Busting myths about the 2011 NFL season
If there's one thing that we should have learned by now, it's that there are no sure things in the NFL. Of course, every year about this time, we find ourselves picking through all the sure-fire bets to try and figure out what will actually happen.
More often than not, we wind up being proven wrong.
So with that in mind, here's a look at five "guarantees" about the 2011 season that are far from locks:
• The Eagles will cruise to an NFC East title
There's one pretty key fact everyone lost during the Philadelphia "Dream Team" talk: The Eagles' offensive line is a major issue. Philly has one rookie starter, Jason Kelce, and another, Danny Watkins, who played his way out of the lineup. Philly's front struggled throughout the preseason protecting its quarterbacks.
That issue could mean Michael Vick finds himself on the receiving end of a ton of big hits during 2011 -- he missed three-plus games last season after injuring his ribs against Washington, remember. And it could mean less running room for LeSean McCoy and company.
The other mistake being made with this assumption is that the rest of the division is going to just roll over. Forget about that. Sure, the Giants are already struggling with injuries, the Redskins look overmatched on paper and the Cowboys are working in a new defensive scheme. Dallas also has Tony Romo returning from injury to guide a potentially potent offense, the Giants still have talent all over the field and the Redskins are just feisty enough to step up and bite a couple teams.
Forget about writing them into the Super Bowl: The Eagles will have a fight on their hands to just win the division.
• Chad Henne will be replaced as Miami's QB
Preseason play is generally meaningless, but it's been hard to ignore the strides Henne appears to have made heading into his fourth NFL season. After being bombarded by fans calling for Miami to trade for Kyle Orton, Henne went out and chalked up a 64.4 completion percentage with a QB rating of 93.4 this preseason.
Better yet, he seems to have developed more chemistry with Brandon Marshall. And he has Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield now -- a huge weapon for a quarterback who likes to circle back to his check-down option.
Henne will need some help from an offensive line that has been, quite frankly, abysmal for several years now. If he gets any assistance there, he could be in line for a career year.
• Minnesota won't be in playoff contention
The Vikings are probably sick of hearing about their NFC North rivals. Green Bay and Chicago were both playoff teams last year, and Detroit's widely considered one of the NFL's up-and-coming groups.
That leaves Minnesota a sure bet to finish fourth in the North and be out of the race by November, right? (Read the following using your best Lee Corso voice) "Not so fast, my friends."
It would be stupid to write off any team led by Adrian Peterson, let alone one that features a veteran offensive line and a defense that can get after it behind Jared Allen. We need to at least consider the possibility that Donovan McNabb was bad in Washington because Washington was, well, bad -- meaning that he could be set for a bounce-back year. He's just two seasons removed, after all, from a solid 2009 in Philadelphia, where he threw 22 touchdowns to just 10 INTs and finished with a 92.9 QB rating.
Minnesota plays three of its first five at home and only sees back-to-back road games once in 2011. The schedule's there to make some noise.
• The NFC West will again be an embarrassment
Ok, let's call a spade a spade: When it comes down to wins and losses, this one could be true. Unlike the other seven divisions, there isn't a team in the mix here that figures to get to 13-3 or 12-4 this season, so naturally, everything else will look worse in comparison.
Here's the thing about the NFC West, though: It is better than we're giving it credit for. St. Louis had a terrific offseason and is entering Year Two of the Sam Bradford era, which means that the Rams should be better than their 7-9 selves from 2010. And the three other teams in this division -- Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle -- all worked aggressively to improve this offseason, with Arizona making a huge trade for QB Kevin Kolb.
Last year, aside from a stunning Seattle playoff win over New Orleans, the NFC West was a league-wide joke -- St. Louis lost 44-6 to Detroit, Arizona dropped a 41-7 decision to Atlanta and Seattle lost by the same score to the Giants. If nothing else, the NFC West will be more competitive this year and should send an above-.500 team to the playoffs.
This one looks too simple: Jones will be a huge target for Matt Ryan in Atlanta, while Ingram might wind up being the No. 1 back in New Orleans. Both should be in line for monster rookie seasons.
We seem to be neglecting a bunch of other rookies, though, namely at quarterback. Cam Newton and Andy Dalton will start the season as starting QBs; Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick may not be far behind. And in the case of Newton, at least, his play will be high-profile enough to open some eyes when he puts up numbers.
Dalton, meanwhile, has already taken steps forward during Cincinnati's preseason, to the point that he might turn No. 4 overall pick A.J. Green into a ROY contender as well.