Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

2021 NFL Season Preview

With the kickoff of the Cowboys-Buccaneers game Thursday night, the 2021 NFL season is upon us! Now we will have football every week until February. Here, are some expectations and predictions for the regular season for every division. 

AFC EAST

1. Buffalo Bills

The Bills are easily the best team in the AFC East. Coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship game, Josh Allen looks poised to continue his MVP-caliber play. As long as Allen, Stefon Diggs, and the defense can stay on the field, this team can easily be the team representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. 

 2.  New England Patriots

When Bill Belichick is involved, you can never count out the Patriots. Despite a disappointing 2020 for the hometown Patriots, this is a sleeper team to contend in the AFC. After getting key players back from Covid opt-outs, and making a splash in free agency, the Patriots could challenge the Bills in the division. The biggest question for them is how well Mac Jones is going to play now that he has the keys to the offense. 

 3. Miami Dolphins

Even though I have the Dolphins at third in this division, they are by no means a bad team. They surprised everyone last year by winning 10 games, just missing out on the playoffs. They’re in a great position to make a run at the playoffs this year. The Dolphins are returning most of their starters, signed some solid veterans, and did a great job of filling their needs through the draft. Just like the Patriots, the biggest question for them comes down to how well their young quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, plays in year two. 

4. New York Jets

The Jets are a team that is certainly on the rise after some solid drafting to go with a new head coach. Unfortunately for the Jets, they are in a very good division. Despite them having a fairly talented roster, they are still very young. They will likely be smacked around in their division, but could very easily be the ones on top in a few years if they continue to draft well and develop young talent. 

AFC SOUTH

1. Indianapolis Colts

This is quite possibly the most difficult division to determine the winner. However, now that the Colts are looking like they will be healthy to start the season, they have the best chance to win the division. After a very successful 2020, all they needed was a quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Unfortunately for them, they ended up with Carson Wentz. If Wentz can get anywhere close to his 2017 form, the Colts could make some noise in the playoffs. 

 2. Tennessee Titans

The Titans are a team that could definitely make a run in the playoffs, but they lack the defensive prowess to contend. With Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and newly acquired Julio Jones, their offense is quite possibly one of the most well-rounded. However, their lack of defensive playmakers will likely be their downfall. 

 3. Jacksonville Jaguars

While I said that this was a tough division to determine, the third-place finisher is not difficult to decide. After getting the #1 pick and drafting Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars are not in a great position to succeed this year. However, they do have a lot of promising young players. The future will be helped by a solid draft, but for now, the Jaguars are likely to be basement-dwellers in the AFC for at least another year. 

 4. Houston Texans

This is not the year for the Texans and their fans. After dealing with the Deshaun Watson sexual assault allegations and making no significant moves in the draft or free agency, the Texans are in for yet another bad season. Expect another year of turmoil for a franchise that has not been able to catch a break in the last few years. 

AFC WEST

1. Kansas City Chiefs

With a revamped offensive line to protect Patrick Mahomes, the biggest issue for the Chiefs has been solved. They have no excuses for losing this year. The talent that they have on their team is quite possibly the best in the league, and because of this, they are likely going to be the team representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. At the very least, they should take their division quite handily.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers are one of the most exciting up-and-coming teams in the league. They had a decent 2020 thanks to the performance of rookie Justin Herbert, and he is only going to get better this year. They also had a very good free-agent class to go with one of the best drafts in the league. If their defensive stars can stay healthy this year, they could cause some trouble in the AFC in January. They look like a team that will be good for years to come if they can keep their core intact. 

 3. Las Vegas Raiders

Despite the hate that the Raiders receive from the media, they have a solid roster. They made several questionable decisions regarding their offensive line both in the draft and in free agency but still have the talent on their roster to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, this will not be the year for them. 

 4. Denver Broncos

Even though the Broncos have a very talented team, they are in a very tough division. Because of this, they have very little chance to make the playoffs. All of this becomes irrelevant if they can somehow manage to sway Aaron Rodgers into coming to the Mile-High City next year. 

AFC NORTH

1. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are the epitome of success for the last several years. With their coaching and depth, they could give the Chiefs and Bills a run for their money this year. As long as Lamar Jackson stays healthy, there are very few teams in the league that can beat them on a regular basis. 

 2. Cleveland Browns

While the Browns are a very popular pick to come out of the AFC, I think that there are too many great teams in their way. Despite being among the league’s most talented rosters, they are unlikely to put it all together this year.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

After an 11-0 start last season, the Steelers looked like they were the favorites to win the AFC. However, they quickly came back down to earth and showed their true colors. They have a great defense, but it will likely not be enough to carry their average offense past the Wild Card round. 

4. Cincinnati Bengals

Even though the Bengals are going to finish last in their division barring any crazy injuries from the other three teams, they still have a lot to look forward to in the future. With the young talent they have on offense, they could steal a few games this year. It just won’t be enough in a division as good as this one. Expect them to make strides by the end of the season and begin to look like a team that could challenge the tough teams in the AFC in the near future. 

NFC EAST

1. Dallas Cowboys

In a division that appears like it may be the worst for the second year in a row, the Cowboys have the most talent of them all. With the weapons they have on offense, Jerry Jones should not be worried about whether or not his team will score points. Instead, he should worry about whether they will stop other teams from scoring. Even though they added Micah Parsons, their defense appears to lack enough talent to make them real Super Bowl contenders.

2. Washington Football Team

As much as I want to put the WFT at first in this division, their quarterback situation is too concerning. Every other position group on the team is good enough to win the division, but there is not enough Fitzmagic in the tank to take them over the hump. Chase Young and the rest of the defense can still carry the team into the playoffs. 

3. New York Giants

Dave Gettleman brought in a lot of talent on offense for Daniel Jones to succeed. He also built a very formidable defense. The only problem with the team is Daniel Jones. He has not proven that he can succeed in the NFL, largely due to his tendency to turn the ball over. Jones’ turnovers could likely fumble away the Giants’ playoff hopes.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

After a poor end to their 2020 season, the Eagles are in full rebuild mode. With a young quarterback in Jalen Hurts to go with a new young receiver in Heisman-winner Devonta Smith, they have some talent on their roster. It will still likely not be enough for them to be anywhere near .500 this season. They will likely have another lackluster year under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. 

NFC SOUTH

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is the easiest first-place choice of any team right alongside the Chiefs. After winning a Super Bowl and returning every starter, the only thing that can bring them down is a major injury. Even though Tom Brady, 44, is entering his 22nd season, expect another deep playoff run for the Bucs. 

2. New Orleans Saints

Seeing the Saints play without their Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees calling the shots will be disorienting, to say the least. Still, without him, they suddenly get a deep threat behind center. They still have the talent that won them the division last year, but they are still nowhere near the Buccaneers in terms of roster depth. 

3. Atlanta Falcons

Even though many people do not like the Falcons this year, they still have a former MVP at quarterback in Matt Ryan along with a very solid No. 1 receiver in Calvin Ridley. They will likely be one of the better offenses in the league. They will really need it with their lack of defense if they want any hope of making the playoffs. 

4. Carolina Panthers

I could see the Panthers swapping with the Falcons at the end of the season if Sam Darnold is able to put it together this season, but until that happens, I will keep them right here. They have a very promising future thanks to another good draft by their front office. For now, they are not quite good enough to challenge anyone in the NFC. 

NFC WEST

1. Los Angeles Rams

In the most competitive division in the NFL, the Rams have the best shot to win of any team. They have the best defense to go with one of the best offenses. As long as Matt Stafford has a smooth transition, this team will put up a fight against any team in the league. 

2. San Francisco 49ers

As long as the 49ers can stay healthy this season, they have a great chance to make a run in the playoffs. With a very talented offense and an even better defense, they will be a very scary team to play. While many people expect Trey Lance to play at some point this season, I think it would be best to let him sit for a year and stick with Jimmy Garoppolo this season. 

3. Seattle Seahawks

Just when it looked like Seattle might lose Russell Wilson, they managed to keep him, Along with most of his supporting cast. Their defense looks like it’s going to be solid once again, and as long as Russ is allowed to cook, they have a chance in their division. Expect another solid season that sputters out in early January from the Seahawks. 

4. Arizona Cardinals

Even though the Cardinals have the potential to be a very good team, they are in the toughest division. They have to play the other three teams in their division twice each, which is going to be extremely tough. JJ Watt and AJ Green are not enough to save this team from being the worst in their top-heavy division.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers

Just when the rest of the league thought that Aaron Rodgers was gone, the Packers managed to reel him in for one last dance. To the dismay of Vikings and Bears fans, this means that the Packers are once again going to take first place in the division. Despite losing a couple key players, their team looks primed for another solid year, which they hope ends with Rodgers’ second Lombardi Trophy.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Even though the Vikings have one of the most talented rosters in the league, they never manage to put it all together. As long as Kirk Cousins is throwing the ball, it is unlikely that they will ever win a Super Bowl. They still have a chance to give Green Bay a hard time if they stay healthy. 

3. Chicago Bears

Before any Bears fans get upset because Justin Fields is here to save the day, Andy Dalton is QB1 and should be for this season. If the Bears want future success with Fields, they should do what the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes: sit him for a year before playing him. If they do that, they won’t be competing in the division this year, but they will in the future. 

4. Detroit Lions

The Lions are way behind the rest of the division. They just don’t have the talent or the coaching to keep up with the other teams. With Jared Goff as their quarterback, it is unlikely they will be competing for a Super Bowl anytime soon.

Undecided major on a pre-med track that has somehow convinced himself that he will see a Minnesota sports team win a championship.

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