It’s been a crazy season of NFL football so far. Who would have thought that the Broncos and Raiders would not only be tied for the AFC West lead, but also the AFC lead? While some of the trends we have seen thus far are bound to be broken this week, there should still be plenty of surprises. I’ll take a shot at predicting what those surprises will be as I present you with my Week 3 NFL picks. Last week, I went 10-6 as I failed to predict a handful of the upsets that occurred. My overall record is 16-16 (17-16 including this week’s Thursday night game), and I hope to improve on that today as we all relax and watch some football after a long week.
Lock of the Week
Don’t get me wrong, the Bengals should put up some very impressive games. This game is not one of them. I do not expect much at all out of QB Joe Burrow against this relentless Pittsburgh defense, especially as he’s missing one of his favorite targets in WR Tee Higgins. Meanwhile, I expect RB Najee Harris to put up his biggest performance yet against a rebuilding Bengals front seven in a comfortable win for the Steelers.
Upset of the Week
QBs Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert have both started their careers on a very strong note. As they face off frequently for years to come, it could make for some very exciting football. Mahomes and the Chiefs are always at least competitive, but I think they’ll just barely fall short in this one despite a strong performance from RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Last week showed us that the Chiefs secondary could be a cause for concern. I expect that pattern to continue this week as Herbert relies on WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to put up points in a favorable matchup.
The Other Games
I think both these teams will have to rely on their defense in this one. Washington should be effective at shutting down Buffalo’s run game and apply pressure on QB Josh Allen. However, I think this Bills WR corps will be able to slightly outmatch a strong Washington secondary. Washington will keep it close, but fall just short against this well-balanced Bills defense in an OT thriller.
This one will also be a defensive battle. While the Patriots may struggle to shut down RB Alvin Kamara, I don’t think they’ll allow QB Jameis Winston to put up many points. Even with some of his top options limited by a strong Saints defense, look for QB Mac Jones to edge out a victory for the Pats here.
We still haven’t seen the full capability of this Browns offense, and I don’t think we’ll see it this week either. WR Odell Beckham Jr. has returned, but now WR Jarvis Landry is out. Nonetheless, QB Baker Mayfield should be able to put up enough points for a win here. The Bears should be able to compete, but the Browns D will apply plenty of pressure on rookie QB Justin Fields and CB Denzel Ward will be shadowing Chicago’s top option in WR Allen Robinson.
The Lions offense has showed some signs of life throughout the season. I expect that pattern to continue this week. They’ll end up falling to 0-3 though, as QB Lamar Jackson should be able to dominate this Lions defense on the ground and under center.
This should be a close game no matter who wins. However, I think it’s become clear that it is not impossible to shut down this star-studded Titans offense. I think this Colts defense will be up for the challenge, and that will allow QB Carson Wentz to lead the Colts to an overtime victory. He should most likely put up respectable numbers against this struggling Titans D.
QB Trevor Lawrence has showed signs of upside, but overall he has been inaccurate and inconsistent thus far. I expect him to rely more on his running backs this week and that will make way for the Jags to put up a decent amount of points. This offense is still no match for Arizona’s though. Look for QB Kyler Murray and his strong supporting cast to dominate against a Jaguars defense that has struggled mightily.
The Giants defense has failed to live up to expectations, but the Falcons D is on another level. As RB Saquon Barkley and WR Kenny Golladay continue to heal up, the Giants should be able to show off their true capabilities in a favorable matchup. Look for a breakout game by QB Daniel Jones as the Giants win this fairly easily.
Between injured receivers and bad decisions, QB Zach Wilson has not looked good up to this point. Against a tough Broncos defense, these struggles are likely to persist. Meanwhile, QB Teddy Bridgewater and his receivers should continue to succeed as they outmatch the Jets secondary with ease.
Even without QB Tua Tagovailoa, I do think the Dolphins make this a competitive game. CBs Xavien Howard and Byron Jones should effectively shut down Vegas’s top recievers, and this Miami offense will still show signs of life with QB Jacoby Brissett under center. QB Derek Carr should still be able to edge out the victory as he relies on star TE Darren Waller.
This Vikings offense should put up a decent performance regardless of whether RB Dalvin Cook is active. It’s still no match for QB Russell Wilson and his receivers, who have thrived under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.
If there’s any defense that can stop QB Tom Brady and his star-studded supporting cast, it’s this Rams D. The Rams arguably have as much star power between DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey. The absence of WR Antonio Brown will make things even easier for LA. However, it’ll be a strong game out of QB Matthew Stafford that allows the Rams to hold on for victory.
I think it’s fair to say Week 1 was a fluke for QB Aaron Rodgers. I’m expecting business as usual out of Rodgers and WR Davante Adams against a flawed Niners defense. The 49ers may be 2-0, but Green Bay is by far the toughest opponent they’ve faced. I don’t think QB Jimmy Garoppolo will be able to keep up with Rodgers here.
The Cowboys did something last week that hasn’t happened in a long time: they won a game without scoring 30+ points. I think this one will pan out more like a traditional Cowboys victory as they get caught in a shootout with the Eagles. QB Jalen Hurts should continue to succeed against a Cowboys defense that is missing star edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence. Hurts is still no match for QB Dak Prescott’s high powered offense.
TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night)
This Texans offense looked surprisingly strong under QB Tyrod Taylor. I do not expect the same with rookie Davis Mills under center. Look for QB Sam Darnold to rely on his strong trio of receivers as he leads Carolina to a comfortable victory, continuing to prove that the Jets were the problem as opposed to Darnold himself.
That’s all for this week’s picks. Feel free to comment with your thoughts before you enjoy another week of jam-packed NFL action. You can also look forward to more NFL content on this site, including coverage of QB Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium.
Week 1 was a wild one, jam packed with lots of upsets and even more reactions. A good number of these reactions are likely overreactions. This week, we may begin to see some players and teams consistently trending in either the right or wrong direction. My NFL Week 2 Picks are here, and throughout this article I’ll not only be predicting games but also outlining overreactions across the league. I started off 6-10 (7-10 including Week 2 TNF), so my track record is not off to a good start. However, I hope to improve after seeing last week’s action.
Lock of the Week
The Texans had an impressive victory over Jacksonville in Week 1, but they’ll receive a rude awakening in Cleveland Week 2. The Browns nearly took down QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Kansas City last week. Expect this well-balanced team to thrive in a much easier matchup as they outmatch the Texans on both offense and defense.
Upset of the Week
The Panthers offense looked very impressive last week. Was it against a weak Jets defense? Yes, but I still expect Carolina to continue to put up points on a consistent basis. QB Sam Darnold was able to utilize RB Christian McCaffrey to the best of his abilities and had a good rapport with all three starting WRs. With CB Marshon Lattimore out for New Orleans, this Panthers receiving corps could be in for a big day. QB Jameis Winston was even more impressive last week, tossing 5 TDs. I think he has a lot of potential, but there’s only so much he can do with this few reliable weapons. Give me the Panthers for a competitive, but comfortable victory.
The Other Games
Miami had an impressive victory in a back and forth game with the Patriots last week. I think this defense has the ability to come up clutch and it’ll shine through again this week against Buffalo. This Bills offense is not going to be as unstoppable as it was last year. While QB Josh Allen should put up a strong game, it’s going to take time for him to return to late 2020 form and get past defenses like Miami’s.
The Jets are already battling injuries at WR like they did last year. That could make it difficult for QB Zach Wilson to put up too many points against a defense that normally feasts on young QBs. Meanwhile, look for the Patriots WRs to perform well against an inexperienced group of Jets corners. It’s these wide receiver-defensive back matchups that will make the biggest difference as Pats QB Mac Jones outperforms Wilson in a New England road victory.
Pittsburgh is missing a couple key defensive pieces in CB Joe Haden and LB Devin Bush. Nonetheless, I’m expecting a fairly comfortable win for them over Las Vegas, as RB Najee Harris runs all over the Raiders front seven. Harris may lack a strong o-line, but that won’t matter in favorable matchups, as he’s a very talented running back.
Last week, it was Sam Darnold’s revenge game against the Jets. This week, QB Andy Dalton gets a chance to compete against his longtime team, the Cincinnati Bengals. I expect QB Joe Burrow to outperform Dalton with ease. However, the big difference here will come down to the defense. While the Bears defensive front should be able to contain RB Joe Mixon, the Bengals front seven is no match for Bears RB David Montgomery. Expect Montgomery to come up clutch in a Bears OT thriller.
It was a rough week for this Colts D in Week 1 as they hosted Seattle. Look for them to redeem themselves against a Rams offense that should be slightly easier to contain. It’ll be tough for the Colts to run away with much of a lead as they face DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey. However, I’m expecting Rodrigo Blankenship to kick a game winner in this close, defensive battle.
The Jaguars fell short last week against a flawed Texans team. I’m not expecting much at all out of Jacksonville against this Denver defense. Meanwhile, look for RBs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams to run all over this inexperienced Jaguars D. It’ll be closer than some expect as QB Teddy Bridgewater struggles without his favorite target in Jerry Jeudy. The Broncos should come out on top nonetheless.
While the Eagles aren’t going to be this dominant every week, it’s hard to believe that QB Jalen Hurts’ performance against the Falcons was entirely a fluke. This 49ers secondary is not what it used to be, and hasn’t really been much better than Atlanta’s. Hurts will be able to capitalize on that as he takes down San Francisco in a shootout.
I think this could finally be the year that this Arizona offense is able to click. They put up an impressive performance against the Titans, and I’m expecting more of the same as they host Minnesota. QB Kirk Cousins and the Vikings should be able to put up a fight per usual, but I’m expecting Cardinals QB Kyler Murray to put up a monster game both on the ground and with his arm.
This Falcons offense is eventually going to return to form. It’s built fairly similarly to how it was in 2020, just with RB Mike Davis and TE Kyle Pitts replacing RB Todd Gurley and WR Julio Jones. While I expect improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, Atlanta is no match for QB Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
After their win over Washington last week, I could see the Chargers completing a sweep of this NFC East. Look for QB Justin Herbert to target RB Austin Ekeler more than last week, while also relying on his WR duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Cowboys are always able to put up some points on offense, but I don’t expect them to be nearly as explosive as usual with WR Michael Gallup and star OL Zack Martin missing among others.
Both of these teams are centered around their offenses, and no matter who wins, this should be an offensive shooutout. I think RB Derrick Henry should be able to bounce back from a rough Week 1 performance. However, you can’t discount the fact that Seattle will have a packed crowd on their side for the first time since the pandemic began. I’m expecting QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to outplay the Titans in a close one.
Baltimore fell short in overtime last week, but I’m expecting a different outcome this time around as the Ravens win an OT thriller against Kansas City. Look for strong games out of both QB Patrick Mahomes and QB Lamar Jackson. It’ll be a Justin Tucker game winner that makes the difference for Baltimore.
It’s hard to believe that QB Aaron Rodgers is giving his all right now. I’m expecting him to rely on the run game as he edges out an MNF victory over Detroit. Another strong performance from Lions RBs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams (against his former team) could give the Packers a scare. It’s hard to believe Detroit will be able to upset Green Bay at Lambeau Field though.
TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday night)
That’s all for my Week 2 picks. Feel free to comment with your thoughts before you kick back, relax, and enjoy the games. Today, we will all be able to see which of our Week 1 reactions were warranted.
Football season has finally arrived. I’m sure many of you have spent the start of this weekend watching high school and college games; I witnessed my high school’s team come back for a 23-14 victory on Friday night. That was all after Tampa Bay took down Dallas in a close season opener. Now, Sunday is here, and that means NFL action. In this article, I’ll be making my picks and score predictions for each game. I did this all through last season, when I finished with a 162-93-1 record. This year, there will be 272 games as opposed to 256, but I hope to still remain under 100 losses. Now let’s dive into this week’s games.
Lock of the Week
I’m a believer that Saints QB Jameis Winston can fix his interception issues after getting Lasik eye surgery. It could be a rough start for him without star WR Michael Thomas though. Winston could find himself short on receiving options these first few weeks, especially since training camp standout WR Marquez Callaway will have to face #1 corners. This week, I expect Packers CB Jaire Alexander to keep him locked down. RB Alvin Kamara should put up decent numbers, but that won’t be nearly enough to outperform QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, and the Packers offense in the first week of their ‘Last Dance’.
Upset of the Week
Generally, I think the 49ers have been overhyped this offseason. QB Jimmy Garoppolo has been mediocre at best when he’s even able to stay on the field. Even with a decent supporting cast, this offense will not thrive until they see reliable QB play, which I doubt will come in 2021 with young QB Trey Lance still developing. The Lions don’t exactly have an elite QB either, but I expect them to rely on check-downs and the run game. They should have a good level of success with this as the RB duo of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams thrive behind this line and TE T.J. Hockenson contributes as both a receiver and blocker. This won’t exactly be a cake walk for Detroit, as their defense still needs a lot of work and could have trouble containing an elite TE like George Kittle. However, I think the Lions will pull off a last minute upset as their uniquely designed offense keeps up with San Francisco.
The Other Games
The Steelers should be rather successful in stopping a below average Buffalo run game. On the other hand, it’ll be hard for any secondary, including Pittsburgh’s to keep up with QB Josh Allen and a deep group of WRs, including 2020 standout Stefon Diggs. Pittsburgh still has one of the league’s better WR trios plus an exciting rookie RB in Najee Harris, so they should be able to put up a fight. However, I expect Allen to outplay Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and win it for the Bills.
It’s the Sam Darnold revenge game for Carolina: expect a big game from Darnold as he transitions from Adam Gase’s system to Joe Brady’s. I’m also looking for Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey to bounce back strong as ever against this Jets defense. QB Zach Wilson should put up some impressive numbers in his debut, but this Panthers offense will really show what they’re capable of in a high scoring win.
The Bengals may have upgraded their offense this offseason around a healthy Joe Burrow, but this defense could have a hard time containing RB Dalvin Cook and Minnesota’s strong duo of receivers (Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen). Expect a close high scoring game, as Cousins is able to just barely outplay Burrow in his first game back from his knee injury.
Don’t sleep on this Cardinals defense. Look for the pass rushing duo of Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt to keep Titans QB Ryan Tannehill under pressure. It’ll be this Cardinals defense that opens the door for QB Kyler Murray, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and the Cardinals to pull off an upset victory.
A new offensive coordinator and a banged up Colts secondary will be the perfect recipe for a big game out of Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. While QB Carson Wentz and his receivers should put up a respectable performance against a lackluster Seattle D, it won’t be enough to keep up with a cooking Russell Wilson.
It’s not like QB Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars are going to be elite from day one, but that doesn’t matter. Without QB Deshaun Watson, you can’t expect much at all from the Texans. They should put up a decent amount of points against this developing Jaguars D, but even an unpolished Lawrence should be able to outperform them with good skill players around him.
It’ll be exciting to see what QB Justin Herbert can do with this offense in year two. This won’t be a very good window into the season though, as Herbert opens the season against a relentless Washington defense. Meanwhile, I’m expecting RB Antonio Gibson to put up a huge game against a Chargers front seven that has lost some personnel in free agency.
Even without WR Julio Jones, this Falcons offense is going to have some big weeks, starting here in Week 1. I’m expecting TE Kyle Pitts to dazzle in his debut against an Eagles team that tends to struggle in covering tight ends. QB Jalen Hurts and the Eagles could make it close and make Falcons fans nervous about another choke. However, he doesn’t have nearly the kind of supporting cast that QB Matt Ryan has.
In a battle of two former Alabama QBs, I expect a lot of short passes. QB Mac Jones will utilize the tight end duo the Patriots built for him in free agency (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith). Without WR Will Fuller, QB Tua Tagovailoa will have to rely more on throwing to his RB, Myles Gaskin and should give his tight ends, including Mike Gesicki, plenty of looks. I’m expecting a close game, but even former Alabama WR Devonta Smith feels that Mac is better than Tua. Look for Jones and the Patriots to edge out a victory at Gillette.
This one could be an AFC championship preview as two of league’s most star studded offenses face off. Look for WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to put up strong performances against the young Chiefs corners. This won’t be enough to overcome the typical 300 yard, multi-TD performance by QB Patrick Mahomes. Things could turn out differently come January.
In the post-Manning era, both of these teams are led by their defenses. Look for Von Miller and the Broncos defense to put pressure on Giants QB Daniel Jones. Meanwhile, CB James Bradberry should be able to lockdown Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target in Jerry Jeudy. I’m expecting it to come down to a Graham Gano game winner in a low scoring game.
The Rams and Bears still have two of the NFL’s best defenses. LA also upgraded their offense, bringing in longtime Lions QB Matthew Stafford. The Bears should be able to make this close, but look for Stafford to rely on his WR duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to lead the Rams to a prime time victory.
Baltimore has been hammered with injuries this preseason. Nonetheless, I see them running all over this Raiders defense. While QB Lamar Jackson will be lacking reliable weapons, he should be able to break off for big runs and dump it off frequently to his trusted TE Mark Andrews. This won’t be a blowout after all the key players Baltimore has lost, but it’s hard to see QB Derek Carr keeping up with Jackson. It may be a different story if Carr had better surroundings.
Opening Night (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night)
That’s all for my picks this week. There’s lots of exciting action ahead today, and you’re not going to want to miss it. So feel free to comment with your thoughts, and then I hope you enjoy the first Football Sunday of 2021.
It may be hard to believe, but NFL football is back this week. We are a week removed from a shortened preseason, and in just a few days, the first 17 game season in NFL history will kick off. It’s time for my annual tradition of NFL season predictions. In this post, I’ll be predicting how each division will pan out and which team will win it all, beginning with the AFC East. This division, which includes my hometown Patriots, should be more competitive than it has been in a long time.
Buffalo Bills (12-5, #3 seed in AFC)
New England Patriots (9-8, #7 seed in AFC)
Miami Dolphins (9-8)
New York Jets (2-15)
The Jets offense should show flashes of upside with Zach Wilson under center. However, the defense is still among the league’s weakest and Wilson will have to rely on several other rookies in order to succeed. This isn’t quite their time to shine. I’m sure they’ll make things easier for Wilson with a pair of 1st round picks in 2022.
The division will likely come down to the defending champion Buffalo Bills, Bill Belichick’s Patriots, and a young, rising Miami Dolphins squad. I don’t see the Bills taking much of a step back from 2020, so they are in the best spot to win this division. That doesn’t count out the Pats or Dolphins from snagging a wild card spot. Belichick led the Patriots to a 7-9 season with Cam Newton at QB and very few reliable receiving options. After adding tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, and several defensive assets, I think they’ll be back in the playoffs. The Dolphins also supplied QB Tua Tagovailoa with some new weapons in Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller, but in a competitive AFC, I think the Pats will edge out Miami for the final wild card spot.
Cleveland Browns (12-5, #2 seed in AFC)
Baltimore Ravens (10-7, #6 seed in AFC)
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8)
Cincinnati Bengals (4-13)
After years of disappointment, the Browns now have one of the most well-rounded rosters in football. They have an improving defense, an excellent RB duo, a strong group of receivers and tight ends, and a promising quarterback in Baker Mayfield. The trajectory of this team really comes down to how much Mayfield can improve after an impressive 2020. I have confidence that with this supporting cast and a great coach in Kevin Stefanski, he can take that next step and lead Cleveland to their first division win of the century.
Meanwhile, I’m expecting QB Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to take a slight step back. They recently lost running back J.K. Dobbins for the season and rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman has also been placed on IR. Without enough weapons, Jackson could find himself struggling to get rid of the ball and running for his life as he did in parts of 2020. It doesn’t help matters that they face tough divisional competition: an improving Browns squad and a Steelers team that should still be competitive. I don’t think Pittsburgh quite makes the playoffs though. Roethlisberger will continue to decline and the offensive line and defense may take a step back after offseason turnover.
Cincinnati’s future is bright, but they still have several problems to resolve before they can think about competing in this division. The defense could still use plenty of improvement. The offensive line looks a little better but could still cause quarterback Joe Burrow (coming off an ACL tear) and running back Joe Mixon some problems. It’s also seemed to affect Burrow’s psyche in camp. Burrow and his rookie wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, have both underwhelmed. Chase’s struggles are likely due to the fact that he’s had two years off, and that could take time to recover from as well. The team looks good on paper, but I just don’t think they’re quite prepared for the highly competitive nature of this conference.
Tennessee Titans (11-6, #4 seed in AFC)
Indianapolis Colts (8-9)
Jacksonville Jaguars (6-11)
Houston Texans (1-16)
The Titans are still flawed on the defensive side of the ball, but the raw talent they have on offense is unmatched. Ryan Tannehill has been a top 10 QB since joining the Titans, and he has a superstar running back in Derrick Henry as well as two very talented receivers in Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. That’ll be enough to win this AFC South. Many believe the Colts will compete for this division, but it’s hard to imagine quarterback Carson Wentz improving very much without better receivers to throw to. If Indy wanted Wentz to improve, they should have gotten him a star #1 receiver to counter Tennessee’s trade for Julio Jones. Wentz will be supported by a strong defense, RB corps and offensive line, but that won’t be enough for him to lead the Colts to the playoffs.
While the Jaguars won’t compete this year, I expect the offense to have its moments with a generational rookie QB in Trevor Lawrence coming in. This defense still needs improvement, but the Jaguars should still finish comfortably ahead of the Houston Texans. Between his court case and his trade demands, it is unlikely QB Deshaun Watson will ever play in a Texans uniform again. Watson was already frustrated by the lack of talent around him, so it’ll be hard for the Texans to do much of anything with Watson out of the picture.
Kansas City Chiefs (15-2, #1 seed in AFC)
Los Angeles Chargers (13-4, #5 seed in AFC)
Denver Broncos (9-8)
Las Vegas Raiders (6-11)
The West is going to be another strong division in this conference, possibly the strongest in the league. The Chiefs will likely finish out on top as they return majority of their back to back AFC champion roster, including superstar QB Patrick Mahomes. The rest of this division should see improvement though. For the Charrgers, quarterback Justin Herbert had a historic rookie year, but it didn’t really translate to success for the team. With a new coaching staff, I expect this offense to stay on track while the defense and special teams also take a step up. That’ll be enough for the team to safely secure a wild card spot.
The Broncos struggled mightily last year for a variety of reasons. However, new QB Teddy Bridgewater gives them a fairly safe floor due to his short to medium range reliability, and a fully healthy Denver defense could also impress. That’ll leave the Raiders in the basement of the division. Las Vegas should put up some competitive games, but nothing about this team really stands out, and they’ll fall short of their competition.
New York Giants (9-8, #4 seed in NFC)
Dallas Cowboys (9-8, #6 seed in NFC)
Washington Football Team (6-11)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-14)
This division will look fairly similar to how it did in 2020, though I expect a different outcome in the end. Last year, the Washington Football Team came out on top. However, I feel the Giants have improved their offense enough to surpass Washington and the Cowboys would have been ahead of them if quarterback Dak Prescott was healthy. I have the Giants edging out the division victory. This will be a make or break season for quarterback Daniel Jones. With running back Saquon Barkley back from a torn ACL and Kenny Golladay, Ka’darius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph joining the Giants receiving corps, I expect Jones to make a leap. Even though Washington made some offensive additions, I’m not sure they’ll be able to overcome a suspect QB situation and an offensive line that lacks depth.
I have the Eagles remaining in the division’s basement. I’m not sure the new coaching staff is much of an upgrade over Doug Pederson, and the team seems to be rebuilding around young QB Jalen Hurts. It’ll be a little while before the Eagles compete again, and I’m not sure how much trust I have in Howie Roseman to build the team back up.
Minnesota Vikings (13-4, #2 seed in NFC)
Green Bay Packers (13-4, #5 seed in NFC)
Chicago Bears (8-9)
Detroit Lions (2-15)
I think this division will truly be a neck and neck battle between the Packers and Vikings. It’s unclear if quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be able to repeat his 2020 numbers. It seems he is motivated to make the most of his “Last Dance”, but at the same time a frustrated Rodgers might not play as well. This isn’t about a decline from Rodgers though. The Vikings offense looked very good last year with rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson making a huge impact in a matter of weeks. Now, the defense seems to be in much better shape compared to 2020, and that’ll allow the Vikings to compete not only for a playoff spot, but also challenge the Packers for this NFC North.
The Bears have some nice talent across their roster, but until rookie QB Justin Fields gets his chance, I can’t quite see them competing for anything. Even once Fields starts, we can’t be sure how good he’ll be out of the gate. The Bears should finish ahead of a rebuilding Detroit Lions squad. I think the Lions are on the right track, but it won’t translate to success in 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15-2, #1 seed in NFC)
New Orleans Saints (9-8)
Carolina Panthers (8-9)
Atlanta Falcons (6-11)
After winning the Super Bowl with ease, Tampa returns all 22 of their offensive and defensive starters. This offense should be explosive as QB Tom Brady can utilize the legendary WR trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown for a full season. The Bucs should finish well ahead of the Saints, who I expect to take a slight step back. I’m a believer in the bounce back of new starting QB Jameis Winston. However, his top wide receiver in Michael Thomas will be missing at least the first 6 games of the season, leaving Winston rather short on reliable weapons. Once Thomas returns, I do expect the Saints to go on a good run, but a slow start will prevent playoff contention.
I expect the Panthers and Falcons to start the season ahead of New Orleans before slowing down later. QB Sam Darnold was awful with Adam Gase and the Jets, but he should at least give off the illusion that he’s a good quarterback in this Panthers system. With Joe Brady at offensive coordinator and a plethora of options to throw to, Darnold is set up for success. I just don’t know that he’ll be quite good enough to keep the Panthers in playoff contention, especially considering the fact that Carolina’s defense lacks standout players. Atlanta should also have an explosive offense. As Julio Jones departs, the Falcons have added Kyle Pitts, who might very well be the most talented tight end of all time. The problem is that the defense has not given much support to this high scoring offensive unit since at least 2016, and things will only go downhill for Atlanta as quarterback Matt Ryan ages.
Los Angeles Rams (11-6, #3 seed in NFC)
Arizona Cardinals (9-8, #7 seed in NFC)
Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
San Francisco 49ers (6-11)
This division has been hyped up as the league’s toughest, but I’m not sure it’s really as good as people say it is. Personally I feel like the AFC West is stronger. The 49ers have received a lot of hype as they are seen as the perfect fit for rookie quarterback Trey Lance. I think we all need to hold our horses a bit with the 49ers hype. The future is bright for Lance in San Francisco, but I don’t expect instant NFL success out of an FCS quarterback who last played football in 2019. Right now, the Niners uncertain QB situation is going to hold them back.
The Seahawks and Cardinals should at least compete for playoff spots. Seattle took the division last year but they remain heavily reliant on their home field advantage and have much room for improvement on defense. Arizona has been seen by many as the odd one out in this competitive division, but Kyler Murray has led this team to some big games and will only continue to improve. The defense is also on the rise.
I see the Rams as the clear favorites for this division. They bring in quarterback Matthew Stafford who has gone from a troubled Lions system to a Rams team that is already built for success. So long as Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey can continue to lead this defense to elite performance, the Rams could be title contenders.
I think the historic significance of this season will go beyond the fact that it’s 17 games long. I also have a team that was once the joke of the NFL making history. They will not only win their division, but also by making a surprising playoff run and win their first Super Bowl ever. The team I’m talking about is the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have built up so much talent and hired a good coaching staff in an effort to elevate Baker Mayfield’s performance. In these playoffs, I fully expect that to happen, as Mayfield keeps up with elite QBs like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady on the road to his first ring.
Mahomes, Allen, and Brady will all lead their teams on playoff runs and entertain Super Bowl contention. However, I expect Mayfield and the well rounded Browns roster to stop them in their tracks. I cannot name one weakness that this Browns team has, and that will serve them well as they exploit the weaknesses of the teams around them to boost their Super Bowl run.
While I expect the Browns to make it out of a competitive AFC and win it all, I think the Bucs have a much easier road to the NFC title. Matthew Stafford’s Rams could pose a threat to Tampa, as could Aaron Rodgers’ Packers, but these are teams that this Buccaneers squad is capable of defeating. Cleveland is another animal, and I think in a matchup against the Browns, Tampa will have met their match. Mayfield will be able to do the same things with his offense that Brady can do with this Bucs offense, and that will cause Brady frustration in a back and forth game.
There was a lot of hype about last year’s Super Bowl, and it ended up being a blowout. I expect this year’s title game to be much more exciting. However, this is a long way from now, and in the meantime, we await Week 1. I’ll have more coverage on Week 1 action in the coming days, so stay tuned.