When it comes to predicting the NFL you might as well play the lottery using the birthdays of your dead ancestors. What I mean to say, albeit flippantly, is that I don’t really believe it’s possible to have supreme confidence that your football opinions will be proven correct in near future.
This business is one of calculated risks. Not only by teams hoping their draft pick and free agent gambles pay off, but trickling all the way down the system to people like me, your humble, portly sportswriter. See, we all know that hot takes help pay the bills. Brash, strong proclamations backed up by bravado and little more is what keeps guys like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith front of mind. We’re all banking on one of two things:
A. You won’t call us out for our mistakes.
B. We have an employer who doesn’t care how much we screw up, as long as it makes money.
Now look, I don’t hate the players dabbling in this game. It’s a hell of a racket to say something like “THE DENVER BRONCOS WILL NEVER MAKE THE PLAYOFFS FOR THE REST OF MY NATURAL LIFE!” knowing full well people either won’t remember it, or won’t care enough to follow through. The point I’m getting at is this: We’re all just guessing here, folks. Some of us are far more gifted than others, but no matter how much film, or deep into DVOA you dive, at the end of the day we’re all just hoping we can get a few things right. So, in honor of this proud tradition, I’m going to do the same. Here are my predictions for the upcoming season.
The Bills will take a step back
I know making a proclamation like this will anger upstate New Yorkers to the point of wanting to put my husky ass through a table, but honestly — it’s kind of a mark of respect.
I’m not saying that Buffalo won’t make the playoffs or anything dumb like that, it’s more that I just don’t see any way a 13-3 record holds in 2021. There are a few factors to this. Firstly, the rest of the AFC East has gotten much better than a year ago. Secondly, the Bills remain good, but didn’t didn’t do a ton to get much better. Thirdly, and most importantly, nobody is overlooking them in 2021.
This is the price you pay for making the transition from “very good” to “elite.” No longer are you a tough game on the schedule, you’re one that’s circled. Every team in the league has you earmarked to be their statement game, and like Baltimore and Kansas City before, so too the Bills will learn that sustaining success in the NFL is far more difficult than gaining it.
I fully believe Buffalo will return to the post season, and perhaps even make a run. I just don’t think it will be as dramatic as a year ago.
Matthew Stafford is going to surprise a lot of people
The seemingly lateral trade of Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff was one of the most remarkable NFL deals in recent memory. You just don’t see two teams with franchise quarterbacks decide they don’t like them anymore and look for greener grass in a new pasture.
When we look back in a few years I fully believe Detroit will have gotten the best of this deal, but the Rams are in win now mode (at least relatively speaking). Stafford had kind of fallen into anonymity ever since Calvin Johnson retired from the NFL. Gone were memories of elite Lions passing offenses, and he became relegated to a curious shrug. What I mean by this is that you’d look at end of season passing records and be like “Huh, I had no idea Matthew Stafford passed for 4,000 yards this year,” because he did, last year in Detroit — it’s just that nobody cares about the Lions outside of Michigan.
Now, in Los Angeles, with an elite defense and a host of solid receivers, I think we could see a bog-standard, effective Matthew Stafford season start to get treated like transcendent, only because he has a better cast around him. I think the Rams could surprise a lot of people, and while tough, the NFC West still feels up for grabs.
The Chargers will finally break free of their shackles of mediocrity
Staying in Los Angeles we have the Chargers, the Jan Brady of the NFL. Overlooked, forgotten, occasionally with an episode centering on her — and normally because she broke her sister’s nose. It’s been such a long time since the Chargers were relevant it harkens back to Philip Rivers and LaDanian Tomlinson, but I’m such a believer in Justin Herbert’s boyish good looks and arm that appears it was granted by Zeus himself that I think it’s time.
On paper the Chargers have everything a team needs to make a playoff run. They were far better than their 7-9 record showed a year ago. Naturally it’s going to be tough in a division where you have to play the Chiefs twice a year, but I honestly think this could be the season they finally put it all together.
If they don’t, well, i’ll just make this prediction again next year.
Mac Jones is going to anger everyone outside of New England
I said before the draft that Mac Jones wasn’t the best QB in the 2021 NFL Draft, far from it, but he was the ideal Patriots QB. Obviously Bill Belichick feels the same way, otherwise he wouldn’t have cut Cam Newton to clear the way for his rookie.
I don’t think Jones will have a remarkable statistical year, but I think it’s going to be good enough that New England is a threat, and by Week 6 we’re going to hear about Belichick’s genius at finding the next Tom Brady. I do not think Mac Jones is Tom Brady, but I think he will thrive in a system designed to minimize his mistakes.
It’s going to piss off everyone.
It’s going to be impossible to defend the Titans
This isn’t so much a prediction, as an honest to God question. How does a defensive coordinator find a way to cover A.J. Brown and Julio Jones on the outside, while respecting the run enough to contain Derrick Henry?
It’s a simple numbers game, and I still don’t have the answer to it. Far smarter people than I are making a small fortune to decode this enigma, but I do know defensive minds around the NFL are beyond glad they’re not in the AFC South and have to find an answer twice a season.
The NFC East will once again be decided by who wants to suck the least
It’ll probably be the Cowboys, because that’s the way things go, but I fully expect whoever comes out of the East will just delay the inevitable until they’re swallowed in the playoffs by a far better team.