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Arthur Arkush's 2011 NFL predictions

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By Arthur Arkush

Leading up to the start of the regular season, PFW is posting 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 eighth of these predictions, PFW contributing writer Arthur Arkush looks into his crystal ball.


AFC East

1. New England — It's Bill Belichick's world — we're all just living in it. Better personnel/more pressure generated from mixed looks on "D," plus Chad Ochocinco thrown into already elite offense, equals Patriots' fifth Super Bowl victory in the past decade.

2. N.Y. Jets — I firmly believe Rex Ryan is one of the elite head coaches in the league. I am still not a believer in Mark Sanchez, however. I think the Jets take a step back and miss the playoffs altogether. 

3. Buffalo — I expect major improvement on defense, where Marcell Dareus and Nick Barnett join rising star Kyle Williams in strengthening up the middle. I also like the Brad Smith signing, but the gap is still huge between top two and bottom two in division.

4. Miami — The defense still has some nice pieces, but the offense, with Chad Henne falling out of favor quickly, will fall flat. This organization could be cleaning house at year's end.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh — The Steelers spent the offseason mainly concentrating on locking up their own. Smart move. Head coach Mike Tomlin has been complimentary of Rashard Mendenhall, who may be maturing and ready to take the next step. Defense might be a year older, but it will be hungry.

2. Baltimore — I thought trading for Lee Evans was the right move, but I worry about the departure of so many of Flacco's other weapons. I can't imagine Haloti Ngata being more dominant, but he's reportedly looking leaner, quicker. Wild-card team, but early playoff departure.

3. Cleveland — Not jumping on the Colt McCoy bandwagon yet. Cleveland's O-line is outstanding, but who is on the receiving end for the kid? Rookie Phil Taylor looks like the real deal. 

4. Cincinnati — For as much flak as this club catches much of it deservedly so I'm excited about Dalton-to-Green potential. But, per usual, another player (Johnathan Joseph) leaves in his prime and a cheaper, past-his-prime replacement comes in (Nate Clements). Gotta feel for Bungles fans.

AFC South

1. Indianapolis — You know it's been an unusual offseason when I'm in the minority with this pick. But, I have a funny feeling Peyton Manning will be on the field in Houston Sept. 11. The defense will be good if it stays healthy and the front office catches lightning in a bottle with at least one of the former first-rounders. I'm worried about depth at wide receiver and safety.

2. Houston — Bringing in Wade Phillips is a game changer (and job saver for Gary Kubiak). The Texans won't dethrone the Colts, but they will earn their first postseason berth. I'm concerned with the health of ILBs Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans, though. Also a lot riding on Arian Foster's hamstring and the bolstered secondary improving dramatically.

3. Jacksonville I think new-look "D" will be fun to watch. I also think it still will be horrible defending the pass. I love watching M.J.D. run, but I'm worried about the knee. The good news for Jaguars fans? Del Rio and Garrard are toast after the season, and I believe Gabbert's future is bright.

4. Tennessee — Don't be fooled; pleny of talent on this team, which is buying into Mike Munchak, I believe. I'm also not as high as some on Hasselbeck signing, and I don't know where the pass rush will come from. Can Kenny Britt stay out of trouble (and stay healthy)?

AFC West

1. San Diego — Special teams will not be the cause of their demise this season. Far and away the best team in the division; still one of the more talented teams in football. What kind of numbers would Rivers put up if Gates and V-Jax play 16 games? Liuget is going to be a difference maker in no time.

2. Oakland — Run DMC is about to rock the party and come correct. In other words: Darren McFadden is going to stay healthy and be good. Really good. I've always liked Jason Campbell; I hope he can put it all together without his favorite target, Zach Miller. Replacing Asomugha is a tall order. 

3. Kansas City — I predict the Chiefs take a step back this season, particularly because I don't expect the O-line to perform like it did in 2010. Further, I can't get Matt Cassel's putrid 2010 postseason performance out of my head, and I'm not convinced Steve Breaston and immature Johnathan Baldwin are the solution.

4. Denver — John Fox is looking for three yards and a cloud of dust. Problem is, Broncos don't have the talent at running back. Kyle Orton never gets the credit he deserves, and I have serious doubts Brandon Lloyd can be so reliable again. I look forward to finding out if Elvis Dumervil can return to 2009 form.

NFC East

1. N.Y. Giants — I like it that Eli has a chip on his shoulder — and Hakeem Nicks to make him look good regularly. Avoiding big drop-off in new-look O-line is imperative. The ridiculous talent of defensive front can make up for the loss of Terrell Thomas, I think. Funny to think, the Giants are lying in the weeds and I bet they're just fine with it.

2. Philadelphia — I always will be leery of teams trying to buy a ring. They are going to be extremely fun to watch, but I want to see Vick do it for 16 games before I'm sold. Howard Mudd has his work cut out for him, too. Wild-card berth and early playoff exit falls far short of lofty expectations.

3. Dallas — The offensive line has to be a major concern. Still very talented but not as talented as the upper tier of the division. I think Rob Ryan will turn around the "D."

4. Washington — I know all about Mike Shanahan's success running the football with average backs, and he could do worse than RBs Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Ryan Torain. But Rex Grossman and/or John Beck? Get real. Eight, nine in the box, all day.

NFC North

1. Green Bay — The only thing stopping me from picking Pack to repeat is that curse (let's call it a trend). Massive amounts of firepower on both sides of the ball. Aaron Rodgers will be the best QB in the NFL this season. Pack going to be juggernaut for long time.

2. Detroit — Matthew Stafford has to stay healthy at some point, right? Ndamukong Suh is out of this world. Such a talented club. Arrow pointing way up, but more help needed in back seven. Rookie injuries also hurt.

3. Chicago — How they fare in the first three weeks will set the tone for the year. Still a lot to like on defense; still a lot to dislike with O-line, receivers. Jay Cutler's season will be one of the more scrutinized around the league.

4. Minnesota — I contemplated picking them second because they still have so much talent. Then I remembered their outside receivers stink (Percy Harvin could be lethal inside), and they let Ray Edwards walk. Which Donovan McNabb will we see? What about Jared Allen? Too many question marks in a closely bunched (after Green Bay) division.

NFC South

1. New Orleans — Gregg Williams received several nice new pieces this offseason, plus Mark Ingram is going to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. I see New Orleans barely edging Falcons in ultracompetitive division with Drew Brees playing his best football heading into postseason.

2. Atlanta — I love Matt Ryan. I love Dimitroff being bold and grabbing Julio Jones. I just love New Orleans a little bit more. Too talented not to play in the postseason, though.

3. Tampa Bay — Certainly heading in the right direction. Josh Freeman is on the cusp of true stardom. Bucs really need LeGarrette Blount to stay healthy, though, which could be tough. I think they will miss the leadership of MLB Barrett Ruud.

4. Panthers — Spent money like they were printing it this offseason. I just don't understand giving DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Kalil that kind of dough. Ron Rivera is a hell of a defensive coach, but it will take some time. Cam Newton will be very fun to watch, but plenty of growing pains to be expected.

NFC West

1. St. Louis — Sam Bradford and Josh McDaniels should be a perfect match. I hope Bradford's new, young weapons can catch on quick, though. I really like what they've done on "D," adding Mikell and Quinn. Ascending club but not in class with NFC's elite.

2. Arizona — I'm making this pick by default; once again just a terrible division. We'll see how "Whiz" putting all his eggs in the Kevin Kolb basket turns out. I don't have a good feeling. Larry Fitzgerald could prove me wrong. Ray Horton needs more weapons to be as aggressive as he desires.

3. Seattle — Certainly one of the more bizarre offseasons by any team. What is the plan at quarterback?! Sidney Rice and Zach Miller potentially a nice pair of weapons, though.

4. San Francisco — I think Jim Harbaugh will one day be a successful NFL head coach, but growing pains are imminent this season. I know wide receivers are generally divas, but these two (Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards) could raise the bar.

Offensive MVP: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Defensive MVP: Ravens DT Haloti Ngata

Super Bowl XLVI: Patriots over Saints

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