— Every offseason is unpredictable, but 2011 is different. We’re not even sure if there will be a traditional offseason this year.
Whenever the league and NFLPA agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, there will be more free agents available than any time in NFL history. That means the following list is very subject to change and will look ridiculous sooner than later.
Here are our teams to beat in 2011.
(Yes, we’re confident there will be a 2011 season. The alternative is too depressing to consider.)
We ranked them second in last year’s post Super Bowl column, and that worked out pretty well. So much of this team is just entering its prime, which is scary for the rest of the NFC. A repeat is a strong possibility.
The young defense and the rookie tight end duo will grow up. Throw in three picks in the top 33 overall of the draft and Bill Belichick will have a lot of talent to mold. (Oh, and Tom Brady remains in his prime.)
Passing games are more consistent from year-to-year than defense. Philip Rivers is the best QB without a Super Bowl appearance and he has plenty of weapons.
10 wins and a division title in a season with scores of injuries is considered a down year for Peyton Manning and company. They are contenders until proven otherwise.
Will the league catch up with Michael Vick? Only if they can track down LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin.
The Steelers are always a contender, but the defense is getting a little older and they don’t follow up Super Bowl appearances well.
A talented defense should get better in year two under coordinator Perry Fewell. A young group of wideouts helps give this team rare balance.
There are major questions on defense, but the Saints have continuity in the right spots — quarterback, coach, and offensive line.
There is some risk the defense will ever-so-slightly decay, but G.M. Ozzie Newsome always fills the gaps.
A smart, tough young team with plenty of young talent. But do they have enough game-breakers?
I wasn’t on their bandwagon last year, but Wade Phillips will make a difference for their defense and finally deliver a playoff berth.
They already have a playoff-ready defense. Give Sam Bradford some receivers and this team could win 10 games.
Like the ’09 Falcons, Tampa may need to take a step back before their young talent coalesces. Do not underestimate how much tougher the schedule will be.
They need more playmakers on defense and continuity on offense.
The AFC North gets to face the NFC West in non-conference games, and Cleveland has a tough nucleus of talent up front on offense.