Tagged with "NFC East"
Washington Redskins 2011 NFL Season Grades
Category: FEATURED
Tags: Washington Redskins NFL NFC East 2011 NFL Draft 2011 NFL Free Agency Mike Shanahan Dan Snyder Bruce Allen Chris Cooley London Fletcher

As the Washington Redskins finish a third straight season at the bottom of the NFC East, an era where they have 15 total victories, there has been scattered areas of improvement. This is a positive sign for a franchise trying to rebuild a disheveled roster that suffered through years of poor decision-making at the top.

Though the Redskins new general manager and head coach have yet to make a huge impact to verify a statement of improvement, it appears owner Dan Snyder has enough reason to be patient and stay the course that has been laid before the team.

Struggling often comes with rebuilding, so the roster has players who did not perform well enough to warrant a return in 2012. Yet there are hidden gems in a disastrous season where Washington failed to realize the Super Bowl hopes every team begins a season with.


Rex Grossman - He is, at times, a poor man's Brett Favre. At other times, he is the equivalent of a junior high school sandlot quarterback.

Like Favre, he turns the ball over in bunches with throws no professional quarterback should make. He also has a habit of taking delay of game penalties in bunches and takes tons of ill-advised sacks that result in huge losses of yards.

Grossman was brought back in 2011 because of his familiarity of Kyle Shanahan's offensive system. This has helped him make plays that show off a skill set that has intrigued many ever since he joined the NFL in 2003.

He is, at most, a system quarterback who needs an exceptional defense to carry him and cover Grossman's innumerable mistakes. But he is no more than a backup because of his constant mental errors. He is certainly on the lower tier of starting quarterbacks in the NFL, as shown currently by his eight fumbles and league leading 19 interceptions.

Washington will most likely upgrade the quarterback position in the draft, thus ending Grossman's days as a starter. He made $810,000 this year, but is is just slightly more than backup John Beck. It is doubtful both will be back in 2012, but Grossman may leave on his own thinking he can start for another team elsewhere.

Grade : D +

John Beck - Redskins brass spun stories that Beck could lead the team before the season began, but he was beat out for the starting job in training camp. He did get three starts this year, but lost each of them. Beck has now lost all seven of his career starts, but four did occur with the 1-15 Miami Dolphins in 2007.

He took 16 sacks and threw four interceptions in his four games. While the blocking was not good in stretches, it was expected that his mobility would help prevent so many sacks in a short time.

It won't be shocking to see him return in 2012, but as a reserve since most of the football world expects the Redskins to draft a quarterback to start.

Grade : D

Running Back

Roy Helu - When Redskins general manager Bruce Allen grabbed Helu in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, he had an idea Washington had a steal on their hands. Those ideas were put into reality after the rookie was forced into action much earlier and much more often than they expected.

Helu became the main ball carrier after injuries disheveled the backfield. He has responded even better than expected, showing excellent receiving abilities as well. Not only does Helu lead the team with 635 yards rushing, at a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, he has 47 receptions.

The best part of his success may be his ball security. Helu has fumbled twice, but recovered one. He also became the first Washington rookie to for 100 yards in three consecutive games. The Redskins can only hope for similar results in the future.

Grade : A +

Tim Hightower - Getting Hightower in a trade this year excited the halfback and Washington fans, because most knew the abilities of the hometown hero from his previous three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. The only question was if he could last all year as the primary ball carrier.

His season ended after getting hurt in the fifth game, but he was averaging more touches per game than he had before. The reviews of his time were mixed because he was scoring less touchdowns and catching less passes, but Hightower's injury put a damper on getting a real review of his abilities.

His injury allowed Washington to discover rookie Roy Helu, so it seems likely he will go back to a familiar role to sharing the football in 2012.

Grade : C

Ryan Torain - Injuries basically ended his Redskins career, as Washington cut him a few days after Christmas in 2011. Torain has had injuries plague him ever since college, but his interesting skill set should get him a training camp invitation somewhere in 2012.

Drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos, he was lost for the year after getting hurt in his first NFL start. After sitting out the 2009 season, he rejoined Shanahan in Washington last year.

Many got somewhat excited about Torain after seeing him run for 742 yards in eight starts, but injuries soon hit him again. After sitting out preseason and the first three games of the year with a hand injury, Torain led the Redskins to a victory by running for 135 yards on 19 carries.

Since then, he had gained just 65 yards on 40 carries and fell on the depth chart so far that the team decided to part ways with him.

Grade : D

Evan Royster - Royster spent most of the year on the practice squad, but was promoted in week 10. Since then, he has run for an impressive six yards per carry on 36 attempts as a reserve.

While pounding the ball between the tackles is more his game, the rookie has had a few impressive moments. He won't outrun opponents, but Royster gets by with intellect and enough elusiveness to show why the Redskins used a sixth round draft pick on him this year.

He will return next year hoping to back up Roy Helu and Tim Hightower, but he has shown some abilities when called on.

Grade : B

Darrell Young - A college linebacker, he was converted to fullback as a undrafted free agent rookie last year. While he did play quite often as a rookie, Young has shown a lot of improvement this year.

His job is to block, but the fullback has touched the ball 16 times and scored once. He should return next year and continue to get better.

Grade : A

Mike Sellers - His has been quite a successful career after the Redskins signed him from the Canadian Football League in 1998. Sellers has played both fullback and tight end in his 12 NFL seasons.

He did leave the team after 2000 to join the Cleveland Browns for a season and the CFL for two years. Sellers returned to Washington in 2004 and made the Pro Bowl in 2008 for his exceptional blocking ability.

Sellers is 36 years old and this is probably his last season. He has spent most of the year on the bench and has one reception. But he was a team player that Redskins fans rooted for because of his toughness and leadership as well.

Grade : C -

Wide Receiver

Jabar Gafney - Washington is the fourth team Gaffney has played for in his 10 NFL seasons. He has had his best season in the pros with them, as he is on the verge of setting career high marks in receptions and touchdowns scored. He has already set a career best mark of 919 yards receiving.

He has been Washington's only consistent force in the passing game. A big reason is his reunion with quarterback Rex Grossman, who also threw him a ton of passes while both were members of the Florida Gators in college.

Gaffney has one more year left on his contract, so that should guarantee a return to Washington in 2012.

Grade : A -

Santana Moss - It has been a forgettable season for the 11-year pro. A injury to his hand slowed him down, and the 43 receptions he has had this year is the fewest he has had since 2004. He signed a three-year contract worth $15 million before the season started, so it appears likely Moss will be with the Redskins in 2012.

Grade : C

Anthony Armstrong - It was been a horrific season for Armstrong in 2011. He came out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2010 to catch 44 balls at 20 yards per catch. He has just seven receptions this season.

A big part of the reason could be Washington's struggles at quarterback, but Armstrong has battled a hamstring issue this year and lost his starting job. He might be able to rebound in 2012, after the Redskins get a better quarterback, but Armstrong was a feel-good story of 2010 now trying to prove his success wasn't a flash in the pan.

Grade : D

Donte` Stallworth - Stallworth has been in the NFL nine seasons and has played with six teams. He has a good skill set, but has never consistently put it together. He sat out in 2010 after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter.

Washington cut him briefly this year, but brought him back after injuries depleted their receivers corps. Stallworth has caught 21 passes for two scores in the 10 games he has played. The former first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints appears to be running out of chances, but it would be no surprise to see him in the NFL next year.

Grade : C

Leonard Hankerson - The rookie had a case of the drops in preseason, but he made the team because the coaches were impressed with his size and skill set. The team had also used a third-round draft pick to acquire him.

Hankerson was beginning to show productive signs when he got hurt and was lost for the season. He played just four games, catching 13 passes, but he had his first 100-yard receiving game in the NFL at the time of his injury. Expect him back in 2012, assuming he is healthy.

Grade : C +

Terence Austin - Austin is a second-year pro who has played and contributed more this season. He has 11 catches, showing decent ability in getting open. He has had to fight through the depth chart since arriving in Washington, an issue he will once again face in next year's training camp.

Grade : C

Niles Paul - Paul is another Nebraska Cornhusker that Washington drafted this season. He has primarily been used on special teams, but the speedy wide receiver has caught two passes and run the ball once.

One of Paul's strengths is blocking downfield, a skill he showed often in preseason. He has a very good chance of returning next year, but is buried right now on a depth chart full of good receivers.

Grade : C

David Anderson - He will played just five games, but the possession-type receiver has caught six balls and scored once. It will be a longshot for his return in 2012, but Mike Shanahan does like a receiver with his skill set. Brandon Stokley is a prime example.

Grade : C +

Tight End

Chris Cooley - You could say it was a wasted season for Cooley, who played just five games because of a knee and hand injury. But he did catch eight balls and surpass Washington legend Jerry Smith for having the most receptions in a career by a Redskins tight end.

Cooley wants to return in 2012, but that was beginning to look suspect when Fred Davis started to excel in his place. Davis then got suspended for illegal drug use, so Washington should think about bringing back a player who wants to finish his career with them.

Grade : C -

Fred Davis - Davis was starting to look like one of the few good draft picks Vinny Cerrato had before he was finally fired as the Redskins Vice President for Football Operations in 2009. Then the tight end was suspended for the final four games of the 2011 season for illegal drug use.

The criticism of Davis, when Washington used a second round pick on him in 2008, was that he wasn't really interested in football. He developed slowly behind Chris Cooley on the depth chart, but showed flashes of the ability most felt he possessed.

Davis was having a career year this season, catching 59 passes in 12 games, before he was shelved. His contract expires at the end of the year, so there are no guarantees he will return in 2012.

If Washington loses him, there will be a big hole to fill at tight end. It will be even bigger than the one he created himself by poor decisions.

Grade : B

Logan Paulson - A blocking tight end forced into more involvement in the offense due to injuries and suspension, Paulson made the team last year as an undrafted free agent rookie. He has caught a career best nine passes this season, as opposed to the two he had last year.

He makes his bones by blocking, something Paulson does a good job at. This should get him serious consideration at a 2012 return to Washington.

Grade : C

Richard Quinn - Quinn went into the 2009 draft as the top blocking tight end in the draft. The Denver Broncos used a second round selection on him, but cut him the following year. He has appeared in one game, so his chance will come in training camp as he vies with Paulson for the job of blocking tight end.

Grade : Incomplete

Rob Meyers - After spending most of the 2011 on the practice squad, Meyers joined the active roster for the final two weeks of the season. He gets compared a lot to Chris Cooley, most likely because both attended Utah State University.

Meyers has been on six different teams practice squads since joining the NFL in 2009, so it is doubtful he will be back in 2012.

Grade : Incomplete

Dominique Byrd - Byrd appeared in two games before being waived. The four-year pro has played for both the Saint Louis Rams, who drafted him in the third round of the 2006 draft, and the Seattle Seahawks as well.

Grade : Incomplete

Offensive Line

Trent Williams - It has certainly been mixed reviews since the Redskins used the fourth pick pf the 2010 draft on Williams. Many thought he was suited to play right tackle, but the Redskins believe he can play the demanding left tackle spot.

More criticism of this pick comes from the fact the final four games of this season saw him suspended for using illegal drugs. The fact he continues to miss games due to injuries is also becoming a trend Williams needs to halt next year.

Williams struggled last year by giving up 11.5 sacks, but he showed some improvement this season by giving up just three in his 10 games. He did draw more penalties this year, but the youngster is still a work in progress.

I expect Williams to remain at left tackle in 2012, but his drug suspension has to be cause for some concern. He was lauded for having high character when drafted, so letting his team down belies that thought. But the team needs to hope this is a temporary setback for a man who is the beginning stages of an excellent career.

Grade : B -

Jamaal Brown - Washington felt good about trading for Brown's services before 2010, because they knew they were getting a two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion who was the first round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2005.

He had spent his best years at left tackle, but the Redskins have had him at right tackle since they acquired him. While he has played decently, the injury bug has plagued Brown's career and prevented him from ever playing 16 games in a season.

While the Redskins offensive line showed improvement this season, they are still ranked ninth with 40 sacks allowed. Brown has unofficially been credited with a career high nine sacks allowed, but he has had just four penalties called on him as well.

The Redskins will face some tough decisions once this season ends. Brown will be just 31 years old next year and his 2011 salary was just $685,000, but the team might make some changes to a unit where injuries prevented them from truly gelling this season.

Grade : C -

Sean Locklear - His previous seven years had been spent with the Seattle Seahawks, where the veteran started the last year at both tackle spots. Washington signed him as a free agent this year, where he has started in four of the eight games he appeared in.

Health is a concern, mainly because he missed 17 games with Seattle. Even though he was replaced on the starting lineup recently, after giving up four sacks, having a veteran on a roster is a positive. Especially one with the experience of starting 82 games. This factor could bring him back to training camp next year.

Grade : D

Will Montgomery - He had quite a journey in becoming the Redskins starting center this year. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2006 draft, he had six starts in 13 games in his first two seasons with the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets. Washington signed him in 2009, where Montgomery had nine starts at guard before this year.

Replacing Casey Rabach, who missed just one contest in six seasons, placed Montgomery in the spotlight somewhat. He has had a few moments where he has been overmatched, but Montgomery has kept his job on a team that has a lot of offensive linemen who are able to play his position.

He will be just 29 years old in 2012, and his body still does not have a ton of wear and tear on it. Montgomery should go into training camp expecting to start next season.

Grade : B -

Willie Smith - The undrafted rookie has appeared in just three games this year, but started at left tackle in two. The Redskins could have a legitimate steal here.

Many scouts thought not only that Smith would be drafted this year, a few thought he could start in a year or two into his career. While raw, mainly because the former defensive lineman has less than four years experience as a blocker, he is athletic and blessed with long arms that help him do well in both the run and pass game.

While Trent Williams had had a few decent moments at left tackle, many believe right tackle is his best position. Aging veteran Jamaal Brown may not return next year, so it is a possibility that Smith starts at left tackle while Williams moves to the right side of the offensive line.

Grade : B -

Tyler Polumbus - After going undrafted in 2008, Polumbus was signed by Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos. He spent the next two seasons starting 15 games at both tackle spots for the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle waived him after five games this year, so the Redskins signed him a few weeks later. Polumbus has a start at right tackle and has also played guard. His familiarity with Shanahan should give him a decent chance at being invited to training camp next year.

Grade : C

Maurice Hurt - He began this year on the practice squad, but has started the last eight weeks because of injuries. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft., Hurt is one of the gems Redskins general manager Bruce Allen unearthed.

While he has had moments where Hurt had typical rookie struggles, giving up two sacks and drawing a pair of penalties, he has earned a chance to try to make the team again in 2012. His will be an interesting story in training camp, as he battles Kory Lichtensteiger for the job at starting left guard.

Grade : B

Chris Chester - The Redskins happily signed him as a free agent before this year, because he was a big upgrade over Artis Hicks. Hicks, who was a mistake free agent signing in 2010, was let go by the team. Chester has no sacks or penalties credited against him this year.

Chester was drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft by the Baltimore Ravens. After nine starts in his first two years, Chester has started at right guard since. Washington gave him a five-year contract, so expect him back in 2012.

Grade : A

Eric Cook - At 6'6", Cook is tall for a center. Washington drafted him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, but cut him and placed him on the practice squad. He has started in two of the seven games that he played in this season, but as a guard.

Washington might bring him back next year, but it will be interesting to see which position Cook will try to make his mark at.

Grade : C

Kory Lichtensteiger - Drafted by Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, he spent that year as a reserve before being cut after Shanahan was fired. The Minnesota Vikings signed Lichtensteiger, but cut him a few weeks later.

After sitting out of the league in 2009, he rejoined Shanahan with the Redskins last season and started 14 games at guard. Lichtensteiger, who can play both guard and center, began 2011 starting at guard and tore his knee up in the fifth game of the season.

He should be back, if healthy, next season because Washington needs all the help they can get on the offensive line. Lichtensteiger's best position was once thought to be center, but he has forged a decent career so far at left guard. He was playing at a decent level when his year was halted by injury, giving up no sacks or penalties at the time.

Grade : B

Defensive Line

Barry Cofield - Coming over a free agent this year from the division rival New York Giants, Cofield had adjusted nicely to the nose tackle position after having spent his previous five years as a defensive tackle.

Cofield will end up with the lowest tackle total of his career this season, expected because few nose tackles pile up huge tackle numbers, but he has a career high eight passes defended. A key note is that Cofield has missed just one game in his career, so he will be penned in for 2012.

Grade : B +

Stephen Bowen - After five years with the hated Dallas Cowboys, the undrafted Bowen came to Washington as a free agent this season. Not only has become a full-time starter the first time in his career, Bowen has responded with the finest season of his career.

He leads all Redskin defensive linemen in tackles and sacks. Bowen has proven to be a service player that Washington can plan to start again in 2012.

Grade : B +

Adam Carriker - Carriker has revitalized his career since washing out as a 2007 first round pick of the Saint Louis Rams in 2007. Unlike his time with the Rams, Carriker has not battled injuries in Washington.

Able to play nose tackle as well, the defensive end has been more productive this year compared to last season in quarterback sacks. He is getting less tackles per game, but the rate isn't a huge drop off.

The five sacks he has right now is second amongst Redskins linemen and fourth overall on the team. Since the team has so many other holes to fill, Washington could ride Carriker another season with confidence.

Grade : B -

Chris Nield - The rookie was a hero in his first game, collecting two key sacks and forcing a fumble. He hasn't been heard from since, as his 10 total tackles show. It seems he has a chance to return as a reserve next year, because nose tackle may be the most physically demanding position in all of football.

Grade : C -

Darrion Scott - After spending two years in the UFL with Haslett, after having spent four previous years with the Minnesota Vikings, Scott is in his second season with the Redskins. He has played seven games and wore three jersey numbers for Washington since then.

His Haslett connection might get him back in camp, but four total tackles says the Redskins could do better here.

Grade : D -

Kedric Gholston - A serviceable lineman since being drafted by Washington in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, Gholston got hurt in the ninth game of this season and was shelved the rest of the year.

He has a good chance of returning because he does fit the 3-4 scheme defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is running, but his output pretty much says that serving as a reserve in the rotation would be his best fit.

Grade : C -

Kentwan Balmer - The Redskins could be the last NFL team for Balmer, who has become a journeyman after flopping as the San Francisco 49er's first round pick in 2008. He has given nothing in his three games with Washington, a fact that probably doom his chances for a return next season.

Grade : F

Chris Baker - Baker came from a very defensive line at Hampton University that featured Miami Dolphins defensive end Kendall Langford and New York Jets defensive end Marcus Dixon. Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant got to play behind them.

While those three have become starters in the NFL, Baker had had the least success. He has logged just two games, recording no statistics, since 2009 with two teams.

After spending three months on the practice squad, he joined the team and got hurt in his first practice. Now on the injured reserve, it is doubtful Baker will be back in 2012.

Grade : Incomplete

Jarvis Jenkins - Getting injured during a promising preseason during your rookie year can only get an incomplete grade. Washington will hope his knee injury does not inhibit him any further.

Grade : Incomplete

Doug Worthington - He joined the team for the last two games of 2011 after having spent the season on the practice squad. The combination defensive tackle/ end spent 2010 on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squads after being drafted in the seventh round. He will hope for a chance to make any NFL tea, next year.

Grade : Incomplete


London Fletcher - The unquestioned leader of the defense, Fletcher is a 14 year veteran who contract expires at the end of the season. While 36 years old, he has never missed a game in his career and continues to be one of the top tacklers in the NFL.

He leads the NFL with 163 tackles, which is actually more than he had in his previous two years where he garnered Pro Bowl honors. There is no doubt the man still produces better than most middle linebackers in the NFL, yet the only question will be if he wants to return in 2012.

His return is probably the most critical of all of the Redskins impending free agents. Even if his production is curtailed, Fletcher's leadership is irreplaceable.

Grade : A +

Ryan Kerrigan - Drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, the former collegiate defensive end has made a nice transition to outside linebacker. He leads the team with 7.5 sacks, has 62 tackles, four defended passes and has a touchdown off a interception.

He is a serious candidate for for Defensive Rookie of the Year and appears to have a big future ahead that will probably includes Pro Bowls.

Grade : A

Brian Orakpo - Orakpo made the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons after the Redskins drafted him in 2009. He is still learning how to be more than just a pass rusher, yet he has a career high in both tackles and passes defended this season. If he doesn't get 1.5 sacks in his final game, he will have a career low seven this year.

He is a work in progress, but a successful one who has teams up rather nicely opposite Kerrigan at outside linebacker. They are learning from a defensive coordinator who was also once a Pro Bowl linebacker, so there is a very good chance Orakpo's game continues to evolve and improve annually.

Grade : B +

Perry Riley - Drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Riley has steadily improved at middle linebacker. After playing eight games as a rookie, Riley has now become a starter at inside linebacker and has 64 tackles so far.

He has benefited from learning from Fletcher, which only bodes well for his future in Washington. Expect him to be starting in 2012.

Grade : B

Rocky McIntosh - There is no question that McIntosh hasn't been nearly as productive as he was in 2010. Not only has he lost his starting job, but he has his least amount of starts since the 2006 draft when Washington acquired him in the second round.

His 62 tackles this year are the fewest since that rookie year, and it appears McIntosh is better suited as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. His contract expires at the end of the season, so there is a decent chance he will be with another team in 2012.

Grade : D

Lorenzo Alexander - Though listed as a linebacker, his position may be better termed as just "Football Player". Alexander made the Redskins as an undrafted rookie in 2007 and has played all along the front seven of the defense and is the captain of the special teams.

Head coach Mike Shanahan once called him Alexander the best special teams player he had been around. So it is a pretty safe bet the relentless Alexander returns in 2012.

Grade : C

Keyaron Fox - Fox makes his money on special teams. The eight-year veteran has earned a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the past, where he was the captain of their special teams. There is a good chance Washington brings him back in 2012.

Grade : C +

Markus White - Drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, White is a former collegiate defensive end converted to outside linebacker. He has appeared in one game this season.

Grade : Incomplete

Rob Jackson - Another outside linebacker converted from defensive end, Jackson makes his main contributions via special teams. He has been in Washington since 2008 since being drafted in the seventh round, but has appeared in just 24 games. Jackson will have to fight for a roster spot in 2012.

Grade : C -

Defensive Back

LaRon Landry - After starting out the first nine weeks of the 2010 as the best safety in football, Landry has been battling injuries to his Achilles tendon. He has played in just eight games since then.

After sitting out the preseason, Landry struggled with his health before shutting it down. He was still effective, making 48 tackles. But the question with him looms larger with each day.

Landry is going to be a free agent in 2012, one highly sought by teams who want to believe his injuries are behind him. Washington surely doesn't want to let him go without a fight, but owner Dan Snyder has taken similar gambles in the past and gotten burned.

Landry has all the tools desired to play strong safety, and his level of intensity makes him a favorite amongst the Redskin fans. No one would blame him for joining a team offering a bigger salary or a winning record, but this team needs him to return next season and beyond in full health so he can continue to be the best strong safety Washington has had since the immortal Hall of Famer Ken Houston.

Grade : C

DeAngelo Hall - Maybe the biggest headlines Hall has made this year was telling reporters he did not deserve his annual $4.5 million salary. Yet he leads the team with 15 passes defended and three interceptions. He is also second on the team in tackles.

Hall plays a soft corner and often gives up plays. There have been lapses in effort and attention, something not to be expected from a player raking in the salary he does.

He should be back starting in 2012, mainly because effective starting cornerbacks are hard to find. He revitalized his career with Washington in 2009 and went to the Pro Bowl last year. He is a key figure in the Redskins dreams to returning to glory.

Grade : B +

Josh Wilson - There have been several moments in the 2011 season where Wilson was the best defensive back on the team. A local hero who is also the son of a Maryland University legend, Wilson and Kevin Barnes both played on the same Terrapins team in college.

Washington signed him as a free agent this year and have been rewarded. Besides picking off two passes, Wilson is tied with the most passes defended on the team and has started and played in every game.

Not only should he be back in 2012, but it is likely the Redskins start him as well.

Grade : B +

Oshiomogho Atogwe - Washington was hoping for a bigger season from Atogwe in 2011, but he got hurt in preseason and has been inconsistent much of the year. Not only is he about to finish with his lowest tackle total since his rookie year, but the seven-year veteran missed three games and eight starts

Washington invested five years and $26 million into the free safety, so they are hoping for better in 2012. Atogwe can make plays, but he may not be on the team long if injuries continue to hamper him.

Grade : C -

Kevin Barnes - Barnes has had his best season as a Redskin since being drafted by them in the third round of the 2009 draft. He has set career high marks of two interceptions and 26 tackles thus far.

He gets picked on at times, but the improvement over his career is evident. Barnes has one more year left on his contract, so there is a good chance the homegrown hero returns to the Redskins in 2012.

Grade : C +

Dejon Gomes - Drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft., Gomes has started four games at free safety. He is aggressive and shows good range, but his rookie season might be most noted for his tackle ending the year of Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl halfback Adrian Peterson. Peterson, the highest paid running back in the NFL, had a consecutive streak of 1,000 yard rushing seasons halted at four years.

Gomes will be back next year to back up Atogwe, but the future of the youngster is very promising.

Grade : B

Reed Doughty - He may not be the most athletic player, but Doughty is third on the team in tackles. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 draft by Washington, he has played both safety positions and started 35 of his 74 career games.

Doughty won't wow many and creates even fewer turnovers, but he is an intelligent player who gets the most out of his abilities. Yet there is no guarantee he returns in 2012 for seventh season with the Redskins. Doughty has fended off challenges from players like Chris Horton and Kareem Moore thus far, so don't count him out just yet.

Grade : C

Byron Westbrook - Born and raised in Washington D.C., Westbrook is about to complete his third season with the Redskins. It is his most productive yet, as he has a career highs with three passes defended, 10 tackles and a forced fumble.

Special teams is his main area of contribution, but it is very foreseeable that the cornerback stays on the team next year.

Grade : C

Brandyn Thompson - Drafted in the seventh round of the years draft, the bulk of his work has come via special teams. He has a pair of tackles in the five games he appeared in. He will spend nest season's training camp trying to make the team again.

Grade : D

Phillip Buchanon - Drafted in the first round of the 2002 draft, the Redskins represent his fifth team so far. Buchanon started out 2011 suspended for using performance-enhancing substances, then promptly went on inured reserve after playing in two games.

It is hard to imagine he will be back, but Redskins general manager Bruce Allen has worked with him in Oakland and Tampa Bay as well. It could be time for Buchanon to call it a career, but perhaps he tries again in 2012.

Grade : Incomplete


Graham Gano - In 35 games over three years with the Redskins, Gano has been up and down. He has missed 20 field goals the last two years, in 74 attempts, but did make a career best four field goals of over 50 yards.

His nine misses of 39 yards or closer is a frustrating career statistic, but there are no guarantees Washington will find a better placekicker in 2012. It is possible Washington may be forced to spend a draft pick on a kicker, since Gano's inconsistencies are not conducive to winning football.

Grade : C

Sav Rocca - Rocca has been one of the Redskins best free agent signings of 2011. Despite the fact he will attempt the fewest punts of his career this year, his 43.6 yards per attempt average is the close to his career best mark. His 39.7 net yard average is the best of his career.

Though having just five NFL seasons under his belt, Rocca is 38 years old. He has spent 15 years playing Australian Rules Football. Washington needs him back in 2012, and can only hope he wants to return.

Grade : A +

Brandon Banks - The Redskins kick return specialist, the second-year pro has been used even less on offense this season. He did throw a 49-yard touchdown pass on a wide receiver option.

The diminutive Banks isn't returning balls as effectively as he did in his 2010 rookie year, but the difference isn't great and he does lead the league in kickoffs and kickoff return yardage. It seems very likely he will return to that role in 2012.

Grade : B

Nick Sundberg - After spending his 2009 rookie season on the practice squads of the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens, Sundberg replaced aging Pro Bowler Ethan Albright at long snapper on special teams in 2010. He has done a good enough job to warrant a return next season.

Grade : A


Mike Shanahan - Shanahan came to Washington in 2010 with a career record of 138-86 with two Super Bowl titles as a head coach. He also won another Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator.

He has gone 11-19 with the Redskins so far, which has caused some to speculate if his job was in jeopardy. Shanahan admits his rebuilding plan hasn't gone as quickly as expected, but he is basically trying to turn over a roster that suffered years of incompetence under Vinny Cerrato's leadership.

While Shanahan will need all five years of his contract to show if he was a success, there is areas he has earned criticism. The main one is him allowing his son to be the offensive coordinator, a job the younger Shanahan has looked overmatched at often.

Patience will be needed in the Redskins overhaul. He and general manager Bruce Allen saw all of their 2011 draft picks make the team, but there are plenty of other holes to fill. Yet there is the worry that Shanahan is running a system that can't win it all in the NFC East.

Grade : C -

Kyle Shanahan - Getting a job because your dad is the boss doesn't exactly breed confidence amongst the ranks. He first got a NFL job working with Jon Gruden, then four seasons under Gary Kubiak. Kubiak played two years under the eldest Shanahan, then spent 12 years coaching with him.

Washington finished 25th in scoring last year, averaging 18.9 points per game. They finished 18th in yards gained and 30th in rushing yards accrued. improvement was needed by the younger Shanahan's offense, but it actually regressed in certain areas.

The Redskins are ranked 26th in scoring this year and are averaging about a half a point less per game than 2010. They have improved to 16th and 26th in total yards and rushing yards gained, but regressed in passing yards gained and interceptions thrown despite throwing the ball at about the same rate as last season.

Most of the criticism of Shanahan's strategy comes from the fact it appears he often abandons the run in favor of the pass. It has surprised some because his father had most of his NFL successes via strong rushing attacks.

He appears destined to return to the Redskins in 2012 because of his dad being the head coach. Shanahan will most likely have a rookie quarterback in charge of his offensive schemes, so there is a chance Washington continues to falter with the ball as a young quarterback matures.

Washington fans might be stuck with both Shanahan's all five years, but a lot of critics could be suppressed if the young coordinator shows his theories to be correct.

Grade : D

Jim Haslett - Haslett has been involved with NFL defenses since 1979, save five years where he coached in college or other professional leagues. First he was a Pro Bowl linebacker, then he eventually became a head coach and respected defensive coordinator.

He is still in the throes of converting the Redskins defense into a 3-4 scheme, acquiring the personnel he feels best fits his system. The Redskins struggled last year, finishing 31st in both total yards and passing yards allowed. They were 26th in rushing yards allowed and 21st in points allowed, getting 29 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 14 interceptions.

There was improvement this year, as Washington finished 16th in total yards allowed, 11th in passing yards allowed, and 19th in rushing yards allowed. While they have 38 sacks, the Redskins slightly improved to 19th in total points allowed.

Yet the defense is still not creating the turnovers needed to be considered respectable. They have created five less fumbles and interceptions so far, an area the team must improve on in 2012.

Haslett now has some interesting talent to work with, but depth must still be built and the run defense must get stouter. Injuries certainly hindered the unit, but that is a factor most NFL teams deal with annually.

The Redskins defense often found itself on the gridiron too long, causing fatigue, due to an inept offensive attack. If Haslett and Washington can convince aging middle linebacker London Fletcher to return next year, they will be much better off. If he doesn't, a huge hole will be there in the middle of the defense. This hole could get gigantic if strong safety LaRon Landry leaves as well.

But Haslett has led to defense to improve somewhat. He still has a ways to go, but there is more hope that pessimism involved.

Grade : B

Danny Smith - Smith has been here since 2004, but it seems he has dealt with a new kicker and punter most years. Washington finally got an excellent punter, even if he is 38 years old. But it seems their placekicker is inconsistent like most have been under Smith.

His coverage teams are generally good, but Smith must get the team a reliable kicker to procure more victories. While widely respected in the NFL, he won't reach the heights of an upper echelon special teams coach until he fixes this critical area.

Grade : B -

Yoooooooo! Dis iz Third's cuzin 7thStoneFromaTheSun makin his final procrastinashuns for da 2011 yeer. I did OK so far. I went 11-4 las week, and iz 143-88 overall.

Letz finish strong, capeesh?

Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions

I do belieef me and Third BOTH said da Lions wuz playoff bound dis yeer. Yo, da Pack don't knead dis, as both teems try to stay healthy. But Detroit wants homefield advantage in dere next game.

Lions 34 Packers 24

Tennessee Titans @ Houston Texans

Neither teem needs dis, but I tink da Texans finish strong.

Texans 27 Titans 17

Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars

A battle of bottom feeders.

Jaguars 17 Colts 14

New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins

Too teems goin nowhere after dis.

Jets 17 Dolphins 16

Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles

Da disappointing Eagles strong finish mite save Andy Reid's job.

Eagles 31 Redskins 16

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints

Da Saints go marching into da playoffs wif dere heads held up high.

Saints 34 Panthers 24

San Francisco 49ers @ Saint Louis Rams

Many tought, befour da seesun began, dat da Niners would be in last and da Rams in furst. Whops!

49ers 23 Rams 9

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots

Da Pats want momentum headin into da playoffs.

Patriots 37 Bills 31

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings

Who cares?

Bears 13 Vikings 10

Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos

Denver needs dis, but Kyle Orton makes dem regret choosing a weak-armed fullback over him.

Chiefs 27 Broncos 13

San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders

Da AFC West has always been wacky. Three teems go 8-8 dis yeer.

Chargers 28 Raiders 20

Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals


Cardinals 24 Seahawks 21

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons

Da erratic Falcons knead dis.

Falcons 34 Buccaneers 13

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns

As David Byrne chirped,"Same as it ever was."

Steelers 23 Browns 14

Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals

You like defense? Watch dis game! Call me crazy, but I'm goin wif da Bengals. Dey knead it two klinch a playoff berth.

Bengals 20 Ravens 17

Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants
Game of the Week

Personally, I tink dat Ravens/ Bengals game is better den dese too mediovre squads. BUT all da media will bee dere and da winner gets da NFC East title while da loser goes home until 2012.

Neither teem can run da ball, both quarterbacks iz overrated, and da defenses ain't nothin to write home about. I just gunna say Tony Romo ends dat "choke artist" label dis yeer.

Cowboys 30 Giants 24

Power Rankings

1. Packers
2. 49ers
3. Saints
4. Ravens
5. Steelers
6. Patriots
7. Texans
8. Lions
9. Bengals
10. Falcons
11. Cowboys
12. Giants
13. Raiders
14. Broncos
15. Chargers
16. Jets
17. Titans
18. Eagles
19. Chiefs
20. Bills
21. Dolphins
22. Cardinals
23. Bears
24. Panthers
25. Seahawks
26. Redskins
27. Buccaneers
28. Browns
29. Jaguars
30. Colts
31. Vikings
32. Rams

OK, datt iz it folks. Yo? I hope I seas yous alls in 2012, but dat iz cuntingint on if dat certain family lookin four me finds me or not.

You all have a Happy New Year and every day beyond.

As dey say in Ol' Mexico= A.M.F.

Philadelphia Eagles Prove Money Doesn't Buy NFL Love
Category: FEATURED
Tags: NFL Philadelphia Eagles Washington Redskins NFC East Michael Vick Nnamde Asomugha Andy Reid Asante Samuel Vince Young Steve Smith Jason Babin

The Philadelphia Eagles face the Washington Redskins this Sunday in a game that can only be described as an encounter where their 2011 season is on the line. If this team has any Super Bowl aspirations, a fifth defeat could cripple their dreams.

Philadelphia is fighting history this weekend as well. If they finish the weekend at 1-5, the team must realize only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals reached the playoffs after starting a season as poorly.

That Bengals team started the season 1-6 before rattling off seven straight wins behind Pro Bowl players like Lemar Parrish and Bob Trumpy. They would lose the first playoff appearance in franchise history against the eventual champion Baltimore Colts.

The offense has yet to really click for the Eagles yet this season. While ranking third best in the NFL in total yards gained, they have been struggling to consistently score touchdowns and rank 11th in total points scored. The offensive line, an issue that mostly has haunted head coach Andy Reid since he took the job in 1999.

It has to burn Reid's heart at this issue. He has won 60 percent of the 197 regular season games with Philadelphia, which makes him the winningest head coach in franchise history, but blocking is an area he is supposed to be an expert in.

Reid played offensive tackle in college, then got into coaching immediately upon graduating after his 1981 senior season. He coached the offensive line until the end of the 1996 season. His Eagles teams have produced just five Pro Bowl blockers since he took the helm, with only one that Reid drafted and developed, not something the head coach probably foresaw.

Philadelphia looked smart last year by trading quarterback Donovan McNabb and going with Michael Vick in his place. Vick, though known for a mobility that made him the NFL's top rushing yards leader by a quarterback in league history last week, has taken a tremendous pounding in 2011 because of Philadelphia's offensive line woes.

Vick has battled injuries and missed time this year, something the Eagles thought they had a contingency plan for by signing free agent Vince Young. Young has been to the Pro Bowl quarterback twice since being drafted in 2006, but he was not healthy enough to play when Vick went down.

Blocking isn't the only reason Vick has suffered. Though he is still learning how to be a pocket-passer, Vick has a propensity to hang onto the ball too long and take many unnecessary sacks.

The Eagles rushing attack is led by an excellent 5.8 yards per carry average from halfback LeSean McCoy, yet the Eagles still are ineffective in short yardage situations where a powerful running game between the tackles is needed. None of Reid's teams have ever excelled in this critical area.

If the offensive trenches weren't enough of an issue for Reid, his defensive lines haven't been much better in his Eagles career. Philadelphia has had a habit of getting tiny pass rushers who were weak against the run, often contributing to the reason Reid has yet to win a Super Bowl despite 119 regular season victories and nine playoff appearances in his previous 12 years.

Jeff Lurie has been a great owner since buying the Eagles in 1994. He is known for his loyalty as much as the generosity he has displayed to charitable causes. Reid's coaching staffs have shown a solid continuity for the most part, which can be seen with defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

Castillo has been with the Eagles since 1995, holding jobs in many areas. After coaching the offensive line since 1998, he moved over to defense this year. Critics are not only pointing to Philadelphia's poor run defense, others are looking at a secondary that has yet to meet expectations.

After spending a ton of money to sign free agent cornerback Nnamde Asomugha, as well as trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Lurie bit the financial bullet by retaining the services of Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel. Not only has the secondary given up way too many touchdowns on so few passing attempts, ranking 30th in that category, the group is not creating turnovers.

The Eagles tried to address the long-standing issue in their trenches by signing two high profile free agents in Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. While the duo has already racked up a combined 12 of the teams 16 total sacks, they are also a reason the team ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed and last in rushing yards per attempt up the middle of the defense.

The team took a gamble this year by going with a bunch of underwhelming or unproven linebackers this season, and are losing big so far. Not only has the group mostly stunk in run support, they have been even worse in pass defense.

The fact the Eagles safeties haven't played great hasn't helped either. Kurt Coleman has struggled at free safety, which hurts more due to the fact Nate Allen has yet to play as well as he did in his 2010 rookie year.

Despite Lurie shilling out millions to Vick, Young, Asomugha, Babin, Bryant, Steve Smith, Ronnie Brown, and others, the results have yet to be met by a group trying to get acclimated with each other on the fly in a season truncated because of a players strike. Yet history shows pouring money into players does not equate to championships.

Whether it is the 2010 Miami Heat, the Ted Stepien Era with the Cleveland Cavaliers, or even the 2011 Boston Red Sox, the examples are plentiful. Sometimes the angle of spending a lot of money works, as George Steinbrenner showed by winning seven titles in his 37 years of owning the New York Yankees.

The season is not yet lost for the Eagles, especially if they defeat a division rival that Reid has triumphed over 15 times in 24 attempts. The Redskins, who are coming off their bye week, need this game to stay on top of the NFC East while trying to increase their lead with their second division win in as many attempts.

Washington will probably attempt to run the ball down the Eagles throats with their trio of excellent running backs. If they succeed, Philadelphia could see their 2011 season begin to end as the game clock expires.

The City of Brotherly Love is starving for a football title in the NFL, having not seen their team win a championship since 1960. They are known as passionate fans, so a let down by their beloved Eagles may lead to a large insurgence of fans calling for the firing of Reid.

With their season on line, let alone the Eagles careers of guys like Reid and Castillo, the team has their backs against the proverbial wall and must begin to come out swing like Philly legend Rocky Balboa. Hopefully their thrust will not be fictional like Rocky was.

Yooooooooooo! For doze of yous dat forgots about me, I iz 7thStoneFromTheSun, da distant cuzin of 3rdStoneFromTheSun Yo, I did suck las weak in my procrastinashuns. I went 7-6, and I now iz 46-31 overall.

Lets get too it!

Saint Louis Rams @ Green Bay Packers

OK, I know a lots of yous mugs tought da Rams mite go two da playoffs dis yeer. But dey will now bee 0-5, sumfin not many saw cummin.

Packers 37 Rams 21

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Da Jags never shuld have gone da cheep route and dumped quarterback David Garrard, cuz it iz cleer Blaine Gabbert aint reddy. Da Steelers will expose dat truth even more.

Steelers 23 Jaguars 7

Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins

As 3rd says, dem Igglez have spent like a billion dollars and iz 1-4. I'm picking da Skins running game hear, but dont bee shocked if suckass Rex Grossman trows da game away two Philly.

Redskins 27 Eagles 24

San Francisco 49ers @ Detroit Lions
Game of the Week

Yo, dis aint 1950 so dont rub yer eyes in disbelief. Dis iz da game of da weak! Both teems got good defenses and quarterbacks picked furst in dere drafts. I tink it mite cum down too who runs da ball best, if dat iz a hint.

But Yo! Who hear saw dese teems a combined 9-1 cummin into dis game?

Lions 23 49ers 21

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons

I'm not in love wit Matt Ryan or da Falcons pass defense so far dis yeer, but they can win if dey run da damn ball. Cuz Carolina sure as fuck don't.

Falcons 30 Panthers 28

Indianapolis Colts @ Cincinnati Bengals

Da Colts blow chunks yo. Dey couldnt even beet da shitty Chiefs. Put dem down at 0-7.

Bengals 34 Colts 17

Buffalo Bills @ New York Giants

Eli Manning cemented his spot as one da most overrated players ever las week. Da Bills are a helluva lot better den da Seahawks, and dey will go downstate and leave 5-1.

Bills 34 Giants 24

Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens

Derrick Mason just joined da Texans, who iz strugglin all of da sudden, and iz facing a teem he spent six seasuns wif. Da Ravens will enjoy da fact star linebacker Mario Williams wont play for Houston again dis yeer.

Ravens 27 Texans 20

Cleveland Browns @ Oakland Raiders

Just keep winning baby! R.I.P. Al Davis

Raiders 31 Browns 23

Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

Tony Romo mite trow four 400 yards against dis crappy Pats secondary, but his teem has no answers for Tom Brady.

Patriots 37 Cowboys 28

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Just when it looked like da Bucs was turning da corner, they laid a egg of shit las week. Dis alloud da Saints two sit on top of da NFC South. New Orleans iz ranked 28th in yards given up per rushing attempt, but rank fourth best in rushing attempts against dem cuz teems are trowing so much trying to play catch up.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees should enjoy facin a dissappointin Buccaneers defense, whose seasun mite be on da line hear.

Saints 34 Buccaneers 23

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears

Get out da No Doz Sunday nite. Dat iz if you dont like smash mouth football in da Black and Blue division. Da Bears knead dis cuz da Packers and Lions are starting to run away in da race for da NFC North title.

Bears 24 Vikings 17

Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets

Dis piece of crap MNF game iz a perfect reasun da New York City media kneads to shut da fuck up about dere overrated talent and why we knead to start ignoring dese boobs. Capeesh?

Da Jets suck! Mark Sanchez sucks dirty donkey balls and dat Jets defense looks old. Rex Ryan has been gettin his fat mouth closed a lot dis yeer so far. I dunno if he iz puttin his foot in his mouth or his wife's, but he should STFU until he has a reesun to talk.

Da Dolphins basically got Matt Moore and Sage Rosenfels as dere quarterbacks, which aint awesum. Both is sound reserves at best, but we will sea. I tink Miami better run rookie halfback Daniel Thomas 25 times against dat suspect Jets defense.

But da Jets will put 8 in a box cuz dey dont respect da Dolphins quarterbacks, which iz da rite move.

Jets 23 Dolphins 14

Power Rankings

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Detroit Lions
3. Baltimore Ravens
4. Buffalo Bills
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. New Orleans Saints
7. San Diego Chargers
8. New England Patriots
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
10. Washington Redskins
11. Tennessee Titans
12. Atlanta Falcons
13. Oakland Raiders
14. Houston Texans
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
16. Chicago Bears
17. New York Giants
18. New York Jets
19. Dallas Cowboys
20. Philadelphia Eagles
21. Cincinnati Bengals
22. Seattle Seahawks
23. Minnesota Vikings
24. Arizona Cardinals
25. Miami Dolphins
26. Carolina Panthers
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
28. Cleveland Browns
29. Saint Louis Rams
30. Denver Broncos
31. Kanas City Chiefs
32. Indianapolis Colts

OK, I iz outta dis peace! I iz gunna lay down wif dis hunny I met at da bar and have her feed me grapes as I watch da games.

As dey say in Ol' Messico = A.M.F.

NFC East Leading Washington Redskins Head into Bye Week After a Big Win
Category: NFL
Tags: Washington Redskins Bruce Allen Philadelphia Eagles Dallas Cowboys New York Giants Ryan Torain Rex Grossman Kyle Shanahan NFC East

It wasn't pretty, but the Washington Redskins victory 17-10 over the Saint Louis Rams propelled them atop of their division with a 3-1 record heading into their bye week. Though there is no time to celebrate, there has to be some pride of the work this team has put in so far.

Expecting to rebuild, general manager Bruce Allen wheeled and dealed during the 2011 draft. Nine of Allen's 12 picks have made the team, and the remaining three are on the practice squad.

With their two division rivals losing this week, the Redskins gained percentage points on the 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles, 2-2 Dallas Cowboys and the 3-1 New York Giants. Washington defeated New York already in the first week of the season..

The Redskins will prepare for the Eagles in a game two weeks from now, but they also need to use this time to work out some kinks. Critics will point to a soft schedule filled with injured opponents, but any victory attained in the NFL is truly earned.

The running game was clicking versus the Rams, something it has done several times since preseason. This time saw Redskins 2010 rushing leader, Ryan Torain, get his first action of the year and rush for 135 yards on just 19 attempts.

The passing game is still a work in progress. Quarterback Rex Grossman continues to turn the ball over, something that has been Washington's problem 18 straight games, and he had a series in the third quarter of the Rams game that was frustrating.

After Torain carried the Redskins about 40 yards, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan reverted to his bad habit of eschewing the run game in favor of the pass. He first had Grossman, not known for nimble feet, roll out to his left, where the quarterback quickly stumbled and began to fall to the ground untouched or without defensive pressure.

Grossman tried to thrown across the middle of the field, but a Rams defender dropped a sure interception. Grossman looked a bit lost after that play, causing the Redskins to take a delay of game penalty. Finally getting his team ready, he signaled center Will Montgomery to snap the ball but looked over to a receiver as the ball was hiked.

Though no turnovers game on that series, this series of plays killed the drive and forced Washington to punt. These types of moments must be ironed out during the bye week, because the Redskins might not survive such events in another contest.

The defense has carried this team, a sight Redskins fans have grown accustomed to over the past many years. The 21 points they allowed in a victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the second week is still the most they have allowed in a contest yet.

Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are a pair of first round draft that have made seamless transitions from defensive end to outside linebacker. While neither are as good in pass defense as they will be in time, the youngsters are creating havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Middle linebacker London Fletcher is the leader of the defense, and Rocky McIntosh was a terror versus the Rams most of the contest. Washington's linebackers have benefited from stout play by the defensive line, as the front seven is the prime reason for their record.

The amazing part of Washington's defensive excellence is that they have done much of it without star strong safety LaRon Landry. Landry was easily the best safety in NFL in 2010 until an injury ended his season after nine games.

Landry returned last week, after recovering from a groin injury that had kept him out since training camp, but was seen going into the locker room early in the fourth quarter against St. Louis. He did return to play later on.

Getting healthy is obviously a priority of a bye week, so it will be a nice break for some of the Redskins with nagging injuries. The other positive of having the bye week so early is getting it getting it out of the way and plow forward with momentum the rest of the way.

Since the NFL implemented the bye week in 1990, seven teams have won the Super Bowl after enjoying an early break. Three more reached it after having their bye week early. The 1993 Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills had two bye weeks that season.

So this week is important for many reasons, especially since they are coming off a victory. The Redskins have had time to have their weaknesses exposed and the roster is healthy enough to try to do something about it.

If Grossman's prediction that Washington will win the NFC East this season comes true, hammering out the kinks with be needed so they can hopefully keep winning enough games to get into the playoffs. That, as well as good health and fortuitous luck, can help the Redskins continue to shock the critics who expected them to finish last in their division this year.
NFL 2011 Week 3 : Washington Redskins 5 Keys To Defeating The Hated Dallas Cowboys
Category: NFL
Tags: Washington Redskins NFL NFC East Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo Tim Hightower Santana Moss Rex Grossman Felix Jones Fred Davis

Don't You Forget About Me

Tim Hightower rebounded from a mediocre first week as a Redskin to explode against the Arizona Cardinals, his former team, last week. He ran for 96 yards on 20 carries, most of which happened in the first half of the Redskins 22-21 victory.

His backup, rookie Roy Helu, piled up an additional 74 yards on just 10 attempts. Yet both did not get many touches in the second half as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan seemed to call for a pass every down. Though Washington eked out a win, Shanahan's disregard for the effective running game hearkened back to 2010.

If was the first year he and his dad held jobs in the organization. There were quite a few games the team lost, like the their match up with the Indianapolis Colts, where he got obsessed with calling pass plays and it cost his team in the end.

The Dallas Cowboys have been stout at stopping the run for several years, so most teams have been attacking their dinged up secondary. Yet their offense relies on the pass so much, it could mean their defense spends much more time on the gridiron.

If this happens, then an effective run game will be needed even more. Especially in the fourth quarter, where most overworked defenses begin to tire. Hightower and Helu will need carries all game, not just a portion of it. The old adage that a good ground game gives the offense more options will certainly come into play if Shanahan decides to opt for a better offensive balance.

No Mercy

Not only are two of the Cowboys best cornerbacks dealing with injury issues already, a third will not play at all because of an ankle problem. This could benefit Washington when quarterback Rex Grossman looks to pass.

Orlando Scandrick is out and his replacement, veteran Terence Newman, is playing in his first game this year because of a nagging groin injury. Grossman will probably test that groin a lot, as well as nickle back Alan Ball. The Redskins currently have the ninth best passing attack in the NFL, and four different wide receivers have receptions.

Santana Moss may be the best receiver Washington has, but Mike Jenkins may shadow him. Jenkins, who has a sore shoulder, is the best cornerback Dallas has right now. This means Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney will need to beat Newman and Ball.

Tight end Fred Davis has been amazing since coming into training camp in better shape. He is averaging a healthy 17.4 yards on 11 receptions, so Washington was afforded to let Chris Cooley fully recuperate from a knee injury. Cooley is now back, so he gives the Redskins another weapon.

Washington has had some early successes in the pass same this season, so this is a game to keep the momentum going. If Newman is still hobbled, it will draw safety help and give Davis or Cooley more chances to gouge Dallas for big chucks of yards after the catch.

No Miles To Run

Miles Davis is the best Cowboys receiver. He leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns this year. He has been vital to an offense with an inept ground game. Dallas averaged barely over two yards per attempt this season, and starting halfback Felix Jones is dealing with a shoulder issue.

The other starting wide receiver, Dez Bryant, has a thigh injury that has limited him to one game so far. This has made Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rely heavily on Miles and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. Witten's 13 catches is one less than Davis.

If Bryant is still too hurt to be his usual dynamic self, this helps the Redskins because they have a few injuries in their defensive secondary. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall are not at full health, but are expected to play. Strong safety LaRon Landry has yet to play this season, because of a hurt hamstring, and his is listed as questionable.

His replacement, Reed Doughty, is good against the run but mediocre versus the pass. Romo, now having to lean on Witten, will go after Doughty in a number of attempts that will exceed double digits. Even if Doughty is assigned to reserve tight ends Martellus Bennett and John Phillips, Romo will look to pick on him much like Eli Manning did two weeks ago.

If Dallas has wide receivers like Kevin Ogletree and Jesse Holly as their weapons, perhaps free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe can focus on Witten and give Romo a harder time. Since Romo is already dealing with broken ribs, the secondary shutting down the Cowboys passing attack will leave the quarterback more available to being hit by Washington's pass rushers.

Kicks Count

Dallas has two placekickers on their 2011 roster. One, rookie Dan Bailey, handles all of the short kicks. The other, David Buehler, is injured in the groin of his kicking leg and will try to play. Washington's diminutive return specialist Brandon Banks may get a shot a returning kickoffs if Buehler's injury shortens his kickoffs.

Considering Dallas may have the best punter in the NFL in Mat McBriar, it was unlikely Banks would get many opportunities whenever the Washington defense forced McBriar on the field. It will also be an uneasy situation for Dallas if Baily has to attempt anything longer than 50 yards, though Bailey did hit a critical 48-yard attempt last week.

Redskins kicker Graham Gano has yet to make a kick over 34 yards. He has missed twice already on attempts between 30 and 39 yards. If Washington struggles to get in the red zone against Dallas, they will have to rely on a player who has eight of his 13 career misses come from distances of 30 yards or more.

Remembering A Rivalry

Rivalries in the NFL today are harder to maintain because of free agency. Teams are no longer able to maintain the bulk of their roster like in the past, where they would develop their players and a stronger bond of unity would be an outcome.

Redskins Hall of Fame head coach George Allen taught his team to dislike the Cowboys, and the teams passionate fans followed suit. This came from the fact both Washington and Dallas dominated their conference when Allen joined the franchise in 1971.

The Redskins made the playoffs in five of Allen's first six seasons, which included a Super Bowl appearance. Dallas had made the postseason every season but two times between 1966 and 1985. They were the class of the NFC usually, once earning the nickname "America's Team."

Allen knew his team had to beat Dallas to achieve success, no small task with Hall of Famer Tom Landry as the head coach of the Cowboys. The 60 wins the Cowboys have in their meeting, out of 100 contests, is the most over any other NFL franchise. Washington, however, has beat them in both playoff games they met in.

Landry beat Allen eight times in the 15 games he faced Allen, but the Redskins great beat him in their only playoff game. That victory, a 26-3 drubbing, propelled Washington into their first ever Super Bowl and first NFL title game in 28 years.

Dallas took command in this series since the second game of the 1997 season. Washington has won just seven times in the last 27 meetings. The 2005 season has been the only time the Redskins won both games over that time.

Yet fans of both teams will admit the unpredictable often happens when these franchises battle. Good examples are the 1989 season, where the Cowboys lone victory that year came at the expense of the Redskins, and the 1991 season.

Washington had stormed out of the gates at an 11-0 record when Dallas came to town that year. After losing by three points, Washington's run at perfection ended. They rested their main players in the final game, giving them their only other defeat. Had they has beat Dallas, they stood a better chance of matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins for a truly perfect season.

Maybe the history of these franchises escapes most of those involved with both teams today, but the Redskins have legacy to remind. General manager Bruce Allen is the son of the Hall of Fame Redskins coach, so he certainly knows how important it is to beat Dallas. The Cowboys head coach is Jason Garrett, who was a backup quarterback with Dallas for eight years. He also understands this rivalry.

The Redskins are currently undefeated and alone on top of the NFC East. A loss here drops them into a tie with Dallas and the New York Giants. Washington already beat New York, so a victory over Dallas would give them two big wins within their own division, which is important at times when the playoffs approach. These two wins could give them enough in the percentage points department if there is a tie-breaker.

There may not be as much venom between these squads compared to the past, but there will be no love lost. With Hall adding fuel to the fire by being recorded by cameras saying he will try to tackle the injured Romo and Jones hard, players will come in fired up as the ghosts of legends egg them on to greatness.  

NFL Predictions For The 2011 Season
Category: FEATURED
Tags: NFL NFC East NFC West NFC South NFC North Super Bowl AFC East AFC West AFC North AFC South Baltimore Ravens Philadelphia Eagles

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles

The self anointed "Dream Team" has a ton of talented players thanks to owner Jeff Lurie going all out with his checkbook. Lurie has gone all in for a franchise that hasn't won a title since 1960.   

While the Eagles defense looks great in the secondary, the front seven may be an issue. The defensive line is full of pass rushers not known for stopping the run. The linebackers are pretty inexperienced and kicker and punter are rookies too.  

But the Eagles were smart by getting Vince Young to backup the oft-injured Michael Vick at quarterback. The offensive unit can score points, but a suspect offensive line could be their downfall.   

Philadelphia has a lot of pressure to produce in 2011. Historically, a bought team that spends heavy never realizes the successes compared to teams that mold their own talent.   

Yet the Eagles are in the right division this year with two teams rebuilding and another already riddled with injury. This could be the season that the city of Brotherly Love sees their first football trophy in 41 years.      


2. New York Giants

The Jints already face an uphill battle with the possibility of four cornerbacks missing the entire season, as well as a rookie defensive tackle they had high hopes for. Yet this is a veteran squad still full of immense talent.   

New York may end up having to win a few high scoring affairs this year, but this can happen because they have a deep wide receiver corps.  

So deep that they watched Steve Smith walk over to a division rival a few weeks ago.  Eli Manning was recently quited as saying he is an upper echelon quarterback in the league. This is time for him to back up his words, because his arm will be put to the test often.   

While they are still strong in the trenches offensively, it is aging. The rushing attack should still be strong for the Giants, led by the inside/ outside attack of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.   

The front seven of the defense is uncertain for the first time in a long time for the G-Men. Their top three defensive ends should be fine, but the rest of the front seven is a mix of inconsistent players and unknown commodities.   

So it seems the Giants offense will have to carry the team, as well as Manning actually becoming that upper echelon quarterback he thinks he is. This is a team as capable of making the playoffs as they are going 8-8.      


3. Washington Redskins

The "Shanaplan" enters a second season after a very forgettable first year full of dysfunction and eight games decided by three or less points.   Closing out games was a big weakness for the team in 2010.   

The Redskins 2011 draft looked pretty good in preseason, and several draft picks made the roster or practice squad.   They upgraded the trenches through free agency, losing second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins for the year to injury.   

With the question of whether John Beck or Rex Grossman starts at quarterback, the Redskins are able to temper this with a group of running backs who have the ability to be productive.   

Washington has upgraded their wide receivers and tight end Fred Davis has lost so much weight that he looks like a hybrid tight end. If the Redskins quarterbacks can be at least average, the team will score points. 

The defense is led by ageless middle linebacker London Fletcher. They have two young defensive ends playing outside linebacker and are getting positive results so far.  

With the addition of two free agents on the defensive line, Washington expects better results after a poor showing in 2010. The secondary got a big boost by signing free safety O.J. Atogwe. Strong safety Laron Landry was the best safety in football last year until an injury ended his season early.  

Washington is expecting big things from this duo. One of best offseason moves Washington made was acquiring Sav Rocco to be their punter.  

This is a position at where the Redskins have seemed to struggle at for several years recently. Rocca's ability to pin opponents deep might make the difference between victory and defeat.   

With electric return man Brandon Banks, a big roster upgrade on both sides of ball at most everywhere but quarterback, the Redskins can be good enough to challenge for the division. Though that is no guarantee, no matter what Grossman says.      


4. Dallas Cowboys

Dallas comes into 2011 walking the razors edge.  

Despite the trenches holding back their teams from winning consistently the past few years, they got rid of a few players and lost a few more to free agency.   

Felix Jones is expected to carry the rushing attack, but there are skeptics as to whether or not he is the type who can handle 20-30 touches a game over an entire season. After his first two seasons were shortened by injury. Jones had 48 receptions and 185 carries in 2010.   

Without veteran Marion Barber helping Jones anymore, fourth-year halfback Tashard Choice and his 222 career carries is the main reserve.   Dallas is said to be high on seventh round pick DeMarco Murray, though the rookie wassn't real impressive during preseason games.   

With a trio of small backs running behind an offensive line in flux, the passing attack with be the Cowboys best weapon. Quarterback Tony Romo, who missed 10 games to injuries last year, might end up with many games where he attempts upwards to 50 passes or more this season.   

The defense is pretty much the same group that was second to last in the NFL last year in points allowed. Though they are decent on pass defense, the Cowboys trenches are average at stopping the run.          


NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers

When you are coming off a championship season where you basically won it all with about half of the roster you expected to count on, there isn't a whole lot of need for overhauling your roster.    

Green Bay stayed away from the free-agent market this season, choosing to re-sign most of their own players while continuing to build through the draft. This is the formula that brought the franchise their 13th title, the most in NFL history.   

The biggest free-agent loss may have been defensive end Cullen Jenkins, but the Pack returns most everyone else on a defense that ranked second in points allowed and interceptions accrued despite all of the injuries to their back seven.   

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers permanently quieted any remaining critics about his replacing Brett Favre in 2008. At Rodgers' current pace, he may one day find himself with Hall of Famer Bart Starr for the title of greatest Packers quarterback ever.    

One of the best news Rodgers has received this year is the return of halfback Ryan Grant. Grant missed most of last year because of injury, but his return will help the four excellent wide receivers Rodgers loves to throw to. Jermichael Finley, the Packers best tight end, also returns after missing 11 games to injury in 2010.   

It is doubtful Green Bay will again experience the rash of injuries they incurred in 2010. Assuming their players stay healthy, this team will be very difficult to oust this year. If Rodgers stays on the field all season, the Packers have an excellent chance of completing the very difficult task of repeating as champions.        


2. Detroit Lions *  

The young Lions are just about everyone's prediction for most improved NFL team this year. After watching them lose eight close games last year, one can see why there is so much optimism for this team.   

The defensive line, led by 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh, is the star of this team. They are a nice blend of proven veterans and promising youth. This unit has the talent to dominate the NFL this year.   

Detroit also added two new starting linebackers and a cornerback. They expect this unit to do much better than last season, where they ranked 19th in points allowed and 21st in total yards allowed.   

The offensive line is the same group from last year. The onus will be on them this season to try and get quarterback Matthew Stafford to finally last a full year healthy. If Stafford stays on the field, his receiving trio of Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew has a chance to be explosive.   

If there is one weakness, it is at running back. Detroit is banking on Jahvid Best to stay healthy even though much of his 2010 season was riddled with nagging injuries. There isn't much behind Best, so his health may be critical to the Lions' offensive proficiency.   

A young team needs growing pains to improve. Detroit had their share of that in 2010, so they are now ready to build upon those experiences and progress even further this season. There is more than enough talent on this roster to seriously challenge for a division title.        


3. Chicago Bears

The Bears' big story last year was quarterback Jay Cutler leaving the NFC Championship Game with an injury. Cutler's toughness and leadership has been questioned since, setting up a season where he has a lot to prove.   

Chicago's offseason saw them bring in three ex-Dallas Cowboys to upgrade the offense. While they have more depth at wide receiver now, Chicago decided to jettison their two main tight ends from 2010. The Bears are gambling Kellen Davis is ready at tight end after they spent the previous three seasons trying to mold this project.   

The offensive line has been an issue the past few Bears seasons. They moved Robert Garza to center after he spent the previous six years at guard. Newly signed free agent Chris Spencer can't beat Garza out, but things could change if the current starting guards falter.   

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is the leader of a Bears defense that was second in run defense in 2010, as well as fourth in points allowed and ninth in total yards allowed. Defense has always been king in Chicago, and that should not change this year.   

The main changes on the defense will be at safety and one defensive tackle slot. Chris Harris will now be joined by Major Wright at safety, and Henry Melton has supplanted Matt Toeaina at defensive tackle for now. The Bears also drafted Stephen Paea, who could soon replace Melton.   

Mike Martz is in his second season as the offensive coordinator for the Bears, so Cutler should be much more comfortable in the system now. If the Bears can do better than the 21st ranking in points scored last year, the defense is good enough to get them to a Super Bowl.        


4. Minnesota Vikings

Rebuilding a team makes for tough decisions along the way. Minnesota already had done the easy part by hiring a new head with six games left in 2010.   

The team has revamped their roster by losing players to free agency and retirement especially. They also released several veterans who were once an important part to a team that never quite played up to expectations.   

Some critics wonder why the Vikes are replacing one old quarterback with another, but they have had success in the past making similar moves. Minnesota is hoping Donovan McNabb can be at least as effective as Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon and Brett Favre once were for the franchise.   

Though they got rid of their left tackle, the offensive line is still very solid and very experienced. This may help an older quarterback like McNabb, who is no longer as mobile as he once was.   

Losing their best wide receiver to free agency now puts the tiny Percy Harvin in the spotlight as their top receiver, even though much of Harvin's career has been hampered by migraine headaches. The rest of the receiving corp is pretty underwhelming.   

McNabb may rely heavily on his tight ends in the passing game. Visanthe Shiancoe is very underrated, and rookie Kyle Rudolph has a lot of promise. The Vikings may often run a jumbo package to get both on the field at the same time.   

One other reason for the jumbo sets is the fact that the team is carrying just three running backs on their roster. Adrian Peterson, one of the best halfbacks in the NFL, is the starter. Any injuries to this unit could send the team reeling further.   

Losing their run-stuffing defensive tackle to retirement hurt, but they will also not have Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams for a few games as he serves a suspension for ingesting a banned substance. Besides defensive end Jared Allen, the rest of the linemen are unknown as to what they will contribute when relied upon.   

The linebackers may now be the strength of the Vikings. Tackling machine Chad Greenway just signed a new five-year contract, and he will be playing alongside the Henderson brothers. While E.J. Henderson is a Pro Bowl middle linebacker, his younger brother Erin is starting for the first time in his four seasons.   

The secondary saw Minnesota release starting free safety Madieu Williams, but they did get back cornerback Cedric Griffin. Griffin missed much of last year with a knee injury and will be the bookend for Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield.   

There is still enough talent on the Minnesota roster to reach the playoffs, but rebuilding sometimes involves baby steps. Losing the salaries of a bunch of expensive veterans was a wise move, setting up the Vikings' future to look brighter than the present.                



NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta was great in 2010, winning 13 games. They won their division for the fifth time in franchise history, reaching the playoffs for the 10th time since they joined the NFL in 1966.   

Most of their players are back, especially on an offense that produced six Pro Bowlers. The only changes will be made at right guard and wide receiver.    The new wide receiver is 2011 first-round pick Julio Jones, a big, sturdy, athletic receiver known for the spectacular catch. He will bookend Roddy White, who has led the team in receptions the last four seasons.   

Factor in future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzales, and it is easy to see quarterback Matt Ryan has some pretty fantastic weapons to play with. Ryan also is blessed to have a set of Pro Bowl running backs lining up behind him.   

The defense got an upgrade by signing free agent defensive end Ray Edwards to bookend Pro Bowler John Abraham. The rest of the unit returns intact after ranking fifth in points allowed in 2010.  The offense ranked fifth in points scored, showing the tremendous balance that led to their 13 victories. Atlanta also ranked 16th in yards gained and allowed.   

The Falcons schedule this year will be tough, facing six teams that made the playoffs last year. But they have more than enough talent to be successful, especially if the pass defense improves upon last years number. If they get to their bye week healthy and with a decent record, the second half of their schedule could propel them back into the postseason.        


2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Watching the Bucs 2011 preseason, it was fun to see the exuberance of a young team led by a young head coach. This team is growing up quickly during a massive rebuilding session, but they are playing well as it goes on.   

After a difficult 2009 that resulted in three victories, Tampa Bay won 10 last year. Four of their 2010 losses came by seven points or less. This came with a team that averaged just 26 years old.   

Quarterback Josh Freeman was spectacular last year, tossing just six interceptions the whole season. Though the Bucs passing attack ranked ranked 17th in passing, Freeman played the 2010 season like a wily veteran instead of a second-year pro.   

The running attack ranked eighth in yards gained, though they did lose their primary reserve to free agency. LeGarrette Blount came out of nowhere last year to run for 1,007 yards in 13 games and seven starts. Tampa Bay is hoping for a similar season in 2011.  

Raheem Morris is one year younger than future Hall of Fame cornerback Ronde Barber. Besides manning the head coaching duties, Morris is also the Buccaneers defensive coordinator.  

He hired former NFL great Keith Millard to coach his up and coming defensive line. Tampa Bay's exciting trio of defensive tackles got more help when Morris used his first two picks of the 2011 draft on a pair of defensive ends with big upsides. The Buccaneers third pick gave them their starting middle linebacker.   

Barber is the leader of a defense that will have possibly seven starters under the age of 25. Morris is molding a defense that could one day be on the same level of some of the past great Buc defenses.   

They will play 2011 honoring true greatness by paying tribute to "The Original Buccaneer." The late Lee Roy Selmon is the only Buc in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the first to have his number retired by the team.    

This team is young, but very exciting. They made a lot of progress last year, taking many by surprise. As they continue to grow, Tampa Bay will show this season they have more than enough talent to win their division now.        


3. New Orleans Saints

The Saints found out in 2010 why history makes it so very hard to defend a championship title. Injuries swept through the roster, yet their dinged up quarterback stood tall and got them back into the playoffs.   

New Orleans finished 11th in scoring in 2010 after leading the NFL the previous two seasons. Changes were then made along the offensive line, where they lost their starting center to free agency and cut their longest-tenured player in right tackle Jon Stinchcomb.  

After the running backs corp was hit hard by injuries last year, the Saints got aggressive by signing free agent Darren Sproles, a diminutive pass catching specialist, and using their second 2011 first round pick on Mark Ingram.   

With Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory returning, New Orleans has a group of running backs they expect to be an improvement over their 28th ranked rushing attack of 2010. Yet the offense will go through quarterback Drew Brees, their Super Bowl XLIV MVP.   

While the Saints pass defense played well last year, their run defense was erratic at best. They signed three free agent defensive linemen, and drafted another in the first round.    

This unit has not looked good in preseason, and it could be hurt further by starting defensive end Will Smith incurring a two game suspension for ingesting a banned substance.   

If the Saints do not improve on stopping opponents from running the ball, it may not matter how many points their explosive offense puts up. Their revamped offensive line will also be put to the test trying to protect Brees while running the ball more effectively.         


4. Carolina Panthers

Carolina is in the throes of rebuilding, though they have kept some basic foundations the organization has followed since their 1995 inception. Ron Rivera is the fourth head coach in team history, and all Panthers head coaches were former defensive coordinators.   

The Panthers are hoping history repeats itself under Rivera. After going 1-15 in 2001, they hired John Fox as a head coach and reached the Super Bowl in his second year with the team. Fox was let go after the team went 2-14 last season, ushering in Rivera.   

Rivera showed the team he is on a mission recently by cutting 2009 second round pick Everette Brown, a player once thought to have great potential. The team will have two rookies starting at defensive tackle, as Carolina will carry just eight defensive linemen with six having one or less years of NFL experience.   

Cam Newton is the first pick of the 2011 draft. He will start right away and try to learn the game on the fly because the team has no alternatives in reserve better.  

Newton has shown accuracy issues in preseason, but he is a behemoth of a man for this position. His athleticism should cover up a few mistakes as he progresses.   

The tight end is typically the best friend of a young quarterback. Carolina went out and signed two productive veterans for their rookie franchise quarterback. Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen are both solid players that Newton will be very comfortable leaning on at times.   

Besides wide receiver Steve Smith, Carolina knew they had to upgrade this unit in the offseason. They added two receivers fresh off the high-powered San Diego Chargers offense, a team Rivera spent the previous three seasons with, and second-year pro Armanti Edwards is a former college quarterback who showed flashes of being ready to contribute during preseason this year.   

The offensive line has worked together a few years, so the Panthers are hoping their three-headed halfback can be better than last seasons injury plagued output. DeAngelo Williams was recently given a huge contract, so he is being counted on heavily. Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson are his more than capable reserves, and both should get many carries themselves in 2011.   

The back seven of the Panthers defense is their strength. Led by Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason, the back of the defense did a solid job versus the pass last year. Carolina was dead last in scoring offense in 2010, as well as 26th in points allowed.  

The offense should be expected to have a few hiccups this year with a rookie at the helm, so it will be the burden of the defense to keep the Panthers close in contests. If the star players stay healthy this year, which they were not in 2010, this team should show signs of progression as the rebuilding process begins.  

Baby steps are needed here, because of a head coaching change in the middle of a rebuilding job, but Carolina feels they have the right young man at quarterback to lead the way.            


NFC West    

1. Saint Louis Rams

Rebuilding a team takes time and the Rams showed this in 2010. With the NFC West title in their grasp, Saint Louis lost the last game on their schedule to Seattle. Though the Rams shared first place with the Seahawks, they lost the opportunity to reach the playoffs.   

Keeping the mission to upgrade a team that has struggled the past few seasons, Saint Louis became active in the free agent market. They picked up two veteran running backs, with good pass receiving skills, to back up star Steven Jackson.     

The offense then upgraded their offensive line by signing a nasty and tough guard, while adding to a passing attack that ranked 26th last year by grabbing a talented free agent wide receiver in Mike Sims-Walker. Saint Louis also drafted two more wide receivers in hopes of scoring more points.   

Defense was the star of the 2010 season for the Rams, yet they still made major changes. Both safeties and outside linebackers will have newly acquired players, as will the right side of their defensive line.   

They added savvy veterans like Al Harris and Pro Bowler Quintin Mikell to the secondary. The free agent signing of Mikell was important because five-year starter O.J. Atogwe left the squad after becoming a free agent.   

Saint Louis is banking their defense will be better in 2011 after signing five free agents and using their first draft pick on a athletic defensive end some think will be a star one day. With the expected improvements on offense, it could be enough to get a young team on top of their division at season's end.        


2. Arizona Cardinals *  

The Cardinals were not happy playing four quarterbacks last year, so they gave up a Pro Bowl cornerback years away from his prime to get Kevin Kolb. Kolb spent the better part of four seasons sitting and learning, so he should be ready to go and prove he has what it takes to be a starting quarterback.   

Running back is an issue for the Cardinals. They will be forced to rely on oft-injured Beanie Wells after 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams was lost for the year to injury. But the Cards have Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, one of the better players in the league.  

He was just signed to a eight-year, $120 million contract a year after grabbing 90 balls from a muddled quarterback situation. Todd Heap is one of five tight ends on the roster. Arizona is hoping a return to his home state will inspire Heap to his third Pro Bowl season. Veteran Jeff King was also brought in to help the offensive block off the edge.  

The offensive line will have two new guards starting. Rex Hadnot and newly acquired free agent Darren Colledge get the nods, with last year's starter, Duece Lutui, backing them up.   

Arizona will have new starting cornerbacks after Greg Toler was placed on injured reserve. Tiny Michael Adams starts at one slot, despite having just 89 tackles in his four years with the club. A.J. Jefferson is the other starter, and he has one career tackle after making the team as an undrafted free agent rookie last year.   

This is expected to change soon because rookie Patrick Peterson was the top defensive back in the 2011 draft and was selected fifth overall. He will be given time to learn because the Cardinals have a good safety tandem in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes.   

The defensive line is the best part of the defense, led by defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Calais Campbell is a huge defensive end and nose tackle Dan Williams, the Cardinals top pick last year, shows promise.    

The Cardinals kept nine linebackers on the roster this year. Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon are excellent inside linebackers who are backed up by veterans Stewart Bradley and Reggie Walker, along with promising rookie Quan Sturdivant.    

The Big Red ranked near the bottom in both offense and defense last year. They are expecting to score a lot more points and being especially more effective in run defense. If the offense lives up to their potential, Arizona could pick up a lot of wins off a mediocre schedule in the weak NFC West.          


3. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are the defending AFC West champs despite having a 7-9 record, the 23rd best scoring offense, the 25th best total in points allowed and being 28th in points differential. Pete Carroll's first year as head coach was highlighted by a playoff win over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.   

Building on that success while rebuilding, Seattle was very active in the free agent market. They signed up a new starting quarterback, star wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle and offensive guard.   

They have a new center, and both right guard and tackle will be rookies starting. They added Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller, which was important because incumbent starter John Carlson is on injured reserve.   

While Tavaris Jackson wasn't great at quarterback in the preseason, Seattle has hopes he can frequently get the ball to the tight end as well as tall wide receivers Sidney Rice and Mike Williams.   

Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett ran for 1,100 yards together in 2010. Throw in dynamic return specialist Leon Washington and Seattle has a decent backfield behind Jackson.   

The defense is still a work in progress. The strength of this unit is in linebackers David Hawthorne, Aaron Curry and Leroy Hill. Alan Branch replaces the departed Kentwan Balmer to line up next to Brandon Mebane at defensive tackle.    

The secondary will see Walter Thurmond at cornerback in place of the departed Kelly Jennings. Kam Chancellor is now the strong safety after Lawyer Milloy retired. Both are second-year pros with not much experience.    

Seattle has 21 players who are either rookies or first-year players on their roster. There are only 19 players left that Carroll inherited last year. The rebuilding job Carroll is doing takes time, but it is headed in the right direction.        


4. San Francisco 49ers

It has been a rough time for the Niners since head coach Steve Mariucci was fired in 2002. They are on their fifth head coach and haven't had a winning record in that time.   

Jim Harbaugh is now the coach in charge of trying to bring a winner to San Francisco. The big issue with this team starts at quarterback, where Alex Smith has done a mostly lousy job since being the first overall selection in the 2005 draft.    

The writing on the wall for Smith became real clear in the 2011 draft, when the Niners used a second round pick on Colin Kaepernick. Though very athletic, Kaepernick is very raw and a few years away from being ready.   

The offense runs through the amazing Frank Gore, a halfback running around with two surgically repaired knees. The 49ers receiving corp is one of the most talented in the NFL, but they don't have a quarterback who can consistently get them the ball.   

Vernon Davis is one of the most athletic tight ends in NFL history. He should be going into a fifth season that has him inducted one day into Canton, but he has been held back by an organization that has poor quarterback play and spent a few years not using him correctly.   

With wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree, the trio should be explosive. Yet it most likely be yet another season where Smith doesn't get the job done on his end.  

The defense is going through changes as well. They lost their starting nose tackle, two linebackers, a cornerback and safety. They upgraded the strong safety position by signing free agent Donte Whitner and moved defensive end Isaac Sopoaga over the center.   

Carlos Rogers was signed to start at cornerback and the versatile Madieu Williams will back up incumbent Dashon Goldson at free safety. The run defense was good last year, but the pass defense hurt the Niners often.   

The 49ers have made some nice upgrades, but Harbaugh will need some time to rebuild the team and develop a quarterback. They are capable of winning the weak NFC West, but that depends on how often Smith can get the ball to the team's best weapons.          


AFC East

1. New York Jets

When you make two straight AFC Championship Games and lose with a team full of veterans, it is smart to not continue getting old. The Jets got rid of quite a few veterans in their quest to get younger while staying a top-notch team.   

Yet their biggest free agent signing was wide receiver Plaxico Burress when he got released from prison after serving two years in jail. The Jets plan to bookend the 34-year-old Burress with Santonio Holmes, while 37-year-old Derrick Mason will be used as the third receiver.   

The offensive line is the strength of the team. Right tackle Damien Woody retired, so Wayne Hunter steps in. The rest of the unit remains intact, which is important for a team so reliant on the run.   

Shonn Greene was supposed to start at halfback last year, but soon saw LaDainian Tomlinson getting more playing time because Tomlinson was more effective and is a better pass receiver. Greene needs to step up this year because the 32-year old future Hall of Famer has a ton of wear and tear on his body.   

Fullback Tony Richardson, the winner of last season's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and the Byron "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award for his charitable work, has retired. New York will miss the three-time Pro Bowler known for his crushing blocking ability. John Conner now takes over as the lead blocker out of the backfield.   

Defense is the Jets' best strength, as it should be with defensive guru Rex Ryan as the head coach. This defense is so good, they could afford to trade a young and solid Dwight Lowery to the Jaguars because of their cornerback depth.   

Furthermore, they added 2011 first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson at defensive end to replace veteran Shaun Ellis. The rest of the starters return on a unit that ranked third best in yards allowed last season, as well as sixth best in points allowed.   

Though the Jets linebackers are excellent, it is the secondary that is the star of the unit. Led by Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis—maybe the best cornerback in the game today—who anchors a smothering Jets secondary that defends the run almost as good as they do the pass.   

With a defense and offensive line like this, it is pretty easy to see why the Jets were one win away from the Super Bowl in each of the past two years. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is still a work in progress, but he showed definite improvement in his second season by tossing seven less interceptions and five more touchdowns than he did in his 2009 rookie year.   

Sanchez will enjoy having two experienced receivers blended in with the players he already knows well, and having a 6'5" receiver like Burress can help reduce mistakes with his size alone. The running game ranked fourth in yards gained last year, but the passing games ranked 22nd in yards gained.  

If the passing game improves, as expected, the defense and rushing attack are good enough to get the Jets back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1968.      


2. New England Patriots

One thing is certain, the Patriots keep it interesting all year round. Whether it is watching head coach Bill Belichick work the draft like a maestro, delving into the free agent market, or making trades, New England is unpredictable but exceedingly interesting.   

Chad Ochocinco, a six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, was brought in for a couple of expendable late-round draft picks. Known for his blabbering mouth as much as his playing abilities, Ochocinco has kept his lip zipped so far in New England.   

Albert Haynesworth was brought in for a fifth-round pick, a gigantic steal if the man ever plays up to the abilities that made him a two-time Pro Bowler just three years ago. The "$100 Million Slave" has taken a siesta since then, only rearing his head when complaining or going to court.   

The karma is that "Fat Albert" has to continue playing in the 3-4 defense he abhors. Thus far, he has not quit on his teammates or complained to the media about the head coach, so the influence of "The Hoodie" appears to once again worked for the best.   

The first player usually mentioned on the Patriots is future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. While New England has a pair of interesting young prospects behind him, the 34-year-old Brady once said he wanted to play until he was 40. The two-time NFL regular season and Super Bowl MVP is the leader of this team and is coming off yet another excellent season.   

Besides the addition of Ochocinco, Brady loves to spread the ball around to all of his weapons. Wes Welker is typically Brady's first option, but there are a pair of young studs at tight end and running backs who are exceptional catching balls.   

They brought back a player Brady loves in Deion Branch last year after he had failed with the Seattle Seahawks. All Branch did was grab 48 balls in 11 games as an extra receiver. New England also has three young receivers in reserve.   

The blocking also got a huge boost, further cementing Belichick's brilliance. Brian Waters was released by the Kansas City Chiefs in a cost-cutting move despite coming off his fifth Pro Bowl year. Coincidentally, Waters was cut by Belichick disciple Scott Pioli.  Waters will be a reserve behind an already exceptional offensive line. Nate Solder, the Pats' top pick in 2011, will spend this year sitting and learning behind Matt Light at left tackle.  

Yet the most interesting part of the New England offense might be at running back. BenJarvis Green-Ellis was never drafted in 2008, but he became a 1,000-yard back last year. Belichick already had the speedy Danny Woodhead behind Green-Ellis, but he drafted two more running backs who will probably contribute right away.   

If Haynesworth or Mike Wright falters at defensive end, 11-year veteran Shaun Ellis is ready to go. Ellis is coming off a Pro Bowl year, so he should be a factor. The secondary looks so good that Belichick recently cut 2007 first-round pick Brandon Meriweather and 2009 second-round pick Darius Butler. Sergio Brown, an undrafted player who had 11 tackles in his 2010 rookie year, will now start at strong safety.   

The rich literally do get richer when it comes to the Patriots. A team coming off a 14-2 season usually doesn't make a lot of roster moves, but New England will have seven new starters this year.   

The end of the season should see this team in the running for a playoffs spot, and many fans think they will play in the Super Bowl as well. While there are several veterans on the roster who know how to win, there is a lot of youngsters that should keep this team near to top for many years ahead.      


3. Miami Dolphins

The best part of the Dolphins' 2010 season was the defense. It ranked sixth best in the NFL for total yards allowed, and was equally stout against both the run and pass. Minus the sudden retirement on linebacker Channing Crowder, every starter returns.   

With the offense being the weak link last year, Miami used four of their first six draft picks to help that side of the ball. All four made the team, and three figure to be a big part of the offense right away.    

Mike Pouncey is the twin of Maurkice Pouncey, a center who made the Pro Bowl in his 2010 rookie year. He was the Dolphins' first-round pick, after playing at nearby Florida University, and will start right away at center.   

Charles Clay, another rookie, will start at fullback. Marc Colombo was signed as a free agent and will start at right tackle, moving incumbent Venon Carey in at guard. Reggie Bush, who was acquired in an offseason trade, will compete with rookie Donald Thomas for the bulk of carries at halfback.   

Brian Daboli replaces Dan Henning as offensive coordinator. Henning, who brought back the single-wing offense to the NFL (dubbed "Wildcat), retired after being a part of professional football since 1964.    

Daboli is from the Bill Belichick coaching tree. He earned three Super Bowl rings in various coaching positions before joining the Cleveland Browns in 2009 as an offensive coordinator. Both of his seasons there saw the Browns as one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL, so Miami is hoping he can get their offense to be better than the 30th rank they had in scoring during 2010.   

Miami has the defense to carry this team to a division title. The offense worked on their passing game a lot in the 2011 preseason, and had some successes. If they get good production from there, the Dolphins could very well be in the mix for a playoff spot in the final week of the 2011 season.      


4. Buffalo Bills

It seems the Bills have been stuck in rebuilding mode for awhile. Part of the reason is failed drafts. The Bills have had nine first-round picks since 2000 either fail or leave for other teams. The jury is still out on last year's top pick, but this years top pick, Marcell Dareus, has looked impressive thus far.   

Buffalo ranked 28th in both points scored and points allowed last year. They cut their starting center and will have two new starters on the right side of the line. Second-year pro Donald Jones has earned a starting job at wide receiver, and journeyman Scott Chandler starts at tight end.   

The defense lost their top three tacklers from 2010, and there will be five new starters this season. Nose tackle Kyle Williams is coming off a great 2010 season where he made the Pro Bowl.   

The secondary ranked third in passing yards allowed in 2010. This unit is the strength of the team, with the only change being that George Wilson will now start at strong safety. Buffalo has three new linebackers starting this year, and they are hoping Shawne Merriman can be the force off the edge he was in 2007 until injuries derailed his career.   

Buffalo has a good amount of youth on this roster, but there is 13 players 30-years or older. Head coach Chan Gailey will need several seasons turning over this roster, but Bills fans are tiring of this strategy that has kept the team out of the playoffs since 1999.          


AFC North    

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

Though the Steelers lost in Super Bowl XLV, the fact that they played in their second title game in four seasons just further cemented a legacy of being an elite NFL team.   

The defense is the face of this organization, much like it has been for the past 54 years for the franchise. Pittsburgh finished first in the NFL in points allowed and rushing defense in 2010, as well as second best in total yards allowed.   

Running the ball against the Steelers is one of the most difficult chores for NFL offenses. The unit got only better with the return of 13-year veteran Aaron Smith at defensive end, a team leader who has played just 11 games the past two years due to injuries.   

While Pittsburgh has long been known for their frugality, they opened up the vaults and lavished young linebackers Lamar Woodley and Lawrence Timmons with hefty contract extensions. Linebacker has long been a key position for the Steelers, and the young duo join 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, who has been named to the last four Pro Bowls, to give Pittsburgh perhaps the best unit in the league.   

2010 Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu joins Ryan Clark to give the Steelers a veteran safety duo in a secondary filled with experience. The secondary gives up the most yards on defense, but that is due to the fact opponents are usually unwilling to attempt to rush the ball much.   

The four game suspension of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hurt team continuity at the beginning of 2010. Even though the defense carried the team out of the gates at 3-0, it took Roethlisberger time to catch up to the rest of the offense.   

Halfback Rashard Mendenhall had his second consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2010, while adding 13 rushing scores. His excellence gives the team wonderful offensive balance with the veteran receiving corp of Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Mike Wallace.   

If there is one unknown for Pittsburgh this year, it is the offensive line. This unit was beat up by injuries last year, so they return with just two starters from that team. Willie Colon would have started last year, but he was injured.    

Jonathan Scott will man left tackle now that Max Starks was released. Scott's first four years in NFL was with two teams and had 14 starts, but the nine starts he had last year in place of an injured Starks impressed the team enough to go with him at this key position.   

There are not many NFL teams that had the quality depth of the Steelers, let alone the quality defensive unit. There are few observers who do not believe that this team is a serious Super Bowl contender once again.        


2. Baltimore Ravens

Sometimes one mans trash is another mans treasure. When the Ravens offensive underperformed in the 2011 preseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome picked up two Pro Bowlers off of the waiver wire.   

Bryant McKinnie ate himself out of a job in Minnesota, so the Ravens may be his last shot at being a starting left tackle in the NFL. Andre Gurode was let go by the Dallas Cowboys as a salary casualty, but he may start because Mat Birk is battling injuries.  

While the offense relies heavily on versatile halfback Ray Rice, Baltimore picked up Ricky Williams to back him up. Both will have Vonta Leach, perhaps the best blocking fullback in the game now, leading the way.   

Baltimore made a lot of changes in their receivers corp. They let veterans like Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, and Donte' Stallworth go. Lee Evans was acquired in a trade, giving the Ravens perhaps their best deep threat in team history.    

Evans and Anquan Boldin will have three rookies backing them up at wide receiver, while Heap's position will be filled by second-year pros Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitna. How this group of young receivers perform could be the difference between a Super Bowl or a failed season.   

The defense went through changes as well, even though future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed stayed on board. They gave the starting nose tackle position to Terrance Cody, the strong safety position to Tom Zbilowski, and one cornerback position to Domonique Foxworth after clearing the positions through free agency.   

The Ravens defense produced four Pro Bowlers last year after finishing third in points allowed. With their talent and experience, it is certainly feasible they are equally excellent this year.   

Baltimore has made the playoffs seven times since 2000, but they have not reached a Super Bowl since 2000. Lewis has clearly stated he came back this year to win it again, and this team follows their leaders word best they can.   

While having good depth at many positions, the one spot they are dreadfully thin at is quarterback. Joe Flacco never missed a game in his previous three years, but it is typical that quarterbacks get injured eventually. All that is behind him is a rookie whose best attribute is his legs.   

If Flacco goes down, the Ravens will be in major trouble. If he continues to stay healthy, Ozzie Newsome has surrounded him with enough weapons to get this team back to the promise land.        


3. Cleveland Browns

Ever since Mike Holmgren became the president of the Browns last year, he has slowly began overhauling a team that has made the playoffs just once since being reborn in 1999. After watching the team go 5-11 last year, changes began.   

The first move he made was overhauling the coaching staff by hiring a new head coach, who also serves as the offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator. He also hired three men, from his San Francisco 49ers days, to be on the coaching staff.   

The offensive line kept only Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas as starters. The defensive line has three new starters, and Cleveland has a new starting free safety.    

Offensively, Cleveland got two pleasant surprises last year. Colt McCoy was a rookie quarterback forced into action after the two veterans ahead of him got hurt. He played so well that he will keep the starting job this year.   

Peyton Hillis spent his first two NFL seasons as a reserve for the Denver Broncos, where he had 397 rushing yards. He exploded in the NFL in 2010 by pounding out 1,177 yards and 11 scores on the ground.   

Cleveland has kept just three halfbacks and a blocking fullback on the roster this year, so they are gambling that Hillis can do the job yet again. His reserves consist of a rookie and a second-year player who sat out all of last year with an injury.   

Holmgren is hoping the 2011 draft class does better than last year, where just three players helped the team.This year the team has just nine players over the age of 30-years old, while in 2010 the team averaged 27.5-years old.  

Holmgren needs time, but his track record shows he gets the job done. He has overseen two teams that reached the Super Bowl in his career so far. The Browns are headed in the right direction, something the famous "Dawg Pound" is certainly aware of.        

4. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals 2011 season already was in disarray before it began. Their star quarterback demanded a trade, refusing to play in the meantime, and their star wide receiver and clubhouse headcase was traded for a few low-round draft picks.   

Now they are stuck with a rookie quarterback, so Cincinnati will have to rely on their running game most likely. Cedric Benson has a good chance of surpassing the career high mark of 321 carries that he had in 2010.   

A.J. Green was the Bengals first draft pick this year, so the 6'4" receiver might end up being the primary target. While Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, and Jerome Simpson show promise, the Bengals also picked up the explosive Brandon Tate off of waivers to help the receiving unit.   

The offensive line will see two new starters on the right side, mainly because guard Bobbie Williams is serving a four game suspension for ingesting a banned substance. Andre Smith has been a huge disappointment since being the sixth overall draft selection in 2009, but the Bengals plan on starting him at right tackle.   

The defense will be missing linebacker Keith River and reserve defensive back Adam Jones for the first six weeks of the season. They also lost a starting cornerback to free agency. Cincinnati will have a new middle linebacker this year, and a new starting strong safety.  

Marvin Lewis has been the Bengals head coach since 2003. He was drafted for his defensive expertise, but the Bengals ranked 24th in points allowed in 2010.   

With a rookie quarterback with suspect arm strength, it could be a basic game plan of running the ball and hoping the defense is stout. If these factors fail, it could be a miserable season for the Bengals.          


AFC South

1. Houston Texans

The Texans were picked by many pundits to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2010. The offense didn't let them down, fishing third in the NFL in yards gained and ninth in points scored.  

But the defense was beyond terrible. Houston was ranked 30th in yards allowed and 29th in points scored. The pass defense was the worst in the league as well, helping Houston finish a disappointing 6-10.   

This might be the last chance for head coach Gary Kubiak to get his team over the hump. Kubiak enters his sixth year with the most talented team that he's had during his reign. Another letdown year could spell doom.   

The offense brings back reigning NFL rushing champ Arian Foster, as well as promising backup Ben Tate. Tate missed his 2010 rookie year to injury. Both halfbacks have run wild during the 2011 preseason.   

Andre Johnson, the Texans' top receiver, is coming off a 2010 season where he caught 86 balls and eight touchdowns. Tight end Owen Daniels, whose past two years have been hampered by injuries, tries to regain his 2008 Pro Bowl form.   

While seven starters return from last year's defense, they will move to a 3-4 base defense under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. One starter, Glover Quin, moves from cornerback to strong safety.   

The hiring of defensive guru Phillips, who has a long history of improving defenses, is the biggest move Houston has made this offseason. The Texans also signed two free agents in cornerback Johnathan Joseph and free safety Danieal Manning, while using the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft on mammoth defensive end J.J. Watt.   

Mario Williams, a two-time Pro Bowler has 48 career sacks in his five seasons since being the first pick of the 2006 draft. He moves from defensive end to outside linebacker, where Phillips hopes to take advantage of his 6'6" frame and pass-rushing skills.   

With the expected improvement at defense to go with an explosive offense, Houston hopes to see their first professional football team make the playoffs since the Oilers did so back in 1993. They might also win their division too.        


2. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio has been on a mission to improve the defense. He has picked up two solid staring defensive tackles and a cornerback the past two drafts, then hit the free-agent market for more pieces.   

While defensive end Aaron Kampman was an injury disappointment in 2010, it did not stop Del Rio from gambling on other players with injury-filled pasts. Paul Poslusny and Clint Session will start at linebacker after just being signed by Jacksonville this year.   

Dawan Landry was a solid strong safety for the Baltimore Ravens since 2006, but he will now play free safety because Courtney Greene finished third in tackles last year for the Jags despite missing two games. Dwight Lowery was just acquired in a trade, and he should be valuable in the nickel package.   

Matt Roth was brought in as a free agent to start at defensive end, hopefully bookending a healthy Kampman. Roth hasn't played defensive end since 2007, having been moved to outside linebacker.   

Jacksonville expects the defense to be better in 2011, especially against the run. They were 29th in rushing scores allowed last year, and 22nd in rushing yards allowed. The four veterans they just signed are expected to make a positive impact, but the fear of them staying healthy is heightened due to their track records.   

Offense revolves around halfback Maurice Jones-Drew. Drew deserves some sort of medal for 2010, having a Pro Bowl year despite playing the entire season with a torn meniscus in his knee. Though he did miss two games, he still piled up 1,324 yards on the ground and was named Running Back of the Year by the NFL Alumni Association.   

David Garrard has been the primary quarterback since 2006. He made the Pro Bowl in 2009, but threw a career high 15 interceptions last year. Jacksonville released him a few days before their first game, bringing back memories of the 2007 season when Garrard got the job after Brian Leftwich was cut a week before the season started.   

The new quarterback will be journeyman Luke McCown. He has a couple of nice targets to throw to in Mike Thomas and Mercedes Lewis, but losing Mike Sims-Walker to free agency will hurt. Jason Hill, who has 51 career receptions in five years, will battle rookie Cecil Shorts and Jarett Dillard for snaps.    

Dillard was hurt after seven games in his 2009 rookie season and hasn't played since. Undrafted rookie Jamar Newsome may be in the mix after averaging nearly 20 yards per catch in the 2011 preseason.   

Jacksonville struggled to score or pass on offense last season, and it appears they could repeat this problem again in 2011 because they really didn't add any new parts. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville's top pick this year, needs time to sit and learn how to be an NFL quarterback. The rumor is he is expected to be the starter in a few weeks.   

There are discrepancies over the sudden Garrard release. While some think it was a cost cutting move because he made close to $8 million a year, Del Rio claims it was based on a sub-par 2011 preseason.  

Del Rio, already on the hot seat, may have sealed his fate with this move. Depite a few holes in the Jaguars 2010 roster, they still finished second in their division.  

With the upgrades made on defense, Del Rio is hoping his team will win their first division title since 1999. If not, the Jags could soon be looking to hire the third head coach in franchise history.        


3. Tennessee Titans

The start of the 2011 season could be tough for the Titans. Owner Bud Adams dragged his heels on giving holdout star running back Chris Johnson a raise, waiting until about a week left in training camp to do so.   

While most starters from 2010 return, Johnson will have to quickly get acclimated with new quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. He will also need to work with rookie Jake Locker in case Hasselbeck gets hurt. All the reps Johnson lost with those two in training camp could come back to haunt Tennessee.   

The defense will have two new linebackers in free-agent signee Barrett Ruud and rookie Akeem Ayers. Fifth-round pick Karl Klug has won a starting job at defensive tackle, beating out fellow rookie Jurrell Casey despite being drafted two rounds later.   

Veteran journeyman Shaun Smith will start as the other defensive tackle, moving Jason Jones back to his more natural position at defensive end. William Hayes is bookending Jones, replacing the departed Jacob Ford.   

The secondary is the same as last year, except Jason McCourty replaces Alterraun Verner at cornerback. McCourty, the twin brother of New England Patriots star cornerback Devin McCourty, lost his starting job to Verner last year after getting hurt.   

The defense was 26th in the NFL in yards allowed last season, while giving up over 21 points per game. There is concern that there won't be a vast improvement this year because of the new defensive line full of of uncertainties.   

Tennessee was a streaky team the last two years. They started out 0-6 in 2009, then finished 8-8. The 2010 season saw them burst out with a 5-2 record, then win just one game the rest of the way.   

Mike Munchak, a Hall of Famer who has been with the organization since 1982, is the new head coach and will try to find more consistency for his team. It may take some time for him to rebuild the team he wants, but the Titans have the talent to win a division that could be decided in the final week.        


4. Indianapolis Colts

Ever since the NFL blatantly slanted their rules to help the quarterback, no team has relied more on this position than the Colts. As future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning goes, so goes the franchise.   

Manning, who holds the record for four NFL MVP awards, has never missed a game since being drafted in 1998. He comes into 2011 with a nagging neck injury that will end his consecutive games streak, and his return is uncertain after recent surgery.   

Most assumed he would be there opening day. His former coach Tony Dungy recently said Manning cares more about his being able to play than any awards he has ever received. The true leader of this team, Manning recently signed a $90 million contract for five years.   

While the Colts offense should be excellent as usual whenever Manning is back at the helm, there is still some concern over who will be blocking. Indianapolis has had an inconsistent ground game recently, thanks to halfback Joseph Addai's inability to stay healthy and Donald Brown being a disappointment after being a first round draft pick in 2009.   

Manning has dealt with poor offenses lines before easily. He gets rid of the ball fast and calls the right plays to avoid taking too many hits. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark are his favorite targets, but the ball gets spread around to whoever the Colts put out there.   

Defense is the issue in Indianapolis for 2011. The run defense has been bad the last three years, never finishing higher than 24th in yards allowed. It has looked just as porous during the 2011 preseason.   

Gary Brackett is their best linebacker, yet he has had just one healthy season since 2006. Pat Angerer, who was second on the team in tackles in his rookie season last year, will join newly acquired Ernie Sims as the other starters at linebacker. Sims, the ninth overall selection in the 2006 draft, has not played as well as once hoped.   

The Colts have high hopes for a talented defensive secondary that was beat up and hurt most of 2010. Justin Tyron was picked up off waivers and started six games because injuries hit this unit so hard.   

Kerry Collins was coaxed out of retirement after it became clear Curtis Painter was not ready to start at quarterback while Manning is out. Collins enters his 17th NFL season and will soon be 39 years old. Expect the Colts to run the ball more than usual with him starting, because he has been in the Colts' system less than a month.   

Indianapolis can pass and stop the pass, but the ground game is nothing special on both sides of the ball. They have made the playoffs in 11 of Manning's 13 seasons at the helm, so they are capable of winning the division a third straight year.            


AFC West

1. San Diego Chargers

How does a team that lead the NFL in offensive yards gained and defensive yards allowed, as well as being ranked second in scoring, finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs? It is done by having journeyman head coach Norv Turner at the helm.  

Turner somehow kept his job this year, just like he somehow keeps getting hired after being fired. San Diego is the sixth team he has coached since 2000, and he has been with San Diego since 2007.   

San Diego brings back most of the offensive talent that made them so productive in 2010. They did lose defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Greg Manusky takes over for a unit that has many changes.   

Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes might be the new inside linebackers for the Bolts. Spikes enters his 14th season, and the two-time Pro Bowler is solid. Butler spent his 2010 rookie season injured after being drafted in the third round. Steven Cooper, a Charger for eight years, is in the mix.   

Seven-year veteran Travis LaBoy joins San Diego this year and is expected to start at outside linebacker, in spite of missing most of the last two seasons to injury. Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, tries to reignite his career after playing just nine games total in the last three seasons.   

If the defense stays healthy and gels, the Chargers will be a dangerous team. They found out last year that Mike Tolbert could do the job at halfback after Ryan Mathews got hurt. The versatility of their offense will give opponents headaches. San Diego could very well represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

That is if Norv Turner doesn't get in their way once again.      


2. Kansas City Chiefs

One of the biggest offseason moves for the defending AFC West champions was the changing of offensive coordinators. Bill Muir, who has NFL experience as both a defensive and offensive coordinator, takes over for Charlie Weiss after Weiss suddenly bolted back to the collegiate ranks.   

Muir's first duty is to keep the running game going after losing their five-time Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters. Ownership chose not to pay the 34-year old despite a 2010 Pro Bowl year.    

Kansas City will also need to find a way to use 2010 second round pick Dexter McCluster. The tiny running back wasn't used much on offense last year, mainly lining up as a kick returner.    

Jonathan Baldwin, the Chiefs top pick this year, has had a tough training camp where his attitude has been questioned. He had just one reception this preseason.   

Scott Pioli, Kansas City's general manager, did make some good moves. He signed Steve Breaston, an exciting wide receiver and punt returner. But veteran defensive lineman Kelly Gregg may have been the Chiefs best signing, because the veteran nose tackle has a non-stop motor and knows how to win.   

Le'Ron McClain left the Baltimore Ravens, like Gregg, to join the Chiefs. He is a fullback who can block, catch, and be the feature running back if needed. These three veterans are expected to help immensely in 2011.   

Kansas City had the top rushing attack in the NFL last year. The defense was average, but this mostly young unit is expected to be better this year.


3. Oakland Raiders

What AFC team has a group of running backs as good as Oakland? The depth of quality at this position might be unmatched throughout the league.   

What holds the Raiders back offensively is a young group of wide receivers not playing up to their potential yet. Jason Campbell, who will be playing quarterback in the same system in back-to-back seasons in one of the few times since his high school days, had the youngsters stay at his house this summer as they worked on getting better together.   

The results of this sage move will be seen in 2012, but Oakland fans want to see Darrius Heyward-Bey to show why he was the seventh overall selection in the 2009 draft. He has just 35 receptions in his career, and has showed little progress as a player so far.   

The offensive line, long a sore spot for Oakland, has seen many changes. The left guard position now has rookie Stefan Wisniewski instead of the departed Robert Gallery. The best move might take a few years to notice.    

Oakland hired Raiders legend Steve Wisniewski to coach the unit, a man known for being nasty, tough, and consistent in a career worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He will mentor this unit, which includes his nephew Stefan, to play the game with the same attitude that he had.   

The Raiders run defense has been horrible for many years, but young middle linebacker Rolando McClain is making excellent progress. He is also much better against the pass than advertised.   

The pass defense, which was very good on 2010, lost the best cornerback in football, Nnamdi Asomugha, to free agency. They are confident that their anointed starters will do fine, but the reserves are the question when they use extra defensive backs.   

Rookie Demarcus Van Dyke will be counted on, but Oakland may not have enough quality depth in their secondary. Joe Porter, who has bounced around the league on practice squads since 2007, will be the other reserve cornerback.   

Oakland came close to the playoffs last year, and they expect to get there this season. A great running game can carry a team a long way, but the usual questions of their passing game and run defense may curtail aspirations.        


4. Denver Broncos

Tim Tebow fans will get their fix on certain plays throughout the season, but Denver needs starter Kyle Orton to man the quarterback position all season if they want a chance at success. Orton, while not spectacular nor flaunted by the media, is a solid player who makes sound decisions.   

Orton needs Denver to have an effective ground game. Knowshon Moreno has been good during his first two years, churning out 1,726 yards, but the acquisition of veteran Willis McGahee with save him a few hard hits around the goal-line especially.   

Brandon Lloyd was one of a few wide receivers to come out of nowhere to star for their teams in 2010. He is Orton's favorite target, and also the most consistent.   

John Fox was hired as the head coach this year to fix the defense. Von Miller and Raheem Moore, both drafted in the first and second rounds this year, will start at linebacker and free safety respectively.  

Brodrick Bunkley was acquired in a trade to start at defensive tackle. Losing veteran Ty Warren to injury hurts the run defense, but graybeards Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey will be there to clean up any mistakes.  

The run defense has looked a bit better in preseason, but time will tell. Hall of Famer John Elway was brought in to rebuild. Hiring Fox was the first step, but progress might not be blatantly seen until 2012.        



Detroit Lions @ Saint Louis Rams

Doormats to the NFL no more, the Lions pull it out late thanks to the stellar play of their defensive line.    


Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles

Kevin Kolb does a fine job against his old team, but the Eagles just have too much talent for the Big Red this day.      


Baltimore Ravens @ New York Jets

This is a grueling battle that is decided by a Ray Rice touchdown run.      


New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The best game of the playoffs, both teams go back and forth as bodies leave the field bruised and bloodied. Troy Polamalu deflects a ball that Ryan Clark catches to thwart the Patriots late in the fourth, preserving a Steelers victory.        


Detroit Lions @ Atlanta Falcons

Detroit is happy to be here, but the Falcons already have. Their balanced attack and experience prevail.      


Philadelphia Eagles @ Green Bay Packers

Those three Pro Bowl cornerbacks Philadelphia kept on the roster come up big, allowing the pass rush to reach Aaron Rodgers more often than not. Green Bay's defense keeps them in the game, but Michael Vick finds Steve Smith in the end zone with less than a minute to go for the win.      


Baltimore Ravens @ Houston Texans

Houston hosts their first playoff game ever, but the Texans are no match for the veteran Ravens.      


Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Diego Chargers

Norv Turner coaches his last game with the Chargers as the Steelers take advantage of a series of bad play-calling in thefourth quarter.        


Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons

Vick returns to more jeers than cheers in Atlanta, but he has the last laugh as the Eagles pass defense shuts down the Falcons passing game.      


Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers had won the previous three playoff meetings with Baltimore, but they come in limping today. With few points on the scoreboard, Billy Cundiff hits a field goal as time expires to send the Ravens to the big game.      


Super Bowl XLVI

Baltimore Ravens @ Philadelphia Eagles

Vick gets off to a hot start to keep Philly in the game, but Ray Rice is running wild. Down by a score late in the fourth, Vick gambles and Ed Reed picks off the pass. Flacco takes a knee three times as Ray Lewis retires at the top of the mountain holding the trophy.      





NFL MVP : Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Player of the Year : Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

Defensive Player of the Year : Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions

Offensive Rookie of the Year : Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins  

Defensive Rookie of the Year : J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Comeback Player of the Year : Ben Tate, Houston Texans

Coach of the Year : Steve Spagnuolo, Saint Louis Rams

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