The Pundit’s Predictions and Picks for the 2011 NFL Season

For those of you who don’t know – and who am I kidding, that’s probably everyone reading this blog – I (somehow) managed to correctly predict the participants of Super Bowl XLVIbefore the season started. Yeah, I was batting around .500 in terms of predicted division winners (thank you, Mike Singletary and Norv Turner), Wild Card participants (another thanks to Wade Phillips and Tony Sparano), and completely whiffed on my rookies of the year predictions, but hey, who’s counting?

Oh, right. You are.

Nevertheless, here’s my attempt to make lightning strike twice (because clearly, that happens very often), by providing you with my predictions for the upcoming 2011 NFL season, for your reading pleasure.

NFC East

Philadelphia       11-5
Dallas                    10-6*
Washington        9-7
NY Giants            5-11

NFC North

Green Bay          11-5
Minnesota         9-7*
Detroit                9-7
Chicago              7-9

NFC South

New Orleans     12-4
Tampa Bay        9-7
Atlanta               6-10
Carolina             4-12

NFC West

Arizona                10-6
St. Louis               8-8
Seattle                  5-11
San Francisco   2-14

NFC Wild Card Round

Green Bay over Minnesota
Dallas over Arizona

NFC Semi-Finals

Green Bay over Philadelphia
New Orleans over Dallas

NFC Championship

New Orleans over Green Bay

AFC East

New England      12-4
NY Jets                11-5*
Buffalo                  6-10
Miami                   4-12

AFC North

Pittsburgh          11-5
Baltimore           10-6*
Cleveland           9-7
Cincinnati          6-10

AFC South

Indianapolis      9-7
Houston              7-9
Tennessee          7-9
Jacksonville      6-10

AFC West

San Diego            11-5
Kansas City         7-9
Oakland                7-9
Denver                 6-10

AFC Wild Card Round

Baltimore over Pittsburgh
NY Jets over Indianapolis

AFC Semi Finals

New England over NY Jets
San Diego over Baltimore

AFC Championship

New England over San Diego

Super Bowl XLVII

New Orleans over New England

In homage to Peter King’s “Ten Things I Think I Think” section of his weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column, here are 10 thoughts, notes, and comments about my predictions, as well as the upcoming season in general:

1. The Redskins are close, but they’re not ready for the playoffs yet. They’re certainly not going to be nearly as bad as some publications have predicted they’d be, but I think between the amount of youth this team has, plus a brutal 2011 schedule, the Redskins will be outside looking in, in terms of the postseason.Regarding the schedule, just take a look at the last seven games of the Redskins season: at home against Dallas (who I think is going to be a damn good team this year), at Seattle (even if they’re terrible, that’s the toughest place to play in the NFL), at home against the Jets (one of the top three teams in the AFC), at home against New England (my Super Bowl pick from the AFC), at New York (Washington hasn’t beaten in the Giants in New York since 2007), at home against the Vikings (they’ll be a playoff team under Leslie Frazier, even if their offensive line is terrible), and at Philadelphia (who will still have something to play for; namely, playoff positioning, and holding off Dallas from stealing the NFC East crown). That’s six games against playoff-caliber teams, out of seven.Let the kids get another year of experience, let John Beck (assuming he’s still the opening day starter for this team) get a year of comfort in this offense, and prepare for the big run to happen in 2012. The prevailing rumor is that Shanahan & Allen are preparing to make their big run next year anyway, and things look like they’ll work out that way.

2. The Philadelphia Eagles – aka “The Dream Team” – will be a one-and-done in the playoffs, once again courtesy of the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field, for each and every Eagle fan to once again witness in person. The Eagles have some incredible pieces assembled on that team, but I don’t trust that offensive line one bit, and honestly, I trust Michael Vick even less. The amount of hype and attention that Vick has been getting to date is ridiculous, especially for a guy that’s had a grand total of one playoff win in his entire career.His improvisational ability is virtually unprecedented, but if he keeps running around and trying to make something out of nothing, it’s only going to subject him to more hits.

3. The Peyton Manning situation is not good, but there’s no way I’m betting against a team led by him, even if his supporting cast is as thin as it’s been in over a decade. I think he misses a few games – somewhere between two and four is my bet – needs another week or two to get the rust off, but will managed to get the Colts to a nine-win season. That’ll be good enough to win the division (the weakest in the AFC), and to secure a first round exit at the hands of the Jets.

4. I don’t like Houston this year. Between Arian Foster’s hamstring injury and “doesn’t know what, and what not, to say via social media” issues, plus forcing the 3-4 defense on personnel that it’s not necessarily meant for (see Washington Redskins, 2010), there’s no way I can pick them to win the AFC South, even if Peyton Manning misses almost a quarter of the season.

4A. And it will cost Gary Kubiak his job.

5. Lovie Smith won’t get fired…. but there’s going to be a conversation about it

5A. Jim Caldwell won’t get fired because of the convenient excuse of Manning’s neck injury…. but there’s going to be a conversation about it. Jim Caldwell is to Tony Dungy what Rich Kotite was to Buddy Ryan.

6. Norv Turner won’t get fired, but they’ll also have a conversation about it. They axed Marty for the same thing: not being able to take an uber-talented roster to the big game.

6A. That being said, I think Phillip Rivers is going to have a boffo year: something like 4800+ yards passing, close to 35 touchdown passes, and single digit interceptions.

7. Cam Newton starts the season for the Panthers, but won’t play all 16 games. He’ll either be benched, or get injured. Or both. He’s just not ready to start in this league yet. You’ll have to look far and wide to find someone who dislikes Jimmy Clausen more than I do, but he should be the starting quarterback for this team, if nothing else but for the first few weeks of the season, at least until he takes them to something like a 1-7 record. Let’s see how Newton prepares for being the high-priced backup; we’ll learn a lot about him that way.

8. While we’re talking about  #1 overal picks: San Francisco wins the “Andrew Luck sweepstakes” by securing the worst record in the NFL, thus reuniting Luck with his old college head coach, Jim Harbaugh. They’ll narrowly edge Carolina for this “honor,”avoiding a potentially fascinating plotline of what Carolina would have done had they gotten the #1 overall pick, given that they drafted Newton last year. But, with Luck staying in the Bay area, San Francisco will also finally take pity on their fans, and mercifully end the Alex Smith era once and for all.

8A.The Miami Dolphins will get their hands on the consolation prize in the “Luck Sweepstakes”: Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.

9. Speaking of Miami: every year, somewhere between six and eight NFL head coaches are either fired, resigned, or find new jobs. I think Dolphins Tony Sparano will be the first coach to get the axe after the season is over (if he even lasts that long). Other coaches who I think will get canned: Kubiak (as previously mentioned) Jack Del Rio (one winning season in the last 5 years), and Marvin Lewis (one winning season in the last 5 years). And in a little bit of a shocker, I think Tom Coughlin will retire when the year is over.

10. I think Jason Garrett wins coach of the year – and you have no idea how much it pains and angers me to say that. The Cowboys are a team that few people are talking about, even though you should be. Talent-wise, they’re in the upper echelon of the NFL. They went 5-3 over the last eight games of 2010. And perhaps most importantly: with all the “Dream Team” nonsense going on in Philadelphia, this is the first time in over a decade that the spotlight isn’t shining on the Cowboys. When was the last time you could say that a Dallas team this talented was actually “flying under the radar?” Jerry Jones hasn’t had to made any ridiculous statements or proclamations about the Cowboys upcoming successses, nor has he had to answer endless questions about the coache’s job security.

As a Redskins fan, I don’t like saying anything – and I mean ANYthing – nice about the Cowboys. But if there’s a darkhorse team that nobody in the NFC, or NFL overall, is talking about, it’d be them.