2011 NFL Projected Team-by-Team Records and Playoffs Picks

Last fall I followed the projections of most NFL experts in picking my beloved Steelers to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs, while picking the evil Cowboys to win the Super Bowl in their own lavish stadium.

Nostradamus, evidently I am not, but yet I will try again this fall with my annual projected records, playoff pairings, and results for each team for the 2011-12 NFL season that began tonight with Green Bay hosting New Orleans in a battle of the last two Super Bowl champions

Despite losing star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games due to suspension and being decimated with injuries on an already-weak offensive line, Pittsburgh posted a 12-4 regular-season record in 2010 and was one drive away from winning a seventh championship in a 31-25 loss to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. The Cowboys, meanwhile, fired their coach midseason and finished 6-10.

Recent trends indicate the Steelers are in for a down 2010 and will miss the playoffs for just the third time since drafting Roethlisberger in 2004. Over the past decade, 8 of the 10 teams that lost the Super Bowl the previous year failed to qualify for the playoffs the following fall, no Super Bowl loser has made it back to the big game since the 1993 Buffalo Bills, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins (the only team in NFL history with an undefeated start-to-finish record) are the only team to lose a Super Bowl and win the world title the ensuing year.

In comparison, Super Bowl winners fare much better the next fall. Ironically, though, the Steelers were the only Super Bowl champions of the past eight years who did not qualify for the postseason the following season, and that actually happened with both of Pittsburgh’s world championship squads in the past decade.

But this Steelers’ squad is ready to buck league trends and the franchise’s recent Super Bowl hangovers. Pittsburgh is the most experienced and probably the deepest team in the NFL, particularly at defensive line, linebacker and receiver.

Roethlisberger has always been clutch in the fourth quarter but now is in line to post huge fantasy-type statistics for an offense that should be both balanced and more explosive. While accurate quarterbacks who receive good pass protection will again be able to pick on the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks, the Steelers will field a championship defense that ranks among the NFL’s top two or three in run, scoring and total defense.

In addition, the new kickoff rules will alleviate special-teams problems that have long been a Pittsburgh debacle. More important is a very favorable schedule that is most challenging for the first nine games, but Pittsburgh seemingly always plays its best under Mike Tomlin in the first half of the season, having started each of his four years as the team’s head coach with a 6-2 overall record.

A road date against the quarterback-challenged Chiefs in game No. 11, which follows a Pittsburgh bye, will mark the only opponent in the Steelers’ final seven contests that finished 2010 with a winning record. In other words, if Pittsburgh can win at least six of its first nine matchups, including at least a split of the two games with division rival Baltimore, then the Black and Gold will be in prime position for first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.

Thus, the Steelers are again a strong Super Bowl contender, although due to matchup problems, the team will likely need to luck out in not facing the Patriots’ Tom Brady (6-1 career record against Pittsburgh) to reach the Super Bowl, a break the Steelers enjoyed in all three of their Super Bowl campaigns over the past seven seasons.

While the Steelers could absorb losses to numerous key players, there are three stars who the team cannot lose for any extended period of time and must be healthy in the playoffs. Obviously the most important is reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu.

The Steelers’ collapses of 2006 and 2009 can be directly attributed to injuries to Polamalu. While No. 3 safety Ryan Mundy was probably the most improved Pittsburgh player from 2009 to 2010, the franchise has an 18-5 overall record over the past two seasons when Polamalu plays but is 8-7 when he has missed entire games due to injuries.

Almost as important is Roethlisberger. The team would remain competitive with either Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon in relief of an injured Roethlisberger, as shown by those two combining to post a 3-1 record in 2010 afer Roethlisberger was absurdly and unilaterally suspended by Roger Goodell to begin the season despite never being arrested or charged with any crime.

But to win big games in the postseason or in the fourth quarter, the Steelers need the best clutch quarterback in the NFL. Roethlisberger, who has only played seven seasons, already ranks in the top 10 of quarterbacks for most fourth-quarter comeback wins in NFL history.

The one player, though, often overlooked who the Steelers cannot afford to lose to injury is No. 1 corner Ike Taylor, who fortunately was re-signed to a 4-year deal this off-season as a free agent. In 2010, Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau moved Taylor all over the field to shadow the opposition’s No. 1 receiver more than ever before, and the 6-2, 195-pound Taylor has grown so confident in his skills and athleticism that he plays most top receivers in press coverage.

Taylor has played at a Pro-Bowl level for at least three of the previous five seasons, but has yet to officially earn that honor due to hands of stone (11 career interceptions in eight career seasons), marquee superstar depth at corner in the AFC in recent years, and some shaftings, such as Champ Bailey getting the nod last season based on reputation even though Taylor clearly had the better year for the superior team.

If Taylor were lost due to injury, any decent opposing quarterback would be able to regularly pick apart a Steelers’ defense that would have to play soft zone all game due to a lack of talent at any cornerback spot. Fortunately the veteran Taylor is in top physical condition and has not missed a game due to injury over the past six seasons.

AFC
East
Pats 13-3
Jets 11-5
Dolphins 6-10
Bills 4-12

North
Steelers 12-4
Ravens 11-5
Browns 6-10
Bengals 3-13

South
Texans 11-5
Titans 6-10
Jags 6-10
Colts 5-11

West
Chargers 10-6
Chiefs 9-7
Broncos 6-10
Raiders 6-10

NFC
East
Eagles 11-5
Cowboys 10-6
Giants 9-7
Redskins 6-10

North
Packers 12-4
Bears 9-7
Vikings 8-8
Lions 6-10

South
Saints 11-5
Falcons 11-5
Bucs 8-8
Panthers 3-13

West
49ers 9-7
Rams 7-9
Cardinals 6-10
Seahawks 5-11

Wild-Card Round
AFC
(5) Jets over (4) Chargers
(6) Ravens over (3) Texans

NFC
(3) Eagles over (6) Giants
(5) Falcons over (4) 49ers

Divisional Playoffs
AFC
(1) Pats over (6) Ravens
(2) Steelers over (5) Jets

NFC

(1) Packers over (5) Falcons
(2) Saints over (3) Eagles

Conference Championship Games
AFC
(1) Pats over (2) Steelers

NFC
(1) Packers over (2) Saints

Super Bowl
Patriots over Packers

This entry was posted in 2010 steelers, 2011 steelers, Analysis, Postseason, Quarterbacks, Steelers History. Bookmark the permalink.
  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    I think that you have the Giants and Cowboys switched on the standings, and I agree with that, the Cowboys, in my perspective, are not that powerful this season.

    I have a hardtime picking Alex Smith’s 49ers to win the west, but picking the Cards instead is also very hard to defend.

    I think that even if the Colts are set to implode, the Texans will end up being the 4th seed on the AFC, that will change slightly the plaoyoff picture, but with major implications, because that could mean the Cargers Dispatching the Pats on the second round and possibly having the AFCCG at home versus the Chargers…and that is WAY more favorable than the Pats.

    I also see the Eagles going all the way to the NFCCG vs the Pack, and that would be a great match. At the end, I am confident on another trip to the Big Game, possibly a sweet revenge of a great gam against the Eagles.

    Regardles, WAY better effort than last year’s. 

    How soon is Sunday??!!

    • ted

      Good points, JC. Let’s hope these predictions are more accurate, especially about the Steelers’ success. A month ago, I, too, had the Giants and Cowboys flipped, but the Giants have lost too much at CB and Romo has looked healthy and great in camp, although that does not mean he will be clutch in playoff games.

      Like last year, the NFC West is a crapshoot. That division may have four of the five worst teams in the NFC, as only Carolina would definitely not surpass the entire NFC West. I do think there could be some one-year magic with Harbaugh and the 49ers have more overall talent on their roster than the Rams. Moreover, I am not not buying either Kolb or T. Jackson, and last year was the first time since HS that Bradford played a whole season without missing time due to injuries. Still, I would not bet a penny to back up my NFC West predictions.

      I only moved the Texans up to 11 wins and division winners after the Manning news, and Jax decided it wanted to get rid of its coach and move to LA next year after essentially proclaiming 2011 as a rebuilding year with the release of Garrard. As for the Chargers, don’t they always start off slow and they have under-achieved in projected wins since getting rid of Schott.

      As for the Eagles, too many new pieces, they are weak on both trenches and opponents will be much better prepared for Vick this fall.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the sentiment, but I think you are somewhat over stating what the loss of Taylor would bring. I think when it happens is also a major factor. Lets consider the first half of the season.

    Baltimore is tough, and Flacco’s good enough to exploit a missing CB. On the other hand, their receiving corps is shallow. Also, Taylor is healthy right now, so a theoretical loss would be partial game only.

    The Steelers could pick me up as a UDFA right now, and Tarvaris Jackson would still find a way to miss his receiver.

    Kerry Collins is still decent, but the Colts are mediocre to bad in most positions. Even if Collins exploits McFadden and Gay, it’s not enough.

    Schaub is good, the Texans, are good, and yeah, losing Taylor wold be pretty darn big.

    Tenessee and Jacksonville are string competitors… in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes.

    Cardinals are iffy. I don’t know what to make of them or of Kolb right now, but I think Fitzgerald is eating up double teams or is getting open even in Taylor is around.

    Patriots, yeah pretty screwed there. Tough game regardless.

    Okay, after this point in the season, I think that Brown or Lewis is playing better than McFadden. Taylor is a very good player, but the bigger reason you listed him was the lack of depth. Losing Taylor to  ”just a guy” is a loss, but it’s not in the same realm as losing either Roethlisberger or Polamalu to an average replacement. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize Taylor’s skill. But losing him I think is on average a one and half game swing. Losing Roethlisberger or Polamalu would seriously jeopardize playoff hopes.

    • ted

       Great points on the sked. We can definitely beat bad passing teams (and fortunately we have a lot on our sked) and probably still go 10-6 and make the playoffs without Taylor, although I think it would be more of a 3-game swing. Still, we would be a quick out in the playoffs if we met Brady, Schaub (although that would be a shootout), or Rivers (even though we have had his number), and would be annihilated if he was injured in the SB against the Pack or Saints. It all comes down to our other options at CB, with LeBeau being less able to hide our deficiences at all 3 CBs without Ike, and every opponent would spread us out.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I understand that the Pats have had our number recently and
    Brady matches up well with our style of secondary play.  But I’m not
    willing to say that it is only luck that will allow us to beat them this year.
      I was concerned when Moss was their deep threat.  But that role is
    now played by Chad Eightfive, and Troy can again return his gold teef to him
    when we play them again.  How many hits can Welker take from Juan, Troy
    and Clark and still be effective?  How effective is Brady when he gets
    hit?  What I’m trying to say is that pressure on Brady, hard knocks on their
    receivers, and who wins the turnover battle will determine whether we beat
    them.

    Also, it isn’t just bad luck for the Pats that has kept them from getting deep
    enough in the playoffs to play us. The 2005-2010 Pats resemble the 1998-2004
    Vikings, with record-setting passing offenses in the regular season but
    mediocre results in the post-season.  This conforms to a league-long trend,
    as no quarterback who led the league in passing has won a Super Bowl (and only
    4 have ever even been in the 44 Super Bowls). 
    In the last 6 seasons, the Pats are 5-5 in the playoffs.  They’ve
    only won two playoff games since they were caught cheating 4 years ago, and
    they’ve lost their last three playoff games.   Since Ben entered the league, we have been in
    three Super Bowls and won two.  Over that
    time, the Pats have been in one Super Bowl and won zero.  The Pats just aren’t built for the post-season
    anymore.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      Sorry for the weird formatting.

    • Anonymous

      I agree partially. The Patriots and Steelers are pretty even in terms of overall quality. Play each team against the same slate of 100 opponents and I think you get similar records. But it so happens that matchup-wise they tend to have the advantage. A good team beating a good team isn’t luck. It’s playing better than your opponent (or yeah maybe luck), and we’re not looking at a very large sample size here. So I certainly agree the Steelers can beat the Patriots without luck.

      Your point about hitting the receivers may be accurate, but I haven’t seen it. 85 seems to get frustrated by blanket coverage, but I don’t recall him crumbling against hard hits. He’s a diva in the “look at me” sense, but he’s also a talented and reasonably physical football player. Welker always struck me as a technically precise worker. He doesn’t seem to be up and down at all. That’s just an impression, though, and I could be wrong.

      I do completely agree about Brady. Hit Brady enough and the most overrated player in the league starts making “career decisions.” Trouble is, he’s behind the best offensive line in the NFL.

      As for the playoffs, I don’t buy into the “playoff football” theory. It’s the same game played the same way. The differences are the stakes – which could mentally affect some more than other but I doubt significantly enough to matter – and the superior average ability of the opponent. Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. I wouldn’t read too much into that.

      Finally you point out the cheating scandal. That seems legitimate. And potentially that’s a factor in the playoff win thing you mentioned earlier. Since the stakes are higher maybe they cheated more in the playoffs, causing there to be an actual difference. On the other hand, the Patriots have been playing good football in the regular season. While their championships and the organization derived therefrom are ill-gotten, I don’t think it’s justified to claim that as constituted right now, the Patriots team is not suited to winning playoffs games.

    • ted

      I wrote a piece on here last year griping about media who still call NE a dynasty and the best franchise in football. They have not won a Super Bowl since 04 and we have been to two since their last appearance. They also have not won without cheating, and being a finesse offense that cannot run has been their downfall in the playoffs in recent years. But Brady has thoroughly abused our secondary every time except against an 0-4 Steelers’ team that was red-hot in the regular-season.

      The only time in seven meetings against LeBeau that Brady had superior talent at WR was in 07 when Moss and Welker obliterated A. Smith. But Brady destroyed our top-ranked defense last year in Heinz Field with even less talent at WR (already had traded Moss) than he will have this year.

      The way to beat Brady  is to get pressure on him and to do so you have to be able to cover his WRs in man often. That is how the Jets beat them twice last season. We cannot follow that strategy. Now, in a one-game setting (especially in cold, snowy Pittsburgh), we could definitely beat NE, but no objective person would pick us to win that game head-to-head at this point. Thus, our best path of again reaching a SB is to avoid NE in the playoffs.

  • Cols714

    Steelers:
    12-4, AFC North Champ, #1 seed in AFC.
    I think this is the year we meet the Pats at home and beat them to go to the Super Bowl. If we play anyone but Green Bay in the Super Bowl we win. We may even beat GB as long as we don’t turn the ball over.

    I’m already sick of hearing how our CBs suck. Even though we were #1 or #2 (I can’t remember) in pass defense by FO stats. Enough already. Did you see Drew Brees chew up what is supposed to be a pretty good GB secondary? I just think that good QBs when hot can beat just about any group of DBs.

    • Anonymous

      Suck is an overstatement. Taylor is quite good, but maybe not great. McFadden is pretty bad, but not terrible. Gay at nickle is a bit below average, while Gay starting is really bad. Pass defense includes contributions by a phenomenal pass rush, the greatest strong safety ever to play the game, and a free safety who, while not great, I’m starting to thing I’ve underestimated. Combine top notch pass rush, superior safety play, and moderately below average corners, and I think it’s completely reasonable to wind up with a top pass defense.

      No defense is perfect at everything; the yardstick is the other defenses with their own strengths and flaws. The biggest weakness of the Steelers defense is at the CB position. That seems a pretty fair analysis. I can sympathize with tiring of the chicken little scenarios, but other than that, discussing both strengths and weaknesses, speculating on negative what-ifs or ways to improve on such weaknesses is right in with the raison d’etre of a blog like Steelers Lounge.

  • Mackj5150

    thats crazy watch my seahawks turn it all around and sneak in the back door to suprise everybody including myself GO SEAHAWKS GO SEAHAWKS PUT IT 2 ALL OF THE NONE BELIEVERS YEA BABY SAWOOP