As we watch the final preseason games this weekend, rosters are being finalized with sights on a Super Bowl. If you haven’t heard, the preseason schedule was reduced to 3 games and the regular season was increased to 18 weeks and 17 games. This year will be grind and I expect teams to manage snaps if they can, to ensure the best health come January. The TOMpa Bay Bucs are the defending Super Bowl Champions and the savvy swashbucklers return a loaded crew in 2021.
This past offseason was loaded with drama and excitement. We witnessed Aaron Rodgers go toe to toe with the Packers front office and I think both sides might have won the duel. Matthew Stanford didn’t want to be involved in a rebuild, so the Detroit Lions graciously traded him to the Rams for Goff and picks. Carson Wentz went from Philly to Indy, hoping to rekindle his career with Frank Reich. Russell Wilson told the Seahawks that he’s the Chef, Line cook, waiter, host and wine steward in hopes that they’ll actually let him cook this fall. Deshaun Watson demanded a trade out of Houston and that turned into dealing with significant off the field trouble. Drama and roster rebuilds are the catalyst for what should be an ecstatic season.
If you’re looking for who Haps and I think are rising and falling in the NFL, tune into the Irrational Confidence Podcast Episode 3. We take an in-depth look at 12 teams and tell you why we’re right. As for overall divisional picks, mine are below.
The AFC East no longer belongs to Bill and the Patriots. Coach McDermott, Josh Allen and the Bills broke that door down with authority in 2020 and they aren’t leaving. I like what is happening in Miami, they have built a defense and have speed on offense. The real question is, can they make the next jump and get into the playoffs. That question can only be answered by Tua and Tua alone. If he grows in 2021, the Fins will be waving to the left and right like it’s a Jimmy Buffett concert. I think Mac Jones is the Patriot QB, but his rookie year will be tough and those struggles won’t equate a playoff spot. I’m saying it now, the Jets have finally found their coach and quarterback. Salah is a great coach and better man. His team philosophy will pay major dividends for Gang Green. Their QB Zach Wilson has the talent and swagger that can match the expectations of a professional athlete in New York. I see the Bills winning the division, followed by the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
2020 marked the changing of the guard in the AFC North. The Steelers got off to a hot start and melted like cheese in an over come the winter. The Ravens played to their form of tough defense and a rigorous ground game to make the playoffs. The Cleveland Browns finally returned to the playoffs, much to the joy of a few friends of mine. The Bengals were energized by Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins, but to move forward, they need to keep Burrow healthy. As we look toward this year, the division is the Browns to lose. They have gathered a ton of talent and are led by Kevin Stefanski. This team goes as far as Mayfield, Chubb and Garrett can carry them. The Ravens saw some key players depart, but if we’ve learned anything, John Harbaugh is the brother that can actually coach and win. As impressive as the Steelers have been since the 1970’s, I see a true rebuild is needed snd coming. Mike Tomlin is a great coach and has never had a bad year. What is astounding is that the Steelers have only had 3 coaches since the 70’s, Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and him. Big Ben is more big than Ben these days and he is holding them back, time to retire. There is something brewing in Cincinnati, but they will only go as far as Burrow can lead them. If they keep him up right and the supporting cast of Chase, Higgins, Boyd and Mixon can produce, they might shock some teams. I see the Browns capturing the division, followed by the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals.
The AFC South is a 2 horse race between the Titans and Colts. King Henry, Julio, AJ, Ryan Tannehill and Head Coach Mike Vrabel have their sights on more than defending their division title. They got run over by Lamar at home in the playoffs, ironic since they did the same to the Ravens the year before. The Colts have a defense, Jonathon Taylor and an array of speedy wide receivers. The questions for them are focused on Wentz and Quentin Nelson, if they get healthy, this team will be dangerous. The Jags have Trevor thanks to Frank Gore and the Jets. This rebuild will require every ounce of Urban Meyer’s patience and motivational skills. The offensive line is the worst position group and unless that is developed, the playmakers and TLaw will be tamed. The Texans are an absolute mess without a lot of draft picks and their QB facing serious off the field issues. I see the Titans defending their division title, followed by the Colts, Jaguars and Texans.
The AFC West is the Chiefs Kingdom, but there are a couple squads looking to storms the border. The Chiefs are the class of the AFC and I expect them to impose their will behind a new OLine. The Chargers showed offensive progress in 2020 with Herbert under center. Eckler is back healthy and the receivers, led by All Pro Keenan Allen have had a full offseason to gel with the former Oregon Duck QB. If Bosa can get healthy and the defense can get some stops, the Chargers, wait for it, might actually be a playoff team. Another team looking to stampede the Chiefs are the Broncos. They have 4 strong wide receivers, a solid tight end and running back depth. Their defense is healthy and the season opener will be the first time Von Miller and Chubb are on the field at the same time since September 2019. Expect to hear the Mile High faithful yell out IN – COME —PLETE a lot with this secondary. The Raiders are starting to resemble that guy in a Vegas casino who has terrible cards, but refuses to fold. They have missed on a ton of high draft picks and failed to win games they should win. Will Cielin Ferrel finally arrive, can Jonathan Abram stay healthy and make plays, is Henry Ruggs a wide receiver or just fast, can Damon Arnette actually be a shutdown corner? These questions, if not answered soon will cost Mike Mayock his job and put Jon Gruden on the hot seat. The Chiefs will win the division, followed by the Chargers, Broncos and Raiders.
The NFC East is still the NFC Least. Last season was impacted by injuries across this division, but 2021 will come down to Dallas and Washington. The Giants are all bark, but no bite if Saquan is not his 2019 self. Danny Dimes needs to improve or he’ll become a career backup. They have offensive weapons and a stout defense, but they go as far as Jones and the OLine can take them. The Eagles are a large mystery, but I trust trust the hype around Hurts. There is tape on him and 2021 will see teams prepared for him. Coach Ron Rivera and Washington are the most complete team. Their defense is ferocious and will enforce their law every Sunday for 60 minutes. Fitzmagic leads a group of unique playmakers, which gives them balance. The Cowboys are the stars of HBO’s Hard Knocks, but have never and will never be America’s Team. This team has stars, but can they win as a complete team? Dak returning to full health and answering questions about his right arm will dictate their future. If he’s healthy, this offense will be lethal and then the expectations will focus on defensive improvement. I think the Washington Football Team will win the East, with Dallas, New York and Philly in the rear view mirror.
The NFC North has been owned by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for the better part of the last 13 years. This team has been to back to back NFC Title games, but couldn’t make it to the Super Bowl. This team navigated through Rodgers uncertainty during the offseason, but I think that might rally the locker room to go the extra mile. The Vikings have a track record of missing the playoffs and making it the following year. I think they have fixed some defensive issues to pair with an explosive offense. The Bears finally landed a quarterback and if Nagy ever lets him play, it might just keep him employed. Justin Fields has the talent to lead the Bears to the playoffs and will be a star. If the Lions follow their head coach’s lead, beware of biting. This is a roster that is going through a major overhaul, but they are professionals. They will win 1 game they shouldn’t, but the wins will be few. I see the Packers capturing a 3rd straight division title, followed by the Vikings, Bears and Lions.
The NFC South is a pirate party even though they didn’t win the division last season. The Bucs are loaded, but now the pressure to repeat is upon them. They literally bring back more than 75% of their 2020 roster and that experience is essential. They have a nice blend of veterans and youth, but their window is based on Tom’s career timeline. Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers have an intriguing roster, which is posed to make the jump. The Saints on the other hand are dealing with LAB, Life After Brees. The roster has talent, but can Jameis Winston be better and avoid the turnovers. The Falcons traded Julio to the Titans and contemplated the future of Matt Ryan. Instead of drafting his replacement, they selected the uber-talented Kyle Pitts. Pitts is a matchup nightmare, pairing him with Calvin Ridley and Mike Davis, the Dirty Birds have weapons. I see the Buccaneers winning the South, followed by the Panthers, Saints and Falcons.
We wrap our tour through the divisions, with what I think is the best division in the NFL. The NFC West can literally be won by any team. The Seahawks won the division, but lost in the playoffs to the Rams. The Seahawks feel like they left a lot on the field and I think they improve. The Rams lost some key players and coaches, but they did acquire Matthew Stanford. The Cardinals have a special QB in Kyler Murray and a star studded supporting cast. This is put up or shut time for Kliff Kingsbury and the Cards. The 49ers were hit with a tremendous amount of injuries in the post NFC Championship campaign. The players have healed, but now they are without their DC Robert Salah, passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur and have a QB controversy. Every time these teams meet, it’ll be a brawl. One of these teams will crumble under the pressure and finish last because it has to happen. I think the Cardinals capture the division, followed by the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams.
It will be a great year and craziness will ensue. I’m not going to announce my playoff picks, conference champions and eventual World Champion. Those predictions will occur on the Irrational Confidence Podcast, so tune in and Haps and I will make our calls. Have a great football season and stay locked in with the Irrational Confidence Podcast and Spinnable Sports all the way.