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 XLVI, and Offensive and Defensive MVPs. In the fourth of these predictions, PFW associate editor Eli Kaberon looks into his crystal ball.
1. New England — After going 14-2 last season, nobody would have blamed the Pats for being quiet during the offseason and keeping their roster intact. Instead, several new pieces were added — most notably WR Chad Ochocinco — which I think makes the team even stronger.
2. N.Y. Jets — It wasn't the best offseason for Gang Green, whose receiving corps took a dip, and they still didn't add a pass rusher. Unless Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene take big steps forward, it's difficult envisioning them making the AFC title game yet again.
3. Buffalo — Year Two under Chan Gailey should help the offense, and the defense can't be any worse than it was last season. Interested to see if C.J. Spiller just had a rough transition to the league last year or if he's just not as good as everybody thought he'd be.
4. Miami — Led by Cameron Wake, their Fins' defense is strong, which should keep them close in a lot of games. Still, I just can't see Chad Henne and a below-average stable of running backs being able to put up enough points to grab more than a handful of wins.
1. Baltimore — On paper, I think they're about even with the Steelers. It's just that I expect Harbaugh and Co. will put a greater emphasis on the regular season, after having played on the road in each of the past three postseasons, and thus take the division crown.
2. Pittsburgh — Did the Packers show in the Super Bowl the major chink in the Steelers' armor by spreading them out wide and picking them apart with deep throws? For some reason I have an inkling that Dick LeBeau will figure out a way to prevent that from happening too often.
3. Cleveland — Though they got great value for their pick, I think the Browns will regret trading with the Falcons on Draft Day and not choosing WR Julio Jones. Colt McCoy needs playmakers, and the physical Jones would have been a perfect fit for the West Coast offense.
4. Cincinnati — No Carson, no Ocho, no chance. Andy Dalton may one day emerge as a very good NFL quarterback, and A.J. Green has the skill set to be a Pro Bowler, but in 2011, the entire roster lacks the talent win many games.
1. Indianapolis — No team's pendulum swings as far one way or another based on a player's health more than the Colts with Peyton Manning. I'm going to assume he'll be in the lineup putting up outstanding numbers for the majority of the season, because, well, that's what he's always done.
2. Jacksonville — I liked the moves they made to their defense in the offseason, especially adding tackle-machine MLB Paul Posluszny and hard-hitting S Dawan Landry. With a good running game and an improved defense, the Jags could surprise some people.
3. Houston — Making the switch to Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator was a smart one. I just think the lockout really hurt the Texans, who face the high-powered offenses of the Colts, Saints and Steelers early in the season after having just one month to learn a brand-new defense.
4. Tennessee — I like where the Titans are going with Jake Locker as the man of the future, but it's going to be strange seeing them without Jeff Fisher at the helm.
1. San Diego — There are no excuses for the Chargers this season. With the talent on their roster, especially on offense, anything less than an AFC West title and deep playoff run will be seen as a failure in Southern California and around the NFL.
2. Kansas City — Though their roster is more talented than the 2010 version that won the AFC West, it's going to be difficult for the Chiefs to repeat as division champs. The schedule is a whole lot tougher, and K.C. won't be able to sneak up on anybody this season.
3. Oakland — Last season, RB Darren McFadden made the improvement from average to good. In order for the team to be competitive on offense this season, Run-DMC will have to improve from good to great.
4. Denver — Replacing Josh McDaniels with John Fox as head coach should be enough to improve the Broncos by a couple of games. In terms of talent, however, this team is still a few years away from being legit contenders.
1. Philadelphia — The champions of the offseason don't have much of a track record of being champions of the real season. Can the Eagles reverse that trend?
2. Dallas — A rarity in "Big D": Expectations are low, with the attention focused on another team in the NFC East. Excited to see what DeMarcus Ware can do in a Rob Ryan-coached defense.
3. N.Y. Giants — Don't be fooled if the Giants start the season with a strong record and then miss the playoffs yet again. A third straight year of second-half collapses seems likely with a brutal stretch of games following their bye week.
4. Washington — Take solace, 'Skins fans: Because of Congress, the Redskins' offense won't be the biggest mess in D.C. in 2011.
1. Green Bay — Hard not to like the defending champs, considering all the talent they bring back on both sides of the ball. Will be interested to see how Jermichael Finley blends into an offense that was operating so well down the stretch.
2. Chicago — Their defense should once again be one of the league's best, and I think Jay Cutler will take a step forward with an improved supporting cast. Kickoff rule changes really hurt the Bears, however.
3. Detroit — Not sold on their offense or secondary, two things needed to win in this loaded division. And there's still a major question whether Matthew Stafford can stay on the field.
4. Minnesota — After the roof (literally) fell in on them last season, it looks like it could be another rough year for the Vikings in 2011.
1. New Orleans — Great offseason, filled with smart acquisitions in the draft and free agency, should wipe away the disgusting taste in their mouth left by the shocking loss to the Seahawks in the playoffs.
2. Tampa Bay — Josh Freeman is the real deal, and I think a lot of their defense is, too. Question is: Can they handle the high expectations?
3. Atlanta — Matt Ryan has the reputation of being a big-game QB, but I still have major doubts. I also wouldn't be surprised if Michael Turner hit the dreaded RB wall this season.
4. Carolina — It's going to take time, especially given the talent the rest of the division displays, but Ron Rivera is going to have the Panthers back in the playoffs at some point.
1. Arizona — I said in a column the Cardinals would win the division, and I'm sticking with it. Helps that they have the best player in the West, Larry Fitzgerald.
2. St. Louis — It's difficult to be a great quarterback without quality wide receivers. While I think Sam Bradford is well on his way to being an elite player, he just doesn't have the targets to lead the Rams to the playoffs quite yet.
3. Seattle — Improved over last year's division-winning squad in many areas, but not at quarterback. That means a bit of a step back for the 'Hawks.
4. San Francisco — With any Luck, they'll be back near the top of the division real soon.
Offensive MVP: Patriots QB Tom Brady
Defensive MVP: Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs
Super Bowl: Ravens over Saints
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