Schein 9: NFL season predictions

Last year was an epic year. I picked the Green Bay Packers in preseason to win the Super Bowl. I said failure for the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings. It all worked out just like I thought.

But yes, I admit it. I was dead wrong last year on the Chicago Bears. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t have the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs last year.

That won’t stop me in 2011.

Here’s my annual preseason prediction on, with nine sizzling takes on every division. Hide the women, children and Gregg Easterbrook. Clip and save! We see the future.

AFC East

1. Patriots 13-3

2. Jets 12-4 (wild card)

3. Dolphins 7-9

4. Bills 4-12

Schein’s 9 on AFC East

1. The Patriots defense is going to be much better than it was last season. The additions of Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter represent major upgrades. The pass rush and pass defense will be much better. Never count out a Bill Belichick defense.

2. With Logan Mankins on the roster for a full year and with the additions of Brian Waters and Nate Solder, New England’s line will be improved as well. Tom Brady will have another banner season. Stevan Ridley beefs up the run game.

3. Rex Ryan’s defense will become the top-ranked defense in the NFL. The Jets are better and younger up front, Calvin Pace is healthy and Darrelle Revis isn’t coming off a prolonged holdout.

4. It is Year 3 for Mark Sanchez. He has proven to be a winner, victorious in four road playoff games in two years. But for the Jets to win the division or to finally get to the Super Bowl, Sanchez needs to even out his play in the regular season and improve his completion percentage.

5. The Jets rightly received the headlines for bringing back the supremely clutch Santonio Holmes and inking Plaxico Burress, who represents an upgrade over Braylon Edwards. But there will be a learning curve. The Jets must stay true to the "ground and pound" philosophy and run with Shonn Greene, regardless of who lines up at receiver.

6. Mike Nolan’s defense will keep the Dolphins competitive and have Miami winning some "upset specials" this season.

7. Tony Sparano’s offense will keep Miami from making the playoffs. I wish Chad Henne had a full offseason to work with new coordinator Brian Daboll.

8. I don’t understand why Buffalo would trade Lee Evans. How does that help Ryan Fitzpatrick and the 2011 Bills? What a terrible transaction for Buffalo.

9. The front seven on the Bills’ defense should be much better with Marcell Dareus and Nick Barnett. It can’t be worse after nine running backs gashed Buffalo for more than 100 yards in a game last year. But that Buffalo offensive line remains a major issue.

AFC North

1. Ravens 12-4

2. Steelers 11-5 (wild card)

3. Browns 8-8

4. Bengals 2-14

Schein’s 9 on AFC North

1. I love the Ravens trusting their recent draft picks, such as Ed Dickson, Terrence Cody, Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith. They are upgrades over the veterans they replaced. Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and the Ravens brass do an excellent job with player development.

2. Lee Evans will really help Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. I think Flacco will have a better season than last year. But offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needs to remember that Ray Rice is the straw that stirs the drink on offense and the Ravens are a run-first team.

3. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are getting older, but they are still great players. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs have become the Ravens’ studs on defense.

4. Mike Tomlin doesn’t apologize for throwing the ball more than they have historically in Pittsburgh — and he shouldn’t. With a star quarterback and a deep and diverse group of receivers, it is logical.

5. A healthy Troy Polamalu is gigantic to Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl hopes. Tomlin told us on SiriusXM NFL Radio, “When Troy walks on the field with a helmet on, he’s the best player on the field.” No argument there, but I still think there are question marks in the defensive backfield.

6. Believe in the Browns! Check the schedule in the first seven weeks. I think Cleveland goes 5-2. Colt McCoy is a winner. New head coach Pat Shurmur is the right guy and comes in at the right time to coach McCoy up and re-energize the building after Eric Mangini sucked the life out of the team.

7. Don’t minimize the appointment of Dick Jauron as the Cleveland defensive coordinator and the switch to the 4-3. Rookie Phillip Taylor is a beast inside.

8. Truth is, I really buy into the upside of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and new Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. But with no offseason, the odds are really stacked against them for this year.

9. I feel terrible for Cincy defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Grotesque mismanagement has cost him players. It’s going to be a long year in Cincinnati, again. The Bengals are the worst team in football.

AFC South

1. Texans 10-6

2. Titans 8-8

3. Colts 7-9

4. Jaguars 3-13

Schein’s 9 on AFC South

1. I wrote weeks ago that it would be foolish to anticipate that Peyton Manning would play in all 16 games; and when he does play, it would be foolish to believe that he will play at his legendary level. Manning is officially out for Week 1, and his return is up in the air.

2. The Colts aren’t good enough in any other phase to get back to the playoffs. Manning eradicated so many other deficiencies on the Colts roster with his brilliant play. Indy will fall from grace — and fall hard.

3. Finally! The Texans will make the playoffs. This team is loaded with talent on offense.

4. Wade Phillips will prove to be a difference-maker at defensive coordinator as Houston transitions to a 3-4 defense. Team leader DeMeco Ryans is healthy, and that’s a big deal on the field and in the locker room. The Johnathan Joseph pickup at corner is an instant upgrade.

5. I’m picking Houston, but, frankly, Gary Kubiak scares me. He is a poor in-game coach, and Houston collapsed down the stretch last year. It is a boom-or-bust year for Kubiak.

6. Titans at 8-8? The quarterback position is vastly improved with Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. Signing Barrett Ruud was the most underrated move of the offseason. Chris Johnson is signed and will look like Chris Johnson right away.

7. I like the way new Titans head coach Mike Munchak has carried himself. And I love the staff he put together with Jerry Gray and Chris Palmer.

8. It’s a hot-seat year for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, yet Gene Smith drafted a quarterback in Round 1. I support the Blaine Gabbert pick, but it won’t help Del Rio keep his gig. I believe there will be a new coach in Jacksonville when the Jags miss the playoffs and finish last.

9. This offseason, we talked about the possibility of the Jags cutting David Garrard. His time was up the minute they drafted Blaine Gabbert and he was due 8 million dollars. But it was both unprofessional and simply the wrong move for the Jags to chop their best quarterback the first week of the regular season. While Garrard was too up and down to be considered a great player, cutting him now hurts the Jags’ ability to get off to a good start. And it kills Garrard’s chance of getting another gig. So the Jags cut Garrard, start Luke McCown and save 9 million dollars. That’s Jaguars football.

AFC West

1. Chargers 13-3

2. Chiefs 9-7

3. Raiders 6-10

4. Broncos 5-11

Schein’s 9 on AFC West

1. As I predicted on last week, Philip Rivers will win MVP. Vincent Jackson will be one of the five best receivers in the league. Norv Turner is an excellent play-caller on offense.

2. San Diego’s defense will make more game-changing plays this year under Greg Manusky. Norv Turner made the correct appointment with Rich Bisaccia as the special teams coordinator after San Diego’s putrid play on special teams last year. I think San Diego starts hot and eliminates the negativity from last year.

3. Bob Sanders hasn’t been healthy since winning 2007 defensive player of the year. But he’s enjoyed a great training camp with the Chargers and Turner is optimistic. If Sanders can stay healthy, he and Eric Weddle will form an elite combination at safety.

4. San Diego is the most talented team in the division. I think the Chiefs are better on paper, but San Diego won’t underachieve.

5. Kansas City is loaded with offensive playmakers. I trust Todd Haley calling the plays with Charlie Weis off to Florida. But Haley must control his demeanor working with Matt Cassel.

6. I liked Kansas City’s Kelly Gregg signing. This defense is well-coached and better than you think.

7. I get calls on the radio saying I’m a "Raider hater." That’s not true. How can you expect improvement from a team that is so mismanaged and clearly worse from a year ago with all of the signature players who defected? I’ve been campaigning for Hue Jackson to get a head-coaching gig for a long time. But it is going to be tough to succeed in Oakland.

8. John Fox was the ideal man, with the perfect energy and résumé, to lead Denver after Josh McDaniels ran this proud franchise into the ground.

9. The defense will be better with Von Miller, a healthy Elvis Dumervil and new coordinator Dennis Allen. But it is going to take time to heal all the wounds McDaniels created.

NFC East

Eagles 11-5

Giants 8-8

Cowboys 7-9

Redskins 4-12

Schein’s 9 on the NFC East

1. Forget the label of The Dream Team. Andy Reid and company improved an overmatched defense with brilliant signings and trades. It was all logical and calculated. But you have to wonder about the experience at linebacker, at safety and of first-time defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

2. The offense should be explosive. But with the play of the Philly offensive line, I can’t be convinced that Michael Vick plays in all 16 games. When Vick is out there, this offense is going to be something special. Vick, LeSean McCoy, Ronnie Brown, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, the underrated Jason Avant, Brent Celek and Steve Smith will keep defensive coordinators up at night. It’s going to be a show!

3. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman loves Alex Henery’s résumé, kicking in cold weather for a big-time school in Nebraska. The Jets used that same logic when they spent a high draft pick on Mike Nugent. I believe in Henery, but until he makes pressure kicks, he is an unknown.

4. The Giants had a miserable month of August, suffering numerous and key defections and injuries. And it has continued in September. Now, starting middle linebacker Jonathan Goff is done for the year. Goff and cornerback Terrell Thomas were really good players last year, being counted upon to take a step forward. If it wasn’t for bad luck, the Giants would have none at all.

5. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride should run the ball first and foremost. Eli Manning is too interception-prone.

6. Rex Grossman? Are you serious, Mike Shanahan?

7. Tim Hightower is an upgrade for Washington at running back. But before we put him in the Hall of Fame, let’s remember that he was available to all teams via trade.

8. I still have major questions for the Cowboys along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. Dallas having both starting corners nicked up to start the season is not the way new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wanted to go into the 2011 campaign.

9. I think Tony Romo has a big-time bounce-back year for Dallas.

NFC North

Packers 12-4

Lions 9-7

Bears 7-9

Vikings 6-10

Schein’s 9 on the NFC North

1. On paper, the Super Bowl champion Packers are better than they were one year ago. The lockout, which brought with it the lack of opportunity to celebrate the championship, will aid the Packers in keeping focus. Mike McCarthy is an excellent coach who keeps Green Bay thinking about the next game.

2. Ryan Grant is back, but a bit rusty. I expect McCarthy to get all three running backs involved early in the season. Grant won’t carry the ball exclusively. While McCarthy strives for balance, the offense, the team, goes through Aaron Rodgers.

3. I think the Packers will have the best defense in the NFC. I think B.J. Raji and Tramon Williams, both coming off great seasons, become true stars.

4. Jim Schwartz has totally changed the culture in Detroit. I loved how he challenged his team to win three out of four in December last year and they won them all. The Lions will be a factor in the playoff chase. I have them losing in Tampa in Week 1 and losing the tiebreaker with the Bucs.

5. I would’ve picked the Lions to make the playoffs if it wasn’t for the Mikel Leshoure injury. I love the offense. I love the defensive line. But they needed that “bell-cow” back.

6. Bears fans and safety Chris Harris love when I pick against them! But I still have some major offensive line questions when I look at the Bears.

7. Week 1 is upon us, and Chicago’s Lance Briggs and Matt Forte are still unhappy. That’s a problem.

8. I truly believe that Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave will prove to be upgrades at head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, in Minnesota.

9. The Vikes are perhaps the most confusing team to figure. They have major questions in the trenches, the defensive backfield and at receiver. I still believe in Donovan McNabb, but he’s a big question, too.

NFC South

Saints 12-4

Falcons 11-5 (wild card)

Bucs 9-7 (wild card)

Panthers 3-13

Schein’s 9 on the NFC South

1. The Saints are back! Mark Ingram gives New Orleans and Drew Brees some needed balance. This team is loaded and a true Super Bowl contender.

2. I’m not worried about the Saints defense looking shaky in a preseason game against Houston. They are too good and well coached under Gregg Williams.

3. Atlanta is also a legit Super Bowl contender. But I’m not convinced they did enough on defense to beat out New Orleans.

4. Matt Ryan is a star.

5. Bucs football! Get on board! Raheem Morris has changed the culture. And they made a decision last year to play a bevy of young players. That experience will help them greatly this season.

6. Josh Freeman will be a borderline MVP candidate this year.

7. I’m a bit concerned about the Bucs defense after losing Barrett Ruud. The second-year defensive linemen must step up

8. I’m excited to see Cam Newton play quarterback. I just wish for his development, and for Carolina winning ball games, that they had a legit veteran to start the season.

9. Ron Rivera will be a fine head coach. It just won’t happen this year.

NFC West

Cardinals 9-7

Rams 8-8

49ers 6-10

Seahawks 4-12

Schein’s 9 on the NFC West

1. Tarvaris Jackson is the Seahawks quarterback? Wow. What a downgrade. And Seattle rewards him with two-year contract and $8 million? Who was the guy who watched the Vikings over the years and thought to himself, “I need to get Jackson as my quarterback and Darrell Bevell as my coordinator.” It’s illogical. It’s a step backwards. Jackson isn’t better than Charlie Whitehurst, last year’s mistake at quarterback.

2. I did like Seattle’s pickups of Sidney Rice and Zach Miller. But this Seahawks offensive line looks putrid.

3. Kevin Kolb changes everything for the Cardinals on the field and in the meeting room. Cardinals’ brass is thrilled how he has improved the culture and accountability. It was missing last year without Kurt Warner. Kolb already has a rapport with Larry Fitzgerald and will get better and put up big numbers as the season moves along.

4. The Ryan Williams injury is a big deal for Arizona. Beanie Wells needs to show Ken Whisenhunt he can be counted on as a runner and in pass protection.

5. Arizona’s defense will be vastly improved with new coordinator Ray Horton. Patrick Peterson was the best overall player in the draft. I think this defensive line has a chance to be special.

6. The Rams boast a strong front seven on defense, and their linebacker core is very underrated. St. Louis was a tough team to leave out of the playoffs. I really like what Steve Spagnuolo has done in St. Louis.

7. Josh McDaniels was overmatched as a head coach but is a great offensive coordinator. I just wish he had an offseason to work with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.

8. Patience, Niners fans. Jim Harbaugh is the right man for the job. It just won’t happen this year.

9. I’m not convinced the Niners’ 2012 starting quarterback is on the current roster.

Championship Sunday

Patriots over the Jets

Packers over the Saints

Super Bowl

Packers repeat, beating New England 27-24