The beginning of the NFL season always offers hope for fans of even the worst teams (except the Bengals, you guys really have no chance). There’s nothing better than a fresh start, and when the year kicks off this Thursday night, every team is tied for first place.
This should be both an eventful and exciting season, and here’s how I think the divisions will pan out.
New England Patriots (12-4): The Pats only got better this offseason with the addition of marquee names on both sides of the ball. As long as Tom Brady is under center, the Pats will have one of the top offenses in the league.
Miami Dolphins (10-6): After struggling with inconsistency, I finally think Chad Henne and the Dolphin offense will start to click. Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush could have big seasons, and Miami’s defense has the ability to win games for this team. (Assistant Sports Editor’s note: Adam is a Dolphins fan.)
New York Jets (9-7): The Jets have a good offense and an even better defense, but something tells me they’ll finish in third place in this division. Expect blowout losses in Weeks 6 and 17. (Assistant Sports Editor’s note: Adam is still a Dolphins fan.)
Buffalo Bills (5-11): I think Buffalo has a chance to have a decent season in 2011, but only if they can figure out a way to stop the pass.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5): Baltimore’s conservative but effective offense and stingy defense is a great combination.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): It’s nearly impossible to run the ball against the Steelers’ defense. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are similar teams, and I expect them to tie for the top spot in the division.
Cleveland Browns (7-9): Peyton Hillis is the only real weapon on the offensive side, but Cleveland’s front four on defense is one of the best in the league.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-14): Two wins is generous.
Houston Texans (10-6): Houston is always such a tempting preseason pick. Offense isn’t an issue, but the signing of Johnathan Joseph was a must for the league’s worst pass defense.
Indianapolis Colts (9-7): This has nothing to do with Peyton Manning. The Colts’ defense can never seem to stay healthy, and even if they do it will be average at best.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8): This team made so many moves during the offseason that it’s basically unrecognizable, but the Jags should still find a way to win some games.
Tennessee Titans (4-12): Tennessee’s offense will score some points, but its defense will allow more.
Oakland Raiders (10-6): Surprise! Oakland’s a much better team than many believe, and if they can find consistent play at quarterback they could take down this division. In 2010, Oakland went 6-0 against AFC West opponents, and while the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha hurts, Stanford Routt is still one of the league’s elite corners.
San Diego Chargers (10-6): Philip Rivers in one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and San Diego’s defense is solid.
Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): Todd Haley has a lot going for him in Kansas City, and he pieced together a pretty good team last season, but big turnarounds are often followed by a step in the wrong direction.
Denver Broncos (3-13): John Fox went from one bad team to another. Tim Tebow is the big story here, but the Broncos won’t win too many games in 2011.
Dallas Cowboys (11-5): Rob Ryan could turn the Dallas defense into one of the league’s elite units. Tony Romo is a solid quarterback, despite what all Giants fans will tell you.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Made plenty of splashes in free agency. The Eagles have taken a similar role to the NBA’s Miami Heat. They’ll be good, but Andy Reid can never seem to get over the hump.
New York Giants (7-9): Tom Coughlin’s on the hot seat, and with a tough schedule he could be looking for a new job come the offseason (or even earlier).
Washington Redskins (5-11): John Beck is in the running for the starting quarterback spot in Washington. Despite a solid preseason, that’s not a good thing.
Detroit Lions (11-5): This could be one of the league’s better teams if Matt Stafford can stay healthy. The Lions have an offense with plenty of weapons and a young, solid defense.
Green Bay Packers (11-5): Green Bay is still one of the top teams in the NFL, and Aaron Rodgers is the league’s best quarterback. The NFC North is arguably the best division in football.
Minnesota Vikings (8-8): As usual, Adrian Peterson will carry the offense, but Donovan McNabb is not the answer.
Chicago Bears (7-9): The Bears looked awful in the preseason, but this team was only one game away from the Super Bowl in 2010.
New Orleans Saints (11-5): The Saints could actually be better on offense without Reggie Bush, who missed most of 2010 due to injuries. Mark Ingram could be one of the more productive rookies.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6): The Falcons could make a run to the Super Bowl this year, especially with the additions of Ray Edwards on defense and Julio Jones on offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7): Josh Freeman is a quarterback on the rise, and Tampa Bay has plenty of playmakers, but a tough division will make it hard for them to reach the playoffs.
Carolina Panthers (3-13): Cam Newton will be exciting to watch. At least they’ll be better than the Bengals.
St. Louis Rams (9-7): Sam Bradford had the Rams one game from the playoffs last season. Josh McDaniels will only make him better.
Seattle Seahawks (8-8): Sidney Rice and Zach Miller make Seattle’s passing offense much better, but Tarvaris Jackson isn’t the best option. I’m hoping third-stringer Josh Portis will get a chance to become the team’s starter.
Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Signing Kevin Kolb will help in the future, but the Cardinals have too many questions right now.
San Francisco 49ers (3-13): Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers could give the Bengals a run for Andrew Luck.