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Keith Schleiden's 2011 NFL predictions

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By Keith Schleiden

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 11th of these predictions, PFW editor-in-chief Keith Schleiden looks into his crystal ball.

AFC East

1. New England — It has been too long since Brady and Belichick hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. They get it done — in the home stadium of the rival Colts, no less — this season.

2. N.Y. Jets — Shooting for their third consecutive conference championship game. Could we be in store for an epic Jets-Patriots AFC title game? No. Jets limp out of playoffs early.

3. Buffalo — Intrigued by some offseason decisions. Liked that they stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick. If he doesn't get killed behind that O-line, offense could improve a bit.

4. Miami — Owner Stephen Ross will call Reggie Bush's number often as he tries to make sure his product has some sizzle. But it says here this club will fizzle in 2011.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh — Steelers avoid post-Super Bowl appearance hangover that has plagued them in the past and make playoffs as division winner. But won't go far.

2. Baltimore — Joe Flacco gets Ravens into the postseason for a fourth year in a row, but fails to get Baltimore to the next level.

3. Cleveland — Having a hard time envisioning a quantum leap in Year One of Pat Shurmur era. But I think Colt McCoy improves, and Dick Jauron was a good hire as defensive coordinator.

4. Cincinnati — Worst. Franchise. Ever?

AFC South

1. Houston — Break out the bubbly, people. There's playoff football in Houston for the first time since the Oilers filled the Astrodome.

2. Indianapolis — Tempted to move them back even further because of Peyton's neck situation.

3. Jacksonville — Given surprising QB situation, does Jack Del Rio now have a job-saving excuse if the Jaguars fail to make the playoffs?

4. Tennessee — Had no choice to pay Chris Johnson. Could you imagine what this team would have looked like without him?

AFC West

1. San Diego — I think we'll learn a lot about this team in Week Two, when the Chargers visit the Patriots in a potential AFC championship-game preview.

2. Oakland — Raiders have been shut out of the playoffs since 2002. Will be in the hunt all season under Hue Jackson, but eventually will fall just short.

3. Kansas City — Still don't know how they won 10 games a season ago. Smoke and mirrors? I forecast a major K.C. disappointment in 2011.

4. Denver — John Fox was a good hire. But fixing previous regime's mistakes will take more than one offseason.

NFC East

1. Philadelphia — Interesting that Howie Roseman's spending spree has been lauded by most league observers. Had division mate Daniel Snyder done the same thing, he would have been crucified.

2. N.Y. Giants — Sexy sleeper team despite all the bad news in recent months.

3. Dallas — Hard-to-figure team. Jason Garrett continues to make this team his. Tony Romo returns from injury. Rob Ryan takes over defense. Could win 10 games, or seven.

4. Washington — Rex Grossman topped 300 yards passing in two of his three starts last season. Reason for optimism? Only if he's stashed on your fantasy roster as a sleeper reserve.

NFC North

1. Green Bay — Time to toot my own horn. Last year, I predicted the Packers would win it all. The last time they won a Super Bowl, they followed it up with a return trip, only to lose. Same thing happens again.

2. Detroit — After impressive undefeated preseason, lots of people are drinking the Kool-Aid. I like this team, and believe good things could be just around the corner.

3. Chicago — Lady luck won't be smiling down on this team like she was last year. Bears fans will be disappointed with an 8-8 finish.

4. Minnesota — Key departures: Ray Edwards, Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Bryant McKinnie, Sidney Rice. Key arrivals: Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins, Charlie Johnson, Donovan McNabb.  

NFC South

1. Atlanta — Don't sweat winless preseason. The Falcons are good enough to win a supertough division and reach the NFC title game.

2. New Orleans — But then again, so are the Saints.

3. Tampa Bay — And maybe even the Buccaneers.

4. Carolina — And then you have the Panthers, who are starting over after a horrible 2010. This will not be the typical NFC South year in which a team goes from worst to first.

NFC West

1. St. Louis — Should have won the division in 2010. Will capture it this time around if Sam Bradford takes the next step in Year Two.

2. Arizona — Only the Patriots and Lions scored more points in the preseason. Scoring won't come so easy in the regular season, but this club will compete for the division title with the Rams.

3. Seattle — In competition with the 49ers and Bengals for the rights to Andrew Luck?

4. San Francisco — Can you imagine the entertainment value of a Braylon Edwards-Michael Crabtree reality TV show? I would watch that train wreck every week.

Super Bowl XLVI: Patriots over Packers

Offensive MVP: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Defensive MVP: Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware

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