The 2021 NFL season is less than three months away, and it looks like a season that is sure to be a memorable one with plenty of surprises from teams as well as players.
Today we take a look at five teams that has something to prove, five teams that want to come out strong and put the 2020 campaign behind them.
1. New England Patriots
Most seasons around this time we’re still seeing highlights on the local TV stations of the likes of Bill Belichick hoisting up yet another Lombardi trophy telling everyone they again are the standard bearer in the league as champs.
Last season the Pats though went backwards as Tom Brady and his new team that Bucs were busy piling up wins getting ready for a Super Bowl run of their own.
New England didn’t make the playoffs, instead bringing in quarterback Cam Newton to play the most important position, but it just didn’t work out like having a Brady to fall back on.
The club this offseason has been aggressive in making moves, so expect New England to be better, and even to push the Bills for the AFC East divisional title.
2. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams had a seismic shift in their roster this offseason as the team decided after a couple seasons to cut ties with QB Jared Goff and make a trade with the Detroit Lions for QB Matt Stafford.
It’s now Stafford’s ship to sail, and many think that after having to sit back with medicore teams the past decade he’s ready to take a step forward and be a star quarterback in Hollywood.
The Rams had the #1 ranked defense in 2020, and just about all of those players minus a few will return in 2021, giving them a big edge.
Last season wasn’t a complete bust, as the team did go to Seattle in the playoffs and defeated the rival Seahawks to set up a divisional round game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Look for bigger and better from the Rams in 2021.
3. Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden and the Raiders are ready to make an impact in 2021, but the question will be is can this team be consistent enough on both sides of the ball to win enough games to challenge the Chiefs in the AFC West.
The team has been rumored to be ready to go after another quarterback, dumping Derek Carr and bringing in a player with a huge name like the Packers Aaron Rodgers, but that just seems unlikely to happen.
If the club sticks with Carr and the rest of the current roster do they have enough to win double-digit games?
That might be the biggest question overall in the AFC West as camps will start to open in just a few weeks.
On the other hand, don’t lose sight of what the Raiders can bring to the table.
4. Miami Dolphins
I love the attitude and makeup of this team, as Miami last season showed heart and energy late in the season when it could have been easy just to ‘mail’ it in and give up with the team sitting at 7-4 in late November after a win over the New York Jets.
Led by rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, this season is going to be all about his development and what he can bring to the table.
He’s got a huge fan of one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game – that being former Miami QB Dan Marino, who was asked what it would be like it the young QB led Miami to a Super Bowl title – something they haven’t had since 1974.
“It would be awesome for everybody, wouldn’t it?” Marino said.
“The most important thing is to be yourself, be who you are and work your butt off. It’ll work out.”
That all may just start moving forward in 2021.
5. Minnesota Vikings
Maybe the most schizophrenic team in all of the National Football League. One week these purple people eaters look like Super Bowl contenders, and the next week it looks like they can’t even tied their own shoes.
A ton of it starts with the guy taking the ball from under center, and that’s where Kirk Cousins comes into play for the 2021 season.
NBC Sports analyst, Chris Simms hasn’t been shy about talking about Cousins, but thinks that he can get the job done and lead the Vikings to another level.
“Kirk Cousins, he’s a good fit for [the Vikings]. You can win a Super Bowl with Kirk Cousins. You can. But it has to be the right formula around him.”
During Cousins‘ final 10 games of the 2020 campaign, he completed 69.2 percent of his passes, averaged almost 280 passing yards per matchup, threw 24 touchdowns, and was only picked off three times.
With Dalvin Cook getting handoffs, he can take the pressure off Cousins, but again how it all translates into once they are on the playing field is anyone’s guess.
6/21: Chiefs Tipped as Early Favorites to Reclaim Lombardi Trophy
Cat: KC Chiefs
Sooner than you realize, training camp will be upon us. That means predictions galore. But who does Vegas give the early edge to finish on top at Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles?
It’s still early, but right now many top online sportsbooks are favoring the reigning AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs at +475 (via PointsBet).
This should come as no surprise after the success Patrick Mahomes’ crew has had in recent years. Of course, in 2020, the Chiefs won their first Super Bowl since 1970.
After handling the Bills in the AFC Championship, KC looked poised to go back-to-back. However, Tom Brady’s Buccaneers had other plans, and the Chief’s repeat aspirations were crushed in a 31-9 shellacking.
The Super Bowl Hangover
The dreaded Super Bowl Hangover has derailed many-a-team. Not all units are built to deal with the grind of making a long postseason run and the adversity of coming up short in the big game. Plus, rosters and coaching staffs will often get pillaged by teams looking to replicate the runner-up’s success.
Since 2010, only the 2018 Patriots have returned to the big game the season after losing.
However, Vegas clearly believes this Chiefs team can be the exception to that rule.
So why are the Chiefs projected to win it all again in 2021?
Let’s start on Head Coach Andy Reid’s favorite side of the ball.
The Chiefs’ offense led the NFL in yards per game in the 2020 regular season, yet the big storyline coming out of Super Bowl LV was Patrick Mahomes running for his life the entire game. Shaq Barrett, JPP, and crew were in the backfield all night and made it impossible for the Chiefs’ usually unstoppable offense to get in any semblance of a rhythm.
Injuries to longtime starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz took their toll, and it was obvious that GM Brett Veach needed to get some protection to keep his MVP quarterback upright.
He did just that over the offseason. This year, you can expect an almost entirely new group on the O-Line. With the status of Fisher and Schwartz’s availability for the 2021 season up in the air, they were cut and a full-on rebuild of the line began.
Veach signed longtime Patriots’ guard Joe Thuney to a 5 year, $80 million deal, traded a 1st Round pick to Baltimore in exchange for tackle Orlando Brown Jr., and spent a 2nd Round pick on Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey. They even coaxed former Bear Kyle Long out of retirement to chase a ring.
The hope is that Patrick Mahomes will once again have time to operate and perform at the record-shattering pace he has become known for. In his first three seasons as QB1, Mahomes has won an MVP, 2 Conference Championships, and a Super Bowl. Not too shabby. Mahomes’ eye-catching stats and mind-blowing highlights blow up NFL Twitter just about every Sunday, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to keep up his torrid pace this year with the retooled offensive line.
But a quarterback is only as good as his weapons, right? Good thing Mahomes has some of the best in the game. At tight end, perennial All-Pro and future Hall-of-Famer Travis Kelce is the best safety blanket a quarterback could hope for. Kelce will be 32 in October, so he may start to lose a step soon, but after setting career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns in 2020, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt until we start to see some slippage.
Out wide, Kansas City has plenty of firepower too. Tyreek Hill is one of the best deep-ball threats in NFL history. With 15 touchdowns last year, the West Alabama product can strike fear into the heart of any defensive back. Hill’s supporting cast will undoubtedly miss the contributions of Sammy Watkins, who departed to Baltimore over the offseason. However, Demarcus Robinson is a solid supporting wide receiver and Mecole Hardman has shown so much potential in his first two seasons that he might just be in line for a breakout campaign.
In the backfield, second-year player Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks slated to begin the season as starter. Edwards-Helaire had a very solid rookie campaign. Unfortunately, late-season injuries cost him some valuable playoff time. In the postseason, Darrel Williams stepped up to fill the void. These two should be the featured players in Reid’s backfield this season.
As a team known for their offense, it’s not surprising that the other side of the ball doesn’t get as much focus, but Kansas City has some impact players on defense as well.
When talking about the Chief’s defense, you have to mention the Honey Badger first. Perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Tyrann Mathieu is a one-man wrecking crew at safety. He is one of the most dominant defensive players of his generation and can cover up a lot of a unit’s weaknesses.
The defensive line is anchored by tackle Chris Jones. Jones is one of the league’s premier defensive linemen and a two-time All-Pro. Supporting Jones is Pro Bowl edge rusher Frank Clark and tackle Jarran Reed. These three should spend plenty of time in the opposing backfield and make life difficult for opposing QBs.
The linebacker and cornerback positions are a bit dicier. Anthony Hitchens has been a solid middle linebacker over his career, but these are definitely weak spots on an otherwise stacked roster.
The Chiefs have avoided some of the major pitfalls of Super Bowl losers in previous years. The coaching staff remains relatively intact and the roster has arguably gotten even better.
At the end of the day, Patrick Mahomes is a generational talent at quarterback. As long as he has his elite weapons, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, and offensive guru Andy Reid steering the ship, Kansas City will have favorable odds to win it all just about every season.
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