2021 NFL Division Predictions

2021 NFL Division Predictions

It’s hard to believe, but the NFL is almost here. Thursday Night Football returns this week with the opening match of the season as the Houston Texans face the World Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

With everything going on in America, this is going to be a very different season to what we are used to, as we have already seen a preseason heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with no games played. One tradition that has remained, however, is my annual post where I make a complete fool of myself by trying to predict the winners of each Division. This year, I have also gone a little further by also throwing in my predictions for the Wildcard spots, of which there are 3 per conference as of this season with the playoffs expanding from 12 to 14 teams.

Now, obviously there is a risk this year that the pandemic could completely ruin a team’s season by having a key player or a number of players get infected. But just like a season-ending injury, this is something that you can’t plan for, so these picks are all under the assumption that the league season plays out with no significant disruption.

And with that giant caveat out of the way, let’s see the predictions:

AFC

AFC East

It’s been a long time since the AFC East prediction wasn’t a simple tick in the box next to the Patriots, but things are different this season, with Tom Brady now plying his trade elsewhere and a number of key players opting out of the season due to health fears. Of course the Pats have shown their ability to make serviceable QBs look great – Matt Cassel, Jacoby Brissett – so it will be interesting to see if Cam Newton can revitalise his career in Massachusetts. Unfortunately for Cam Newton, the receiver corps is not what it once was, with Julian Edelman the only player of note, and I can’t help feel that this maybe the first time since 2008 that the playoffs do not involve Bill Belichick’s team.

The one big thing in New England’s favour when going for a Wildcard spot is that 4 of their 16 matches will be against the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets, neither of whom have shown anything to suggest that they will be a danger this year. However, my clear favourite for the AFC East title is the Buffalo Bills. Last year’s Wildcard team has added star receiver Stefon Diggs, who will be a great weapon for Josh Allen, who should only be getting better in his 3ʳᵈ season.

AFC North

The Joe Burrow era is kicking off in Cincinnati, but (A. J. Green aside) does he have the support around him to immediately turn this team around, especially given his first taste of NFL football will come in Week 1 rather than preseason?

Pittsburgh will be hoping that James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster step up and that Ben Roethlisberger can stay fit all season, which he’s only done 4 times in his 15 seasons where he was a starter on Day 1 of the regular season.

The Browns will hopefully be better now that Freddie Kitchens is gone, but Baker Mayfield needs to prove that last season was a sophomore slump and not the start of a downward trend. He certainly has the weapons around him, assuming they all decide to put in the effort.

While I’m still not sold on Lamar Jackson as a long-term elite QB, he is an incredible athlete and the Ravens’ roster seems relatively settled and together following the dismissal of Earl Thomas, so I have them coming out top.

AFC South

The Jacksonville Jaguars are all aboard the Minshew train. Next stop: the #1 Draft pick.

The Colts looked good last year and a better QB could have been huge for them, but is 38-year-old Philip Rivers really the answer? He will certainly benefit from his home games being inside a dome, but he will face tough opposition from within the division.

To me, this will be a fight between the Texans and Titans for the top spot. The Titans will be hoping that “King” Derrick Henry can have another stellar season, but can probably pick up some slack in the passing game with A. J. Brown, Adam Humphries, Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith giving some great receiving options. On defense, they may have lost Logan Ryan and Jurrell Casey, but have brought in quality replacements in Jonathan Joseph and Jadeveon Clowney. In conrast, the Texans may have lost DeAndre Hopkins, but their WR corps still looks stacked, with Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, while David Johnson will be a great pick-up if he can get back to his best.

I may be picking with heart more than head here, but right now I give the Titans the slightest of advantages.

AFC West

Let’s be honest, there’s only one team to trust here and that’s the defending champions. Having signed Pat Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Andy Reid to long-term contracts, the Chiefs look set to become the next NFL dynasty and would be my early pick for back-to-back Super Bowl victories. But can anyone cause an upset here?

Denver look the best of a bad bunch in the league – good enough to beat the worst teams but not strong enough to challenge against playoff hopefuls. Will a fight for the starting QB spot bring out the best in Marcus Mariota or David Carr? With the lack of offensive weapons (Josh Jacobs aside), it probably won’t make much difference. The Chargers are probably in the best position to challenge, but that may be asking too much of Tyrod Taylor, while Justin Herbert will benefit from a season holding a clipboard rather than being thrown to the wolves.

Divisional Champions: Bills, Ravens, Titans, Chiefs

Wildcards: Texans, Steelers, Patriots

NFC

NFC East

While it is incredible to see Alex Smith making the Washington Football Team’s 53-man roster, if he plays a snap then something has gone seriously wrong with Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. This is a team in the middle of a historic change of name, and it feels like the team is also in the middle of a rebuild under Ron Rivera. I can see this team pulling off some upsets, but not being consistent enough to earn a winning record.

The New York Giants will find out this year if Daniel Jones is the man under centre, but with Nate Solder missing, will he have the protection he needs? He certainly has some decent targets to aim for and a stud running back in Saquon Barkley, who can carry a load but may be forced to carry the hopes of a city.

Expect this to come down to a fight between the Eagles and the Cowboys. Both have franchise QBs in place, but if Wentz goes down injured, that’s Philly’s season over, whereas the Cowboys have a safety net of Andy Dalton as backup to Dak Prescott, and also the ability to turn to the running game of Ezekiel Elliott. Furthermore the additions of Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith make the Cowboys defense look dangerous even with Sean Lee on IR. Advantage: Dallas.

NFC North

The Bears have named Mitchell Trubisky ahead of Nick Foles, which says everything you need to know about their season… It won’t matter if the defense shuts down every team or how good Allen Robinson and Jimmy Graham are, they aren’t winning more than a handful of games with those QBs.

The Lions need to hope that Matt Stafford is back to his best after his injury issues last season. Theoretically, they have decent weapons on offense, but enough to challenge for the title? I don’t think so.

The Packers are far from the team they used to be with many of the big name receivers long gone, but Davante Adams is still there and with Aaron Rodgers under center, you never rule them out of games.

While you may not rule them out, the smarter bet is still a more consistent team and that would be the Vikings. Kirk Cousins may be a moron when it comes to COVID-19 and he may not be the man to win them the Super Bowl, but he is good enough to utilise receivers like Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph, while the defense can also contribute with players like Harrison Smith.

NFC South

It’s a fresh new start for the Panthers and it’s great to see Teddy Bridgewater starting somewhere again, but he has limited experience in recent years so can still be considered a risk. If teams can limit the touches by Christian McCaffrey, Carolina are in trouble. The Falcons have some quality receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to help Matt Ryan, but they need Todd Gurley to shine in order to keep the offense balanced. A winning record for either team probably constitutes a good season.

The Saints have elite players in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, while Taysom Hill remains one of those great offensive weapons. They also have a future Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees who will utilise these weapons to the fullest, but there is a worry after last season that he may be on the decline. Luckily if that happens, they can put in Jameis Winston and replace the receiving corps with the Saints secondary, as he’s an expert at throwing passes to them.

Tampa Bay is truly the most fascinating team to watch going into this season. The Bucs finished 7-9 last season despite Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions. Now they have the GOAT Tom Brady under center and have brought in some other pieces to help him, including his fellow former Patriot Rob Gronkowski. Brady struggled last season with limited weapons, but now has a legit superstar to throw to in Mike Evans, and while Gronk surely won’t be the player he used to be, he could make a great partnership in a “12” package with O. J. Howard. If the Bucs can overcome the issues gelling as a team that the pandemic-hit preseason will have caused, they have a legit chance to challenge the Saints, but I will pick the safer option in New Orleans.

NFC West

This season of Hard Knocks hasn’t left me finding the Rams very likeable , or given me any reason to think that they will have much success this year, despite having Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on defense. The Cardinals need to ensure Kyler Murray doesn’t go through a sophomore slump, but witht he ever-reliable Larry Fitzgerald and superstar WR DeAndre Hopkins on the roster, he has some great weapons to throw to.

The Seahawks can never be ruled out with the talent they have on their roster, provided they can keep Russell Wilson healthy. What will be interesting though is the absence of fans at their early home games, as the “12ᵗʰ man” really goes a long way towards the team’s success at home.

Right now, I have to give the advantage to the San Francisco 49ers. The cliché is that defense wins championships and the Niners have a fantastic defense. This is where Jimmy Garoppolo needs to prove himself as a top tier QB, and having an elite TE like George Kittle will certainly help that, while they have an impressive stable of running backs to set the platform and keep the rushers fresh.

Divisional Champions: Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, 49ers

Wildcards: Seahawks, Buccaneers, Packers


So those are my picks. Let me know what you think of them and who you would pick!

Before I go, I want to invite you all to join my Superbru league for the NFL. For those who have never heard of Superbru, it’s an online prediction game where you attempt to predict the winners and winning margins for each round of matches and get awarded points for how close you were. There is no cost to enter, it’s just for fun and open to everyone. You can join by clicking on this link or by downloading the Superbru app and searching for the pool with the code: ludojump

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NFL Pick’Em: Divisional Winners

NFL Pick’Em: Divisional Winners

Football is back! It feels like forever since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won yet another Super Bowl and while we have had the Draft, Hard Knocks and preseason to keep up going for a bit, this is where the fun really begins.

Last year, 3 friends and I decided to challenge ourselves to predict the 8 Divisional winners in the 2018 NFL season and the teams that would compete in Super Bowl LIII. This year, Ed (the Baker Mayfield-obsessed Patriots fan) and I are returning to see if we can do any better. However, this time we will be looking at just the Divisions – we were gonna pick the Super Bowl too, but neither of us could narrow down the field enough in the AFC!


AFC North

Pittsburgh missed out on the playoffs last season as Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire season. With both him and star receiver Antonio Brown gone (putting more attention on JuJu Smith-Schuster), it’s going to take a lot for them to be at the top. Baltimore finished the regular season well with Lamar Jackson under centre, but did not look comfortable as they lost to the Chargers in the Wild Card Round and do not have great options behind him in RGIII and rookie Trace McSorley. As for the Bengals, it is hard to imagine them even reaching 8-8, especially with star receiver A.J. Green injured. Though they have been a joke for so long, I can actually envision the Cleveland Browns topping the division as the WR pairing of OBJ and Jarvis Landry and the RB pairing of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (once he returns from suspension) will give Baker Mayfield every chance of avoiding a sophomore slump, while they also have a high level defence to keep games close.

Ed’s pick – Cleveland Browns

America’s new favourite team, the young and talented Cleveland Browns look to provide us with a lot of excitement this year. Mayfield has shown his class, and with receiving options Landry/OBJ with breakout Nick Chubb and soon to be Kareem Hunt, this side can go places with the strong Defence they already boast. That being said this is the Browns, and the wary Ohio fanbase may not be riding the hype the rest of the country (and I) am. Pittsburgh almost look a different side this year with 2 of the big 3 departing in unceremonious style, however with emerging talent in Juju and Conner that loss won’t be as big as it sounds. This side knows what it takes to win and will push the relatively inexperienced Browns right to the finish line. We shouldn’t count out the Ravens who will continue to be competitive fronting a fresher, younger side than we have seen in previous seasons. The success or failure will be defined by how Lamar Jackson can handle the starting position with no room for excuses following Flacco’s exile. Unfortunately I can’t see the Bengals keeping up with the other three in what is one of the NFLs increasingly numerous competitive divisions, one feels that until they finally part ways with Dalton they are never going to be above average.

AFC East

The Jets were one of the worst teams in the league last season and while the RB corps (now featuring Le’Veon Bell) may take some pressure off Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson, it is hard to imagine them reaching .500, likewise for the Miami Dolphins who have traded half their stars away and are looking at Fitzmagic to lead the team and likely make way for Arizona reject Josh Rosen once his performances go downhill. The Bills roster screams mediocrity and I think that a winning season will be a success for them. All this goes to suggest that it will be another easy season for the Patriots, despite Gronk no longer being on the roster. Let’s be honest, while Brady and Belichick are there, it is brave – if not stupid – to bet against them!

Ed’s pick – New England Patriots

Unfortunately a year on this is still the weakest division in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how the QB class of ’18 all progress this year, facing the ageless Brady. The Jets have made some solid improvements bringing in a stud RB in Bell who will be fresh following his infamous holdout last year and Sam Darnold seems the pick of the QBs and the type who could really blossom in his 2nd year. The Bills meanwhile have spent the offseason crowding Josh Allen with experienced wideouts and backs, and have a fairly reasonable schedule to begin the season. That being said I cannot see a universe where either of these sides even challenge the Brady/Belichick Pats who although without Gronk will have no problem winning here. Small shout out goes to the Miami Dolphins who are actually still an NFL franchise and my favourite for Pick no. 1 next April.

AFC South

The Jaguars have finally moved on from Blake Bortles at QB and now need to hope that Nick Foles can replicate his Eagles form rather than his Rams form. I had the Colts winning the division when I initially wrote this, but following Andrew Luck’s retirement, I see them struggling. Tennessee have a good roster but need to hope Marcus Mariota can stay fit (though Ryan Tannehill is a good backup) and need to hope Derrick Henry produces throughout the season rather than just towards the end; Taylor Lewan’s suspension is not gonna help this at all. The Texans may have lost Lamar Miller to injury but Duke Johnson is a great pickup from the Browns and I think they have enough stars on either side of the ball to take the top spot in the AFC South.

Ed’s Pick – Houston Texans

The AFC South has been turned on it’s head with Andrew Luck announcing his retirement – a sad day for the sport that has made the division very level indeed. Indy have dropped from my no.1 seed here down to a lowly 3rd place as a result. It just looked like this was their year with a roster that looked like it had no holes… but now has a gaping one in the most important position in sport. This does however open the door to the challengers. The Texans seem the most likely to take advantage. They underwhelmed last year when you look at the strength they posess on their roster with annual MVP candidates Watt, Hopkins and Watson. It never came together truly came together last season but if Watson can be protected these guys can fly. I will admit I have no idea what the Jaguars will throw up, their Defense is filled with confidence but if that overflows things can go wrong, and whilst they moved on from Bortles’ inconsistent and short arm I’m not easily convinced Foles is the guy who will bring the party… but we’ve heard that before… Unlike the previous divisions I don’t see the Titans being a bad side like with the Fins or Bungles, but here is another division that will be tough to shine in. Mariota’s health continues to concern me and entering a contract year has a lot to prove not only me but his own front office. Is this year going to be Corey Davis’ year, backed up by Humphries and rookie AJ Brown the Titans may finally have something to shout about at the position.

AFC West

The Antonio Brown show is more likely to derail the Raiders’ season than save it. With Mike Mayock brought in as GM, this looks to be a franchise building towards the future, but Hard Knocks has not shown me anything to make me confident in their success this year. Emmanuel Sanders and Von Miller look wasted in a franchise that looks like it may be starting Joe Flacco at QB. I expect this season to be another fight between the Chiefs and Chargers for the top spot with the other likely to earn a Wild Card spot, however with Hunt no longer in Kansas City and defences now having a season of footage on Patrick Mahomes, I give the advantage to the Chargers, as long as Melvin Gordon ends his holdout soon and then stays fit.

Ed’s Pick – L.A. Chargers

I don’t know why I have a slight obsession with the Chargers, but I am sticking with these guys as my pick for the AFC West once more. They boast an impressive depth chart in almost every position, with and without the ball and showed that when they play, they can beat anyone. The question is can Rivers be consistently good, because I believe Mahomes will continue to be. With Hill looking like he won’t miss any time (a decision I cannot understand) there will be TDs flowing at Arrowhead once more, but with the 31st ranked Defense in 2018 Mahomes will have to be slinging at MVP pace just to keep the points difference positive and this could ultimately cost them another Superbowl chance.
Whilst he boosts any roster AB continues to be AB and if he manages to start the season it’s only a matter of time before he misses games for one reason or another. Without him the side looks starved of high level talent and Hard Knocks isn’t doing anything to prove me these guys will mount any sort of challenge. Similarly Denver have lost their reputation of being one of the toughest outfits to play and now seem welcome relief after big games. Can gritty defensive coach Vic Fangio bring back the No Fly Zone of old – with a pass rushing duo of Miller and Chubb it’s possible, but it’ll have to work hard if Flacco can’t find a good start, I wonder whether we will be seeing Drew Lock sooner rather than later…

NFC North

Detroit finished bottom of their division in 2018 and such is the strength of the NFC North, I can’t see them doing much better this year. Aaron Rodgers will keep any team competitive but this is not the strongest of Packers rosters by any stretch and it will be interesting to see how Matt LaFleur does in his first head coach role. The Chicago defense is incredible, but there are still questions over Mitchell Trubisky, whereas I think that the Vikings will do better this year with a season now that Kirk Cousins has had a year to get used to playing in Minneapolis. It will be close, but I give the Vikings a slight edge over the Bears.

Ed’s pick – Green Bay Packers

The first game of the 100th season of the NFL could prove to be the decider in the NFC North, which looks to be a close scrap between the Packers and Bears. Matt Nagy’s second year defensive juggernaut has drafted wisely and rookie RB David Montgomery is making a name for himself in the preseason. They’ll likely go head to head with the new duo of LaFleur and A-Rod who whilst fit is a proven winner assuming his Defense can limit points against. I wasn’t far from adding the Vikings to a three way battle, they have strength in every position and the return of Dalvin Cook is huge – but can Kirk Cousins be the player he was paid to be… I have never really believed the hype and I think he is more of an anchor preventing progress than he is given credit for. Detroit can be safely removed from the others and look to be comfortably propping up the division. Patricia needs to put his stamp on this team, and get the ball moving but that 10,000 day playoff drought doesn’t look like its ending this season…

NFC East

Alex Smith’s injury is a huge hit to the Redskins, so their hopes rely on Case Keenum… gulp! Daniel Jones was a shock selection 6th overall in the draft so the battle between him and Eli Manning seems underwhelming and not something Giants fans will be looking forward to. Philadelphia has a strong roster but needs to hope Carson Wentz can get to his pre-injury form, whereas the Cowboys can overcome the lack of an elite QB (though he is still above average) with one of the best RBs in the league, a receiving corps that was boosted by the addition of Amari Cooper and a strong defense.

Ed’s pick – Philadelphia Eagles

The NFC East starts the season with big question marks over each team, will the Zeke holdout continue in a fashion similar to Bell’s last year? Can Carson Wentz stay healthy now postseason extraordinaire Big D*** Nick has moved on? Who will start under centre for the Redskins and the Giants?
Assuming all goes to plan the Cowboys look to be one of the best sides they have had in a long time with genuine playoff credentials, if they can keep last seasons momentum rolling they would be a franchise no one should take lightly. Philly also look a very strong beast with very few holes who will be going head to head with the Boys, a lot rides on Wentz and whether he can win over the locker room and fans to take the Eagles into January where their fans believe they belong.
I can’t say the same for the other two sides, losing OBJ, Vernon and Collins won’t help the already lacklustre chances for Big Blue who continue to maintain Eli will take the reigns to start the season. It might not be long before we see shock 6th overall pick Daniel Jones on the hot seat and whether the gamble paid off… We have another rookie QB in Washington in Dwayne Haskins who will be competing with Keenum for the starters spot following an up and down pre season. But in an aging team devoid of playing and coaching talent it’s hard to see those empty seats being filled anytime soon.

NFC South

I can’t imagine Buccaneers WR Mike Evans is too thrilled that he will be catching passes from Blaine Gabbert, Jameis Winston or Ryan Griffin… he deserves better! Carolina need to find some wideouts to complement RB Christian McCaffrey and the ageing Greg Olsen… and hope that Cam focuses more on the football than his outfits. The Falcons have some great players on offense but need to improve defensively if tey are to live up to their full potential. If the Saints can replicate last season’s form, they should be able to push for a #1 or #2 seed.

Ed’s pick – New Orleans Saints

This division has sent a team to the NFC Championship game for 3 of the last 4 years, and is rightly regarded as arguably the most competitive in football. The Bucs have stagnated in recent years and have moved on from Doug Marone to Bruce Arians in an attempt to stop the rot, can he bring the best out of Jameis Winston and turn the ship around? It will undoubtedly be hard within the division but there are some favourable fixtures outside of it. The other three sides all remain with huge playoff plus potential, New Orleans have a Super Bowl ready team with superstars on offence (Thomas & Kamara), an experienced elite QB in Brees and a better defence than they are credited for. It looks to me like they will just pip the Falcons, devastated by injuries last year they bring a whole new crew of co-ordinators to a talent filled roster who barring a shock should perform to a wildcard round level. I’ve only heard promising reports about Cam Newton this offseason and if he can be the “stud” he really should be with his build and his arm, with McCaffrey fulfilling his potential at his side we could see even more competition in this division. Unfortunately Superbowl Cam haunts me and his injury record and dress sense could quickly turn him into the flop potential he certainly possesses.

NFC West

With a 3-13 record, the Cardinals were the worst team in the league last season and Kyler Murray will need to grow quickly into his role as an NFL starting QB, so will need plenty of help from David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. San Francisco’s 2018 season was ruined by injuries to Jerick McKinnon and Jimmy Garoppolo; if they can keep their roster fit then an 8-8 finish is possible. The Rams will surely be pushing for the playoffs again, but there are questions over Todd Gurley’s health and I think that they will find things harder now teams have a season of game footage – just look at how the Patriots nullified them in the Super Bowl! My Divisional Champions are the Seahawks, who always find a way to remain not just competitive but extremely strong in the division and recently added yet another defensive star in the form of Jadeveon Clowney.

Ed’s pick – Los Angeles Rams

The InstaRams and their fans will be fuming on social media after losing in the Superbowl last year, but with McVay’s brain filling the void in Goff’s head these guys aren’t going anywhere and remain odds on favourites to win the division. No one knows what is going on with Todd Gurley but with or without him we will see an exciting, high scoring side once again. The other three in this division for me are very much of an unknown entity, with each going through individual identity crises. The 49ers (Jimmy G’s) huge preseason hype was ended far too early last year for us to know just what we will get from him and he remains the key in answering this question, Shanahan and co. will be hoping Joey’s brother Nick at pick 2 will be a difference maker on the other side of the ball. The Seahawks’ unknowns lie all over the field, will we see running back by committee or a favourite emerge from the pack, can Lockett and rookie DK Metcalfe provide Wilson with enough power, and with only one member of the Legion of Boom returning in Bobby Wagner, albeit surrounded by a plethora of talented young players how will the once feared Defense fare? Similarly the Cardinals, last years laughing stock now have a fully fit David Johnson and #1 pick Kyler Murray back with old pal Kliff Kingsbury, have had an up and down preseason and who knows what we will see from this outfit. I suspect the Hawks have enough talent to push in this division, but I’m not so sure about the others…


Not gonna lie, I think Ed has put me to shame with the thought he has put into this – I’m going to blame a little something called the Rugby World Cup being on the horizon!

Who do you think will win the divisions?