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Mark Schoeck's 2011 NFL predictions

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By Mark Schoeck

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 ninth of these predictions, PFW video production assistant Mark Schoeck looks into his crystal ball.

AFC East

1. New England — The best team from the 2010 regular season got even better in the offseason. Any games the Patriots lose won't be because the other team was better.

2. N.Y. Jets — To those who believe 2011 is "the year" for the Jets: it is not. Look for more of the same from Rex et al. — a wild-card berth and a postseason push.

3. Buffalo — When you begin free agency with among the most salary-cap space remaining, you shouldn't endeavor to end it that way, too.

4. Miami — Interested to see what the Dolphins run game looks like with OTs Jake Long and Mark Colombo and RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. But this was the year they needed a QB change.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh — Steelers struggle the year after they win a ring. But the year after they lose one? Will be fun to see one of the NFL's best play like they have something to prove.

2. Baltimore — Every year seems like it could be the year the Ravens take over the North. But on paper, they're  aging and a step behind Pittsburgh.

3. Cleveland — Won't contend for the division yet, but McCoy on "O" and Phil Taylor on "D" both look like they're starting something substantial.

4. Cincinnati — There is no reason for optimism in Cincy this season. A four-win team in '10 got worse, and a stubborn owner is to blame.

AFC South

1. Houston — To those who believe 2011 is "the year" for the Texans: it is! They may have the best RB and WR in the NFL, and huge additions on "D" will finally help dethrone the Colts.

2. Indianapolis — You can expect nine or ten wins and wild-card contention, as always. But Peyton's injuries and few additions will slot the Colts behind a much-improved Houston team.

3. Tennessee — I don't agree with the overwhelming pessimism for the Titans. Hasselbeck is a leader; Chris Johnson is one of the best.

4. Jacksonville — Expect to see Gabbert play this year, which isn't a sign of contention.  Their role will be a few swing wins that change the scope of the South.

AFC West

1. San Diego — If the Chargers start the way they usually end, they could win 11 or 12 games. If they don't, they'll still win a weak division.

2. Denver — This is an underrated offense with a new, but established coach. Champ Bailey in the nickel will be almost as fun to watch as pass rusher Von Miller.

3. Kansas City — I really think K.C. will feel the loss of Charlie Weis. Tons of offensive skill position talent, but do Chiefs know how to use it?

4. Oakland — It's as if the Raiders forgot to attend the draft, forgot to re-sign players, forgot to sign free agents. My guess: They'll forget about the regular season.

NFC East

1. N.Y. Giants — The best team to not make the playoffs in '10 has a huge chip on its shoulder. The only truly stable team in the East will profit from that.

2. Philadelphia — Flashy free agency, but their LB and OL situations are still in flux, and the time it will take new Eagles to jell will only be good enough for a wild card.

3. Dallas — In a division with the Giants and Eagles, the free-agency addition of S Abram Elam wasn't enough for Dallas to make a push this year.

4. Washington — It's unclear to me why many have accepted Redskins' QB situation as legitimate. Too much weakness at skill positions to compete.

NFC North

1. Green Bay — NFC North is a popular pick to be a dominant division. My thoughts? Nope. Packers may sweep the North and make this a one-sided season.

2. Minnesota — Remember McNabb, the Pro Bowler? You do, because it happened two years ago. He joins the best RB in the NFL and a "D" that was 8th in yards allowed in '10.

3. Chicago — If the 32nd-best O-line in the NFL isn't the most visible component of this team every week, the football gods are not paying attention.

4. Detroit — The Lions underwhelmed in free agency after a flashy draft which has already been plagued by injury. What reason do we have to expect improvement from 6-10?

NFC South

1. New Orleans — Monday-night game last December showed how close Saints and Falcons were then, and I think Saints had the most impressive offseason in the NFL.

2. Atlanta — Theirs is a schedule that has few lulls, but we're still talking about a possible 12-4 wild-card team in the Falcons.

3. Tampa Bay — I find it hard to believe that a team can improve much without personnel additions, especially in the toughest division in the NFL.

4. Carolina — I don't think I realized the talent the Panthers had until they re-signed all of that talent this offseason. Won't draft first in 2012.

NFC West

1. Arizona — The most improved team in the division is playing a favorable schedule. Nine wins takes the West, and Cardinals have 12 winnable games.

2. St. Louis — Rams have the most talent in the West, but I see an 0-3 start and Bradford reeling from an early sophomore slump.

3. San Francisco — Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick are each getting their feet wet. 2012 is their year to compete.

4. Seattle — Carroll and Schneider slept during the draft. Rice acquisition was great, but Jackson/Whitehurst QB battle will prove to be a catfight.

Offensive MVP: Chargers QB Philip Rivers

Defensive MVP: Packers OLB Clay Matthews

Super Bowl XLVI: Saints over Patriots

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