Thursday, September 9, 2021

2021 NFL Season Predictions

The 2020 NFL season was a football season in the most literal sense, but it didn't feel like much of one. Every game felt more like an obligation than a celebration; a box checked off rather than what a NFL game should be. For me, that might have everything to do with the Jaguars openly tanking by the middle of October, but for everyone else, the pandemic really did take its toll, and that was before a game was played on a Wednesday afternoon because of the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony.

COVID-19 hasn't gone away by any means, but this season will look and feel more like what we knew before March 2020, even if there are now 17 regular season games and the seven team playoff format won't feel so out of place, particularly when the Nickelodeon feed makes a return. On the field, for as much as things are changing, Tom Brady is still a defending Super Bowl champion and very few teams seem poised to break into the elite cadre than the past. But, as this particular slice of an outdated Blogspot blog will remind us all, I can say that in September and not look foolish, but that changes quick. Without further ado, the 2021 sure to be wrong by Week 5 NFL season predictions...

AFC East:

1. Buffalo 13-4

2. New England 10-7

3. Miami 8-9

4. NY Jets 5-12

Josh Allen spent all of 2020 proving every doubter wrong, and as he elevated his game, the Bills went from a team with potential to a Super Bowl contender. They very much are again, and they can definitely challenge the Chiefs for home field advantage. New England entered a new era awkwardly last season, but with Mac Jones and particularly their whole host of 2020 opt outs back, the Patriots will get back to something close to what we knew them as before, if a lesser version of it. Tua Tagovailoa has to get on the Josh Allen improvement plan before a promising program in Miami takes the next step towards the postseason, especially without the Fitzmagic crutch around. Zach Wilson might finally be the QB that takes the Jets out of purgatory, and Robert Saleh absolutely has the goods to take this team above mediocrity, but with some key injuries and bad luck already, that's likely not happening this year.

NFC East:

1. Dallas 9-8

2. Washington 8-9

3. Philadelphia 5-12

4. NY Giants 5-12

Whenever you need a laugh in these difficult times of ours, remember that the NFC East exists. It may well exist now so we have something to consistently laugh at that always ends up overexposed and underdelivers, particularly as we remember how the team with no name won the division last year. Dallas would have won it if Dak Prescott didn't get hurt, and with him back and healthy, that should be enough to lift the Cowboys over a Washington team that is Ron Rivera to its core: scrappy, stout but lacking a certain offensive finesse. They may have the defensive player of the year but the offense even with a rising Antonio Gibson just doesn't seem to have the tools yet. Both the Eagles and Giants are a mess, one about to commence a house cleaning and the other that feels on the verge of it but never actually wants to pull the trigger. Both have lopsided, poorly constructed rosters and QB questions that are not going to be answered any time soon.

AFC North:

1. Cleveland 12-5

2. Pittsburgh 10-7

3. Baltimore 9-8

4. Cincinnati 5-12

Procrastinating right until a few hours before the first game of the season to write this piece does have unusual benefits: the Ravens had even more potentially debilitating injuries between planning out this piece and then writing it. The Browns should have beaten the Chiefs in the playoffs last year but fell short, however these obviously are not the same old Browns. This is a well constructed and well coached team in every facet, which hasn't been said about the Browns since the late 1980's. In a league with parity like the NFL, it's more appropriate to see what team has fewer flaws compared to bigger strengths and in this competitive division, the Browns have the fewest flaws. In what is likely to be Ben Roethlisberger's swan song, the Steelers might actually attempt to run a modern offense, which should get what was a horrific unit last season out of the muck, at least somewhat. The Ravens injuries at the running back position are devastating and likely put even more pressure on Lamar Jackson, who could win the MVP race by simply being himself in these circumstances, but perhaps he may be asked to do too much now especially as that offense needs quality running backs in the worst way. The Bengals need to show signs of life where there haven't been any in this current iteration, and none seem forthcoming.

NFC North:

1. Green Bay 13-4

2. Chicago 7-10

3. Minnesota 7-10

4. Detroit 4-13

Whatever you think of the offseason drama surrounding Aaron Rodgers, and whatever you think of his Jeopardy hosting prowess, this season very much has a "Last Dance" type feeling about it. That could serve this immensely talented team rather well, particularly come January. Bears fans will spend the season wondering when Matt Nagy will do the right thing and put in Justin Fields, Vikings fans will spend the season wondering when Kirk Cousins will stop putting his entire team at risk of a deadly virus in addition to putting them at risk for losing even more than usual, and Lions fans will wonder if the 15th new direction since they last won a playoff game three decades ago will be the one that sticks. 

AFC South:

1. Tennessee 10-7

2. Indianapolis 8-9

3. Jacksonville 6-11

4. Houston 3-14

The AFC South has been fairly straightforward for the last few years and that should continue here. Tennessee is the most talented team particularly because of their offense, though their defense is a shell of what it once was, and because the division is filled with varying levels of teams in crisis or transition, they will be the favorites by default but likely nothing more than that. The Colts are relying on Carson Wentz to find the potential from his past with his old offensive coordinator, but bizarre injuries and reluctance to take a perfectly safe vaccine are bad signs. With any other QB, including Philip Rivers, they might be favorites over the Titans. Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence are going to lose a lot more than they are used to this season with the Jaguars, but nobody can deny that there is potential with this franchise that hasn't existed in years, it just might not fully actualize until the future. And for the Texans, the less said about their mess, the better.

NFC South:

1. Tampa Bay 13-4

2. New Orleans 10-7

3. Carolina 7-10

4. Atlanta 6-11

Tom Brady is voodoo, isn't he? Is Tom Brady's magic running off on Tampa Bay or is the Tampa Bay sports magic running off on him? It's probably a bit of both. It helps that his team is supremely talented, supremely coached and now faces a much weaker division than it had if Brady had joined just a few years earlier. Ring eight could easily be coming, but at some point the ravages of time do have to affect him, right? Everyone hopes Jameis Winston can finally fulfill his potential with the Saints and not be hamstrung by the ludicrous Taysom Hill experiment, and there's reason to think that he can, though it won't be easy by any stretch. Both the Panthers and Falcons aren't much more than cannon fodder, but both are in the midst of interesting transitional phases that are worth looking more into. Sam Darnold could tap into his potential with Joe Brady, Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, and the Falcons are the subject of an amazing documentary series by Secret Base which you should watch immediately

AFC West:

1. Kansas City 13-4

2. LA Chargers 10-7

3. Las Vegas 8-9

4. Denver 7-10

The Chiefs offensive line got exposed badly in Super Bowl 55, and they worked extremely hard this offseason to fix it. They seem to have done a very good job of that, and so long as Patrick Mahomes is as good as he is and Andy Reid is as good as he is, the Chiefs will be Super Bowl contenders. The Chargers, no matter the city they play in, have always been talented but have always found ways to have inexplicably bad luck and bad timing that ruin any positive momentum. With a new coaching staff and a second year of Justin Herbert, who spent all of last year also proving doubters wrong, the Chargers should overcome at least some of that. After the last few seasons for the Raiders, it certainly feels like they might be at the limit of what they are capable of. Denver seems content to try to win with as little QB play as possible, which is quite bold in this era of the NFL, and probably not all that wise.

NFC West:

1. LA Rams 12-5

2. San Francisco 11-6

3. Seattle 10-7

4. Arizona 8-9

The NFC West is once again the best division in football by far with incredible teams, incredible storylines and incredible competitiveness. There is a path by which the entire division makes the playoffs, though unlikely. If Sean McVay could take Jared Goff to a Super Bowl, surely a hungry and motivated Matthew Stafford could be even better for McVay's system, and they still have that defense. The 49ers, when healthy, are as talented and schematically sound as any team in the league, and trying the two QB system will be another extra wrinkle that Kyle Shanahan throws at unsuspecting defenses. The Seahawks still have Russell Wilson and for all of their other flaws that should be enough to carry them to the postseason again. The Cardinals have brought in stars in the twilight of their careers to help build around Kyler Murray, but it feels like something is still missing in Arizona compared to everyone else in the West.

AFC Playoff Order:

1. Kansas City

2. Buffalo

3. Cleveland

4. Tennessee

5. New England

6. LA Chargers

7. Pittsburgh

NFC Playoff Order:

1. Green Bay

2. Tampa Bay

3. LA Rams

4. Dallas

5. San Francisco

6. Seattle

7. New Orleans

AFC Playoff Predictions:

Wild Card Round:

2. Buffalo over 7. Pittsburgh

3. Cleveland over 6. LA Chargers

5. New England over 4. Tennessee

Divisional Round:

1. Kansas City over 5. New England

2. Buffalo over 3. Cleveland

AFC Championship:

1. Kansas City over 2. Buffalo

NFC Playoff Predictions:

Wild Card Round:

2. Tampa Bay over 7. New Orleans

3. LA Rams over 6. Seattle

5. San Francisco over 4. Dallas

Divisional Round:

5. San Francisco over 1. Green Bay

3. LA Rams over 2. Tampa Bay

NFC Championship:

3. LA Rams over 5. San Francisco

Super Bowl 56:

Kansas City over LA Rams 31-23

Award Predictions:

MVP: Josh Allen (BUF)

OPOY: Aaron Rodgers (GB)

DPOY: T.J Watt (PIT)

OROY: Trey Lance (SF)

DROY: Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah (CLE)

Coach: Kyle Shanahan (SF)

Apologies to everyone that I jinxed here, and the list is long.