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Dan Arkush's 2011 NFL predictions

2011 staff predictions

About the Author

Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

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 first of these predictions, PFW executive editor Dan Arkush looks into his crystal ball.

AFC East

1. New England — Jets will make them sweat, but nice blend of experience and quality young talent and Bill Belichick's coaching makes Pats AFC's top team. Brady and Ochocinco figure to click and be very fun to watch. And nobody deserves a Super Bowl berth more than Bob Kraft for doing more than anybody in the sport to save this season.

2. N.Y. Jets — Still not sold on Sanchez, but defense remains a major strength. Shonn Greene spearheads good-looking ground game. Plaxico could be legitimate Comeback of the Year candidate. Shaky special teams could be a real problem, but not enough to thwart a playoff berth.

3. Buffalo — Jets' loss of all-purpose Brad Smith is Bills' gain, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is better than he's been given credit for. Bills will be better this season, but with weak lines on both sides of the ball and a very ordinary receiving corps, they remain well below average.

4. Miami — I smell a disaster. Defense is OK, but Dolphins will rue the day they decided to take a pass on Kyle Orton. Stephen Ross has been a joke of an owner up to now.

 

AFC North

1. Baltimore — After all is said and done, I see Ravens turning the tables on archrival Steelers this season, even though they sure lost a lot of veteran talent this offseason. Huge year for Ray Rice could be on the horizon. And Lee Evans should help aerial game.

2. Pittsburgh — Mediocre O-line will be Steelers' undoing, as they fail for the third straight time to make the playoffs after playing in Super Bowl.

3. Cleveland — Is there a more nondescript team in the NFL? Still scratching head over hiring of Pat Shurmur as new head coach. Schematic changes on both sides of the ball could be problematic. I'm kind of intrigued by Colt McCoy, but his receiving corps looks weak with a capital "W."

4. Cincinnati — Andy Dalton could have gray hair on a par with yours truly by season's end. Bungles are my top candidate for top draft pick in 2012.

 

AFC South

1. Houston — They were my sleeper pick to click last year and the year before that. Will they tease me again? With potent, well-rounded offense and Wade Phillips back in his element as a first-rate defensive coordinator, I think not — especially with Indy looking so iffy.

2. Indianapolis — I wouldn't be nearly as concerned about Peyton Manning as the rest of a team that seems to have regressed, especially on defense. Not only won't Colts reach lofty goal of making Super Bowl appearance in their home stadium, a 10th consecutive postseason appearance looks like a long shot.

3. Jacksonville — Average at best again. The big story will be how long it will take for Blaine Gabbert to replace David Garrard under center. Eight or nine games sounds about right.

4. Tennessee — A team in transition. The more I think about it, I see real scary cracks in the bridge Matt Hasselbeck is supposed to provide for the Jake Locker era. Chris Johnson's contract snafu certainly doesn't help matters.

 

AFC West

1. San Diego — I'll be surprised if Chargers stumble out of the gate again. With Philip Rivers pushing Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady for league's top QB honors, San Diego looks like the class of the division by a wide margin. I make Chargers a good bet to face Pats in AFC title game.

2. Oakland — Despite losing a lot of key players this offseason (Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery), Raiders trade places with Chiefs and just might make a playoff run under energetic new head coach Hue Jackson. Keep an eye on McFadden-Bush RB tandem, which could be as productive as any in the league.

3. Kansas City — Chiefs have some good, young talent for sure, but I see a potentially dramatic decline in the offing, as much tougher schedule takes its toll. The Jonathan Baldwin-Thomas Jones brouhaha seems like it might be a bad omen. 

4. Denver — The QB won't matter. Early loss of Ty Warren is eerily reminiscent of Elvis Dumervil's killer injury last year. Four wins, tops.

 

NFC East

1. Philadelphia — Eagles are no "Dream Team," but banner offseason moves seem like enough to separate them from the rest of the pack in what remains a pretty decent division.

2. Dallas — Tony Romo bounces back big-time, and Rob Ryan gets maximum mileage out of defense, as Cowboys reach double digits in wins and seriously flirt with wild-card berth.

3. N.Y. Giants — Every year there's one team I have a really difficult time figuring out. This year it's the Giants. Something tells me they are going to be either really good or really disappointing. Losing up-and-coming CB Terrell Thomas for the year could be serious blow.

4. Washington — How excited can anybody really get over either John Beck or Rex Grossman being the starting QB? I've been saying for a long time now that Mike Shanahan has been an average head coach at best since saying goodbye to John Elway in Denver.

 

NFC North

1. Green Bay — Packers are every bit as good as last year, if not better. But even though they overcame major adversity on the road to the Super Bowl in 2010, the odds of winning back-to-back NFC championships — let alone Super Bowl titles — are simply too overwhelming.

2. Detroit — They're my sleeper team, and I know I'm not alone. DT Ndamukong Suh is the league's top defender bar none, Calvin Johnson replaces Andre Johnson as the league's top wide receiver, and Lions push Pack to the hilt — if Matthew Stafford can remain upright all season. Granted, that's a pretty big "if."

3. Chicago — Jay Cutler will be better, and Julius Peppers spearheads deep, talented D-line. But the O-line remains offensive, the Roy Williams experiment is destined to fail and the back-seven depth on defense is cause for considerable concern.

4. Minnesota — Eventually, Leslie Frazier is going to make Vikes a team to reckon with. But I don't reckon they'll be anything more than an also-ran in his first full year at the helm. As for Donovan McNabb, it won't be long before Minnesota starts seriously pondering its future at the QB position.

 

NFC South

1. Atlanta — I love 'em! Best team in the league's best division. After humiliating playoff loss to Green Bay, they have reinvented themselves with a blueprint borrowed directly from the Pack. An explosive offense, a resilient defense and the league's most underrated head coach make the Falcons the 11th different team in the last 11 years to win NFC title.

2. New Orleans — No way they're not in the hunt again! As is the case with Atlanta after being embarrassed in the playoffs, Saints will have blood in their eyes week in and week out. I really like the moves they've made this offseason. Rookie Mark Ingram and newcomer Darren Sproles make an excellent offense even better. Falcons-Saints NFC title game seems like a pretty good bet to me.

3. Tampa Bay — When the offseason started, I had it in my mind that the Falcons, Saints and Bucs could each very well win 10 games. Even though I really like Josh Freeman, I've changed my mind about the Bucs for reasons I can't fully explain. A much tougher schedule probably has a lot to do with it.

4. Carolina — Tattoos and body piercings are the last thing Jerry Richardson should be worrying about. Like Leslie Frazier, Ron Rivera is eventually going to make this team a legitimate force. Not this year, though. Neither Cam Newton nor Jimmy Clausen provides any reason for genuine optimism.

 

NFC West

1. St. Louis — Although Kevin Kolb is growing on me in Arizona, Sam Bradford gives the Rams by far the best QB situation in what once again shapes up as a woefully weak division. In addition, St. Louis' defense continues to make impressive strides.

2. Arizona — Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald figure to work quite well together. But the loss of rookie Ryan Williams hurts Arizona's ground game, and there are concerns across the board on defense, especially in the secondary. Cardinals have all the makings of a 7-9 have-not.

3. Seattle — Too many questions with Seahawks to pick them any higher than third in the division, starting with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.

4. San Francisco — New head coach Jim Harbaugh could prove me wrong, but suspect O-line, WR corps and secondary keep Niners on outside looking in — and maybe in a position to make Andrew Luck their top draft pick next April.

 

Offensive MVP: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Defensive MVP: Lions DT Ndamukong Suh

Super Bowl XLVI: Falcons over Patriots

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