NFL Predictions

Predicting the entire 2021 NFL season:

We are exactly a week away from the NFL kickoff game between the Cowboys and Buccaneers. So as I do every year, I predicted the three top candidates for every major award, like MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and so on. To go along with that (since I’m a football psycho), I went through the whole schedule and decided on the winner of every single game, considering bye weeks, travel schedule and of course how the teams match up against each other. The result is a list of the seven playoff teams in each conference, a prediction of every postseason round and ultimately who I have winning the Super Bowl.

My Excel sheet, where I filled out the entire schedule is at the very end, if you want to check it out or see where I have your team finishing at, if they’re not listed among the playoff squads.

Here’s how I have the season shaking out:

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MVP:

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MVP

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1. Patrick Mahomes

2. Josh Allen

3. Tom Brady

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There’s a storm brewing in the NFL and the team that came up just short of winning back-to-back Lombardi trophies is desperate to get back out there. When you have the best player in the league and he’s hungry for more, it’s bad news for the rest of the league. There’s no doubt in what Mahomes can bring to the table, throwing lasers all over the field and creating stuff individually. The big change will be his protection. After he ran a marathon in the Super Bowl, due to his tackles not being able to hold up at all against those pass-rushers for Tampa Bay, the Chiefs made it a priority to invest into the O-line, potentially with four new starters. Originally looking at their schedule, I thought KC would get tested early and regress a little record-wise, but I just couldn’t put many Ls next to them and their QB will probably cross the 5000-yard and 40 TD marks with an extra game. So with them looking like a Super Bowl front-runner and Mahomes putting up those kind of numbers, according to my projections, he should be right up there once again, for his second of these awards.

I know I’m not going out on a limb here, having Allen finish as the runner-up for the award once again, but with a potentially even better receiving corp, all five starters up front coming back and his offensive coordinator Brian Daboll not getting scooped up in this head-coaching cycle either, I have all the reasons to believe we’ll see close to a repeat of his 2020 season. I believe their defense can get him the ball back more often, with such a deep rotation up front and being due for positive regression overall, when you look at the track record of this unit under Sean McDermott. Allen can throw the ball over the moon and we’ll see him throw some bombs once again, but he showed the ability to shred blitzes and pick apart softer zone defenses as well. Plus, he can make those crazy backyard plays of course, while hurting defenses in a major way with his legs and being a real weapon in the red-zone, when they call plays up for him specifically. And he’ll have plenty of chances to show out, on the road at Kansas City, Tennessee, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

And this may come as a surprise to some, who called me a Brady hater when I had him in the 30’s, as I put out my version of the NFL Top 100 a couple of weeks ago, but I’m not oblivious to how the voters operate and I see this as maybe the best roster in all of football. Tampa Bay is absolutely loaded and they will accomplish one of the craziest feats I’ve ever seen, before even playing a single game this season – having all 22 starters back from a Super Bowl team. We saw last season that Brady can still sling it, with more deep calls off heavy play-action than he’s ever thrown in his career maybe, even though it took a while for this offense to really find their lane. Now with a full offseason, to have a clear plan of attack from the start, an incredible receiver trio coming back, their actual starting tight-end O.J. Howard healthy again and a very underrated addition in Giovani Bernard, as their primary receiving back, this offense should look much more like the one we saw late in 2020 and beyond, once they got out of their bye week and figured out how they can play up to their full capability. With the Bucs to me being the team to beat in the NFC, I think Brady will get a lot of attention – as he always does.

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Just missed: Lamar Jackson & Justin Herbert

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Offensive Player of the Year:

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OPOY

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1. Nick Chubb

2. Josh Allen

3. Lamar Jackson

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So the whole voting process for these NFL awards is faulty you might say, where the MVP is going to a quarterback almost exclusively anyway and either there’s two guys very close in that race, where the one who comes up short gets the OPOY instead, or they just hand this trophy to skill-position player with the best numbers. The latter is kind of the way I went here, since my favorite to lead the league in rushing right now is Chubb. Sure, Kareem Hunt is still there to steal some touches, but the largest chunk of snaps he penciled in for come on third downs, where Chubb may not be put out there as much anyway. And more importantly, the Browns to me have the best O-line heading into the 2021 NFL season. Chubb might be the best pure runner in all of football, in terms of letting things develop, having great vision combined with footwork and then the burst to punish defenses. If the Browns are among the true AFC contenders and this guy is running through guys on a weekly basis, he’ll be a favorite for the award. Especially with him being maybe one of the greatest closers late in games, having averaged a ridiculous ten yards per carry in the fourth quarter this past season.

Sorry Josh, but you’re second in this category as well for me. I mentioned the rushing upside with Allen and he could easily lead the league in total touchdowns, which he was only three away from last year already (45). I already talked about the rest with the MVP award.

And then I’m going with Lamar Jackson, as somebody feared by defenses for his ability to dart through any crease that may open up, but then is also still improving as a passer and led the league in touchdowns through the air, when he won the MVP award just two years ago. The Ravens heavily invested into improving the wideout position and they brought in a passing game coordinator, who has worked with some of the best receivers in football. That part of their team is still growing and so is Lamar to some degree, as just a 24-year old. So while throwing outside the numbers has never been a big part of his game, I believe he now has the weapons to take advantage or punish defenses for investing extra resources to defend the run, while leaving those guys out wide in one-on-one coverage, which subsequently will force defenses to run more two-high safety coverages and take bodies out of the box. With emerging superstar second-year running back J.K. Dobbins out for the season, more weight will fall on Lamar again and I expect him to come through, with a more diverse plan of attack offensively. To me, about 3500 passing yards, 1000 rushing yards and 35 combined touchdowns is a fair assumption, since that’s the type of player he has been in years two and three.

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Just missed: Saquon Barkley & George Kittle

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Defensive Player of the Year:

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DPOY

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1. Nick Bosa

2. Myles Garrett

3. Devin White

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You’ll get there still with my playoff predictions, but I’ve made it clear all along that I’m a believer in these 49ers bouncing back this season, with several players coming back from IR and a nice collection of draft prospects, including a major improvement at the quarterback position potentially. One of those guys back out there this weekend is the Defensive Rookie of the Year from the 2019 season. Bosa may not have been up there in sacks that year, but he was among the NFL’s elite (tied for seventh) when you look at the total pressure numbers and was also tied for fifth in tackles for loss (16). He carried that success over to the postseason, with four sacks in three games, while his team came up just short of winning that Lombardi trophy. Those Bosa double-hand swipes are feared by tackles in this league, but Nick I believe has a little more power and suddenness than his brother. With what we saw this past season to some degree and new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans calling the shots, San Francisco should be more diverse in coverage than a couple of years ago, and Bosa should therefore be able to turn more pressures into sacks, while being there to swallow up backs, as they face those wide zone run games. If this team gets back to controlling the pace of games and this guy can pin his ears back, look out!

Next up is the guy I predicted would win the award last year and through the first nine games it looked like he would do so, as he was up to 9.5 sacks, seven TFLs and four fumbles forced. Then Garrett was put on the COVID list for a couple of games and wasn’t quite the same when he came back. I’m so impressed with the player he’s become, which is kind of crazy to say, considering he was the consensus first overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft. How much more diverse his pass-rush arsenal and plan has become, how he learned to maximize his length and power and how much more flexible an athlete he has become as an athlete, has transitioned him from a super-talented player to a dominant one. Garrett’s physical tools give him the advantage over basically every single tackle in the league and now the Browns like to put him over guards on third downs, where it’s actually unfair with his quicks off the line. And with Cleveland looking to have their best season since this iteration of the franchise, this guy should get plenty of chances to rush. Especially against fairly one-dimensional teams inside their division, in the Bengals and Steelers.

And to go along with those two edge rushers I just discussed, I’ll go with the young star defensive player from these past playoffs. White’s range and play-making abilities were on display in the Bucs‘ biggest games down the stretch and he filled the stat sheet well along the way. The whole Tampa Bay defense started to come together during their Super Bowl run, culminating in that dominant performance against Patrick Mahomes and company, when they were chasing that guy around like a wild chicken. White has the speed to chase down ball-carriers to the edges, he can shoot through gaps like a missile, resulting in 15 tackles for loss (tied for third league-wide) and he is a major part of their blitz packages, who linemen have a tough time getting in front of and backs get punished for trying to do so, as he led all off-ball linebackers with nine sacks. This could be a dominant unit and team overall, and I believe the area White will improve in this year is making more plays in coverage. Those guys who are constantly around the ball and then can maybe scoop up a couple of loose ones, with the speed and RB background to go the other way with them, usually get a lot of hype.

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Just missed: Justin Simmons & Aaron Donald

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Offensive Rookie of the Year:

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OROY

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1. Justin Fields

2. Najee Harris

3. Elijah Moore

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To be fully transparent, I was going to go with a quarterback at number one here, regardless of who would have the clearer path to getting on the field early on – either Justin Fields or Trey Lance. With the latter, there’s just too many factors that make me unsure about when he’ll be allowed to take full control of that 49ers offense. So instead I’m going with Bears rookie signal-caller, who has been turning heads in the preseason and the only justification his head coach Matt Nagy seemingly has, is that he was part of the transition to Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. The difference for Chicago is that Andy Dalton hasn’t taken this team to the playoffs multiple years and the young guy they have now is more than familiar with playing under the bright lights, as a Heisman trophy finalist for one of the elite college programs at Ohio State. There may be some early struggles for Fields, in terms of being on time with his throws and leading defenders to the ball if he doesn’t get more disciplined with his eyes, but I said all along that I believe he brings the physical capabilities and natural feel for creating plays off script, that he will overcome those. I know that Dalton is slated to start Sunday Night against the Rams and he might get his chance at revenge against the Bengals, but week three at the Browns, if they’re not able to compete, I believe will get the chance to prove himself. And with a strong run game, Allen Robinson as a super-reliable target and breakout receiver Darnell Mooney catching bombs from him, I think the Bears will finally be fun to watch again offensively.

While we have seen quarterbacks get heavily favored over skill-position players, who have accomplished similar feats, like Justin Jefferson not getting a single vote last season due to Justin Herbert, or Josh Jacobs losing out to Kyler Murray the year prior, being a featured back and producing for your team right away, usually present a good chance to win this award. Najee may run in the high 4.5’s, not have that instant explosiveness or really stand out in an athletic testing setting, but I thought he was clearly the most complete back in this class. Unlike most rookie backs, he can be trusted right away with pass-protection duties and therefore will be on the field for all three downs. However, what will get him votes is what he can do with the ball in his hands, manipulating defenders with body-language and pace as a runner, with a lot of inside zone to be expected for Pittsburgh. As a receiver, he is so natural in releasing and adjusting to the ball, while having good feel for bodies around him. When the ball is in his hands, he has subtle quickness in short-areas to make defenders, but then also has the power to drag guys for a few extra yards. He won’t have a many true breakaway runs, but I expect him to touch the ball 300 times, including 80 catches or so, for 1500-1600 yards and double-digit touchdowns.

And then the third guy is somebody that I put some money on at 51-1 a few months ago already, because I could easily see him be the most productive rookie receiver in the NFL this season. I definitely liked Moore as a draft prospect, but I still am annoyed at myself for not having him even higher overall, in part because I didn’t want to move so many receivers up. This guy is super-tough, getting his hands on the ball in traffic and holding onto it through hits, he tracks the ball extremely well down the field and has a great feel for space. After the catch, he is very elusive and displays excellent field-vision, which will make him the designated YAC option for this Jets team. I know Corey Davis is expected to be the number one receiver for this team and he will have a large role in this offense, but he’s more of a steady contributor, who will take on a similar role to what he did in Tennessee to some degree. However, in terms of jet sweeps, bubble screens and stuff like, I expect the rookie to get plenty of opportunities, while having shown out in a major way throughout training camp, who to the surprise of many has not had any issues winning on the outside, despite only measuring in at 5’9”.

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Just missed: Trey Lance & DeVonta Smith

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Defensive Rookie of the Year:

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DROY

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1. Jaelan Phillips

2. Asante Samuel Jr.

3. Jamin Davis

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Unlike a lot of people out there – which if they can actually find a way to measure it somehow, that’s great – I decided to not let the questions about two defensive prospects in the draft influence my overall grade or ranking on the board. That’s how Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips inside my personal top ten. The latter of the two, if there are no issues re-occurring for him with his concussion history, to me is the favorite for being the best rookie on the defensive side of the ball in 2021. In terms of being able to set the edge, back-door blockers, winning in a multitude of ways as a pass-rusher and lining up in different spots, I believe his game is ready for a quick transition to the pros. With the way Brian Flores’ defense likes to attack on passing downs, where they send one more than the offense can block a lot of times and you don’t know for sure who’s coming, a lot of times those guys on the edges get a free run at the quarterback and you have a good player like Emmanuel Ogbah, who has been more so a fringe starter up to that point in his career, be on the cusp of top ten in total pressures. Now you look at Phillips physical prowess and ability to consistently win as a rusher when they give him two-way goes, and this guy could easily have double-digit sacks, as well as TFLs.

The second guy I actually bet for DROY because of the role I project him to take on and the crazy value at his odds is the son of former Eagle and Patriot Asante Samuel, who I snatched at +3500. Looking at the player himself, I thought this guy had some special ability to play with his eyes on the quarterback in off-zone coverage, then click-and-close and crowd the catch point or make plays on the ball himself. If he were two inches taller, he would have been a no-doubt first-round pick, but even if those will be missing potentially as a target in the red-zone, he’s feisty and touchdowns aren’t what voters look at too much anyway. It will be about the plays he can make down the field and take the ball away. Now, the reason I believe he will be in position to make those, outside of already showing that ability at Florida State, is how he will be used as the field-side off corner in the defensive scheme of Brandon Staley and Renaldo Hill. And looking at the Rams defense last season, Samuel could have a Darious Williams-like season.

And the final name here is an uber-talented linebacker I loved early on in the process, who now gets to play behind a ridiculously talented defensive line. What I was impressed with about Davis was his ability to evade blockers in space altogether basically and get his hands on the ball-carrier, but getting to play right behind Da’Ron Payne a lot of times, as their MIKE backer, he can actually beat linemen to the spot altogether, as they can’t get off combo-blocks quickly enough. Therefore if Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio can teach him to take advantage of those opportunities and shoot into the backfield more, his TFL numbers could be pretty high. Plus, then on top of his range in-between the tackles and to spill ball-carriers out to the sidelines, I really like the way he can glide around the field as a coverage-defender. He’s super light on his feet to get towards those initial landmarks and then there’s little pause with him to come forward and “blitz” shallow crossers or shut down dump-offs to the back with reliable open-field tackling. We barely saw him used as a pressure-player at Kentucky, but with his closing burst and rare elusiveness for a guy at his position, he should be effective in that capacity on top of it.

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Just missed: Kwity Paye & Jevon Holland

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Comeback Player of the Year:

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CPOY

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1. Saquon Barkley

2. Odell Beckham Jr.

3. Nick Bosa

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This was tough to decide on, since two quarterbacks stood out to me originally – Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz. However, with those two banged up right now, I decided to just mention them here instead and not making about that position, as we always do.

So instead my front-runner right now would be what I believe is the most talented running back on the planet. Saquon had an incredible rookie season, cracking the 2000-yard mark and 15 touchdowns from scrimmage. His numbers dropped off in 2019 and then last year he could barely get anything done, before being lost for the rest of the year one-and-a-half games in. That sort of qualifies him even more for the award however, not having seen him at truly his best in like three years. The big question will be the offensive line, which hasn’t consistently given this guy lanes to burst through, but I think a year for all the young players among it to develop and grow together will be huge. Moreover, it’s the Giants ability to spread the field more, to create space that way, with the additions of veteran free agent Kenny Golladay and first-round pick Kadarius Toney from Florida. Combine that with a coaching staff that probably hammered the idea of checking it down to the back if nothing is there into their quarterback Daniel Jones, to avoid getting deep into plays and turning the ball over. So like 80 catches, 2000 scrimmage yards and double-digit TDs are all realistic milestones for him.

The second guy here is somebody who recently played with Saquon in New York, as kind of the slightly older brother, but has become one of the forgotten superstars of this league to some degree. There’s this misconception about Odell that he is washed and the Browns would be better without, which are just ridiculous to me, and I’ve discussed this on quite a few occasions. In short, the offense still had to find their rhythm and really understand their plan of attack. In 2019 you felt an urgency from Baker Mayfield to feed OBJ and that connection simply wasn’t there, but the whole unit improved throughout last year, as they became more entrenched with the system, but last season you saw from real sparks. They may be a run-oriented team in Cleveland, but they want to threaten defenses vertically off that, where number 13 was a very tough cover on those backside out-and-ups and stuff like that, to go along with using his talent on screens, reverses and even WR passes. He will be the X receiver for Kevin Stefanski’s West Coast-based offenses, which heavily features that type of player. He’s also somebody I feel like I’m stealing in all my fantasy drafts.

And then the third name here I already discussed in my Defensive Player of the Year list. The reason I believe Bosa would put himself in the conversation here as well, is the fact that when we last saw him at full force, he made some of the biggest plays for a Super Bowl contender, at the back-end of a phenomenal rookie campaign and then went down so early last season.

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Just missed: Christian McCaffrey & Derwin James

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Coach of the Year:

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COTY

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1. Brandon Staley

2. Joe Judge

3. Bruce Arians

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For quite a while, Staley was the favorite to win this award. By now, he has moved down into a three-way tie for the third-best odds at +1500 for the bettors out there and I did sprinkle a little bit on him, because I believe in the talent on the roster and the ability of Staley and his coaching staff to get the best out of it. The offense already produced explosive plays at a very high level, thanks in large part to their sensational young signal-caller, who broke basically every meaningful rookie passing record out there. Now they get back Austin Ekeler, as one of the premiere dual-threat backs in the game, and they significantly improved at three spots on the O-line. The defense is where Staley will make his biggest impact however, where they will run the type of split-safety defense, that changes the picture post-snap and doesn’t tip their hat, that we saw for the other L.A. team last season. Oh, and they’ll get back arguably the most talented safety in football, when talking about Derwin James. So there talent will be larger, healthier, the have coaching to maximize it and then the difference in game-managing from the embarrassment we saw last season in several situations compared to just average/normal levels will be heavily felt.

The second name here is largely connected to the type of improvement I expect from this Giants team, that lost double-digit games last season. Quarterback is still an area of concern, with Daniel Jones having to corral his turnover issues and speeding up his internal clock, but looking through this roster, there’s a lot of things to like. I just discussed the additions they made at the receiver position, with Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney to the pieces they already had, including Saquon Barkley coming back of course. Yet, the side of the ball I’m really excited about watching is their defense, which already quietly finished top ten in points allowed last season, when they were still working through some issues. They have the bodies up front to clog lanes on early downs and then defensive coordinator Patrick Graham throws the kitchen-sink at opponents in passing situations, with creative games on the D-line and a variety of coverages, while now having the versatile and deep secondary to execute those. Once again, this is a narrative-driven award, which if you go from 6-10 with questions under center and not a ton of star-power maybe, and then snag that final playoff spot the year after, you’ll receive the attention necessary.

And then in that third slot I put Bruce Arians of the reigning Super Bowl champs. I don’t see that team really slowing down, with the added chemistry through the training camp preparation, while bringing back all 22 starters from a year ago. So this doesn’t really fit the bill for a mediocre team all of a sudden reaching new heights under a different head-man, but just the dominance they might display against a large portion of their schedule. The offense should have a much clearer plan of attack, put together by offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, rather than having to mold two different playbooks together, and isn’t banged in the receiving crew. Defensively, they only started to really come together from late December on, where we saw their pass-rush and/or speed at linebacker take over in spots, and that young secondary grew in front of our very eyes. Todd Bowles is hungry to get another head coaching gig I’m sure and will try to get that unit to play at the level they are capable of more consistently. So all the pieces are there to elevate themselves as a regular season team, which you know Brady will have them not be complacent as well, and I wouldn’t say there’s another elite team in the NFC at this point.

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Just missed: Ron Rivera & Brian Flores

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Playoffs:

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NFC:

 

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1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) Buccaneers

2. Los Angeles Rams (12-5) Rams New

3. Washington Football Team (11-6) Washington Football Team

4. Green Bay Packers (11-6) Packers

5. San Francisco 49ers (12-5) 49ers

6. Seattle Seahawks (10-7) Seahawks

7. New York Giants (9-8) Giants

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I already talked about the Bucs quite a bit, when discussing Tom Brady as a candidate for MVP and Bruce Arians for Coach of the Year. This to me is the most talented roster in the NFL and we saw them live up to that potential down the stretch last season. The offense will have a clearer plan and healthy skill-position players, while the defense features a ferocious front-seven and a young secondary, that came together for them during their championship run.

The only team that has the ability to challenge Tampa Bay for the NFC’s top seed in my opinion is the Rams. I actually don’t love many of the moves this offseason, but if their first one pays off all the way, the rest won’t matter much anymore. With Matt Stafford under center, rather than Jared Goff, they add a vertical and off-schedule component to their pass game that they didn’t have before, plus it’s not like the really needed to add much, with the reigning number one defense.

The shocker here is at number three, since I’m significantly higher on Washington than basically everybody else out there. Their defense will be one of the most disruptive units in the entire league, with that defensive line, loaded with first-round picks, I discussed their first-round rookie linebacker being a DROY front-runner and William Jackson III gives them a true number one corner potentially. Offensively, they boosted the receiving corp, get back Antonio Gibson and if Ryan Fitzpatrick is just average, he is an enormous improvement under center.

The Packers drop down here, after being the conference’s top seed last year, but they are bound to regress, after back-to-back 13-3 seasons. Outside of Corey Linsley, who after all is the best center in all of football to me, they didn’t lose any pieces really, but they also barely added anything. Having the reigning league MVP back, can cover those things up however, but it’s the defense now with Joe Barry installing that two-high safety scheme that has the chance to really improve.

In that first Wildcard spot, I have the team battling with the Rams for the NFC West crown. I’m an outed Kyle Shanahan and 49ers believer, who thinks if they just let third overall pick Trey Lance start for them at quarterback, they can return back to glory. The amount of players they’ll get back from injury is absurd, they had the best draft in that division and could easily have the number on left tackle, tight-end, defensive end and middle linebacker in all of football in 2021.

And since we’re talking about the West, the Seahawks are a team that you just can’t count out – believe me, I’ve tried. Having Russell Wilson at quarterback seems to mean an automatic ten wins, but I actually like how they’ve approached this offseason, with upgrades up front on both sides of the ball, another speed threat in second-rounder D’Wayne Eskridge, to make their three-receiver sets a nightmare to defend, Chris Carson coming back and a defense with plenty of room to move up, as they have transitioned from that classic cover-three approach to more off-zone and heavy man-pressures.

And the one surprise team on this list here is the Giants, which is sort of crazy to have two NFC East teams make the playoffs, after they had a 7-9 division winner last season. Big Blue’s defense under coordinator Patrick Graham is really what has me buying in there, with what they showed me over the second half of 2020 specifically, mixing up coverages and creating issues with games up front. Offensively, Daniel Jones avoiding turnovers will be huge, but he gets Saquon back, with a young O-line growing together and added receiving talent, to creates lanes in the run game.

 

Just missed: Arizona Cardinals (9-8), Carolina Panthers (8-9), Chicago Bears (8-9), Dallas Cowboys (8-9) & New Orleans Saints (8-9)

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AFC

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1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-4) Chiefs

2. Buffalo Bills (12-5) Bills

3. Baltimore Ravens (11-6) Ravens

4. Tennessee Titans (10-7) Titans

5. Miami Dolphins (11-6) Dolphins

6. Cleveland Browns (11-6) Browns

7. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) Chargers

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When I first put this together, I had three-way tie at the top of the AFC, between the Chiefs, Bills and Ravens and they were flipped the other way thanks to conference record tiebreakers, but when I saw J.K. Dobbins lay on the ground and hold his knee in Baltimore’s third preseason game, I thought his dynamic abilities will not allow the Ravens to beat the Chiefs in week two. Therefore, KC wins 13 games here for me once again, with the best player and my pick for MVP under center, playing behind a completely revamped offensive line and elite coaching in all three facets of the game.

Once again, the Bills come up just short of that highly desired number one seed in the AFC, and they are hurt from that one game I changed between the Chiefs and Ravens, as they would have won out in that initial three-way tie. Still, I believe they might be a more dangerous team defensively, with their deep, young defensive line and Sean McDermott getting more involved in the play-calling, as one of the very best at coordinating zone coverages, to take the areas their opponents like to attack. And then they have one of the elite quarterbacks, in an offense that understands how to spread defenses out and attack every blade of grass.

Baltimore is the team I thought presented the biggest challenge to Kansas City potentially, as they are looking to overcome past issues in those matchups, where they couldn’t challenge their opponents on the outside offensively and try to learn from some of the issues with defensive gameplans. However, now with one of my breakout stars J.K. Dobbins out for the season, their highly-touted first-round receiver Rashod Bateman working through a groin injury and no truly established edge rusher, I’m a little concerned.

The most unbalanced team by far among these division winners is the Titans. They have two legitimate superstar receivers, the most devastating ball-carrier in all of football, a top-ten quarterback in the league, and an O-line that gets their Pro Bowl left tackle back. However, the defense still has plenty to prove, as one of the bottom-three units in sacks and pressure percentage last season, and at least three new starters in the secondary. They have shown promise in preseason and there’s some players I really like on both sides of the ball, but playing in the South certainly helps them.

Next up are two 11-6 teams, with the Dolphins finishing with that top Wildcard seed thanks to conference record. There are a lot people crapping on this team right now, even though all I expect them to do here is to win that one extra game they’ll have, to go with the base from last year. The defense may not quite put up those ridiculous takeaway numbers, but I just talked about Jaelan Phillips as my favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year and some great fits on the second and third level added. And then I expect Tua to make a big jump, with a full offseason to prepare and guys who can separate in his receiving corp.

The Browns win 11 games as well in my scenario, but still have to face the number three seed in the Wildcard Round, because I project Baltimore to do slightly better inside the AFC North and therefore get to host their division rivals. There’s really not much to discuss here I believe, even if there may be a few people out there saying that 2020 was a fluke for Cleveland – this is one of the three or four most talented rosters in the entire league. The have the best O-line, best duo of backs, could be very dangerous at receiver, have a guy who doesn’t mind challenging defenses with tight-window throws, have an elite pass-rusher and a much-improved back-seven defensively. They can just about beat anybody.

And finally, I have the Chargers earning that final spot in the AFC, thanks to their direct win over the Patriots, which I think they’ll have circled on their calendars with a red marker, after the embarrassment they suffered against them in 2020. Justin Herbert is coming off a phenomenal rookie campaign, they made three major improvements on the O-line and get back Austin Ekeler as a dynamic dual-threat back. I love the potential of this defense however, which I already discussed with Brandon Staley as my Coach of the Year.

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Just missed: New England Patriots (9-8), Indianapolis Colts (8-9) & Pittsburgh Steelers (8-9)

 

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Wild Card Round:

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NFC:

Rams New 2. Rams (12-5) OVER 7. Giants (9-8) Giants

Washington Football Team 3. Football Team (11-6) OVER 6. Seahawks (10-7) Seahawks

49ers 5. 49ers (12-5) OVER 4. Packers (11-6) Packers

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AFC:

Bills 2. Bills (12-5) OVER 7. Chargers (9-8) Chargers

Ravens 3. Ravens (11-6) OVER 6. Browns (11-6) Browns

Dolphins 5. Dolphins (11-6) OVER 4. Titans (10-7) Titans

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Divisional Round:

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NFC:

Buccaneers 1. Buccaneers (13-4) OVER 5. 49ers (12-5) 49ers

Rams New 2. Rams (12-5) OVER 3. Football Team (11-6) Washington Football Team

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AFC:

Chiefs 1. Chiefs (13-4) OVER 5. Dolphins (11-6) Dolphins

Bills 2. Bills (12-5) OVER 3. Ravens (11-6) Ravens

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Conference Championships:

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Buccaneers 1. Buccaneers (13-4) OVER 2. Rams (12-5) Rams New

Chiefs 1. Chiefs (13-4) OVER 2. Bills (12-5) Bills

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Super Bowl LVI:

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Super Bowl LVI

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Chiefs  Kansas City Chiefs OVER Tampa Bay Buccaneers  Buccaneers

More so than in other year I can remember, I believe a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl matchup is the most likely scenario. The Bucs have the most complete roster in the NFL and the Chiefs may have the best coaching staff and certainly overall player in my opinion. However, this time, I believe Mahomes and company get their revenge, as I can’t see them making the same kind of mistakes in their gameplan and, assuming full health from their offensive line, not have those issues in protection again anyway. These to me the clear front-runners in either conference and we’ll track them throughout the majority of the season, to figure out who’s the best team overall. I see this as Mahomes winning his second and drawing a little closer to Brady, as the top challenger for that GOAT title.
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