Here is my Starting 11 for the 2011 NFL season, which kicks off Thursday in Green Bay.
1. Arrow Pointing Up (Team) Detroit Lions
Yes, Im buying into the Lions. Call me a sucker, but I do think the Lions are headed for double digit wins and their first playoff appearance since 1999.
2. Arrow Pointing Down (Team) Indianapolis
For years, the safest bet in football was the Colts winning the AFC South and going to the playoffs. Not so this year. Peyton Mannings health is only one question facing this team. The O-line is very young and the defense is slipping. This is the season Houston finally overtakes the Colts.
3. Arrow Pointing Up (Player) Jason Pierre Paul, defensive end, New York Giants
He was considered a reach when the Giants drafted him in the first round last year season, but the 6-5, 280-pound JPP is growing up fast. He will take on a larger role this season with Osi Umenyiora hobbled. Watch out for this kid. He is a force.
4. Arrow Pointing Down (Player) Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants
He looked bad the entire preseason. He couldnt move the first team offense, he still was making ugly, off-balance throws. He led the league with 25 interceptions last season and appears headed down the same path. Looks like a rough year for both Mannings.
5. He Will Deliver Greg Olsen, tight end, Carolina
A very talented former first-round draft pick, he never got much chance to produce in Chicago where coach Mike Martz doesnt utilize the tight end. The move to Carolina will benefit him, especially with rookie Cam Newton starting at quarterback. Young QBs love to throw to the tight end and Olsen will be a nice, big target.
6. He Will Disappoint Chris Johnson, running back, Tennessee
Still a great talent, but he missed the entire training camp because of a contract dispute. When players are rushed back right on the eve of the regular season, it rarely goes well. This has the look of a hamstring pull just waiting to happen.
7. Offensive Player of the Year Phillip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego
Threw for a staggering 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, but it was forgotten when the Chargers fell out of first place in the AFC West. The division still looks weak and Rivers looks poised for a monster year. I could see him winning league MVP honors.
8. Defensive Player of the Year Ndamukong Suh, Detroit
He is already the best defensive tackle in the NFL in my opinion. He had 10 sacks as a rookie and still was learning the pro game. Suh could be the most dominant inside player since Mean Joe Greene anchored Pittsburghs Steel Curtain.
9. Coach of the Year Sean Payton, New Orleans
I have a feeling the Saints will have a big bounce-back year they had a lot of injuries in 2010 and they will put up a lot of points with Mark Ingram joining Drew Brees in the backfield. It will be Payton making the calls and pushing the buttons.
10. Rookie of the Year Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta
The Falcons traded five picks, including next years No. 1 to move up in the first round and select the 6-2, 220-pound Jones. Having paid that price, the Falcons will expect him to contribute right away and with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez drawing the coverage, Jones will have lots of room to flash that 4.3 speed.
11. Comeback Player of the Year Mark Herzlich, linebacker, New York Giants
He has yet to play an NFL regular-season game, but Herzlich earns our Comeback Player of the Year award simply for making the Giants' 53-man roster. Herzlich, who attended Conestoga High School, missed the entire 2009 season at Boston College when a rare form of bone cancer attacked the femur in his left leg. He was told he would never walk again, much less resume his football career, but he came back to play his senior season at B.C. and this summer overcame huge odds to make the Giants as an undrafted free agent.
1. Eagles (10-6)
2. Dallas (9-7)
3. New York Giants (8-8)
4. Washington (6-10)
1. Green Bay (11-5)
2. Detroit (10-6)
3. Chicago (8-8)
4. Minnesota (6-10)
1. New Orleans (11-5)
2. Atlanta (10-6)
3. Tampa Bay (8-8)
4. Carolina (5-11)
1. St. Louis (9-7)
2. Arizona (8-8)
3. Seattle (7-9)
4. San Francisco (5-11)
1. New England (12-4)
2. N.Y. Jets (10-6)
3. Miami (6-10)
4. Buffalo (5-11)
1. Pittsburgh (11-5)
2. Baltimore (10-6)
3. Cleveland (6-10)
4. Cincinnati (4-12)
1. Houston (10-6)
2. Indianapolis (9-7)
3. Jacksonville (7-9)
4. Tennessee (6-10)
1. San Diego (12-4)
2. Oakland (8-8)
3. Kansas City (7-9)
4. Denver (5-11)
Wild Card teams
NFC Champion: Green Bay
AFC Champion: New England
Super Bowl Champion: New England
E-mail Ray Didinger at email@example.com.