An infinite amount of questions abound leading up to the 2011 season that saw everything from a free agency frenzy to a lockout that sparked a few sweats from nearly every fan in America. Here are my top 10 questions for the 2011 NFL season.
10. Will Reggie Bush re-ignite his career as a Miami Dolphin? Removed from the limelight, fans only seem to hear Bush’s name when in reference to him forfeiting his Heisman Trophy. The change of scenery to the underachieving Dolphins may put a little less pressure and maybe a little more fire under his tail. Not the every down back that others expect, Bush will likely be used to spread a defense. He is at his finest when he catches the ball on the swing and has a few yards of running room to work with.
9. Does Joe Flacco beat the Steelers and become among the “elite” quarterbacks in the NFL? One of the more consistent players of recent years, Joe Flacco has started every game with the Ravens since being drafted in 2008. Flacco has also taken his Ravens squad to the playoffs in each of those years just to see them fall to the Pittsburg Steelers. Flacco and the Ravens seem to be getting the short end of the stick in the gritty series. I think this is the year he beats Big Ben and the terrible towels.
8. Can Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions win eight or more games? A few years removed from 0-16, the Lions have been on the rise each year. With what seems to be a healthy Matthew Stafford and their dynamic duo of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, the Lions will soon get over the proverbial hump. In three preseason games, Stafford has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions. With offensive production such as that to coincide with their defensive threats, the Lions have an opportunity to upset a few clubs and possibly make a run for the playoffs.
7. Does Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman outduel Matt Ryan and Drew Brees to win the division? After a 10-6 record in 2010 was not enough to make the playoffs due to the tough competition of the NFC South, the Bucs look to build on an impressive campaign and showcase by their talented young quarterback Josh Freeman. As a 7-9 record was good enough for the Seahawks to win the NFC West, it’s nearly certain it will take 11 or more wins to hold the reigns of the South. With both the Falcons and Saints finding their early exits from the 2010 postseason, Freeman and the Bucs may be able to steal a couple of games and wedge their way into the mix come January.
6. Is Peyton Manning healthy enough to play the entire 2011 season? Probably the most consistent player in the league, Peyton Manning has found himself missing the first three games of the preseason due to multiple neck surgeries in the offseason. There have been questions swirling around as to whether or not he will play in their opener and how effective he will be. The only question should be whether or not he is on the field because if he is there, healthy or not, his number will be better than most. The Colts better make sure number 18 is on the field because Dan Orlovsky, Kerry Collins, and Curtis Painter can’t carry an offense.
5. Will Tim Tebow finally get the opportunity to run the Broncos for good? What looked to be a close call in the offseason when the Broncos were considering a deal that would have sent Kyle Orton to Miami, Tim Tebow’s future is once again blurry. Now, the Broncos have announced they will be heading into 2011 with Orton at the helms once again. New Broncos coach John Fox has a lot of pressure to succeed and people want to see Tebow run the show. Expect Orton to have a short leash and if the Broncos start 0-2, number 15 could permanently be making his way off the sidelines.
4. Does Cam Newton start with the Carolina? Obviously the quarterback of the future for the Panthers, there are still questions around the league as to whether the former Heisman winner will start on Sundays. After such an impressive season that saw his name up in lights and Auburn winning the National Title, Newton may have a tough time transitioning to the NFL. With lots of raw talent, speed and the right build for an NFL quarterback, Newton may need to take a few hits and bumps in the road before he is ready to lead an NFL team.
3. Will Tom Brady and the newly acquired Patriots mesh well enough to stay among the league’s elite? With the surprising acquisitions of attention-hungry players such as Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, the Patriots may have their hands full trying to function as a team and keep their legacy alive in Foxboro. After the first noted complaints by their new faces, the Patriots’ staff is professional enough to nip the problem in the bud and get back to their winning ways. The Patriots are going to be one of the top five teams.
2. Do the Jets finally make the Super Bowl under Rex Ryan? After many years of lofty promises and getting to the Conference Championships, it is going to be even tougher now than ever for the Jets to win. Although they were able to re-sign former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and pick up some veteran wide receiving talent in Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress, the Jets lost Braylon Edwards to free agency and find themselves competing in a division and conference so tough that it would take a nearly perfect season from both their defense and Mark Sanchez to make it to Indianapolis come Feb. 5.
1. Did the Eagles pull the right strings this offseason to form a team capable of the “Dream Team” status? After flying so far under the radar a season ago, the Eagles saw their season both begin and end with losses to the eventual-champion Green Bay Packers. This year, after not having even played one snap of the regular season, most analysts have the Eagles hoisting the Lombardi trophy in early February. Having one of the busiest offseasons in recent memory, the Eagles re-signed Michael Vick to a long-term deal and picked up a plethora of players such as Vince Young, Steve Smith, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Ronnie Brown, Donald Lee, Jason Babin and the biggest name of free agency in the form of defensive back, Nnamdi Asomugha. This all looks good on paper, but we will all have to take it one game at a time to see how 2011’s pieces fall into place.
Opening Week Notables:
The 2009 champion Saints play at the 2010 champion Packers on Thursday, Sept. 8 to kick off the season.
The Eagles will be tested against Sam Bradford and the Rams to start their much-anticipated season.
The year’s first Monday Night game will feature the Patriots versus the Dolphins.
The Pittsburg Steelers face the Baltimore Ravens in the year’s first brawl that could spark some emotion as a rematch of 2010’s divisional round.