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Football in 2011? Let’s pretend it will happen

With NFL and NFLPA still squabbling over a new deal, we take a look at top storylines in 2011.

Football fans should circle March 3 on their calendars and treat it like a date with the apocalypse. The owners and NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement is set to expire, and the two aren’t holding hands.

But, let’s ignore all that and assume there will be football. The scouting combine and draft are still on the books and there are a few weeks for a deal to be hammered out. Let’s look at four of the most noteworthy teams, players and storylines worth following:

1. Sexy sleeper team
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The 2010 “Baby Bucs” became the first team in NFL history to start 10 rookies in a season and finish with 10 wins or more.

Josh Freeman will be entering his third season, the defense will only be better and wide receiver Mike Williams could be an NFL All-Pro. I like ’em.

2. Intriguing rookie
Broncos QB Tim Tebow led the league in jersey sales and intrigue in 2010.

In 2011? All eyes should be on Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Auburn. With more red flags than a virus-infected e-mail, Newton enters the NFL with quite a few skeptics. He also enters the NFL with one heck of a skill set.

3. Most topsy-turvy
The Jets plan on using their franchise tag on LB David Harris and not receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes.

In addition to those three, there are 14 other Jets players whose contracts expired at the end of last season. Woody, Mikey T., and ol’ Rexy have several decisions to make in a short amount of time, if the Jets are going to make the postseason for the third straight year.

4. Making the leap
Drew Brees made the leap into the league’s upper echelon of quarterbacks in 2009. Last year, it was the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.

Who’s next? Five quarterbacks to watch: Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford and Matt Schaub. Combined, they have just two career playoff victories.

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