NFL Predictions 2011

I just spent a good solid 40 minutes with the NFL schedule & predicted the outcome for each game.  Below are the results, starting in the AFC (number in parenthesis indicates playoff seeding):

AFC East

1. New England Patriots (1) 13-3.  The Patriots of recent vintage have tended to be great regular season teams, and with the addition of Chad 8-5 I see no reason that will change.  Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger, but I think he still has prime or near-prime football in him, and I look for Ochocinco to have a renaissance season playing for a winning organization.  As for the Albert Haynesworth acquisition, I can see him being very good, and I can see him being beyond useless.  They may need the former for postseason success, but I doubt it matters much in the regular season.

2. New York Jets (6) 10-6.  I look for a bit of a shaky start as Mark Sanchez has some growing pains as he tries to develop into a top shelf NFL quarterback and out of the role of a game manager.  But a split with the Patriots and a strong finish sneaks them into the playoffs.

3. Buffalo Bills 6-10.  Another unremarkable campaign in Orchard Park.

4. Miami Dolphins 5-11.  Not sold on Chad Henne, combined with the lack of faith shown in Tony Sporano when Dolphins management publicly courted Jim Harbaugh in the offseason cause me to think this will be a down season in South Beach.

AFC North:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (2) 12-4.  I look for a bit of a shift in identity for the Steelers this season.  I look for the team to pass roughly 60% of the time and put points on the board, while the defense, while still good, is too old in the front 7 and too ordinary in the defensive backfield, to be dominant.

2. Baltimore Ravens (5) 11-5.  I might be a bit optimistic on their record, but the schedule for AFC North teams (AFC South, NFC West) doesn’t figure to be brutal.  I’m not sure about the Ravens as an offense taking the next step, not because of Flacco, but because of the losses of Derrick Mason and Todd Heap.  And I can see their defense, like Pittsburgh’s, taking a step back.  But this is still a good football team.

3. Cleveland Browns 9-7.  Before I sat down with the schedule I was thinking more like 6-8 wins for the Browns.  But the Browns are moving in the right direction; I am a fan of Colt McCoy in that offense.  Also, I have them doing what they should against the Bengals and being good enough to beat the Steelers in Week 17 when Pittsburgh enters locked into the #2 seed.

4. Cincinnati Bengals 2-14.  Apologies to any Bengals fans that read this, but this looks like a trainwreck of a team.  Andy Dalton might be good in the NFL, but where’s his help?

AFC South:

1. Indianapolis Colts (3) 11-5.  After a 2-2 start as Peyton Manning gets back in game rhythm, the Colts play like the Colts the last 3/4 of the season.

2. Houston Texans 10-6.  A very good offense, and they figure to be improved on defense, but not quite enough to get over the hump.  I rate them in the dreaded 7th spot, so I wouldn’t have to be off by much on, say, the Jets for them to sneak in.

3. Tennessee Titans 5-11.  Growing pains for the rookie quarterback and 8 men in the box will frustrate the well-paid Chris Johnson.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11.  Time to move the franchise to Los Angeles.

AFC West:

1. San Diego Chargers (4) 9-7.  Typical San Diego regular season; statistically good but a couple dumbfounding losses kill any chances at a bye seed.

2. Kansas City Chiefs 8-8.  A bit of a reality check for the Chiefs who played above their heads to win the division last season.

3. Oakland Raiders 5-11.  I think they should’ve kept Bruce Gradkowski and made him the starter, as much as it pains the BGSU alum to say that about a Toledo man.  Time to move the franchise back to Los Angeles?

4. Denver Broncos 5-11.  It don’t matter much if they play Orton or Quinn or Tebow; the McDaniels era was a catastrophe and it will take a few years to return glory to Mile High.

AFC Overview:

I am concerned by how much this playoff picture looks like last season’s; the NFL is never that static.  San Diego in the #4 spot instead of Kansas City is the only deviation.  But I’m just not seeing much change.  Outside the playoffs I do have some movement with teams like Cleveland improving and several teams sliding back.

NFC East:

1. Philadelphia Eagles (2) 11-5.  I see a bit of a slow start for the Eagles, and I am concerned that in their rush to spend money on glamor positions they forgot to put together an offensive line.  Then again, the Steelers made two of the last three Super Bowls without an offensive line.

2. Dallas Cowboys (5) 10-6.  Not much preseason love for Big D that I have seen from the national figures, but I liked most of what I saw late last season under Jason Garrett, and this team still have a ton of weapons on offense.

3. New York Giants 8-8.  I think this team failed to get better; in fact you could sell me on their record being a game or two worse than this.

4. Washington Redskins 8-8.  I like Mike Shanahan as a coach I think he has the team moving in the right direction.  But there is a limit to how many wins I am going to predict for a team led by John Beck or Rex Grossman.

NFC North:

1. Green Bay Packers (3) 10-6.  It feels like I’m dissing the defending champs, but that’s actually the record they had last regular season.  I think the rest of the division is too strong to let them pile up a gaudy win total, but its a good team.

2. Detroit Lions (6) 10-6.  I hope I didn’t stun any Lions fans that read this too badly, and I would feel more confident in this pick if it weren’t for the Lions being the sexy national pick for improved team.  But they weren’t far removed from a much better record last season.  If they can just keep Stafford healthy.  By my math its actually a Week 17 loss at Lambeau that keeps them from winning the division.

3. Minnesota Vikings 9-7.  I look for Donovan McNabb to have a bit of a rejuvenation and they have Adrian Peterson.  In a weaker division they would be a playoff team; as it is they’re not far off and it wouldn’t take much to sneak ahead of Detroit.

4. Chicago Bears 6-10.  The Bears of the past 20 years are never good two years in a row.  That doesn’t change now.  They played above their heads to win the division last season and then got the incredible fortune of drawing a losing record team in the divisional playoffs.  They get shuffled out by a strong division and the Jay Cutler situation could implode on them if they’re not careful.

NFC South:

1. Atlanta Falcons (1) 11-5.  I liked the move to trade way up in the 1st round of the Draft to get Julio Jones, although rookie wide receivers often struggle to make much of an impact.  Regardless, this was a good team last season particularly on offense, so even with pulling out a couple fewer teams than last season they still have a strong record.

2. New Orleans Saints 10-6.  They still have Drew Brees and so figure to put points on the scoreboard.  But I have them just missing the playoffs in the division and wildcard races.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7.  Overall I think this franchise has things heading in the right direction, but I think they’ll have some growing pains after over-achieving last season.

4. Carolina Panthers 2-14.  Cam Newton will have growing pains and he doesn’t have much help.

NFC West:

1. St. Louis Rams (4) 10-6.  Being in the playoff race to the bitter end was a valuable experience for Sam Bradford and the rest of the team that squads that mediocre don’t usually get.  While I don’t expect them to be good enough to be a serious Super Bowl contender this season, I look for them to be good enough to control this division.

2. Seattle Seahawks 6-10.  They don’t have an NFL caliber quarterback, and that makes it hard to win on a consistent basis.  A schedule of NFC East and AFC North doesn’t help either.

3. San Francisco 49ers 5-11.  I am a Jim Harbaugh fan, though like Pete Carroll he might be better suited to the college game.  Also, I’m not at this point sold on Alex Smith.

4. Arizona Cardinals 5-11.  I might’ve had them a couple games better if not for their schedule, but not a ton better.

NFC Overview:

Three playoff newcomers and three holdovers is the NFL average of recent years; only time will tell if I have the right holdovers and the right newbies!  Whereas the AFC came out a bit top-heavy, the NFC came out with a lot of teams between 8-11 wins with a few weaker teams.  And that kind of crapshoot is pretty much how I view the conference.

PLAYOFFS:

Wildcard weekend I look for San Diego and Indianapolis to win home games against Baltimore and New York as the Jets and Ravens struggle to mount yet another road warriors campaign.  In the NFC Dallas wins as a road favorite against St. Louis while Green Bay handles Detroit at Lambeau for the second week in a row.  In the divisional round Roethlisberger outduels Manning and Brady outduels Rivers.  In the NFC Romo finally gets a signature playoff win at Atlanta while Green Bay overwhelms the Eagles in Philly.  In the conference championship games, both to avoid jinxing my team and because its a horrible matchup for them, I’ll take New England to beat the Steelers while Green Bay wins the Ice Bowl redo against Dallas.

SUPER BOWL XLVI:  The Packers defense forces a couple turnovers from Brady while Aaron Rogers is able to consistently move the ball against New England’s unremarkable defense.  Packers win 34-24 to repeat as champs.

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