By Ryan Johnson
NFL Standings Predictions

AFC East         

New England Patriots
New York Jets 
Miami Dolphins 
Buffalo Bills

This division remains static. The Patriots and Jets are quite possibly the class of the AFC. Luckily for football fans, they inhabit the same division. This is budding into one of the NFL’s premier rivalries and I don’t see much to suggest that’s going to change this year. The Dolphins appear to be treading water with a lame duck coach in Tony Sparano and the Bills are not a particularly talented team. I don’t see where they pose much threat to the studs of this division. The only thing that’s remotely compelling about the Bills and Dolphins is whether or not the Dolphins will go into the tank and manage to finish with a worse record than the Bills.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens
Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals

Another static division? Looks that way to me. Not unlike the Patriots and Jets in the East, you have two powers at the top of this division. It looks like business as usual for the Steelers mainly. The Ravens appear to have taken their lumps over the offseason and preseason, but it seems a little premature for the Browns to do anything and the Bengals will likely be picking in the top 10 again.

AFC South

Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Tennessee Titans
Jacksonville Jaguars

I really hate to pick the Texans to win this division. I always told myself I’d pick Peyton Manning to win the AFC South every year until he retires, basically. Well, Peyton Manning’s health is in question to start this season. With Manning’s health an uncertainty, the Colts are in serious trouble. I don’t know who, if anyone, this team can beat without Manning. If there’s a one man team in the NFL, they’re it. Even if he doesn’t miss much time and is just playing at a lower level, they’re going to feel it. On the flipside, the Texans appear to have finally shored up their Achilles Heel to some degree. They’ve been good enough offensively for a while now, but their defense has been sieve. Under new defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, it appears they will be respectable at worst. A respectable defense paired with their offense should win the Texans a gang of games. Beyond the Colts and Texans, I don’t think the Titans or Jaguars are of much consequence. At some stage, both of those teams will probably be playing a rookie QB, at which point their season is likely lost.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
Denver Broncos

The Chargers are the clear class of this division. Last year is last year, but this team appeared to be one of the elite in every measurable way aside from their record and special teams. Barring another ridiculous run of misfortune, the Chargers should be one of the AFC and NFL’s best teams in 2011. The Chiefs are nipping at their heels, but I’m looking for them to take a step back. If only because they’re not as good as the Chargers, they will be playing a first place schedule and other teams now know they’re not a “walk in and win”. I’m having a lot of trouble gauging just what the Broncos and Raiders are. But much like the Jaguars and Titans in the AFC South, it probably doesn’t matter. I like the Broncos a bit more due to Kyle Orton. Seriously, Kyle Orton vs Jason Campbell? Give me Orton, any day. And the Broncos also don’t have a mad man looming in the background that could sabotage the team as some point. But all that said, the Raiders are probably a better team than the Broncos, so I’m picking the Raiders to finish ahead of them.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Washington Redskins

It begins with “The Dream Team” or the “All Hype-Team”, whichever you prefer. The Eagles coming into this season have to be considered the favorites to win the NFC East. They are young, adept at playing football and just signed everyone this side of Anderson Silva and Darth Vader for their Superbowl Shufflin’ Crew. As much as I’d like to play the contrarian, this isn’t the spot. There’s just not a lot to suggest anyone aside from the Eagles win this division. After them, there’s a jumbled-up mess. The Cowboys, Giants and Redskins are all pretty flawed..The Cowboys were the NFC East’s paper champion going into 2010. A broken collarbone, a team quitting, a head coaching change, a late season surge, and a roster cleansing later and you can’t really expect much from the Cowboys this year. I feel that this works to their advantage. The Cowboys, in recent years, have tended to fair better with lower expectations. When the world is thought of them, they flop. Being no more than an upset pick this year is the catbird’s seat for them. But as I stated earlier, they are flawed. They’re starting three new offensive linemen and their defense are vomit inducing. The upside of these things for the Cowboys are that two of the offensive linemen being replaced weren’t anything resembling good and they have the “learning a new defense” card in their back pocket. When you move past the Cowboys, you have the Giants and Redskins. The Giants have been decimated by injuries this preseason. I would’ve had a harder time putting them behind Dallas before the last few weeks unfolded the way they did. I’m not ready to write them off because of some injuries, but I think you downgrade them a bit. The Redskins improved over the offseason and added some nice pieces of their team. Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Josh Wilson and Ryan Kerrigan, for example, were all good additions in my opinion. The results of a strong offseason for the Redskins seemed to shine through in the preseason, where they have looked quite competent. But there is a giant elephant or two in the room for this team. Rex Grossman and/or John Beck is their signal caller. It’s very difficult to endorse a team with quarterback play like that that doesn’t have a supporting cast proven to be among the league’s best (See: Jets, New York). Shanahan is supposedly a QB guru. If the Redskins go far with either one or both of these guys, give him all the credit in the world. 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

I really like Green Bay to win this division. Don’t want to put the horse before the cart, but it’s starting to look like Green Bay is developing into one of the league’s model franchises. This is really a phenomenal (PHENOMENAL) team headed by one of the game’s elite QBs and they appear to only be stacking more quality players onto their roster. They proved how good and deep they were last year by continuing to battle through injury after injury. By the time the playoffs came around, it was pretty clear they were a team nobody wanted to play and they justified the fears by finishing the deal and securing a Superbowl win. The Packers come into 2011 with more talent than that team that managed to claw through adversity and win a title in 2010. I fully expect this team to rip through much of the NFC this year barring something unforeseen. Next up, I like the Vikings to bounce back this year. Not unlike their counterpart the Cowboys in the battle for a paper championship in 2010, the Vikings are a bit under the radar this year. Rumors of their demise seem to be greatly exaggerated mainly around the circumstances of what can only be pegged as a lost season. That whole Brett Favre/Brad Childress/”I wouldn’t feed this **** to my dogs”/Metrodome collapse thing is behind them now. And as bad as Donovan McNabb looked at times in 2010, he’s an upgrade over what they got out of Brett Favre last year. This team isn’t a slam dunk to do anything, but I can see a bounce back from them. I could be way off the Vikings, but they were scary good not long ago and that’s more than I can say about the Lions or Bears. Speaking of the Bears…”The Bears were who we thought they were.” If you thought the Bears overachieved last year and I’m one of those people, I think you will see them get their comeuppance this season. I just can’t see a team with Jay Cutler and an offensive line as bad as this somehow doing it again. As far as the Lions go, they’re going to have to show me. Sure, Ndamukong Suh is a force of nature and their defensive line in total looks like it’s going to be quite a task to block. But wasn’t that the case last year? Where is the secondary help? Where is the offensive line? Did Matthew Stafford suddenly get less brittle? They’re not the Lions of old, but I don’t think this is a young powerhouse quite yet either.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints
Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carolina Panthers

As much as the NFC East fan in me begrudges saying it, this division is the class of the NFC. The NFC East might still be the “glamor” division, but it’s just not accurate to say they’re the best anymore. At lot has been made about the Falcons’ upgrades this offseason, but I thought the Saints added a lot as well. In the draft, they picked up talents such as Mark Ingram and Cameron Jordan. And in free agency they added players such as Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers and Darren Sproles. These are guys you can see making an immediate impact on top of a roster that was already brimming with talent. Franklin and Rogers should do wonders for a weak interior line and Sproles is an upgrade from Reggie Bush. As crazy at it may sound, it seems like the Saints are under the radar. Now with all of that said, the Falcons look stacked too. They’re adding a legit WR to put beside Roddy White in Julio Jones and defensively they went out and got a running mate for John Abraham in Ray Edwards. So basically, two teams that were already really good had an arms race. And behind the Falcons and Saints, the Buccaneers are not a team to scoff at. I don’t see them being ready to run with the big boys at the forefront of this division, but they should be competitive. As for the Panthers…keep chopping wood?

NFC Winning Record Not Applicable 

Arizona Cardinals
St. Louis Rams
Seattle Seahawks
San Francisco 49ers

It doesn’t look like any of these teams profiles as better than average and I can’t see where anyone could have much confidence in any of them. This year, I like the Cardinals the best of the bunch. Kevin Kolb should be at least an adequate QB, probably a lot better than that. And overall, I feel that they’re better than the Rams, who are the only other team in this division with something resembling a QB. I’m not terribly down on the Seahawks other than their QB’s, actually. If Tarvaris Whitehurst or Charlie Jackson could give them something resembling an NFL QB, I would consider picking them to win this division again this year, but I doubt they can. At the bottom of football’s version of an excrement sundae lie the 49ers, who are c
learly on a death march to a top 10 pick.

Follow Ryan Johnson at:!/johncowheel



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