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Gutierrez: Predicting the 2011 NFL season

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Gutierrez: Predicting the 2011 NFL season

Sep. 5, 2011

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Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.com

With the season less than week away, it's time to make predictions for the 2011 season. Without further ado...

AFC

East
1) New England Patriots
2) New York Jets (Wild card)
3) MIami Dolphins
4) Buffalo Bills
North
1) Baltimore Ravens
2) Pittsburgh Steelers (Wild card)
3) Cleveland Browns
4) Cincinnati Bengals

South
1) Houston Texans
2) Indianapolis Colts
3) Tennessee Titans
4) Jacksonville Jaguars

West
1) San Diego Chargers
2) Oakland Raiders
3) Kansas City Chiefs
4) Denver Broncos

AFC Wildcard round
Jets over Ravens, Steelers over Texans

AFC Divisional round
Patriots over Jets, Chargers over Steelers
AFC Championship Game
Chargers over Patriots

NFC

East
1) Philadelphia Eagles
2) Dallas Cowboys (Wild card)
3) New York Giants
4) Washington

North
1) Green Bay Packers
2) Detroit Lions (Wild card)
3) Chicago Bears
4) Minnesota Vikings

South
1) New Orleans Saints
2) Atlanta Falcons
3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4) Carolina Panthers

West
1) St. Louis Rams
2) Arizona Cardinals
3) Seattle Seahawks
4) San Francisco 49ers
Wildcard round
Saints over Lions, Cowboys over Rams

Divisional round
Eagles over Cowboys, Packers over Saints

NFC Championship Game
Packers over Eagles
Super Bowl XLVI
Chargers over Packers

MVP: Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Michael Vick
Let's be clear on one thing: this is not an endorsement, merely a prediction of the artist formerly known as Ron Mexico continuing his rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches ride. The only player in the history of the NFL to score a pair of 100 million contracts is at the helm of the latest Dream Team. He will either continue his ascent, or suffer a breathtaking fall. The media loves a good redemption story, even if it's hard for many to swallow. Still.

Offensive player of the year : San Diego Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers
This is the year Rivers finally joins that pantheon of current QB greats and is mentioned in the same breath as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Rivers might even steal a few MVP votes along the way as he embarks on a 5,000-yard passing season. Finally, Rivers should take San Diego where not even Dan Fouts could - atop a stage holding the Lombardy Trophy. And yes, we realize Norv Turner is still the Chargers coach.

Defensive player of the year Detroit Lions Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh
And for his encore, Suh, the 2010 NFL defensive rookie of the year and All-Pro with 10 sacks, will lead a Motown revival that ends with a trip to the playoffs. You know he's not only feared but respected in the trenches when he's already being accused of dirty play. He's that mean, that nasty and, yes, that good. He's a game-changer who also intercepted a pass as a rookie and will only get better.

Offensive rookie of the year: Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton
Oh how I wanted to go with Atlanta receiver Julio Jones here, what with his sliding into a high-powered offense that propelled the Falcons to the NFC's top seed last year. But Dalton will be a starting NFL quarterback from Day 1, and that carries a lot of weight. And he'll pile on a lot of stats, relatively speaking. At least, if he survives playing for one of the more woeful squads in the league in the Bengals.

Defensive rookie of the year: 49ers Linebacker Aldon Smith
The sexy pick is Denver linebacker Von Miller, the No 2 pick of the draft. But Smith will be playing in more meaningful games, albeit in a much worse division. Still, Smith was a frenetic presence this preseason for the 49ers in wracking up 19 tackles, tied for second-most on the team, and getting a team-high 3 12 sacks. Smith, the seventh overall pick of he draft, should continue that production.

Comeback player of the year: Green Bay Packers Tight End Jermichael Finley
A right knee injury ended Finley's 2010 season after just five games. And still, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. With Finley back, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a dependable security blanket back at his sideand in the flat, and underneath. Finley figures to benefit from Rodgers' rise to prominence, and the proof will be in the numbers Finley puts up as a pass-catching tight end for the defending champs.

Coach of the year: Detroit Lions' Jim Schwartz
Quick, name the head coach of the Lions. And no, it's no longer Wayne Fontes. To steal a line from the Mel Brooks cult classic "Spaceballs," May the Schwartz be with you. Lions fans will be singing the third-year Lions coach praises this fall and winter as he leads Detroit, with a big help from his ferocious defensive line and an opportunistic offense, to its first playoff berth since 1999.

Inactives: Raiders without two inside linebackers, Bowman suiting up

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AP

Inactives: Raiders without two inside linebackers, Bowman suiting up

The Raiders are aiming to snap a four-game losing streak as they take on the first-place Chiefs Thursday night under the lights in Oakland. And they will be thin in the middle of their defense. 

Cory James and Marquel Lee are both inactive, but a well-known new face is ready to go.

Oakland will turn to veteran NaVorro Bowman, along with two undrafted rookies, Woodson Luster and Nicholas Morrow, to man the middle. 

The following players have been ruled out tonight vs. the Chiefs: 

Cornerback Gareon Conley

Quarterback Connor Cook

Linebacker Cory James

Linebacker Marquel Lee

Tackle Marshall Newhouse

Defensive End Jihad Ward

Tackle Jylan Ware

Role reversal? Alex Smith currently more of a gunslinger than Derek Carr

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AP

Role reversal? Alex Smith currently more of a gunslinger than Derek Carr

OAKLAND -- Derek Carr is going through a rough patch. The beloved Raiders quarterback is being criticized for his part in this prolonged losing skid, a rarity since his rookie year.

Carr is supposedly playing it safe, getting rid of the ball quick, throwing short and avoiding potentially risky deep shots downfield.

That doesn’t sound like someone who wears No. 4 as homage to Brett Favre. Alex Smith comes to mind instead.

The Kansas City signal caller is notoriously known as a game manager, a cautious leader who rarely lets it rip.

Not this year. The former 49ers No. 1 overall pick is killing it in K.C., with career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. The early MVP candidate has 12 touchdowns and no picks despite the fact he’s throwing deep more than ever.

Now that sounds like the Derek Carr we knew last year.

These quarterbacks seem to have reversed roles heading into Thursday’s clash between AFC West rivals. The Raiders are 2-4 and in desperate need of win against the AFC West-leading Chiefs.

Smith and Carr can be truly dynamic downfield. Only one guy’s found that rhythm lately.

That’s crystal clear when examining their deep throws.

Nobody’s better going yard this year than Smith, per analytics site Pro Football Focus – wrap your head around that – who is 13-of-23 for 526 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions on throws beyond 20 yards in the air. Carr is 17th, completing 3-of-10 deep shots – no starter has fewer attempts -- for 109 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.

Last year, Carr ranked fifth in passes over 20 yards in the air, again, using PFF stats, with a 46-percent completion rate, 858 yards and a 117.6 passer rating. Smith was 20th in that category, completing less than a third of his attempt with a 72.8 passer rating.

The Raiders certainly want to push the ball downfield more. Carr has but four explosive plays in nearly three games of the Raiders’ four game losing streak – he missed the Baltimore loss with a fractured in his back – and hasn’t worked short passes consistently enough to score often.

“We definitely want to be able to (create explosive plays),” Carr said. “Now does that mean we’re going to do anything differently or trying to force things? Absolutely not. That’s where you get in trouble. That’s something that I’ve learned in my career. You can’t force it. You just have to work hard and let it happen.”

Some think Smith is letting it fly with a stoked competitive fire because the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid believes a strong supporting cast led by Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and rookie running back Kareem Hunt allows him to do big things Carr typically does.

There is, however, one constant heading into Thursday’s matchup. Smith has owned the Raiders. The Chiefs have had Carr’s number.

Smith is 9-1 against Oakland. Carr’s 1-5 against K.C.

Smith has 8.3 yards per attempt, 19 touchdowns and just four picks against the Raiders. Carr averages 4.92 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and five interceptions versus the Chiefs.

“These are big games in the division,” Smith said. “You know they’re going to be four quarters. You know they’re going to come down to the end. You just try to go out there every single play and execute. They’re all hard fought and have been close.”

Carr knows Kansas City stands in the way of his ultimate goals. This year, he has to get past them to get the Raiders back on track. That won’t be easy.

“They do a good job of rushing the passer. They do a good job of stopping the run. They do a good job on the coverage end,” Carr said. “They’re sound. They’re really well-coached. (Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton) is a great coach. All the respect for him. So much respect that he even texted me when I got hurt last year. He’s just a good dude. But this week I don’t like him too much. He does a really good job of making sure everyone is locked in. They’re really smart. They’re really smart players. They don’t do a lot so they can see route concepts. They can visualize things and get used to seeing those kind of things.”