An overview of the 2011 NFL season


Ok… so I’ve posted the four divisional previews…

AFC East and North

AFC South and West

NFC East and North

NFC South and West

Now it’s time to ask a few questions, make some predictions, and just catch up on a few things I wasn’t able to include in those columns.

What teams are likely to surprise in 2011?

Well… let’s start off with sort of a reminder. In the NFC I have Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans and Arizona taking divison titles, and Atlanta as a clean wild-card favorite. I have four teams at 9-7, and I’m going use two of those as my potential surprises in 2011… that would be Detroit and Tampa Bay. (Dallas and New York (Giants) are the other two… let’s not really go with surprise on those two.)

In the AFC I have New England, Baltimore, Houston and San Diego winning divisions, with Pittsburgh and New York (Jets) rounding out the playoffs.

Now I lead with that in the surprise section because: (1) I do need to mention the playoffs in this column at some point. And, (2) even though my second question will specifically be about the playoffs, I think it’s an important consideration for 2011… especially in Detroit and Tampa… where the fringes of the playoffs are being seen. So… yeah… surprises…

In the NFC we have Detroit and Tampa. The Bucs played well last year, so their surprise comes only from making the playoffs and not necessarily from another decent season. The Lions will surprise by being a tough opponent. And go figure… guess what two teams are playing each other in week one. Yup… Detroit and Tampa. Stunning. It could be a nice forecast for one of these teams.

For real NFC surprises, it’s hard to zoom in on anything. Most of it is player-driven and not team driven. An example? Sure. St. Louis. Detroit is another. Tampa a third. See what I mean? You’ve already been hearing about these teams and how they will cause headaches for opponents though they may not be strong enough to join the conference elite. I’m just not a believer in St. Louis yet.

Instead of those three, if you want more… look to Kevin Kolb in Arizona… Alex Smith in San Francisco… and even Donovan McNabb in Minnesota. Each one of those players will be heavily examined during this season… and any one of them stepping up could place their team into a December playoff run. And… each of them has quality players on the roster offering support.

So… NFC… player-based surprises. And, I’ll take Alex Smith as the possible stunner in a weak NFC West.

In the AFC we start to see some teams that could be surprises. Cleveland is going to be tougher than people expect. I think Indy is doomed without Manning, but Kerry Collins could be a steady player that takes advantage of a so-so schedule to guide them to 9 or 10 wins. (He won’t… but these are surprises.) And I think Denver might play better than people expect.

So… San Francisco, Detroit, Cleveland and Denver would be my four targets if you want team names.

What teams that you have outside the playoffs could make it?

Hmm… outsiders to make the playoffs.

NFC… I’ll say Tampa in, so that would mean Dallas and New York are two I have outside that could make it. Detroit a third. I won’t even look at the NFC West, where it is just so weak that literally any team could win the division.

I really don’t see anyone else making it. Chicago is going to be slammed… bad acquisitions (Roy Williams), opponents that are playing with no fear (Green Bay should be an awesome force, and Detroit is improving with no pressure on them), and in general I think they’ll slip.

In the AFC I like Kansas City to be in the hunt. But… there are going to be several 10 win teams in the AFC and then a drop off. For example… in the North and East… you have what honestly looks like four playoff teams and four playing-the-string teams. In the South will be a division winner and then no one else making it, and I expect the West to be close to the same. The Chiefs are a possibility if the Chargers play their annual horrendous and poorly coached early season football… which is always better than 50-50 as a possibility.

Other than that, it is purely up to Houston to lose the South because it is gift-wrapped for them.

I guess Detroit is the only team I would consider as even realistic.

What teams are the most likely to be worse than you expect?

The J… E… T… S… Jets… Jets… Jets.

Top of the list, no doubt in my mind, could be worse.

They don’t play pretty games against Buffalo… and Miami is always a struggle for them… so they have six difficult division games. Add in the inconsistent and inaccurate quarterback, and the differences the kicking game might make for them, and… well… I covered a lot of it in previewing the division. Some games they won last year could be losses this year, and an 8-8 campaign isn’t impossible.

San Diego is way too easy to predict as a possible disappointment. Everyone is anointing Rivers as a giant, and that should scare us away from him. And if the Rivers bandwagon doesn’t scare you, the coaching should. The consistency from that organization under Turner is non-existent. Of course… they alternate years, and this is set to be a big one.

Philly could struggle. The NFC East is one of the potentially balanced divisions… with no one extremely good, and no one week-after-week bad.

Playoffs… how will it play out?

Ok… NFC… Philly and Arizona are hosting Tampa and Atlanta according to my predictions. Philly and Atlanta win there. The Falcons advance to lose to the Saints, and the Eagles will get creamed by the Packers. Epic title game, with the Saints going to the Super Bowl.

In the AFC, everything goes through New England, with the Patriots heading to the big game. In the first week, the Jets and Steelers wipe out the Chargers and Texans. Then the Patriots and Ravens win their home games, with New England advancing.

In the Super Bowl, New England defeats the Saints in a thriller. Brady the MVP, becoming the only four-time winning, five-time appearing Super Bowl quarterback.

Are you going to pick week-by-week games?


Sorry about that. But, we’re having some problems here at the Backpack and it could run into October before everything is sorted out and set back up. Between that and some other commitments I have, it is possible that just getting my own weekly selections in place would be next to impossible… forget adding in the dogs and other stuff I try to include.

We’ll start the weekly picks fresh in 2012.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at