Five Things I’m Looking Forward To In The 2011 NFL Season

So here we are, the start of September, fall (except in Texas, where it’s still very much summer) and another glorious NFL season. I guess I should start with the best thing I’m looking forward to, and that’s the NFL season itself. It was touch-and-go there for a second with that all that lockout business, NFL.  Now, let’s promise never to talk about it again and get into some fooootbaaaaaall!

1. Are the Philadelphia Eagles really the team to beat in the NFL this season? The offseason addition of Nnamdi Asomugha to create a three-headed hydra of cornerbacks, and the $100 million contract given to Michael Vick, has made people believe that the title will head north this season. However, given how much Vick regressed over the end of the season last year and rising questions about the offensive line, has to give you pause. Only for a second, though, and then you realize how ridiculously stocked they are at the skill positions and can only see them playing late into winter.

2. The Detroit Lions are the next big thing in the NFL. To which you’d probably retort—the same Lions who went 0-16 a few years ago. They’re the next big thing. To which I’d say, absolutely… barring anything happening to their quarterback Matthew Stafford again. They have one of the better O-Lines in the league and stocked at the skill positions, with Calvin Johnson catching the ball and the soon-to-bust-out-if-he-doesn’t-get-injured-again Jahvid Best rushing. Once rookie Nick Fairley, the darling defensive end from Auburn’s championship run, comes back from early season foot surgery, they should also have one of the best defensive front lines thanks to the pairing of Fairley and the one they call Ndamukong of Nebraska. That makes for quite a formidable core of players whose oldest member is only 26.

3. Who Is The Best Team In Texas? Is it the old-time powerhouse Dallas Cowboys, with their famous star quarterback, Kardashian-dating first receiver and knuckleheaded-but-brilliant second receiver? Or do we have to go down I-35 to Houston, and a Texans team that stocks the leading rusher in the NFL last season, a perennial Pro Bowl receiver and a quarterback that regularly throws for 3,800+ yards? The key to breaking the tie may be their defenses. Dallas made a play for Asomugha this offseason but didn’t succeed, so they will return to a unit that ranked in the bottom half of the league last year. Enter Wade Phillips, the man who used to coach the Cowboys, for the tie-breaker. The defensive Guru headed down that I-35 corridor and landed in Houston and is looking to change up a stagnant crew by shifting Mario Williams, Jonathan Joseph and Brian Cushing to a 3-4 scheme. Only time will tell if that will work, but it may be what could push them over the edge and bring the state its first NFL title since the ‘90s.

4. Speaking of the Texans, which injury entering the season will hurt its team more—Arian Foster’s hamstring or the Colts’ Peyton Manning’s neck? Sure Peyton is the lynchpin of that offense, but Arian Foster exploded onto the scene early (ironically against Manning’s Colts) and ran away with the NFL’s rushing title in 2010. But a hamstring has got football fanatics (both fantasy and not) wondering if Foster can sustain his output, or if the team will swap him out for Ben Tate, his talented back-up who may or may not be able to replicate a 1600-yard rushing season.

5. Which team is ready to make the bigger leap—San Diego or Atlanta? Philip Rivers now has no excuses not to perform—he has Vincent Jackson in camp, as opposed to holding out; a great two-headed rushing machine in Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews; and, of course, a beast of a tight end in Antonio Gates. More importantly for the team, several changes in the special team rules that could have saved them in 2010 when their third unit was so horrendous. Down in Hotlanta, Matt Ryan now has a new toy in Julio Jones, who the team spent a lot on in terms of draft picks traded, to compliment Pro Bowler Roddy White. Many believe this was to open up the passing game after their horrendous showing in last season’s beatdown in the NFC title game against Green Bay. Both teams’ defenses are a might suspect, but I believe one of them will be playing in Super Bowl XLVI if things break right for them.