The Super Bowl has been played, and the new season awaits. That means it is speculation time. After a 2020 season that has to be taken with a grain of salt, due to the unusual circumstances, it is a bit harder to judge exactly where teams stand entering into the 2021 season than is usually the case. Still, some things are quite clear no matter what lens they are viewed through.
The likelihood of raising the Lombardi Trophy for all 32 teams has been assessed, and each squad has been placed into one of four categories based on their odds of success.
Once in a blue moon, you’ll see a lateral play actually work out. However, it is never pretty. When a lateral play works, it is a chaotic misadventure that somehow ends with the offense finding the endzone. That is the kind of season that these teams would need to find themselves as Superbowl Champions at the end of the season.
The 2017 season may have been a dream. The lone winning season for the Jaguars in over a decade, the division winners made it all the way to the conference championship.
Preceded by a bottom of the division finish and followed by three straight last-place finishes, including a new franchise low in 2020 with a 1-15 season, the smart money is not on this team that has failed to make it to the Super Bowl in its 26 season franchise history, to pull it out this year. They do get the top draft pick, though.
New York Jets
Having to look back over 50 years to find the Jets’ sole Super Bowl appearance, it seems doubtful that this team can finally look like a contender again. Finding a way to win two games at the end of the season to avoid a winless campaign and miss out on the top draft pick did not help this franchise’s chances of getting better next year.
Trading away Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff was a pretty clear statement about where this team is heading next season. While the Lions are not likely to do anything in 2021, the two first-round picks and the third-round pick that they got from the Rams in the exchange could help propel them forward in 2022 or 2023.
The longtime face of the franchise, J.J. Watt, is gone. Franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson wants out. Even if Watson stays with the club, don’t expect much from an organization dealing with such high levels of dysfunction.
With young quarterback Joe Burrow likely to miss the beginning of the season due to his season-ending injury in 2020, don’t expect the Bengals to take a step forward this year. Fans can look for Burrow to take strides when he returns this season, and hopefully, 2022 can be a better year.
Matt Ryan can still throw a football. Julio Jones can still catch a football. Aside from that, you shouldn’t expect to see much from the Falcons in 2021. They need to reassess and figure out a path forward.
Is Drew Lock a franchise quarterback? If not, will the Broncos trade for one? Whatever the answer to those two questions, a 7-9 finish seems like a best-case scenario for a team trying to find their way in a tough division.
The Hail Marys
Hail Mary victories do happen from time to time. However, considering none of these teams have the Hail Mary king Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback, it seems unlikely that any of them make it to the big show, much less win it all.
Carson Wentz’s journey from franchise quarterback to a player traded for a 3rd round draft pick in 2021 and a conditional pick in 2022 was a rapid plummet. Jalen Hurts could be the answer the organization needs to get back to form, but the Eagles seem to be thriving on poor management at the moment. In the NFC East, they could still find their way to a division title. A playoff win seems doubtful, though.
Washington Football Team
A franchise that takes years to decide on a name does not seem like they have the creative thinking needed to build a championship team. This problem is exacerbated by a big question mark at the quarterback position.
New York Giants
The giants certainly looked better in the second half of 2020 than in the first half. However, the bar was very low, and their victory over the Seahawks was their only win against a quality opponent. Despite a dropoff in his TD numbers Daniel Jones showed minor improvements in 2020 and certainly did a lot more on the ground. However, unless he can take a larger step forward in 2021, expect the Giants to be searching for another answer.
Rounding out the NFC East, we have the Cowboys. While they should have Prescott back under center in 2021, that is far from the only problem facing this unbalanced Dallas team. Sitting 5th worst in points allowed, there is no clear path to solving their defensive woes.
Teddy Bridgewater shows flashes of brilliance, but can he be the team leader this group needs? The question may be moot as he may not even be suiting up with the Panthers next year, with rumors of interest from the Bay Area. With or without Teddy B, this is an organization in search of an identity that they likely will not find in 2021.
The eternal question lives on in Minnesota. How good is Kirk Cousins? It seems like a question nobody can answer. With a defense that gave up 475 points in 2020, though, it seems unlikely that any QB could possibly be good enough.
This team belongs to Tua. So, there is that. Flores’ decision to bench Fitzpatrick going into the bi-week to transition the young quarterback into the role was tough but understandable. Tua did not do too much with the opportunity, though, and the Dolphins saw a playoff birth slip away. The fate of Miami hangs on whether or not the second-year quarterback can take the next step.
New England Patriots
Apparently, Cam Newton was not the answer to filling the hole left by Tom Brady. If Bill Belichick were not still the coach in New England, they would probably have been placed in the previous group. You can’t count Bill out. He could pull off some magic. Don’t count on it, though.
The Bears have a great defense. They desperately need a great quarterback. If they can find one, their position on this list may be greatly improved. If not, they are cemented in this spot.
The Fourth-Quarter Comebacks
We love seeing that game-winning drive. A good fourth-quarter comeback is one of the most exciting things in the game. All of these teams have a good shot at coming from behind and pulling an upset.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders have a top-notch offense led by a more than capable quarterback in Carr, but they need to make some strides on defense in 2021. Maybe getting adjusted to their new home will help things out. Despite going 6-2 on the road, they were just 2-6 at home in their first season in Las Vegas.
Los Angeles Chargers
It seems like the biggest roadblock for the Chargers is likely going to be the fact that they are in the same division as the Chiefs. They have found a replacement for Rivers in Herbert, and if he shows improvement to a stellar freshman campaign this go-round, they will be a tough week on any team’s schedule.
The Steelers stayed undefeated longer than any other team last year. However, they were never nearly as good as their record indicated. That was evidenced by their swift return to earth, losing four of their last five games of the season before a Wild Card Round exit to the Browns. They could surprise again like they did to start 2020, but they are going to need to find another gear to take a tough division again.
The Browns had their first winning season in over a decade and first playoff appearance in nearly two decades. However, they still need to find another gear if they are going to win in a tough division and find their way to their first-ever Super Bowl.
The Colts were one of the most well-balanced teams in 2020. However, they are going to face some difficulties in 2021 with their one-year rental of Rivers expired. They have traded for Wentz and hope they can help him get back in form after his collapse in Philadelphia.
New Orleans Saints
With the impending retirement of Drew Brees, the biggest question facing New Orleans is whether Winston has learned enough from the veteran to be the next face of the franchise. If the answer is yes, watch out.
Murray showed that he is the real deal in 2020, showing significant improvement in 2020. With the addition of JJ Watt, the Cardinals look formidable. The biggest challenge they will likely face is being a part of the toughest division in football.
San Fransisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan is a master. With all of the injuries suffered by the 49ers last season, the fact that they were able to win six games is truly impressive. If they can stay healthy this season, they should be one of the toughest teams in football yet again. The only real question mark is around whether Garoppolo will still be under center, with reported interest from New England and a desire by SF to find an upgrade.
Either way, it will be tough sledding in the loaded NFC West.
The Seahawks have been a near-lock for the playoffs every season since they came over to the NFC in 2002, and that has gotten even more pronounced since Pete Carroll took the reigns in 2010. While there have been trade rumors swirling around Wilson, it seems an unlikely move for the team to make. With Russ back under center, this team is always a threat to make a run. Wilson is the King of the fourth-quarter comeback, after all.
The Victory Formations
Foregone conclusions are boring. The victory formation should not be allowed, and the teams should actually have to play until the whistle blows. These teams can pretty much guarantee a spot in the playoffs, and from there, who knows.
Kansas City Chiefs
Don’t expect to see the Chiefs in any group other than this one for at least the next five years. They are once again the Super Bowl favorite at this point. Use football streaming software to watch nearly any of this team’s games to see how football is supposed to be played.
After a sluggish start, the Ravens were one of the best teams in football down the stretch. Then they ran into Buffalo. Postseason performance is definitely the only real question hanging around Lamar Jackson and company. Expect the Ravens to fly high once again.
For the first time in two decades, the AFC East belongs to a team not called the Patriots. The Bills may have fallen to Kansas City this time around but could very well win the rematch this season.
Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill are the centerpieces of one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses. Don’t expect the offensive power to fall off in 2021.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is something else. As long as he is in Green Bay, the Packers should be able to find a way to the playoffs. The only blemish on his record is not being able to lead them back to the big game since their win in 2010.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady wins Super Bowls. He is not the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time. He is the greatest postseason quarterback ever, though. However, Brady was not the reason that Tampa Bay got the Super Bowl victory in 2020. That achievement belongs to their defense. If they repeat in 2021, it will once again be on the shoulders of that unit.
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams were already one of the best teams in football. Now they have upgraded from Goff to Stafford. While trading away two first-round picks and a third-rounder as part of the deal, the Rams have made it quite clear that they are all in. It is Super Bowl or bust for this franchise, and they definitely have the pieces at the moment to avoid busting.