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The 2011 National Football League season will not be a season of surprises. The normal months of preparing for the season were cut to six weeks due to a lockout that, frankly, took way too long to settle.

The short preseason only made the good teams better and the bad teams grow worse. Teams like the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers were able to focus on the small holes in their powerhouse teams while teams like the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks were not able to make the major changes they needed in order to stay competitive.

Meanwhile, there are a group of teams in the middle that have the chance to be playoff contenders, but still need to solidify their team.

These teams include the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers.

Kevin Kolb is a decent franchise quarterback for the Cardinals, but the offensive line is terrible. Kolb has Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, but without time to find an open man he will be trapped in the backfield frequently.

The Dolphins are a great defensive team but their offense is very shaky. Their young quarterback, Chad Henne, could have used a long preseason to improve his skill and confidence, but his lack of practice will be a major disadvantage. However, you can still look for Reggie Bush to be a threat once again.

The Giants have a good defensive line. Their quarterback, Eli Manning, has definitely stepped out from his brother’s shadow, but they have been constantly battling injury. The Eagles will most likely take their division, but the Giants will be a wild-card contender.

The Cowboys look good on paper, although Tony Romo has been hot and cold. He is a good quarterback and has the ability to make a playoff appearance, but the Cowboys have a history of losing games they need to win.

The Vikings are good defensively, but they have yet to choose a quarterback to trust. Brett Favre didn’t put up the numbers they expected and Donovan McNabb was never trusted to lead the team. McNabb has carried teams on his back before and with running back Adrian Peterson in the back field, McNabb can turn this team around.

The 49ers are probably the worst team on this list. Quarterback Alex Smith still needs a lot of work and would have benefited from a long preseason. The offensive line doesn’t give him enough time to throw and the defense is less than cohesive. The NFC West is an unimpressive division, though, so they still have the opportunity to be competitive.

Do not expect the 2011 NFL season to be filled with underdog victories and hero collapses. The standings will most likely look very similar to what we saw at the end of the 2010 season.

The lockout will make things interesting with the last four or so slots in the playoffs, but the same teams will fill the other spots.

The AFC championship game will most likely be the New England Patriots vs. the Indianapolis Colts and the NFC championship game will most likely be the Green Bay Packers vs. the New Orleans Saints. This, of course, will be determined by the final season standings, but look for these four teams to clinch a playoff spot first.

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