2021 NFL

2021 NFL Preview

              This is the 14th year I am doing an NFL preview with predictions on every team’s record. The first year I did it, in 2008, I believe I picked Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl. They ended up closing that season on a very long winning streak, then got upset in the first round by the 8-8 San Diego Chargers. Since then, I have thrown darts at the board, trying to pick the correct Super Bowl winner. I think I correctly picked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl a couple times, whereas if I just picked Tom Brady’s team every single year, I’d be right four times over by now. I also correctly picked the Steelers to lose Super Bowl XLV, but I had Dallas winning the big game and not my favorite team.

              The 17th game of the season has been handled in an okay way by the NFL. They decided to just mix it into the batter, cooking it along with the rest of the cake. I would have preferred icing on the cake. Make one weekend in November – the same weekend as all the big college football rivalries – where all AFC teams play NFC teams who are geographically related. Every year, then, you’d have two teams from the same area and maybe even the same state going at it on the same weekend.

              Here are the matchups I would have liked to see:


*sorry, Bills and Cards fans, you’re the only ones who I can’t find a suitable partner for

              Imagine the hype you’d get around a city like Los Angeles when you’d have UCLA and USC playing in the Coliseum on Saturday, then the Rams and Chargers the next day. You think Pittsburgh fans wouldn’t enjoy putting a dent in the Eagles’ playoff plans? Plus, you revive the Seahawks’ rivalry with the Broncos which they had back in the days of the five-team AFC West. This idea is so good that it’s hard to believe the NFL passed on it. The marketing guys would have gotten a kick out of promoting the heck out of “Rivalry Weekend” in the NFL.

              But instead we’re left with games that hold little significance, because the closest you’ll get to playing this opponent again is in two years. It’s really a missed opportunity at something special, but it is what it is. And as a result, it throws a wrench into my record-picking. In the past, I’d always calculate each conference to win exactly 128 games and lose 128. Now I have to rectify that, and as a result I’m giving one extra win to each AFC team, since they will host the 17th game.

AFC EastRecordAFC NorthRecordAFC SouthRecordAFC WestRecord
Buffalo14-3Cleveland12-5Tennessee12-5Kansas City14-3
New England8-9Baltimore11-6Indianapolis9-8L.A. Chargers10-7
Miami8-9Pittsburgh10-7Jacksonville4-13Las Vegas8-9
N.Y. Jets5-12Cincinnati4-13Houston2-15Denver5-12

Team-by-team previews:

  1. Kansas City (14-3)

The Chiefs are going to still be good, even with the Reid drama and their offensive line being a work in progress. Patrick Mahomes will likely win MVP. But they’re due for a slip-up in the playoffs. Expect a red-hot team to upset them sometime in between the divisional round and Super Bowl LVI

2. Buffalo (14-3)

Josh Allen has a legitimate shot at MVP. The Bills are going to be everyone’s darlings this year. They will become the media’s team, as I always like to say. The team the media gets behind and creates a narrative that they’ll win it all, and most of the time that team fulfills the media’s wish. Expect to see the Bills in Los Angeles in February.

3. Tennessee (12-5)

While I do have the Titans having a great record, I don’t really believe they’re going to do much damage when the playoffs come around. I just don’t trust Ryan Tannehill. Put Aaron Rodgers on the Titans and they win the Super Bowl. With Tannehill, the Titans are always going to be in the space between Super Bowl contender and wild card hopeful. Fortunately, their division sucks.

4. Cleveland (12-5)

The Browns are a good bet to contend for being the media’s team. Maybe, though, their success from a year ago will blunt a bit of the media’s furor. In any case, the Browns are going to win a lot of games, and I have them as my upset special over KC in the playoffs. I am hesitant on picking the Browns to reach the Super Bowl, simply because they are Cleveland after all. But they’re going to be a tough out.

5. Baltimore (11-6)

Lamar Jackson on his own makes the Ravens a threat. If he is injured at any point of the season, then you can close down shop on Baltimore. He is a true “MVP” in the sense of value to the team rather than stats. The Ravens will make the playoffs, though I’m not sure how long they’ll be dancing.

6. Pittsburgh (10-7)

Big Ben’s arm is shot. He looked like Peyton “Noodle” Manning in the final games last year. And yet, I still have the Steelers making the playoffs. Why? Well, isn’t it obvious, it’s the defense. They are scary on defense. This defense has the making of the 2000 Ravens, one that can win games on its own. They may not have enough to win against a top-notch team in the playoffs, but good luck keeping them out of the dance.

7. L.A. Chargers (10-7)

Justin Herbert is the real deal. Now, can he get some much-needed help? I’m not talking about the roster, I’m talking about the stadium. Do Chargers fans exist? And if they do, will they fill SoFi Stadium for a playoff run? The Chargers haven’t had a home field advantage since 1994. Maybe this year they finally get it back.

8. Indianapolis (9-8)

This pick is predicated on Carson Wentz being back in time for the regular season. He still has a lot to offer, if you can protect him. Don’t bring in Nick Foles unless you want to ruin Wentz’s confidence. It’s time to let him have the reins. The Colts will challenge for a playoff spot, but probably not reach one.

9. New England (8-9)

We learned something last year: the reason for the Patriots’ success was Tom Brady, not Bill Belichick. But Belichick still has a lot to offer, and he’ll help keep an inferior roster in the playoff discussion. Ultimately Cam Newton will be benched and Mac Jones will take over at midseason. Jones won’t get the Pats to the playoffs this year, but he’s going to be a problem for the AFC in the years to come.

10. Miami (8-9)

I’m not sold on Tua Tagovailoa. He hasn’t had enough time yet to prove that he’s capable of leading a team to the big dance. Maybe this year he takes some steps forward and gets the Dolphins right on the cusp.

11. Las Vegas (8-9)

Jon Gruden made the wrong choice. He should have stayed in the Monday Night Football booth and collected checks from ESPN the rest of his life. Instead, now he’s at a floundering Raiders franchise. The Raiders may have fans this year, but they won’t have a winning season.

12. Denver (5-12)

Who’s the QB? If the Broncos can ever find another franchise QB, I have faith in them that they’ll be right back at the top of the conference every couple of years. But that’s the big if, isn’t it? Oh, who’s that guy they thought about trading for, his initials are A.R., aren’t they? Without that A.R., the Broncos will flounder this year.

13. N.Y. Jets (5-12)

The Jets will show flashes, but ultimately they’re not going to do much this year. There will be some growing pains under Robert Saleh, but trust that he’s going to put this team on the right path and perhaps on the runway toward the playoffs in the future.

14. Jacksonville (4-13)

Trevor Lawrence is not going to gel right away in the NFL. That being said, he brings about as much hope as any quarterback in recent history. Maybe he’s the one who finally gets the Jaguars into a Super Bowl. It’s just going to be Super Bowl LX and not LVI.

15. Cincinnati (4-13)

I’m not sure how well Joe Burrow will have recovered by the time this season starts. The Bengals have some real potential, but I think they’re still a couple years away.

16. Houston (2-15)

At least when Bill O’Brien was fired, he didn’t leave behind anything. He made sure to take the franchise and burn it to the ground. And now DeShaun Watson may or may not have poured gasoline on the fire. I’m a believer in “innocent until proven guilty,” but his situation isn’t good for the Texans.

Playoff teams: #1 Kansas City, #2 Buffalo, #3 Tennessee, #4 Cleveland, #5 Baltimore, #6 Pittsburgh, #7 L.A. Chargers

Wild Card picks: Buf over LAC, Ten over Pit, Cle over Bal

Divisional picks: Cle over KC, Buf over Ten

Conference Championship: Buf over Cle

NFC EastRecordNFC NorthRecordNFC SouthRecordNFC WestRecord
Dallas9-8Green Bay13-4Tampa Bay12-5San Francisco11-6
N.Y. Giants9-8Minnesota10-7New Orleans6-11Seattle11-6
Philadelphia5-12Chicago7-10Atlanta4-13L.A. Rams10-7

Team-by-team previews:

  1. Green Bay (13-4)

All in. The last dance. The final hurrah. This is it. The Packers are going for one last run at the Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers. Should they succeed, Rodgers’ legacy is secured and the ghosts of Brett Favre are finally silenced. In addition, no one in Wisconsin will complain when the team goes into rebuilding mode in 2022. But should the Packers fail to reach the Super Bowl, Rodgers moves on, probably to Denver, the Pack has to release some stars due to their cap situation, and they start from scratch with Jordan Love (who I still think was a good pick). I say they finally break through their NFC Championship Game jinx. The team is just too talented.

2. Tampa Bay (12-5)

I expect Tom Brady to be, well, Tom Brady, and the Bucs will win a ton of games. I think their division is pretty weak now that Drew Brees is gone, so they’re going to be in the race for the #1 seed all season long. Under my calculations, the Packers will have to win in Week 18 to clinch the #1 seed over them. Expect another strong playoff performance out of Brady’s bunch.

3. San Francisco (11-6)

Yes, I’ve got San Francisco winning the tough NFC West. Why? Because of their defense, silly. Even without Saleh coordinating it, they’re going to be really nasty. Like with Pittsburgh, it doesn’t matter who’s at QB. I expect a QB shuffle during the season, kind of like in 2012 when SF went all the way to Super Bowl XLVII. Garoppolo plays early, Lance plays late.

4. Dallas (9-8)

A team as talented as Dallas shouldn’t suck, right? I fully expect Jerry Jones to screw things up somehow by saying something dumb. But in a weak NFC East, who else am I going to go with? The Cowboys will squeak into the playoffs as a #4 seed and get promptly removed in the Wild Card game against a top-notch second-place team.

5. Seattle (11-6)

The Hawks will compete with San Francisco all the way to the end of the season for the NFC West title. While I do have the 49ers winning, it’s the Seahawks that scare me much more than the Niners. Russell Wilson overcame my criticism of him and became the franchise quarterback I never thought he’d become. I get the feeling Pete Carroll’s days are numbered; he probably wants to retire soon. Expect an all-out attack by the Seahawks to try to reach their first Super Bowl in seven years.

6. Minnesota (10-6)

As much as I hate the Vikings, they will find a way into the playoffs. They’ll beat up on Chicago and Detroit and probably split with Green Bay. Kirk Cousins will get his team to the Wild Card round, assuming he doesn’t catch Covid first. The Vikes have such a good running game that it makes up for the fact that Cousins is a fraud.

7. L.A. Rams (10-6)

I’m still trying to remember that the Rams are in L.A. now. With Matthew Stafford at the helm, the Rams will be improved, but not by much. I honestly don’t think Stafford is really all that much better than Jared Goff. This idea that he’s a Hall of Famer who never had any talent around him is simply bunk. He had Calvin Johnson, for crying out loud. He’s always going to be a fantasy quarterback who puts up big numbers but hardly wins. This year, though, he will have a satisfactory season.

8. N.Y. Giants (9-8)

Daniel Jones may be the real deal, and if Saquon Barkley can come back from his injury, the Giants will be dangerous. They could be one of those #4 seeds who makes some noise in the playoffs. But they’ve got to get to the playoffs first, and I think Dallas just ekes by them at the end and keeps them from getting in.

9. Arizona (8-9)

Some people think the NFC West might get all four teams into the playoffs. I’m not going that far, but I do think they will be very competitive, and they will contend for a wild card into the final weeks of the season. Kyler Murray has all the weapons he needs. The question is, can he make that next step?

10. Chicago (7-10)

Chicago made the playoffs last season, but only because of the expanded playoff system. This year, they’ll be hoping for another expansion, because they aren’t going to be as good. All this talk about Justin Fields, and I’ve got to wonder: is he just the next Mitchell Trubisky? After all, Trubisky was held up as the guy who would save Chicago football. Regardless of whether Fields will pan out or not, I think the Bears struggle this season.

11. New Orleans (6-11)

The Saints are not going to be what they were under Brees. In fact, they won’t be even close. I don’t think Jameis Winston is the answer. I’d feel better with Taysom Hill. Winston throws too many interceptions, something that Brees was so good at avoiding. And even though I have my criticisms of Brees, the fact is that he’s an all-timer, and you just can’t replace him. Unless you’re the Packers, of course.

12. Philadelphia (5-12)

Jalen Hurts provides a spark that the Eagles need if they want to be relevant again. Last year was the biggest meltdown of an organization that I’ve ever seen, at least outside of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I followed some Eagles blog last year, and they were literally in an all-out civil war over Wentz, Hurts, Doug Pederson, and GM Howie Roseman. Well, now Wentz and Pederson are gone. Can the Eagles successfully rebuild?

13. Washington (5-12)

The “Hogs” had a bizarre year last year – good enough to make the playoffs, good enough to threaten to win a playoff game, but still not all that good overall. I don’t know what they’re doing at QB. They almost need to lose a lot and get a high draft pick so they can draft a good QB and start from scratch. If you’re a fan of the “Hogs,” what would you rather have? Bottom out for a few years, then become contenders, or 7-9 division titles. I think the answer is obvious.

14. Atlanta (4-13)

Hard to believe that a Matt Ryan-led team is this hopeless. The Falcons are going to need to start over now that Julio Jones is gone. The next couple of years are going to be tough ones.

15. Detroit (4-13)

The Lions will remain the Lions, especially now that they got an apparent downgrade at QB. I don’t think it’s actually all that much of a downgrade, but Goff sure doesn’t make me think that they’re going to go on a run.

16. Carolina (4-13)

Sam Darnold was awesome at USC. He’s seeing ghosts in the NFL. He is not the answer for Carolina. The Panthers need to strip everything down to the studs and start over.

Playoff teams: #1 Green Bay, #2 Tampa Bay, #3 San Francisco, #4 Dallas, #5 Seattle, #6 Minnesota, #7 L.A. Rams

Wild Card picks: TB over LAR, SF over Min, Sea over Dal

Divisional picks: GB over Sea, TB over SF

Conference Championship: GB over TB

Award picks:

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City

Offensive Player of the Year: Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo

Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt, Edge, Pittsburgh

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas

Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco

Super Bowl LVI: Buffalo 30, Green Bay 24