Let’s get right into the AFC and what it will look like in 2011.
Best off-season move: San Diego Chargers re-signing WR Vincent Jackson (1 year, $11.9 million)
Let’s be honest, Phillip Rivers, whether you like him or not, is a great QB. Last year Rivers didn’t have many targets besides Antonio Gates. In fact, RB Darren Sproles lead the team in receptions with 59. Jackson only played five games where he caught 14 balls for 248 yards and no TDs. Other wide receivers, such as Malcom Floyd and Patrick Crayton were called upon to make plays and at times just couldn’t get it done. It didn’t help that their replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson (Ryan Matthews) was inured for most of the season, which lead to a more pass-happy offense.
Bringing Jackson back for a full season was a very important move for the Chargers. Being able to retain Floyd was huge for them as well. If the Chargers can stay healthy and focused, they will yet again be one of the dangerous teams in the AFC.
Worst off-season move: Tennessee Titans not working out a deal with RB Chris Johnson
I know the lockout affected everything with the NFL but the Titans franchise should have been working towards a new contract for their star RB Chris Johnson. Now yes, I think that Johnson wanting a contract that is comparable to a QB’s contract is RIDICULOUS. I just don’t understand how you let negotiations get this tangled. The Titans brought in veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck to start and to groom their first round draft pick Jake Locker. The only problem is the Titans don’t have any superior talent at wide receiver, which forces them to rely on Johnson and their run game more than they should (giving Johnson more leverage in negotiations).
NFL MVP Candidate: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
It’s obvious the top two choices here are Manning and Brady but Brady gets the nod here because of a few reasons. The first being that Brady is healthy and ready to play. Manning who just had neck surgery is slated to return for the regular season but will be rusty without taking snaps in the pre-season.
The second reason is that Brady is already in a pass happy offense and just added WR Chad Ochocinco to an already dangerous receiving core that includes pro bowl WR Wes Welker, two-time Super Bowl champ Deion Branch, Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate (not to mention tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski).
My third and final reason for Brady repeating as NFL MVP in 2011 is that his team got better in the offseason, which should translate to wins. And any time your team wins, you’re that much closer to winning a major award.
Starting with their 2nd round draft pick (33rd overall), they selected CB Ras-I Dowling from Virginia. Their veteran CB Leigh Bodden will return after missing the entire 2010-11 NFL season. Then the Patriots shock everyone and go out and get cast-off DT Albert Haynesworth. Then just when we thought they were done they acquire DE Shaun Ellis from their divisional rival, the New York Jets.
Brady has a dangerous set of weapons at receiver, a great a offensive line, up-and-coming running backs, two talented tight ends and a solid defense. It is clear that Tom Brady has everything he needs (and more) to secure the NFL MVP candidate as long as he and his team can stay healthy and focused.
Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate: AJ Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
When Green was at Georgia I was a huge fan of his. I really like his size, hands, athleticism and his ability to stretch the field while gaining yards after the catch. Honestly, the Bengals are not an elite team in the NFL right now especially since they just lost their face of the franchise, WR Chad Ochocinco and their starting QB Carson Palmer.
Green will be seeing a lot action right off the bat in the 2011 season. The Bengals are going to rely on Green to come in and make an immediate impact, which he has the ability to do. It will be a tough award to win for Green, especially with a fellow rookie at quarterback (Andy Dalton). But if they put in the hard work and keep working together to get better in a very tough AFC North division, it will pay off for them.
Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate: Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore Ravens
I didn’t pick Smith just because he plays for my beloved Ravens. The kid is 6’2”, 211 lbs. That type of size and speed mixed with the already tenacious and talented Ravens defense is a recipe for success. Smith has been running with the starters at practice and been reported to be playing great. The Ravens have struggled at the CB position the past few years. They currently have Pro Bowl DL Haloti Ngata, future Hall of Fame MLB Ray Lewis, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed and Pro Bowl OLB Terrell Suggs.
What Baltimore needs on defense is a cornerback who can shut down receivers so they can do what they do best–generate a ferocious pass rush. Look for Smith to make a huge impact on the Baltimore Ravens defense this year.
Projected 2011 Season Standings
Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
Cleveland Browns (7-9)
Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Houston Texans (10-6)
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Tennessee Titans (7-9)
New England Patriots (14-2)
New York Jets (11-5)
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Buffalo Bills (5-11)
San Diego Chargers (13-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
Denver Broncos (7-9)
Oakland Raiders (6-10)
Three “Must-See” Games of the Year
3. New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers, Sunday Oct. 23 @ 1pm (New Meadowlands Stadium)
- If the N.Y. Jets are going to win the Super Bowl like Rex Ryan has proclaimed they will, they’re going to need to beat a team like the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are coming into the season healthy and retaining many of their star players. This should be quite the battle.
2. New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts, Sunday Dec. 4 @ 8:20pm (Gillette Stadium)
- This is one of the all-time epic AFC battles. This match-up has been back and forth for the past few years. It’s a battle between the two best quarterbacks of our time (Manning vs. Brady) squaring off head-to-head once again. Let’s see which powerhouse is the true top dog in the AFC this year.
1. Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday Sept. 11 @ 1pm (M&T Bank Stadium)
- Sunday Bloody Sunday. This rivalry doesn’t get any dirtier. These teams flat out dislike each other and it’s always a 3 or 4 point game every time they play. We usually have to wait until mid-season to see this game but not this year. This will set the tone for each of these team’s 2011 campaigns. You do not want to miss this game.
If our predictions hold up, it’ll be the Patriots vs. the Packers in Super Bowl XLVI on 2/5/12 in Indianapolis.
We will see.
Thanks for reading.