The Chunky Chickens will be looking to make it three straight division titles in a row this season, but with the surging Huskers, retooled Beans and 9-win Brothers from a year ago, they'll be hard pressed to bring home another NFC West crown and return to the Super Bowl. Steve Dugas runs down the entire division that features many of the most exciting young players in the league.
The Huskers are primed for a big season and enter 2011 as the favorites to capture the division title. They have built a solid core of players and will be looking to Joe Flacco to take the next step in his maturation process. If Flacco can build on his 124 point season in 2010 and get that total into the 150's, the Huskers will have a very successful season. The Huskers enjoyed a breakout season from Arian Foster last season and might have "this year's Arian Foster" in Tim Hightower. Hightower has taken the reigns in DC this summer and seems poised to have an 80+ point season. Add to this pair a healthy Jahvid Best on an explosive Lions team and the Huskers could have the best backfield in the league. Kevin once again had his hands full with his WR's this offseason. While Santonio Holmes managed to pass all his drug tests, Brandon Marshall was busy getting into knife fights in the kitchen with his wife/girlfriend/baby momma. He was stabbed a couple times in the stomach but seems to have recovered. The Huskers have solid backups in Jacoby Ford, Lance Moore and Brandon Jacobs to fill in when injuries and byes arise. The Huskers will not run away with the division, but they will likely control it from start to finish.
Projected Record: 8-5
Once again the Chickens will go against the wishes of the rest of the league and not have the "down year" everyone has been predicting for years. As long as Philip Rivers, Mike Wallace and LeSean McCoy are around, the Chickens will be good for a minimum of seven wins. Unfortunately for the Chickens, seven wins is all they are going to get this year and that will not be good enough to earn a playoff spot. It has been a whirlwind offseason for the Chickens. Nobody was saved from swirling trade rumors as nearly every player was put on the Google Chat Block at some point or another, but in the end no one in the YFFL was willing to pay the steep prices that were being demanded. With G.M. Nick Wood's Google Chat privileges now revoked, all Chickens players will be able to rest easier. The Chickens enter the 2011 season with a short bench. Fitzpatrick can get the job done when called upon, but after that the talent drops off. Nick is going to need Alex Green, Tomlinson, Barber and Jonathan Baldwin to step up if the Chickens don't want to be caught shorthanded when the byes start rolling around. Ultimately it's the lack of depth that does this team in and keeps them from the playoffs.
Projected Record: 7-6
Mexican Humping Beans
The Beans enter 2011 full of promise and ready to put a dreadful 2010 season (which saw them win only two games) behind them. The Beans dominated the draft from start to finish grabbing Julio Jones, Kendall Hunter, Lance Kendricks and Mikel LeShoure (all 4 were very highly ranked on my Big Board...I'm still seething about the Kendricks pick). This draft class will flash the elite skill set that they possess every now and then but will likely be inconsistent. If LeShoure can return healthy in 2012 and with a year of maturation for these draft picks, the Beans might be poised to rip off a couple 10 win seasons in a row. The Hunter for Green-Ellis trade was a brilliant move by Bobby. It might not look like it for a few weeks, but as the season wears on it will become more apparent. The two biggest questions facing the Beans in 2011 are: Will their running backs (who are on everyone's sleeper lists) perform as predicted? And will one of the QB's meet expectations? I expect either Greene or Jones to have their "break-out" season, but only one. I think Greene will meet expectations, mostly because he is going to get so many carries that good things have to happen. While I like Felix Jones' skill set, he just hasn't been able to stay healthy in the NFL. As for QB, the Beans will likely start the season playing the matchups and hope that one or the other can pull away and lock the job down. If I had to guess I would say that Kolb starts more games than Cutler for the Beans this year. While the future is very bright for this team, Bobby will have to spend a third straight season on the sidelines come playoff time.
Projected Record: 6-7
Perhaps no owner needed to be at the draft more than Bri for the Brothers. This team is in dire need of a QB and by missing the draft, Bri missed a good chance to land one via trade while he had all the other owners gathered in one spot. While Chris did a good job drafting with the Bear, he didn't fare as well with the Brothers. Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Boss will be hard to sell to a fan base that thought they might finally be getting the pieces in place to have a title contender. The Brothers need to find an owner willing to deal them a QB and do it fast or this season will be lost very quickly. If Bri could land a QB without giving up a major piece, I would change their record to 9-4 and jump them to the top of the division. The Brothers have two RBs in their primes (McFadden and Charles) and three solid players who are on their last legs (Smith, Wayne, Benson). The title window is slamming shut quickly unless a deal can be reached. With most teams in the league seemingly set at QB, the Brothers could just opt to play for a top 3 selection in the 2012 draft, pick Andrew Luck, deal their aging stars for youngsters and draft picks, and see if they can rebuild overnight the way the Beans and Eaters have. It will be interesting to see which path Bri takes; go for it all, retool for 2012, or hope that Tarvaris Jackson can keep his job and give the Brothers 6 points a week.
Projected Record: 4-9
Philip Rivers, Chickens
Rivers is the best player in this division. He can win the game for the Chickens at any time. There is nothing worse than building up a nice lead against the Chickens only to have the 4:00 games roll around and start seeing that Rivers to Gates TDs are piling up. That Nick thought about trading him and rolling with Fitzpatrick is absolutely ludicrous. Look for 185 points this season.
Santonio Holmes, Huskers
Holmes missed the first four games of last season due to a drug suspension and then had to work his way into game shape and get on the same page as Mark Sanchez, but once he did he scored 38 points over the last five games of the season. So long as health isn't a problem, I see Holmes scoring 70+ points in 2011.
DeSean Jackson, Beans
Don't get me wrong, Jackson is a very good football player. You can never relax if you are nursing a close lead and he is playing on a Monday night, but if he doesn't catch an 80 yard TD then he doesn't have a very good game. I think you can always count on Jackson for at least 50 points a season but he will be hard pressed to put up the 80-90 point season everyone expects him to.
Mario Manningham, Chickens
Manningham has made a lot of improvement over the last couple years. In fact, he has impressed the Giants so much that they have given him the #2 WR job. I expect Eli Manning to complete at least twice as many passes to Manningham as he does to opposing defenses. Look for Manningham to put up a solid 60 points in 2011.