2021 NFL Playoff Predictions: How far can Henry take Titans, who wins it all?

The largest NFL playoffs in history start tomorrow with a crazy Wild Card Weekend. 6 playoff games will air over the next two days. Even though the Patriots missed the playoffs, I’ll be excited to watch as I keep an eye on Tom Brady’s Buccaneers among other teams. Below I have my playoff bracket and have broken down each game. However, before we get to that, I thought it would be interesting to touch on a big storyline from last week that could have implications for the playoffs: Derrick Henry’s 2000 yard season.

Henry is the 8th 2000 yard rusher in history. You would think teams with 2000 yard rushers would come from dominant teams. However, teams with 2000 yard rushers don’t really have an amazing history. Check out some data I gathered on the 2000 yard rushers and their teams:

Here’s some quick facts I have about the data:

  • Of the other 7 teams with 2000 yard rushers, 2 missed the playoffs, 4 lost a wild card game, and 1 (the 1998 Broncos) won the Super Bowl
  • Titans are the first franchise with two 2000 yard rushing seasons – the first was by speedster Chris Johnson in 2009
  • The all time single season rushing record belongs to Rams legend Eric Dickerson (2105 yards). Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season came close to that marker, but not Henry’s 2020 performance
  • Only two of the other teams with 2000 yard rushers had Pro Bowl QBs, the 1998 Broncos had John Elway and the 2009 Titans had Vince Young
  • The 2020 Titans were top 5 in offensive PPG and total offense. Only two of the other teams with 2000 yard rushers (the 1997 Lions and 1998 Broncos) had a top 5 offense in both categories
  • Of the 8 teams, only the 1998 Broncos were top 10 in total passing
  • All 8 teams were 1st or 2nd in total rushing. The 2020 Titans trailed their wild card opponent, the Ravens in total rushing
  • 6 of the 8 teams were top 16 in both total defense and PPG allowed. Both Titans teams were 28th in total defense. The 2009 Titans were also 28th in PPG allowed, while the 2020 Titans were 24th in that category
  • The 2020 Titans, at 11-5, have the second best record of the 8 teams. The Super Bowl winning 1998 Broncos had the best at 14-2
  • The 2020 Titans won the AFC South. Only two of the other 7 teams, the 1998 Broncos and 2003 Ravens won their division

The 1998 Broncos were a breed of their own among this group of teams with 2000 yard rushers. Terrell Davis’ 2000 yard season was in addition to big years by Hall of Fame QB John Elway and legendary TE Shannon Sharpe, as well as 1000 yard seasons by WRs Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. They were top 10 in PPG, total offense, total passing, and total rushing, and they had a top 12 defense to compliment it. The Broncos were a 14-2 super-team.

The 2020 Titans are definitely not as good as that Broncos team. However, they have a strong offense around Henry with QB Ryan Tannehill and the WR duo of A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. They did have the 2nd best record of these 8 teams, and they were one of three that were top 5 in total offense and offensive PPG. The question is whether they are more similar to the 1998 Broncos, or more similar to the other 6 teams, none of which made it past the wild card round.

The 1997 Lions, like the Titans, had a top 5 offense around RB Barry Sanders. However, their turnover prone QB Scott Mitchell and their inconsistency led them to a 9-7 record and a wild card loss. I think Ryan Tannehill and the 2020 Titans are better than this. However, the Titans have one of the worst defenses of these 8 teams, which could be a problem in these playoffs. I do think they’ll make it past the Ravens in the wild card round, as they know how to stop Lamar Jackson. They do also have the best offense with a 2000 yard rusher since the ‘98 Broncos. However, I can’t see them even coming close against if they have to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs or Josh Allen and the Bills. Those two teams are on another level.

Now, let’s get to the rest of my bracket:

2021 NFL Playoff Bracket

I have QB Josh Allen and the Bills taking it all. While the Chiefs have the #1 seed in the AFC, the Bills have looked really good down the stretch as Allen and the Bills defense improve.

Here’s my prediction and breakdown of each matchup:

Wild Card Weekend

Bills, 30, Colts, 17

The Colts defense has been pretty good this year, but it’s no match for dual threat QB Josh Allen, WR Stefon Diggs, and a stacked Buffalo Bills passing attack. Indy will lean on RB Jonathan Taylor in order to put up some points, but it won’t be enough for the victory.

Browns, 28, Steelers, 27

This one could truly go either way. QB Ben Roethlisberger will give the Steelers a boost compared to Week 17, but this Browns team is still no joke (even though Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster seems to think so). Even with HC Kevin Stefanski off the sidelines due to COVID, I think QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense will edge out a victory and win their first playoff game of the 21st century.

Titans, 24, Ravens, 16

These two teams have a history, and I think history will repeat itself here. This Titans offense is too strong to lose in the wild card game. I have RB Derrick Henry running all over this defense. While the Ravens will do a good job establishing the run between QB Lamar Jackson and RB J.K. Dobbins, Jackson will struggle to establish the passing game and break away for big plays.

Saints, 33, Bears, 30

I think Chicago is going to give the Saints a scare. QB Mitch Trubisky has looked good lately. Meanwhile, the Saints will be getting back into a rhythm with RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray alongside WR Michael Thomas returning. The Saints will struggle early on but eventually get their act together and advance.

Seahawks, 23, Rams, 17

These teams split the regular season series, and now they face off for one last time. QB Jared Goff won’t be 100% even if he plays, so I don’t see the Rams winning this one. It will be close since the Rams defense knows how to slow down QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

Buccaneers, 27, Washington, 17

The Bucs should be grateful they have the 5 seed. They get to play the winner of a division that didn’t even have a team above .500. Even without WR Mike Evans, QB Tom Brady and his strong group of receivers will be too much for any NFC East defense, even Washington’s, to handle. I think QB Alex Smith will post a decent performance, but not enough to keep up with Brady.

Divisional Round

Chiefs, 45, Browns, 41

This Browns offense has looked really good lately.  I have them powering their way past Pittsburgh’s D and putting up even more points on this Chiefs defense.  The RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has worked really well and they will thrive here.  The Browns will make this a shootout, but I think QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will prevail.  Mahomes was clutch in the regular season and could continue to show that in the playoffs.  With the help of WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, Mahomes and the Chiefs will hang on for victory and move on to the AFC Championship.

Bills, 33, Titans, 13

The Titans may beat up on the Ravens (again), but they’re no match for this Bills team. I’m expecting that Allen and Diggs will dominate against a flawed Titans D here. He should significantly outperform QB Ryan Tannehill, who will face pressure from a stronger Bills D.

Buccaneers, 31, Packers, 28 (OT)

I think QB Aaron Rodgers will make this matchup closer than it was last time, leaning on star WR Davante Adams. This one could go either way, and I have it going to overtime after strong performances from both Brady and Rodgers. In overtime, Brady will prevail once again, helping his legacy as a clutch playoff QB.

Saints, 38, Seahawks, 28

The Saints will have gotten into more of a rhythm after finishing strong against the Bears. This game will be easier for them, as QB Drew Brees and his offense thrive against a Seattle D that has struggled all year. Yes, Russ will look better in this one than the wild card game, but it won’t be enough to keep up with Brees in his element.

AFC/NFC Championships

Bills, 38, Chiefs, 34

Mahomes will stay in this game until the very end. However, the Chiefs still have flaws on defense, and even if Mahomes dominates, it won’t guarantee a Chiefs win. I think the Chiefs secondary will struggle to keep up with Allen and his receivers, especially Diggs. The Bills will expose Kansas City’s defense as they advance to the Super Bowl.

Saints, 34, Buccaneers, 31

Brees has beaten Brady twice this year, and this one will be very close, but it seems the Saints defense knows how to limit Brady. I have the Saints prevailing in the end. I think both QBs will post dominant performances in this one, adding to their amazing careers, but motivated to get his second ring, Brees will beat out a six-ringed Brady in an intense game.

Super Bowl LV: Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints

Bills, 21, Saints, 16

This is a battle of two of the most well balanced teams in football. A lot of these playoff teams are offense heavy, but both the Bills and Saints have established a strong defense, so I’d expect a low scoring Super Bowl if this is the game. While Brees will be motivated to win another ring, he’ll struggle under pressure from this Bills D and CB Tre’Davious White should be able to shadow Michael Thomas. Meanwhile, Allen won’t post his typical numbers, but he’ll perform just well enough to lead the Bills to at long last, a Super Bowl win. That’s something Bills legend Jim Kelly could never do.

I’m really excited to see how these playoffs turn out, as there are many possibilities. Feel free to comment with your thoughts on these predictions and stay tuned for more NFL coverage in the coming weeks.

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