Tom Danyluk's 2011 NFL predictions

Posted Sept. 08, 2011 @ 12:37 p.m.
Posted By Tom Danyluk

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 12th of these predictions, columnist Tom Danyluk looks into his crystal ball.

"I just wrap my arms around the whole backfield and peel 'em one by one until I get to the ballcarrier. Him I keep." — Big Daddy Lipscomb, on tackling.

Also a useful approach toward preseason football write-ups.

AFC East

1. New England — I put in a tape of their last game of the '10 campaign, the playoff fold to the Jets, and there it was, that 14-2 masterpiece sputtering around and crashing into the mountainside, Tom Brady trying to move a bunch of little guys from Holy Cross or Lehigh down the field against a real crowbar-to-the-throat defense. Then, of course, Belichick getting amazing with his fake punt at the end of the half. Which bombed. … The Pats are continually the best club at employing what they've got; except what they've got around Brady doesn't scare you anymore, especially in the bitter clutches of the postseason. 12-4

2. New York Jets — Back-to-back appearances in the AFC title game commands your attention. I'm not wild about their changes at wideout (Edwards/Cotchery out, Burress/Mason in). I just don't consider that an upgrade. On the defense, big Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple was drafted to fill in for Sean Ellis, who defected to the Pats. Otherwise, this is essentially the same ballclub as last year, the one that gets real feisty around January-time. 11-5

3. Miami — One last go of it with Chad Henne as main passer; poor Chadwick, he just doesn't have it. D-line and linebackers drawing raves, but there just aren't enough breaks on the schedule to contend. Actually, the schedule considers the 'Fins as a break. 6-10

4. Buffalo — Offensive line ain't much. They'll do their best for Harvard man Ryan Fitzpatrick, who's on his third team at quarterback. Defensively, teams ran like hell on the Bills last season, hacking off yardage at nearly five yards per carry. So simple … they just need stronger actors. 5-11

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Goal is to get that pass defense straightened out, at least by the playoffs. Secondary can handle the Flaccos and McCoys of the world, but the heavy guns? Uh-uh. Brady and Brees and Aaron Rodgers left 'em in ribbons last year. On offense, Pitties have their deepest receiving group since 1994-95, when Neil O'Donnell was spreading things out and going five wide. 12-4

2. Baltimore — He's Joe Cool during the regular games, the Sept/Oct/Nov ones, but I keep having these flashbacks of a Steeler linebacker or safetyman hacking down on Joe Flacco's right arm and the ball coming out and Baltimore once again is ejected from the playoff scrum. You can't teach motility. Not everyone can begin the beguine. And that, I fear, always will be this player's downfall. 12-4

3. Cleveland — Wide receivers ain't so hot. Defensive line is worse. Other than Colt McCoy, it always seems the Browns are dressing a bunch of guys nobody has ever heard of. 6-10

4. Cincinnati — Carson Palmer quits. It just wasn't that big of a story during the offseason, was it? He just went away. He had enough. … So when was the last time a top-deck quarterback still on the thrust of his prime says piss on it and disappears? Elvis Grbac, skipping out on Baltimore? Not sure if Elvis really had a prime. Joe Namath and Bachelors III, the scandal of '69? But Joseph was back at workouts by late July. … This is the typical Bengals' way. On their wall of heroes is a portrait of Donald Sterling, who has gooned-up the NBA Clippers for 30 years. Next to that a frame of Roger Smith, the chief executive who torpedoed General Motors. On the conference room table: Strategies for Victory and Life from Dunkirk and Verdun. … I think Roger Goodell is a lot more concerned about the Cincy-Palmer divorce than he's letting on. Star QBs shouldn't be just walking away like that. 3-13

AFC South

1. Houston From Frederick the Great, this military dictum: "He who defends everything defends nothing." … The Texans understand that. They live it. They defend nothing. In comes Wade Phillips to coordinate a defense that was bombed relentlessly last season. Six of their eight draftees last spring were defenders. But their biggest help might come from that X-ray machine in Indy, which reports that Peyton Manning is still rating 4F — unfit for service. 11-5

2. Tennessee — A hunch pick. 17 years of Jeff Fisher had made this team dull. Ever see that older couple in the restaurant that just sits there in silence, coldly looking around the room, poking at their food, no eye contact? I'm thinking the new faces at the table … Mike Munchak, Matt Hasselbeck … bring this team a little surprise verve. 8-8

3. Indianapolis — Peyton hasn't practiced since…? The Polians won't suit him up until they're certain he's healed. You don't mess around with neckbones, brother. The last Indy QB to start a game before Manning? James Harbaugh, in 1997. The Colts lost. 7-9

4. Jacksonville — Newsflash: David Garrard is out. They'll go with Lukewarm Hand Luke (McCown). They'll go … 4-12

AFC West

1. San Diego — I didn't like the departure of supersquirt Darren Sproles, the clutch run/catch/return man who bailed them out a million times, it seemed. Ryan Mathews is expected to handle the heavy rushing load, but there are some guys who collect injuries and I have a feeling Mathews is one of them. Defensively, they're a step above OK, which should be enough to firmly occupy the West. 12-4

2. Kansas City — Coach Todd Haley took some heat for playing his starters deep into these preseason games, but how else is he supposed to get his club hardened for action? Intense, full-contact lectures? Breakout groups? GM Scott Pioli continues to pluck talent, but the schedule toughens up a lot this season. 9-7

3. Oakland — It seemed Tom Cable was just starting to build some hardness and fight into this club — hey, unbeaten in the division last year — and then, of course, Al Davis cuts him down. The usual ending. Al Davis, the mad dictator, shoving pins wildly into his map of the world and firing his top generals at every setback. 7-9

4. Denver — I don't want to hammer on Tim Tebow. He seems like a nice chap, a decent fellow. A real human. But the intensity of the hype machine made a lot of people turn on him. 5-11

NFC East

1. Philadelphia — A few summers back we set off our own little July fireworks show, and this went on for about an hour, and when the stuff ran out my little nieces came over to the lift-off area and said, "You mean, that's it?" and everybody cracked up over that. … Last season the Eagles' grand finale came during Week 15 at the Meadowlands — 28 points in the last seven minutes to take apart the Giants, and then not long afterward it was Eagles fans who were hearing, "Goodnight, kiddies — that's all there is" as a 10-4 team tanked its remaining three games. … The top story this offseason was the team's massive rearming — Nnamdi Asomugha, Ronnie Brown, Cullen Jenkins, etc. Watch rookie runner Dion Lewis from Pitt, a little dude who somehow creates much of his damage between the tackles. OK, linebacking looks flimsy, but you can't win 'em all. Yes sir, Philly execs went for it this time … one of the biggest hauls of the free-agency era. 12-4

2. New York Giants — Overall a very good roster, but not a deep one. You can cross this river in your tennis shoes. Injuries are always lurking, and there is sudden despair at the tight end spot. But the Giants can always conjure up a pass rush, and Eli Manning can suddenly spring one of those bing-bing-bing TD marches on you, a formula which makes them dangerous on any weekend. 10-6

3. Dallas — I'm tired of this team. I'm tired of ringmaster Jerry Jones and I'm tired of hearing about Cowboy potential and I'm tired of waiting for Tony Romo to get it together. Echoes of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, thumbing his nose at the U.S. government bullies — "I am tired of talk that comes to nothing." 9-7

4. Washington — Let's see, Mike Shanahan couldn't win with Brian Griese or Jake Plummer or Jay Cutler, and now he's going to get it going with Rex Grossman? 4-12

NFC North

1. Green Bay — If I had the motivation, I'd search back through all those Super Bowl winners and try to find one that did it with as many casualties and battle wounds as the 2010 Pack. Medical insiders tell me 15 guys went on injured reserve last season, seven of them were Week One starters. Then they ripped the Steelers in the Super Bowl. That's coaching, brother, and that's depth. Added to the mix this year is the Kentucky Commotion — Randall Cobb, who reminds me of a younger, muscled-up Antwaan Randle-El. In other words, can you pick against them? 12-4

2. Minnesota — A lot of writers are calling this a throwaway team, a mulch pile. But what I see is a capable, 34-year-old Donovan McNabb lining up in front of Adrian Peterson and a defense that was fourth best in the NFC in yards allowed. Not bad. Schedule ain't killer, either. I don't know … I just don't buy in that this is a garbage team. 8-8

3. Chicago — Chicagoland is tired of Jay Cutler already, still moaning about the way he dropped out of last year's NFC title game with the mystery injury. No spine, a faker … I mean, my god, please. I still say Cutler was hurt coming into the game, an injury report "oversight," and they let him go as long as he could, to see if he could tough out some points, and the answer was no.  8-8

4. Detroit — They finally have begun to accumulate real players. Eyes will be on QB Matthew Stafford each time he gets whacked — will he get back up? I did like the work that backup Shaun Hill did last season, in that clunky, dad-in-the-backyard style of his. 8-8

NFC South

1. New Orleans — Key pickups were C Olin Kreutz and RBs Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram, the former Heisman winner, which adds muscle to the ground activity. Humiliating defeat in Seattle in last year's wild-card round was classic case for the sports psychologists. Saints have never won a road playoff game. 10-6

2. Atlanta — Defense allowed 18 points per game last season, then came the playoffs where the Packers machete'd that stat to pieces. 48-21 was the score, and later WR Roddy White came out with, "We were a better team than those guys … we're a run-first team and we got behind." So they unloaded half their draft to get 'Bama flyboy Julio Jones, and I guess now the message is "we're a throw-first operation." 9-7

3. Tampa Bay — Monster reversal, from 3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 last year. And the reward for that, typically, is a heavy upgrade in the schedule. But somehow the Buccos have avoided that. Only killer outside the division is a trip to Green Bay in November. Talent level, however, is just OK around here. A check of their free-agency action, and their key signee was a punter. 8-8

4. Carolina — They took the back alleys and sewers to reach 2-14, but they snagged Cam Newton. Now what? 4-12

NFC West

1. St. Louis — Division favorites in all the literary circles, but they open with Eagles, at Giants, then Ravens. 0-3, right? Which means they must go 8-5 just to fight back to even. Sorry, but that's the best-case scenario I can dream up for this team. The NFC West — football's penal colony. 8-8

2. Arizona — The whole structure is hanging on Kevin Kolb, a guy with seven starts on his résumé. Kolb-to-Fitzgerald, and that's all, brother. 5-11

3. San Francisco — The question is, which team blows its season sky-higher to get Stanford whip Andrew Luck … is it the Niners? 5-11

4. Seattle — … or the Seahawks? 3-13

Super Bowl XLVI — Packers over Steelers

NFL Offensive MVP — Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

NFL Defensive MVP — Patriots LB Jerod Mayo