Ten Predictions for the 2011 NFL Season

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick stumbles during first half against Minnesota Vikings in their NFL football game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 28, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Pre-season predictions are rather silly, aren’t they? I mean really, we haven’t seen any of these teams play and yet we’re all ready to predict who will appear in the Super Bowl. Ridiculous. Just ridiculous, I say.

But damn it they’re fun. You can’t deny that. If we as fans don’t partake in a little pre-season shenanigans then I ask you, what are we doing with our lives?

My regular season and Super Bowl predictions won’t be released until next week, but here’s a little something to whet your appetite in the meantime.

Ten Predictions for the 2011 NFL Season:

1. The Eagles won’t win the Super Bowl.
I’m not a big believer in Michael Vick. I used to be. I used to believe that he could walk on water and was going to lead the Falcons to not one, but about 16 Super Bowls when he was in Atlanta. Then I realized the guy was completely fine with not putting in the work to raise his game to the next level. I realize he was complacent and was fine with being an extraordinary athlete but not a championship-caliber quarterback. I don’t know Michael Vick personally so maybe I have him all wrong. And maybe he really has grown as a player and a person in Philadelphia. Hey, Andy Reid is 10-times the coach Jim Mora was, so maybe all Vick needed was better guidance. That said, I don’t think Vick will win a Super Bowl this season with the Eagles. He’s never done well when the expectations were high and if you want proof of that, look at his 2005 and 2006 seasons in Atlanta. (Pundits were more than willing to hitch their wagon to Vick back then, just as they are now.) There were no expectations for him at the start of last season because it was Kevin Kolb’s team. But now it’s his team and I don’t think he’ll see the Eagles through to the end. This prediction may look foolish for most of the regular season, but let’s see what happens come January and February.

2. The Texans will finally reach the playoffs.
As I wrote last week, I think it’s the Texans’ year. The Colts have a cloud of doubt hanging over their heads because of the uncertainly surrounding Peyton Manning’s neck, so now is Houston’s chance to seize the AFC South. I love the hiring of Wade Phillips, who always seems to turn teams around in his first year, and the signing of former Bengals corner Jonathan Joseph. Assuming Phillips does fix the defense and Arian Foster’s hamstring injury isn’t something that will linger all season, the Texans have more than enough firepower to finally make their first postseason appearance in franchise history.

3. The Lions will finish 8-8.
Some people won’t think this is a bold prediction but a .500 season would be proof of just how far the Lions have come since the Matt Millen era (which don’t forget included an 0-16 season). Matthew Stafford’s ability to stay healthy is obviously key. If he stays on the field for all 16 games the Lions will give most teams trouble this season, especially at home. Their defensive line might be the best in football and GM Martin Mayhew did a nice job upgrading the linebacker corps in the offseason. Can the Lions contend for a playoff spot this season? Sure, why not. But I think an 8-8 record would still be the mark of a successful season, especially given the troubles this team has had over the past decade.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethllisberger pitches out against the Green Bay Packers in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. The Green Bay Packers beat the Steelers 31-25 to win UPI/Brian Kersey

4. The Steelers won’t repeat in the AFC.
The Patriots look like they’ve fixed their pass rush, the Texans have gone a long way to improving their defense with the additions of Wade Phillips and Jonathan Joseph, the Chargers will have Vincent Jackson and a healthy Antonio Gates back this season, and the Ravens acquired a deep threat in Lee Evans (assuming he can stay healthy). The Steelers, meanwhile, still have question marks along the offensive line and at cornerback, and are another year older at key positions. Don’t get it twisted: This is a playoff team. But do I think that the Steelers will make a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl? Let me just say this: Staying at the top is often harder than getting there.

5. The Saints will rise again in the South.
Nobody seems to be talking about the Saints this season, which is a scary thought given how much firepower they have on offense and given the strengths of their defense. The Saints found out the hard way last season that it’s hard to repeat. But I see Drew Brees rebounding and the addition of rookie Mark Ingram should provide the return of Sean Payton’s balance on offense (something that was lost in 2010). On the other side of the ball, the Saints are now deep along the defensive line and in their secondary thanks to the moves they’ve made the past two offseasons, although outside linebacker remains a question mark. Meanwhile, the Falcons are solid and just recently have started to add some major depth to their defense with the signings of James Sanders and Kelvin Hayden. But they’ve got a tough first-half schedule (Bears, Eagles, Bucs, Packers, Colts, Saints) and I think they’re going to have to grind more this season than in 2010.

6. Colt McCoy will make big strides in the West Coast.
I’ve made it no secret that I think Colt McCoy is a perfect fit for the West Coast Offense and while I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Browns in the playoffs this year, they should be more competitive. Defensively I have my concerns, but I really like what Mike Holmgren has done on the offensive side of the ball. He seemingly has found his WCO quarterback in McCoy, his WCO coach in Pat Shurmur, his WCO running back in Patrick Hillis, and his WCO receiver in Greg Little. (I also like the underrated Ben Watson at tight end.) Obviously the Browns will suffer plenty of bumps in the road, but they’re going to be better than people think this season.

Packers fans celebrate after the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. The Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. UPI/Juan Ocampo

7. The Packers will reach the NFC Championship Game again.
I’ll stop short of predicting the Pack to win it all again, only because I know how difficult it is for teams to repeat (especially in the NFC for whatever reason). But has everyone forgotten that this team won the Super Bowl last season? It seems like nobody is talking about the Packers and they once again have one of the best and deepest rosters in football. Aaron Rodgers is a stud, the defense should once again be solid, and they’re getting players like Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant back from injury. There’s an argument to be made that Green Bay is better now than it was heading into the Super Bowl (on paper, that is). Nobody should fall asleep on the Packers this season, especially not with how explosive Rodgers and the offense is.

8. The Cowboys will make the playoffs.
It’s funny, at this time last year everyone outside of opposing fans in the NFC East thought the Cowboys were a shoe-in to win their division, if not the Super Bowl. Now nobody is talking about “America’s Team,” even though a healthy Tomo Romo will be back under center and Jason Garrett’s offense showed life after Wade Phillips was fired. The Cowboys have plenty of offensive firepower in Romo, Jason Witten, Austin Miles, Dez Bryant and Felix Jones. Now it’s up to the defense (particularly the secondary) to step up and play significantly better than it did a year ago. I think it will, and I think the Cowboys will head back to the postseason this year.

9. The Rams won’t win the NFC West.
The Rams are the perfect team to win the West because the division is brutal and Sam Bradford ushers in new hope. (They’re also 3-0 in preseason, if that means anything to anyone.) But have you seen the Rams’ first-half schedule? Holy smokes: home versus the Eagles, at the Giants, home versus the Ravens and Redskins, at Green Bay and Dallas and then home versus the Saints. There’s a possibility the Rams may not win more than two games in the first eight weeks of the season. I like the Rams, I really do. But something tells me Bradford will suffer a little in his second year (Matt Ryan certainly did and most players do), and either the Cardinals or Niners will win the division.

10. Julio Jones will win Rookie of the Year.
I know, I know – I’m going out on a limb with this prediction. But honestly, I took my time looking at this year’s candidates for ROY and there’s just no one with more upside at this point than Jones. I almost went with Mark Ingram because I truly believe he’s going to have a big impact on the Saints’ offense this season, but will he receive enough carries in order to put up big numbers? I doubt it. Jones, on the other hand, should receive plenty of opportunities to shine in Atlanta. The Falcons are moving away from their ball-control ways and with teams having to pay attention to Roddy White, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez, Jones should see plenty of one-on-one coverage from defenses (which in turn allows him to make more plays). The best part about Jones is that so far he looks the part. He looks like a rookie that is ready to make an impact in his first season and given the talent around him, he shouldn’t have loads of pressure on his shoulders in his first year.

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