Wednesday, September 7, 2011

2011 NFL Mega-Preview

Welcome to the 2 Man Weave's 2011 N.F.L. Season Preview Column. Below you will find projected finishes, MVP/Wild Card/Super Bowl Predictions, witty insight and four games you don't want to miss. ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?

AFC East
1. Pats- Bellichek & co are reloaded as they shoot for their 4th Super Bowl ring of the 2000's. Brady, fresh off of his 2010 unanimous MVP Award (36 td's, 4 ints) has a plethora of options to throw too between Welker, Ochocinco, Branch, Hernandez, Gronk, Edelman and a revolving door of backs who can get the job done (Green-Ellis, Woodhead, Ridley). They're my Super Bowl pick. Put it in the books.

2. Jets- Gang Green enters year 3 of the Rex/Shanchize era and so far have had great results. Back to back trips to the conference finals have team expectations at an all time high, and the world class defense returns 10 starters. Plax for Braylon is a slight upgrade and the only thing standing in the way of a Super Bowl birth is their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, who still suffers from accuracy issues.

3. Bills- At the very least Buffalo will be a, dare I say it, "exciting" team to watch this year. They added Nick Barnett on defense, drafted Marcell Dareus from 'Bama #3 overall and Fitzpatrick to Johnson has emerged as the new "hot" passing duo in the AFC. Look for RB Fred Jackson to continue to put up solid, underrated numbers in the backfield. 8-8 is not out of the question for these guys (how's that for biggest backhanded complement of the column?).

4. Dolphins- Going into a season debating between starting Chad Henne and Matt Moore at quarterback is kind of like being asked if you would rather you would rather drink piss or eat shit, either way it's not going to be pretty. Throw in the fact that Reggie Bush is slated to start (something he never did in N.O. despite being the #2 pick in the '06 draft- point being he was never good enough to start on the Saints, what makes you think he'll be a suitable starter now?), they have no one left to run the wildcat (their only weapon these past 3 seasons) and Brandon Marshall's mental health issues and this season could be a complete wash in Miami.

AFC North
1. Steelers- The defending AFC champs return 46 of 53 players from last years squad, and a full year of Big Ben under center will prove to be a nightmare for the rest of the North. They have a great workhorse back in Rashard Mendenhall and I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Wallace ends up leading the NFL in receiving yards. Bringing back Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark on defense cannot be under looked.

2. Ravens- The talk out of camp this year is that the Ravens are finally committed to letting Ray Rice run free and get all of the goal line carries to boot. Lee Evans, a guaranteed 60 catch guy, will help spread open the passing game, so look for Anquan Boldin to eclipse the 1000 yard mark. The defense remains stacked although this may be Ray Lewis' last chance to get that second ring.

3. Browns- Look for the Cleveland to continue their late season success from last year, however any chance of them finishing .500 or better is out of the question. McCoy is a poor man's Drew Brees, and he is just a couple years and weapons away from cracking the top 15. On defense keep an eye out for Joe Haden, who finished up his rookie season with 60+ tackles and 6 picks at the corner position.

4. Bengals- Well the Carlson Palmer era has officially ended and with that Cincinnati immediately regresses to their late 90's form at the bottom on the division (and conference). Andy Dalton will struggle right out of the gates, and oh yea, their RB Cedric Benson is currently in the pen serving 20 days for an assault charge. Not exactly an ideal situation heading into week 1.

AFC South
1. Texans- Could this be the year that Houston finally lives up to the hype and makes the playoffs? I say yes, by default. This is a very off year for the South, with Manning on the shelf, Luke McCown starting in Jaxsonville and a pick your poison scenario between Matt Hasselback and Jake Lockler in Tennessee. When healthy the Texans are a top 5 offense and if their D can improve to a mediocre level they win this division easily.

2. Colts- Peyton Manning's neck appears to be much worse than anyone could have imagined, hence the Kerry Collins off the street signing two weeks ago. Reggie Wayne's age (34) and Austin Collie's concussion proneness could be problematic as well, even when #18 returns. I'm also a little disappointed they let go of Bob Sanders. I was looking forward to the mandatory late September blown ACL that comes as routinely as Halloween.

3. Titans- Signing Chris Johnson after a month and a half holdout was a smart play and I think he'll pick up right where he left off, 1300 and 8 TD's are a lock. But anytime you bring in a new head coach and quarterback you can count on some bumps along the way. Jared Cook and Kenny Britt are both sneaky good and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Titans challenge the Colts for second in this division.

4. Jaguars- The Khloe Kardasian on the South Division is in absolute shambles right now. Anytime you cut your franchise QB 5 days before the season opener for Luke (or is it Cade?) McCown you should pretty much just sign off for 3-13. Don't be surprised if Sunshine from "Remember The Titans" ( a spot on lookalike for Blaine Gabbert) gets thrown to the wolves by week 5.

AFC West
1. Chargers- After last years molasses start look for Norv Turner's team to come out slingin' and never look back. No more Vincent Jackson holdouts, Gates/Matthews are healthy and there is no reason to believe that Phillip River's won't throw for 4,500 yards and 27 scores. Rookie Corey Liuget out of Illinois is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line and the Chargers are one of the teams that will benefit the most from kicking off at the 35. Special teams coverage was their Achilles heel last season.

2. Broncos- Admittedly this is a long shot, but I think that if Denver can get healthy they can actually be a much improved football team. John Fox will have the Broncos back to their old ground and pound ways and #2 overall pick Von Miller should provide an immediate impact to a lackluster defensive unit. Also, don't count on Lloyd to sniff 1,400 yards again, but you can expect Moreno and McGahee to put up inflated rushing numbers in the mile high city.

3. Chiefs- K.C. is the sexy pick to regress this year and I'm all aboard that train. Despite their potent rushing attack (164 yards per last year) and dynamite passing game, this is just one of those examples where I feel their out of division schedule will really come back to haunt them. With games at Indy, NE and NYJ and home against both Super Bowl XLV teams (G.B and Pitt), I think it will be hard to make it out of that schedule alive. 7-9 is very foreseeable.

4. Raiders- The Raiders lost arguably their two best players in Namdi and Zach Miller to free agency, and in return didn't make any signings that I feel would elevate them from last years 8-8 record. Look for McFadden to emerge as a top 5 running back, but banking on anything more than 6 wins is risky.

NFC East
1. Cowboys- Year after year, the Boys are the team with all the preseason hype that's expected to make it to the Super Bowl but always falls up short. However I think this will be the year that they break through and fly under the radar to the top of the NFC East. Cutting ties with Marion the Barbarian was a good move, and you would be hard pressed to find two better young receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. If Romo can bounce back from injury unaffected, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

2. Eagles- On paper Philly should win this division and conference this season. Too bad the games are played on the gridiron. I just don't see Mike Vick and company running the gauntlet without suffering some grueling injuries. Offensive line is another major concern for the Eagles, but you can still pencil them in for a wildcard slot at 10-6.

3. Giants- The Giants had one of the worst off-seasons in the NFL. Pair that up with crippling injuries suffered by starters Prince Amukamara, Terrell Thomas, Jonathan Goff and Osi Umenyiora and Big Blue is left starring 8-8 dead in the face. Offensively they should remain potent, but something about this team and situation leaves me feeling less than confident.

4. Redskins- Shanahan's boys boast the most tenured offensive line in the division, but after that things get shaky. Anytime a pot bellied Rex Grossman is running an offense that predominantly features Santana Moss and Tim Hightower, the celler is a safe bet.

NFC North
1. Packers- The raigning Super Bowl champs are back and fully loaded. A healthy Jermichael Finley could finally dethrone Antonio Gates as the best TE in the league and Aaron Rodgers already holds the "Quarterback Conch" of 2011. Barring serious injuries I expect Green Bay to return to the Super Bowl this year.

2. Lions- I'm realistically high on the Detroit this year to jump to second best in the North. Their core defensive line of Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, Suh and Avril is tops in the league and that's before 2011 first round pick DT Nick Fairley even steps foot on the field. Matthew Stafford, Jahvad Best and Calvin Johnson are all excellent skill position players with deep histories of getting injured, but if they can stay healthy the playoffs are definitely in play in the Motor City.

3. Vikings- Defensive Tackle Kevin Williams suspension for the first two games of the season is certainly going to stagnate Minnesota's start, but if he can come back strong and if Donovan McNabb can resurrect to 2009 form the Vikings could be a sleeper team in the NFC. Adrian Peterson has the rare ability to keep you in every game and it would be a shame if he spends another one of his prime years watching the playoffs from his couch.

4. Bears- Realistically I think Chicago will finish with the exact opposite of their 2010 record where they went 11-5. Last year everything went their way and frankly I just don't see that happening again this year. Everyone on this team seems to be just a little bit passed their prime (Roy Williams, Hester, Peppers, Forte, Urlacher, Cutler etc.) and it just seems like their due for some serious regression.

NFC South
1. Falcons- Atlanta put all their eggs in the Julio Jones basket at the draft this past April, trading a 2011 1st, 2nd, 4th and a 2012 1st/4th round pick for the deep threat from Alabama, but I think this gamble will pay off for the dirty birds. I can see Julio doing for Roddy White what T.O. did for Jerry Rice later in his career. Atlanta has officially surpassed the Saints for this years title of the "Greatest show on turf" (the Eagles play outdoors, right) and Falcon fans should expect a deep playoff run this season.

2. Saints- The Saints improved a lot this off season, by avoiding "flashy" names and going after hard working, value guys like Alex Barron, Fabian Washington, Darren Sprolls, Will Herring and Shaun Rodgers to name a few. But it was their re-signing of glue guys like Roman Harper, Lance Moore, Danny Clark and Jermon Bushrod that will keep New Orleans afloat at the head of the NFC. Rookie Mark Ingrahm will contribute from day 1 and Drew Brees will be, well, Drew Brees. You can't ask for much more than that.

3. Buccs- The Bucs are young, hungry and coming off of a season in which many of their players got their first taste of (minor) success. That's a great recipe coming into this year, but buyer beware, the schedule gets much tougher and asking for another 25 TD, 6 pick year from Josh Freeman is unrealistic. Look for Blount to go for 1,200 and 10.

4. Panthers- The Panthers spent a King's Ranson this off-season on pass rusher Charles Johnson, washed up (?) running back DeAngello Williams and rookie Quarterback Cam Newton, the only problem is I don't see that translating to more than 5 wins tops. I like what they did by bringing in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey at TE, but this team is still a few candles short of a birthday cake.
NFC West
1. Rams- the NFC West remains a crap shoot, but with a year of experience under his belt look for QB Sam Bradford to enter the Freeman/Stafford range of elite young shot callers. You can bet that Spagg's will have his boys geared up and ready to go on defense as well, and the under-the-radar signing of Mike Sims-Walker at wideout will pay dividends. Don't be surprised if Chris Long hits double digit sack numbers.

2. Seahawks- Seattle basically turned their offense into the 2008 Vikings (sans AP) this off-season by over paying for Tavaris Jackson and Sidney Rice. With that being said, Ari/S.F. didn't do enough this off season for me to predict 2010's Division champs will fall any further than 2nd this time around. This is another team impacted negatively by the kick off rule.

3. Cardinals. Arizona is entering year 1 of the Kevin Kolb experiment under center. Sure the price was high (Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd) but when the alternative choice is lucky pierre of Max Hall, John Skelton and Derek Anderson- a move had to be done at any and all costs. Look for Fitzgerald to have a strong bounce back year, not that 2010 was his fault, but he'll certainly be Kolbs 1st, 2nd and 3rd option.

4. 49ers- It pains me to write this but as long as Alex Smith is running the show for the 49ers, I'm selling. I just don't see Jim Harbaugh righting this ship this quickly. A tank job followed by landing Luck with the #1 pick in the 2012 draft is not out of the question.

MVP: Tom Brady

Wild Card playoff teams: Jets, Ravens, Eagles, Saints

Super Bowl XLVI- Pats over Packers

4 games you don't want to miss
Steelers at Ravens, September 11th

Hands down the best rivalry in football the past eight years. No better way to start off the season then by seeing Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu lead their teams into battle, and as if they needed another reason for emotions to be running high, this game is on 9/11 no less. The stakes will be high, and a head-to-head victory in week one will surely come up clutch in the standings further down the line. I don't think Baltimore can afford to lose this game at home and still expect to win the division.

at Jets, December 24th

The battle of Giants MetLife Stadium supremacy! Plenty of bad blood flowing between these two teams, and I'm pretty sure their are still plenty of hard feelings from their preseason bloodbath last month that looked more like an episode of WWE Raw. Add in the Plax factor and Rex Ryan's inevitable trash talking and it can be assured that tensions will be at an all time high.

Patriots at Eagles, November 27th

The two best offenses in the league collide at Lincoln Financial Field in a match up oozing with fantasy implications. Mike Vick and Tom Brady are sure to excite here, and New England is so deep offensively that they will be able spread the ball around all over the field, minimizing Nnamdi Asomugha's impact on defense.

Falcons at Saints, December 26th

Mark my words, this game WILL have huge playoff implications. Be it for the NFC South title, or wild card birth, there is no way that these two teams meet up this late in the season not jockeying for postseason position. Although the Falcons are the better overall team this year, you can not underestimate the home field advantage New Orleans gets at the Superdome.

-fresh (@danye33)

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