The NFL season is finally here. It kicks off tonight when the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers play host to the 2009 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Athlon Sports' editorial staff made its predictions in the Athlon Sports Pro Football 2011 Preview magazine, and here they are.
Falcons (5) over Rams (4)
Saints (3) over Giants (6)
Packers (1) over Falcons (5)
Eagles (2) over Saints (3)
Packers (1) over Eagles (2)
SUPER BOWL XVLI
Packers over Patriots
1. New England Patriots
Belichick and Brady marching toward fifth Super Bowl berth. 2. New York Jets
Ryan still hungry after back-to-back trips to the AFC title game. 3. Miami Dolphins
Need more All-Pros to “take their talents to South Beach.” 4. Buffalo Bills
Gailey unveiling “hybrid” defense anchored by versatile Dareus.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Hits-burgh gunning for record ninth Super Bowl appearance. 2. Baltimore Ravens
Fans hoping this year isn’t farewell tour for Lewis and Reed. 3. Cleveland Browns
Just what curse of Cleveland sports needed, a Madden cover. 4. Cincinnati Bengals
Bungles are back; Dalton era starts now.
1. Houston Texans
Phillips bringing his 3-4 scheme south from Big D to Houston. It's all setup for Kubiak to win now. 2. Tennessee Titans
Munchak and Locker replacing Fisher and Young in Music City. 3. Indianapolis Colts
No Manning for 2-3 months means few wins for 2-3 months. 4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Garrard cut just days before the season begins, MJD coming off a bum knee, it's not looking good.
1. San Diego Chargers
Possible move to L.A. a black cloud hanging over sunny San Diego. 2. Kansas City Chiefs
Will offense remain as potent without Weis calling plays? 3. Oakland Raiders
Climbing out of the Black Hole after many years of obscurity. 4. Denver Broncos
New regime of Elway and Fox has a Mile High mountain to scale.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Super Bowl expectations for “Dream Team” assembled in Philly. 2. New York Giants
G-Men eager to put last season’s collapse and this preseason behind them. 3. Dallas Cowboys
New sheriff Garrett and healthy gunslinger Romo ready to ride. 4. Washington Redskins
Snyder and Shanahan most stubborn men in nation’s capital.
1. Green Bay Packers
Reigning champ Rodgers eyeing back-to-back title belts. 2. Detroit Lions
Motor City revving engines, eager for breakout season. 3. Chicago Bears
Egos bruised and flaws exposed by Packers in NFC title game. 4. Minnesota Vikings
Metrodome implosion symbolic of collapse as contenders.
1. New Orleans Saints
What lockout? Brees’ OTAs have Big Easy locked and loaded. 2. Atlanta Falcons
Bold draft-day moves prove Dirty Birds playing to win now. 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Young Bucs older and wiser after playoff-less 10-win ’10. 4. Carolina Panthers
Newton bringing Cammy-Cam Juice and Midas touch to Charlotte.
1. St. Louis Rams
McDaniels joining Bradford for new-look Greatest Show on Turf. 2. San Francisco 49ers
Harbaugh hoping to follow Bill Walsh from Stanford to Super Bowl(s). 3. Arizona Cardinals
Paid king’s ransom in trade and contract extension for Kolb. 4. Seattle Seahawks
Hasselbeck and Tatupu leave leadership void on both sides of ball.
Will Mike Vick become a fantasy bust this year? The reason we think he will be if you make him a Top 5 drafted QB. Why? Because of trust.
We don’t trust that the 31-year-old will have the kind of year on the ground that he had last season, when he piled up 676 yards and nine scores. Since the 1960s, no quarterback who has rushed for even eight touchdowns in a season has come back to score more than five the next year.
We don’t trust that the career 55 percent passer will repeat his 62.6 percent performance from a year ago. He had eclipsed 55.3 percent passing in a season only one time before last year, and he did not hit last year’s 62.6 percent season mark in any of his final four games of the season.
We don’t trust that Vick’s offensive line has improved enough to keep him comfortable in the pocket, despite the fact that the Eagles need to do all they can to protect their key asset with Vince Young, never having run the West Coast offense, being the next man up.
In the six games after his monster 57.3-point fantasy effort against Washington, Vick attempted more than 38 passes five times — something he had not done in his first six games of the season — and he was intercepted in all but one of the games, fumbled nine times (lost three of them) and had 19 of his 34 sacks.
Did defenses figure him out? Well if they didn’t, they have certainly had nothing but time during this lockout to study all they need to about the new-and-improved Michael Vick.
And we had Vick ranked sixth at QB and 26th overall well before DeSean Jackson decided to hold out and long before knowing of Jeremy Maclin's health issues. These two factors don't help his cause much, either.
Combining all the above with the fact that we also don’t believe he will make it a full 16 games has led us to the following conclusion: Beware of Vick in 2011.
We DO trust the quarterbacks who have done it year in and year out in recent memory more than we trust a player who finally put it together for one season and didn’t even stay healthy in the process.
Our Old Reliables are Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers — all quarterbacks who succeeded with missing pieces last year and have been there at the top year after year.
That five-man group has started 537 of a possible 560 games (95.9 percent) since becoming starters for their respective teams. Of the 23 missed starts by these five, Brady accounts for 15. He tore his ACL and MCL a little over seven minutes into the first game of the 2008 season.
We are willing to take the chance that, while they may score fewer points than Vick, their chances of being upright from Week 1 to Week 16 are much greater than the Philly scrambler’s. Vick, who was incarcerated during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and had to sit the bench in 2009, has started only 77 of a possible 90 regular-season games (85.5 percent) since 2002 and has played a 16-game season only once.
So take the risk if you’d like and waste another pick in the middle of your draft to get some insurance. Meanwhile, we will take the safe, proven bet — pick up a player in that same round who we can use multiple weeks and see who gets to the championship.
WHAT A PHILLY BEAT WRITER SAYS: Q: Vick: Better or worse in 2011? A: Depends which part of the first year you’re comparing him to. Vick put up some ridiculous numbers in wins over Washington and the New York Giants but tailed off at the end of the season as teams began finding ways to blitz him into poor decisions. Best guess: Vick will be steadier in 2011, putting up reliably good numbers without as many extreme highs or lows. Also, expect his rushing totals — Vick had nine of the Eagles’ 18 rushing TDs last year — to be down. One thing Vick and the coaches want is for him to protect his body more.
— Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer
Here’s how the five QBs we have ranked ahead of Vick have fared when it comes to starting games from the time they ascended to the starting role on their respective teams. Vick has started 77 of 90 games in that time. Player, Years — Starts
Aaron Rodgers, since 2008 — 47 of 48
Philip Rivers, since 2006 — 80 of 80
Peyton Manning, since 2002 — 144 of 144
Drew Brees, since 2002 — 137 of 144
Tom Brady, since 2002 — 129 of 144 Total starts, since 2002 — 537 of 560
An in-depth look at the Patriots' offense, defense and special teams this year.
A potent offense and a young defense that grew a great deal as the season went along propelled the Patriots to yet another AFC East title in 2010, but for the second straight year the team was one-and-done in the postseason, losing to their heated rivals, the Jets.
• Inside the Locker Room
With Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe
Over/under: Wes Welker catches 100 passes in 2011.
Under — but not by much. After three straight seasons with 111 or more receptions, Welker had a still-impressive 86 catches in ’10. The drop can likely be attributed to two things: The veteran underwent ACL surgery in February 2010, and though he was back in time for training camp, he admitted that he had a hard time trusting his knee, which likely affected his play; and the additions of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (who had 87 catches between them) and Danny Woodhead (34 catches) meant that Tom Brady didn’t have to look to Welker as often because he had other options. Still, Welker is a favored target of Brady’s, and with this being the final year of his contract, he’ll be looking to show he’s still dangerous.
What do the additions of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley mean for the fantasy value of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Woodhead?
It means that fantasy players really shouldn’t have a Patriots running back on their rosters, at least not to start the season. There aren’t as many one-back offenses these days, but there hasn’t been a true workhorse back in New England since Corey Dillon in 2004, and therefore having a Pats running back on your fantasy team has been frustrating ever since. Green-Ellis did crack 1,000 yards last year but got precious few chances as a receiver. Ridley is looked at as a power back, and Vereen is considered another third down option. If one — or both — of the rookies proves early on that he can contribute, it will affect the numbers of Green-Ellis and Woodhead.
What’s the most intriguing question regarding fantasy football and the Patriots in your opinion?*
Will the defense have a player worth picking up? As a unit, the Patriots’ defense was a decent option last year, particularly as the season went on: it had 25 interceptions and 36 sacks, and allowed just 47 points over the final five weeks. But Mike Wright was the leader in sacks at just 5.5 — and he missed the final six games. Jerod Mayo led the league in tackles, but doesn’t get the other stats that help drive up fantasy value. The best bet could be at defensive back and picking up cornerback Devin McCourty or safety Patrick Chung. *Editor’s Note: The Patriots traded with the Redskins for DT Albert Haynesworth
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: @WAS, @DEN, MIA
Tom Brady owners, feast your eyes on this: He starts the fantasy playoffs against defenses ranked 27th and 28th in points allowed to fantasy QBs a season ago. And if you can't decide between Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, use them both, as the Pats face defenses that were 19th, 27th and 18th against TEs, all allowing over 9.3 points per game to the position.
• Athlon Best Bets Sleeper: Tight ends Deep-Sleeper: Brandon Tate, WR Overvalued: Danny Woodhead, RB/WR Top Rookie: Shane Vereen, RB Bounce-Back: Stephen Gostkowski, K Top IDP: Jerod Mayo, LB
• Try to Avoid
Danny Woodhead, RB/WR
The cult hero of Foxboro will be hard-pressed to repeat his 2010 production with two elite tight ends, Wes Welker, two rookie RBs and BenJarvus Green-Ellis heavily involved in the offense. WAIT UNTIL: 12th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
Even though running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead were solid last season, Vereen and Ridley were added to the mix. Ridley could factor in around the goal line, while Vereen is more likely to serve as a change-of-pace option to Green-Ellis. Ryan Mallett could be used as future trade bait, while serving as the No. 3 quarterback this year.
The troubled wide receiver's ego is bigger than his stat line these days
NFL News: Randy Moss used to be a great player. It could be argued that he was the most gifted athlete ever to play the game of football. It can also be argued that he's not worth the trouble and baggage anymore.
Now rumors are surfacing that the New York Jets may be interested in signing Randy Moss to play opposite Santonio Holmes.