2021 NFL Week 1 Picks: Which teams will make a statement to begin historic season?

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.

2021 NFL Predictions: Who wins the Lombardi in historic season?

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.

AFC East

  1. Buffalo Bills (12-5, #3 seed in AFC)
  2. New England Patriots (9-8, #7 seed in AFC)
  3. Miami Dolphins (9-8)
  4. 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.

AFC North

  1. Cleveland Browns (12-5, #2 seed in AFC)
  2. Baltimore Ravens (10-7, #6 seed in AFC)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8)
  4. 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.

AFC South

  1. Tennessee Titans (11-6, #4 seed in AFC)
  2. Indianapolis Colts (8-9)
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-11)
  4. 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.

AFC West

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (15-2, #1 seed in AFC)
  2. Los Angeles Chargers (13-4, #5 seed in AFC)
  3. Denver Broncos (9-8)
  4. 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.

NFC East

  1. New York Giants (9-8, #4 seed in NFC)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (9-8, #6 seed in NFC)
  3. Washington Football Team (6-11)
  4. 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.

NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings (13-4, #2 seed in NFC)
  2. Green Bay Packers (13-4, #5 seed in NFC)
  3. Chicago Bears (8-9)
  4. 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.

NFC South

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15-2, #1 seed in NFC)
  2. New Orleans Saints (9-8)
  3. Carolina Panthers (8-9)
  4. 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.

NFC West

  1. Los Angeles Rams (11-6, #3 seed in NFC)
  2. Arizona Cardinals (9-8, #7 seed in NFC)
  3. Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
  4. 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.

Playoff Predictions

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.

Appearance on the Master Plan Podcast: Way too early AFC Preview

Football season is quickly approaching, and teams have began to prepare for the upcoming year. The AFC could be a very competitive conference, but which teams have enough talent to be playoff contenders? My cousin Michael Philipkosky and I broke it all down in this episode of his podcast, the Master Plan.

2021 NFL Mock Draft: Pats find their future QB in talented, offense-heavy class

The NFL Draft is a week away, and rumors have been all over the place about what will happen. One big question here in New England is how the Patriots will address their QB situation. Bill Belichick made a lot of additions this offseason, and he opted to re-sign Cam Newton. However, are all these additions meant to help build around Newton, or to help make the transition easier for a new quarterback? It will take a lot to get a quarterback in this offense-heavy draft class, but it may be worth it considering this is one of the best QB classes in recent history. I’ve answered that question and more in the mock draft below. The mock is based off a combo of what I think teams will do and what I think they should do.

#TeamPlayerPosCollegeWhy
1Trevor LawrenceQBClemsonIn my eyes, this one’s a no brainer. Lawrence looks like the best QB prospect we’ve seen since Andrew Luck between his insane accuracy, big arm, and quick release. He is a generational talent who can bring a level of success the Jaguars have never seen before.
2New logo for the New York Jets takes flight | Creative BloqZach WilsonQBBYUNow that the Jets dealt Sam Darnold to the Panthers, it’s pretty clear that they want to take the quarterback of their future here. Wilson faced lighter competition than other top QBs at BYU, but has a great skillset and might even have a better arm than Lawrence. It will take time for Wilson to adjust to the NFL but it’s a good investment for the future of this team.
3San Francisco 49ers logo Digital Art by Red VelesTrey LanceQBNorth
Dakota
State
The rumors here have mostly been about Mac Jones and Justin Fields. However, I think the Niners have their eye on a different QB. Lance dominated the FCS in 2019 before sitting out 2020, and looks to be the best FCS QB since Carson Wentz (also from NDSU). Lance will benefit from some time behind current Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo but San Fran will have someone to turn to in the case that Jimmy G is hurt again.
4
(TRADE)
Justin FieldsQBOhio StateBill Belichick is not known to be someone who trades up for quarterbacks. However, I think it’s very clear that Belichick is taking a different approach this year as he tries to thrust his team back into contention. He has been known to buy low on players, and Fields, once considered a top 2 QB in the class, has seen his draft stock plummet. I think Newton will be the bridge to the Fields era in Foxborough.
5cincinnati bengals logo wallpaper | Cincinnati bengals, Nfl logo, Nfl teams  logosPenei SewellOLOregonThere’s been a lot of buzz surrounding a Joe Burrow reunion with LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase. However, the Bengals would be foolish if they failed to provide Burrow extra protection. The Bengals offensive line put Burrow and RB Joe Mixon at risk. It should take priority over another weapon, as the Bengals already have WRs Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. In addition, Sewell might be the best o-line prospect since Quenton Nelson.
6Jaylen
Waddle
WRAlabamaChase is easily my top receiver in this class. However, I do see a QB-WR reunion happening here as Tua Tagovailoa reunites with Jaylen Waddle. Waddle missed time last year but proved to be talented and well-rounded when healthy. He’ll be a good fit in Miami, where he can develop into their WR1 without drawing too much coverage as a rookie.
7Ja’Marr ChaseWRLSUChase could make it past the Bengals and Dolphins, but if he falls to 7 I doubt the Lions pass on him. With Kenny Golladay leaving, the Lions need their next alpha wide receiver. Chase is talented enough to fill that role right away. Look at how good fellow LSU alumnus Justin Jefferson was last year. Chase was as good if not better than Jefferson at LSU, and we could see the same in the NFL.
8NFL Commentary: The Carolina Panthers, Sleeper In the NFC, or Overrated? |  Nfl carolina panthers, Carolina panthers football, Carolina panthers logoKyle PittsTEFloridaWith Greg Olsen gone, the Panthers were lacking at the tight end position last year. Ian Thomas (Olsen’s supposed successor) struggled mightily. Pitts has the potential to be one of the best tight ends ever. He would thrive immediately in Carolina. He reminds me a lot of Raiders breakout star Darren Waller, but could be even better.
9Mac JonesQBAlabamaI don’t think Jones is on par with the other four top QBs in this class. He benefitted a bit from his surroundings. However, it doesn’t seem that Drew Lock is the answer for Denver, and Jones could still be a quality starter in the NFL who’s worthy of a top 10 pick. The Broncos don’t need to trade up for a QB if they can get Jones right here at #9.
10Patrick Surtain IICBAlabamaAfter seeing nine straight offensive players go off the board, this is the perfect opportunity for the Cowboys to address their defense. I think Surtain is the best defensive player on the board after three strong years as a lockdown corner for Alabama.
11Kwity PayeEDGEMichiganThere’s a lot of different things the Giants could do with this pick, but they’ve been in the market for a pass rusher for years and Paye would fill that need at long last. He may have played in a 4-3 scheme at Michigan, but we’ve already seen recent Michigan pass rusher Chase Winovich thrive in 3-4 setups. I think Paye is capable of the same.
12Micah ParsonsLBPenn StateThe Eagles have been lacking at wide receiver for years, but I’d argue linebacker is an even bigger need. Parsons was a major playmaker for Penn State’s defense, and I think he’ll stand out on the Eagles defense as well. The Eagles get their star linebacker of the future with this pick and Parsons gets to stay in his home state of Pennsylvania.
13Rashawn SlaterOLNorthwesternThe Chargers may have signed Corey Linsley but there’s still work to be done with this offensive line. Slater has the versatility to play tackle or guard and could be a very valuable part of this line if the Chargers opt to take him.
14Christian
Darrisaw
OLVirginia TechDarrisaw has shot up draft boards of late, and the Vikings could use just about any o-line help they can get. Darrisaw would be an instant starter for the Vikings, most likely at left tackle.
15
(TRADE)
Jeremiah Owusu-KoromoahLBNotre DameThe Falcons could still use more help at linebacker surrounding Deion Jones. It would have been a reach for any linebacker at 4, but taking Owusu-Koromoah at 15 is good value for them. You could even argue he’s better than Parsons. At the very least, he’ll be a solid starting linebacker.
16
(TRADE)
Devonta SmithWRAlabamaArizona’s pressing need is at tight end, and they’d be reaching for a tight end in this spot. With Devonta Smith still on the board, I have Indy trading up to capitalize on the opportunity. Smith may be undersized, but he’s a very talented receiver who’s an excellent route runner. He’ll have the opportunity to become Carson Wentz’s top target.
17Jaycee HornCBSouth CarolinaThe Raiders have a decent secondary but lack a true leader there. Horn has the potential to shine in this secondary and become the #1 corner for Vegas. With a lot of the top receivers and linebackers off the board, corner is the right move here.
18Gregory RousseauEDGEMiamiThe Dolphins swapped edge rusher Shaq Lawson for Benardrick McKinney to add to the LB corps, but now they need another edge rusher. One of the Miami Hurricanes edge rushers would be a good fit, as they are local prospects and some of the best on the board. I see them taking Rousseau over Jaelan Phillips but they could potentially take either.
19Washington Home | Washington Football Team - WashingtonFootball.comZaven CollinsLBTulsaWashington needs two major things from this draft: help at linebacker and a better o-line. Once they have those two things they’ll be one of the most well-rounded teams in football and could make a case for a playoff run. Collins will definitely fit well here.
20Trevon MoehrigSTCUThe Bears need a long term solution at safety alongside Eddie Jackson. Moehrig is really the only safety worth a first round investment and the Bears should be able to land him here.
21Arizona Cardinals Logo PNG Transparent & SVG Vector - Freebie Supply(TRADE)Pat FreiermuthTEPenn StateFreiermuth is still a bit of a reach at 21 but is the best option for Arizona, who desperately needs a tight end. Freiermuth has picked up the nickname “Baby Gronk” and should be a capable pass catcher and blocker in the NFL, even though he’s not on par with Kyle Pitts.
22Samuel CosmiOLTexasWith Isaiah Wilson leaving after one year, the Titans are still looking for their new right tackle, and it’s one of their most pressing needs. Cosmi fits the bill for what they’re looking for and will likely be the best tackle on the board at this point.
23New logo for the New York Jets takes flight | Creative BloqCaleb FarleyCBVirginia TechThe Jets have had a hole at corner for multiple years, and the departure of Jamal Adams has only made their secondary worse. Farley would be a good start in building this secondary back up to where it needs to be for contention.
24Travis EtienneRBClemsonI think Najee Harris is the most well rounded back in this draft class, but Etienne is a better fit here in Pittsburgh. He is not a power back but is an elusive and speedy back who is capable of playing all three downs. Early on, I see Benny Snell Jr. having a role here, but Etienne will eventually be able to take over the backfield. I see a lot of D’Andre Swift in Etienne, except mixed in with the speed of someone like Nick Chubb.
25Rashod BatemanWRMinnesotaThe Jaguars may have signed Marvin Jones this offseason but could still use another weapon. Bateman adds depth to the Jaguars WR corps and like the three receivers taken before him, he has the potential to emerge as a #1 receiver. Bateman will likely be the last WR remaining from the top tier of this draft class so the Jags should take advantage.
26Nick BoltonLBMissouriThe Browns look to be a fairly complete team and with a good season from QB Baker Mayfield they could be Super Bowl contenders. The only need I really think they have is at linebacker, and that can be taken care of easily with this pick.
27Wyatt DavisOLOhio StateThe Ravens recently lost star interior lineman Marshal Yanda to retirement. Davis has the potential to fill that role in Baltimore for years to come. With the top tier of wide receivers out of the question, addressing the o-line will be a priority here.
28Christian BarmoreDLAlabamaAfter releasing a handful of guys to save cap space, the Saints will need to upgrade the defense, including the defensive line. This is a rather weak d-line class, but Barmore stands out among the rest of the defensive linemen available.
29Alijah Vera-TuckerOLUSCVera-Tucker has risen up people’s draft boards lately, but I think he fits best in a very specific role where he has the flexibility to play tackle or guard. He’ll be able to do that in Green Bay, especially with Elgton Jenkins starting to see time at center now that Corey Linsley is gone.
30How the LA Rams' new logo managed to anger an entire fanbase | Los Angeles  Rams | The Guardian
(TRADE)
Jaelan PhillipsEDGEMiamiThe Rams haven’t had a first round pick in a couple years due to the Jalen Ramsey trade. I think they’ll put a package together to move up if Phillips falls this far. Phillips shined as part of a strong Miami pass rush and could have the chance to stand out in LA’s pass rush.
31New logo for the New York Jets takes flight | Creative Bloq
(TRADE)
Najee HarrisRBAlabamaRunning backs like Harris aren’t available every day. The Jets still need to find a starting running back, and I think they’ll be willing to move up a few spots from their early second round selection to secure one. Harris’ raw strength reminds me of Derrick Henry, and unlike Henry he can catch passes too.
32Creed HumphreyOLOklahomaThe Buccaneers pretty much brought back their entire Super Bowl roster, but some more protection for Tom Brady can’t hurt. They secured a tackle in Tristan Wirfs with their last first rounder. This time around I see them addressing the interior.

In the later rounds, I think the Patriots will add a wide receiver as well as some front seven help. I could see them targeting a receiver like Elijah Moore or Amon-Ra St. Brown on Day 2. That’s all for today’s mock draft, but my coverage of the draft will continue on draft day when I take part in a livestream on The Master Plan YouTube channel with my cousin, Michael Philipkosky.

2021 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Defense

Free agency is underway. If you’ve been following my Twitter, you’ve seen updates on the free agents who have signed so far and my defensive free agency predictions. I’m writing this article to take a deeper dive into those defensive predictions. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

It’s going to be tough this offseason for teams who need d-line help due to a shallow draft class and shallow DL market in free agency. I have the Lions and Titans, two teams with big DL needs, bringing back familiar faces in Suh and Casey. Short, the long time Panther, was recently released. I have him taking a cheaper deal with the Vikings.

Guy and Gotsis will sign a second contract with their 2020 teams, while Jones leaves Tennessee with Casey back and heads to Tampa Bay, replacing Suh.

I think Fletcher Cox will either be released or traded by the Eagles, so he could be another hot commodity on the DL market.

I have the Chargers re-signing Ingram. They’ll need Ingram and Henry back plus more if they want a playoff spot this year. The Jets and Bengals, who have lots of cap space, will also get in on this pass rush market. I have Dupree leaving the Steelers for New York and Ngakoue staying in the AFC North as he heads to Cincinnati to replace Carlos Dunlap.

I see Clowney back in Tennessee, but on a much cheaper deal. Houston and Kerrigan will also need to take cheaper deals, and I think they will get them on new teams. The Browns can bring in Houston as a slight upgrade over Olivier Vernon, and signing Kerrigan is only the beginning of what this Atlanta pass rush will need.

Note: I was unable to update these predictions after Tampa Bay’s signing of Shaquill Barrett

The Dolphins just acquired Benardrick McKinney in exchange for Shaq Lawson, but that won’t be enough to fulfill the LB corps. Barrett can play a mix of OLB and ILB for the Dolphins. Judon is asking for a lot of money, but the Ravens have the cap space to afford him. I also think Wright returns to his long-time team.

Reddick will be the Kerrigan replacement in Washington, getting reps at 4-3 OLB and DE. Van Noy heads to Cleveland to headline an underwhelming LB corps there. Davis would simply be a depth signing for the 49ers, but they need more around Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner to complete their LB corps.

This is one of the best cornerback markets in a long time. I think Rhodes and Jackson both sign back with their 2020 teams, but other top corners will move around. I have two veterans switching teams: Peterson heading to the Jets and Sherman heading back to Seattle. The Jets could really use a big name corner, and Peterson isn’t in his prime but would be the best corner on the Jets roster.

Two corners formerly from a strong Chargers secondary, Hayward and King, have also hit the open market. I have Hayward heading to the Bay Area to replace Sherman and King headed to the Raiders to supplement Trayvon Mullen in the Vegas secondary.

I see a lot of movement happening in the remaining free agent safety market. Two elite safeties in Justin Simmons and Marcus Maye received the franchise tag, and I don’t see any other notable safeties aside from Gipson returning to their 2020 teams.

I have Neal heading from Atlanta to the 49ers, a team that could use more flare to their secondary. I have the Vikings moving on from Harris and signing a cheaper option in Vaccaro. Harris will head to Arizona to form a star-studded duo with Budda Baker.

Hooker will head to Detroit after the rise of Blackmon set up Indy for a bright future at safety. Joseph would be replaced in the lineup by a young, healthy Grant Delpit if he stayed, so I have him headed to Jacksonville, a team that could use more defensive depth all over the place.

That’s all for my defensive free agency predictions. I’ll have more NFL coverage soon. In addition, the 7-year anniversary of my site is coming up, and I have a big announcement coming that day, so stay tuned.

2021 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Offense

One of the busiest weeks in sports is upon us. NFL free agency is around the corner, March Madness will be starting in just a few days, and Spring Training is in action as MLB teams prepare for the season. Today, I’m here with the first half of my NFL free agency predictions. This article will cover all offensive players, while I’ll be covering defensive players in the next one. As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts, and keep reading for my predictions below.

The NFL draft is the best route for teams who are in need of QBs, but some teams will settle for a free agent or bring in a free agent QB as a backup or bridge.

I have Winston resigning in New Orleans and getting a chance to start, but none of these other QBs are a sure thing to get a starting job. I have Fitzpatrick headed to Denver to compete with Drew Lock, but there’s no guarantee he’ll end up starting. Smith and Brissett both secure backup roles in the NFC East, while Dalton will remain in the NFC East and compete for the Washington Football Team QB job. He’ll probably compete with both Taylor Heinicke and a rookie in an open battle. Trubisky will also be limited to a backup role this year, but in Pittsburgh, he can learn from QB Ben Roethlisberger and potentially get a chance to succeed him as QB of the Steelers in 2022.

Note: Aaron Jones has signed with Green Bay, and it was too late for me to modify my RB predictions accordingly.

The only free agent RB I could see earning a workhorse role with a new team is Aaron Jones. Some of the teams who need a RB most will want to wait for the NFL Draft and target RBs like Travis Etienne, Najee Harris, and Javonte Williams. I have the Steelers, Jets, and Falcons waiting for the draft.

I have Carson headed to Buffalo to lead the committee with Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, giving the Bills an extra flare to their run game when he’s healthy. I had the Seahawks replacing Carson with a RB who’s arguably better in Jones. The rest of these backs, like Carson, will be in time shares. Bell will take the third down role in New England with James White and Rex Burkhead leaving. Fournette will head to Philly, who wants a RB to pair with Sanders. Drake will head back to Arizona for a committee with Chase Edmonds.

Gallman, who I have back in New York, should get some reps early in the season as Saquon Barkley recovers and replace Barkley in the case of an injury. The Giants don’t have a backup for Barkley on the roster right now so bringing back Gallman or bringing in someone else is important.

The free agent WR market will be one of the most active parts of this free agency, as several high profile wide receivers capable of #1 roles hit the open market. I have Golladay headed to Jacksonville as they bulk up the offense for Trevor Lawrence. I also think Allen Robinson will be traded to resolve his dissatisfaction with the franchise tag (I have him headed to Miami). Those two aren’t even the only significant names available.

The Patriots are another team that could use a #1 receiver, and I think Fuller fits the bill. He really proved himself in his contract year with the Texans despite a PED suspension cutting his season short. I have AB headed to the Ravens to form a duo with his cousin Marquise. Davis heads to Detroit, as they have limited money but only have 2 WRs on the current roster (I do also expect the Lions to draft 1-2 receivers). The Colts will probably be in the mix for guys like Golladay, but I have them signing a cheaper former Lion in Marvin Jones to play next to Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell.

Smith-Schuster heads to Washington, as he was good in a #2 role with Pittsburgh when AB was there and would be good in a #2 role with the team who needs it most. It would take pressure off Terry McLaurin and make the offense easier to work with for whoever the new QB is.

In addition to these guys, Zach Ertz and David Njoku could receive attention on the trade market, and Kyle Pitts could easily land a starting job via the draft. I think the Patriots and Cardinals will wait on a tight end in hopes of landing one of those guys.

Meanwhile, expect the Chargers and Titans, two other teams with a big tight end need, to resign their 2020 tight ends to new contracts. I also have Tonyan, a restricted free agent, returning to his 2020 team, the Packers. The second tier of tight ends will see more movement in the free agent market. I have Everett leaving his time share with Tyler Higbee for the Jaguars starting TE job. Similarly, I have Burton, who was part of Indianapolis’ TE trio, headed to Carolina. The Panthers could still easily pair Burton with Pitts from the NFL draft. I have Cook, an older tight end, headed to Cincinnati to add depth to young QB Joe Burrow’s offense.

I have a lot of top offensive linemen resigning with their 2020 teams, including Linsley, Williams, Mack, and Andrews. If they resign Andrews, they probably won’t need Thuney as they can run with a starting o-line of Trent Brown, Michael Onwenu, Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Isaiah Wynn. I have Thuney headed to the Chargers, who probably need to sign multiple interior o-linemen this off-season. It will be hard for Fisher, who was released by the Chiefs, to land another left tackle job over guys like Orlando Brown (who will probably be traded to a team in need of a LT). I have him landing in Seattle and playing the right side.

That’s all for this portion of my free agency predictions. Stay tuned for my defensive predictions in the next 24 hours.

Super Bowl LV: The Case for Each Team and Game Predictions

This past year has been like no other, but like every year, this first Sunday of February is Super Bowl Sunday. This day has something for everyone, whether it’s the game itself, the ads, or The Weeknd’s halftime show. Before we all grab some snacks and sit in front of our TV for the most viewed event in the United States, I’m taking a closer look at the game in this post. I’ll be writing about keys to the game for both teams and showing you my predictions for the game. As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Keys to the Game

Chiefs

The Chiefs offense can thrive as long as star quarterback Patrick Mahomes is able to connect with wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. That trio alone has taken the Chiefs a long way. The Buccaneers defense will likely try to key in on these two, so Mahomes needs to seize the opportunity when they are open. They should outplay the Tampa Bay secondary, but will likely face some double coverage which is difficult for anyone to overcome.

Historically, quarterback Tom Brady has been extremely difficult to stop in the Super Bowl. Brady is still a great quarterback, but he’s not what he was in his prime. Brady has great surroundings, but if the Chiefs can put pressure on him, they can limit Brady to an extent.

Offensive Key: Get the ball to Hill and Kelce
Defensive Key: Put pressure on Brady

Buccaneers

The Buccaneers offense has been somewhat inconsistent this year, but Brady has been known to dig himself out of holes on the Super Bowl. I wouldn’t be counting on that against Mahomes, who also dug himself out of a hole in his first Super Bowl win last year. Brady and the Bucs need to start strong out of the gate so they don’t find themselves in a close, back and forth battle later. This will not be easy to do, but I feel Brady is capable of it. He’ll need to do this if he doesn’t want a repeat of his Super Bowl loss against Philly.

Hill and Kelce can do a lot of damage, so the Bucs secondary needs to focus in on them. They can’t forget about Mahomes either though. Mahomes is the most crucial piece of this Chiefs offense, and even if the Bucs try to focus in on Hill and Kelce, Mahomes will find a way to get by. The Bucs do have a chance if the front seven rises to the occasion. Their front seven outmatches the banged up Chiefs o-line. They should take advantage of that fact and blitz frequently.

Playing in their home stadium could help matters as well. This has never happened before in the Super Bowl, and I’m curious to see what impact it has.

Offensive Key: Get off to a Running Start
Defensive Key: Outplay the Chiefs o-line and get to Mahomes

Game Prediction

I posted some of my prediction in my school newspaper, the Harbinger alongside a few other people. I’ll be providing the full version, including my projected stats, MVP, and scoring summary below.

Expect a close, high scoring game in which both quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, live up to the hype and make it one of the best Super Bowl quarterback matchups we’ve seen. Look for Brady to utilize his deep supporting cast, including wide receivers Mike Evans and Antonio Brown and a familiar face in tight end Rob Gronkowski. Mahomes doesn’t have as many elite options around him, but just the combo of speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill and star tight end Travis Kelce make the Chiefs offense extremely difficult to stop, even for a strong Buccaneers defense. This could go either way, but I expect Mahomes, Hill and Kelce to lead the Chiefs to a last minute win and their second straight Super bowl ring.

Projected Stats

Chiefs

Passing

  • Patrick Mahomes: 30/41, 396 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT

Rushing

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 13 rushes, 41 yards, 0 TD
  • Le’Veon Bell: 2 rushes, 5 yards, 0 TD
  • Darrel Williams: 2 rushes, 5 yards, 0 TD
  • Patrick Mahomes: 1 rush, 3 yards, 0 TD

Receiving

  • Tyreek Hill: 9 receptions, 170 yards, 2 TD
  • Travis Kelce: 12 receptions, 118 yards, 1 TD
  • Sammy Watkins: 3 receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD
  • Mecole Hardman: 2 receptions, 32 yards, 0 TD
  • Bryon Pringle: 1 reception, 14 yards, 0 TD
  • Demarcus Robinson: 1 reception, 11 yards, 0 TD
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TD
  • Darrel Williams: 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TD

Notable Defense:

  • Tyrann Mathieu: 1 INT

Buccaneers

Passing

  • Tom Brady: 35/53, 351 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT

Rushing

  • Ronald Jones II: 22 rushes, 87 yards, 0 TD
  • Leonard Fournette: 17 rushes, 56 yards, 0 TD
  • Tom Brady: 1 rush, 1 yard, 0 TD

Receiving

  • Mike Evans: 7 receptions, 108 yards, 1 TD
  • Antonio Brown: 7 receptions, 75 yards, 1 TD
  • Chris Godwin: 7 receptions, 58 yards, 0 TD
  • Tyler Johnson: 3 receptions, 31 yards, 0 TD
  • Rob Gronkowski: 3 receptions, 28 yards, 1 TD
  • Cameron Brate: 3 receptions, 22 yards, 0 TD
  • Leonard Fournette: 3 receptions, 18 yards, 0 TD
  • Scotty Miller: 1 reception, 6 yards, 0 TD
  • Ronald Jones II: 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TD

Notable Defense:

  • Jason Pierre-Paul: Sack

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter

  • Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce for 14 yard TD: 7-0 KC
  • Ryan Succop 33 yard FG: 7-3 KC

2nd Quarter

  • Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski for 8 yard TD: 10-7 TB
  • Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill for 50 yard TD: 14-10 KC
  • Ryan Succop 24 yard FG: 14-13 KC

3rd Quarter

  • Tom Brady to Antonio Brown for 14 yard TD: 20-14 TB
  • Harrison Butker 50 yard FG: 20-17 TB
  • Tom Brady to Mike Evans for 15 yard TD: 27-17 TB

4th Quarter

  • Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill for 3 yard TD: 27-24 TB
  • Harrison Butker 33 yard FG: 27-27 TIE
  • Ryan Succop 42 yard FG: 30-27 TB
  • Ryan Succop 24 yard FG: 33-27 TB
  • Patrick Mahomes to Sammy Watkins for 18 yard TD: 34-33 KC

Projected MVP: Patrick Mahomes

That’s all for my preview of this exciting game. This could be one of the best Super Bowls we’ve seen in a while, with the Greatest of all Time taking on the current best QB in the league. I think Mahomes comes out on top, but this truly could go either way. Will Tom Brady win his 7th Super Bowl ring and further assert his status as the G.O.A.T., or will Patrick Mahomes win his 2nd straight Super Bowl and make way for a new Chiefs dynasty? We’ll all find out tonight.

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.

NFL Week 17 Picks: Which teams try, which teams win, and what that all means

As I said in my post about the unique changes in 2020 sports, the 14 team NFL playoffs leads to more exciting late season action. Well, here we are. It’s Week 17, and there are still 18 teams in contention. Only 7 have clinched. The other 11 are fighting over another 7 playoff spots. My Week 17 picks are here. I have predicted which teams will put an effort in, which teams will win, and what that all means for the playoff picture. Last week I went 10-6, bringing my overall record to 148-91-1. Which teams will be in? Which teams will be out? Will I break my single season pick’em record of 160-94-2? Keep reading for my picks and comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

It seems the 49ers are playing for pride to an extent, as star TE George Kittle will be active despite lingering injuries throughout the year. WRs Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will sit out though, as well as a handful of Niners defensive players. The Seahawks could be in competition for the first round bye if they win this game, so they have plenty on the line. While Kittle should help the 49ers put some points on the board, it won’t be enough to even come close against a motivated Seahawks offense.

Upset of the Week

Yes, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is far better than Bears QB Mitch Trubisky. However, division games are never truly locks, because it’s hard to beat the same team twice. Trubisky is on a hot streak, and at Soldier Field, I think Trubisky and his offense will post respectable numbers with a playoff spot on the line. The Bears D will also step up in this pressing situation, limiting QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, and the Packers offense to just 24 points. I have the Bears securing their playoff spot as the Packers falling short, opening the #1 seed up to the Saints and Seahawks.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1PM
The Bills and Steelers are fighting over the #2 seed, and with Pittsburgh resting QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Bills should seize this opportunity. They will be resting some banged up players, but I expect the duo of QB Josh Allen and WR Stefon Diggs to post a strong performance. QB Tua Tagovailoa will rely on RB Myles Gaskin and WR DeVante Parker to make this close with a playoff spot on the line, but it won’t be enough to outperform the Allen-Diggs duo. That will leave Miami’s fate in the hands of teams like the Steelers (without Big Ben), Bengals, Texans, and Jaguars.
Sunday, 1PM
No matter how far out of the playoffs they are, Bill Belichick will never throw a game. Could he give QB Jarrett Stidham a chance? While he’s leaning towards starting veteran QB Cam Newton, that remains to be seen. I think this will be a close one, as the Jets have nothing to lose either way and should put their best effort in for a 3rd straight win. I have Belichick and Pats winning in a nail biter though.
Sunday, 1PM
The Browns should have a fairly easy win against a Steelers team that is without QB Ben Roethlisberger, TE Eric Ebron, and several key defensive players. The Browns did lose to the Jets last week, but they’ll get WRs Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Donovan Peoples-Jones back for this one, as well as several offensive linemen. I expect QB Baker Mayfield to pick up where he left off when this offense was last at full health and lock up a playoff spot for Cleveland.
Sunday, 1PM
The Bengals would be better off losing this one since they have a chance to win back the #3 overall pick. Meanwhile, the Ravens have a win and they’re in scenario, so this shouldn’t even be a contest. QB Lamar Jackson and his RBs should run all over the Bengals D.
Sunday, 1PM
Both of these teams still have a chance at the playoffs. Yes, they would also need an Eagles win over Washington, but both of these teams need this win badly. Neither QB is great here, but they’ll post respectable performances in this one. I think this will come down to the wire with both offenses playing well. I have the Giants winning thanks to a Graham Gano game-winning field goal.
Sunday, 1PM
The Vikings will be without RB Dalvin Cook, which means QB Kirk Cousins will have to air out the ball. I expect WRs Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to dominate against a below average Lions secondary. QB Matthew Stafford is suiting up and should help the Lions keep this competitive, but I see them falling short as they lack the star power to keep up with Thielen and Jefferson.
Sunday, 1PM
While QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski are questionable, it appears the Bucs will put their best effort in for this one. I think Brady will rely on a deep group of receivers to outplay the Atlanta defense and win this game fairly easily. I think QB Matt Ryan and WR Calvin Ridley will put on a show to stay in the game to an extent, but Brady and the Bucs should win rather comfortably.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
If the Titans win this, they clinch the AFC South and a playoff berth. The Texans won’t get much from throwing this game, as their first round pick belongs to Miami. I see QB Deshaun Watson and this offense putting up some points, but it won’t be enough against Tennessee. RB Derrick Henry is going for 2000 rushing yards, and he has already posted multiple 200 yard games in his career against Houston. I expect Henry to lead the way for a dominant offensive performance by the Titans.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
With the Dolphins falling short to Buffalo, the Colts will have a win and they’re in scenario here. The Colts lost to Jacksonville in their season opener, and they’ll be hungry for revenge. I have the Colts winning this easily as they utilize the 1-2 punch of RBs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Jacksonville won’t even really be trying here, and they’ll be guaranteed the top pick in the draft whether they win or not.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Chiefs have clinched everything they can possibly clinch. They come into Week 17 with the #1 seed and the best record in the NFL guaranteed. They have every right to rest this week, and they plan to rest QB Patrick Mahomes and WR Tyreek Hill at the very least. The Chargers don’t have anything to play for, but QB Justin Herbert should lead the Chargers to an easy victory here. He nearly upset the Chiefs at full strength back in his Week 2 debut.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
Neither of these teams have anything to play for, but they wouldn’t really gain all that much from a higher draft pick, so I expect both to play for pride. While the Raiders D will give up some points as usual, I’m expecting a strong offensive performance from QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs, and TE Darren Waller. The Raiders should finish the season with a .500 record while the Broncos fall to 5-11 and likely get a top 10 pick in the draft.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Saints will be missing RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray (COVID protocols) as well as WR Michael Thomas (lingering ankle issue). If they lose this, they’d have to play a playoff game without Kamara. This is QB Drew Brees’ final playoff run of his career, and he’ll be motivated to make the most of it. The Saints D will slow down Carolina’s strong group of WRs to allow Brees to edge out the victory despite missing multiple teammates. With the win, the Saints will lock up the first round bye, which should make it easier for Kamara, Murray, and Thomas to return for the next Saints game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Rams are in a rough situation with a playoff spot on the line. They’ll be without QB Jared Goff, RB Darrell Henderson, and WR Cooper Kupp. RB Cam Akers is also questionable. QB Kyler Murray and the Cardinals also have a playoff spot on the line here, so they should be able to get past this banged up Rams offense.
SNF
This game will decide the fate of whoever wins the Cowboys-Giants game. The Jalen Hurts experiment will continue here for the Eagles, but they’ll be without TE Dallas Goedert, RB Miles Sanders, and WR DeSean Jackson among others. That should allow Washington to slow down Hurts and the Philly offense and win this game. With the win they’ll take the NFC East and take on Brady and the Bucs on Wild Card Weekend.

That’s all for my picks this week. I referred to the playoff scenarios on the line throughout the article. If my picks are right, the playoff picture will look like this:

I hope you all enjoy the final week of the NFL’s regular season, and I’ll have my playoff predictions out in another few days.

2020 Sports: Which changes from this year should stick around?

2020 was not an easy year for the sports world.  From March to July, there were no sports.  Sports looked very different in the second half of the year.  Some of these differences should stick, while others will not.  Below is a change I liked and a change that I didn’t like so much for each of the four major US sports. 

MLB

What Should Stick Around: Universal DH

The concept of universal DH has been in talks for years.  2020’s modified schedule involving more inter-league play was just the final factor that convinced the MLB to implement it.  Before universal DH, it was almost like Major League Baseball was two separate leagues.  The World Series was a matchup of an AL champion and NL champion who got there playing slightly different versions of the game.  The NL champions tended to have more pitching because they didn’t need as good of a lineup, while the AL champions usually had to have strong lineups.  The NL is still more pitcher-heavy than the AL, but at least this unites the MLB under one rulebook.  It was long overdue, and it needs to stay this way.  

What Should be Left Behind: The Endless Negotiating

The MLB could have started the season safely as early as the end of June and they would have the whole sports market to themselves for about a month.  Instead, they delayed the start of the season even more because of what was essentially a lockout.  Rob Manfred did not handle the preseason negotiations well, and in the process he probably lost some MLB fans.  If the MLB and MLBPA don’t get their act together and come to faster agreements, it could jeopardize the long term success of professional baseball.  The financial toll on the league is already having an impact, as this off-season seems to be even slower than previous baseball off-seasons.  Most of the top free agents are still available (I’ll have an article about that out soon).

NFL

What Should Stick Around: Expanded Playoffs

The 14-team playoff bracket causes more exciting late-season action and allows more teams to stay competitive throughout the year.  Only the worst of the worst have really given up on this season, and even they might still be trying if it weren’t for Trevor Lawrence.  The expanded playoffs also make the #1 seed more valuable, as only the #1 seed gets a first round bye.  The only bad idea surrounding these expanded playoffs?  That would be putting one of the extra wild card games on Nickelodeon to try to get more kids interested.  Plenty of kids watch football without Nick having to get involved.

What Should be Left Behind: The Lack of a Preseason

While the season generally went well without a preseason, there were definitely more injuries than usual.  Teams with lackluster offensive lines were especially vulnerable, like the Giants (who lost RB Saquon Barkley to an ACL tear) and Bengals (who lost rookie QB Joe Burrow to an ACL tear and RB Joe Mixon to a foot iniury).  In addition, many talented rookies, such as Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, got off to extremely slow starts.  Jefferson posted an 1000 yard season and even broke some of Randy Moss’ Vikings WR rookie records, but he barely participated at all in the first two games of the year.  Yes, the preseason should be cut down a bit, but I think you need to have at least a couple preseason games to get the players ready to go.  I’d propose a two game preseason, one preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the season, and one preseason game prior to roster cut down day.  

NBA

What Should Stick Around: The 2020-2021 Schedule

I’ve got to be honest with you all, I like this year’s NBA schedule more than the normal NBA schedule.  Shifting the start of the season to Christmas is smart, as the NBA playoffs can cut into sports viewership ratings during the dog days of summer when baseball is the only other sport on TV.  Having a different season timeline than the NHL and stretching across winter, spring, and summer makes the NBA a little more unique than other leagues.  Who knows, maybe outdoor summer playoff games are in the NBA’s future.  In addition, I like the simple breakdown of the schedule: 2 games against every team in the other conference and 3 games against every team in your own conference.  Divisions in the NBA are barely utilized to begin with, and shifting to a more balanced conference schedule without extra division play is a smart idea.  

What Should be Left Behind: Universal Location Playoffs

The NBA bubble worked extremely well during the pandemic.  It’s not going to work in the future.  The lack of home-field advantage was probably a factor in the insane amount of upsets in the NBA bubble.  Yes, a universal location playoffs might be a good way to check the power of super teams, but taking away home field advantage entirely is not the answer.  I think the NBA bubble may have given an unfair advantage to certain teams.  Lowering the salary cap might be a better idea.

NHL

What Should Stick Around: The Realigned Divisions

I actually really like the idea of an all-Canadian division.  It was utilized this year to minimize border crossing, but it’s also going to revive classic Canadian hockey rivalries.  It’s not going to work when the Seattle Kraken join the league, but the Arizona Coyotes were already going to have to change divisions.  Why not stick with this realignment, put Seattle in the Western Division, and have the Coyotes pack their bags and relocate to Quebec City?  The Coyotes don’t have a very good hockey market in Phoenix.  In Quebec City, there are more hockey fans, and the Videotron Centre would easily be able to host an NHL team.  I could see the North Division sticking around if the Coyotes move to Quebec. It may take a couple years, but I think the all-Canadian division should return in future seasons.

What Goes: The 24 Team Playoffs

Some of the teams in the NHL’s bubble did not deserve to be there.  I don’t think there’s any reason to expand the NHL playoffs.  16 teams is plenty in what’s soon to be a 32 team league.  If anything it’s too easy to make the NHL playoffs, but the 16 team bracket works.  If they realign the league like I was talking about, they could even make the playoff bracket a four quadrant bracket by division (like they did in the NHL bubble) and make a big event out of the “Final Four” with the four divisional round winners.  

To Conclude…

2020 has forced and inspired a lot of change in the sports world.  Along the same lines, this website is about to undergo some change.  At certain points during the year, I didn’t have much to post about, and I think the entire sports world is ready to move on from this crazy year.  To begin 2021, I will be upgrading to WordPress Premium and changing my URL from andrewr1008.wordpress.com to simply be bostonsportsmania.com.  This is to make my website more accessible by making the URL easier to remember.  I may make some other changes to the site and start with some new kinds of posts as well, so be on the lookout as 2021 begins.  In the meantime, I hope you all have an enjoyable and safe New Year’s Eve.