10 Bold Predictions for the 2021 NFL Season
It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiime of the year!!!!
Man, there is literally no joy in this world during the dark times. And by dark times, I mean the six months between March and September where there’s no football.
The 2021 NFL season is finally upon us, and we have a lot to cover. Fans are back in the stands, there’s an extra game added to the schedule this season, and so much more!
That “so much more” is mostly predictions, but there’s a lot to cover in those predictions, so.
Let’s just hop right in. Here are my ten bold predictions for the 2021 NFL season, followed by a crude projection of the standings and an even more crude prediction about the 2022 playoffs.
Happy football, everyone. Enjoy!
10 Bold Predictions for the 2021 NFL Season
1. Justin Fields takes over for Andy Dalton within four weeks.
Of all my predictions, I think this one is probably the one most likely to occur. Andy Dalton came to Chicago with the intention (nay, the promise) of being QB1 when the season opened. Enter- Justin Fields, who has shown flashes of brilliance during the preseason, albeit in short spurts. Fields has the typical rookie growing pains to get through- and I don’t believe this first season for him will be easy by any stretch of the imagination- but being a better quarterback than Andy Dalton is not that hard. And Fields gives the Bears stability under center, and a young football mind that can be molded and grow into the player Chicago hopes he’ll be. Because when Fields is on, he’s fantastic. I think another loss to the hapless Lions will force Matt Nagy to make the switch to the OSU product. Where it goes from there for Fields- I don’t know. But I do know they’ll be better off with him than with Andy Dalton.
2. Sam Darnold will be a revelation in Carolina.
Ya know, I’m happy for Sam, I really am. Going from an organization doomed to run quarterbacks’ potentials into the ground in the New York Jets (good luck Zach Wilson) to a high-powered, pass-happy offense in Carolina? Thank GOODNESS.
He’s got a buddy already in Robby Anderson from his time in New York, the best pass-catching running back in football in CMC, and a young, exciting offensive scheme thanks to OC Joe Brady (fostering good quarterbacks and honing their talent without destroying them, what a concept!). Darnold’s gonna do very well this season. It makes it all the more exciting that the Panthers get the Jets in week one. My guess is the former USC Trojan tops 25 touchdown passes this year.
3. The defense leads Indianapolis to a winning record.
No Carson Wentz, and likely no Quentin Nelson for the Colts. It’s almost like all is lost.
Fortunately, the Colts have a GREAT defense, which- at least for me- was a thorn in my side as I watched them destroy my fantasy team’s players week in and week out. DeForest Buckner could very well lead the league in sacks, and Xavier Rhodes might be the NFL’s best shadow corner.
The Colts might look to be a middle-of-the-road defense, but they stifled opposing RBs- holding them to 90.5 yards a game in 2020, good for second in the league last year. If the offensive isn’t a complete train wreck (keep in mind their starter is Carson Wentz- so the bar is LOW), I think this defense can help them squeak out 10 or 11 wins this season.
4. The Patriots defeat the Buccaneers in Tom Brady's return to Foxboro.
Ah yes, the old homer take. Is this one farfetched? Yes. But I’m gonna hit you with a big curveball later in the article, so this one won’t seem as crazy compared to that one in a little bit.
So the Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions and are returning all 22 starters, and Tom Brady is poised to become only the fourth QB to beat all 32 NFL teams when the Bucs visit Brady’s old team, the Patriots, up in Foxboro in week 4. Brady, at 44 years old, has shown literally zero signs of slowing down, and is arguably playing better at 44 than he did at 24. The Buccaneers have a high powered offense, and probably the league’s best defense. Typical Tom-Brady-being-the-best shit. We know all this.
But hear me out. The Patriots have gotten better on defense. And they’ve spent over $160 million on offense and have an exciting rookie QB that taught Cam Newton the playbook. They’ve also got Bill Belichick. I’m convinced that by now, Belichick goes out and loses on purpose to his protogés, only to turn around and embarrass them when it matters most by pulling out a trick he’s been holding out on them throughout their careers in New England. It’s like Belichick teaches them everything they know, but not everything he knows. Having coached Brady for 20 years, he knows what has to be done to slow his former golden boy down. I think he plays that card and we see things we’ve NEVER seen from a Belichick-coached team.
I think the new-and-improved defense gives Brady fits in the pocket, stifles the run game, and is able to keep some of his receivers in check. Mac Jones and the offense will need to do their jobs and play an incredibly clean game without turning the ball over and making the most of every single drive. Can they do it? Well, let’s get there first.
I feel it in my bones, you guys. Patriots by a million. Brady doesn’t take his helmet off when he and Bill hug at the end of the game.
5. Julio Jones will overtake A.J. Brown in both receiving yards and touchdowns.
Say what you want about the Titans and their two-headed monster at receiver- this is still the Derrick Henry show. But Julio Jones left Atlanta for a reason, and this new start in Tennessee will show that he’s got plenty left in the tank. I mean, he put up over 1,000 receiving yards in 7 of the last ten seasons, and one down year in Atlanta’s terrible offense doesn’t mean we’re taking him out to pasture. People are so quick to forget that Jones was and still is one of the best, most reliable receivers in the league.
If AJ Brown’s knee injury keeps him out of week one, we could see a big debut for Jones against the Cardinals.
Still, I think this season proves that Jones is the better receiver, and a new start will put him right back into the upper echelon of wide receivers in the league. This Titans offense is on the precipice of something great. You watch.
6. To that point, Derrick Henry will NOT break the single-season rushing record.
With an 17th regular season game, there are a lot of records in play that weren’t so easily attainable in a 16-game regular season. That means Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards could certainly be in sight, especially for the defending rushing champion, who notched 2,000 yards of his own last season.
But here’s the thing- there are some STIFF rush defenses the Titans have to go through this season. There’s the Colts (twice). Kansas City. The Rams. The Patriots. The Bills. The 49ers. The Steelers. Hell, I feel like even the Jets could put up a fight up front. And even if King Henry manages to go through ALL that, there’s still the reality of inevitable regression after a monster season- and the fact that he might have to share the spotlight with the Titans’ new weapon, Julio Jones.
Henry came up 78 yards short of Dickerson’s record last year. He’s definitely capable of reaching 2,105 yards. But it ain’t happening this year.
7. The Arizona Cardinals will have the NFL's highest-scoring offense.
Kliff Kingsbury is on the hot seat this year for Arizona, there’s no doubt about that. Bringing in DeAndre Hopkins in 2020 and missing out on the playoffs, nearly injuring Kyler Murray in the process? Yikes.
But this season brings new hope for the Red Sea and Kingsbury’s air-raid offense: the arrival of AJ Green, who could have a second birth in Arizona- there’s a reason people like to finish out their careers in Arizona: look at the old dogs like Carson Palmer, Kurt Warner, and Larry Fitzgerald, who all had stellar careers in their later years in the desert.
Green and his health will be the x-factor this year. If he’s able to keep his body together, the combination of he, Hopkins, and Murray could be lethal. Kyler Murray will also need to learn how to stay in the pocket and run a tad more conservatively if the Cardinals are to make the playoffs this season. If all goes well, the Cardinals could easily have one of the best offenses in football- we might even see a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Hopkins and Green.
8. Josh Allen will win NFL MVP.
Five reasons why Josh Allen will win MVP:
9. The Cincinnati Bengals will win more games than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bengals are on the upswing, thanks to a returning Joe Burrow and a young and talented (although unproven) group of receivers including Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins. If all goes well and everyone stays healthy, the Bengals are gonna win more than a few games this season.
The Steelers are trending downwards, bringing back Big Ben for one more tragic season, and relying on a rookie RB, and a WR group that rivals the Three Stooges in terms of physical comedy. From Juju’s TikTok dancing to Chase Claypool’s complaining to Diontae’s drops- there’s not a lot to like about the gold and black.
Calling it right now- the Steelers’ loss to the Bengals last season started the spiral. Their impending loss to the Bengals this season cements their place at the bottom of the AFC North.
10. Finally, Jameis Winston- yes, that Jameis Winston- will break the NFL's single-season passing record.
Hear me out. The single-season passing record is currently held by Peyton Manning, sits at 5,477 yards. Jameis Winston threw for 5,109 in his final year in Tampa. I’m just saying, Jameis likes to throw the ball. A lot.
Now, Did he throw 30 interceptions in 2019? Yes. Did he have better talent in Tampa than he does in New Orleans? Yes. But I think Jameis can still have his cake and eat it too- that is, throw for 5,500 yards and throw 40 interceptions.
First step is establishing the relationship between he and his mediocre wide receivers. Marquez Callaway and Winston had some great connections during the preseason, and Callaway figures to be the WR1 until Michael Thomas returns in week 7. Winston will need help from names like Tre’Quan Smith, Diontae Harris and Chris Hogan. He’ll need to have a good rapport with TE Adam Trautman, who is now the TE1 after Jared Cook left for Los Angeles.
The other factor is Thomas and his injury history. If Thomas returns to MVP form after taking time to heal, he becomes a huge asset to Winston and his quest to break Manning’s record. That’s certainly a big if.
The other big factor here is Alvin Kamara, who is a dangerous pass-catching RB, who had 24 touchdowns in 2020, and 756 receiving yards to go with it. If anyone's gonna help the cause, it's Kamara.
I think Jameis can do it. He’ll need just about everything to fall his way, but he’s certainly got the arm and the motivation to do it.
There’s a reason these prediction were bold. Fight me.
Now, here are my standings predictions for the 2021 NFL season, followed by some way-too-early playoff predictions.
New England 10-7
NY Jets 6-11
As mentioned, Buffalo has the best record in football. The Patriots take one season to recover from Brady being gone. Miami still has another year/needs one more player to do some real damage (not to mention I’m not fully confident in Tua for a whole season… maybe a trade for Deshaun Watson?), and the Jets will Jets.
Baltimore has no offense, and is relying on the talents of one Lamar Jackson and that defense to get literally anything done. This is Cleveland’s year. Man, the NFC North has changed so much, man.
Trevor Lawrence is in for a rude awakening when he realizes that the Jaguars went out and got him and no help as his offensive line folds like a cheap card table on the way to 10 losses. At least they’re not as bad as Houston’s going to be, though.
Kansas City 13-4
LA Chargers 11-6
Las Vegas 9-8
I should mention that the Chiefs are still loaded and will take your children if you’re not careful. Although Justin Herbert is gonna give them a run for their money- he and Mahomes are gonna have great duels and I’m excited to see them play each other for real this season. Las Vegas and Denver are still mediocre with mediocre QBs.
NY Giants 5-12
Dallas is relying on a big step forward from their abysmal defense of 2020 and from CeeDee Lamb, who had a breakout campaign last year and is looking to add to it this year. If that happens and Dak plays healthy coming off an injury, this division belongs to the Cowboys this year. Washington’s record will rely on the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was brilliant for a half season with the Dolphins, but we know that Fitz can be erratic at times. Remind me why Eagles and Giants fans talk so much shit when they’re constantly the two worst teams in the division?
Green Bay 12-5
I haven’t even talked about Aaron Rodgers yet! Well, he’s back in Green Bay, and probably wants to win a Super Bowl on what is likely his last go-around in Wisconsin before he takes over the full-time Jeopardy! host job. The Packers are still stellar, hence the record. Minnesota still has Kirk Cousins for a quarterback- hence the record. The Bears I mentioned above- hence the record. And the Lions? Well. The record.
Tampa Bay 13-4
New Orleans 8-9
No surprises here. Sam Darnold flourishes in Carolina, and the Saints falter without Drew Brees. The beat goes on.
LA Rams 10-7
San Francisco 10-7
Man, I love the NFC West. Maybe they’ll fulfill my prediction of being the division where every team has a winning record this year (looking at you, 49ers!). If Trey Lance is who he says he is, this division has the potential to house four top-10 QBs this season, between Murray, Russell Wilson, and Matthew Stafford, who is playing on a team with some talent this year in Los Angeles.
And, of course, your way-too-early playoff predictions for this year:
(2) Kansas City over (7) New England
(3) Cleveland over (6) Indianpolis
(5) LA Chargers over (4) Tennessee
(1) Buffalo over (5) LA Chargers
(3) Cleveland over (2) Kansas City
(1) Buffalo over (3) Cleveland
(2) Green Bay over (7) Washington
(3) Arizona over (6) LA Rams
(5) Seattle over (4) Dallas
(5) Seattle over (1) Tampa Bay
(2) Green Bay over (3) Arizona
(2) Green Bay over (5) Seattle
Super Bowl LVI:
Buffalo over Green Bay
Bills Mafia. Fight me.
I’m so happy football is back, you guys.
The NFL season starts tonight with the Dallas Cowboys taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 8pm on NBC.