Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions - AFC South

1) Houston Texans
(6-10, 3rd in ’10)

Key Gets – Jonathan Joseph (CB, Bengals), Daniel Manning (S, Bears), Lawrence Vickers (FB, Browns), JJ Watt (DL, Wisconsin), Brooks Reed (DE/OLB, Arizona), Brandon Harris (CB, Miami), Rashad Carmichael (CB, Virginia Tech),

Key Gones – Vonta Leach (FB, Ravens), Bernard Pollard (S, Ravens), Amobi Okoye (DL, Bears), Dan Orlovsky (QB, Colts)

Key Games – wk1 v. Colts, wk3 @ Saints, wk4 v. Steelers, wk6 @ Ravens, wk10 @ Bucs, wk13 v. Falcons, wk16 @ Colts

Maybe I was just a year early, but I expected the Texans to take a big step forward last season. Now they’re everyone’s surprise team, so will this be the year? Can Arian Foster really repeat last year’s jaw dropping performance? I say he ends up a couple hundred yards off last year’s 1,616 mark. Some of it will be due to the sheer correction of numbers, and some of it will be due to the underrated loss of Leach. Don’t get me wrong. Foster is legit, but he’s not Adrian Peterson and was pretty unknown this time last year. Matt Schaub has put up back to back solid seasons, and there’s no reason to think this won’t be a third. Make no mistake. Andre Johnson is the offense’s most talented player, but they really missed Owen Daniels when he was out last year. Both Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones have failed to step up as a #2 receiver, and the Texans didn’t do anything this offseason to improve in that area. That’s a concern. Wade Phillips is here to fix the defense, and he brought his 3-4 alignment with him. Okoye exits an enormous disappointment, but I love the additions of Joseph, Watt, Reed, and Carmichael. They gave the secondary the extreme offseason attention it needed, and I think it will show. Joseph is one of the game’s elite corners, and Manning is an underrated difference maker. Those two moves alone are huge. I’m big on Watt and think he’ll be a serious contributor on that DL, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up one of the top Defensive ROY vote getters. I think they’re still lacking a true NT. One thing worth following will be Mario Williams’ transition to one of the league’s largest linebackers. As long as they let him focus on what he does best, getting at the passer, he should be just fine.

The Texans go on a 6-0 run after their bye week to dethrone the Colts, and they clinch the division in week 16 at Indy.

Team MVP – Andre Johnson
Breakout Player – Connor Barwin
Disappointment – Kareem Jackson

2) Indianapolis Colts
(10-6, 1st in ’10)

Key Gets – Jamaal Anderson (DL, Falcons), Ernie Sims (LB, Eagles), Tommie Harris (DL, Bears), Anthony Castonzo (OL, Boston College), Benjamin Ijalana (OL, Villanova), Drake Nevis (DL, LSU), Delone Carter (RB, Syracuse),

Key Gones – Kelvin Hayden (CB, free agent), Bob Sanders (S, Chargers), Clint Session (LB, Jaguars)

Key Games – wk1 @ Texans, wk3 v. Steelers, wk4 @ Bucs, wk5 v. Chiefs, wk7 @ Saints, wk8 v. Falcons, wk13 @ Patriots, wk14 @ Ravens, wk16 v. Texans

What’s up with Peyton Manning’s neck? The Colts went out and added Kerry Collins because Curtis Painter apparently isn’t up to the task if needed. If either Collins or Painter has to start three or four games, this team isn’t winning the division. At this moment, Manning was recently activated from the PUP list, and it would probably be a surprise if he didn’t play week one. Upgrading his protection was priority one this offseason, and I absolutely love the additions of Castonzo and Ijalana. Those two should be foundational pieces of their next OL era. Joseph Addai was a big disappointment in ’10, but the Colts brought him back anyways. Donald Brown’s inability to prove himself had a lot to do with that. Watch out for Carter. He’s the most physical back on Indy’s roster and showed the ability to handle the load at Syracuse. The offense could get several boosts with healthy returns by Austin Collie, Dallas Clark, and Anthony Gonzalez, but I think Reggie Wayne starts to regress. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are still capable pass rushers, but they really need Jerry Hughes to step up in his second year. So far this preseason, he’s not showing much improvement. The Colts are still looking for a plug in the middle of their defensive line. Does Harris have anything left? I’m impressed by what I’ve seen (in limited action) this preseason. At linebacker, the guy I really like is Pat Angerer; had him mocked to the Bucs in last year’s draft. He exceeded expectations last year and looks to be a foundational piece of the defense. Will Sims find a permanent home with the Colts? Can the secondary stay healthy and untoasted? Bob Sanders is more of a loss in name than talent at this point, and Kelvin Hayden was on the injured list as often as he was active. Still, I don’t like the talent left behind and think secondary play will be a big reason the Colts finish second.

Saying the Colts will only go as far as Peyton Manning leads them is obviously stating the obvious. They’ll end up on the wrong side of just enough breaks to finish second to the Texans and possibly miss out on the playoffs altogether.

Team MVP – Peyton Manning
Breakout Player – Delone Carter
Disappointment – Reggie Wayne

3) Tennessee Titans
(6-10, 4th in ’10)

Key Gets – Matt Hasselbeck (QB, Seahawks), Barrett Ruud (LB, Buccaneers), Anthony Smith (S, Packers), Jake Locker (QB, Washington), Akeem Ayers (LB, UCLA), Jurrell Casey (DL, USC), Jamie Harper (RB, Clemson)

Key Gones – Vince Young (QB, Eagles), Stephen Tulloch (LB, Lions), Jason Babin (DL, Eagles), Randy Moss (WR, retired), Kerry Collins (QB, retired), David Thornton (LB, retired), Bo Scaife (TE, Bengals)

Key Games – wk2 v. Ravens, wk5 @ Steelers, wk7 v. Texans, wk8 v. Colts, wk11 @ Falcons, wk12 v. Bucs, wk14 v. Saints, wk15 @ Colts, wk17 @ Texans

Jeff Fisher’s reign as the longest tenured NFL coach ended this offseason in an ugly spat with owner Bud Adams, of which Young was a non-innocent bystander. The Titans hope Hasselbeck can bridge the gap to the Locker era and will once again be riding the lighting fast feet of Chris Johnson, assuming his contract situation doesn’t get any uglier. As of late August, Johnson hasn’t blinked and isn’t showing any signs of doing so. If Kenny Britt can keep his head out of his ass, he’s going to be one of the league’s best receivers, but based on past history, consistent appropriate behiavior is far from a sure thing. Neither Nate Washington nor Justin Gage should be starting on any NFL team, but I like Damian Williams to step up in his sophomore season. Another guy to keep your eyes on is Jared Cook, the third year TE from South Carolina. He’s an athletic mismatch this team sorely needs. The defense continues their plunge into the NFL’s basement with the losses of Babin and Tulloch, and I don’t like their attempts to improve. It’s no secret I’m not a fan of Ruud, so that will tell you what I think of his signing, and I wasn’t an Ayers fan when he was at UCLA. I think that front seven is in for a long year of punishment. Their best cover man, Courtland Finnegan, is pissed about his contract and walked out of camp early this preseason. How will that play out over the course of the season, assuming he survives his next run-in with Andre Johnson?

The only reasons to watch this team are Johnson, Britt, and Cook. The rest will be ugly. If Johnson sits out any substantial time, I hold the right to change my prediction and put the Titans in the basement.

Team MVP – Chris Johnson
Breakout Player – Jared Cook
Disappointment – Barrett Ruud

4) Jacksonville Jaguars
(6-10, 3rd in ’10)

Key Gets – Paul Posluszny (LB, Bills), Clint Session (LB, Colts), Matt Roth (DL, Browns), Dawan Landry (S, Ravens), Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri), William Rackley (OL, Lehigh), Cecil Shorts (WR, Mount Union)

Key Gones – Mike Sims-Walker (WR, Rams), Justin Durant (LB, Raiders)

Key Games – wk2 @ Jets, wk4 v. Saints, wk6 @ Steelers, wk7 v. Ravens, wk8 @ Texans, wk10 @ Colts, wk12 v. Texans, wk13 v. Chargers, wk14 v. Bucs, wk15 @ Falcons, wk 17 v. Colts

If David Garrard wasn’t feeling unwanted before, he probably should be now. This past April the Jaguars drafted his successor, and the handing of the torch may come sooner rather than later depending on how quickly Jacksonville’s season goes into the crapper. Their star ball carrier, Maurice Jones-Drew, finished the year with a knee issue and is still at less than full health. Something tells me that they’re going to need to lean on Rashad Jennings a bit this year, and he won’t disappoint. I loved him coming out of Liberty a few years ago and think he can be a big time performer. I like Mike Thomas a lot and think he has the potential to showcase his quickness and elusiveness this year with the amount of targets he should see as their #1, but #2 Jason Hill shouldn’t be starting in the NFL. I loved Jarrett Dillard coming out of Rice, but he can’t stay healthy as a pro. Besides Shorts (potential, watch out for him), there’s not much behind those guys. Getting Posluszny should be a boost to the defense, but I’m surprised they didn’t put more focus on upgrading their horrid secondary. I think it’s going to continue getting worse at corner. Rashean Mathis is in decline mode, and Derek Cox wouldn’t keep getting second chances if there was any talent behind him. I’m not sure Landry is enough of an addition on his own to make a significant difference back there. Tyson Alualu is a great penetrator, and Terrence Knighton absolutely shuts down run lanes. Not quite Stroud-Henderson 2.0 yet, but they’re far from this team’s biggest problem. Did someone say problem? At end, Aaron Kampman is past him prime, and Austen Lane is unproven. Jeremy Mincey? Matt Roth? Woof.

If they don’t finish with their fourth straight non-winning season, I’ll be shocked.

Team MVP – Mike Thomas
Breakout Player – Rashad Jennings
Disappointment – Rashean Mathis


1) Houston Texans
2) Indianapolis Colts
3) Tennessee Titans
4) Jacksonville Jaguars

Division MVP – Andre Johnson
Division Breakout – Rashad Jennings
Division Disappointment – Barrett Ruud

2011 NFL Predictions - AFC North

1) Baltimore Ravens
(12-4, 2nd in ’10)

Key Gets – Vonta Leach (FB, Texans), Bryant McKinnie (OL, Vikings), Lee Evans (WR, Bills), Ricky Williams (RB, Dolphins), Bernard Pollard (S, Texans), Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado), Torrey Smith (WR, Maryland), Jah Reid (T, UCF), Tandon Doss (WR, Indiana), Tyrod Taylor (QB, Virginia Tech)

Key Gones – Josh Wilson (CB, Redskins), Derrick Mason (WR, Jets), Todd Heap (TE, Cardinals), Willis McGahee (RB, Broncos), Le’Ron McClain (RB, Chiefs), Kelly Gregg (DL, Chiefs), Jared Gaither (OL, Chiefs)

Key Games – wk1 v. Steelers, wk4 v. Jets, wk6 v. Texans, wk9 @ Steelers, wk14 v. Colts, wk15 @ Chargers

Last year Baltimore’s season finished with a playoff loss to Pittsburgh that should have been a win. Since that loss I like what they’ve done, starting with the addition of Vonta Leach. He’s going to be huge for Ray Rice and the running game; big time pick up. I think Rice secures his spot among the game’s elite backs this season. He’ll score at least 10 TDs and total more than 2,000 all purpose yards. Bank on it. The offensive line has potential to do some real damage this year. They’re solid at guard with Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda, and Michael Oher might just be better off now at RT. If Bryant McKinnie remembers how much he likes getting paychecks, this group will dominate. Evans’ better days are behind him, but the Ravens are hoping he’ll spread the field better than Mason and allow Anquan Boldin more room to make plays (or at least keep the spot warm while Torrey Smith learns the offense). Championship teams are built on solid defenses and sound QB play. Joe Flacco has shown steady improvement in each of his three seasons as a pro, and I see no reason why he doesn’t take his game to the next level in ’11. That defense still fields some bad dudes, and Ray Lewis is still the baddest of them all. Haloti Ngata is an elite talent who you absolutely must spend extra time game planning for, and I’m expecting for Terrence Cody to have a really big second year lining up next to him. Terrell Suggs, always tough, put up his first double digit sack season since ’04 in ’10, and I’ve mentioned Jarrett Johnson before as a solid, underrated player. Still love him; still underrated. Losing Wilson will be a big blow to the secondary, especially if Ed Reed starts playing to his age. He’ll turn 33 when the Ravens take on the Steelers in week 1 but is apparently healthier than he’s been the last couple of seasons. Tom Zbikowski will put down the boxing gloves and attempt to take ownership of the SS job. As an added bonus, the Ravens might get something out of Sergio Kindle this year.

Ray Lewis said he’d retire if they won it all, and I think there’s a good chance he’s looking for a new career next year.

Team MVP – Ray Rice
Breakout Player – Terrence Cody
Disappointment – Lee Evans

2) Pittsburgh Steelers
(12-4, 1st in ’10)

Key Gets – Jerricho Cotchery (WR, Jets), Cameron Heyward (DL, Ohio State), Marcus Gilbert (OL, Florida), Curtis Brown (CB, Texas), Chris Carter (LB, Fresno State)

Key Gones – Max Starks (OT, overweight, out of shape free agent), Antwaan Randle El (WR, free agent)

Key Games – wk1 @ Ravens, wk3 @ Colts, wk4 @ Texans, wk8 v. Patriots, wk9 v. Ravens, wk12 @ Chiefs

The Steelers may have the most question marks of all the serious contenders. On offense – How much does Hines Ward have left? How many times will Ben Roethlisberger get sacked behind an offensive line consisting of below average blockers in Jonathan Scott and Ramon Foster, the heavily penalized Chris Kemoeatu, and post Achilles Willie Colon? Like the Ravens, this team is still known by its defense, but there’s special talent in the offensive backfield. I’ve been a Rashard Mendenhall since his Illinois days and think he builds upon an impressive third season, solidifying his place as one of the games best all-round backs. If I’m the Steelers, I’m a little worried about the severe drop in talent behind him if he were to show any wear from his 614 touches over the last two seasons. Emmanuel Sanders came on late last year and is getting a lot of preseason hype, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Antonio Brown made just as big an impact this season. Brown isn’t as explosive, but I think he’s a consistent target that balances well with Wallace and has shown some chemistry with Roethlisberger. Speaking of Wallace, that guy is going to finish as a top 7 receiver this year; big time numbers. Which will fail James Harrison first – his back or his mouth? He’s 33, and James Farrior is ancient. Fortunately for the Steelers, the two other linebackers are elite players. Both LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have responded to all challenges and look to be the foundation of the next Steeler defensive era. I love their defensive ends. Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel have been two of the most productive and consistent players in the game, but they’re both comfortably on the slow side of 30 and have missed some time over the last couple of seasons. Behind them has been Ziggy Hood, a guy I loved coming out of Missouri, who shined big time last year and now Cameron Heyward, a large dude who’s a perfect fit in this defense. I’ve still got questions about their secondary. Is Troy Polamalu 100% over last year’s Achilles issues? If so, look out! How bad will the lack of talent at corner hurt them? With half the starting linebackers being on the wrong side of their career peaks, that secondary may feel the brunt of a possible weakened pass rush.

Can the Steelers make it a 4th division title in 5 years? I think they come up just short; one game or a tiebreaker separating the top two teams.

Team MVP – Rashard Mendenhall
Breakout Player – Antonio Brown
Disappointment – Jonathan Scott

3) Cleveland Browns
(5-11, 3rd in ’10)

Key Gets – Brandon Jackson (RB, Packers), Phil Taylor (DL, Baylor), Jabaal Sheard (DE/OLB, Pittsburgh), Greg Little (WR, UNC)

Key Gones – Lawrence Vickers (FB, Texans)

Key Games – wk2 @ Colts, wk 9 @ Texans, wk13 v. Ravens, wk14 @ Steelers, wk16 @ Ravens, wk17 v. Steelers

With a shady offensive line and a still developing Colt McCoy under center, expect a lot Peyton Hillis again this year. Talk about a breakout player. Last year, Hillis rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and added another 500 in the receiving game on 61 receptions, second best on the Browns. Can he really do it again? Brandon Jackson isn’t anything more than a third down back, and Montario Hardesty still isn’t full recovered from last year’s knee injury. Hillis won’t flop, but aside from Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, there’s not much at all to like on that OL from a run or pass blocking perspective. That’s really going to hinder Colt McCoy’s progress as he takes over the offense in his second year as a pro. I’ve seen a lot of mentions of his progress this preseason, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he secured the job long term. I still believe his physical limitations will cap his growth at some point. Mohamed Massaquoi really shouldn’t be starting, let alone be anyone’s #1 receiver. I believe Greg Little will quickly and clearly take that #1 receiver role, and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t finish the year as their top pass catcher. On defense they’re shifting to a 4-3 front and don’t have the personnel to make a seamless transfer. Taylor and Sheard will help, but this is a front seven that was awful at getting to the passer last year. Not sure I can count Sheard being a dominant rookie. The linebacker unit is pretty weak to put it kindly. D’Qwell Jackson is a big medical question mark in the middle, and Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong are better off in the old Cleveland scheme (for what that’s worth). Joe Haden is already the most talented player on this team. He shined as a rookie, and I expect him to do more of the same this year. He and TJ Ward are clearly the top talents in the back end of a blah defense.

No one expects the Browns to do any better than third in this division. If nothing else they should get a pretty good idea whether or not McCoy is the guy to build the team around going forward. I think he still has the job this time next year.

Team MVP – Joe Haden
Breakout Player – Colt McCoy
Disappointment – Usama Young

4) Cincinnati Bengals
(4-12, 4th in ’10)

Key Gets – Bruce Gradkowski (QB, Raiders), Manny Lawson, (LB, 49ers), Nate Clements (CB, 49ers), Bo Scaife (TE, Titans), AJ Green (WR, Georgia), Andy Dalton (QB, TCU), Dontay Moch (LB, Nevada), Clint Boling (OL, Georgia)

Key Gones – Carson Palmer (QB, “retired”), Johnathan Joseph (CB, Texans), Chad Ochocinco (WR, Patriots), Terrell Owens (WR, who gives a shit?)

Key Games – wk6 v. Colts, wk10 v. Steelers, wk11 @ Ravens, wk13 @ Steelers, wk14 v. Texans, wk17 v. Ravens

Marvin Lewis has become quite the magician. He enters his 8th season as head coach of the Bengals, and all he’s done is take the franchise from laughingstock to boringly average. Add to that they’re without their QB because someone finally had the cojones to stand up to the ludicrousness that is Mike Brown. In for Carson Palmer steps Andy Dalton, a rookie QB who while I think has a solid future ahead of him, isn’t quite ready for prime time. When your other options are Bruce Gradkowski and Carson’s much less talented brother Jordan, throwing Dalton into the fire might not be a bad idea. AJ Green is going to be special, and I like that Jerome Simpson seemed to finally be putting it together at the end of last season. Throw in slot man Jordan Shipley and future All Pro TE Jermaine Gresham, and that’s a pretty talented group of pass catchers. Question is – will Dalton have time to get it to them behind a declining offensive line? LT Andrew Whitworth is underrated, and much maligned (deservingly so) RT Andre Smith is reportedly looking like a football player this preseason. Can Cedric Benson break 1,000 yards for a third consecutive season with a more crowded box? Leon Hall is a very underrated cover man, but losing Joseph on the other side is going to really hurt an already shoddy defense. The Bengals were even worse at getting to the QB than the Browns last year. If it were not for rookie Carlos Dunlap’s 9.5 sacks, Geno Atkins would have led the team with 3, yes 3, sacks. They’ll need fellow second year man Michael Johnson to step his game up in ‘11. I like Lawson in this defense, and maybe being surrounded by both he and Keith Rivers will help Rey Maualuga reach his potential. Maybe their next head coach will specialize in defense…oops.

There are young foundational pieces in place, but it’s going to take a while for them to produce substantive wins.

Team MVP – Leon Hall
Breakout Player – Michael Johnson
Disappointment – Rey Maualuga

1) Baltimore Ravens
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
3) Cleveland Browns
4) Cincinnati Bengals

Division MVP – Ray Rice
Division Breakout – Colt McCoy
Division Disappointment – Jonathan Scott

Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions - AFC East

1) New England Patriots
(14-2, 1st in ’10)

Key Gets – Chad Ochocinco (WR, Bengals), Albert Haynesworth (DL, Redskins), Andre Carter (DE/OLB, Patriots), Shaun Ellis (DL, Jets), Nate Solder (OL, Colorado), Ras-I Dowling (CB, Virginia), Shane Vereen (RB, California), Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas), Stevan Ridley (RB, LSU)

Key Gones – none

Key Games – wk2 v. Chargers, wk5 v. Jets, wk6 v. Cowboys, wk8 @ Steelers, wk9 v. Giants, wk10 @ Jets, wk11 v. Chiefs, wk12 @ Eagles, wk13 v. Colts

Are these guys as good as their hype? The Patriots have won as many playoff games in the last three years as the Tampa Bay Bandits, but they’re always mentioned as one of the league’s elite teams. Can they return to dominance this year? I love the addition of Ochocinco and see him fitting in beautifully as Tom Brady’s #2 receiver behind Wes Welker, and locking up Logan Mankins long term was a no-brainer. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is unlikely to repeat his 1,000 yard season given the talent they have at the position. In addition to the diminutive Danny Woodhead, the Patriots went out and drafted Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The former is having an impressive preseason and looks like he’ll be part of the game plan early on. I like the Mallett pick up and am intrigued with how things will work out for him in New England. I question the Haynesworth addition, as I think he’ll prove to be completely useless, even with the Patriots. Bill Belichick will need to continue coaching them up on defense since they chose not to make a significant upgrade in the pass rush department where no individual player recorded more than 5.5 sacks last season. On a positive note, Jerod Mayo is on his way to becoming one of the best defensive players in football, and the guy lining up next to him, Brandon Spikes, had a superb rookie year. I like most of the secondary, particularly corner Devin McCourty and safety Pat Chung. I called for a breakout year for Chung last season, and while he didn’t get a lot of individual national attention, he’s certainly solidified his role on this defense.

I see the Patriots getting to 11 or 12 wins, and I think that will be enough to get them the division. Beyond that?

Team MVP – Tom Brady
Breakout Player – Devin McCourty
Disappointment – Brandon Meriweather

2) New York Jets
(11-5, 2nd in ’10)

Key Gets – Plaxico Burress (WR, Oneida Correctional Facility), Derrick Mason (WR, Ravens), Muhammad Wilkerson (DL, Temple), Kenrick Ellis (DL, Hampton)

Key Gones – Braylon Edwards (WR, 49ers), Jerricho Cotchery (WR, Steelers), Brad Smith (WR/KR, Bills), Damien Woody (RT, retired), Shaun Ellis (DL, Patriots), Jason Taylor (OLB, Dolphins)

Key Games – wk1 v. Cowboys, wk4 @ Ravens, wk5 @ Patriots, wk7 v. Chargers, wk10 v. Patriots, wk14, v. Chiefs, wk15 @ Eagles, wk16 v. Giants

I’m not feeling the Jets mojo this year. How did they get better? Are the rusty Plaxico and old Mason improvements over Edwards and Cotchery? Brad Smith is a loss that will be felt, and LaDainian Tomlinson really wore down last season. Is Sanchez going to take a needed step forward and pick up in ’11 where he left off in ’10, throwing for 5 scores and 0 INTs in his final two games against the Patriots and Steelers? Shonn Green will be the primary ball carrier this year, and I think he’ll be a bright spot. I’m expecting 1,200 yards rushing, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, and Brandon Moore, their three stud offensive linemen, will be big reasons why. Speaking of bright spots, I think Santonio Holmes will have his best year as a pro and finish as a top 10 receiver. Dustin Keller should continue his development as Sanchez’s most reliable safety valve, especially early on with Sanchez’s unfamiliarity with Burress and Mason. On defense Wilkerson and Ellis were big additions to the DL, but like New England, I thought they needed to get better at outside linebacker. I’m not counting on Calvin Pace finally becoming the dominant pass rusher he’s been hyped as. Inside they’re fine. There aren’t many plays where both David Harris and Bart Scott aren’t right in the middle of the action. So much for having the #1 and #1a corners on the same defense. The Jets lost out on Nnamdi and “settled” for re-signing Cromartie. They’ll be one of the game’s best units once again, but I think the lack of a stud pass rushing linebacker is going to keep them from realizing greatness.
The defense will still be stout, but is this team hungrier than they’ve been the past two seasons? I’m a little leery of a letdown and possible missed playoff berth.

Team MVP – Santonio Holmes
Breakout Player – Shonn Green
Disappointment – Calvin Pace

3) Buffalo Bills
(4-12, 4th in ’10)

Key Gets – Nick Barnett (LB, Packers), Brad Smith (WR/KR, Jets), Marcell Dareus (DL, Alabama), Aaron Williams (DB, Texas)

Key Gones – Paul Posluszny (LB, Jaguars), Donte Whitner (S, 49ers), Lee Evans (WR, Ravens)

Key Games – wk3 v. Patriots, wk5 v. Eagles, wk6 @ Giants, wk9 v. Jets, wk10 @ Cowboys, wk12 @ Jets, wk14 @ Chargers, wk17 @ Patriots 

Fred Jackson isn’t Adrian Peterson, but his talents would be more appreciated on a better team. Unfortunately for Jackson, he’s running behind arguably the worst offensive line in the game. There isn’t a starter on that line that I’d want as a backup on the Bucs. Is CJ Spiller going to have a better sophomore season and threaten Jackson’s carries? I say no, and if ’11 mimics ’10, the bust buzz will start. Steve Johnson exploded on the NFL and became a guy you watch the highlights for each week. That’s hard to do on the Bills, and it will be even harder for him to repeat that feat with everyone now aware of his abilities. Evans’ better days are behind him, but what’s left behind to take his place is a bunch of #4 receivers. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t Joe Montana, but the guy can play the QB position. He’s a guy who can manage the game for you and create a play or two on his own to make a difference. He and Johnson have great chemistry, and if he can get anything from the rest of the receivers, he’ll surpass last year’s numbers. The loss of Posluszny is going to be a big one, but I like how they brought in Nick Barnett to add some stability. Shawne Merriman is having an impressive preseason, but it’s been a while since he was an impactful player. Outside of Merriman, they’re unlikely to get much of a pass rush from the LB level once again. If your NT is leading the team in sacks (Kyle Williams 5.5 in ’10 led Buffalo), you’re not winning many meaningful games. I love the drafting of Dareus to help fix the defensive line. He’s one of my top 3 candidates for Defensive ROY and should do some damage next to Williams.

That offensive line gives me the chills, and it’s probably going to be another long year in Buffalo as they and the Dolphins battle for 3rd place.

Team MVP – Fred Jackson
Breakout Player – Marcell Dareus
Disappointment – CJ Spiller

4) Miami Dolphins
(7-9, 3rd in ’10)

Key Gets – Reggie Bush (RB, Saints), Matt Moore (QB, Panthers), Marc Colombo (OL, Cowboys), Mike Pouncey (OL, Florida), Daniel Thomas (RB, Kansas State), Edmond Gates (WR, Abilene Christian)

Key Gones – Ronnie Brown (RB, Eagles), Ricky Williams (RB, Ravens), Channing Crowder (LB, retired)

Key Games – wk1 v. Patriots, wk4 @ Chargers, wk6 @ Jets, wk8 @ Giants, wk12 @ Cowboys, wk14 v. Eagles, wk16 @ Patriots, wk17 v. Jets

Can Dolphins fans feel good about their offseason? Granted, getting younger at the RB position was a necessary move, but the biggest deal of the offseason is the one they didn’t make. Kyle Orton is still a Bronco, and I think that not making that trade is going to come back and bite the Dolphins. I can’t wait to see how nuts Brandon Marshall gets with another year of Chad Henne under center. Marshall should finish closer to 100 receptions this season than last regardless of who is under center, but he’ll need to do better against playoff teams. From week 6 on, Marshall totaled 20 receptions for 0 scores in games against the Steelers, Ravens, Bears, Jets, and Patriots. I do think Davone Bess has the ability to be a consistent threat, and keep an eye on Gates. There’s a bit of potential there. Is Reggie Bush going to be any better in a worse offense, with a worse QB, on grass? I say no. Right now he looks like the starter because Daniel Thomas, a guy I was down on coming out of Kansas State (had him ranked lower than most), hasn’t done much of anything this preseason. Whoever is running better go left behind Richie Incognito and one of the best left tackles in the game, Jake Long. On defense, Karlos Dansby is the stabilizing force in the middle. He didn’t make as many big plays as hoped in his first year as a Dolphin, but he’s one of the game’s best inside backers. I love Vontae Davis and think his future is bright, but he’s got to make more game changing plays, turn more of those pass break ups into INTs. He’ll team with Sean Smith to give the Dolphins two of the more talented young corners in the game. Jared Odrick’s rookie year was wiped out due to injury, so he’s almost like another draft pick; love his potential. Jason Taylor is back, but it’s 2011, not 2002.

They’re a bad team that isn’t getting a lot better anytime soon. A lack of a run game will bury this offense and its hopes of a winning season.

Team MVP – Jake Long
Breakout Player – Davone Bess
Disappointment – Daniel Thomas

1) New England Patriots
2) New York Jets
3) Buffalo Bills
4) Miami Dolphins

Division MVP – Tom Brady
Division Breakout – Marcell Dareus
Division Disappointment – Daniel Thomas