Meaningful football is back.
After a long offseason, practice habits returning to pre-pandemic times, and the preseason returning to give us another shot at seeing rookies hit the gridiron a little bit early, the regular season is here to make its long awaited 2021 fall debut.
Yes, the return of weekly screaming matches at televisions, alcohol being consumed at an astronomical rate, objects being thrown with the intention of breaking walls, windows, and anything else that’s fragile with the potential of being shattered.
Yes, it’s all coming back, whether you want it to or not.
But before you sit down and watch your favorite team potentially ruin the end of your weekend, I think it’s necessary to run through a last round of playoff, Super Bowl, and award picks for the brand new NFL season.
We’ll start with the AFC.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC runs through Kansas City.
Patrick Mahomes is still an alien, Tyreek Hill is a matchup nightmare, and Travis Kelce is still arguably the best tight end in all of football. Concern exists surrounding the Chiefs’ skill position depth, specifically at wide receiver, and on the defensive side of the ball as well.
But the Chiefs overhauled their offensive line group this past offseason, which in part should lead to an increase in run game efficiency, therefore limiting the pressure on depth players like Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, amd Demarcus Robinson.
Not only that, a better run game could mean a mega season for Mahomes, who has been forced to throw the ball a lot due to the run game not being able to find success.
2. Cleveland Browns
The hype in Cleveland is for real this time.
A young nucleus of talent on both sides of the ball, a coaching staff that is finally bringing some much needed stability, and an already battle tested young roster that got a really good taste of playoff football this past January. All the ingredients are in place for a more consistent breakout year for the Browns. The only thing left is for them to execute and watch the results follow.
3. Tennessee Titans
Talk about a trio of trouble.
Derrick Henry, A.J. Browns, and Julio Jones. I mean what else can you do but stop and stand in fear? If you want to focus on limiting Henry’s success, you’re ultimately giving Brown and Jones one on one matchups in single high safety looks. If you want to focus on limiting the duo of Brown and Jones, you’re virtually allowing Henry and the Titans’ offensive line to bulldoze their way through you.
It’s truly a pick your poison offense.
How far this team goes in the playoffs will be determined by their defense however, and if their offseason changes will pay dividends.
4. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo is rocking about their Bills for the first time in what seems like years.
Josh Allen is the city’s savior, Stefon Diggs is looking like the WR1 Buffalo has been looking for since the days of Andre Reed, and Sean McDermott has completely been embraced by this wacky city. It’s a rather special time in upstate New York, once that Bills fans hope is full of deep playoff runs and an eventual Super Bowl title.
They have to get better defensively though, specifically when it comes to rushing the passer. Luckily for them, some young pieces reside on the roster that are expected to take big leaps this year.
Will they do so? That remains to be seen.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Boy has the hype train burned to mere ashes.
We were all expecting more from the Ravens in 2021 once the draft concluded. They just drafted Rashod Bateman, a very talented receiver that still has WR1 potential, J.K. Dobbins was expected to break out and assert himself as a young star at the running back position, and Greg Roman was going to implement a more pro style, yet explosive feel into this offense to keep opposing defenses honest.
Now, all those plans have gone up in smoke.
Bateman is out for an unknown amount of time due to injury, Dobbins is done for the year with a knee injury, and Roman seemingly won’t be able to pull out the new offensive wrinkles because his personnel has been depleted. With that being said, this team is still a good one, and will eventually secure a playoff spot in a loaded AFC field.
They’ll undergo some struggles at the beginning of the year though, that I can wholeheartedly assure you.
6. Miami Dolphins
This season will be all about Tua Tagovailoa and if he can build off his unimpressive rookie year in 2020.
Head coach Brian Flores has tabbed Tua as his QB1 despite all the rumors surrounding the team exploring an upgrade at the position. But one begs to wonder, will Flores’ temporary appraisal of Tua be one to dismiss as short term, or one that’ll remain relevant for the long haul?
We won’t know until this season concludes perhaps, so it isn’t wise to keep talking about it now.
Even in the event Tua doesn’t play well again, Flores can hang his hat on his defense being respectable.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert’s time to compete for a top seed in the AFC playoff field might not be now, but he’s steadily inching closer to doing so.
Brandon Staley comes over from the Rams to take control of this young, yet extremely talented Chargers team. His influence on the defense will be one to watch for, since he coordinated one of the league’s best defensive units while on Sean McVay’s staff last season.
It’ll be interested to see if this team can push for a playoff spot, since they can could cause some real havoc if they end up doing so. First things first though, master the art of consistency and pray the health gods are on your side, looking at you Derwin James.
In all seriousness though, I think we can all agree to pray that James has a healthy season. When he’s healthy and raring to go, he’s one of the league’s most exciting young defensive players to watch.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Running it back is the only thing on the mind of this squad.
They brought back all 22 starters from last season’s title winning team, which is absolutely unheard of when you go back and look at the roster situations for Super Bowl champions the following year they took the Vince Lombardi trophy home.
What’s scary about that is that this roster was already loaded last season, they only finished with an underwhelming record for their standards because it took a while for Tom Brady and the rest of the offense to gel. Now they’re coming off a full, normal offseason, one that’s given them plenty of time to connect even more.
You know what that means right?
Another year of dominance from a Brady led team, but this time in the COVID infested state of Florida.
Good luck, NFC.
2. Green Bay Packers
With the Aaron Rodgers saga now over, focus has completely shifted towards the Packers trying to win one last ring with Rodgers at the helm.
Their roster, like Tampa Bay’s, is loaded on both sides of the ball. One concern I’d have though is the left tackle and CB2 situation. David Bakhtiari is going to be out of the lineup for an unknown amount of time while he continues to rehab a serious knee injury he suffered at the end of last season. Kevin King is still occupying that CB2 spot opposite Jaire Alexander, which should scream red flags not just because of his abysmal play in the NFC title game last season, but because he’s simply not that good period.
Rookie Eric Stokes is a player I’d watch to get more snaps there as the season goes on though.
3. Los Angeles Rams
Oh yes, the Los Angeles Rams are back.
Not only did they ship out their disappointing young quarterback Jared Goff, they brought in an elite replacement in Matthew Stafford. Sean McVay has to be elated, since he won’t have to watch Goff overthrow his receivers by six yards each time he draws up a play action shot play for one of his explosive wideouts.
The defense is still good as well despite the loss of Brandon Staley.
This team is a trendy Super Bowl pick now, so don’t be surprised if they make a bit of a run once the playoffs begin.
4. Washington Football Team
There hasn’t been a repeat champion in the NFC East since 2004.
I think that streak will end this season since I have the Washington Football Team repeating as NFC East champions. We know what they bring defensively, but it’s the offensive side of the ball that has me very intrigued with Ron Rivera’s team this season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over the likes of Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, and even Taylor Heinicke. Upgrades at quarterback, whether they’re monumental or minor in nature, go a long way for a team that has a dominant defense. Example? Nearly retired, broken, and battered Peyton Manning being an upgrade over Brock Osweiler in 2015.
Aside from Fitzpatrick, the skill position group looks fantastic. Logan Thomas is an underrated tight end, Antonio Gibson is very good when healthy, Curtis Samuel is a dangerous deep threat and a danger whenever he has the ball in his hands period, and Adam Humphries can give you some security out of the slot whenever he isn’t dealing with nagging bumps and bruises.
Once this team gets a game changing talent at quarterback, they’re going to be a scary, scary team.
5. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are hoping for three things this season.
The first thing is that the health gods favor them this season. The second thing is connected to Jimmy Garoppolo, who the team hopes can put together a bounceback year in 2021. The third thing is connected to rookie Trey Lance, who I’m sure they hope stays on the bench as much as possible this season, but they also want to be able to rely on him if he does end up having to step into the starting lineup.
If those three things go their way, then the 49ers will be a strong candidate to win the NFC West.
If they don’t…….you should know the answer to that question.
6. Dallas Cowboys
Here’s the deal.
The Cowboys’ offense is elite, in fact it’s one of the best in all of football. However, an explosive offense won’t amount to much if your defense can’t step up and make plays. That’s the situation the Cowboys are in right now.
If it remains the same, then this team will push for a playoff spot. It it changes and this defense can begin to trend upwards, then we might have to start discussing Dallas as a serious contender in the NFC.
7. Seattle Seahawks
I’m on a bit of see-saw when it comes t0 the Seahawks.
On one hand, I believe the offense has enough potency to keep up with any other offensive unit across the league, and that includes some of the more explosive ones like Kansas City’s, like Tennessee’s, like Green Bay’s, and like Tampa Bay’s.
On the other hand, their defense still scares the living hell out of me.
I’m sure the team won’t be in a position last year where they had to basically depend on Russell Wilson putting up crazy numbers to simply stay in games. But I do think this defense is still a bit of a question mark, which could spell trouble considering Wilson’s hot start to the season last year is completely unsustainable.
MVP Pick: Matthew Stafford
This feels like the beginning of Stafford’s road to winning MVP.
The air is already littered with buzz regarding Stafford and his potential numbers with this monster supporting cast in LA. I certainly think he’s going to have a fantastic year.
I think so.
Offensive Player of The Year Pick: Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes still has a very good shot at winning the MVP award.
But I think Stafford might edge him out, so I’ll give him the offensive player of the year award. Don’t look now, but Mahomes could be set to have a monstrous year.
Granted that he’s had a monster year every year he’s been a starter, but this year might be a little different. If Kansas City can put together a decent ground game, it’s going to open up a multitude of avenues schematically for Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid.
More play action could be in store, which is a modern quarterback’s best friend in a pass happy NFL. His touchdown total would be bound to increase, his efficiency numbers would be sky high as well, and his yardage total could reach astronomical numbers.
I’m excited to watch this Chiefs offense this season, I hope you are as well.
Defensive Player of the Year Pick: Chase Young
A bit of a wild card pick here.
Young already put together an impressive rookie season. Now with Washington expected to win the division again, and with a year of experience under his belt, Young’s play could see its level increase along with attention from media across the country.
He has the game changing talent to be considered for this award, I think he’ll tap into it and finish the 2021 season as one of the game’s most feared defensive players.
Offensive Rookie of The Year Pick: Kyle Pitts
Pitts should step right in and immediately become one the Falcons’ most important skill players on offense.
He’s long, has rare speed for his size, runs extremely fluid routes like a receiver, he’s just a mind boggling prospect that’s changed the way we evaluate the tight end position. I think that talent will translate onto the field, especially in Atlanta with Julio Jones now gone.
New head coach Arthur Smith hasn’t really prioritized the tight end position in the passing game before, so that could hinder some expectations on his potential statistical output. But with a talent as elite as Pitts, I think Smith will change his tendencies and heavily feature Pitts in gameplans down the line.
Defensive Rookie of The Year Pick: Michah Parsons
The hype is real for Parsons in Dallas.
He’s going to be competing, and even playing over a duo of talented linebackers in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. That should catch your attention, since those two names were mentioned as defensive cornerstones for the future not too long ago.
Parsons is going to fly around on this defense, so keep a close eye on his progress throughout the 2021 season.
Comeback Player of The Year: Chandler Jones
Jones has flown under the radar throughout the entirety of his career, even dating back to his days as a New England Patriot.
He’s simply a good football player, one that’s produced year after year while showcasing the skills necessary to make a true impact in this league. He’s coming off a biceps injury, an injury that knocked him out of action for most of the 2020 season.
I expect him to come back with a bang.
Another strong candidate: QB Dak Prescott
Coach of The Year: Kevin Stefanski
Stefanski did nothing but impress during his first year in Cleveland.
The positive development of Baker Mayfield, the advancement of Nick Chubb’s involvement within the offense, and the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2002. These are all monumental accomplishments that are directly tied to Stefanski and the work his staff did in 2020.
With that in the rearview mirror, what’s the plan for 2021?
The Browns should be one of the favorites to win the AFC North and host a playoff game, something this franchise hasn’t done in over 20 years. If that indeed occurs, I truly believe Stefanski will win the coach of the year award. In fact, he’d be the obvious choice to take the honor home, at least according to me.
Super Bowl Pick
Packers vs. Chiefs
Aaron Rodgers vs. Patrick Mahomes, two of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks the league has ever seen, facing off in the biggest game of them all in what could be Aaron Rodgers’ last game as a Packer.
You got goosebumps didn’t you?
Well I did.
Can you imagine how insane this matchup would be? It’d be quarterback poetry in motion, a grand action movie that’ll bring to your feet and then to your knees once it reaches its inevitable conclusion. Tell me you don’t want that, tell me you wouldn’t want that with a straight face.
You can’t right?