NFL 2011 Preview: Handicapping the AFC

Simple fact of life: There are billionaires, there are millionaires, and then there is the rest of us. Well, after four long months of the first two, players and owners, bickering, negotiating, and hammering out 10 more years of uninterrupted labor peace, the rest of the of us can now sleep easy, knowing that we will still have our Sundays in the fall. We can also start to focus on what really matters and possibly the two best things some of us have in our lifes: real football and fantasy football.

I understand that since the elongated lockout ended, many football fans nationwide are a) excited, almost indescribably, about football being back and b) a little dusty when it comes to what went down last season, who did and didn’t improve their team via draft and free agency, and who what to expect from each and every team this season. Enter: Hindsight Sport’s First Annual NFL Preview Blowout. I’ve stalked the NFL Network, read NFL Preview magazines, found out where Adam Schefter lives and stalked that too (kidding), and then I tied myself to a chair and laptop to bang out this preview. I’m ready. On a scale of “Bill Belicheck at a press conference” to whatever this is, I’m at about a “NFL Network’s Scott Hanson reporting at Eagles camp last week” with my excitement for the start of this season. So without further ado, here is one man’s take on how the NFL season will shake out:

AFC EAST

4. Buffalo Bills

Why they will stink: They have no quarterback, their quarterback stinks, and their quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick. Their poster feature players (the best, most recognizable players on the team) are Stevie Johnson, Kyle Williams, and CJ Spiller? They simply lack the talent necessary to compete in the NFL and play in a division with two elite teams and the Dolphins. Even Miami has considerably more talent.

The Silver Lining: The team will likely be relocated to Los Angeles or elsewhere by 2014. Oh wait, that’s bad news. Well there will be roughly five CJ Spiller highlights to look forward to and they are a front runner in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes going into the season.

The Key to the Season: Walking the fine line between being bad enough to get the number one pick and Andrew Luck, and being so awful that they surpass Jacksonville as the prime team for relocation.

Over/Under 4 wins: Under, as depressing as that is. They won 4 games last season, and since then have not done much to brighten their prospects. Their only notable addition, a modest one, was linebacker Nick Barnett, but that move was canceled out by the losses of Paul Posluszny and Donte Whitner.

Random thought: Even Bills fans don’t want to play with them in Madden’s franchise mode.

3. Miami Dolphins

Why they will fall short: They still don’t have passing game because they failed to trade for Kyle Orton. And now they don’t have a run game because they lost Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown (that’s fine, they were getting old), but replaced them with Reggie Bush and a rookie. All of this happened while the Jets and Patriots, who were already better than them to begin with, were upgrading their rosters.

The Silver Lining: Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7. But seriously, Mike Pouncey looks like he could be almost, if not as good as his brother, which would mean that along with Jake Long, the Dolphins would have two of the best linemen in football.

The Key to the Season: It is now or never for Chad Henne. Can he step up? Second round pick Daniel Thomas is going to have to carry the ball at least 250 times for this offense (*fantasy alert*).

Over/Under 7 Wins: Under. Still inferior to the Pats and Jets, and again, I don’t know how this team is going to score on offense. You either need a quarterback who can make throws or a really good run game that can bail him out.

Random thought: Down the stretch last season, the Dolphins lost three games to the Bills, Lions, and Browns by a combined 13 points. Had they won those three games, they would have gone into week 17 with a chance to win their 11th win and clinch a playoff berth against a Patriots team who had already clinched home field advantage and had nothing to play for. Also, Tony Sparano, you just can not lose with a name like that.

2. New York Jets

Why they are in the hunt: Ground and pound run game, mildly effective passing game, and a defense that can get a quarterback out of his comfort zone.

Mitigating Factor: The Jets pass rush has been able to get away with average pass rushers for the past couple seasons because they have great cover corners and Rex Ryan is a genius. Mark Shanchez is not able to out-duel elite quarterbacks in the playoffs, so the Jets better hope that Rex Ryan can get average pass rushers to put Tom Brady on his back once again.

Key to the Season: This is easy, Mark Shanchez. The run game is there, the weapons at reciver are there, the defense is there. Everything is in place for the Jets to make a run. It will come down to whether or not Mark Shanchez can complete those three to five passes in a playoff in order for the Jets to get over the hump.

The Jets are waiting for Sanchez to turn into Sanchise.

Over/Under 10.5 Wins: This is really close but under. The Jets have to play the Patriots twice, Ravens, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Cheifs, and Chargers. Maybe more importantly, there will be less sense of urgency and stress on the regular season success, given that the Jets have had great regular seasons and lost in consecutive AFC Championship in the past two seasons.

Random Thought: I do not want to pile on Mark Shanchez but how many NFL quarterbacks could have done, with this roster, what he did the last two years?

1. New England Patriots

Why they are the slight favorites: First off, they still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Secondly, it is important to remember how young they were last year, and that all those young players, starters like Gronkowski, Hernandez, Eddelman, Tate, Spikes, Cunningham, McCourtey, and Chung, are only going improve. Top it off with the additions of Chad Johnson, who will give them mild production, and Albert Haynesworth, who just might be a Beast this season.

Mitigating factor: No question, it’s the pass rush. The optimistic view is that Haynesworth will return to his 2008 form and, along with Vince Wilfork and Shaun Ellis, provide a sufficient inside pass rush. However, the linebackers, who were the strength of the defense in past years, have to become more proficient pass rushers.

Key to the Season: Along with the pass rush, it’s the running game, In the regular season, running 12 draw plays per game for Danny Woodhead is all fine and cute, but the Patriots need a more solid run game to rely upon in the playoffs, when teams are anticipating pass and sending blitzers every play. Secondly, how much can they get from Chad Johnson and Albert Haynesworth? They could potentially enhance or impede a Patriots Super Bowl run. Will Belicheck finally get caught rolling the dice?

Big Al could potentially shift the power to the Patriots in the AFC.

Over/Under 11.5 Wins: Over. The regular has not been the problem for this team recently. They show up every week prepared to play because Bill Belichick will not allow otherwise.

Random thought: Going back to their pass rush, in the Patriots playoff loss to the Jets last January, the Jets sacked had five sacks and seven quarterback hits on Tom Brady. How many sacks and hits did the Patriots have on Mark Shachez? None and none. Game, set, match. The NFL is about two things: your quarterback and how you affect the other quarterback. On that day, Mark Shanchez was a better quarterback than Tom Brady because of what Rex Ryan did and what Bill Belichick didn’t do.

AFC NORTH

4. Cincinnati Bengals

Why they will stink: Rebuilding with a rookie quarterback, culture of losing, and an incompetent man at the head.

Silver lining: If Andy Dalton can become a quality NFL quarterback (big if), then he will have an array of young weapons to work and grow up with. AJ Green has star potential, Jordan Shipley could become a poor man’s Wes Welker, and Jermaine Gresham has that “too fast for linebackers, too big for safeties” quality and could become an integral play maker for them. However, like a kids growing up in a poverty, violence, and gang stricken area, these players will have to rise above the influences and around them. And, yes, in that metaphor Carson Palmer is Manuel Noriega.

Key to the season: Have Andy Dalton learn the lessons that every rookie has to without permanently scaring him.

Over/Under 4.5 wins: Under. Andy Dalton will be thrown into the fire early, without any veteran to guide him or run game to alleviate the pressure. The good news is that he has relatively easy slate early on (Cleveland, Denver, San Francisco, Buffalo, Jacksonville), which will help him get his feet wet and confidence up.

Random Thought: Carson Palmer is awful. But in his defense, who wants to get paid an average annual salary of 13.1 million dollars to play a game. Also, I found this piece pretty comical in retrospect.

3. Cleveland Browns

Why they are not there yet: Colt McCoy showed last year that he has “face of the franchise” potential, but he isn’t there yet. They have a nice, young nucleus building there in Cleveland, but they still have a couple steps of rebuilding left.

Can Peyton Hillis repeat his 2010 success this season?

Silver lining: Every game on their schedule is manageable and conceivably winnable besides the four games against the Steelers and Ravens (as usual), and a game against the Colts. But then again, let’s not forget the Browns beat the Saints and the Patriots in back to back games last season, so anything is possible.

Key to the season: Build on what you started last year. Young players like Joe Haden, Brian Robiske, and Alex Mack have developed into dependable, blue chip players. As a team, the Browns have to mature and learn how to bring it every week. As mentioned before, they could easily win seven or eight game with their schedule, but it will take focus and maturity.

Over/Under 7 Wins: Under. I’m high on this Cleveland team and think that they have sleeper potential, but their defense is what scares me. Have you seen their depth charts on defense? There isn’t one above average starter besides second year corner Joe Haden.

Random thought: The Browns traded the sixth overall pick in the draft to the Falcons for the 20th, 59th, and 124th picks (Phil Taylor, Greg Little and Owen Marecic). With that sixth pick, the Falcons drafted Julio Jones, who by all reports, has been a beast in workouts, and looks like he is going to be a great one. At the time it seemed like a logic move for the Browns because they needed more than just one great player, but who is going to be Colt McCoy’s weapons next year? Brian Robiske? Mohamed Massaquoi? Ben Watson? Wouldn’t you rather give your young quarterback a future Pro Bowl reciver to work with than have a nose tackle, a wide receiver with mild potential, and a fullback?

2. Baltimore Ravens

Why they’re in the hunt: How close are they to the Super Bowl? Minutes? Okay, just checking. They have an elite defense, adequate offense, tons of experience, and a chip on their shoulder. They will also have an inevitable sense of urgency this season due to the number of older players and their quickly closing windows.

Mitigating Factor: After cutting many of their veteran players, the Ravens talent pool has become suddenly scarce and they are going to have to depend on a lot of young, totally unproven players to step up. For example, their receiving core, after Anquan Boldin (now overrated), consists of David Reed (0 career catches), Justin Harper (0 career catches), and Marcus Smith (wait for it… 0 career catches). Holy Schnikes! Who was the last Super Bowl champion that came into the season with three of their top four receivers having never caught a pass in the NFL?

Key to the season: 3 words: Beat Ben Roethlisberger. He is the only hurdle they have yet to clear. Each time the game comes down to two or three crucial third down plays in the fourth quarter that Ben has been able to convert. That is most likely what their season will come down to. The fans know this. The coaches know this. The players know this.

The clock is ticking on Ray Lewis and his quest for title number two.

Over/Under 10.5 Wins: Over, but it doesn’t mean as much to the Ravens. They have been there done that in the regular season. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are in the strech run of their career and would rather advance in the post season than dazzle in the regular.

Random thought: From week 2 until the end of the season last year, Joe Flacco’s passer rating was 103.4, which would have ranked 2nd over the entire season. (He threw 5 of his 10 picks in the first two weeks!) Of course, this means nothing until the Ravens win playoff games because of Joe Flacco, and not despite him. Can Joe Flacco get there? I’m not so sure but two things are for certain, we’ll find out soon, and the clock is ticking on his supporting cast and until Joe Flacco has to do it himself.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

Why they’re in the hunt: Veteran team who has the two most important categories: quarterback who makes plays when it counts and a defense that can rush the quarterback. Check and check.

Mitigating factor: In the Super Bowl, their secondary got dissected by Aaron Rodgers and his cast of receivers. Play after play; a slant here, a deep post there. There was nothing that the Steelers could do. Aaron Rodgers ended up with 304 yards, and I swear he would have had 504 had it not been for his receivers’ drops. The Steelers are not equipped to defend the league’s best spread out passing attacks. Ask them to play in a phone booth against similar to them, like the Ravens and Jets, and they are bully on the block. But ask them to line up against four and five wide, and it is like watching a Kevin James movie, its really drawn out and painful.

Key to the season: Avoid a post-Super Bowl hangover similar to that of ’06 and ’09. They have chance to make a huge statement right out of the gates with a week 1 matchup with the Ravens. That game will tell us a lot about if the Steelers came to play this season.

Over/Under 11 Wins Over. The schedule is soft and the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger for a full 16 game season.

Random thought: Ever wonder what the blue print for building an NFL power is? Look no further than the Pittsburgh Steelers first round draft picks since 2001. Casey Hampton, Kendall Simmons, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, Lawerance Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Ziggy Hood, Maurkice Pouncey. Three things are impressive about this: 1. Despite many of them being picked towards the end of the first round, seven of those guys in or around the top ten at their position. 2. The least impressive player is Kendall Simmons and he started 83 of 84 games played and was a starter on a Super Bowl championship team. 3. There are no busts. No busts! Even other elite front offices have had their share of busts during that time. The Patriots drafted Laurence Maroney, the Ravens drafted Kyle Boller, and the Packers drafted Justin Harrell. All of that, and they find undrafted free agents like James Harrison and Willie Parker. Are you taking notes; Redskins, Raiders, and Bengals?

AFC SOUTH

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Why they’ll fall short: They are in that awkward “we’re kind of rebuilding year because we drafted a rookie quarterback, but we’re kind of not rebuilding because our coach is on the block and needs to win, like now” phase. There is just not a lot that impresses you, besides Maurice Jones Drew.

Silver Lining: Like I wrote about in my free agency review, I thought they did a nice job this year in that regard. They acquired two solid, verteran linebacker: Clint Session and Paul Pusluszney. They also added ex-Packer guard Jason Spitz.

Key to the season: The quarterback situation. Either Garrard plays well and holds onto the starting job, or it will be handed over to Blaine Gabbert. Jack Del Rio is on the hot seat and needs to win now, so Garrard would have to be dreadful to be pulled. If Garrard plays well and they make a run at the division, then they will have to ride MJD, while Garrard will have to make two or three key throws to the game.

Over/Under 6.5 Wins Under. They are least talented team in the division and their only breaks in the schedule are Carolina, Cincinatti, and Cleveland. Every other team is more talented. Also, if Gabbert is submitted early, it could get ugly.

Random thought: I’m looking at their team stats, and I can’t figure out how the hell this team won eight games last year. They were 27th in passing, 28th against the pass, 30th in sacks, and 31st in turnover difference. What? Last time I checked, in today’s NFL, if you cannot pass, stop the pass, get to the quarterback, and to top it off, turn the ball over, you cannot win. Is Maurice Jones Drew that good?

3. Tennessee Titans

Why they have sleeper potential: They have a veteran quarterback who is your ultimate game manager, an elite running back, an underrated defense, and a manageable schedule.

Mitigating factor: The Titans, with a new head coach and two new quarterbacks, are going to be screwed by the lockout more than any other team in the league. Also, can they find someone to replace Jason Babin’s 12.5 sacks last season?

Key to the season: The defense. The Titans will run the ball effectively, control the clock, limit mistakes and muster up 20 to 24 points per game on offense. If the Titans defense can make stops when they have to, then they could win eight or nine games, if they allow 367 yards per game, like they did last year, then they will go 6-10.

Over/Under 6.5 Wins Over. This is purely premised on Matt Hasselbeck having a bounce back year and providing steady quarterbacking with limited mistakes. If he falls on his face and is benched for rookie Jake Locker, then all bets are off on how deep the Titans ship will sink.

Random thought: I don’t have one, so um, how about Joe Pa getting trucked by one of his players? Also, Chris Johnson is this year’s top “PAY THE MAN!” candidate.

2. Houston Texans

Why this is the year: Oh God, here we go again. “The Houston Texans are going to break out and win 11 or 12 games this season.” I am as skeptical as you, but they have one of the most explosive in the league; an above average quarterback, the league’s leading rusher and the best wide receiver in football. Defensively, they converted to a 3-4 defense this offseason, Peyton Manning’s kryptonite, meaning Mario Williams (6-6 296 lb.) will be rushing the quarterback as an outside linebacker now.

Why they might falter: First off, they haven’t given us a reason to believe that they can put together a full 16 game season. But also, in a pass centric league, the Texans were the worst in the league at stopping it last year. They signed Jonathan Joseph and Daniel Manning in free agency, which is a mild upgrade, but equally as vital to their cause will Texans’ pass rush in their 3-4 front.

It is do or die for Gary Kubiack this season in Houston.

Key to the season: The stretch run. Barring unforeseen obstacles, the Texans will be in the hunt after their week 11 bye week, when their five remaining games will be against at Jacksonville, Atlanta, Cincinatti, Carolina, at Indianapolis, and Tennessee. The Texans have been prone to long losing streaks and mental lapses, but it is now or never if they are going to take the next step.

Over/Under 9 Wins: Over. Again, this is the year…probably.

Random thought: Matt Shcaub is a great example of how fantasy football changes our perception of how good these guys are in real life. While preparing for their fantasy drafts, guys will say, “Hey! Matt Schaub! This guy has throws for 4,000 yards every year,” and will associate Schaub with guys like Rodgers and Rivers. He is not those guys because if he was, his team would not go 8-8 every year. He still does not have that “don’t give him 2 minutes with the game on the line because he’ll burn you” quality that all the elite quarterbacks have. He’s great in fantasy, not as great in reality.

1. Indianapolis Colts

Why it will be business as usual: Everything starts and stops with Peyton Manning in Indy. Last season was rough for Peyton because he had a revolving door of receivers and offensive linemen due to injuries, and the defense was less than impressive. The reasons, as always, that they will be on top are Manning, Frenney, and Mathis; they are by far the best quarterback and pass rush in their division. Check and mate.

Migitaging factor: Running the ball and stopping the run. Last season the Colts committee of running backs only amassed 92.7 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry, while the defense allowed 4.6 yards per carry. This meant that many times the Colts got dominated in time of possession and Peyton Manning was not given much time to work with.

Key to the season: Again, everything starts and ends with Peyton Manning. He is expected to miss much, if not all, of training camp because he is recovering from neck surgery. Last time Manning missed time in camp, was in 2008, when the Colts had to win 9 straight games to end the season after starting out 3-4. The Colts do not have the firepower to reel off nine straight wins this season, so it is important that they weather Manning’s absence and do not dig themselves a big hole early in the season.

Over/Under 11.5 Wins: Under. I know that they have Dallas Clark back after missing much of last season, but the schedule is tougher than last year.

Random thought: I think too few people realize that Peyton Manning has only won one Super Bowl, and Super Bowl victory in which he out-dueled…. Rex Grossman… in a tsunami. I like and admire Peyton Manning, but that game is the only reason that we don’t still say, “Peyton Manning ca’nt win the big game.” It’s not his fault that he was matched up with the Bears, but when he got the chance to go blow for blow with another elite quarterback in Super Bowl, a game in which I picked the Colts for the reason that I “Wouldn’t bet against Peyton Manning on a big stage,” he didn’t full on wet the bed but there was a little bit to clean up in the morning. Anyways, I just cannot say a quarterback is the best ever when he only beat Rex Grossman in a Super Bowl.

AFC WEST

4. Denver Broncos

Why they will stink: Just a mess. It’s the second week of August and they still have not resolved the quarterback conundrum that is causing a rift in their locker-room. Their defense, by any measurement, was truly awful last season. The running back that they invested a first round draft pick in, Knowshon Moreno, has yet to convince anyone that he is a feature back.

Silver lining: Before Elivis Dumervill went down for the season last year, it looked like he was becoming James Harrison 2.0. He had 17 sacks in 2009 and his 5’11 frame allowed him to easily get under taller offensive tackles. Without him, the Broncos ranked 32nd in sacks last season. Now they not only have him back, but the second overall pick in the draft, Von Miller. Miller is an absolute specimen and a pass rush specialist who I can see stepping in and having double digit sacks in his first season. Having Miller and Dumervill rushing the passer on from both sides of the football is a scary proposition for both the Broncos and staring quarterbacks.

Key to the season: Other than trading either Orton or Tebow, which won’t happen, they have to be able to run the football. New head coach John Fox has a history of run-heavy play calling and the Broncos don’t have a workhorse to fit the bill right now. Moreno, who only had 779 yards last season, may not only have to step up, but do it himself, considering their second leading rusher last year was Tim Tebow.

Over/Under 5.5 Wins: Under. It would not surprise me if they won more but rule number one is to stay away from teams with a quarterback controversy.

Random thought: Is it just me, or does Kyle Orton get a worse shake than any other player in league? Facts: In 12 starts last year: 3653 yards, 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and made Brandon Lloyd look like Art Monk. (The season before that: 3802 yards, 21 touchdowns 15 interceptions.) Yeah his record was 3-10, but that’s what happens when you have no run game, the worst defense in the league, and a coach who was waiting for you to fail. If you were to insert Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback for the Ravens or Jets, they would have the same success as they have had with Joe Flacco or Mark Shanchez.

3. Oakland Raiders

Why they’ll fall short: Originally I had the Raiders as my dark horse that could surprise some people. Don’t ask me why, I just did. Then I thought about it some more, and there were too many odd reasons against it and it became too easy to talk myself out of it. Yeah they won eight games last year but the five different teams that they beaten had a combined record of 37-43. Yeah, they were the 2nd best rushing team, but Darren McFadden’s health and durability is big question mark. Yeah their defense was commendable but they lost Nnamdi Asomaugha. All of this, and they lost their top pass catcher, tight end Zach Miller, to Seattle; and their starting quarterback, Jason Campbell, was benched twice last season for Bruce Gradowski.

Silver (and black) lining: They play in a soft division. The Chiefs will come back to earth, the Chargers are an enigma at times, and the Broncos are bad.

Key to the season: The young players, guys like Darren McFadden, Rolando McClain, and Louis Murphy, have to continue to develop and improve, even if the team collectively is not. I do not think Jason Campbell is the solution if they want to break through, but if guys around him improve, they will be in position to break through. Either that plan, or start to slip some doses of arsenic into Al Davis’ oatmeal.

Over/Under 7.5 Wins: Under. I have them at about 7 wins but it is plausible with the shaky quarterback situation that they win even less.

Random thought: If you’re ever really bored, a great time waster is reading old fantasy football magazines and online fantasy previews from like 2004, and reading about how Lamont Jordan, Rueben Droughns, and Darnell Jackson are going to break out, knowing that they never did. It’s high comedy. The Raiders usually have pretty funny preview. Remember in 2006 when we all thought Kerry Collins was going to throw 25 touchdown bombs to Randy Moss, and assumed that Kerry Collins was trying to do more than just pick up pay checks and Randy Moss actually wanted to play in Oakland. How do actually guys get paid to be fantasy football experts?

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Why they will take steps back: Last season I pegged the Kansas City Chiefs as my surprise team, and I nailed it. This season I am breaking up with them. Last year, I knew that they would break out because they could take advantage of an ultra soft schedule (seriously, look it up). While this season, they will be playing a first place schedule. Defenses will eventually decide to stack eight in the box until Matt Cassell can throw a pass other than a deep post to Dwayne Bowe.

Silver lining: They have a surplus of talented draft picks that will be around for years to come: Jammal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Tamba Hali, Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Dexter McCluster, and Branden Albert.

Key to the season: Can Matt Cassell step up and become more than just a game manager? The Chiefs made an effort to improve his weapons when they signed Steve Breaston and drafted Jonathan Baldwin. What he does with them will be crucial. The run game will be there, the defense will be there, and Arrowhead’s home field advantage will be there. Will Cassell be there?

Over/Under 8.5 Wins: Under. They will not be sneaking up on anyone this time and the schedule is much more rigorous.

Random thought: Last year’s offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, left to take the same position at the University of Florida. Don’t overlook that. I thought Weis was as valuable as any coordinator in the league last season. He pulled out every trick imaginable, wildcat, reverse passes, double reverse passes, in order to maximize what he was working with.

1. San Diego Chargers

Why they are in the hunt: Phillip Rivers will have Vincent Jackson for a full season, a healthy Antonio Gates, and second year running back Ryan Matthews, who may or may not step up. Their defense is very, very underrated and was tops in the league last year in yards allowed and 2nd in sacks.

Except Phillips Rivers to connect with Jackson and his array of recivers a lot this season.

Mitigating factor: Norv Turner is directly involved. Also, don’t underestimate the value of Darron Sproles, who signed with New Orleans. He led the team last season in catches with 59 and made huge difference on special teams. Philip Rivers better hope that Ryan Matthews is the real deal.

Key to the season: Other than Rivers having all of his weapons, is Ryan Matthews for real? Even though the NFL is pass first, you have to be able to run the ball to control the clock and off set the defense. I don’t know if they can get away with giving fullback Mike Tolbert 182 carries again this season.

Over/Under 10.5 Wins: Over. Explosive offense, quality defense, and a soft schedule down the stretch (when they usually struggle).

Random thought: Remember last year when any time someone said Aaron Rodgers was an elite quarterback, somebody would almost instinctively say “tell me when he wins in the playoffs.” Well after he won a Super Bowl, doesn’t the “can’t win the big games” reputation shift to Phillip Rivers? Fair or not, there has always been a quarterback that bared that reputation. First it was Peyton Manning, then it was Donnovan McNabb, then we forgot about McNabb, and then we gave it to Rodgers.

I will make my season predictions in my NFC Preview, which will be up some time next week.

Edited by Staff Editor
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