By the time you’re reading this, there’s a high likelihood that the 2021 NFL season will be underway and Tom Brady will be 1-0. Regardless of the result vs. Dallas, it’s hardly a ludicrous statement to choose the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to repeat as Super Bowl champions. However, some spicier takes like a Jalen Hurts breakout party or the Ravens missing from postseason action might be met with more scepticism.
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1. Deshaun Watson won’t play a single snap in 2021
Houston’s star quarterback has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for the last six months. Fresh off leading the NFL in passing yards, Watson requested a trade away from the franchise in the offseason, only for 20+ civil lawsuits to be filed against him, with multiple victims alleging sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions. The Texans confirmed this week that Watson won’t suit up in Week 1 with Tyrod Taylor named as the starter instead. I expect that trend to continue as the year progresses and with a potential suspension hanging over his head, I’d be surprised to see Watson on the field at all – even if a team extracts him from Houston before the trade deadline.
2. Antonio Brown will be Tampa Bay’s best receiver
Make no mistake, there are a lot of mouths to feed on this Tampa Bay offence and all of the top-tier WR’s deserve to feature heavily in the Brady-led passing attack. Both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are Pro Bowl level talents set to earn over $15M in the upcoming season; and yet, in the four games Brown started last year he led all of the Bucs receivers with 41 targets compared to 32 for Evans and 31 for Godwin. At 33, Brown’s best football is clearly behind him, but after sorting out most of his legal issues in the offseason coupled finally with a clean bill of health, we could see the mercurial pass-catcher excel in the twilight of his career.
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3. Baltimore will miss the playoffs
They are called bold predictions for a reason. While Baltimore possesses a lethal defensive unit and a former MVP, recent injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill have the potential to severely impact their rushing attack and derail their offence. The Ravens rely heavily on their running game and dealing with two bouts of COVID-19 already has me wary that Lamar Jackson could miss more time this year. Another factor working against Baltimore is the intense competition for the seven AFC playoff spots and after a 10-win Dolphins team missed the postseason last season, the Ravens could find themselves in the same position 12 months on.
4. Jalen Hurts will be a top-5 fantasy QB
I’ve been on this hill for months now, so much so that I’ve drafted Jalen Hurts in most of my NFL Fantasy leagues. Despite starting just four games at the end of the Eagles’ campaign last year, Hurts finished 8th amongst all quarterbacks for rushing yards and his elite wheels should keep him in the mix as a QB1 in fantasy circles all season long. There are still understandable questions about his passing ability, but if you believe recent reports Philadelphia is all in on Hurts as their franchise quarterback. If he can cut down on his high number of fumbles, expect a lot of fantasy excellence from Hurts in the upcoming season.
5. Denver will make the playoffs
Denver very possibly has the best defence in the entire NFL with some smart signings, returning stars and a big-time draft pick all boosting their profile on D. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are back at full strength and the addition of Patrick Surtain, Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller at cornerback can’t be understated. On the other side of the ball, Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t have to be electric for the Broncos, but he should at least provide the stability under center that Drew Lock can’t. Stealing the AFC West title from the Chiefs is too lofty a goal and the Chargers are expected to make another leap this season too. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have three playoff teams from this division and I feel confident that Denver will surprise a lot of fans and earn their first postseason berth since 2015.
6. Jacksonville will go from worst to first in the AFC South
Following a two-win season, Jacksonville could very well propel themselves to the top of the AFC South thanks to the ineptitude of their division rivals. The Deshaun Watson saga will slow the Texans significantly, the reigning division winners lost their offensive coordinator and talented players liked Adoree Jackson, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith, while a foot injury has derailed the preseason for Indianapolis’ newest prize in Carson Wentz. All those signs point to a struggle for the Jaguars’ rivals and if No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence is as good as advertised, he and first-year head coach Urban Meyer are poised to have a real chance at winning a weak AFC South.
7. CMC will break the record for most scrimmage yards in a single season
This isn’t too farfetched, with Christian McCaffrey’s last healthy season back in 2019 resulting in 2,392 scrimmage yards – good for the 3rd most in NFL history. I’m backing McCaffrey to go a few hundred yards better this season in Carolina, chasing down Chris Johnson’s 2009 record of 2,509 all-purpose yards. Obviously, the dynamic Panther will have to feature in every possible game and the addition of a 17th match should help boost his yardage total. To complete the feat, CMC will need to average 147.6 yards a game this year, but as the focal point in Carolina’s offence, I expect him to see a ton of targets from Sam Darnold mixed in with 250+ rushing attempts that equals out to a record-breaking season.
8. Aaron Rodgers will win his 2nd Super Bowl…then leave Green Bay
This take has been doing the rounds amongst the football faithful, with Aaron Rodgers’ expected departure hardly a surprise to anyone with ears. However, there can’t be too many superstars of the game that joined another franchise fresh off a Super Bowl crown and an MVP award the season before. The Packers will encounter heavy competition from conference rivals such as the Buccaneers, 49ers and Rams, with the first pair of teams defeating Green Bay in the last two NFC championship games. It would be a strange way to end his legendary career as a Cheesehead, but Rodgers could help break an 11-year title drought for the franchise in his final game as a Packer.
Banner from reviewjournal.com