It is that time of year again. Before Dave and the rest of the team make their predictions, I would like to offer mine.
I encourage the rest of the Cowboys fanbase here to do so as well. After the jump, my ranking on how the 2011 NFL Season will shake out.
Before we go around the league and make the predictions, (which will be in the form of a ranking from 32-1) I am not going to go all homer and predict the Super Bowl championship for the Cowboys, but this is a guess in how the season will shake out.
32. San Francisco: 0-16; It isn't easy to predict an 0-16 team, but this team could beat the 2008 Detroit Lions. In a serious move, I am predicting this because the lockout basically eliminated the entire offseason including everything that Jim Harbaugh would have needed to prepare for the upcoming season. Given that he was a college coach at Stanford and was hurt by the lockout, the 49ers have been hit with a double whammy. On the bright side, they get the first stab at Andrew Luck.
31. Carolina: 1-15; The Panthers have been here before given that in one season, they beat the Minnesota Vikings to open the regular season and then lost their next 15. The only plus for the Panthers is that Ron Rivera has NFL coaching experience, but like the 49ers, haven't had the normal offseason to put together their playbook and gameplans.
30. Tennessee: 3-13; By now you likely noticed a pattern where the new head coaches are near the bottom of the league. That is true of the Titans as well with Mike Munchak. The only difference between him and the teams below Tennessee is that the Titans are more of an experienced team and should be able to pull off a late season upset or two as the team begins to gel, which means that 3/4 of the NFC South better be on upset alert. Overall, this team could be a sleeper, but I would doubt it
29. Washington: 3-13; Mike Shanahan's days could be numbered in Washington. The way that the team is being ran is right into the ground and the Redskins could easily be 0-16. At this point, the Redskins could do better with Brad Childress and Brett Favre leading the team. At least Jerry Jones is learning his lesson, Dan Synder is basically running a great franchise to the ground and the only way the team gets better is if he sells the Redskins.
28. Denver: 3-13; The good news is that the Broncos have John Elway. The bad news, the lockout destroyed John Fox's offseason. Regardless, I believe the Broncos are in pretty good position basically because the compete in the AFC West. Still, the prep time had been reduced to 10 days total before the first preseason game, and that could hurt the team. However, Denver could surprise a few teams, but I would think more along the lines of long term for this franchise.
27. NY Giants: 4-12; This isn't a misprint. For the most part, the Giants might have peaked last season, and the team is facing a somewhat tougher schedule given that this will be Jason Garrett's first full season as head coach of the Cowboys. Given that there is turnover on the offensive line as well as the defensive line, this season could be rough. Translation, this could be Tom Coughlin's last season as head coach.
26. Miami: 5-11; I am pretty much putting the Dolphins in this position because of their quarterback situation. Given that the team plays in the AFC East, facing the Jets and Patriots must be daunting to say the least, but there is also match-ups with Dallas, Philadelphia, the Giants, San Diego, and Kansas City for the Dolphins schedule. At least there is their defense.
25. Buffalo: 5-11; I can see at least a 1 win improvement for the Bills. Most of this reason stems from the fact that the team has improved as the 2010 season played out. This team could be a true sleeper in the AFC East. Though my prediction is above, an 8-8 record could be possible for this team.
24. Oakland: 5-11; Another team with a coaching change. The reason here is because Al Davis was too dumb to know that an 8-8 record for Tom Cable is just fine for a club headed into the lockout. Given that the Raiders beat San Diego twice in one season and had a 6-0 record in the division, is not a recipe for getting rid of a head coach. Add in the losses due to free agency and Hue Jackson should be the latest coach to be one and done in the Raiders system. The only thing left for the Raiders to do is leave Oakland for Orlando, FL and name Craig T. Nelson head coach.
23. Jacksonville: 6-10; Not calling it a rebuilding year for Jack Del Rio's team, but the truth is that the Jaguars are facing a major change due to bad drafting in the past, and the fact that they believe that Blaine Gabbert is the future at quarterback. What hurts the most is that Jacksonville got lucky as the season progressed, and ran into the Cowboys at the right time while all but ending Houston's playoff hopes with a last second hail-mary. Finally, this schedule is tough given that they face the NFC South and AFC North in addition with their twice yearly meeting with both Indianapolis and Houston.
22. Cincinnati: 6-10; This is a team that could either improve or falter. Given that the Bengals were 4-12 last season, they do have no way to go but up. The truth is that Cincinnati did undergo a full renovation given that Carson Palmer has retired and Andy Dalton will be taking over at quarterback. At least Marvin Lewis has one more shot at proving that he is a good head coach in the NFL.
21. Seattle: 6-10; The Seahawks are in the somewhat weak NFC West and could be a surprise this season thanks to Pete Carroll. Helping the team is the fact that the new coaches are familiar with the NFL, but they are facing a tougher schedule simply because they are division champs though they could surprise.
20. Detroit: 7-9; Though the Lions are a trendy pick to be a sleeper playoff team in 2011, the truth is that Matthew Stafford is injury plagued, and there haven't been too many changes to the roster. Still, the Monday night game vs the Bears will be huge. Also huge is pretty much keeping the entire staff in place and that will help the Lions as the season progresses.
19. Cleveland: 7-9; Pat Shurmur is new at head coaching, but the thing is that it will not hurt Cleveland too much. The playbook comes from the general manager, the offense is pretty much the same from last season, and the defense should be slightly improved. Also helping is a good stretch of five games starting on September 25th that are winnable, and there is a bye thrown in for good measure as well.
18. Green Bay: 8-8; Yes, I am predicting the Packers to regress this season, but the truth is that they weren't as good as most people think. The reason for this is because of the team's 10-6 record last season and the fact that if Michael Vick completed a key fourth quarter pass in the NFC Wild Card Game vs the Packers, Green Bay would not be Super Bowl Champs. Also, this is a team that had to beat Chicago just to get to the postseason. Translation, the target will be on them this season, and they will fall.
17. Minnesota: 9-7; In what could be the last season in Minnesota Vikings history, (Metrodome lease is up after this season and if AEG could get their stadium deal finalized, the Vikings could be out) I believe the Vikings will improve. The situation was basically the same between the Vikings and Cowboys. Leslie Frazier is the new coach, but was the interim coach last season. The only difference between the two teams is that the Vikings did lose the Metrodome for the last two games of the season. Though the offense is somewhat new, expect the defense to carry this team.
16. Kansas City: 10-6; I can honestly see the Chiefs with the same record as last season and miss the playoffs. The reason is because the Chargers lost to Oakland twice. If they beat the Raiders twice, it is possible Kansas City would have missed last season. With that said, the same exact team is here, but one year older and wiser. They could be a playoff contender.
15. Atlanta: 10-6; Another team that could likely just miss out on the playoffs. I am calling it regression here because there is only so much that one offense can do. The reality is that the NFC South is a tough division, and Atlanta is going into this season with a target on their backs because of last year's division championship, and the fact that Green Bay gave the league the formula for beating the Falcons.
14. New Orleans: 10-6; The Saints finish second in the division and could regress by one or two games. They had an overhaul in their offensive backfield and defensive line, and that might lead to a slow start. However, they might end up getting off to a strong start as well and a five game stretch starting October 16, will be key to their season.
13. Houston: 10-6; I honestly think Houston will improve this season. The reason is because their current offense plan is pretty much intact. With Wade Phillips doing all right on defense, expect another team to come calling, but he is back in the city where daddy Bum coached. This season may come down to a game vs Indianapolis.
12. Chicago: 10-6; In a shock, the Bears are back in the postseason for the second year in a row. The reason why I am saying that the Bears could be a good team is due to their defense. However injuries will haunt and the Bears could see that happen, and a lost season could occur.
11. Arizona: 11-5; In a shocker, I pick the Cardinals to make it to the playoffs. Most of that is due to the fact that the quarterback situation is in better position than a year ago and also the fact that the Cardinals have a great early schedule. The only question marks are games vs the Giants and at Minnesota. The last five look promising as well where the Cardinals could realistically finish 10-6 and win the division.
10. Baltimore: 12-4; I do have the Ravens finishing 12-4, but the truth is that they could finish 11-5 and still make the playoffs as the 5th or 6th seed. In this case, my reasoning is because they need to get by Pittsburgh to have a shot at the AFC North title. However, injuries could cause Houston or Kansas City to take a playoff spot. That will likely happen if anything happens to Ray Lewis.
9. San Diego: 12-4; This is the same team for the most part, but they have a better run defense or it seems like it. Regardless, this team finished 9-7 last season and could have made the playoffs if they didn't lose twice to Oakland.
8. Philadelphia: 11-5; Another year, and another good (possible) season for the Eagles. I can see them at least with a middle of the road record with the tough games at the end of the season. If the defense gels, it will be the season of success in Philly, if not it will be the season of nope. (For the record, Philadelphia loses to the Cowboys on the Divisional Tie-breaker.)
7. Dallas: 11-5; A lot has been said about the Cowboys this season. The simple thing is that the defense should and must hold for us to have any success against anybody. I am not predicting Super Bowl or Bust, but the Cowboys will at least figure into the NFC East race.and there have been encouraging signs throughout camp that at least the offense is gelling.
6. Indianapolis: 11-5; Once again the Colts are division champs, that is if Peyton Manning can stay healthy and the offense can stay together. The main question is the defense which could be hurt by key departures. In the end, Colts fans better be enjoying the team right now, because rebuilding is just around the corner and Peyton goes into his second career as an actor. Football Cops anyone?
5. Pittsburgh: 13-3; The Steelers lost the last Super Bowl which means that the next season is supposed to be horrible at best. not so for the Steelers who I see as a team that will stay in contention again and again. One note, they could be knocked out of the playoffs by one point.
4. Tampa Bay: 11-5; I can see the NFC South winner in this Bucs team. The thing is that almost nothing is new and a good defense and offense could make this team at least a Super Bowl contender unlike the paper champs in Philadelphia.
3. New England: 12-4; One thing about the Patriots is that New England is always reloading, and problems with other teams could make this team frightening to meet in the playoffs. Rule number one about the NFL, don't count out Bill Belichick and his new quarterback if it isn't Tom Brady.
2. St. Louis: 12-4; I think this could be the start of quite a few NFC West titles for the Rams. The reason is because they not only play in a weak division, but they also have a good offense led by Sam Bradford while the defense is starting to come together.
1. NY Jets: 13-3; I see the Jets as one of the best teams in the league despite defensive issues. However, everything will depend on how they play New England. A mistake here or there could cause mental breakdowns and lead to the team failing to make the playoffs for the third year in a row. If that is the case, expect the unraveling to begin this Sunday.
NFC Wild Cards: Tampa Bay over Arizona, Philadelphia over Chicago
AFC Wild Cards: New England over San Diego, Indianapolis over Baltimore
NFC Divisional Weekend: St. Louis over Philadelphia, Tampa Bay over Dallas
AFC Divisional Weekend: NY Jets over Indianapolis, New England over Pittsburgh
NFC Championship: St. Louis over Tampa Bay
AFC Championship: NY Jets over New England
Super Bowl 36: NY Jets over St. Louis