2021 NFL Playoff Predictions and Season Recap
We actually completed the NFL season, you guys. We actually did it.
32 teams started, and now only 14 remain. January is the start of playoff football, which everyone knows is the most wonderful time of the year.
This season was unlike any other, with many stadiums empty because of COVID concerns and restrictions. Still, we saw record breaking performances, a varied MVP race, and some long-standing streaks finally snapped.
I for one, watched more football this year than I ever have, having often two or more screens playing different games at the same time: One on the TV, and two more on laptops that back channeled out-of-market games, all playing simultaneously. It’s the poor man’s Red Zone.
Here’s what I saw this season.
Firstly, we begin with my Patriots in New England. Man, those 20 years with Tom Brady were a trip, weren’t they? We got a season full of ups and downs (mostly downs) with Cam Newton at the helm. I like Cam, but nothing was working for him this season. The Patriots did this ingenious tactic where they would just give Cam the ball and he would run up into the line with the ball for no yards. They also did this brilliant thing where they left him with N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd to throw to. Fun fun fun! While it was fun having no pressure to succeed but also getting great games out of it (week two against Seattle, for example), it quickly got frustrating. A four game losing streak, multiple mistakes at the end of games by Newton to lose games, and a lack of talent on offense made this a season to forget. I’m not sure what the future holds- but coach Bill Belichick better learn how to draft, and quickly.
My football Sunday group became big Los Angeles Chargers fans this season, due in no small part to the play of Justin Herbert, who emerged in week two to replace Tyrod Taylor, who, oh yeah had his lung accidentally punctured while team medical staff was trying to give him a shot for his injured ribs. Herbert was brilliant this season, breaking the rookie touchdown pass record (sorry, Joe Burrow- prayers up for your knee). Unfortunately, the Chargers defense was terrible this season, losing a number of one score games, even having games where they blew enormous leads in the process. The Chargers finished 7-9, which is a huge accomplishment for a rookie QB. They also fired head coach Anthony Lynn, opening the door for another coach to enter and take over a team with a very attractive offense with tremendous upside.
I was also today years old when I discovered that the Patriots and Chargers finished with the exact same record this year. Football stats are weird.
Speaking of stats- Aaron Rodgers had more touchdown passes than the Packers did punts this season.
Derrick Henry became only the 8th player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season.
My fantasy football opponent in the championship game had both Stefon Diggs AND Deandre Hopkins- both of whom led the league in receptions at one points this season (and I mean literally 1st and 2nd)- and Stefon Diggs ended up winning the receiving title. Also the pass seen in this photo was the greatest thing to ever happen.
The Browns made the playoffs!
The Bills won the AFC East!
And most of all- COVID didn’t kill the season. While there were certainly some frustrating schedule changes, the season got all 256 games off between weeks 1 and 17. Not bad. Good for players (mostly) following protocol and the league for insisting these games be played.
Every year, I like to take a look at my predictions I made at the start of this season. This year, they were BOLD. Sometimes, I’m right!
This year, I was wrong.
I was so very wrong.
Have a look.
2020 Predictions Recap
1. The Patriots will once again win the AFC East.
Well, that very much didn’t happen. Chalk it up to the lack of defensive players, or the play of Cam Newton, or Bill Belichick’s inability to help the young wide receivers grow, but the Patriots finished at 7-9 this season. This is their first losing season since 2000. It goes without saying that they also missed out on the AFC East title, which went to the Buffalo Bills, their first division title since 1995.
2. Joe Burrow will break the rooking passing touchdown record.
Joe Burrow tore his ACL during a week 11 game against Washington, ending his rookie season prematurely. He finishes his campaign with 13 touchdown passes in 10 games, putting him on pace for 21 touchdown passes, which would not have been enough to catch Baker Mayfield’s 27 passes a few years ago. However, out of Burrow’s injury, we got Justin Herbert, who did in fact break Mayfield’s touchdown pass record, throwing for 31 in his rookie season.
3. No team in the NFC West will finish below .500.
And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those 49ers and all their injuries! While the Rams, Seahawks cruised to double-digit wins this season, and Arizona looked poised to join that group as well before falling off a cliff in the last few weeks of the season (they finished 8-8), the injuries for the 49ers just kept piling up. First, it was Joey Bosa. Then it was Solomon Thomas. Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle followed shortly after. The 49ers finished 6-10, a season after a Super Bowl appearance.
4. The Packers will miss the playoffs (in Aaron Rodgers’ final season in Green Bay).
If this season has taught us anything, it’s that hell hath no fury like an Aaron Rodgers scorned. I hope Jordan Love learned a lot watching his starting QB work this year. The Packers finished 13-3 in 2020, locked up the top seed in the NFC, and Rodgers is likely on his way to winning MVP. The connection between Rodgers and Adams was lethal this season; Rodgers passed for 48 touchdown passes, and Adams was on the receiving end of 18 of them. I’m not sure what the future holds for Rodgers and the Packers, but if I were the team, I would apologize immediately for drafting a quarterback in the first round and get your MVP starter some more weapons immediately.
5. … and so will the 49ers.
… Through no fault of their own. You can only do so much when you lose half your roster to injury. Names like Bosa, Thomas, Garoppolo, Kittle, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford, Raheem Mostert- not to mention having to flip-flop between Nick Mullens and CJ Beathard- if those are the cards you’re dealt, it quickly becomes very hard to win football games. The Niners finished 6-10, although they probably could have made a run at the division title had everyone been healthy. One bright spot this season was the play of Brandon Aiyuk, as the rookie receiver had 468 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final six games of the season. The Niners will be back. Hopefully.
6. Drew Brees will win MVP.
It doesn’t help my case that Brees missed four games due to a rib injury that left him with a collapsed lung. It also doesn’t help that Alvin Kamara was the MVP of the Saints this year, as he rushed for 932 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Brees passed for exactly HALF the number of touchdowns that Aaron Rodgers did this year- I just don’t see Brees winning MVP this year. It’s a shame, since reports are surfacing that this will likely be Brees’ final year in the league. Unless the league wants to give him the merit based solely as a lifetime achievement award (of course, that’s what the Hall of Fame is for), it just isn’t going to happen for the Saints QB this year.
Prediction: LIKELY INCORRECT
7. Tampa Bay won’t win the NFC South.
It’s always nice to see your ex not doing well. Tom Brady and the Bucs just couldn’t beat the Saints this season, losing to them twice as part of an 11-5 record. Pair it with losses to the Rams, Bears, and Chiefs, and Tampa will finish in second in the division, behind the Saints, who finished 12-4. On the bright side, the Bucs, by virtue of their playoff seeding, might actually have the… easiest path to the Super Bowl? A playoff game against the NFC East champion, followed by what could be a cold weather game if the Saints and Seahawks get their jobs done this weekend, setting up a win-or-go-home game against the Saints or Seahawks. They won’t get to host a playoff game, but this isn’t unfamiliar territory for Tom Brady.
8. Adam Gase will be fired before Doug Marrone.
I can’t believe I didn’t get this one right. I was SURE of this one. The Jaguars even WON their first game of the season! Given, yes, they dropped their next 15, but even four straight losses was enough for the Jaguars to give Marrone the boot in early October. The Jets held onto Gase for the ENTIRE SEASON. They finished 2-14 after starting the season 0-13. They fired Gregg Williams, their defensive coordinator, who gave up a desperation bomb from Derek Carr and the Raiders (intentionally?), before they fired Gase following week 17. The level of ineptitude from New York sports franchises is always entertaining, but the Jets are on another level.
9. Daniel Jones will finish as a top-five passer.
Welp. Jones missed a few games this season due to injury, which hurt his chances of accomplishing this goal. His team also finished 6-10, which doesn’t help. I had really thought that Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard were really going to come alive this season. I was wrong. Jones finished with 2943 yards, good for 19th. Better than people like Drew Brees, Drew Lock and Lamar Jackson, though! Better luck next year, Danny Dimes.
10. ZERO games will be cancelled to to COVID concerns.
This is a tough one to judge, because while no games were actually missed due to COVID concerns, a number of games were drastically rescheduled and moved from their scheduled dates. There was that debacle in New England, where the league made the Patriots fly to Kansas City on a Tuesday and play a game that night without their starting quarterback. In addition, the Titans had players show up to their closed facility (against league protocol) and practice, leading to another COVID breakout among the team. This forced multiple game changes that effected a number of teams- the Pittsburgh Steelers included, who had their bye week thrust upon them unceremoniously in week 4. Then there was the Steelers and Ravens, originally scheduled for Thanksgiving, which was moved to the following Wednesday, almost a week later, where the Ravens had to play without Lamar Jackson. And who could forget the Denver Broncos, who had to bring in an emergency wide receiver to play quarterback after all FOUR of their quarterbacks were deemed COVID close contacts and could not play in their game against the Saints. Again, while there were no actual game cancellations due to COVID, there was certainly enough mixing of the schedule and confusion surrounding it to give me a headache.
Prediction: CORRECT (I guess)
Total predictions correct: 3/10.
I also like to take a look at the playoff teams I predicted and compare them to the actual results from this season.
I correctly predicted 8 of the 12 playoff teams, with 5 out of 7 correct in the AFC. The placement, as usual, did not go the way I had predicted:
I also correctly predicted the records of the following teams:
And finally, here are my updated playoff predictions for the 2021 NFL Postseason.
2021 Playoff Predictions
Super Wild Card Weekend (Jan. 9 & 10)
#7 Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at #2 Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Saturday, January 9th, 1:05pm (CBS)
Vegas: Bills -6.5
We’ll get our first look at Josh Allen and the second-seeded Bills early, as they take on the Indianapolis Colts up in Buffalo on Saturday. The Bills are seeking their first playoff win since 1995 (you’ll remember they blew a lead to Houston in last year’s wild card contest). However, I believe that Allen has taken the next steps toward being an elite quarterback and will improve on his result from last year. The Bills are perhaps the most dangerous team in the AFC, with a stout defense, and an improved offense from last year- need I remind you they have the NFL’s receiving leader, Stefon Diggs, on their team this year? Indianapolis’ defense has the potential to give them troubles, and the offense- in particular, the ground game- has really made strides late in the season, but I think Buffalo pulls it out in an instant classic.
Prediction: Buffalo 34, Indianapolis 31 (OT)
#6 Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at #3 Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Saturday January 9th, 4:40pm (FOX)
Vegas: Seattle -3.5
Recent history has shown us that the Rams have the Seahawks’ number. They’ve been able to use pressure up front, relying heavily on Aaron Donald to keep Russell Wilson under wraps. However, with Jared Goff’s status up in the air (a broken bone in his hand kept him out of action this weekend), I don’t see John Wolford stepping up and being the hero for the Rams. On top of that, the Seahawks defense is much improved from earlier this season, and they’re on a four-game winning streak because of it. 12th Man not required, Seattle has this game in hand.
Prediction: Seattle 24, Los Angeles 10
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at #4 Washington Football Team (7-9)
Saturday, January 9th, 8:15pm (NBC)
Vegas: Tampa Bay -8.5
“We’re not playing a 7-9 team,” Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians told the media this week, “we’re playing a 4-1 team. We’re playing Alex Smith... we’re not playing Dwayne Haskins.” Arians makes a good point about Washington being a noticeably better team when they start Alex Smith and not that schmuck Haskins from Ohio State. Now that Haskins is officially off the team, Alex Smith will be the starter this weekend for Washington as they host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Even without Mike Evans though, I don’t see Tampa losing this game. Tom Brady is, of course, the most successful quarterback in history, and though he’s been abysmal in prime time games this year, I think this wild card game against a team with a losing record will be just another stepping stone. I can see Chase Young potentially giving Brady a little bit of trouble by delivering some pressure on the six-time Super Bowl champion, but the Bucs are just a better team than Washington. They should win this one no problem.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 36, Washington 17
#5 Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at #4 Tennessee Titans (11-5)
Sunday, January 10th, 1:05pm (ABC/ESPN/Freeform)
Vegas: Baltimore -3.5
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Derrick Henry ran through the top-ranked Baltimore Ravens defense as a 10-point underdog. During the regular season this year, Henry ran through them again as he scored an electrifying overtime touchdown on a run from about 30 or so yards out. The Titans will host the playoff game this time around, but the Ravens have been playing really, really good football lately. If the defense can contain Henry, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens can take control of the game and potentially steal one. I’m taking the Ravens in this one, as Lamar extends his winning streak to six games since returning from COVID. Remember when the Ravens were dead earlier this season when they got embarrassed by the Chiefs?
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Tennessee 21
#7 Chicago Bears (8-8) at #2 New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Sunday, January 10th, 4:40pm (CBS/Nickelodeon/Prime Video)
Vegas: New Orleans -10
Let’s call the Saints “unlucky.” Their last three playoff losses have been: An overtime loss against the Vikings in which they blew a lead and Brees through an interception in overtime, a loss against the Rams in the NFC championship game on a blown no-call- although Brees threw an interception at the end of THAT game too, and a walk-off touchdown in a game now known as the Minneapolis Miracle. They have a golden opportunity to right the ship against the 8-8 Chicago Bears, who squeaked into the playoffs thanks to the Cardinals bottoming out. Bears RB David Montgomery has been on a tear in December, rushing for nearly 450 yards and 5 touchdowns in his last four games, but aside from that, I don’t trust Mitchell Trubisky to get the job done against the Saints and their solid defensive unit. Partner in the fact that Alvin Kamara will be making a return from COVID to play in this game, and that spells disaster for Chicago. I think the game will be close enough for the Saints not to cover the spread, but I don’t think the game will be as close as the score indicates. Also, VERY excited to watch this game on Nickelodeon.
Prediction: New Orleans 23, Chicago 17
#6 Cleveland Browns (11-5) at #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Sunday, January 10th, 8:15pm (NBC/Peacock)
Vegas: Pittsburgh -6
There’s a lot to unpack here. For one, the Browns just beat the Steelers last weekend, clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2000- it just so happens the Steelers were resting their starters… and they won by just two points despite being 10-point favorites. Remember how they got blown out by 31 points in week 6? For another, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski will not be coaching the team this weekend, as he’s out with COVID- special teams coach Mike Priefer will serve as acting head coach for the game this weekend. Stefanski is one of a number of Browns personnel, players included, to have COVID concerns heading into Sunday. So the Browns have that going for them. On the other side, Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster said on Friday that “the Browns are still the Browns”- as if the star WR hasn’t given enough teams bulletin board material this season. Now, will the Browns be able to rally the troops in time to prepare for this game? I hope so. I like watching the Browns play, and their rivalry with the Steelers is one of the more entertaining matchups in football. But do I think the Steelers just have things going for them because of all the player/personnel issues in Cleveland? I do. Browns gonna Browns, I guess.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 36, Cleveland 20
Divisional Playoffs (Jan 16 & 17)
#3 Pittsburgh Steelers at #2 Buffalo Bills
This is the rematch we wanted. Steelers-Bills, round 2. The last time these two played, the Bills defeated the Steelers, 26-15 in a cold, rainy night in Buffalo. Call the Steelers what you want- legitimate Super Bowl contenders is not one of them. They couldn’t stop Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs the first time, so what makes you think they’ll be able to stop them this time around? If Cleveland has anything to say about their wild card game, they won’t let Ben Roethlisberger out of there without banging him up a little bit. I think the Bills have the defense to stop a feast-or-famine Steelers offense, and their offense is too good. Bills win again and move onto the AFC Championship game, a game everyone wanted to see them in.
Prediction: Buffalo 27, Pittsburgh 21
#3 Seattle Seahawks at #2 New Orleans Saints
What an intriguing pair we have here! Two should-be MVPs facing off in a divisional playoff game. Despite the Saints defense’s high level of play, I still think Russell Wilson can maneuver the Seahawks through it. Likewise for Drew Brees and the Saints, despite the Seahawks defense also having played better over the last month. I like New Orleans at home (although, is home field advantage even a thing in this wild season we’re having?) in a close one, maybe Brees leads a game winning drive in the fourth to find a returning Michael Thomas, who puts the Saints in the NFC title game.
Prediction: New Orleans 28, Seattle 27
#5 Baltimore Ravens vs. #1 Kansas City Chiefs
Mahomes vs. Lamar, round three: playoff edition. This was the AFC Championship game I envisioned last year, with the year’s two previous MVPs duking it out for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. This time around it’ll likely be in an AFC Divisional playoff. The Ravens got shelled by the Chiefs earlier this season, and while the Ravens have learned how to run the ball finally, I still think Kansas City has the advantage based on skill level alone. This one will be closer than 34-20, but Mahomes and the Chiefs won’t deviate from their game plan they employed to beat Baltimore the first time.
Prediction: Kansas City 35, Baltimore 31
#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. #1 Green Bay Packers
It was a dream start-turned-nightmare for Aaron Rodgers the last time these two squads met in the first week of November, as Tom Brady and the Bucs squashed Green Bay, 38-10, scoring 38 unanswered points. Brady threw for a pair of touchdown passes in that game, but Ronald Jones was the star, rushing for over 100 yards and a pair of scores of his own. The Packers have been excellent down the stretch, though. Rodgers will likely be the MVP, and the Packers will be entering this game off their bye week by virtue of winning the NFC. Tampa also hasn’t been great against playoff teams this year (1-5… though their lone win came against these same Packers, and 10-0 against non-playoff teams), and they’ll probably still be bruised from the hits taken from the Washington defensive front. I think Tampa gives Green Bay a game, but the Packers will pull it out in the fourth quarter and win. The Packers prevent Tampa from becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Prediction: Green Bay 30, Tampa Bay 27
NFC Championship: #2 New Orleans Saints vs. #1 Green Bay Packers
Sunday, January 24th, 3:05pm (FOX)
Green Bay got embarrassed in last year’s NFC Championship game by San Francisco, a 34-20 game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. They’ll run into Drew Brees and the Saints here, this time at Lambeau Field (the Packers won in New Orleans back in September). The last time these two played, Rodgers didn’t even need Davante Adams, as it was the Allen Lazard show (146 yards, one touchdown). Aside from that, it appears that all the Packers need to do is stop Alvin Kamara, since he is the sole reason the Saints continue to win games. If Brees has to try to beat the Packers through the air, I think he’ll fail. Packers avenge their NFC Championship loss and go back to the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Green Bay 38, New Orleans 28
AFC Championship: #2 Buffalo Bills at #1 Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, January 24th, 6:40pm (CBS)
This was the game we all wanted to see. Many people believe that Buffalo has what it takes to stop Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs from repeating as Super Bowl Champions. The Bills have a great defensive front, which can get past the Chiefs’ offensive line and take down Patrick Mahomes on his super deep drops he uses to chuck the ball down the field. They’re effective against the run- not that the Chiefs can run the ball anyways. They have the speed to match up with quick receivers like Tyreek Hill. Their offense is, as you know, stellar, against a Chiefs defense that isn’t that great. They can force the Chiefs to play a methodical game of football, something they do not excel at- since they LOVE to take home run shots all the time. If they Bills aren’t in this game, Kansas City is going to cruise to another Super Bowl. That said- I think something’s gotta give. The Bills will need a perfect football game on defense to win. If there’s one slip up (and I think there will be)- Mahomes will take advantage. If they Chiefs can wear down the Bills, either by playing effective, drawn out, slow paced, methodical football, or by hitting multiple home runs on deep touchdown passes- they can pull it out. This game will be close. But I think Bills fans will need to wait another year. Mahomes hits the dagger on a long bomb late in the fourth quarter to sink the Bills.
Prediction: Kansas City 31, Buffalo 20
Super Bowl LV
#1 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #1 Green Bay Packers
Sunday, February 7th, 6:30pm (CBS)
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Two great head coaches. Two explosive offenses. Two suspect, but suffocating defenses. Two elite quarterbacks. A rematch of Super Bowl I. Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay should live up to the hype. Expect tons of things to be written about the new playoff format, as both of these teams were the only ones to earn bye weeks in their respective conferences. However, these are still the two best teams in football, and they should be the two teams playing for the Lombardi Trophy. Both teams defenses will need to contain the others’ quarterbacks- as both Rodgers and Mahomes can extend plays and accomplish the seemingly impossible. Whichever defense keeps their opponent’s QB in check will have the advantage. On top of this, if this game isn’t an offensive shootout, I don’t know what I’m even watching football for. The Packers have the ability to pick you apart both on the ground and through the air- the Chiefs have the ability to make you play out of position on defense and take advantage. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is going to be very successful as a head coach, but I think his team comes up a little bit short. The Chiefs are the most complete team in football, and they look very ready to repeat as champions.
Prediction: Kansas City 41, Green Bay 35
What are your thoughts on how these playoffs will shake out? Leave a comment down below.
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