2020-2021 NFL Regular Season

For most of the offseason, I’ve been psychologically and emotionally detached from the NFL, primarily because I thought the prospects for an NFL season was incredibly low. But since very few of the players or staff haven’t gotten the virus, once practices started, I have become way more optimistic. In any event, because of that initial detachment, I’m even less confident in my ability to gauge the quality of the teams, but I’m going to take a stab at thoughts about which teams have the best chance to have success and win the Super Bowl.

Off the top of my head, here are the tiers. To categorize the teams, here are some questions I ask: a) Are there any teams with a dominant defense; b) Which defenses have a really good defense, run game and QB? c) Which teams have the best balance?

Teams with potentially great defenses: 49ers, Bills, Steelers, Ravens. Maybe the Buccaneers, Titans, Broncos, Colts.

The Steelers defense seemed to be moving into a great territory last year, but if they move back to a more pass-first offense, I wonder if that will remain true.

Teams with good defense/run game/QB: Ravens, 49ers, Titans, Bills, Vikings Maybe Seahawks

The QBs for the first four are kinda skahy–especially with regard to making the handful of key plays in big games (usually from the pocket). With the Vikings and Seahawks, I’m uncertain about their defense, especially the Seahawks.

Teams with the best balance: Saints, Ravens, 49ers, Buccaneers Maybe the Chiefs.

With the Chiefs I don’t known how good their defense will be.

First tier

Saints, Ravens

Chiefs, 49ers, Buccaneers

Saints: I’m not sure about what they gained and lost in their rosters, but if it’s similar to last year, I think I might choose them as the favorites.

Ravens: I’m uncertain about Jackson.

Chiefs: uncertain about their defense

49ers: uncertain about their QB (and WRs)

Buccaneers: Uncertain how Brady will perform at his age in a new system. If he performs well, they should be Super Bowl contenders>

Second Tier

Bills, Steelers

Patriots, Titans, Cowboys, Seahawks, Colts, Texans, Rams, Packers

I think there’s even more uncertainty with these teams.

Bills: If Allen can improve (less boneheaded moves, better accuracy), they should be a strong team. They remind of the Panthers.

Steelers: If Roethlisberger plays well, they could be like the Chiefs (with less explosive offense but better defense). But will he?

Titans: uncertain about QB

Patriots: Lots of changes, but can’t count out Belichick

Cowboys: Offense should be good, but I’m guessing they’ll continue to move away from run-first. Really uncertain about their defense.

Seahawks: Uncertain about the trenches. They could be OK or really suck.

Colts: Uncertain how Rivers will play. Don’t know how good this D could be–but could be really good.

Texans: Don’t know how good D will be.

Rams: Don’t know about their OL. If really good, they could shoot up this list. No idea about the quality of their defense.

Packers: I’m uneasy about the conflict between Rodgers and LaFleur. Their OL has always been a strength, but they may decline, and I don’t think they have great pass-catchers. Their defense should be good. If Rodgers allows them to become run-first team, they could shoot up this list.

Third Tier

Lions, Falcons, Cardinals, Broncos, Raiders, Eagles

These are potential dark horse teams.

24 thoughts on “2020-2021 NFL Regular Season

  1. Side question: Can you guys think of any great or really good defenses, that had a mediocre/lousy pass rush? I don’t think the 2012 Seahawk pass rush was great, but I wouldn’t call them mediocre, although I think it was an area they needed to improve. Maybe last year’s Patriot defense? I’m not sure about their stats, but in terms of personnel, I don’t think they had really good pass-rushers.

  2. Dang, I want a refund.

  3. I feel like the top tier teams are pretty darn good and I feel like they could be significantly better than the rest of the league with a few exceptions. And I didn’t feel like that in the last four to five years. My first tiers are the best teams from last year: San Fran, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Kansas City. I think all of these top tier teams may have lost some pieces, but they gain some as well, so I think they “should” be as dominate as they were last year.

    I’ll put the Bills, Cowboys, and Bucs alone in tier 2. I can see all three teams competing to be with the tier 1, but they have a lot of unproven things which makes me hesitant.

    I think Indy and Seattle are just a little better than everyone else so I would put them alone in tier 3. I don’t have a good sense of the Steelers, who a lot of pundits really like.

    My dark horse team would have been the Chargers if Derwin James didn’t go down. I think they could have had the pieces to be a dominate defense. I will go Raiders, but I really question how bad they fell apart the second half of last season, and I want to put that on Carr (for no real reasons other than his stats plummeted I’m pretty sure).

  4. Don,

    My first tiers are the best teams from last year: San Fran, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Kansas City.

    At this point, how confident about Lamar Jackson, in terms of being able to win a Super Bowl? Can he make the handful of key plays and protect the football in the post-season?

    With New Orleans, their OL seemed to take a step back last year. That would be one area of concern for me. I’m curious to see if their defense improves or stays the same.

    I think Indy and Seattle are just a little better than everyone else so I would put them alone in tier 3.

    What’s your sense of the Seahawks’s lines?

    How good do you think the Colts will be? Beyond Buckner, I don’t know anything about their roster changes. To me, they didn’t have a pass rusher last year. I don’t know if Buckner is a pass rusher, but he could be a disruptive force that makes all the difference.

    With the NIners, they’re kinda beat up now, especially on offense, but I expect they’ll be in this. The key for me is Garappolo.

    I’ll put the Bills, Cowboys, and Bucs alone in tier 2. I can see all three teams competing to be with the tier 1, but they have a lot of unproven things which makes me hesitant.

    How do you feel about the Cowboys defense? Also, are they going to be a 3-4 or 4-3? Is Vander Esch OK? (I haven’t really heard anything about him.)

  5. Do you think Lamar Jackson’s last year’s playoff performance is a bad mark on him? I didn’t think so. He wasn’t great, but he was okay. You need to remember he is only a starter for one and half seasons. Not many QBs can say they led their teams in that short of a timeframe. I thought the biggest issues in last year’s playoff game was those fourth and short that they couldn’t convert and maybe the fact that they went for it.

    I don’t have a sense of Seattle’s lines, but based on what you said I’m going to guess it’s not great. It wasn’t great last year and Wilson performed well enough. Many pundits have the Vikings pretty high, if you were forced to bet would you bet on the Vikings over Seattle? I cannot see that based on what I saw last year. The Viking’s offense wasn’t as great as their talent.

    For the Cowboys, I think their offense could be better, but they will miss even a 85% Frederick. But based on what I hear of what Ceedee, he is an upgrade over Cobb (He was voted top receiver in camp by the Dallas writers.) and Blake Jarwin may be a upgrade over Witten at least as a receiver. In terms of defense, I’m hoping it was coaching that were holding them back. But even if it’s not coaching they could be slightly better even though they lost Byron Jones because they got more weapons on the d-line. But yeah if the defense plays at the same level as last year, Dallas won’t be as good as I’m anticipating. Oh I keep hearing the Dallas defense will be in a 4-3 that may actually look like a 3-4 with guys like D-law, T Crawford, and Aldon Smith standing ala a linebacker. But it doesn’t seem like Dallas will actually have four “linebackers” on the field and three down linemen. But who knows for sure.

  6. Do you think Lamar Jackson’s last year’s playoff performance is a bad mark on him?

    Yes. Do you think he played well? How many turnovers did he have? He also didn’t look good in the previous year’s playoffs. In both cases, he was put in the position where he had to throw the ball to win. Are you confident he can do that?

    Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean he has no chance of being a Super Bowl QB. But right now, there are red flags. To me, a Super Bowl QB has to have the ability to pass a lot to win. There will almost definitely be games where the team will be down by quite a bit, and they’ll have to pass a lot–and the opponent knows this. If the QB is not good in these situations they’re not a Super Bowl QB. This is one of Alex Smith’s problems. (I think Matt Schaub was like this, too.) Also, I’m iffy on Jackson’s ball security, especially in the playoffs.

    I don’t have a sense of Seattle’s lines, but based on what you said I’m going to guess it’s not great.

    They could literally have the worst DL in the NFL. To give you an idea of this: they are relying a lot on Benson Mayowa. Clowney was not a great pass-rusher but he was the most double-teamed D-lineman last year, I think. They have no one like that now. The OL has three new players–one playing C for the first time, a (promising) rookie, and a castoff from the Jets. Last year’s OL wasn’t great but they had experience and continuity. So the OL/DL, which was probably bottom third last year, could actually be worse.

    But the Vikings have a real young secondary (no one above the age of 23, I believe) and I think there are question marks on their OL, which was shaky at times last year. But they’ve got Kubiak as OC and Dalvin Cook.

    If I had to pick between the two I’d choose the ‘Hawks because of Wilson, the secondary, and Carroll.

    For the Cowboys, I think their offense could be better, but they will miss even a 85% Frederick.

    1. Lamar wasn’t great, but he was definitely improved from two years ago against San Diego. He made plays. How many QBs in their third year or less are you more confident in? Kyler? Mayfield? Darnold?

    2. If I recall correctly, Lamar did play better in his second playoff stint, but not enough to remove the red flags in my view.

      How many QBs in their third year or less are you more confident in? Kyler? Mayfield? Darnold?

      I can’t say I’m significantly more confident about any of these QBs. It’s too early for Murray. I like Mayfield, but he and Darnold have big question marks. With Darnold, the evaluation is obscured by him playing on a bad team. He could be one of those whose potential was ruined by playing on a bad team. (One comparison I think of: Jake Plummer. Bill Walsh wanted him over Drukenmiller, and I believe he said Plummer was better than Montana. But Plummer played too many years on bad Cardinal teams. He was sort of a free-wheeling QB who threw too many INTs. On a better team, with a better coaching, I think he had potential to be really good. I think the same applies to Darnold.)

      I think I’m a little more confident in Josh Allen. I’m not sure he’ll be elite, but right now, the odds seem higher for this happening than Jackson.

      I would say I was more confident about Watson at the same point in their careers. Prescott, too, although I still have some reservations about him.

  7. Amendments to the original post

    The Browns, Packers and maybe even the Cowboys have potential to be great defenses.

    The Browns might have one of the most talented rosters, but Stefansky is a complete unknown. If he’s really good, the Browns could be one of the better teams. But with the Browns, I’ll wait until I actually see it on the field.

    1. (con’t)

      The Chiefs are the type of contender that’s built on their offense–specifically a pass offense. Other teams that could be contenders that play in a similar style: Texans, Cowboys, Steelers, Rams, Colts, and Eagles. (Edit: Saints) (I’m less sure about what the Cowboys and Colts offense will look like. And I think the Steelers should go back to a run first approach, but they haven’t played that way in a long time.)

      I don’t know if I said this before, but I have a lot of uncertainty about the quality of OLs on a bunch of teams. For several of these teams, the quality of the OL can turn them into a contender or pretender. For example, Seahawks, Vikings, Lions, Falcons, Buccaneers, Packers, Cardinals; maybe the Broncos. Tell me these teams will have good OLs or even better, and I would say they are solid playoff teams. (Note: The list is not exhausted. I have questions about other teams as well–Giants, Cowboys, Raiders, etc.)

  8. You guys ever draft in a 14-team fantasy football league? It’s insane. I swear by the tenth round we were grabbing Tim Biakabatuka and Natrone Means.

    1. This tweet (the two player mentioned) seemed like something from 30 years ago.

      I’m guessing there are a lot of teams in this league?

          1. I drafted 11th, which kind of sucked.

            My last non-defense, non-kicker picks were
            9th round (123td pick): Sterling Shepard, WR NYG
            10th (130th): Duke Johnson, RB HOU
            11th (151st): Preston Williams, WR, MIA
            14th (186th): Kirk Cousins, QB, MIN
            15th (207th): Bryce Love, RB, WAS

            I couldn’t believe Duke Johnson went as early as the 10th round. That’s actually what made me wonder if Tim Biakabatuka was anywhere in the list.

            No, I never heard of Preston Williams or Bryce Love before last night.

            Jags RBs:
            Chris Thompson — 11th pick, Round 12
            James Robinson — 14th pick, Round 11

    2. Oops, I erred in two ways.

      By 14 team, for some reason, I thought you meant the number of players per team. (Shaking my head at myself.)

  9. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I listened to a lot of NFL-related podcasts during the offseason. so maybe I absorbed some stuff.

    AFC WEST
    Chiefs
    Raiders
    Broncos
    Chargers

    This is the weird year when I kinda like all the AFC West teams and kinda dismiss them all as well, except KC.

    AFC NORTH
    Steelers
    Ravens
    Bengals
    Browns

    I wavered on this and then just flipped a coin. If Roethlisberger is healthy, the Steelers either win the division or get in as a wildcard. If everything clicks, they may not be the best team in the AFC but they have the best chance of beating the Chiefs in the playoffs. The Niners showed in the Super Bowl how it can be done.

    I’m kind of expecting every game in this division to be fun to watch.

    AFC SOUTH
    Colts
    Texans
    Titans
    Jaguars

    As usual, this will be competititve among three fair-to-decent teams. Which will be the decentest? My heart wants Deshaun Watson but my head and Mina Kimes convince me it’s the Colts.

    AFC EAST
    Patriots
    Dolphins
    Bills
    Jets

    Hopefully Cam is healthy. Every year a team comes out of nowhere to make the playoffs, and my pick this year is the Dolphins. They look like one of those bad teams with good talent, right? The franchise has been miserable but they’ve made some good moves this past year. They look, at best, like being this year’s year-away-from-being-a-year-away team. This makes them a good choice to be the from-out-of-nowhere team.

    AFC Wildcards: Dolphins and Ravens. I’m taking the Ravens instead of the Bills here mostly based on Baltimore having the more solid organization.

    NFC WEST
    49ers
    Seahawks
    Cardinals
    Rams

    I expect the Rams to be the best last-place team in the league. I think they’re still a good team, but I see them being like last year’s Cardinals. Competitive but on the wrong end of too many games. The Rams seemed to be trending downward while the Cards seem to be trending upward. I admitted last year that the Rams made me like them. Still kind of fond.

    NFC NORTH
    Packers
    Vikings
    Lions
    Bears

    Still a Rodgers believer. The Lions remind me of what I just said about the Dolphins but less so.

    NFC SOUTH
    Buccaneers
    Saints
    Falcons
    Panthers

    I’m really just guessing here. I mean more so than for the rest of the divisions.

    NFC EAST
    Cowboys
    Eagles
    Giants
    Football Team

    I hear you both hedging on the Cowboys but there’s so much talent here I say the division is theirs to lose. Plus, the Eagles are just this mysterious mess. Yeah, they SHOULD have won the division last year but not like THAT.

    NFC Wildcards: Saints and Seahawks.

    Super Bowl: Chiefs over Saints
    …but if I were a gambling man, I would bet Saints over Steelers because there’s better value there.

    1. I agree with a lot of this–or at least I think the picks make a lot of sense–with some notable exceptions.

      Ravens don’t win the division. If Roethlisberger returns to form and stays healthy, picking the Steelers to win their division isn’t crazy, but I would say the Ravens run game or Lamar as a passer will regress. Actually in thinking about this, this is not a far-fetched scenario.

      Bills dropping in third place is a bit of surprise. The Dolphins did pick up some good players, and maybe they’ll take the leap. I’m not prepared to say that without seeing them play, though.

      1. Yeah but if I wait until I see them play, I’m not an awesome football seer. You have to make predictions before the season begins.

  10. NFL offenses are shattering scoring records

    That’s what I’m hearing. The question is why? Here are the possible explanations, including some combinations of them:

    1. Officials calling less penalties–specifically holding calls, I believe. I think I heard that the calls were 60+% lesss than 2019, which seems like a huge number. And it matches my impression from watching games.

    2. No crowd noise. Noise can prevent the QB and OL from communicating and from hearing the snap, which gives the DL a split second.

    3. Defenses are hurt more from not having an offseason.

    4. More defensive pass interferences/holding calls.

    That’s the 4 main reasons I’ve heard. If you guys heard of any others, let me know.

    To me, everything but the last one seem like solid explanations, especially the first two. The lack of holding calls and even false starts seems noticeably less, and I must say that makes the games much more watchable. On the other hand, there are several games where moving the ball looks way too easy, and that is not enjoyable to watch.

    In any event, if the NFL wanted more offense, I always thought helping the OL would be a good way to do this–as long as it wasn’t obvious that they were getting a distinct advantage. So far, I haven’t noticed more egregious holding by O-linemen.

    But if the lack of crowd noise is the big reason for this, that would mean the blocking would likely decline, which would kinda suck. In any event, the theory that the OL is getting a lot of help also seems compelling because the Seahawks OL looks better than its ever been–in spite of three new players, including a rookie. I wondered about the Rams OL as well, but they look really good. (It could be that McVay’s coaching just is enhancing their play.) The Packers OL has looked really good too in spite of losing Bulaga.

    I prefer helping the OL, for generating more offense, rather than being stricter on the DPI calls. Remember the one or two seasons they did that? That sucked. They’re not doing that now, and the game is way better for it.

    One last thing. I do think it’s plausible that defenses are behind a bit. I see more egregious broken coverage. But if that continues to the end of the season, that weaken this explanation.

  11. The Ravens don’t seem to have given up much, depending on how many picks they had. They’re really going for it.

    Also, the Seahawks are thinking of signing AB. I really hate the idea. One of the reporters sums up part of the reason:

    I don’t know the full story, but based on my understanding now, if Carroll and Russ are all on board, my estimation of both of them will diminish. I will be really unhappy if they make this move. I’m already disappointed that they’re seriously considering it now.

    1. I’m genuinely relieved that AB’s not going to the Hawks, even if he helps an team the Hawks might have to face in the playoffs. It’s not just that I think he would be toxic to a team, but the idea that he could have all the off field issues and Russ, a guy with a squeaky-clean, Christian image would really want him to join the team makes me feel a bit ill…

      …Now, as i write that, I’m having a slightly different reaction, as what I wrote kind of makes me uncomfortable. To wit, because someone has done bad things, does that mean Christians should shun that person? No, I don’t think so–but I realize what I said makes it sound that way.

      To me, the problem here isn’t forgiving and showing compassion to someone who has done bad things–the problem is overlooking those things because it benefits one’s team. To some extent, all teams tolerate flaws in the highly talented players, and that’s not wrong per se. But I think there is a line. And I think that line involves the implicit message that a team, a player like Russ, sends when they keep a player with issues–namely, those issues aren’t beyond the pale. Did Brown do things that are beyond the pale? I actually lost track of all things he did. I believe he’s been accused of sexual assault and rape. Now, it matters a lot if he’s innocent or guilty, but unless the team is certain this didn’t occur–if this an open question–expressing a desire to have the player on the team sends a bad message. Or at least that’s what it seems like.

    2. You got your wish because Ant Brown signed with the Bucs, I read. Like the Bucs need any more receivers. Although, I heard that Mike Evans hasn’t done much when Godwin has played, so maybe he isn’t the player he once was. To be fair, Evans has been hurt most of this year too.

    3. Yeah, I got my wish, but I wish I still didn’t have a bad taste in my mouth.

      I really think the issue with Evans is his injury. He’s missed snaps because of it, too. I want to say the first injury was a hamstring, and then he might have had an ankle injury. Goodwin hasn’t been fully healthy, either. OJ Howard, too, but I don’t think he’s ever been really productive.

      I think the underrated aspect of their team is the run game–maybe RoJo in particular. Arians has a reputation for a aggressive pass guy, but the will play a ground-and-pound style. And if their run game is strong, and Brady doesn’t have to throw as much, that increases their chances of winning. I think that if Brady has to throw a lot, the Bucs will need to face relatively weaker defenses, otherwise I think there’s a good chance he’ll turn the ball over or fail to deliver.

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