Leading up to the start of the regular season, PFW will post the NFL predictions of its editors/writers, who forecast the order of finish in each division, the outcome of Super Bowl XLV, and Offensive and Defensive MVPs. In the seventh of these predictions, PFW senior editor Eric Edholm looks into his crystal ball.
1. New England: While everyone is ready to bury them, they’ll surprise with a more physical team this season. Expect better results defensively and a more balanced attack on offense. The division still runs through Foxborough.
2. N.Y. Jets: Talent alone gets them here, but there’s no way this team is making a Super Bowl unless Darrelle Revis reports and Mark Sanchez improves. Distractions, hubris will be this team’s downfall despite a potentially outstanding defense.
3. Miami: Chad Henne is ready to break out, and the run-pass options will be hard to defend. Defense might not be a top-10 group, but it should be better. If young corners and pass rushers develop, this team will be in playoff hunt — and could surpass the ballyhooed Jets.
4. Buffalo: Morale is low, right on par with the talent. Uncertainty at QB and a “D” switching schemes (without the requisite parts to make it work) means the team will be punting — metaphorically and in reality — this season. With the first pick in the 2011 draft, the Bills select …
1. Baltimore: There’s real concern about the secondary and special teams. But it might be a Super Bowl-caliber roster, as solid as it gets across the board, if Joe Flacco takes the steps everyone expects him to take. I am a little hesitant to vault him to elite status.
2. Cincinnati: I still like this team and think it might be more talented on paper than last season’s 10-win club. Just don’t think there’s any way they’ll skate through the division at 6-0 again, as issues could crop up on defense and the offensive line.
3. Pittsburgh: Although Roethlisberger will miss only four games, choosing the wrong replacement could cost them a few games early. Defense is aged but still a very reliable group, and run game should keep them competitive.
4. Cleveland: A team to keep an eye on and perhaps no longer everyone’s doormat. Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done, but I think they’ll pull off a semi-shocker or two this season. Roster has holes, but the Browns will be competitive at times.
1. Indianapolis: Still the class of the division. They won last season facing a tough schedule and a lot of injuries. They led 10-0 in the Super Bowl and looked like the better team before self-inflicted errors. This team, as always, will be on a mission — and will get it done.
2. Houston: Not quite ready for prime time. I love the direction of the franchise and think team simply will outclass a few teams offensively. But a brutal schedule and some depth concerns means they’ll have to play second fiddle again.
3. Tennessee: Well-coached and possessing intriguing talent, they remain too much of a wild card. Vince Young seems to have matured, and Chris Johnson is a star, but individual focus scares me. Jeff Fisher’s best teams are typically best when sum is better than the individual pieces.
4. Jacksonville: A plucky team, though one that’s going to be swimming upstream. Lack of consistent offensive output because of passing game will undo them in the end.
1. Oakland: My first real out-on-a-limb pick. An improved front seven and far-steadier QB play means that the Raiders will win 10 or 11 games (no joke) and challenge for the West crown. They won’t score a ton, but defense is improved and kicking game is elite.
2. San Diego: No longer skating to a division title. They have the offensive talent to outscore some teams, and the defense is well-schooled. But a slimmer roster and fewer weapons will take some of the teeth out of this team come playoff time.
3. Kansas City: Better coordinators and an exciting rookie class have this team back on the map a bit. But Matt Cassel is a concern, and his improved play will hold the key to the season. It will be an adventure defensively, but there are a few bright spots.
4. Denver: Sometimes you have to take a step backward to take two steps forward. The team is going through the dreaded transition phase as it reshapes its offense for next season. This year will be trying at times, but there will be optimism heading into 2011.
1. Dallas: Injury concerns aside, this is the most talented team in the NFC. Pressure of a “home” Super Bowl will mount with each win, and a tough schedule awaits. But this could be a very big year with a loaded roster.
2. N.Y. Giants: The “D” should be a top-10 unit, not reminiscent of 2009’s disaster. I wonder if going with run-based attack won’t take big plays away, given all the WR talent and Eli Manning. Still, the playoffs are a strong possibility.
3. Philadelphia: Talent abounds, but a brutal schedule and a change of leadership will be just enough to keep this team down enough. Kevin Kolb will be great, but maybe not week in and week out right now. An improved defense will help, though.
4. Washington: Too many moving parts to predict them much higher. Donovan McNabb is still cleaning some things up, but he could make them 3-4 wins better. Defense is a tough group to make a call on; it has talent but also noticeable holes.
1. Green Bay: The fewest questions in the division and a rock-star quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who might be the league’s best this season. Worried about defense being too lenient at times and an O-line that has its warts, but the points will come in bunches a la the Saints last season.
2. Minnesota: Just don’t like the vibe that is going on with this team since losing in New Orleans. Brutal October schedule — likely without Sidney Rice, mind you — will take Vikes down a peg. Still good enough to make playoffs, but I don't think a Super Bowl is happening.
3. Chicago: Strange team to get a read on; has some elite talent but also some real questions, too. Some games, Cutler and Co. will look elite, as will the defense. Problem is, I just don’t think it will happen often enough to make playoffs — or save Lovie’s job.
4. Detroit: The enthusiasm has to be tempered a bit because the defensive back seven is just bad. But boy, it’s going to be fun watching Stafford throw to Johnson, Best, Burleson, Scheffler and the rest. Six wins sound about right, but watch out in 2011.
1. New Orleans: Schedule softens a bit after first four games, but I continue to worry about this defense. There’s just no way they’ll make as many game-changing plays to make up for all the yards they allow. Offense still rules here, but the magic might not happen again.
2. Atlanta: How much better are they defensively? Health is good, bringing more help with deeper roster, and offense should be great blend of run and pass. But I am not ready, like some, to vault them close to Super status yet.
3. Carolina: A sleeper team, to be sure, if the defense keeps up its fine preseason work and the offense shows some life with Smith, Stewart and Otah healthy. Not one of John Fox’s more complete rosters, but the man has proven he can coach out nine or 10 wins if things break right.
4. Tampa Bay: Not totally bearish on a team that lost four games by one score or less, played much better defense down the stretch in 2009 and faces a softer schedule in '10. But offense will be very green. Arrow pointing up but not that far up yet.
1. San Francisco: Everyone’s darlings in this division, there’s a lot to like, but questions remain. No glaring weaknesses, but Alex Smith is not a star and an offensive line with two rookies is sure to go through some growing pains.
2. Seattle: Their record could surprise some folks, but they are not much better than 8-8. Passing game and defensive improvements will equate to a few close wins. Five of final six games are on the West Coast, including four in Seattle, which also helps.
3. Arizona: Not much to like about the QB situation. Defense will be competitive, but it took major hits in the offseason. A 6-10 season is not out of the question if they don’t avoid a slow start.
4. St. Louis: Baby steps here. The lack of front-line WR and TE talent is frightening, and Bradford will be under the gun to make things happen. The defense has some things to patch up despite a nice core of Laurinaitis, Long and Atogwe.
Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Defensive MVP: Patrick Willis, San Francisco
Super Bowl XLV: Indianapolis over Dallas
Other predictions: Mike Wilkening | Dan Parr | Michael Blunda | Arthur Arkush | Kevin Fishbain | Eli Kaberon
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