Right Field

Five NFL Storylines to Watch in 2011

(1). Is Aaron Rodgers now the league’s best quarterback? Before the 2010–11 playoffs, the Green Bay signal-caller was widely regarded as a top-tier QB. Then he engineered a remarkable post-season run, capped off with a Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl MVP award, which vaulted him into megastar territory. He was ruthlessly efficient in last night’s opener against the Saints, throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. ESPN’s intrepid NFL reporter Adam Schefter now considers Rodgers to be the league’s best player. But what do the players themselves think? In a poll conducted earlier this year by the NFL Network, they ranked Patriots QB Tom Brady No. 1, followed by Colts QB Peyton Manning. Rodgers checked in at No. 11. Many experts agreed that Brady deserved the top ranking. (After all, his 2010 regular-season numbers — 36 TD passes, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 111 — were off the charts.) The fans, however, placed him third, behind Rodgers (No. 2) and Manning (No. 1).

(2). Have opposing teams figured out Michael Vick? No question, what the Eagles QB did in 2010 represents one of the greatest comebacks in NFL (and perhaps overall sports) history. Vick burst out of the gate with a series of MVP-caliber performances: In his first six games, he threw eleven touchdown passes and zero interceptions, while also rushing for four TDs and fumbling only twice. But the speedy southpaw looked much less spectacular — and took more hits — down the stretch, largely because he faced more blitzes. In his last seven games, Vick tossed seven picks and fumbled nine times. His final two games were both home losses, to the Vikings in Week 16 and to the Packers in the wild-card playoff round. After a busy summer in which they acquired a bevy of Pro Bowl talent — including cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, running back Ronnie Brown, wide receiver Steve Smith, and QB Vince Young — along with standout defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (who won a Super Bowl with Green Bay last February), the Eagles are the most hyped team in the NFC. Yet their fate remains inextricably tied to the 31-year-old (and oft-injured) Vick, who looked shaky during the preseason.

3). Is the NFC South “becoming the best division in football”? ESPN analyst John Clayton thinks so. It boasts two of the league’s best young QBs (Josh Freeman and Matt Ryan), plus a veteran superstar and Super Bowl MVP (Drew Brees). It has produced the NFC’s top playoff seed each of the past two years (New Orleans in 2009 and Atlanta in 2010), and it was the only division in 2010 to have three teams finish above .500 (Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay). (The Buccaneers missed the playoffs despite compiling a 10–6 record.) On the other hand, Carolina had the NFL’s worst record (2–14) and probably won’t be much better this season. Oh, and the Saints’ defense was abysmal last night at Lambeau.

4). Is the NFC West still the worst division in football? It sure looks that way. Writing at NFL.com, Pat Kirwan lists three reasons why the NFC West might actually be worse in 2011 than it was in 2010. First, the division has lost several of its better players, including QB Matt Hasselbeck, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and linebacker Takeo Spikes. Second, its four teams (Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis) will have harder schedules this year: The NFC West is matched up with the NFC East (Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Redskins) for intraconference play and with the AFC North (Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers) for interconference action. Third, the jet-lag factor: NFC West squads will “make the three-time-zone, west-to-east trip [a combined] 16 times and play at 1 p.m. ET in 13 of those games. That is a recipe for disaster.”

(5). Will the Lions finally make the playoffs? They are tied with Buffalo for having the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. Indeed, the last time Detroit participated in a postseason contest — Jan. 8, 2000 — Tom Brady was still at Michigan (fresh off the last, and best, game of his college career), Aaron Rodgers was still in high school, and future Lions defensive star Ndamukong Suh was still in middle school. The Lions went 6–10 last year, but they ended with a four-game winning streak (including victories over the Packers and the Buccaneers); their talented young QB (Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft) is finally healthy, and he’ll be passing to one of the league’s best wideouts (Calvin Johnson); and the Lions have a tough, aggressive defensive line. Sports Illustrated NFL maven Peter King has picked Detroit to finish 10–6 and qualify for the playoffs. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Most Popular


What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More

Screw York Yankees

You are dead to me. You are a collection of Fredos. The cock has crowed, you pathetic sniveling jerks. The team I have rooted for since 1965, when I first visited the House that Ruth Built, where I hawked peanuts and ice cream a lifetime ago, watched countless games (Guidry striking out 18!), has gotten so ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Trump Can’t Cry ‘No Fair’

If I may jump in, I take Charlie’s point and I think he’s largely correct. I also think David is correct. There’s not that much of a contradiction in that because I think to some extent they’re talking about different things. And this reflects a larger frustration I have with many of the ... Read More