The 2011 NFL season kicks off this Thursday, September 8 with a Super Bowl showdown. The 2009 champion New Orleans Saints will travel to Wisconsin to play the reigning champions, the Green Bay Packers. With a summer that included the NFL Lockout and the craziest free agent period in the history of the league, this season brings more fan anticipation than any I can ever remember.
Perhaps the biggest story of the preseason has been with the Tennessee Titans and their star running back. After holding out for over a month for more money, Chris Johnson finally got what he wanted, a 4-year contract worth over $53 million, with $30 million guaranteed. This not only makes him the highest paid running back in the history of the sport, but he is now one of the top 10 highest paid players in the league. If you ask me, Tennessee will not have the salary cap room to bring in enough talent to support CJ and make a Super Bowl run anytime in the near future, especially on the defensive end of the ball.
The following AFC teams, however, are my favorites to win their respective divisions and make a legitimate run deep into the playoffs:
AFC East – Even with the New York Jets having one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL with Antonio Cromartie & Darrelle Revis, their offense will continue to struggle regardless of adding Plaxico Burress. With Tom Brady still being one of the best quarterbacks and adding a new target in Chad Ochocinco, the New England Patriots will again clinch the division early enough to rest some of their starters late while also getting a bye in the first round.
AFC North – This division will be a two-team show between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and the Steelers will come out on top again. Ray Lewis simply does not have the same quickness he once did, and in order for the Ravens to win, their defense needs to hold opponents to low point totals to have a chance. Unfortunately, the 270 Points Against total from 2010 will simply go up making things harder on Joe Flacco and the offense. “Big Ben” Roethlisberger will not have to deal with a suspension this season, and with the aging yet aggressive receiver Hines Ward running down the sideline, there will surely be many touchdowns through the air. On the other side of the ball, USC alumni Troy Polamalu will prevent touchdowns with his stellar coverage and hard-hitting tackles.
AFC South – My pick for the South may be a stretch, but I am going with the Houston Texans. Andre Johnson and Arian Foster are easily top three at their positions, and an additional year of maturity should help them lead Houston to a much better finish than their 6-10 record from last season. Matt Schaub is also one of the most underrated players in the league. This dynamic offensive trio is ready to overtake division rival Indianapolis who has been without franchise quarterback Peyton Manning all preseason.
AFC West – Though they were most people’s favorite last year but choked down the stretch, I still need to give it up to the San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates still dominate the passing game in California, and Ryan Matthews showed flashes of brilliance last year leaving Chargers fans hopeful that they’ve finally found a suitable replacement for former star running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The biggest advantage the Chargers have entering the season is they get to play the other teams in their division twice. Based on the performance of the AFC West this preseason, I would not be surprised if San Diego is the only team to finishes above .500.
Agree with my predictions? Think I’m way off? Let me know who you have going to the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis! Check in tomorrow for my NFC predictions, and be sure to check out our AFC collectibles on Pro Sports Memorabilia.