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Mike Wilkening's 2011 NFL predictions

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By Mike Wilkening

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 sixth of these predictions, PFW senior editor Mike Wilkening takes a look forward at the 2011 season.

AFC East

1. New England — Pats' offense is wonderful. Their defense? Not so much. That could cost them when the chips are down in January.

2. N.Y. Jets — Once again, the concern is their ability to score against top defenses.

3. Miami — Enough good players to give the division's two best teams a game every so often, but not a major threat in the East.

4. Buffalo — Bills will be entertaining, but they have too many weaknesses to make a run in tough division.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh — Passing game will be potent, and defense will be strong. No Super Bowl hangover this time.

2. Baltimore — Ravens are contenders, but they have come up short against conference's best the past three years. I can't stack them any higher than this.

3. Cleveland — Browns' offense will be improved, but defense is a work in progress. Browns can make run at .500, not division.

4. Cincinnati — Defense has fallen off after playing so well in '09 division-title season, and offense starts over with new scheme, rookie QB.

AFC South

1. Houston — A little defensive improvement will go a long way for the Texans.

2. Indianapolis — Obvious top threat to push and potentially overtake Houston if Peyton Manning is healthy.

3. Tennessee — Titans have enough skilled players to be dangerous in this division, but too much uncertainty, change, inconsistency faces them for my taste.

4. Jacksonville — Jaguars' defense remains a concern.

AFC West

1. San Diego — Hard to love Chargers after 2010 debacle, but they are the most talented team in the division.

2. Kansas City — If Chargers fall apart, Chiefs will pick up the pieces.

3. Denver — Rebuilding defense will take time, but Broncos can be competitive in this division.

4. Oakland — Raiders were unbeaten in division a season ago, but they still didn't win the West, and they lost three of their best players in free agency. Pass.

NFC East

1. Philadelphia — Eagles might take a little time to jell, but their depth, skill will prove too much in East.

2. Dallas — Not the worst bounce-back pick to win the East for those so inclined.

3. N.Y. Giants — They have faded late in each of the past three seasons, and they are not as deep as in past years.

4. Washington — Top three teams in East have enough weaknesses for Redskins to believe they have a chance to make a run in Mike Shanahan's second season as head coach, but a lot has to break right for Washington.

NFC North

1. Green Bay — Shook off so many injuries a season ago to win Super Bowl from NFC wild-card spot. Packers are class of the NFL, and it will take a big effort to keep them from repeating.

2. Detroit — Exciting team that's still a few pieces away from being a major player in the NFC.

3. Chicago — In a tough spot relative to division and conference competition. NFC North is very tough, and NFC's power teams look strong. Bears' glaring OL weakness, offensive inconsistency are concerns.

4. Minnesota — No reason Vikings can't challenge for second place on their best, but just think Detroit, Chicago will prove to be slightly better.

NFC South

1. New Orleans — A deep, balanced club. Defense will be better.

2. Atlanta — Falcons again will be formidable, but I believe they are a slight cut below NFL's best. Their defense had no answers for the Eagles and Packers a season ago, and I don't see that changing.

3. Tampa Bay — Gave Falcons all they could handle in two narrow defeats last season and can play Saints tough, too.

4. Carolina — Panthers might need big seasons from defense, running game to be competitive.

NFC West

1. St. Louis — A tepid pick to win a division that again lacks a standout.

2. Arizona — Offense will be improved, but really wonder about Cards' defense.

3. Seattle — If Seahawks get decent QB play, they can challenge for division once again.

4. San Francisco — The 49ers' defense doesn't look quite as good, and the offense again appears shaky.

Offensive MVP — Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Defensive MVP — Lions DT Ndamukong Suh

Super Bowl XLVI — Packers over Texans

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