Ah, NFL Opening Day… for the next five months, millions will tune in and turn out to witness the greatest sports spectacle ever conceived, gridiron football. After a brief lockout that threatened to cut this year’s season short, at long last, the 2011 season will kickoff today, much to the joy of millions of sports fans such as myself.
I’ve loved the sport ever since I watched John Elway lead the Broncos to back to back Superbowl titles back when I was a child, a devotion which has only grown with age. Like most American males, I follow football with a near religious conviction, so it should come as no surprise that I am both fairly knowledgeable and deeply opinionated about the sport. Not content for meager arguments with my more football-savvy friends, I decided to provide for you, my dear readers, my predictions of the performances of every team in the NFL this season, and my Super Bowl prediction. I can assume team support is fairly divided amongst my readers, so no doubt a few of you will disagree with my predictions for a few teams, and if so, feel free to tell me, and I hope you enjoy them regardless. Now without further adieu, let’s kickoff:
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals year will be riding on the back of QB Kevin Kolb. If he can prove to be the sort of QB Arizona needs, the team will have a shot at winning the NFC West.
Atlanta Falcons – They have a brutal first five games, all against potential playoff contenders. If the Falcons can come out on top of at least three of them, odds are good they will make the playoffs, and a few people are putting them in as Super Bowl favorites. at the very least, expect them to make waves in the post season.
Baltimore Ravens – Bit by bit, the Ravens get closer to their next Super Bowl title with every passing year. It’s on the Ray Rice-led offense to get them to the big game soon, because the window is closing fast for Ray Lewis and the Raven’s aging defense. In any case, they will be a team to watch this season.
Buffalo Bills – Expect to see them hold their weight against lesser foes this season thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Marcell Dareus, but they have a ways to go before they can pose a threat to the stronger teams in their division. For now, expect for the Bills to continue their long rebuilding phase.
Carolina Panthers – The worst team in the NFL last year, despite some changes to the coaching staff and roster, they remain in a tough division, so the Panthers look to have a long road ahead if they want to avoid that again.
Chicago Bears – After reaching the NFC championship game last year, only to lose to their rivals up in Green Bay. If they can straighten up their offensive line and remain solid elsewhere, there may be a chance for them to get their revenge this go around in the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals – Even with a somewhat favorable schedule, having lost Owens and Ochocinco, expectations are the same as usual for Cincinnati: low.
Cleveland Browns – With a good offensive core and a new coach, the Browns can only go up this season. Considering their past record and tough division, that doesn’t say much though.
Dallas Cowboys – After choking early last season, Dallas hired Jason Garrett as head coach, who quickly put the Cowboys within reach of the playoffs. With his first full season this year, if Tony Romo can stay healthy and the defense rebounds, he might actually get the team there this year.
Denver Broncos - It pained me to see the Broncos gutted over the last few seasons, so I’m happy to see the efforts to rebuild led by none other than Denver legend John Elway. Add in John Fox as coach and odds are good in a couple seasons they may be back to their glory days. For now though, Denver would be wise to decide if they will stick with Kyle Orton or give Tim Tebow his chance, and trade the other QB for some decent running backs. As a whole, things will only go up for the Mile High city this year… how high is anybody’s guess.
Detroit Lions – In case any of you didn’t read my article on the most hopeless sports teams, the Lions have long been the team in which NFL ineptitude has been measured. Now, barely two years after they had the only 0-16 record in NFL football, the Lions hope to change that. I remain a skeptic.
Green Bay Packers – After a rough regular season, the Packers went on to defy the odds and win the Super Bowl. With a healthy, relatively young and very talented team, we may be looking at a dynasty. While a lot of attention is given to the Eagles, the Packers are the other team in the NFC I wouldn’t be surprised to see in Indianapolis come January.
Houston Texans – Whether or not the Texans can earn a playoff spot for the first time this year will depend entirely on if they win or lose their first couple games, whom are all against stronger teams. If not, victory during the easier second half of the season for the team might not matter.
Indianapolis Colts - Any team with Peyton Manning at the helm is one to watch, but the Colts themselves are nothing to sneeze at. While a few skeptics might point out their disappointing early exit from the playoffs as a sign of days to come, I would like to point out that Indianapolis made the playoffs and came close to winning their wild card match with half the starters on the injured reserve. With the recent boost to their offensive line and defense, if they can stay healthy, we may get to see them play home field in the Super Bowl next January.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Jacksonville has missed the playoffs in nine of the last eleven years, including coming just short in 2009 and 2010. With some recent changes to the roster, I think the Jaguars are in for another disappointing season.
Kansas City Chiefs – Everyone, myself included, was surprised to see the Chiefs win their Division last year, even if they did get butchered in the playoffs. However this year, they host what may be the toughest schedule in the league this year, with games against the Colts, Jets, Patriots, Packers and Steelers. If they can endure that, the playoffs are in reach.
Miami Dolphins - After a very rough few seasons, the Dolphins have put together a good defense, though the offense it still in the midst of a major overhaul.
Minnesota Vikings - Having lost QB Brett Farve, coach Brad Childress, and the Metrodome, it looks like the Vikings will be more adrift this year than their namesakes. While they may be back to being playoff contenders in a couple years as they get their groove back, for 2011, they will be lucky just to have a winning season.
New England Patriots - With a rising wave of young talent, it looks like the Patriots will continue to be near the top of the AFC standings – if Tom Brady doesn’t continue to show signs of his age, and manages to stay healthy this season. As much as I hate to say it, barring some unforeseen circumstances, expect to see the Patriots in their typical groove this season.
New York Giants – They’ve had a rough couple of seasons, but the Giants certainly have the talent to make the playoffs this year. Whether or not they do or not will depend entirely on if Eli Manning can quit tossing interceptions and if the defense can stand their ground.
New York Jets - No matter how they do in the regular season, the Jets have proven that as long as they make the playoffs, they are a contender to come out on top of the AFC. With this being QB Mark Sanchez’s third year, they will be a lot steadier, and will be a team to watch.
New Orleans Saints - Much like the Colts, the Saints spent the year after their after their Super Bowl appearance struggling with injuries and barely making the playoffs. Unlike the Colts, they lost a few key players, though Drew Brees will likely keep them in contention for a wild card berth.
Oakland Raiders - Last year gave Oakland their first season in seven years where the team didn’t lose at least eleven games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them fall back into old habits this year.
Philadelphia Eagles - Hosting the highest amount of ex-cons and bad boys in sports this side of the 1990′s Cowboys, the Eagles have sold their souls for a shot at the Super Bowl, and frankly, they just might get it. Having splurged on free agents during the off season, they hedged their bets, and without a doubt are the team to beat in the NFC this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Always capable of dominating the AFC, the Steelers have been a regular contender for the Super Bowl fir the last decade, and that won’t change this year. While their defense is not as young as it used to be, Ben Roethlisberger should be able to give the team a good chance at their seventh Lombardi Trophy.
San Diego Chargers - In the middle of speculation that the team might become the Los Angeles Chargers in the next couple of seasons, the Chargers remain one of the teams to watch in the AFC, and fans of the team have high hopes that San Diego will take the AFC West, if not go father in the post-season. Considering the last few years, that is a huge question mark.
San Francisco 49ers - It could go either way for the San Francisco this year, no pun intended. This could be the year the 49ers finally make the playoffs, or they could be the divisions worst. I honestly can’t tell.
Seattle Seahawks - It’s going to be a rough season for the Seahawks, with team in the midst of restructuring. At the very least, don’t expect to see the Seattle win the division this year, let alone earn a playoff berth.
St. Louis Rams - They came close last year, but 2011 may be the year the Rams take division in the NFC West. Considering the competition, that really doesn’t say much, but nevertheless, things are looking up for St. Louis.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Coach Raheem Morris caused a few snickers when he claimed that Tampa Bay, then the leagues most inexperienced team, would win ten games last season. Coach Morris would have the last laugh when the Buccaneers went 10-6, though it failed to get the team a playoff spot. If they can repeat last years record or do better, they’ll make it this year no doubt.
Tennessee Titans - Tennessee plays host to a decent defensive line, but the offense is a strange hodge-podge of aging veterans and young talent. The hope is it might see them get a playoff birth, but sharing a division with the Colts and Texans, I don’t see it happening this year.
Washington Redskins - Mike Shanahan has his work cut out for him trying to whip Washington back in to shape. Still in the middle of rebuilding after having had the team effectively paralyzed the last decade, it would be a sign of progress if they can place above fourth in division this year.
My picks for Super Bowl XXXXVI:
Indianapolis Colts over the Philadelphia Eagles