2021 NFL Season Preview



Imagine telling someone, after the confetti fell and the Chiefs were champions in 2019-2020, just how weird the next season would be. Chad Henne would close a playoff game. Most of the season would be played without fans. Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, and LeSean McCoy would all play together, in Tampa.


What's the point of this? The NFL season is always full of surprises. This was just an easy way to talk about all 32 teams. I made some bold takes and had some big upsets in the playoffs, because too much of the same thing can just get boring. I could go by the book and just focus on not being wrong, but what fun is that?


Another couple of notes: I’m going to give every team a win range after their record. For example, for the Browns I'm predicting them to go 12-5, but their win range is between 10 and 13. So I could see them winning between 10 and 13 games. Also, I’m assuming health and no COVID outbreaks. The Vikings and Colts are facing the very real possibility that because neither Kirk Cousins or Carson Wentz are vaccinated as I write this, simply being ruled a close contact at the wrong time could keep them out of action for a game, likely guaranteeing a loss. And even with players who are vaccinated, a positive COVID test could potentially cause weeks of lost time. So for simplicity's sake, I’m assuming a perfect world in regards to COVID and just normal injuries. We'll go division by division with a season outlook, then an awards section and then playoff predictions.


And a fair warning: this preview is long, divisions and sections are all marked if you want to skim through them.


AFC North

1. Cleveland Browns (12-5, 10-13)


I really, really like what the Browns are doing. Kevin Stefanski has proven again and again that he’s a great coach, and the roster is just a loaded one. Their offense will continue to be built around the best RB room in the league, with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt leading the way. Their offensive line has taken massive steps forward, and all Baker Mayfield has to do is be 80% of what he was for the second half of 2020, and they’ll be efficient with Jarvis Landry and eventually Odell Beckham Jr. headlining the passing attack. And for good measure, they also have Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, John Johnson, Jadeveon Clowney and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. They have an ultra talented roster with a legitimate coach at the top of it all.



2. Baltimore Ravens (10-7, 9-13)

I initially had the Ravens winning this division. But the more news that’s come out the less confident I feel. JK Dobbins, a potential star, is lost for the season. Rashod Bateman will miss a non-insignificant portion of time. Marquise Brown has barely practiced. Lamar Jackson is a transcendent player, and the defense will continue to be stout, but even the winning machine the Ravens have built won’t initially function smoothly with this many pieces missing. But, I still have Baltimore making the playoffs. Eventually, Lamar will get to show how he’s developed with the talent to form a more complete passing attack to compliment himself and Gus Edwards on the ground. And even if I think the early parts of the season won’t be kind to Baltimore, they’ve made their offense work before with much less talent. In the late stages of the season and into January, no one will want to play the Ravens. And that's how they like it.



3. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-11, 6-10)

After starting 11-0, Pittsburgh fell apart down the stretch, losing 4 of their last 5 and then followed by a first round exit against the Browns. I don’t think the Steelers will be outright terrible, mainly due to their talent at the skill positions on offense (Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, Najee Harris, Juju Smith-Schuster) and their still solid defense. Matt Canada has spoken about using both play action and motion as his first season as the Steelers play caller in 2021. That should stave off some of the Steelers offensive struggles (19.2 PPG from weeks 12-16) at the end of last season. But their lack of talent on the offensive line, as well as the continued decline of the Canton-bound Ben Roethlisberger seriously limits this team's ceiling, only adding to the difficulties of a rough schedule. Pittsburgh plays Kansas City, Seattle, Green Bay, Minnesota, Baltimore, Tennessee, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Buffalo. Can you really see this team taking a majority of those games, like they probably have to in order to enter the playoffs? I can’t see it.


4. Cincinnati Bengals (5-12, 3-7)

The 2021 season is all about Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and the rest of the young talent on the Bengals roster. It’s also about evaluating if the 2020 1st overall pick and offensive mastermind Zac Taylor can work together long term. If you ask me, they should’ve shown Taylor the door this past offseason in search of a better lead man, but they’ll try to give him one more chance. Cincinnati looks like they're trying to build a competitive team, signing Trey Hendrickson, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie to fairly big deals. In a year or two, the pairing of Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, protected by an improved offensive line could be a sneaky good team, but they’re still a couple of years away from realizing that potential.



AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs (15-2, 13-16)

Was there ever a doubt? Kansas City’s eyes are turned toward the playoffs, as even with a tougher division than in years past, they’re clearly the top team. They have the best player in the NFL, surrounded by two of the single best offensive weapons, all behind a revamped offensive line controlled by a legendary coach. Not to mention their defense might have turned a corner in last year's second half. The Chiefs are really good, and will be for a long time. If Patrick Mahomes is quarterbacking and Andy Reid is coaching, Kansas City is an easy pick for 10+ wins. Having the amount of offensive and defensive talent they do is just the cherry on top.



2. Los Angeles Chargers (13-4, 10-13)


The Chargers took a frustrating team in 2020 and had a really, really amazing offseason. They brought in defensive mastermind Brandon Staley from the Rams, got Joe Lombardi to work with their budding superstar in Justin Herbert and revamped their offensive line with All Pro Corey Lindsey and Rashawn Slater in the draft. They’re also positioned to have full seasons of Derwin James and Joey Bosa on the other side of the ball. This team lost 7 (!!) one possession games in 2020. If even 4 of those turned into close wins, they would’ve gone 11-5 last year. When it comes down to it, this year's roster is better and this year’s coach is better, leading me to think this year's results will be much, much better. With another stellar offseason like they had in 2021, the Chargers are one of maybe 3 total teams that I think can challenge the Chiefs in the AFC, both short and long-term



3. Denver Broncos (7-10, 4-7)

Patrick Surtain is great. But if you could build your offense for the next 5+ years around Justin Fields, Jerry Jeudy, Javonte Williams and Noah Fant, would you do it? Doesn’t it sound crazy that anyone would say no? That’s exactly what the Broncos did when Justin Fields fell into their laps at #9 overall, and they passed on him to add the instinctive Alabama product to their defense. And now they’re stuck with Teddy Bridgewater starting over Drew Lock. The team is still talented, but not having Fields feels like a huge missed opportunity for a QB starved franchise


4. Las Vegas Raiders (3-14, 2-6)

The Raiders just aren’t a good team, and the core reason is because of their god awful defense. They have maybe 4 players who I think will be good in 2021. They’re one of the 5 or so worst defenses in the league, and not even an offense with Derek Carr, Darren Waller, Henry Ruggs, Josh Jacobs and Bryan Edwards can save the mess that’s on the other side of the ball. I know they went 8-8 last year, but if you take out their blowout against the Broncos, they didn’t win a single game by more than 10 points, and got thumped by the Falcons, Broncos, and the Colts. Even last year they played like a far worse team than their record showed, ranking 21st across the NFL in point differential. Las Vegas is stuck in no man's land, not good enough to compete but not willing to tear it down and truly rebuild.


AFC South

1. Tennessee Titans (10-7, 7-13)

The Titans are a really, really hard team to nail down. Everything they do is built around Derrick Henry. I still do think some regression will hit, as at a certain point, running backs aren’t meant to carry that heavy of a workload for that long. You know what would help take some workload off Henry and diversify their offense? A true star across from AJ Brown. Good thing they got the still explosive Julio Jones, which will only expand on their offensive variety and create a matchup nightmare for every DC. Losing Arthur Smith is a huge blow, but the offensive system is so good it should be able to keep rolling with Todd Downing at the helm. But, if there’s one thing that gives me pause is their defense. It was already rocky last year (allowing nearly 30 points per game in the second half of the season) and while signing Bud Dupree is nice, it can only so much to address the problem of having 1.5 good players in your back 7. Because of that, Mike Vrabel’s team has the largest win range of any squad, AFC or NFC. I could see their offense being among the top of the NFL, while some of their younger pieces on defense take enough steps forward to keep the unit from being bottom 7. I could also see Ryan Tannehill struggling without what Arthur Smith provided, and the defense is a complete catastrophe, and the overall performance is barely above .500.



2. Indianapolis Colts (10-7, 8-12)

The Colts are a really, really hard team to nail down. (Sensing a theme in the AFC South?) First, I was high on them after they returned Carson Wentz into a familiar system and setting, now being coordinated by Frank Reich. He also would have a stellar offensive line (pending Eric Fisher’s health) and a young and talented defense built by Chris Ballard. DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, Quenton Nelson and TY Hilton is a great foundation to build your team around. Then, someone tripped over a voodoo doll or something, as Wentz and Nelson both sustained foot injuries that could have them returning in September or midway through the season. Then, two of the Colts most important offensive building blocks were on track to play Week 1, and everything was going great. And BOOM TY Hilton is out for an undefined period of time and Carson Wentz’s refusal to get the vaccine loses him 5 days of practice time. So much is uncertain about the Colts, but let’s start with what we do know: Their defense is probably going to be good. A front 4 led by Deforest Bucker, a linebacking core led by Darius Leonard and a secondary full of players who know their role put them on track to have a fourth straight season with an above average unit. Their offense is anything but certain. First, you have the Carson Wentz problem. For all I know, 2020 or 2019 Wentz could be what the Colts get, and he could take them to an AFC Championship or top 7 pick. For the purposes of this prediction, I’m saying Wentz will be in the 12-15 range of quarterbacks in 2021, back in a scheme that suits him more. Some weeks he’ll look like a superstar and some he’ll look like a high schooler, but the good outweighs the bad and the Colts get an above average quarterback. Sounds good, right? The problem is their catalog of offensive weapons was relying on TY Hilton to be back and healthy. That wouldn’t be a problem if Indy didn’t open the season with Seattle, LA, Tennessee, Miami and the Ravens all in a row. These Colts are a team with high expectations that have had their season outlook clouded by mystery. I still have Indy sneaking into the playoffs because of a relatively easy back half of the schedule but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Eagles end up with a pick in the 13-15 range in March.



3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-13, 2-5)

The Jaguars record doesn’t really matter this season, it’s all about the performance of Trevor Lawrence. It’d be a total shock if he absolutely flamed out, but just how good Lawrence is informs the rest of the decision making for this franchise. If Lawrence has a Herbert like season, already proving to be a top tier QB? Maybe Jacksonville decides to fast track their rebuild and splash in free agency. They have some promising young talent, and their coaching staff should be inclined to use this as a development year. Again, it all comes back to the generational QB prospect that Lawrence is. If he’s good, everything else is icing on the cake, and you can go ahead building a team knowing you have the most premium position in sports solidified for the long haul.


4. Houston Texans (1-16, 0-2)

Man this team is really, really bad. ESPN depth charts aren’t perfect, but just click this link and let me know if you recognize more than 10 Of these players. If you aren’t a Texans fan, the answer is probably no. Whoever you want to blame for the Texans stunning collapse, they’re now dealing with the possibility of being the first 0-17 team in NFL history. How they went from up 24-0 on the Mahomes-Reid Chiefs in the divisional round to staring down a long and dark rebuild is truly remarkable. Texans fans deserve better than this miserable team with a miserable future.


AFC East

1. Buffalo Bills (15-2, 13-15)

The Bills are returning most of their roster from a 13-3 that fell in the AFC Championship. What’s not to like? The offense will still be coordinated by the creative Brian Daboll who gets to design his offense around one of the best connections in all of football, between two superstars in Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen. They also have All-Pro Cole Beasley (yes, that’s a real sentence) and enough talented players on the margins (Gabriel Davis, Devin Singletary, Isaiah McKensie, Zack Moss) to feel confident projecting their scoring attack to be among the NFL’s best. It also helps that the defense is talented. Tre’Davious White is a lockdown corner. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde continue to patrol the back end, and Matt Milano paired with Tremaine Edmunds creates a good enough foundation to excuse their currently lackluster front four. No one wants to play Buffalo, and Sean McDermott is happy to keep it that way.



2. Miami Dolphins (10-7, 7-11)

Brian Flores is building something really, really great down in South Beach. There's the stigma going around that a Belichick assistant will never succeed outside of the machine that is the Patriots, but this Dolphins team has a great shot to buck that trend with Flores at the helm. Assuming no Deshaun Watson trade, Tua should only look more comfortable with more weapons (Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle) and another offseason to regain full confidence in his hip. Add in versatile pieces like Myles Gaskin, DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, and the Dolphins O could be more than the sum of their parts. The defense will still be strong, coordinated by Flores and featuring a ball hawking secondary led by Byron Jones and Xavien Howard. They have enough players on the first two levels, and a coach that has proven to get the most out of his roster that I have no problem saying the Dolphins will be one of the most well rounded teams in the NFL. Whether or not they're standing in January is dependent on if Tagovailoa can transcend his game-manager label.



3. New England Patriots (10-7, 8-12)

I still really like what Belichick has transformed the Pats into, I’m just not sure if they’re quite ready. The defense should be excellent as usual, and their offensive line creates some optimism for the offense overall. But, my main hang ups for the 2021 Patriots are Mac Jones and the wide receivers. I’m just not sure how reliable the passing game will be with lackluster field stretchers, and when there are problems on offense Mac Jones isn’t the type of quarterback that can rise up and elevate your team above all that. Still, even if the offense isn’t perfect, the team is balanced and it’s a borderline playoff squad.



4. New York Jets (4-13, 3-5)

Just years after drafting an uber talented QB in the top 3, just to give him no support and watch him flounder and regress before shipping him off, the Jets drafted another uber talented QB? I get it, that looks weird on paper but Robert Saleh and Mike LaFluer alone are a better coaching staff than any group Adam Gase cobbled together. Also, instead of just throwing Robby Anderson as a life preseverer and watching Darnold drown, Joe Douglas seems committed to creating an environment where Zach Wilson can actually develop! Groundbreaking stuff, I know. An offense built around Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Denzel Mims and Mekhi Becton should be enough to at least help the BYU rookie prove he can be the guy. And that’s really the only thing the Jets should be hoping for in 2021.


NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers (14-3, 12-16)

For a while, it looked like Aaron Rodgers was actually going to become a Jeopardy host, but the Packers and the reigning MVP put a band-aid on their problems and now Rodgers is back for 2021 swan song, and there aren’t many better places he could’ve returned to. A top tier, ultra efficient offense led by Matt LeFluer and featuring Aaron Jones and Davante Adams is the core that Green Bay is built around. Losing Corey Lindsey upfront really hurts, but adding Amari Rodgers and having Aaron Rodgers should quell those concerns. Their defense won’t be top tier, but it will be good enough with Kenny Clark/Za’Darius Smith leading the way up front, and Jaire Alexander paired with Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage rounding out the back end. Even with the future uncertain around Rodgers, and if Jordan Love can be a starter long term, but the Packers are very well built to be a very good team in 2021.



2. Minnesota Vikings (8-9, 6-9)

The rest of the NFC isn’t too exciting, and we’ll start with the Vikings who are stuck in neutral. Even selecting Kellen Mond in the draft points to a team looking more towards the future than the upcoming season. Since the start of 2018, they’re 25-22-1 but they showed something, finishing the season 6-4 after their bye week. But I’m still not really that sold. They lack depth behind their top tier offensive talent, the offensive line looks destined to be an issue while the defense again lacks depth, but could be solid. Doesn’t sound too promising, but they have enough talent to put them over the rest of this division.


3. Chicago Bears (5-12, 4-7)

The Bears really aren’t that interesting outside of the talk of the Windy City: Justin Fields. The Bears and Ryan Pace look to break their QB curse and save his job by trading up for the talented Ohio State passer when he fell in the draft. Fields has his work to do in terms of processing speed, but he has the raw physical tools and accuracy where he’s clearly the best option at starter. But in a truly bad decision, Matt Nagy will be content with Andy Dalton to open week 1. It’s only a matter of when, not if the Bears realize playing Fields not only helps the team but his development, and the team will finally be interesting. It’ll probably be 5 weeks too late. Oh, and for the rest of the roster? Allen Robinson, Eddie Jackson and Khalil Mack are cool, but the team is just too deeply flawed for them to go anywhere.


4. Detroit Lions (2-15, 1-3)

The Lions are staring down the early stages of an ugly rebuild that got off to a strong start when Penei Sewell fell into their laps. Starting Jared Goff at QB is definitely interesting, but this year is about Dan Campbell establishing his culture and finding out if you have any young talent. Trying to wash the Matt Patrica stench off the franchise probably helps. By week 8 or 9, most of Detroit will probably be more interested in Stafford than watching this team.


NFC West

1. San Francisco 49ers (13-4, 11-14)


The NFC West is as crowded a division as you’ll find in the modern NFL. And coming out on top, I have the San Francisco 49ers. My general rule for picking divisions like this is ‘Who has the best quarterback?’, but with just how deep San Fran is, I’m breaking that rule. With the departure of Robert Saleh and the cornerback depth looking thin, it’d be easy to doubt their defense until you remember they have one of the best defensive lines in the NFC, and an insanely underrated Fred Warner patrolling the middle of the field. On offense, they’re only real path to a Lombardi is with Trey Lance at the controls, but Jimmy Garoppolo coordinated by Kyle Shanahan in an offense with George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Raheem Mostert/Trey Sermon is a recipe for regular season success. Everywhere he’s gone, San Fran’s head man has made his attack a nightmare, and health permitting he’ll do the same. Like I alluded to, I don’t think there's a route to playoff success with Garoppolo, but the overall team is one that’s built to dominate in the regular season.



2. Los Angeles Rams (12-5, 11-13)

It’s really, really tough to have the Rams finishing second here. They were a tough, second round exit with the best defense in the NFL (featuring the best two defensive players in the NFL, in Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald). Then in the offseason they finally shed the weight on Sean McVay that was Jared Goff, and replaced him with an actual quarterback in Matthew Stafford. If that system could make someone as inconsistent as Jared Goff efficient, it’ll work wonders for Stafford with the likes of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp on the other end of his passes. Depth is lacking in some areas, and Brandon Staley was a huge loss. But overall this is a team with a great coach, great talent and a winning culture. Since the start of 2017, only three teams have won more games than the Rams. (Saints, Chiefs, Ravens)



3. Seattle Seahawks (12-5, 10-14)

It’s still so hard to rank Seattle third, which is a theme in this division. I really do think the addition of Shane Waldron from the division rival Rams will do wonders for Russ, DK, Lockett and the rest of the offense. And a lot of the narratives around their defense being bad are just lazy. They’re not going to be elite, but they had a major in season turnaround to respectability. After their 44-34 loss to Buffalo. They even went 6-2 with their offense suffering some uh, inconsistencies down the stretch. I don’t think Pete Carroll is some amazing coach, but the talent on the Seahawks roster, most importantly headlined by their QB is being placed in a good position to succeed, which gets them into the playoffs for me.



4. Arizona Cardinals (9-8, 7-11)

I really want to like what Arizona is doing here. Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are electric. Their offense as a whole is fun, and defense with Budda Baker, JJ Watt, Isaiah Simmons and Chandler Jones sounds intriguing. In any other division, they’re probably a Wild Card team. But 6 games against Russell Wilson, Aaron Donald + Jalen Ramsey and the 49ers is just a tough draw. Also, Kliff Kingsbury is fun but I’m not quite sure if he’s the guy in the desert.


NFC South

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-3, 13-16)

Imagine embarrassing one of the most talented teams over the past 5 years on your way to a Super Bowl, return every major contributor and add depth around the edges. That’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s almost boring to talk about how good they’ll be. The only real question I have is if Tom Brady’s body will ever slow down, but that’s mattering less and less considering the unstoppable machine Jason Licht has built around him.



2. New Orleans Saints (10-7, 8-11)

Since Alvin Kamara came to town, New Orleans has 49 wins in 4 years, good for first across the entire NFL. Their regular season juggernaut hit some speed bumps this offseason, with the retirement of Drew Brees and the hollowing out of a divisional round exit due to some salary cap issues (that’s putting it generously). But with Sean Payton on the sidelines, Michael Thomas returning at some point and some talent on defense, who will usher in the post Brees era in New Orleans? None other than Jameis Winston, who was last seen throwing for 5,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions. A truly unique player gets a second shot with a great supporting cast. I’m betting on the Kamara led offense to help stabilize the explosive Winston and keep New Orleans on the fringe for the final playoff spot in the NFC.



3. Carolina Panthers (5-12, 4-6)

The Panthers and Falcons are both in heavy rebuild mode, but my main reason for having Carolina at a slightly more respectable record is that they seem to have a better overall roster (not buy much) and a coach that has constantly drawn rave reviews for multiple years now. With a real quarterback and a couple off-season's of tinkering, the Panthers can be something.


4. Atlanta Falcons (5-12, 3-6)

Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts and Matt Ryan should form a fun and high scoring offensive trio with Arthur Smith at the helm, but their defense is seriously lacking in players who can… play defense. It’s a transition year for Atlanta and they seem to be fine with that. Also, draft Calvin Ridley in every fantasy league you play in.


NFC East

1. Dallas Cowboys (10-7, 7-11)

I could see a serious argument that Washington’s underrated defense paired with a competent quarterback takes this division, but Dallas has the better quarterback (by far) surrounded with serious offensive talent. A questionable defense and Mike McCarthy make this prediction a lot cloudier, but I trust a good QB over a good defense. I don’t like it, but I think they take the division.


2. Washington Football Team (9-8, 8-10)


Considering the other options, upgrading with Ryan Fitzpatrick was a solid move. But like I mentioned above, I just think Dallas has a more reliable path to wins. WFT should still be a solid team, but the search for a quality quarterback should continue into next offseason before you can’t afford your defense.


3. Philadelphia Eagles (6-11, 5-8)

Yeah, I get it. It’s that time of year where everyone gets too excited about football and talks themselves into the Eagles being great. I do it, you probably do it but this is ultimately a transition year for Nick Sirianni’s team. They COULD compete for a division banner if things go right, but that’s just two many what if’s. IF the young receivers produce immediately, IF Nick Siranni and his very young staff is good right away, IF linebacking and overall defensive depth isn’t a problem and IF Jalen Hurts takes serious steps forward as a passer with a full offseason then yeah, the Eagles can compete. That’s way too many if’s to feel confident projecting. The 2021 Eagles should be focusing on sorting through all those questions and finding answers before a pivotal offseason with relative cap clarity. The record doesn’t matter for this team. If the team has clearly bought in under a new coach and young talent steps up, that’s all the success that’s needed for this team. But the good news for this teams long term outlook is that they have built the exact environment where Hurts, Smith and others can succeed.


4. New York Giants (3-14, 3-6)

Yeah cool, the Giants defense could be good. Saquon Barkley returning is also nice to see. But you have a terrible offensive line, Daniel Jones as your quarterback and Jason Garrett as your offensive coordinator. That’s enough for 10+ losses. In their 6 wins last year, the offense averaged 21.5 points per game. That’s just flat out not good, at all. The only reason they were one game out of the playoffs was because they played in the worst division ever. This team is not good.


Awards Predictions

Every year, there’s a breakout or two that turns these predictions on their heads. Instead of going too basic, I’m just picking players who I think have big years, even if they’re not the best at their position.


MVP

Winner: Russell Wilson, Seahawks

I truly think Shane Waldron will be a godsend for Seattle. Both DK Metcalf and Wilson himself described the offense as intricate and complex, which should help avoid the second half slump they endured. If it allows Wilson to make the off schedule plays he’s perfected while getting him to make the terrible plays less, Seattle's offense can pilot them to a great season. Even when Russ wasn’t cooking, he’s still a very good quarterback. But with a new system, the veteran will find a new consistency and unlock a level of play that leads to his first MVP.



2nd - Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

Mahomes is probably the best player in the NFL, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended 2021 as a two time MVP. But I didn’t want to fill this section with players who you might expect to win it, and at the same time it’d be impossible to mention this award race without mentioning Mahomes.


3rd - Justin Herbert, Chargers

From the second he stepped onto the field, Justin Herbert was a star in 2020. He’s already one of the league's best passers, and now with Corey Lindsey and Rashawn Slater protecting him up front, he gets more time to focus on his pin point passes rather than trying not to get leveled. That means only good things in 2021.


Defensive Player of the Year

Winner: Myles Garrett, Browns

Garrett is a freak, and I mean that in a great way. Even after a bout with COVID that the DE admitted left him less than 100%, he finished with 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 18 QB hits. Few DE’s can match his production or domination. His body control paired with his 6-4, 272 pound frame is a nightmare in the trenches, and with a full, healthy season, Garrett can establish himself as an all time terror.



2nd - Aaron Donald, Rams

Just see what I said about Patrick Mahomes. Donald is clearly the best defender in the NFL. His peers are in Canton, not playing football in 2021. He could retire today and his gold jacket would be secured. He’s made six straight All Pro Teams and is a three time DPOY himself. What he does from the interior is unmatched, to the point where triple teams can rarely slow him down.


3rd - Jaire Alexander, Packers

I could’ve gone with who I think is the best CB overall, but I want to give Green Bay’s lockdown specialist his flowers. He doesn’t have the interception totals of someone like Xavien Howard, but he’s a true shutdown player. Calvin Ridley, Will Fuller and Mike Evans ran a combined 70 routes and only received 7 targets, none of which were caught. Against the Rams in the divisional round, he allowed negative yardage. In the NFC Championship, he picked off Tom Brady twice. Number one wide receivers had just 14 catches for 143 yards against Alexander all season. In 7 regular season games, the All-Pro allowed 0 catches. He established himself as one of the games best cover men in 2020, and he’s not going away any time soon.


Offensive Player of the Year

Winner: Tyreek Hill, Chiefs

Hill has long been among the games best receivers, but his speed paired with Mahomes special arm allows for a truly special connection. Since Mahomes took over the starting spot in KC, Tyreek has 16 game averages of 86 catches, 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air, and another 111 yards and a score on the ground. All of this is highlighted with his unmatched ability to turn in superhuman performances. Just look at his outrageous 269 yard, 3 score day against Tampa Bay. By the end of the first quarter, he had a statline that would be a career day for most. Some wide receivers might be better, but none have the game breaking, one of a kind talent Tyreek Hill does. And with Kansas City lacking an abundance of receiver depth, everything's falling right for the Chiefs playmaker to have a record year.



2nd - Alvin Kamara, Saints

Since Kamara entered the league, he’s one of 9 players to catch 325 passes and amass 2,800 receiving yards. He joins Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Travis Kelce, Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry, Stefon Diggs and Michael Thomas. The funny thing about those other 8 is that they haven’t rushed for 3,340 yards, 43 touchdowns all while averaging 5 yards per carry like Kamara has. He won’t quite be among the league leaders in either rushing or receiving in 2021, but his total offensive output puts him among some of the most versatile weapons in the NFL. And with some of the Saints offensive weapons set to miss time, Sean Payton will have to rely on his superstar, and give him the opportunity to take home some hardware.


3rd - Christain McCaffery

Whatever I said about Kamara, you can repeat all of that for the Stanford product. When we last saw him fully healthy, he was having a 1,300 / 1,000 season, averaging a staggering 5.9 yards per touch. The only reason I have him finishing below Kamara is that he plays in a more crowded offense, with DJ Moore and Robby Anderson who are both legitimate contributors.


Honorable Mentions: Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins

All of Adams, Diggs and Hopkins are bonafide number 1 wideouts in outstanding aerial attacks, who all could easily take home an OPOY depending on their target share.


Final Playoff Picture

NFC:

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-3)

  2. Green Bay Packers (14-3)

  3. San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

  4. Dallas Cowboys (10-7)

  5. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)

  6. Seattle Seahawks (12-5)

  7. New Orleans Saints (10-7)


AFC:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)

  2. Buffalo Bills (15-2)

  3. Cleveland Browns (12-5)

  4. Tennessee Titans (10-7)

  5. Los Angeles Chargers (13-4)

  6. Indianapolis Colts (10-7)

  7. Baltimore Ravens (10-7)


Playoff Predictions: Wild Card Round

NFC:

Packers (2) vs. Saints (7)

This one was pretty easy. I like the Saints for this year, but Jameis Winston against Aaron Rodgers is just too big a mismatch.


Result: Packers win by 14+ points


49ers (3) vs. Seahawks (6)

The 49ers roster is far and away better than the Seahawks one. But I don’t think Trey Lance starts until 2022, and in a one game elimination I’ll take Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett over Garoppolo, Kittle and Aiyuk, even if the defenses aren’t equal.


Result: Seahawks win by 7 or less


Cowboys (4) vs. Rams (5)

Because Dallas gets to play in the NFC East, they’ll get to host a home playoff game against a better team. The Cowboys flat out do not have the defense to stop a Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford led attack. Their offense is great, but the Rams also have one of the best units to stop that side of the ball as well.


Result: Rams win by 7 or more


AFC:

Bills (2) vs. Ravens (7)

If there’s a weakness in the Bills game, it’s that they can’t run the ball well and their defense can be shaky. The Ravens should be fully healthy at this point in the season and are built on running the ball well. Last year in the divisional round, Buffalo held Lamar Jackson to just 3 points. With the invigoration of actual weapons on the perimeter, I think the new and improved well-balanced Ravens offense is ready to keep control of the ball, put points on the board and ask Josh Allen to pass all day on a defense that’s nasty. It’s bold, but I think the Ravens pull this out.


Result: Ravens win by 6 or less


Browns (3) vs. Colts (6)

After a mildly big upset call, let’s get back to normal. Even if Carson Wentz is back to above average play, there’s no way he and the Colts offense are matching the diverse and efficient Browns attack. Indianapolis has a solid defense, but Cleveland is just too deep for them to get the job done.


Result: Browns win by 10 or more


Titans (4) vs. Chargers (5)

The Mike Vrabel-led Titans could go so many ways this season, but just two years ago they were battling for a Super Bowl berth. Against a young and vastly inexperienced Chargers squad, their offense will just be too much, as Justin Herbert gets his first taste of playoff defeat.


Result: Titans win by 7 or less


Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round

NFC:

Buccaneers (1) vs. Seahawks (6)

The Bucs just have too much talent and are too well coached to lose to a lesser team in the Seahawks. Wilson might be able to match Brady, but the defenses are where the contrasts become just too much to ignore.


Result: Bucs win by 10 or more


Packers (2) vs. Rams (5)

Now this is a bold one. With Corey Lindsey, an All-Pro Center, not there to anchor the offensive line, and the Packers still lacking good receiver depth, a team with an all-world corner to slow Davante Adams and a legendary interior rusher to make Rodgers day a lot less pleasant could slow down this Packers attack that has cut down pretty much every team but Tampa Bay. It's a great thing the Rams do happen to have Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. In last year's playoffs, LA’s offense fell flat in the fourth quarter which let the Packers seal it. But with Stafford under center and two of the best defensive players in the NFL on the other side, I think Sean McVay’s team ends Aaron Rodgers Green Bay tenure with a divisional round exit


Result: Rams win by 5 or less


AFC:

Browns (3) vs. Titans (4)

Wow, that was a hot take. Let’s get back to normal. The Browns are just a better and more well rounded version of the Titans. They should have no problem handling them at home.


Result: Browns win by 7 or more


Chiefs (1) vs. Ravens (7)

I just think the JK Dobbins injury will prevent the Ravens offense from reaching their true heights. And even with a good defense, playing Mahomes in January eventually turns into a shootout and the Ravens aren't equipped to win this one.


Result: Chiefs win by 10


Playoff Predictions: Conference Championships:

NFC Championship:

Buccaneers (1) vs. Rams (5)

The Rams are a very, very well rounded team. But how can you compete with a three headed trio at receiver like the Bucs have, then try to mount a drive against as ferocious a defense as they have? There just isn’t an easy solution, even for a well built team like the Rams. They’ll put up a fight but the Bucs will make their second straight Super Bowl.


AFC Championship:

Chiefs (1) vs. Browns (3)

This is a really interesting matchup with two offenses with different philosophies but mostly the same results. I know it’s not flashy, but I can’t bring myself to bet against Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, in Kansas City, in January against a young roster with a young quarterback.


Result: Chiefs win by 7 to 13 points


Super Bowl Preview

Chiefs vs. Buccaneers


I know, it’s boring to have a Super Bowl Rematch, but I just can’t see either the Bucs or Chiefs being dethroned with the offseasons they had. In Super Bowl 55, an efficient attack led by Brady combined with constant pressure on Mahomes (and excellent defensive discipline on all levels of the field) left the undermanned Chiefs offensive line overmatched. Mahomes had the worst game of maybe his entire life, and Kansas City’s constant penalties only hurt them. So in a rematch, how would Reid adjust? Well, you’d need to improve the protection up front. In the Super Bowl Mahomes ran just shy of 500 yards behind the line while scrambling, easily the highest across the 2020 season. A lot of Kansas City’s problems stemmed from the fact that Todd Bowles could consistently generate pressure rushing 4, which left 7 players in the secondary to cover 4 or sometimes 5 receivers. When you have to constantly worry about your offensive line, it changes how you can call and play a game as an offense, even with three players like Mahomes, Kelce and Hill. And well, Kansas City responded by completely revamping their offensive line. Trading picks for Orlando Brown Jr. Signing Joe Thuney to solidify the left line, and they have three young players along the right side with varying degrees of upside but all should be better than the backups Mahomes had to deal with last time around.


It’s incredibly hard to simplify beating a team like the Bucs into one issue (the offensive line). The Chiefs also dealt with a panicked mindset from Mahomes that he’s spoken about fixing, and an offensive structure that was far from balanced. All moves indicate that Reid wants a more varied attack on the field, which is a major help for the whole team. The Chiefs took their thumping in February and spent the offseason making major changes to fix their core issues. Tampa Bay returns it’s embarrassment of talent (and even added to it), but in what looks to be an even matchup, I’ll take the Chiefs in a close and tightly contested game.


Result: Chiefs by 5 or less



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