King The offense will be top-five, Mario Williams will transition well to the 3-4, and look out for Brooks Reed making a pass-rush impact. That won't be enough, though.
Banks Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan will make a difference in Dallas this season, but a strong start won't be quite enough to offset a rough schedule at the close of the year, leaving the Cowboys at 9-7 and just out of the playoff money.
Trotter The playoff run has to end at some point. This is it.
Burke If this is finally going to be the Texans' year, someone has to be out. And I don't think the Jets are as good as the five other teams I have in.
Hack The Giants were quiet as church mice during the post-lockout free agent period. That, and the turnover bug, will be enough to keep them out of the postseason.
Byrne Same problem as last year: Tons of talent, but turnovers, lack of discipline and poor situational football doom the G-Men.
Perloff The G-Men have had a tough preseason, losing cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara to injury, and tight end Kevin Boss to free agency. But their outstanding defensive line still makes them a tough opponent. They're just not consistent enough offensively to fend off the Eagles and Cowboys.
Mantzouranis Even if you forget about Manning's injury worries, the Texans are simply a more talented, well-rounded team. Add in that infamous neck and a patchwork offensive line, and it appears to be the end of the Colts' AFC South stranglehold.
Team With the Worst Record
King I trust Andy Dalton. Just not this year, in a new offense, with no offseason program and having to outscore teams because the defense will be, at best, middle of the pack. And if Carson Palmer comes back, how exactly is learning a new offense in the middle of a season an elixir?
Banks Starting a rookie at quarterback will be only one of the reasons the Bengals bottom out at 3-13. But that earns them the Luck-y chance to start another rookie quarterback next season.
Trotter No established QB + young receivers + no pass rush = Andrew Luck.
Burke Carolina actually made some headway in free agency, but the QB situation is too unstable. This franchise will be far better in 2012 than 2011.
Hack A rookie quarterback in the league's most violent division adds up to 3-13 for the Bengals.
Byrne The Bills couldn't score points last year (17.7 PPG) but made up for it with one of the league's worst defenses (26.6 PPG). They looked no better in the preseason and still have a poor QB situation, with a staff of ho-hum journeymen. It all spells another long season for tortured Bills fans.
Perloff Don't let the Panthers' decision to give big contracts to DeAngelo Williams and Charles Johnson fool you into thinking this team is improving. Neither player merited that kind of investment, and new coach Ron Rivera has a limited pool of talent. Carolina faces the toughest schedule in the league based on last season's record, and quarterback Cam Newton will struggle even more than most expect.
Mantzouranis It was a tough call, but the Bengals' roster is sad, and their schedule doesn't boast any immediately winnable games. Not saying they'll go 0-16, but Lions fans should get the champagne ready just in case.
King Reggie Bush, Dolphins: I like Bush -- if used properly. I think Miami views him as an every-down back, which his injury history suggests is a big mistake. We shall see.
Banks Osi Umenyiora, Giants: He's only 29, but it's tough to like any of the vibes surrounding the veteran New York defensive end these days. Between his preseason knee surgery and the bitterness over his contract, this has lost year written all over it.
Trotter Tony Gonzalez, Falcons: QB Matt Ryan already had a dominant wideout in Roddy White, and now he'll want to show off his new toy, rookie wideout Julio Jones. That'll mean fewer balls for Gonzalez.
Burke Brian Urlacher, Bears: The linebacker is still an intimidating force and will probably top 100 tackles again, but he's definitely lost a step.
Hack Tony Gonzalez, Falcons: The best tight end of his generation still has great pride, work ethic and hands -- but the hands of time are undefeated.
Byrne Peyton Manning, Colts: The future first-ballot Hall of Famer has gone through a steady statistical decline since his record-setting 2004 season. His passer ratings each year: 121.1 (2004); 104.1 (2005); 101.0 (2006); 98.0 (2007); 95.0 (2008); 99.9 (2009); 91.9 (2010). Now add huge concerns over the health of the 35-year-old Indy Ironman.
Perloff James Harrison, Steelers: The Steelers' linebacker has been one of the two or three most dominant defensive players of the last five years, but he's 33 and coming off back surgery. He also has a big target on his back from the NFL for illegal hits. That hasn't slowed him down in the past, but combined with physical issues, it could finally start to affect his play. The Steelers have a great defensive scheme under Dick LeBeau and if Harrison does decline, someone else will likely step right in and add to their fierce pass rush.
Mantzouranis Michael Turner, Falcons: His running style makes him more prone to injury and earlier decline. And with the Falcons looking to up their explosiveness, expect rookie Jacquizz Rodgers to take on a pretty prominent role in the Falcons' backfield.
King Antonio Brown, Steelers: Last season, who was one of Ben Roethlisberger's go-to guys in the playoffs? This sixth-rounder from Central Michigan. It continues.
Banks Danny Amendola, Rams: He's already Sam Bradford's security blanket on every pass route, and now this Wes Welker clone (he even went to Texas Tech like Welker) is poised to put up far more than the 689 yards receiving and three touchdowns he produced in 2010.
Trotter Matthew Stafford, Lions: The former No. 1 pick always has had the talent. This year he'll have the good health to show it off.
Burke Jahvid Best, Lions: With Mikel Leshoure's injury, Detroit needs Best to be a dynamic weapon in the offense, and he's capable of filling that role.
Hack Julio Jones, Falcons: A young and talented receiver joins a high-powered Falcons offense. It's a perfect fit.
Byrne Josh Freeman, Buccaneers: The Bucs quarterback had a statistical breakout year in 2010 (95.9 passer rating and a Tom Brady-esque 25 TD, 6 INT). But now it's time for the public to notice that the best "young gun" in the game today resides in Tampa, not Baltimore or Atlanta.
Perloff Jimmy Graham, Saints: Drew Brees spreads the ball around, but Graham stood out as a primary target during the preseason. The second-year tight end is a former basketball player like the Chargers' Antonio Gates, and at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, Graham is an impossible matchup for any defensive position. With Jeremy Shockey gone, Graham should reach 1,000 receiving yards and be a major weapon in the red zone.
Mantzouranis Mike Sims-Walker, Rams: After posting solid numbers for the anemic Jags, he's the No. 1 option for an emerging quarterback and coordinator known for his aerial prowess.
First Coach To Get Fired
Marvin Lewis :: Frank Victores/US Presswire
King None: I do not believe a coach will be fired before the end of the regular season. After such a tumultuous offseason, no owner will be dumb enough to scapegoat a coach before early January.
Banks Jack Del Rio, Jaguars: Del Rio and Houston's Gary Kubiak are in a two-man race to see who can stave off termination for another year in the AFC South. The Texans might have a 9-7 record in them this season, but I don't think the Jags do.
Trotter Tony Sparano, Dolphins: Hate to see this, but expect a third straight losing season in Miami. That is usually a precursor to a pink slip.
Burke Marvin Lewis, Bengals: There doesn't seem to be any sign of hope in Cincinnati, unless you count Andy Dalton. Eventually, the Bengals will have to make a change.
Hack Marvin Lewis, Bengals: Just two years ago, the Bengals looked built for the long haul. They could be looking for a new head coach before Thanksgiving.
Byrne Tony Sparano, Dolphins: The Dolphins made a hard charge in the offseason at Jim Harbaugh. The team has shown no signs of improving in Sparano's three years, the offense was abysmal in 2010, the quarterback situation is desperate and 1-4 out of the gates is possible.
Perloff Jack Del Rio, Jaguars: Ironically, the reason the Jags have remained a middle-of-the-pack team and not fallen into disarray is because the coaching staff has done such a great job. But the wheels have to fall off in Jacksonville at some point, and Del Rio will be pressured to play rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Jags may decide to start their rebuilding effort early and let Del Rio go before the end of the season.
Mantzouranis Marvin Lewis, Bengals: At least, he should be the first to get fired, but Lewis should have also been fired at the end of 2010. Getting a new contract after last year, which would now require a buyout from the cheap Bengals if Lewis were to be fired, could save the coach again.
King Eagles at Falcons, Sept. 18: Count the number of Michael Vick jerseys in the stands. I bet they exceed the Matt Ryan jerseys. This will be a social experiment as much as a football game, Vick's first game back as a starter in the Georgia Dome since you-know-what.
Banks Patriots at Jets, Nov. 13: With all due respect to the annual Colts-Patriots showdown of superpowers in Week 13, the Patriots at Jets on Sunday Night Football doesn't have to take a backseat to any game. Not with the level of drama and smack talk that has prevailed in their five meetings since Rex Ryan took over in Gotham.
Trotter Saints at Packers, Sept. 8: National TV. Thursday night. Season opener. Last two Super Bowl champs. Excellent QBs. Attacking defenses. Creative play-callers. What more could you want?
Burke Patriots at Steelers, Oct. 30: Tom Brady just seems to have the Steelers' number. Watching Brady match up with that Pittsburgh defense is always entertaining.
Hack Saints at Packers, Sept. 8: Tough to beat Lambeau Field in September -- or this marvelous matchup of the last two Super Bowl champions.
Byrne Patriots at Steelers, Oct. 30: The two dominant teams of the past decade size each other up in a midseason rumble on the eve of Halloween. The Patriots were No. 1 in scoring offense in 2010, the Steelers No. 1 in scoring defense. New England dominated last year's midseason meeting, but Pittsburgh went on to claim the conference title.
Perloff Eagles at Falcons, Sept. 18: The Eagles were the preseason's most fascinating team and the Falcons are a fashionable Super Bowl pick. We'll see where both teams are in this nationally televised Sunday night game. Michael Vick playing his former team will grab the headlines, but Philly's revamped defense against what should be a potent Falcons offense will provide the real drama.
Mantzouranis Saints at Packers, Sept. 8: Obvious? Sure. But how can you argue with the last two champs, at Lambeau, to kick off the season? Bonus: Both teams attack mercilessly on both sides of the ball. Should be entertaining.
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