1) Predicting the oft-injured Lions to make the playoffs
2. Lions- I'm realistically high on the Detroit this year to jump to second best in the North. Their core defensive line of Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, Suh and Avril is tops in the league and that's before 2011 first round pick DT Nick Fairley even steps foot on the field. Matthew Stafford, Jahvad Best and Calvin Johnson are all excellent skill position players with deep histories of getting injured, but if they can stay healthy the playoffs are definitely in play in the Motor City.Admittedly, this pick wasn't ballsy at all. The Lions were this years "hot" team heading into the season. But to be fair they hadn't made the playoffs this millennium, so I'll gladly toast to the fact that I've been on board since August. Predictably, all three of those aforementioned "excellent skill players" did go down with injuries at one time or another (most notably Jahvid Best done for the year after week 6) but Stafford still managed to eclipse the 5k yard mark, and Calvin Johnson led all wide receivers in yards (1681) and TD's (16). This team remains a juggernaut in the making.
2) Picking the Texans to win the AFC South
1. Texans- Could this be the year that Houston finally lives up to the hype and makes the playoffs? I say yes, by default. This is a very off year for the South, with Manning on the shelf, Luke McCown starting in Jaxsonville and a pick your poison scenario between Matt Hasselback and Jake Lockler in Tennessee. When healthy the Texans are a top 5 offense and if their D can improve to a mediocre level they win this division easily.With Peyton Manning being ruled out for the entire season before week 1, it seemed as if the Texans winning this division would be the lock of the century. And for the first half of the season, it was. However the Texan's suffered more injuries than any other team in the league, overcoming season ending trips to the IR from defensive end Mario Williams and Quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Lienart, along with lingering injuries to Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. It wasn't easy, but the Texans were finally able to punch their first ever post season ticket.
3) Being cautious about the Eagles preseason expectations and predicting that they finish second in the NFC East
2. Eagles- On paper Philly should win this division and conference this season. Too bad the games are played on the gridiron. I just don't see Mike Vick and company running the gauntlet without suffering some grueling injuries. Offensive line is another major concern for the EaglesI hate to say "I told you so", but the Dream Team ended up being a nightmare in Philly. They got off to a 1-4 start and never really put the pieces together until it was too late. As predicted, Mike Vick missed 3+ games due to various injury and it wasn't until week 15 that they actually started looking like "team". I think a full off season of working out and practicing together will pay off nicely, and look for them to return to the playoffs next winter.
4) Not buying into the Ochicinco hype
Q. Can Ochocinco get in the endzone 8+ times this year with Brady throwing to him?
I'll admit it, I drank the Ochocinco Kool-Aid heading into this season. I served this question up for Gary on a silver platter. I legitimately thought the receiver formally known as Chad Johnson would have a career year with Brady up in New England. But our very own G-Funk knew better. Aside from the many mouths to feed in that offense, Ocho often times appeared disheveled, and finished up with an incredibly lackluster 15 catches, 276 yards and one trip to the end zone.A. I just don’t see it happening. He has looked lackluster in preseason action and reports out of New England say that him and Brady are not on the same page and have yet to click. There are just so many mouths to feed in that offense. Welker will continue to be a godsend in the slot, Deion Branch is still kicking around (I shuddered as I typed that) and the duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski each have a realistic possibility of finshing in the top 10 fantasy tight ends.
5) Buying the Broncos Resurgence
2. Broncos- Admittedly this is a long shot, but I think that if Denver can get healthy they can actually be a much improved football team. John Fox will have the Broncos back to their old ground and pound ways and #2 overall pick Von Miller should provide an immediate impact to a lackluster defensive unit. Also, don't count on Lloyd to sniff 1,400 yards again, but you can expect Moreno and McGahee to put up inflated rushing numbers in the mile high city.I was high on the Broncos even before they pulled Kyle Orton and made Tim Tebow their starter in early October. I just had a feeling that John Fox would be able to reestablish the ground game that had carried this team for so many years under Mike Shanahan. They averaged a league best 164 rushing ypg, and McGahee finished just a yard short of 1,200. Despite backing into the playoffs (losing their last 3 games) they still won the AFC West and will play host to the Steelers Saturday afternoon at Mile High. Also, keep an eye out for Von Miller, who may very well win Defensive Rookie of the Year when the awards get announced later this month.
Five Things We Got Wrong
1) Picking the 49ers to come in last in the NFC West
4. 49ers- It pains me to write this but as long as Alex Smith is running the show for the 49ers, I'm selling. I just don't see Jim Harbaugh righting this ship this quickly. A tank job followed by landing Luck with the #1 pick in the 2012 draft is not out of the question.To be fair that division is always a crap shoot and aside from a few Harbaugh loyalists, I don't think anyone could have predicted a seven game improvement from the Bay City red shirts. Alex Smith had just 5 interceptions in 446 attempts and their defense held opponents to a conference best 14.3 PPG. If I had predicted either of those things in August you would have called me crazy.
2) Anointing Josh Freeman as this years "Breakout Fantasy Football Quarterback"
Q. Who is your breakout Fantasy Football Quarterback this season?
A. I'd have to lean towards Josh Freeman here. You could argue that he had his "breakout" season last year, but this is the year he legitimizes himself as a solid QB1 in 12 teamers. He certainly has a chance to sneak inside the top-10, ahead of guys like Big Ben, Eli, and Matt Ryan. Only statistical category where you should expect a bit of regression is interceptions (only 6 in '10). Pencil him in for 3,650 yards, 23 passing TDs, 400 yards rushing and maybe this is the year he finds the end zone via the ground two or three times.
Ed. Note- Those were Gary's words, I cautiously warned in my Mega-Preview "buyer beware, the schedule gets much tougher and asking for another 25 TD, 6 pick year from Josh Freeman is unrealistic."My favorite running joke this season (besides the Tampa Bay Buccs themselves) was how high Gary was, both literally (?) and figuratively, on JASSSHHHHH FREEMAN last summer. The third year gun slinger finished up his 2011 campaign with six more interceptions than touchdowns to go along with a pretty impressive 10 game losing streak. Head coach Raheem Morris has already got the ax, and the future for Freeman in Tampa Bay doesn't look nearly as bright now as it did a year ago.
3) Advising fantasy owners to take Hernandez over Gronk in fantasy drafts.
Q. How has the balance of power shifted between Hernandez and Gronk in N.E? Would you advise owners to draft one over the other, both, or neither?
It's a good thing I didn't take Gary's advice on this one. Gronk broke the All-Time NFL records for most receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end (1,327 and 17 TD's, +1 rushing TD) en route toA. Hern (again with these awful nicknames) without question has to go over Gronk (9/10, ideal tight end nickname). It wouldn't shock me in the slightest to see Hernandez finish second on that team in catches, right behind Welker. He was everywhere in the preseason. Literally. Lining out wide, in the slot, as a fullback in I-form sets, two tight end formations, you name it, he was there. Essentially, he's just a really big wide receiver, and looked every bit of the part this preseason and a majority of last year. Gronk will take away looks in the red zone, but Hernandez is one of those rare tight ends who can score any distance from the goal.
4) Pretty much everything I wrote about the St. Louis Rams
1. Rams- the NFC West remains a crap shoot, but with a year of experience under his belt look for QB Sam Bradford to enter the Freeman/Stafford range of elite young shot callers (1). You can bet that Spagg's will have his boys geared up and ready to go on defense as well (2), and the under-the-radar signing of Mike Sims-Walker at wideout will pay dividends (3). Don't be surprised if Chris Long hits double digit sack numbers.Sam Bradford was the 29th rated QB this season and finished up the year with 6 TD's and 6 picks (on 357 passes). Defensively, Spagg's boys gave up 25+ PPG and finished in the bottom third in virtually every statistical category. And Mike Sims-Walker tallied a grand total of 11 catches in four games before being released by the Rams. So yeah, I would like to take this time to eat my words, accept defeat and burn that paragraph from Internet history.
5) Sleeping on the Bengals
4. Bengals- Well the Carlson Palmer era has officially ended and with that Cincinnati immediately regresses to their late 90's form at the bottom of the division (and conference). Andy Dalton will struggle right out of the gates, and oh yea, their RB Cedric Benson is currently in the pen serving 20 days for an assault charge. Not exactly an ideal situation heading into week 1.You know, when you're wrong, you're wrong. The Bengals wound up 9-7 in the toughest division in football and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Andy Dalton far exceeded everyone's expectations, throwing for nearly 3,400 yards and 20 scores. To be honest I don't think I've ever seen a team overachieve quite like this one, but I'll tell you what, I don't think this Cinderella story ends next week in Houston. I'm calling the upset now.