By Christopher Farbolin
It has been a long and eventful three months since the Buccaneers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy to end the 2020 season. This offseason has been one of the most entertaining offseasons in NFL history due to several big name quarterbacks having drama with their teams. The draft was also entertaining as we had five top quarterbacks coming out of college this year along with several other potential franchise changing players. Perhaps the biggest news this offseason is the NFL’s decision to expand the regular season to 17 games. This is the first time the NFL has expanded its regular season since 1978 when the league went from 14 games to 16 games. This change has received mixed responses however I am mostly happy about the change. This change will give us all an extra week of regular season football and we also only have to sit through three weeks of preseason instead of four. I understand the preseason is necessary, however the fourth preseason game has always been meaningless as teams won’t play their starters at all during that game and are just looking to avoid injuries. Although I’m excited for a longer season I will admit that it will be weird seeing the records teams finish with. I have become accustomed to seeing teams finish 8-8 or 7-9. It will look weird seeing a team finish with a 7-10 or 9-8 record.
I have wanted to do predictions for the 2021 season for quite some time however I didn’t have a set schedule to work with. Now I finally feel that we are at a point in the offseason where we know how all these teams will look with the draft, free agency, and all the coaching changes complete. The NFL had their annual schedule release in the middle of the offseason last Wednesday night so I have all the information needed to make my predictions. I went through and picked the winner of all 272 games which was a tiring process but I am a football nerd who finds predicting the winner of 272 games quite enjoyable. These predictions are split into two columns with this one being my NFC predictions. My predictions for the AFC are already out. With the NFL season being four months away here is how I see the NFC playing out in 2021.
*- denotes playoff team
1.*Washington Football Team-10-7
3.New York Giants-7-10
The NFC East was a laughing stock last year that someone had to win. That someone was Washington who won the division with a 7-9 record under first year coach Ron Rivera. Washington was predictably bounced in their first playoff game against Tampa Bay despite an impressive performance from Taylor Heinicke. I have Washington repeating as division champs however with a more respectable record this time around. It’s no secret that their defense is elite with young stars such as Chase Young Montez Sweat and 2021 1st round pick Jamin Davis being just a few of the talented pieces this defense boasts. However the goal this offseason for Washington was to upgrade offensively and that starts with the guy under center. Because they made the playoffs, Washington didn’t have a high enough draft pick to take a quarterback in round one so they got the journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency. Say what you want about Fitz but he is certainly an upgrade over what Washington had at quarterback in 2020. Fitzpatrick will also have plenty of weapons to work with as Washington went out and added Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries to their receiving core which already has Terry McLaurin. Ron Rivera has turned this organization around and with an improved offense 2021 should see noticeable improvements. The NFC East is gonna be better in 2021 however Washington still remains atop the division.
Another team with a coach entering his second year are the Dallas Cowboys and Mike McCarthy. The first year of the Mike McCarthy era was disappointing but that is mainly due to injuries. Dak Prescott suffered a season ending ankle injury in Week 5 which was shocking considering Prescott had yet to miss a start in his NFL career up to that point. Dallas will get Prescott back in 2021 under a massive contract after well over a year of negotiation. Not only is Prescott back from injury, the Cowboys offensive line will be healthy again after an injury riddled 2020. Although this offensive line isn’t as good as it was a few years ago it is still one of the better lines when healthy with future Hall of Famers Tyron Smith and Zack Martin returning after struggling with injuries last season. Not to mention the Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott along with the receiving trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Ceedee Lamb. Dallas has the offense in the division and easily the best quarterback however the defense remains an issue. Defensively the Cowboys should make some progress under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. The Cowboys also got the best defensive player in the draft Micah Parsons who is a great addition to an already stacked group of linebackers. Dallas will improve in 2021 however so will the division with Washington and New York also on the rise. The Cowboys bounce back and have a winning record however still fall just short of the playoffs.
New York is one of the hardest teams to evaluate for this upcoming season and are the biggest wild card in the NFC. The Giants are tied for the worst record in the NFL over the last four seasons with an 18-46 record. The only team that’s been that bad in that time span is the team the Giants share a stadium with. While I have the Jets going 2-15 and have no expectations for them I could see the Giants begin to turn things around in 2021. The reason I have optimism is New York’s strong finish to 2020 and my belief in Joe Judge as a bread coach. I could see New York have a breakout season out of nowhere like the Dolphins did last season and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Giants win the NFC East for the first time since their 2011 Super Bowl winning campaign. The Giants had a good offseason landing star wideout Kenny Golladay in free agency while adding other weapons such as John Ross, Kyle Rudolph, and Kadarius Toney. Not to mention they will get Saquon Barkley back after Barkley missed most of the 2020 season. On defense the Giants also added Adoree Jackson in free agency and got an absolute steal in the second round of the draft by selecting Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia. Now the pressure is on third year quarterback Daniel Jones to improve after two rocky seasons to start his NFL career. New York’s 2021 season boils down to the performance of Jones who will have the best weapons he has had since being drafted in 2019. New York has the pieces to be competitive but there is too much uncertainty with Jones so I have the Giants 3rd in the East.
It’s hard to believe the Eagles won a Super Bowl just a few years ago considering where the franchise is today. Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz were supposed to be the next great coach-quarterback duo in football however with Pederson fired and Wentz in Indianapolis the Eagles need to rebuild. While the rest of the division appears to be heading in the right direction Philadelphia has been one of the biggest dumpster fire’s in football over the past 12 months. Between an aging roster and several draft picks underperforming, Philly doesn’t appear to be competitive again anytime soon. Nick Sirianni was hired because of Carson Wentz. Wentz’s great 2017 season was with Frank Reich as his offensive coordinator and Sirianni worked under Reich in Indianapolis. Now with Wentz gone the Sirianni hire makes no sense and this is an organization that has had a tendency to have little patience with their coaches. Jalen Hurts is gonna get 17 games to show whether he is the answer or not and he will have to work with a first year coach and an aging offensive line. Philly is crossing their fingers that DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor pan out longterm at receiver unlike some of their past draft picks at that position. The Eagles appear to be entering a rebuild and 2021 should be a rough season for Philly.
1.*Green Bay Packers-14-3
I’m basing these predictions under the assumption that Aaron Rodgers is a Packer in 2021 and plays all 17 games. While the relationship between Rodgers and Green Bay has deteriorated the most likely outcome is Rodgers returning to Green Bay. With that being said the Pack winning the NFC North going away. Rodgers is fresh off his best season in a decade and this is a Green Bay team that has made back to back NFC Title games since Matt LaFluer took over as head coach. Green Bay retained Aaron Jones and have arguably the best receiver in football in Davante Adams. The Packers are still above average defensively and get David Bakhtiari back from injury at left tackle. Losing Corey Linsley on the offensive line hurts but this Packers team remains a top contender in the NFC and are head and shoulders above the rest of their division. Even if Rodgers isn’t a Packer come September I still see Green Bay winning this division with Jordan Love under center. There’s no question Green Bay is the class of the NFC North however I still don’t see them matching up well against other elite teams in the NFC when it really counts.
Minnesota was one of the biggest disappointments in 2020 as they entered last season expecting to compete with the Packers for the NFC North crown but went an underwhelming 7-9. On paper the Vikings have a roster that is playoff caliber with offensive weapons such as Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson who is coming off of a monster rookie season. They also upgraded the offensive line with first round selection Christian Darrisaw at left tackle. However this Vikings defense isn’t what it once was with several key players departing in recent years. Mike Zimmer has been one of the better coaches in the NFL and Kirk Cousins is a top 15 quarterback however both of their futures could be in trouble if Minnesota has another down year.
The past few years have been tough for the Bears and their fans and this offseason didn’t help. The Mitch Trubisky experiment officially came to an end with the Bears letting the second overall pick walk and his replacement Andy Dalton appears to be on the downturn of his career. The Dalton signing was probably the least popular move by any team this offseason and had fans calling for Ryan Pace’s job more than they already were. Letting All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller walk wasn’t exactly a fan favorite move either and is a sign that this defense is continuing to decline. After a nightmare free agency period the Bears went aggressive in the draft and moved up to take Ohio State QB Justin Fields. This move gave fans hope and optimism for a franchise that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman. Both GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy enter 2021 on thin ice after limping into the playoffs last season and getting blown out in the Wild Card Round by New Orleans. I’m expecting 2021 to be another year of regression for Chicago as the offensive line still has holes and the defense, while still good, hasn’t been the same since losing Vic Fangio and now lost their best corner in Fuller. Unless Fields can come in and play at a Pro Bowl level immediately I don’t see the Bears being a serious threat in the NFC.
As usual the Lions will be a bottom feeder come 2021 as the team begins a lengthy rebuild. After going 5-11 and firing their general manager and head coach the Lions went all in on blowing up the current core. This was clear when they traded away the best quarterback in franchise history, Matthew Stafford in return for a ton of draft capital and Jared Goff. This trade could be the foundation for Detroit becoming a competitive franchise however it won’t help the Lions in 2021. Goff is a downgrade from Stafford and it doesn’t help that Detroit’s two best receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are now gone. Defensively the Lions are as bad as anyone in football so Goff will be forced to get into shootouts with a shorthanded offense. The Lions have some young players with promise such as TJ Hockenson, Jeffery Okudah and rookie Penei Sewell and if they take advantage of the first rounders they got from the Rams this could be a team with a bright future. As far as 2021 is concerned don’t expect much from the Lions who also have a first year head coach Dan Campbell. The Lions also have a brutal start to their season facing the 49ers, Packers, and Ravens in their first three games.
1.*Tampa Bay Buccaneers-16-1
3.New Orleans Saints-8-9
The Buccaneers swung for the fences last offseason by acquiring Tom Brady along with several other veteran players since then. After a rocky start to last year the Bucs found their chemistry and dominated down the stretch and ran the table to a Super Bowl victory. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Tampa returns everyone and when I say that I literally mean everyone. All 22 starters return for Tampa Bay along with Head Coach Burce Arians and both coordinators. Tampa will be even better this year than last with the whole team having a full year together. This offense is the deepest and most talented in football with the best receiving core in football that gets OJ Howard back from injury. The Bucs also have a top five offensive line and a pair of good backs in Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. Tom Brady will make a push for his fourth MVP and this offense will be nearly unstoppable. I haven’t even mentioned the defense which is one of the best in football. The Bucs’ front seven is easily the best currently in football and one of the best I have ever seen with Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, Devin White, Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Lavonte David. The secondary is young and only getting better with guys like Antoine Winfield Jr. and Carlton Davis. Tom Brady will have his best supporting cast since 2007 and has a great chance to go undefeated in the regular season like he did in 2007.
The Falcons have been the biggest underachievers in football the last three seasons finishing with a losing record in each of the past three years despite the talent on their roster. Atlanta could have been a playoff team last year however some early season chokes dug them in a hole too deep to dig out of. Whether it was not knowing the onside kick rules or accidentally falling into the end zone too early, Atlanta lived up to their reputation earned in the second half of Super Bowl LI. However there is hope that the Falcons can get back to the top of the NFC with new head coach Arthur Smith and tight end Kyle Pitts. Pitts was the best player in this draft and the best tight end prospect there has ever been. If this offense can live up to its potential the Falcons could very well be a dark horse playoff team. Matt Ryan is still in his prime and a borderline top 10 QB and he still has Julio Jones(barring a trade), Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and now Kyle Pitts. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Atlanta has a stronger rushing attack in 2021 with Mike Davis replacing Todd Gurley and Arthur Smith’s offense being run based. What’s keeping the Falcons from being a playoff team is their defense which is one of the worst in professional football. Atlanta is rebuilding their defense and their offensive line so I have them going 8-9. Don’t get me wrong the Falcons will be one of the most entertaining teams to watch next fall however there are too many holes on the roster for me to see them as a serious contender.
This record may seem low for the Saints who are coming off of their fourth consecutive division title however New Orleans lost too many key players this offseason. Starting off with the obvious, Drew Brees announced his retirement after 20 seasons in the NFL leaving the Saints uncertain at quarterback for the first time in over 15 years. To make matters worse the Saints had the worst cap situation in the league entering free agency so they had to let go of several high end players. On offense New Orleans lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook who provided depth to their receiving core. The saints still have Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara is a great pass catcher however it’s not a good sign when a running back is your second most reliable pass catcher. The Saints defense has been one of the most underrated in football the last couple of years but it won’t be as good in 2021. Due to their tight cap situation they lost Trey Hendrickson, Kwon Alexander, and Jamoris Jenkins. While New Orleans still has a great coach in Sean Payton and some elite players on both sides of the ball the depth isn’t there for New Orleans. Jameis Winston does have better arm strength than Brees did which should help the Saints have a better down field passing attack. Winston should be more consistent and less turnover prone in Payton’s west coast offense however I doubt he will have the same efficiency of Brees. The Saints Super Bowl window has closed for the time being and with the Bucs now a juggernaut the Saints best hope is for a wild card spot.
The Carolina Panthers hit the reset button after 2019 firing Ron Rivera and letting Cam Newton go. Matt Rhule was tabbed as the replacement for Rivera after an impressive turn around at Baylor and Carolina brought in Teddy Bridgewater to replace Newton. Bridgewater is already gone after just one year into a 3 year contract after struggling in 2020. The Panthers could have gone QB in the draft but instead traded for Sam Darnold. Darnold is still very young and has potential to be a long term option for Carolina at QB he just needs support he didn’t get in New York. The supporting cast around Darnold should be a significant upgrade with star back Christian McCaffrey coming back from injury along with DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and second round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. at receiver. Darnold also goes from having to deal with Adam Gase to being able to work with Joe Brady(ask Joe Burrow how working with Joe Brady went). The reason I have the Panthers with such a low record is their offensive line has several holes especially at left tackle and the defense is still rebuilding. The Panthers will still be an interesting team to follow in 2021 and could easily outperform my expectations. Carolina has the best chance to prove me wrong out of all the teams I have as bottom feeders for this upcoming season.
1.*Los Angeles Rams-15-2
2.*San Francisco 49ers-13-4
When the NFL expanded the playoffs to 14 teams last year and added a third wild card spot for each conference it gave us the opportunity to see something that we haven’t ever seen before, all four teams from a division make the playoffs. I see that happening this season with the NFC West having four serious contenders. It was a tough choice for who would win the division but I went with the Rams because of their upgrade at quarterback. Los Angeles went 10-6 last year and won a playoff game and I expect them to elevate their play under Matthew Stafford. Stafford is probably the most underappreciated QB in the NFL over the past decade because he’s been stuck with Detroit. Now Stafford gets Sean McVay as a head coach, one of the best offensive minds in the sport. The Rams also bring back Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, and added DeSean Jackson who may be old but is still one of the best deep threats in football. Oh did I forget to mention the Rams had the best defense in football last year. Although the Rams lost some players in their secondary I still expect this defense to be among the best in football in 2021. Jalen Ramsey is the best corner in the game and Aaron Donald is the best player in the NFL. If you were wondering who I had beating Tampa Bay this year it was the Rams who have the talent to do so. Matthew Stafford will be an MVP candidate this year and win his first division title and playoff game and will lead the Rams to the NFC Championship.
The 49ers are just a year removed from being in the Super Bowl and could have made a run last year had their entire team not fallen apart due to injury. This prediction is assuming San Francisco can stay relatively healthy which is unknown for a team that has fallen apart due to injuries in two of the last three years. The 49ers are one of the deepest rosters in football and have a great young coach in Kyle Shanahan. We know the 49ers will have a good rushing offense under Shanahan and the 49ers have a deep backfield that got deeper when they drafted Trey Sermon. The offensive line will also be one of the best in the NFL after San Fran re-signed Trent Williams and landed All-Pro center Alex Mack in free agency. George Kittle is arguably the best tight end in football and the 49ers have a couple of promising young receivers in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. Defensively San Francisco will still be really good however not 2019 good after losing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh along with Dee Ford and Richard Sherman.The biggest question for San Fran is if/when Trey Lance takes over as the starter. If Jimmy Garoppolo stays healthy I’d expect San Fran to roll with him this season. The 49ers will be in the thick of a tight race for the division and will want the veteran QB who knows the offense better. If Garoppolo gets injured Lance could add a spark to this offense and take the starting job this year.
After a tumultuous offseason with star quarterback Russell Wilson Seattle has everything settled with their franchise QB and are set to make another playoff run in 2021. Wilson had issues with the Seahawks organization in particular the way things were being run offensively but Seattle has brought in some new additions in tight end Gerald Everett and guard Gabe Jackson to help support Wilson. Seattle also returns DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett which is arguably the best duo of deep threat receivers in the NFL. While Seattle is certainly a contender in the NFC they don’t have the overall talent of Los Angeles or San Francisco. Expect Seattle to take a step back from their 12-4 record in 2020. San Francisco is healthy, the Rams upgraded at QB, and Arizona got better over the offseason. With Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson Seattle will be a playoff team however they still have holes on their defense and their offensive line which keeps them from repeating as division champs.
Arizona might wind up as the best fourth place team in NFL history which shows how good the NFC West is. Despite finishing last in the division Arizona is still able to grab the final wild card spot to make their first playoff appearance since 2015. The Cards were on track to make it in last year before collapsing in their final two games. Kyler Murray is a rising star in the NFL and has potential to emerge as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game with a great supporting cast most notably DeAndre Hopkins. Arizona has improved their offensive line with Rodney Hudson at center and got Murray another weapon in AJ Green. It is still unknown if Larry Fitzgerald will return for 2021 or not but even if they lose their greatest player in franchise history the Cardinals will be fine offensively. The defense is also improving year by year and now will have three time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt lined up alongside Chandler Jones. Arizona also added Zaven Collins in the draft and still have Budda Baker who has emerged as an elite safety. The pressure is on Kliff Kingsbury after two underwhelming seasons to get more out of this talented roster. The only reason I don’t have the Cardinals winning more than 10 games is their division.
NFC Playoff Predictions
1.Tampa Bay Buccaneers-16-1(first round bye) 2.Los Angeles Rams-15-2
3.Green Bay Packers-14-3
4.Washington Football Team-10-7
5.San Francisco 49ers-13-4
7.Arizona Cardinals 10-7