Fantasy Football News

Thursday, September 8, 2011

2011 Season Preview: Division-by-Division Outlook (Part 2 of 2: NFC)

Part two of my season preview will take a closer look at how the NFC will unfold. Yesterday I previewed the AFC with few shocking predictions.

Unlike the AFC, the other side of the league is expected to look much different this season.

National Football Conference


Green Bay Packers 11-5
Chicago Bears 10-6
Detroit Lions 8-8
Minnesota Vikings 6-10

As much as I'd like to predict a Detroit Lions division title and run to the Super Bowl, I just can't. There's no way. Of course they are going to see a more matured Matthew Stafford, a very dominant Calvin Johnson and a fierce Ndamukong Suh tearing apart opposing quarterbacks. But there's no way the Lions will be able to beat out, not only the defending Super Bowl champs, but also the defending division champs.

Green Bay's offense adds a couple of weapons this year as they will have a revamped TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant, who are both returning from season-ending injuries last year. Aaron Rodgers will be as healthy and ready to go as ever, and Clay Matthews III and Charles Woodson will continue to lead Green Bay's top five defense in pursuit of another ring.

The only thing that worries me about Chicago is Jay Cutler, though he proved he has what it takes to win games. Had his knee not bothered him in the NFC Championship game and forced him to sit out, he could have seen his Bears in the Super Bowl rather than Green Bay. But a few added weapons on offense this offseason (Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Sam Hurd, Matt Spaeth and Chris Spencer) and defense (former NE safety Brandon Meriweather) will add depth to the roster in preparation for a repeat.

I really like the look of Detroit's defensive line, with reigning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh leading the way for the squad. The drafting of DT Nick Fairley was huge, although he may be bothered early on by a foot injury that is forcing him to miss the season opener against the Bucs. Second-year running back Jahvid Best will be looking to break out as the No. 1 guy in Detroit's backfield as the offense prepares to face some tough defenses both in-division and out of division this year.

Minnesota seems to think that signing washed up veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb to a short-term contract would temporarily fix their problem while they prepare rookie Christian Ponder to be the team's franchise quarterback for years to come. I agree that this would certainly allow Minnesota to ease Ponder's transition to the pros, but they can't expect to win this season with McNabb under center.

He was a disaster in Washington, and with the loss of Minnesota's top target in Sidney Rice, the Vikings' offense will be one-dimensional this season–Adrian Peterson, once again will be Minnesota's entire offense.

Minnesota has a very talented defense that may be able to bail McNabb out a few times, but it will take a miracle for the Vikings to win games if the defense allow 28+ points in any given game. Peterson is the best player on the team, offensively and defensively, and will be the center of attention for the Vikes. In such a tough division, with two constants (Green Bay and Chicago) and a third up-and-coming (Detroit), it will be tough for Minnesota to even win games within the division.

Offensive MVP: Adrian Peterson
Defensive MVP: Clay Matthews III
Rookie to watch: Nick Fairley
Breakout performer: Jermichael Finley
"Shocking" performer: Jahvid Best
Best player on new team: Roy Williams
Coach of the Year: Jim Schwartz

Philadelphia Eagles 12-4
Dallas Cowboys 10-6
New York Giants 6-10
Washington Redskins 5-11

Michael Vick is fresh off signing his second career $100 million contract, and is poised to make a Super Bowl run after an early exit to the eventual champs in the Wild Card round. There will be stiff competition in the East, as usual, but the Eagles are a notch above the rest of the NFC East.

Philadelphia was looking to take its game to the next level this season, so they went out and made a few acquisitions, adding depth with All Pro CB Nnamdi Asomugha, pass-rushing DE Jason Babin and nickelback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. These were just moves on defense. On offense they signed a backup for Vick, Tennessee's QB Vince Young, a backup for LeSean McCoy (Phins RB Ronnie Brown) and even another target for Vick (NYG's Steve Smith).

All these additions dubbed the Eagles a "Dream Team" by ignorant fans over the offseason. Luckily for the rest of the league, you can't truly be nicknamed the "Dream Team" until you win at least one championship. And if you're going to go that far in giving Philly this nickname, they better capture three or four consecutive Lombardi's.

Nevertheless, the Eagles will win the East. I actually had them winning the East before free agency even began, so of course I still have them winning the division. People have already overlooked the Dallas Cowboys, much to my dismay. With a healthy Tony Romo back, the possibilities are endless for this Dallas Cowboys offense. Especially with the second-year wideout Dez Bryant looking for a monster breakout season, and All Pro Jason Witten and Miles Austin catching passes from Romo, rather than Jon Kitna.

I don't have much faith in Eli Manning in New York, despite his comments this offseason saying he is "an elite quarterback in the NFL." Of course I'm not surprised he said that to the media, what's he supposed to say 'no, I'm not a good quarterback at all?' What I don't like about him is his inconsistency when the ball is in his hands. Too many interceptions and fumbles. He will need to prove his worth to me this season without Steve Smith and Kevin Boss in his arsenal of weapons, too. I just don't think New York will be able to get the job done and make it back to the promise-land in 2011.

Want to hear something funnier than Eli Manning and elite quarterbacks? The Washington Redskins quarterback controversy. Now that's funny. John Beck and Rex Grossman are the two options the Skins have, and Grossman thinks they're making the playoffs? I don't think so. Yes, Grossman has taken a team to the Super Bowl (Chicago in '06), but that Bears team had possibly one of the top 15 or 20 best defenses of all-time, and one of the game's best return men in Devin Hester.

Grossman/Beck's Skins will not even be in the top three in the NFC East, let alone make the playoffs in 2011. Sorry Skins fans!

Offensive MVP: Michael Vick
Defensive MVP: DeMarcus Ware
Rookie to watch: Ryan Kerrigan
Breakout player: Dez Bryant
"Shocking" performer: Tashard Choice
Best player on new team: Nnamdi Asomugha
Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett

Atlanta Falcons 13-3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6
New Orleans Saints 10-6
Carolina Panthers 3-13

Atlanta swept through the South easily last year, putting up a 13-3 record and a first round bye in the playoffs. Green Bay, of course, then went on to blow up Atlanta's D for 48 points in their Divisional round matchup. But Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan is as poised as ever to make a run this season, and with Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez being joined by rookie wideout Julio Jones out of Alabama, A-town's offense is ready to blow defenses up.

Unfortunately for Drew Brees and his Saints squad, who will kick-off their season tonight against Green Bay, New Orleans lost a key piece to its defense: Darren Sharper. New Orleans didn't bring the veteran safety back, and personally I think it will have a huge effect just for the simple fact that the other two teams are youthful and looking for nothing but a nice playoff run this season. I believe, that with a 10-6 record, the Saints will miss the playoffs this season. Shocker, I know right?

This isn't about the Saints being a team on the downfall, because they really aren't. This is more about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by young, blooming quarterback Josh Freeman, and the Bucs being "youngry" (aka "young and hungry" as head coach Raheem Morris puts it). Freeman will be the guy to step it up this season and put up a miraculous run to the playoffs as a wild card team.

The injury-ridden back Cadillac Williams is finally out of town, paving the way for LeGarrette Blount, a bruising, yet surprisingly-elusive second-year back out of Oregon. He put up a spectacular rookie performance with 1,007 yards (5.0 YPC) last season, and will look to build on that under Morris' guidance.

I really like this squad, and they already managed to finish 10-6, just missing the playoffs, last season in Freeman's second season in the pros (25 TDs, 6 INTs, 3,451 yards, 95.9 Rating). The sky is the limit for the Buccaneers, who still have veteran leadership from possible future Hall of Famer Ronde Barber on defense.

The Saints will be a tough opponent to beat out for second in the division, but this Bucs team, of all the teams out there, have the talent and ability to do that this year–and they will. Just wait and see. Oh, and also keep your eye on the six-foot, 250-pound Blount, he will be the one running over linebackers and defensive backs on his way to double-digit touchdown totals.

Carolina, though they are starting a whole new era this season, will continue to struggle and find themselves at the very bottom of the South once again. Cam Newton has already gotten the starting nod on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see how this ends up. After about three or four seasons, I'm expecting a similar story to Oakland's JaMarcus Russell...sorry Cam. There's no doubt he will be the rookie to watch in this division, though.

Offensive MVP: Matt Ryan
Defensive MVP: Jonathan Vilma
Rookie to watch: Cam Newton
Breakout player: LeGarrette Blount
"Shocking" performer: Harry Douglas
Best player on new team: Ray Edwards
Coach of the Year: Raheem Morris

St. Louis Rams 9-7
Arizona Cardinals 6-10
Seattle Seahawks 4-12
San Francisco 49ers 4-12

The difference between this year and last year is that this season the division winner will at least have a winning record. Not by much, but it's a start. We will also see a new division winner: St. Louis.

Seattle lost veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee Titans) and ended up downgrading to long-time Minnesota backup Tarvaris Jackson. They also overpaid for Minnesota's star receiver Sidney Rice, who started just six games in '10 and has just one proven season (2009: 83 Rec., 1,312 yards, 8 TDs and a Pro Bowl appearance). Other signings include Robert Gallery, Zach Miller and kicker Jeff Reed, none of which I see making an immediate impact and allowing Seattle to return to the playoffs right away.

Pete Carroll is attempting to turn this franchise around, but I don't think he's making the right moves. Perhaps they should do all they can to get the first round pick in 2012 and select Stanford's Andrew Luck? Or at least trade up for him when April rolls around. That's what this team needs the most right now.

Anyways, Arizona will be the second place finisher despite the overpaying of "franchise" quarterback Kevin Kolb. This signing made All Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald very happy, which is always a plus, but other than that I'm not so sure the signing will end up well for Fitz and the crew. Kolb can make the short passes with accuracy, but when it comes to throwing the deep ball his arm doesn't seem to be pro material. Larry Fitz will realize this soon enough, and when he does it could get ugly on the field. Good enough for six victories in 2011, but don't expect a playoff run coming from Arizona.

Luckily for Seattle, they won't be the only ones sitting at the very bottom of the West, though. San Francisco and the fresh face of new head coach Jim Harbaugh (Baltimore coach John Harbaugh's brother in case you couldn't tell by looking at the two) have made a point that they would like to stick with Alex Smith at quarterback for the time being.

Smith re-signed with the team this offseason, but the drafting of Nevada's signal caller Colin Kaepernick in the second round (36th overall pick) of this past April's draft tells us Smith is only a temporary fix. And by fix, I mean more of a "placeholder." Smith's career record is 19-31 in 50 starts with the Niners. So it's obvious that Smith's time is up in San Fran.

Same old, same old in the NFC West. The team who wins the division will be flirting with .500, and may not even win a game in postseason play–Seattle was the lone exception after upsetting the New Orleans Saints last season.

Offensive MVP: Larry Fitzgerald/Steven Jackson
Defensive MVP: Patrick Willis
Rookie to watch: Patrick Peterson
Breakout player: Sam Bradford
"Shocking" performer: Cadillac Williams
Best player on new team: Sidney Rice (despite being overpaid)
Coach of the year: Steve Spagnuolo
Playoff Seeding:

1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Green Bay Packers
4. St. Louis Rams
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Dallas Cowboys

Photos found on Google, no copyright infringement intended

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