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Pigskin prognostication! A 2021 NFL season preview

September 7, 2021
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Are you ready for some football?

By the time read this, the 2021 NFL season may have already kicked off – the first game of this year’s slate is scheduled for September 9, when the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play host to the Dallas Cowboys.

For the second year in a row, the NFL season will play out under the long shadow cast by the pandemic; it remains to be seen how the continuing evolution of that nationwide health concern will impact the schedule. Despite the NFL’s robust demands with regard to vaccination and other safety protocols, it seems likely that the game on the field will be impacted. How often and how thoroughly? Well, that remains to be seen.

With all of this uncertainty, it would seem to be even more foolish than usual to attempt to predict the outcome of the 2021 NFL regular season. And yet … here we are.

I will be making my usual predictions regarding how I believe the season will play out. And as usual, I anticipate being wildly off-base with a significant percentage of these predictions. I have a long and storied history of middling picks, after all – why expect anything different this time around? There’s even an extra regular season game, adding yet another little bit of possible inaccuracy to my personal equation.

And so, here you have it, friends – my monkey-dart-throwing attempt at prognostication. Ladies and gentlemen, your sure-to-be-inaccurate 2021 Maine Edge NFL Season Preview.

(y = division winner; x = wild card)

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AFC

AFC East

Buffalo Bills – 11-6 (y)

New England Patriots – 10-7 (x)

Miami Dolphins – 9-8

New York Jets – 6-11

It pains me to say, but I think it’s pretty clear that the Bills are the team to beat in the AFC East this year. Josh Allen just gets scarier under center, with a cannon arm and a willingness to run. Plus, he’s got another year of comfort with receiver Stefon Diggs. Oh, and the defense is solid as well. The Bills are a tough out. I’ll admit to being a bit of a Mac Jones skeptic, but there’s no time like the present. I’m not sure what kind of offensive attack we’ll be seeing here – the receiving corps is better but not great; Damien Harris looks like he might be the real deal. The Pats look strong on both sides of the line and their secondary remains elite. This team will be a defense-first winner, but wins are wins. The Dolphins aren’t going to be any fun to play this year, but they’re still a season away from true contention. If QB Tua Taogovailoa can thrive, coach Ron Flores might have something here. If nothing else, they won’t be an easy out. The Jets, on the other hand? It all boils down to what happens with rookie passer Zach Wilson. If he develops ahead of schedule, the Jets might surprise some folks, but really, it’s going to be yet another bleak year for this squad.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns – 12-5 (y)

Baltimore Ravens – 12-5 (x)

Pittsburgh Steelers – 8-9

Cincinnati Bengals – 3-14

I keep trying to make the Brown happen – maybe this is the year! I can’t get enough of their skill position guys; the backfield tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt looks awfully dangerous. If Baker Mayfield can control the ball and wideout Odell Beckham Jr. returns to some semblance of his former self, the offense will cook. And there is incredible athleticism all over this defense – expect a big year from Myles Garrett. The Ravens need Lamar Jackson to stay on the field and do the things he does; if that happens, Baltimore might win this division outright. The loss of back J.K. Dobbins for the season hurts – expect a lot of Lamar running and quick passes to tight end Mark Andrews. Throw in a capable defense and who knows? This’ll be a tight race at the top. The Steelers might have the Offensive Rookie of the Year in Najee Harris, who looks poised to hit the ground running, but there’s not a lot of other excitement here. Ben Roethlisberger looked kind of cooked last year; if the trend continues, the Steelers are going to struggle to score. The Bengals are … the Bengals. Unless Joe Burrow takes a massive leap and guys like Joe Mixon come along for the ride, expect another long year for Cincy.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans – 11-6 (y)

Indianapolis Colts – 10-7

Jacksonville Jaguars – 8-9

Houston Texans – 2-15

Tennessee has plenty going for it. They have a capable QB in Ryan Tannehill, who is throwing to holdover A.J. Brown and newcomer Julio Jones. They also have force of nature Derrick Henry at running back. If they can handle their business on defense, they have a shot at putting up a hell of a season. The Colts are tricky – their injury issues seem to be in constant flux, particularly with regard to new QB Carson Wentz and all-everything O-lineman Quentin Nelson. If those guys are healthy enough – and back Jonathan Taylor makes the leap – the Colts could contend for a playoff spot. The Jaguars are going to interesting to watch – you’ve got a new coach in Urban Meyer and a new QB in number-one draft pick Trevor Lawrence. If both of these guys are able to adjust to their new surroundings, the Jags could be a tricky out. If either or both can’t hang this year, Jacksonville’s season is going to go down fast. The less that is said about the abysmal Houston Texans, the better. The entire organization is a dumpster fire top to bottom, from clueless ownership to misguided executives to a star who might wind up suspended and/or in jail. Houston, you have a problem.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs – 13-4 (y)

San Diego Chargers – 10-7 (x)

Denver Broncos – 10-7 (x)

Las Vegas Raiders – 4-13

There’s a very real chance that three teams from the West make the playoffs. I love the Chiefs to run it back this year. They’ve got Patrick Mahomes under center, which certainly starts things off right. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are still ready to catch the ball. Hopefully the vastly improved O-line allows for more run from a post-hype Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The defense is still spotty, but with this offense, who even cares? I feel like I might actually be low on the Chargers – I love QB Justin Herbert to follow up on a great rookie season. Austin Ekeler is a major weapon out of the backfield if he stays healthy; Keenan Allen can go get it. And the Bosa-led defense is scary as well. I like this team a lot. As for the Broncos, I have them out of the playoffs – for now. It’s going to boil down to how well Teddy Bridgewater takes care of the ball; if he can manage the game efficiently, that excellent Denver defense will take care of the rest. Last and least, we have the Raiders. Coach Jon Gruden simply doesn’t seem to be able to move this squad forward – they’re just spinning their wheels in Vegas. Barring a few wildly unlikely scenarios, this group will be lucky to win five games.

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NFC

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys – 10-7 (y)

Washington Football Team – 10-7 (x)

New York Giants – 9-8

Philadelphia Eagles – 4-13

Basically, it boils down to this: if Dak Prescott can stay on the field, the Cowboys will probably win the division. He’s got plenty of talent to throw to, a workhorse back in Zeke Elliott and a great line. This is a team that will score a TON if all the pieces are there. The defense is a bit soft, but the offense will likely cover for them. I think Washington’s got a shot at making noise; their defense looks stacked, with reigning Rookie of the Year Chase Young leading the way. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t sexy, but he’s the best QB the WFT has seen in years – guys like Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin are pumped. Some people are higher on the Giants than I am, and I do agree that Joe Judge looks like a legit NFL coach. I’m just not sold on Daniel Jones making the jump at QB – he just doesn’t look like the guy. A healthy Saquon Barkley running the ball would certainly help – we’ll see how that goes. Lastly, we have Philadelphia. Sorry boss – it’s not looking good for your Eagles this season. It’ll be interesting to see what QB Jalen Hurts can do coming into the year as the starter; my guess is that he’s a far better fantasy asset than real-life player. An old defense and not much offense.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – 13-4 (y)

Minnesota Vikings – 8-9

Chicago Bears – 6-11

Detroit Lions – 5-12

This division looks like the Packers and everyone else. After an offseason dalliance with “Jeopardy!” and a few met demands, reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is back doing his thing. He’s got two of the best players at their positions in receiver Davante Adams and running back Aaron Jones, which certainly helps the offense. Their defense is improved as well, so it looks like Green Bay will cruise. Next up, we have the Minnesota Vikings. This is a team that has a wide range of possible outcomes – one of the widest in the NFL. Kirk Cousins remains the Kirk Cousins-iest. Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook both have the potential to make major leaps forward and they’ve got some stars on the defensive side. If they’re playing from behind, they’re in trouble. Chicago’s Matt Nagy is currently insisting on starting avatar for mediocrity Andy Dalton over first-round QB Justin Fields; we’ll see how that goes. The Bears have a great defensive scheme, but they’ll need to overperform to have a shot. Lastly, the Detroit Lions. While my T.J. Hockenson/D’Andre Swift fantasy football tandem has me rooting for them, I concede that new QB Jared Goff probably isn’t going to get it done to the level he needs to.

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 12-5 (y)

New Orleans Saints – 10-7 (x)

Atlanta Falcons – 7-10

Carolina Panthers – 3-14

Tom Brady is going to age out of the NFL someday. Will it be this year? Probably not. Expect the best 44-year-old season from a QB in league history. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are still here to catch passes. The Buccaneers defense remains absolutely stacked. If Brady stays healthy, it’s tough to pick against them having a real shot at repeating as champs. I have the Saints just missing the playoffs, largely because the unsettled Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill quarterback situation seems tricky. Michael Thomas is disgruntled and hurt. They also have Alvin Kamara, who just scores TDs. They could easily prove me wrong. The Falcons are in flux. Matt Ryan is still here, throwing the ball like he always has. Calvin Ridley looks poised for a breakout and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts could be a legitimate force. But there’s little run game to speak of and the defense looks questionable. Julio Jones will be missed. Tough to care about the Panthers. Running back Christian McCaffery is the most impactful weapon in the league, but he’s about it. New QB Sam Darnold might benefit from the change of scenery – at least he’s not a Jet anymore – but while the young defense looks feisty, you have to score to win.

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams – 13-4 (y)

Seattle Seahawks – 10-7 (x)

San Francisco 49ers – 10-7 (x)

Arizona Cardinals – 5-12

There’s a chance that the Rams are the best team in the NFC. The shift from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford alone is enough to elevate the offense significantly; he’ll be throwing to Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The loss of RB Cam Akers hurts, but not enough to make a huge difference. And the defense is led by arguably the best player in the league in Aaron Donald, plus All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey. Thirteen wins might be low. I like the Seahawks, largely because Russell Wilson is still here doing his thing. Chris Carson can run the ball, while there are plenty of pass catchers. If the defense can hang – and I think they can – they’ll make the playoffs. The 49ers look strong too. Jimmy Garoppolo starts at QB for now, but look out for rookie Trey Lance. George Kittle looks ready to bounce back. Oh, and Nick Bosa is back from injury, giving the D a huge bump. The Cardinals might actually win a different division. I love Kyler Murray as a QB, though he may still struggle a bit. He does have DeAndre Hopkins to throw to, which certainly helps his prospects. This team also added J.J. Watt, providing pass rushing and leadership. Still, the three teams ahead of them are simply better.

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Please note that this week also marks the return of everyone’s favorite weekly man-versus-dog NFL picks feature – Kibbles and Picks is coming back for a ninth year! Don’t forget to check our website every Wednesday afternoon to see just how badly the adorably cutthroat Stella will thrash me in picking each week’s winners throughout the NFL season. Will I win for the third time? Not likely, but that’s why they play the games!

Regardless – let’s get ready for some football!

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 September 2021 15:05

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