Well, after a long offseason due to the lockout, the NFL is back and I can’t be any happier. I went through each team’s individual schedule after watching them play in the preseason (first half and game 2 and the first three quarters of the third game) and predicted where I believe they will finish during this season. This is my second time doing this (http://brandononsports.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/2010-nfl-season-preview-and-predictions/) and as you can see last season, I picked the Packers to win it all and I was a bad play by Dawan Landry of the Ravens away from picking the exact Super Bowl teams. Well here goes, enjoy and feel free to comment here or hit me up on twitter https://twitter.com/Bashir28 and I will gladly talk and debate with you. Thank you and enjoy the season. Remember to check out www.brandononsports.wordpress.com during the season for more articles and blogs from me.
WC-Wild Card Team
National Football Conference
Eagles 10-6 D
Cowboys 9-7 WC
Outlook: In my eyes, the Philadelphia Eagles are the best team in the division. I still have questions about the middle of their offensive line. They are starting 6th round draft pick Jason Kelce at center and 1st round draft pick Danny Watkins was supposed to start but he’s not ready, so newly acquired right guard Kyle DeVan. Teams started to figure Mike Vick out towards the end of last season and he was having problems reading the blitz. Not having a full offseason might have stunted the growth of Vick in the passing game and may very well stop the Eagles from being a SuperBowl winner. They have nine new starters on defense and glaring holes at the linebacker and safety positions.
The Dallas Cowboys fired Head Coach Wade Phillips during the season and gave the job to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The team seemed to play harder and Garrett for some odd reason called the plays with more balance when he took over the job. You can’t deny it; this team has a medley of offensive weapons to go along with a quarterback in Tony Romo who puts up big numbers during the regular season. But can he get it done when it counts? I doubt that it’s likely, but if Felix Jones can stay healthy for a whole 16 games, the Cowboys will be in contention for a wildcard spot. With the addition of Rob Ryan as the defensive coordinator, expect a good season out of the defense.
The New York Giants are going to be their typical bipolar selves. One week looking like a contender and then the next week killing themselves with penalties and turnovers. I expect a breakout season from Hakeem Nicks with the departure of WR Steve Smith to the Eagles, but Eli will be Eli…a turnover machine. The defense will still put pressure on the QB, but with the season-ending injury to their best Cornerback Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara breaking his foot and needing surgery, this team will struggle and miss the playoffs.
The Washington Redskins were a complete disaster last season (Its first under two time Super Bowl champion coach Mike Shanahan). I expect a better season out of them in his second season, but I don’t like their Quarterback situation with Rex Grossman as the starter and John Beck as the backup. Shanahan has a trio of running backs: Ryan Torain, newly acquired Tim Hightower, and rookie Roy Helu from Nebraska. I expect the Skins to be a run first and play-action pass type of offense. Santana Moss is coming off of a 90-catch season and 2nd-year WR Anthony Armstrong is establishing himself as a legit deep threat and 2nd receiver. The Defense was a complete disaster in its first year playing in a 3-4. Expect some improvement with the additions of Nose Tackle Barry Cofield, safety O.J. Atogwe, and 1st round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan at the outside linebacker opposite of Brian Orapko. They still miss the playoffs though.
Rams 9-7 D
Outlook: This is clearly the weakest division in all of football and in my eyes the Rams are the clear cut favorite. Sam Bradford played pretty damn well in his rookie season and I expect better play from him this year. Josh McDaniels is the new offensive coordinator and he loves to spread defenses out and pass the ball. Hopefully he won’t forget about the abilities of running back Steven Jackson. The Rams had the 12th ranked scoring defense last season and added a group of veterans, including Linebackers Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga, along with former Eagles safety Quintin Mikell.
The Arizona Cardinals saved their franchise by trading for QB Kevin Kolb, which obviously made franchise player Larry Fitzgerald happy, as he signed an 8 year, $120 million extension to remain in Arizona. In my eyes, the book is still out on Kolb and we will see how good or bad he really is. It would help him if running back Beanie Wells could provide some sort of presence in the running game. The defense was average at best last season and they had problems getting to the quarterback. I see seven wins for the Cardinals.
Jim Harbaugh was hired by the San Francisco 49ers as head coach, after reviving a dead Stanford football program. He ran a pro-style offense in college, played QB in the NFL, and coaching football is in his DNA. But the fact of the matter is that Alex Smith is still the starting quarterback for this team and he flat out stinks. The team has all the weapons offensively; franchise running back Frank Gore, an elite tight end in Vernon Davis, and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards. But the situation at QB is going to kill them all season long.
The Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs last season with a 7-9 record, winning the division and shocking then defending SuperBowl champs New Orleans Saints in the first round. Well this offseason, they allowed quaterback Matt Hasslebeck to leave via free agency and decided to go with the former Viking, Tavaris Jackson as the starter. They also signed wide receiver Sidney Rice to a huge free agent contract as well, even though he is coming off a season where he missed a bunch of time due to a serious hip injury. Add the inconsistent play of running back Marshawn Lnych and you have a 4-12 season. Their defense, outside of Aaron Curry and Earl Thomas, isn’t much to speak about, so I expect them to be in the running for Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Packers 13-3 D
Outlook: The Packers won the SuperBowl last season, even though they lost keys players like Ryan Grant, Atari Bigby, and veteran leader Nick Barnett for the season to injuries. As I predicted prior to last season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers would place himself amongst the top 5 QB’s in the league and win the big game. He did BOTH! The Packers bring back pretty much the same team offensively and the return of their running back to the fold. Greg Jennings, in my eyes, is one of the more underrated wide receivers in football and will have a monster season. The 3-4 defense lead by Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and Charles Woodson are back in full effect. The Packers also sport one of the best corner tandems in football with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. I see no reason why they aren’t playing on the last Sunday of the season again.
The Chicago Bears are going into year two of running offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s pass-heavy offense, an offense that hasn’t won anything since the St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf”. Jay Cutler is the perfect fit for the offense, but he is also a turnover machine and cost the Bears games with his bad decisions and carelessness throwing the ball. The one-two punch of Matt Forte and newly acquired running back Marion Barber should be formidable. Knowing that the offensive line is an issue, you would think Martz would run the ball a bit more, but like Andy Reid, Martz is a stubborn coach. Defensively, we know what the Bears are. They are running the Tampa Cover 2 and linebacker Brian Urlacher is the leader of this group. All-Pro weakside linebacker Lance Briggs is unhappy in Chicago and is asking for a trade. This is not the type of distraction the Bears need the week before the season starts. I predict eight wins from this team, missing the playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings received quarterback Donavan McNabb in a trade from the Washington Redskins. One thing I can say is, the Vikings have a strong running game with Adrian Peterson for McNabb to depend on and unlike his former boss, the Vikes don’t have a problem running the rock. While losing wide receiver Sidney Rice to free agency, the Vikings still have Visanthe Shiancoe, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, and rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph as targets in the passing game. Defensively, they have seen their better years pass by and they have lost starters Ben Leber, Ray Edwards, and Pat Williams, while an aging Antoine Winfield is still hanging on. Jared Allen will see more double-teams with the departure of Ray Edwards, rendering the team less effective on passing downs. McNabb will have some sort of a bounce-back year, but not good enough for them to make the playoffs.
Everyone is on the Detroit Lions’ bandwagon, as they were last season prior to the injury to franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. I see progress from this team. I like the pieces they have added defensively in linebacker Stephen Tulloch and the drafting of defensive tackle Nick Fairley out of Auburn. If Stafford can stay healthy I see them winning 7, maybe 8 games.
Falcons 11-5 D
Buccaneers 10-6 WC
Outlook: The Atlanta Falcons on paper seem to be loaded and set to finally make that run to the NFC Championship Game and possibly to the Super Bowl. I like Matt Ryan as a quarterback, just not as much as others (like 97.5 The Fanatic’s Mike Missanelli in Philadelphia). If he is as good as people think he is, a trip to the Super Bowl would solidify his fans opinions. This offense is solid in all phases: running, passing, and most importantly, line play. Defensively, they are pretty simple, not too much pressure from blitzers, they like to rely on their front-four to get to the QB. The addition of defensive end Ray Edwards in free agency from the Vikings opposite of John Abraham should boost the Falcons’ pass rush. The wildcard for this team is rookie receiver Julio Jones from Alabama. If he can provide a legit target, it would open up more field for Roddy White and make the Falcons a legit contender. Falcons win the division.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Head Coach Raheem Morris shocked all of the football world by winning 10 games last season and barely missing the playoffs. Quarterback Josh Freeman was pretty damn good last season, especially driving his offense downfield at the end of games to tie or take leads. Rookie wide receiver Mike Williams showed the talent and promise he had at Syracuse and running back LaGarrette Blount proved why he was considered a first to second round pick prior to the punching incident against Boise St. Losing leader Barrett Ruud on defense was a big blow, but the Bucs believe Mason Foster is a more than capable replacement. The Bucs had problems getting to the quarterback last season and they addressed the need by drafting Adrian Clayborne from Iowa and Da’Quan Bowers from Clemson. Coming into the 2010 College Football season, Bowers was the number one NFL prospect in the country. But issues with his knee and the possible belief that he will soon need microfracture surgery dropped him out of the first round and he was drafted with the 51st pick in the second round. If healthy, Bowers could provide the legit pass rushing ability the Bucs need to take their defense to the next level. They make the playoffs this season as a wild card team.
The New Orleans Saints still have Drew Brees at the helm of their high powered offense. It’s pretty much a given that this team will not have a problem scoring points. The departure of Reggie Bush, who was a big key in their passing game, was made up for with the drafting of running back Mark Ingram from Alabama. The Saints had serious issues last season on defense. In their Super Bowl season in 2009, the defense was one of the best in the league at forcing turnovers and it made up for some other glaring holes. Last season they didn’t force turnovers and was gashed against the run on a weekly basis, and it was also the reason why they were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Seahawks. They brought in veteran run-stuffing defensive tackle Shaun Rogers along with Aubrayo Franklin to attempt to address the issues on defense. Jonathan Vilma is a more effective Mike linebacker when he has less offensive lineman to shed and space to run and make tackles. Due to a less than average defensive unit, the Saints win eight games and miss the playoffs.
The Carolina Panthers are in true rebuilding form, as they selected quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall draft pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has the potent running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to lean on as he takes his lumps and learns the NFL game. Time will tell if he can become an accurate passer, learn to read pro defenses, and a winner. The Panthers have an ok defensive unit led by defensive end Charles Johnson and his new $72 million contract. New Head Coach Ron Rivera has had success as a defensive coordinator running a cover 2 and 3-4 with the Bears and the Chargers. They will be a winning team in the future, just not this year. I give them 4 or 5 wins.
NFC Championship: Packers over Falcons
American Football Conference
Patriots 11-5 D
Jets 9-7 WC
Outlook: I expect the Patriots to win the division as they have the best quarterback (Tom Brady) and coach. You know what you are getting offensively from the Pats. They will spread you out and allow Tom Brady to pick you apart passing the ball. Add in some occasional runs from Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis and they put up points in bunches. Chad Ochocinco was added to the core of receivers by trade from the Bengals and if he stays healthy, I can see him having a great season. The Patriots addressed their defensive issues by adding a bunch of veteran lineman: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, and Shaun Ellis. While Haynesworth wanted no parts of playing in the 3-4 with the Redskins, the Pats use multiple fronts and defenses. I expect a great season from Haynesworth. The Patriots haven’t won the Super Bowl since the whole “Spygate” fiasco, but they are a legit contender this season and I would not be surprised to see them playing in Indy in February.
I like Rex Ryan as a coach, I love the defense, I love Darrelle Revis…I just don’t like Mark Sanchez. He is one of the most overrated athletes in all four major sports. Until he is able to be depended on making plays downfield in the passing game, the Jets won’t take the next step and play in the Super Bowl. They get a wild card spot and lose in the second round of the playoffs, taking a step back.
The Dolphins allowed Ronnie Brown to leave town via free agency and signed Reggie Bush and drafted running back Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State to take his place. The Dolphins have a good trio of receivers in Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline, and Davone Bess, but Chad Henne has yet to prove that he can be depended on as a starting quarterback. How he plays this season will determine what direction this team goes draft-wise. The defense was stingy as far as giving up points last year and often was hung out to dry by short drives and turnovers from the offense. I see 5 or 6 wins from this team.
The Buffalo Bills are in a rebuilding stage, and had some flashes last year from Stevie Johnson. He had a breakout season and proved to be a true playmaker in the NFL. I’m not sold on Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson is ok, but lacks the explosiveness of a true number one back. I’m looking forward to see if 2nd year running back C.J. Spiller is an every down back or a situational player. Hopefully for their sake and where he was picked, he is. Years and years of bad early draft picks is the reason why this defense flat out stinks. Four wins for this team. If I were Andrew Luck, I would be praying that the Bills don’t have the worst record in football.
Chargers 10-6 D
Outlook: Last season the Chargers had the number one ranked offense and defense but missed the playoffs somehow. Special teams blunders, turnovers, player holdouts, and Antonio Gates missing six games were all reasons why this team didn’t make it. Phillip Rivers had an MVP type season, throwing for over 4700 yards and 30 TD’s. He has really come into his own and is one of the top 5 to 7 QB’s in football. The Chargers having Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates together from day one is a plus and if they can get some sort of running game from Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert, they will be even more dangerous than they were last season. Defensively, they cause havoc running a 3-4 base led by outside linebacker Shaun Phillips and safety Eric Weddle. The wildcard for this team is free agent signing Bob Sanders. If he can stay healthy for a full 16 games, he will obviously be a difference maker for the Chargers. They win 10, maybe 11 games and win the division.
The Chiefs won the division last year, even though they were too swept by the Raiders. The offense was a well-balanced machine, relying heavily on the running back combo of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, and Matt Cassel having a great season passing the ball. Tony Moeaki had a good rookie season last year, controlling the middle of the field, opening up the outside for stud wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. But Moeaki was lost to a knee injury playing in the final preseason game and last year’s offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, left to take the same position with the Florida Gators. On defense, they were pretty solid as they have some good pieces for the 3-4 defense they run. Tamba Hali came into his own ever since the Chiefs switched to the 3-4 defense and is coming off a season in which he recorded 14.5 sacks. They also sport one of the best young defensive backfields in football with Brandon Flowers at cornerback and 2nd year Eric Berry who is set for a Pro Bowl season in my eyes. Even still, I think they come back down to earth and miss the playoffs this season.
The Raiders dominated the division, sweeping its way through, going 6-0. But then were 2-8 outside of the AFC West and were very inconsistent offensively. They have arguably one of the best running games in all of the NFL with the combo of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Third round Pick Jared Veldheer from Hillside College was a pleasant surprise, starting at the left tackle spot and playing pretty well for a rookie out of a small school. But the loss of Zach Miller at tight end and Nnamdi Asomugha are big for this team. I see them taking a step back, winning seven games.
The Denver Broncos hired John Fox as head coach and he has a complete mess to fix. Former coach Josh McDaniels completely destroyed this franchise after taking over for Mike Shanahan. While most football fans wanted Tim Tebow to be the starter, the Broncos and John Fox made the right decision in going with the proven veteran Kyle Orton. Expect more of a balanced attack under Fox’s regime and Knowshon Moreno will have the chance to have a big season if he can stay healthy and protect the ball. Brandon Lloyd had a breakout all-pro season after all of those years being an underachiever. The Broncos had one of the worse defenses I have seen last season, horrible against the run and put no pressure on the QB. They drafted linebacker/defensive end Von Miller with the second overall pick and I expect big things from him this season. Champ Bailey has had a hall of fame career and is still performing at a high level. With all this being said, it’s going to be a rebuilding year and I see at the most, six wins for the Broncos.
Steelers 13-3 D
Ravens 11-5 WC
Outlook: The Pittsburgh Steelers return this season the Super Bowl runner-ups with pretty much the same team from the prior season, returning all its starters on defense and besides some changes on the offensive line, the offense is in tack as well. The Steelers looked good in the preseason and are going to play their brand of football and I expect them right back in the running for a return to the Super Bowl and possibly winning it.
The Baltimore Ravens were one bad mistake away from playing in the Super Bowl last season. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are getting up there in age and I wonder when time will catch up to them. Offensively, they rely on the legs of running back Ray Rice, but Joe Flacco needs to step his game up and make more plays in the passing game and in clutch situations. The Ravens are still a good defensive team, but not the unbreakable crew from past seasons. They have glaring weaknesses at cornerback that were exposed last season during the playoffs. They drafted cornerback Jimmy Smith from Colorado to address the weakness. The Ravens make the playoffs as a wild card team.
The Cleveland Browns are obviously rebuilding its team and it has two solid pieces right now: running back Peyton Hillis and 2nd year quarterback Colt McCoy. Hillis gives the young McCoy a legit running game to rely on while he continues to develop as a passer in the NFL. Defensively, I really like Joe Haden at cornerback and the drafting of Phil Taylor, the defensive tackle out of Baylor as well. They still lack the explosive plays from receivers on the outside. I see five wins for the Browns.
The Bengals are simply one of the worse run franchises in all of pro sports and the fact that team management refused to trade away quarterback Carson Palmer and receive something of quality in return for him, speaks volumes. This is one of the reasons why Chad Ochocinco wanted out of there a long time ago. I still don’t know how Head Coach Marvin Lewis has lasted this long. They are starting rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who for some reason, which I don’t know, everyone thinks he is going to be a good NFL player. He’s just another guy. This team wins 4 games and are in the running for Andrew Luck.
Texans 10-6 D
Outlook: The Houston Texans are explosive on offense and have brought in Wade Phillips to try to get the defense up to par. I still don’t like the idea of having the 6’7′ 290lb Mario Williams playing a position similar to what a player like James Harrison plays in Pittsburgh. He was in his element as a defensive end in the 4-3 defense, but I do like the group of linebackers though. With Peyton Manning’s health in question, this is the perfect chance for the Texans to win the division and finally make the playoffs.
There is not one team that depends on one player more than the Colts. Peyton Manning had surgery on his neck during the off season (and a second procedure THIS MORNING) and it’s clear he’s not healthy, and I have the belief that he will miss at least half the season, if not all of it. The Colts’ whole offense is based around the ability of Manning and although they signed veteran Kerry Collins, he isn’t used to running this offense. The Colts take a step back this season and miss the playoffs. It would be wise of them to draft a quarterback to replace Manning. There’s no telling how much time he has left, if any.
The Titans spent most of the preseason dealing with the holdout of franchise running back Chris Johnson, after hiring Mike Munchak as their new head coach. They brought in veteran QB Matt Hasslebeck to serve as the stop-gap for first round draft pick Jake Locker out of Washington. The Titans still have one of the best offensive lines in football and will be able to run the ball. The question is how the passing game will do. Kenny Britt is talented but often in trouble off of the field. Defensively, they are average on paper; the only player who stands out to me is cornerback Courtland Finnegan. I see eight wins for the Titans. Also, look for a breakout season from tight end Jared Cook.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ franchise is confusing me as of right now. They cut veteran quarterback David Garrard this week, less than seven days from game one of the season. Talk about a deflating move, I wonder how the veteran players feel, along with head coach Jack Del Rio, who was told anything short of a playoff berth and his ass would be canned. I guess he should work on selling his home because this team has no chance in hell of making the playoffs. Outside of Maurice Jones-Drew and Mercedes Lewis, the Jags have no weapons offensively and the defense is subpar. I see five wins at the most for the Jags. At least halfway, look for first round draft pick Blaine Gabbert to see some action and the team will see if he can actually play.
AFC Championship: Chargers over Steelers
Super Bowl: Chargers over the Packers
Offensive MVP: Phillip Rivers
Defensive MVP: Lamar Woodley
Offensive rookie of the year: A.J. Green, Bengals
Defensive rookie of the year: Von Miller, Broncos