Defensive Player of the Year: The Tamba Hawk
NFC East: Giants defense will decide division. Secondary (Rolle, Phillips) flooded with playmakers. Added CB Prince Amukamara and DT Marvin Austin, who in my rankings, were top-10 and 20 caliber players. This unit has a chance to be something sensationally special. The surety at CB allows the two dynamic safeties to roam and blitz more, and how do you stop that with an NFL-best defensive line? Tuck-Osi-Austin-Pierre-Paul-Canty-Kiwanuka. Also, Hakeem Nicks is going to have a Roddy White-type year and make his name among the top-five pass catchers. Shall I say, Super Bowl representatives in the NFC? I think so. Wildcards in this division: Say Philly adds Nnamdi or Plax and the return of one the more underrated QB’s – Tony Romo.
NFC North: Packers are stacked. Best team the NFL has seen since Patriots 18-0 squad in ’07-08. Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL. The secondary is unfair. Woodson-Collins-Williams-Shields all are #1 backfield guys. Who’s stopping Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji? Oh, and Jermichael Finley is coming back. Finley is a swifter Antonio Gates.
NFC South: Tampa was one of my surprise teams last year and I believe they are still a 10-win team because of the foundation offensively and talent on the front four. Josh Freeman is a budding superstar, absolutely a leader and clutch thrower. However, the Saints are the team because Drew Brees gets a RB in Mark Ingram who can ease the pressure off of him. Brees can do it alone and is the most important player to his club in all the NFL, but adding Ingram to the mix – there’s no underestimating it; he’s going to make such an impact that we will look back at Ingram’s long illustrious NFL career by revisiting his rock-solid rookie year in which the Saints have a year as one of the best offenses of all-time. It’s scary how good they can be, especially considering the interior of the offensive line is the best in the league and that’s where Ingram does his work. Also, add in Cam Jordan and Martez Wilson on D via draft, I think it’s a unit that gets back on track to playing turnover-producing football like they did during their SB run two years ago.
NFC West: Jim Harbaugh makes a difference. Alex Smith plays like a borderline Pro-Bowler. People forget Frank Gore is nasty and can lead the 49ers to the top if given the chance (give him the rock more earlier in games). On defense, Patrick Willis will become more and more like a player will we remember as a rarity, a complete standout we will tell our childern about – he’s that good. The run defense is superb, and the addition of Aldon Smith to the pass rush is vitally important and will make immediate dividends. Smith is the type of player that can elevate the 49ers defense from solid to formidable. Lastly, keep an eye on Kendall Hunter. The back from Oklahoma State gives Gore a much-needed #2 option to aid him and Hunter is the type of guy who reminds me of a Brian Westbrook. Watch out for him on 3rd downs and out of the backfield on swing passes. I’m convinced the team near the Golden Gate Bridge wins this contest in the NFC West.
NFC Championship Game: New York over New Orleans
AFC East: Tom Brady. Jets bravado. Clash between Patriots and Jets evolves into legendary status. I think C.J. Spiller helps Bills capture a few more W’s – he’s going to make it to Hawaii for his efforts. If Miami had an upgrade over Henne (Orton?) they would vie and show up in picture. Overall, I think both New England and New York end up 12-4. This is the easiest division to predict. Danny Woodhead and the emergence of Brandon Tate, along with the continued development of Aaron Hernandez and Gronk at TE will help put Pats over the edge. The progression of such players will be instrumental when the Pats/Jets meet again in the Playoffs. Lastly, keep Devin McCourty on your radar, he’s on the verge of stardom at cornerback.
AFC North: All about cycles, seasons, times, ect. This is the Ravens year. Their turn to make the “jump.” The draft selection of Jimmy Smith gives them that extra corner to limit Pittsburgh’s deep-pass plays. Ray Rice looks more like he did in ’09 than ’10. Difference between Ravens-Steelers, like Patriots-Jets, is just so small, that it’s just a few things here and there that change it around this season. Also, I don’t think Anquan Boldin keeps quiet as much; you’ll hear more from him in ’11-12. Week 1 sets tone for Baltimore when they host the Steelers. The hits on Roethlisberger are starting to add up and won’t stop with the AFC’s best defensive lineman (Haloti Ngata) and Steelers killer (Terrell Suggs) getting to him.
AFC South: Chris Johnson, Titans trump all odds. Jake Locker has a “Joe Flacco-like” rookie campaign. He brings toughness at the QB that rivals what Tim Tebow brings to the table. Not only that, but he shows smart decision-making and plays within his range, while running for key first downs a la Big Ben. Akeem Ayers helps a lackluster LB crew and the defensive line, which was tremendously rowdy last year, continues to wreak havoc. Johnson runs rampant for record-setting yards and record-breaking grass mileage per opportunity. He gains MVP honors for such inspired acts of remarkableness. Frantic feet of Locker mixed in with the otherworldly smoothness of Johnson earns a 10-6 mark.
AFC West: Jamaal Charles is a runner-up MVP to Chris Johnson. Charles is the straight-up, north and south version of CJ. His play is masterful and it’s crazy how he doesn’t touch the ball as much as Johnson. Kansas City’s offense is loaded like few others, with Dexter McCluster and Jon Baldwin complimenting Dwayne Bowe and Tony Moeaki. McCluster, if healthy, will show you that “DeSean Jackson” game-breaking moment at times. Baldwin, is a big-time threat who can go “Plaxico Burress” on you in jump ball situations in the red zone. Matt Cassel proved last season he’s legit and now it’s time for the offense to get better at putting games away. Defensively, Eric Berry will be in the top-five for defensive player of the year honors. Berry will be talked about in the same breath as Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. All in all, a very talented team that proves themselves in the Playoffs this time around.
AFC Championship Game: Baltimore over New England
Super Bowl XLVI: Baltimore over New York
MVP: Chris Johnson, Tennessee