The NFL regular season is here. It’s really here! After months of waiting excitedly for it, it’s time to watch our favourite teams get back into action. Last year was a pretty unique season and will be remembered, for better or for worse. The league starts up again on Thursday with the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers facing the Dallas Cowboys. Before the campaign gets underway, here are my 2021 NFL Predictions.
AFC Winners: Kansas City Chiefs
Not exactly starting off with a controversial choice here, but can you blame me. The Kansas City Chiefs are the favourites every week they step onto the field and deservedly so. Patrick Mahomes is probably the best quarterback in the league. Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the league. Tyreek Hill is one of the best wide receivers in the league. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is pretty good, too. Then you have the defense, who have some real playmakers, including Tyrann Mathieu and Chris Jones.
The AFC West is a tough decision, but the Chiefs are all-but guaranteed to win it anyway. Once it gets to the knockout stage, they just have to stay healthy and play how they do week in and week out. They’re the scariest matchup in the league. I expect to see them return to the big game for the third time in a row.
NFC Winners: Los Angeles Rams
While the AFC have a clear favourite with some great teams nipping at their heels, the NFC is more open. I think that this is going to be a big year for the LA Rams. This has been a phenomenal football team for multiple years, consistently playing at very high level. That defense is infamous, headlined by absolute superstars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey is one of the best man-coverage corners in the NFL and Donald is an all-time great defensive player. They have also upgraded their quarterback position, big time, in acquiring Matthew Stafford. Jared Goff wasn’t bad enough to stop this offense being good, but it held them back from being truly great. This season, I think Sean McVay is all-in. He has gone from Goff to Stafford and I think he’s going to try and take full advantage.
Unfortunately, Cam Akers got hurt before the year could begin, a tough break, but I think they’re just too talented. McVay’s offense has a great scheme, so it should still be able to maintain most of its efficiency with Darrell Henderson Jr. serving as the RB1. They are in a tough division, but as long as they can get into the playoffs, they’re as equipped as any other team in the league to win those best-of-one knockout games.
I will say, it’s difficult not to predict the Chiefs and the Bucs will meet again, but for some reason, I just have a really good feeling about a Stafford-led Rams team.
Super Bowl Winners: Kansas City Chiefs
There may be a subconscious bias to my prediction of a Chiefs vs Rams Super Bowl, as they were the two teams who played my favourite regular-season game ever. The final score of that game – in late 2018 – was 54-51 to the Rams. It was the ultimate shootout. I want to watch that again! If we do, I think that Mahomes would take the win this time. The Chiefs are the best team in the NFL, in my opinion. They lost last year because their O-Line got injured and they couldn’t apply pressure to the Buccaneers and Tom Brady. This season, I think that Mahomes will get his big bounce-back year. That Super Bowl was practically unwinnable for him with the amount of pressure he had to deal with. Give him a chance and he’ll take it.
Most Valuable Player: Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
One of the most exciting players in the NFL and a personal favourite of mine, Josh Allen blew me away last year. This is a person who just turned everybody’s expectations on their head. When the 2019 season ended, the Bills quarterback had shown upside, sure. However, he hadn’t been consistent. He took a lot of risks, sometimes risking the football and sometimes risking his body. 2020 was like watching a different player entirely.
Buffalo added Stefon Diggs and formed the most unlikely but beautiful partnership. A QB who was thought to be erratic and somewhat of a gunslinger with a big arm but less finesse; partnered with a true route technician who runs everything on the route tree and thrives on his technique and smooth athleticism. Nobody knew, but they were forming a match made in heaven. Allen threw 4,544 yards and 37 Touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. His pass completion rate went up from 56.3% through his first two years all the way to 69.2% last season.
I was absolutely amazed by Allen last year. You could argue his breakout season was too good to be true, but I have two responses to that. 1. Even if it was, the sheer talent he displayed last year gave me reason to believe that we aren’t far from the new normal and regression wouldn’t be too bad. 2. We don’t even know that last year was definitely his ceiling! If Allen continues to improve, another offseason could easily set him up for an MVP-worthy campaign.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The GOAT proved everybody wrong last season with one of the most impressive feats in sports history. Tom Brady left the dynasty that he built behind and won the Super Bowl with his new team, in Tampa Bay. After doing so he now has more Super Bowls to his name than any franchise in the league. Less than 6 months after his first ever training camp not with the Patriots, he had won it all with a new team. Now he has had a full offseason, the Bucs haven’t lost a single key player, and in theory they should be even better. Brady has great weapons in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and O.J Howard. He hasn’t lost a step and still throws the ball really well. The Bucs defense is great and with everything clicking from Week 1, I think they’re probably favourites to get the #1 seed in the NFC. If they can do that, and TB12 can play the way he did last year, I think he could put up a line of 4,750 yards, 45 touchdowns and win 13 or more games. Doing that would earn him the OPOY award, for sure.
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
I was leaning towards TJ Watt for this prediction as I felt he should have won it last year, but there are fears of him holding out, so I went elsewhere. This is a difficult award to choose, because the stats are more subjective than offensive stats. This award basically translates to me as ‘biggest game wrecker’. My prediction for that award is Myles Garrett. The Browns edge rusher is poised to continue a dominant career, after his third consecutive double-digit sack season in 2020. He has amassed 42.5 sacks in 51 games. Cleveland’s defense is underrated, and the addition of new young talent, like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, give more and more for the opposing offenses to think about. If Garrett is able to play all 16 games, I think it’d be very reasonable for him to break 15-sacks for the first time. The Browns are a better football team than people might realise and Garrett will be central to their success.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
This might be less of a talent-based decision, more of a recognition of the situation players are in. I think that Mac Jones is the fifth best player drafted at the QB position in this year’s draft. However, only one player got injected into the best-coached and run organisation in football. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are so good at getting the best out of their team, and I believe that will happen to Jones this year. The Alabama QB will be walking into the team from week one – one of just three rookies who will do so – and the offense that Tom Brady had so much success with over the last 20 years will be waiting for him. They have great coaching, smart game planning and some good players to work with. The Patriots won 7 games last year despite working in an improvised Cam-Newton-appropriate scheme. You remember when Jones got drafted and he told Roger Goodell that this was the landing spot he wanted… This is why. The staff and the system is perfect. This year, if Mac Jones walks into the offense and finds himself comfortable and is able to make the step to the NFL quickly, he is a very sneaky pick for the OROTY.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys
A star of Hard Knocks, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is looking to make an instant impact at the next level. The Dallas Cowboys drafted him 12th overall and he will be starting from the get go. Parsons is a rangey middle linebacker with truly elite athleticism and explosiveness. He slots into a Dallas defense that could really use the help. They were one of the worst in the league and they will be grateful for any help they can get. The fact that said help is in the form of a phenomenal young linebacker who can work sideline-to-sideline and clean up some of the mess. Dak Prescott’s return rightfully excites fans, but the addition of Parsons to this team should be worth that hype and more. Of the 11 picks they made in this year’s draft, 8 were defensive players, so they are doing everything they can to fix the defense. I think that this year, that process begins, and this transition will be led by Micah Parsons.
Comeback Player of the Year: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
This might be an obvious pick, but there’s a reason for that. Dak Prescott was playing out of his damn mind last year through the first five weeks. He was absolutely tearing defenses apart. It was beautiful. Cowboys fans, fantasy fans and just football fans in general were in awe. His 16-game pace before he got injured was 5,939 yards and 29 TD’s. That injury completely removed him from all football activities for the rest of the year, as Dallas slowly fell into NFC East mediocrity. This season I expect Dak to return with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and some motivation to pick up where he left off. Last year we were looking at a locked-and-loaded MVP candidate. This year I think he wins Comeback Player of the Year, on his mission to take Dallas deep into the postseason.