (Although I guess you could say that everything in sports is silly to speculate about, just try to keep it to yourself so I don’t feel like I wasted my time with the 2500 words of pure speculation that comprise this post…)
So, what do you think? Which of these bold predictions do you agree with? Which ones do you think are total bunk?
And what are your bold predictions for the 2011 NFL season?
We’ve got two weeks before the season starts, so there is plenty of time for conjecture. The comment section awaits.