Home > NFL > 2011 NFL Season Non-Bandwagon Underdogs: Tennessee Titans & Minnesota Vikings

2011 NFL Season Non-Bandwagon Underdogs: Tennessee Titans & Minnesota Vikings

With the extreme hype swirling around the return of the NFL, mostly due to a summer of lockouts and the knowledge that the NBA probably isn’t coming back any time soon, the sports media world has been ripe with underdog projections.

One of the great things about the NFL compared to some of the other North American professional sports leagues is that random teams can ‘pop’ from season-to-season, going from relative obscurity one year to winning their division and a playoff berth the next (Kansas City last year and Miami before them). Most NFL followers know this phenomenon is bound to happen again this year and many are making projections as to which team is going to ‘pop’.

The popular favorites this year include the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions. Detroit seems to hold a soft spot in everyone’s hearts since the notorious 0-16 season in 2008, and the Rams are in a similar boat with their 1-15 outing in 2009.

Both of these are feel-good picks for the underdogs of 2011, but I have my doubts about both. St. Louis, while their band wagon isn’t as jam packed as Detroit’s, they have an extremely tough schedule for the first 8 weeks. The front end of season is going to include: Philadelphia, New York Giants, Baltimore, Washington, Green Bay, Dallas, and New Orleans. Four of those seven teams were playoff teams last year, while six of seven were in the playoffs two years ago, and it includes the last three super bowl champions.

If they can survive the first seven games and steal a win or two along the way they can really capitalize in the second half of the season where they play the perennial bottom feeders, minus one game versus Pittsburg. I like St. Louis, but I think they are going to have troubles getting started this season. Watch out for them in the next few years, but this year they might fall a bit short of the lofty expectations that many people are putting on the shoulders of standout second-year QB Sam Bradford.

The award for most-heavily-loaded-bandwagon for the summer of 2011 can we award to the Detroit Lions. Due to years of awful finishes and building through the draft, the Lions have gathered a number of top notch players.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh are undisputedly tops of their positional class while third year QB, Matt “If He’s Healthy” Stafford, has been on everyone’s radar as an up-and-coming star. Combine these three guys with a young running back in Javid Best and you have a solid team.

My doubts around the Lion’s inability to ‘pop’ this year are focused around two things: injuries and being in the NFC North Division. In two NFL seasons Stafford has only played in 13 of a possible 18 games while Calvin Johnson is prone to missing 3-4 games a season due to injury. Everyone talks about what these guys can do if they are healthy, but we are yet to see it.
Secondly, they play in a very competitive division that includes the Chicago Bears, the Minnesota Vikings, and the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. The Bears are gearing up for a drop off year, but regardless of their team woes it’s a given that they will play tough defense all year round. Minnesota could have a sneaky good season this year (more on this later) and I don’t think I have to say much about Green Bay after Thursday’s 2011 week one matchup against the Saints…

Now that I have explained why I am off the bandwagon for those two teams let me talk about who I like as the teams that have a good chance to ‘pop’ in 2011.

The Tennessee Titians and the Minnesota Vikings are my two picks for sneaky underdogs that might ‘pop’ in 2011, and for very similar reasons.

1)New Coaches: Brad Childress in Minnesota had been under public scrutiny for a long time and seemed to distance himself from popularity in the last two years through a combination of questionable play-calling, the Farve era, and the Randy Moss experiment. In Tennessee Jeff Fisher had been the head coach for six-teen years! It was simply time for a change.

2)Stud Running Backs: Adrienne Peterson in Minnesota and Chris Johnson in Tennessee are arguably the two best and most consistent backs in all of football right now.

3)New Veteran QBs With Much Less Drama: Brett Farve was the epitome of drama over the last few years with injuries, hold outs, thousands of retirements, explicit text messages and cheerleaders. On any other team new QB Donovan McNabb might seem like a big ego, but he should be a welcomingly steady figure behind the Viking’s offensive line this year. In the summer Tennessee shed a dead weight from the organization by letting Vince Young walk. Young had been touted as the franchise QB for the Titans until a combination of injuries, inconsistent performances and feuds with ex-coach Jeff Fisher resulted in Young watching from the sidelines as veteran Kerry Collins took the majority of the offensive snaps. Both of those quarterbacks are on new teams this year, and in their places the Titans will field a combination of veteran Matt Hasselbeck and rookie Jake Locker. Hasselbeck, 35, will provide a sliver of youth to the position, replacing the 38 year old Collins and will also work as a positive mentoring figure to the rookie Locker.

4)Rosters That Are Similar to Successful Years in the recent Past: In 2009 the Vikings went 12-4 and went to the NFC Championship game. With foundation of that Super Bowl contending team mostly intact and a few tweeks at QB and coach this team could be dangerous. Similarly, the Titians are an organization that is no stranger to success, going 13-3 in 2008.

These four factors apply to both teams, making their outlooks quite similar for the coming year. In fact, last year both teams finished with a record of 6-10. All that being said there is one additional factor that also applies to both teams, but not in the same way. That is:

5)Strength of Division: As mentioned above while discounting the Detroit Lions’ chances of ‘popping’, the Vikings have 6 tough divisional games by virtue of being in the NFC North. To recap: Super Bowl Champ Packers, always tough defense in the Bears, and an up-and-coming Lions. On the other side of things, the Tennessee Titans are in a division that is ripe for the picking. With Payton Manning undergoing neck surgery yesterday and rendering his 2011 season a write-off the Colts, who heavily rely on Manning’s abilities, will have a difficult time keeping their heads above water. Also in the division are the offensively stacked but inconsistent Houston Texans as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars just cut starting QB David Garrard from the team less than a week before their season opener. I wouldn’t be putting too much faith in either of those teams holding together great seasons.

Overall, if I had to pick one team that I would mark as my non-bandwagon-underdog pick for the 2011 season I would go with the Tennessee Titans. I was originally only going to talk about the Titans, but I realized that all the reasons that I liked them applied to the Vikings as well, other than strength of division. So, I guess we will see what happens this season!

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