I'm not very good at making preseason predictions. Two years ago, I picked the Giants to beat the Chargers in the Super Bowl. Last season, I wrote a column saying the Ravens would go all the way, and they might have had they not fallen apart against the Steelers. This year, I'm feeling good about the Patriots and the Packers -- and yes, I felt that way before Thursday night -- but considering my track record, neither will win it all in 2011.
That's why I'm picking nine different teams to lift the Lombardi Trophy, with a reason why each of the NFL's true contenders will be showered with confetti at season's end. I like my chances of getting it right this year.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers, with a high-flying offense led by Philip Rivers and a defense that finished as the NFL's top-ranked unit in 2011, learned their lesson after one of their notorious slow starts finally doomed them a year ago. They get out of the gates fast and cruise to the AFC West title and a first-round bye. Rested and ready, the Chargers win at all as Rivers solidifies himself as an elite QB.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick proves that he can stay in the pocket and in the lineup, and along with a stacked secondary, carries the Eagles to heights that Donovan McNabb was never reach.
Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta's big draft day gamble -- trading a slew of picks for Julio Jones -- pays off as Matt Ryan has enough weapons to win his first playoff game and a couple more on the road to Indy.
New York Jets: We learn that actually, Mark Sanchez isn't that awful as Rex Ryan gets a ring before John Harbaugh.
Green Bay Packers: Fresh off their win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the Packers enjoy a season of relative good health, Aaron Rodgers becomes the best quarterback in the NFL (if he isn't already) and the defense continues to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Now let's talk about that three-peat...
New England Patriots: Bill Belichick is able to conjure up his postseason magic of years past and Tom Brady plays like Tom Brady circa 2004 as he solidifies his place among the greatest players of all-time.
Baltimore Ravens: Decaying franchise cornerstones Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are able to hold the team's championship window open for another year, and Joe Flacco finally carries them on his back through it.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints are able to throw the ball all over the place like always, but a reliable running game and improved defense allows Bourbon Street to party for a second time in three years.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers keep key contributors such as Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith and Ben Roethlisberger in good health and avoid the dreaded Super Bowl hangover to pick up ring No. 7.