NFL Schedule Release 2021: Win-Loss Predictions for Every NFL Team

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2021

NFL Schedule Release 2021: Win-Loss Predictions for Every NFL Team

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The rush of NFL free agency has died down. The seven rounds of the 2021 NFL draft are in the books. The schedule has been released. 

    It's time to get serious about figuring out what to make of the 2021-22 season.

    In a vacuum, it's easy to get swept away with the moves made in one offseason. It's easy to believe that first-rounder is going to turn things around for your favorite franchise or that new coordinator is going to fix the offense in one offseason. 

    That seldom turns out to be the case, though. Several teams improved this offseason but so too did the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are bringing back an unprecedented 22 starters on offense and defense. 

    Year-to-year improvement is always the hope, but it's far from guaranteed. With most teams' starting lineups solidified and the schedule officially released, now is a great time to make some early predictions as to how each team will finish the first 17-game season in NFL history. 

Arizona Cardinals

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Life in the NFC West is difficult.

    The Cardinals should have some lofty expectations with Kyler Murray entering his third year in the league, but adding wins in the league's deepest division is easier said than done. 

    The Cards have done what they can to give themselves the best opportunity, though. They made a lot of aggressive moves in the offseason, bringing in aging veterans in J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, Rodney Hudson and Malcolm Butler.  

    However, early all of them are merely replacing a departing player. A.J. Green is replacing Larry Fitzgerald, Malcolm Butler walks into Patrick Peterson's role and J.J. Watt joins the defensive front where they lost Haason Reddick. 

    The draft brought another intriguing, versatile defender in Zaven Collins to pair with Isaiah Simmons. Rondale Moore adds versatility to the offense as well. 

    The Cardinals got better and are an above-average team. That said, Kyler Murray will have to be special for them to elevate their standing in the rugged NFC West. 

    Prediction: 9-8

Atlanta Falcons

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Falcons are between eras right now. With Dan Quinn out and Arthur Smith taking over as head coach, it feels like the rebuild should be starting in Atlanta. 

    Instead, the Falcons have kind of just retooled around Matt Ryan, adding Kyle Pitts while holding onto Julio Jones for now. It gives the Falcons one of the most dynamic groups of skill players in the league. Even at 36 years old (when the season starts), Ryan should be able to torch secondaries. 

    That's good because he's going to have to. The Falcons were 29th in yards allowed last season and they didn't get appreciably better. It's hard to get excited about a free-agent class headlined by Mike Davis, Brandon Copeland and Barkevious Mingo. 

    To recap, the Falcons responded to a 4-12 season in which they couldn't stop anyone by hiring an offensive-minded head coach, drafting another offensive weapon and doing little in free agency that could be seen as a net-positive. 

    Smith and Pitts may help this team win in the long run, but there's little reason to believe they're going to help Atlanta's defense this year. 

    Prediction: 6-11

Baltimore Ravens

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    The Ravens came back down to earth a bit in 2020 after going 14-2 in 2019. But their 11-5 campaign showed they will remain a contender as long as they continue to have a strong defense and Lamar Jackson running the offense. 

    That should remain true in 2021. They have actually made moves to improve Jackson's weaponry in the passing game. Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman give him two legitimate receivers to pair with Marquise Brown for the passing game to take the next step. 

    The offensive line lost Matt Skura and traded Orlando Brown Jr., but Baltimore added Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva which should give them enough power up front in its run-heavy offense. 

    The biggest question comes on defense. The team lost its top pass-rusher in Matthew Judon and another talented one in Yannick Ngakoue. They'll have to rely on Tyus Bowser—second on the team last season with 22 total pressures—Pernell McPhee and first-round draft pick Odafe Oweh. 

    If there's an organization that can be trusted to find a way to pressure the quarterback, it's Baltimore. The Ravens had the highest blitz percentage of any team last year. Don't expect a huge dropoff.

    Getting off to a fast start and playing their best football down the home stretch will be vital. The late schedule does the Ravens no favors as they end the season with six of seven games against teams with winning records in 2020. 

    Prediction: 11-6

Buffalo Bills

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Coming one game shy of the Super Bowl, the Buffalo Bills are in prime position to take that next step in 2021. With Tom Brady gone and the Patriots in rebuilding mode, the Bills stepped right into the void of AFC East favorite and looked the part in 2020. 

    It's pretty easy to get behind a repeat performance in 2021. Josh Allen was top five in passer rating, touchdowns and ESPN's QBR

    Buffalo's offense remains largely unchanged. Emmanuel Sanders will replace John Brown, while Gabriel Davis should improve in his second season. That's great news for a unit that finished fifth in offensive efficiency last season. 

    On defense, general manager Brandon Beane did a great job of retaining talent. Matt Milano, Levi Wallace and Mario Addison—all players who could have signed elsewhere—are all returning to the team. 

    The Bills utilized the draft to bring in some reinforcements to the pass rush. First- and second-round picks Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham combine with AJ Epenesa to give them a young trio behind Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison. 

    While the offseason may have been fairly quiet for the Bills, they're set to make plenty of noise in 2021. The schedule sets up for a hot start and a strong finish too. After going 7-1 at home last season, the Bills will open and close the season with three of four games at Highmark Stadium. 

    Prediction: 13-4

Carolina Panthers

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    Brian Westerholt/Associated Press

    One way or another, we're going to find out what Sam Darnold is made of in 2021. 

    Carolina's success this season hangs on Darnold living up to the potential we never saw realized in New York. The Panthers' biggest move this season was trading three draft picks (including a second- and fourth-rounder in 2022) for the former Jets quarterback. 

    In turn, they sent Teddy Bridgewater to Denver for a sixth-round pick. 

    The team doubled down on the move by using the eighth pick on cornerback Jaycee Horn even though quarterback Justin Fields was still on the board. 

    Darnold undoubtedly has a better supporting cast in Carolina. He'll have one of the best running backs in the game in Christian McCaffrey, an emergent star in DJ Moore and a sure-handed rookie in Terrace Marshall Jr. 

    What might not be better is the offensive line he'll playing behind. Taylor Moton is a strong right tackle. He finished 13th among all tackles by PFF. No one else on the line finished higher than 20th at their position in 2020. 

    The bottom line is there are a lot of "ifs" with this team. If Darnold can play well and if the young defense can improve from being 24th in efficiency, this prediction will be way off. There are just too many hypotheticals to buy into right now. 

    Prediction: 6-11

Chicago Bears

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Chicago's offseason went from highly questionable to really intriguing in the span of a few minutes on draft night. Entering the draft, it looked like the Bears would be rolling with Andy Dalton as the unquestioned starting quarterback and would have to give up the farm to get one of the premier quarterback prospects. 

    Then they were able to swing a trade up to No. 11 and get Justin Fields. All of a sudden, they are being universally praised for having one of the best drafts. 

    It's true the Bears had one of the best drafts. They followed up their Fields pick by getting Teven Jenkins in the second round. Initially, it made sense that Jenkins would slide in at right tackle, but the team followed that pick up by releasing veteran left tackle Charles Leno. 

    Therein lies the problem for the Bears this season. A great draft is good for your organization's long-term future, but is often short on immediate impact. The Bears are set up better for 2022, meaning this may be a developmental year. 

    ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported the Bears believe they can win 10 games with Dalton as the starter but will be flexible with who they put under center once the season starts. 

    The defense took a step back last year. The Bears ranked 16th in defensive efficiency after ranking fifth in 2019. That may be in part because Chicago's offense often put its defense in bad positions last season, but there's no guarantee the defense will get back to 2019 levels. 

    To make things tougher, the Bears draw the strong AFC North and NFC West in non-divisional play. Finding a rhythm could be difficult as well. The Bears don't have one stretch of back-to-back home games on the schedule. 

    Prediction: 7-10

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    The Bengals are 6-25-1 in Zac Taylor's two years at the helm. He should be entering Year 3 with serious pressure to at least get within striking distance of .500. 

    That's going to be an uphill climb. 

    Joe Burrow is coming off a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee that ended his season after 10 starts. He showed enough promise to indicate he can live up to his top-pick billing with 13 touchdowns to five interceptions in those starts. 

    Adding Ja'Marr Chase, a favorite target of Burrow's when the two dominated college football at LSU, gives them an exciting trio of receivers in Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.

    The Bengals addressed the offensive line that allowed their signal-caller to get hit a total of 79 times last season. They signed Riley Reiff to play right tackle and drafted Jackson Carman in the second round who could kick inside to play guard.

    The offense will make strides, but the defense remains a glaring issue. Cincinnati added Trey Hendrickson, but losing Carl Lawson makes that move close to a net neutral. Adding Chidobei Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Larry Ogunjobi gives a young unit more experience, though it's hard to say it makes them appreciably better. 

    Prediction: 6-11

Cleveland Browns

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The beginning of the Browns Super Bowl window is officially open. General manager Andrew Berry has spent all offseason giving Kevin Stefanski everything he could need to build off the success of last year's 11-5 season. 

    The Browns return every member of an offensive line rated as the NFL's best by Pro Football Focus. Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. should be even better this season in Year 2. Factor in the return of Odell Beckham Jr. from a torn left ACL and the continuity of their first full offseason under offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and Cleveland's offense should only get better. 

    The real highlight of the offseason is what the Browns did with the defense. John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Anthony Walker and Jadeveon Clowney provided upgrades at every level. Adding Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah through the draft completed the makeover. 

    The new and improved, athletic defense is crucial in a conference where Cleveland's primary competitors will be the Bills, Chiefs and Ravens. Each of them has a dynamic quarterback that can make plays all over the field. 

    Stefanski's team is going to show last year was no fluke. 

    Prediction: 12-5

Dallas Cowboys

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Two things derailed a promising 2020 season for the Dallas Cowboys: Injuries and a leaky defense that gave up 5.9 yards per play. 

    The first aspect should be better. The offensive line was crushed by injuries, creating a scenario no team could have withstood. Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La'el Collins all missed serious time last season but should be back this year.

    Most importantly, they'll have Dak Prescott back. The quarterback had his best season yet in 2019 and was on pace to put up big numbers again in 2020 before a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle ended his season. 

    The defense remains a question, although Jerry Jones did a lot to address that side of the ball. The Cowboys hired Dan Quinn to replace Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator, made two value free-agent signings in Keanu Neal and Tarell Basham and then they went heavy on defense in the draft, using eight of their 11 selections on defenders. 

    That class is highlighted by Micah Parsons, who should give them highly productive linebacker play right away. But they'll also count on Kelvin Joseph to play a lot of snaps at cornerback after losing Chidobe Awuzie in free agency. 

    Now healthy, the offense should once again be electric, which will help Dallas rebound from a 6-10 season. How much improvement there will be, though, depends on what Quinn can get out of the defense.

    Prediction: 10-7

Denver Broncos

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Theoretically, the Broncos offense should be better than it is. The receiving corps of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler is made up of first and second-round picks. Melvin Gordon III is a proven talent at running back and they added Javonte Williams through the draft. 

    Sutton will be back after missing most of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee while Jeudy and Hamler should be better with a season under their belts. 

    The real question comes down to the quarterback position. The Broncos were about as non-committal as possible to Drew Lock while still leaving the door open he could be the guy. Lock failed to break out in his second season with 16 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. 

    However, the Broncos passed on the opportunity to draft another quarterback at pick No. 9 in the draft, instead choosing to trade a sixth-round pick for Teddy Bridgewater. 

    The team profiles a lot like the 2020 Chicago Bears. The defense could be elite. They have talent all over the field, a great set of pass-rushers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, a secondary that added Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Kareem Jackson and Patrick Surtain II, and a solid linebacker corps. 

    But without a quarterback that can take care of the ball, even that defense might not lead to a successful campaign. 

    Prediction: 8-9

Detroit Lions

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Lions fans should like the direction that general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell are taking this team. However, they just shouldn't get their hopes up quite yet. 

    Campbell brings an intensity and identity the team has desperately needed. In his introductory press conference, he referenced biting a kneecap off. Their moves in the offseason show it isn't just coach-speak when Campbell talks about wanting to bring physicality and aggression to the franchise. No kneecap should feel safe. 

    Trading Matt Stafford was a necessary evil to rebuild. The quarterback brought back a strong return in draft capital (two first-round picks and a third) while giving them a quarterback reclamation project in Jared Goff. The former Rams starter has proven he can win if given a great offensive line and weapons to work with. 

    The Lions did their part in working toward the first part of that. Drafting Penei Sewell to a team that already has Taylor Decker gives the Lions a great tackle duo for the foreseeable future. 

    The weaponry needs work, though. They lost their top two targets in Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay. Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams are far from upgrades and Amon-Ra St. Brown won't strike fear into secondaries as a rookie. 

    The defensive front has some potential with Michael Brockers joining Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers. But the rest of the defense is either young or underwhelming. That will have to be addressed next offseason.

    Prediction: 4-13

Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    For now, let's assume the Green Bay Packers, who have paid Aaron Rodgers $242.3 million over the past 16 seasons, and their quarterback are going to find a way to play nice. 

    The NFL seems on board with that assumption. The Packers are scheduled for five primetime games with another on Christmas Day against the Browns. Otherwise, that's a lot of Jordan Love on national television. 

    As long as Rodgers is at the helm, the Packers are one of the best teams in the NFC. To wit, they've amassed a 126-63-1 record with Rodgers as their starter.

    You can say they should have added a receiver. It would have probably helped assuage their star quarterback, but they were still the No. 1 offense in the NFL last season with Davante Adams and their collection of supposed misfit pass-catchers. 

    It's hard to say Green Bay will have as much success as it did in 2020, though. It didn't really do anything of note in free agency outside of retaining Aaron Jones, which made last year's selection of A.J. Dillon even more confusing. 

    The best thing you can say about the Packers offseason is they didn't really lose much from the team that went 13-3 last season. Center Corey Linsley was the biggest loss and the Packers directly addressed it in the draft with the selection of Josh Myers.

    Prediction: 11-6

Houston Texans

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Texans just continue to be a combination of vexing personnel decisions and continuous blunders. To this point, the only thing that has held the team together is Deshaun Watson. 

    And now, his future with the team, and maybe even in the league, is in serious doubt. The quarterback demanded a trade in January. Then 22 lawsuits from women alleging sexual assault or misconduct were filed against the quarterback over a number of weeks. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported there is a belief among those in the league that Watson will not play at all in 2021 and his career with the Texans is done.

    The Texans brought in one of the biggest hauls in free agency, which is typically a bad sign. They added several players who will likely be starters, including tackle Marcus Cannon, running back Mark Ingram II, running back Phillip Lindsay and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. 

    Defensively, their signings included edge defenders Shaq Lawson and Jordan Jenkins, linebackers Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Kevin Pierre-Louis. 

    Houston had just five draft picks to use, starting with the 67th pick, which they used to take Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. It wouldn't be surprising if he ends the season as the starter over Taylor. 

    Prediction: 3-14 

Indianapolis Colts

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Last season, the Colts felt like one of the most underappreciated teams in the league. They didn't really do anything splashy and didn't have the star power of the division-rival Tennessee Titans with Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown, but they did win ball games. 

    The Colts finished 11-5 and ninth in total efficiency with the 10th-ranked offense and 14th-ranked defense. That's a testament to the coaching staff and general manager Chris Ballard putting together a strong roster. 

    Whether they can continue to be solid depends a lot on Carson Wentz, which is a scary place to be. He is coming off his worst year since his rookie campaign. Only Dwayne Haskins posted a lower completion percentage vs. expected (-4.1), according to Next Gen Stats

    Perhaps reuniting with Frank Reich will solve those problems. Wentz was in the top 10 by the same metric in Reich's final season with the Eagles. Phillip Rivers showed last season that the Colts don't need to have top-shelf quarterback play to be successful. 

    The defense remains largely intact. First-round pick Kwity Paye and fellow draftee Dayo Odeyingbo should help replace Justin Houston, who still hasn't signed anywhere. 

    Prediction: 10-7

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are shaping up to the most interesting bad team in the league. Step 1 in the rebuilding process has begun. They were bad enough to net the No. 1 pick in a draft to get Trevor Lawrence, the most hyped quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck

    Now comes the hard part. 

    The Jags have to actually surround Lawrence with the right roster to take advantage of his talents. They chose Urban Meyer, who has not coached in the NFL, to guide that ship. The three-time national champion coach denounced the free-agency process while his team signed several who will be expected to play important roles. 

    The highlights in the class were Marvin Jones Jr., Shaquill Griffin and Rayshawn Jenkins. Jones will be a steady target for Lawrence, Griffin should hold down one of the outside cornerback spots and Jenkins brings a good baseline of play at safety with 31 starts and five interceptions over the last two seasons with the Chargers. 

    It was a solid free-agency class that should make the Jags more competitive, even if they are far from "good" at this point.  

    Prediction: 4-13

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Patrick Mahomes spent much of this past Super Bowl running for his life from the Tampa Bay pass rush. 

    So general manager Brett Veach set out to collect offensive linemen like Thanos searching for Infinity Stones. 

    After releasing Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, the Chiefs traded for Orlando Brown Jr., signed Mike Remmers, Kyle Long, Austin Blythe and Joe Thuney. Then they drafted Creed Humphrey, creating even more depth on the interior. 

    Consider the gauntlet completed. The Chiefs now have an upgraded offensive line and more depth to avoid the situation that happened last season where injuries derailed their championship hopes. 

    Losing Sammy Watkins hurts some of the skill position depth they have enjoyed over the years. However, as long as Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are threatening defenses, Mahomes is good enough to figure out the rest. 

    The defense isn't dominant, but it does return most of its key players. Assuming some of the younger players on the unit improve, so too should the team as a whole. 

    Prediction: 14-3

Las Vegas Raiders

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    For three consecutive years, the Raiders made a head-scratching pick in the first round of the draft.

    In 2019, it was Clelin Ferrell with the fourth pick. In three seasons, he has had 6.5 sacks and 42 tackles. Then there was Damon Arnette with their second pick in the first round in 2020. He started seven games and gave up a 78.1 completion percentage as a rookie. 

    Now we can add Alex Leatherwood to the list. The Raiders took the Alabama offensive lineman with the 17th pick, and general manager Mike Mayock later revealed they received an offer to trade down but were worried about missing out on the tackle, who was the 35th player overall and seventh tackle on the Bleacher Report big board

    The draft isn't the only place the Raiders are making puzzling personnel decisions. They traded two starters on the offensive line in Rodney Hudson and Trent Brown, creating two more needs on a unit that struggled when Brown was injured last season. 

    To their credit, they rebuilt the defensive line with the signing of Yannick Ngakoue, who will pair with Maxx Crosby to form a strong duo edge-rushing duo. Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson are fine additions on the inside. 

    This just felt like a "one step forward, two steps back" offseason for the Silver and Black. Improving on their 8-8 mark in 2020 will be difficult. 

    Prediction: 7-10

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Chiefs weren't the only team in the AFC West who spent the offseason retooling the offensive line. The Chargers found their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert last year. They showed they know the importance of protecting him in 2021. 

    The group of pass-protectors was brutal last season. Herbert absorbed 32 sacks, an additional 70 hits and pressure on 28.7 percent of his dropbacks last season. He still managed to win Rookie of the Year. 

    Selecting Rashawn Slater with the 13th pick was a perfect marriage of value and need. It also completed the remodelling after they signed likely starters in center Corey Linsley, guard/tackles Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi to go with Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. 

    There are some questions on defense. The Chargers finished 18th in defensive efficiency last season, and their moves on that side of the ball may be net neutral. Drafting Asante Samuel Jr. in the second round should be helpful in the secondary, but they also lost Casey Hayward and safety Rayshawn Jenkins. 

    New head coach Brandon Staley, the former defensive coordinator of the Rams, will hope to have a positive impact on the group, but if Herbert sees a sophomore slump, the defense might not be able to carry the Chargers in games.

    As long as Herbert continues to progress, though, the Chargers should be in the thick of the AFC wild-card race. 

    Prediction: 9-8

Los Angeles Rams

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    No one has taken a more questionable approach to team-building than the Los Angeles Rams. Their complete disregard for first-round picks and constant flirtation with the salary cap is definitely not the norm. 

    But it's managed to build a steady contender in Los Angeles. The team hasn't had a losing record since Sean McVay took the reins in 2017. 

    Trading for Matt Stafford is the latest example. The Rams brass gave up two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Jared Goff to acquire a 33-year-old quarterback. It doesn't make the most sense from a long-term perspective, but just watch Stafford lead an effective Rams offense to another playoff appearance. 

    Stafford will likely be playing behind the best offensive line he's ever had, and have a terrific one-two punch in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp at wide receiver with DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson and rookie Tutu Atwell providing depth. 

    Then there's the defense that's led by one of the best players in the league in Aaron Donald. Losing John Johnson III and Troy Hill to the Browns in free agency hurts, but there's plenty there to form a strong group.

    Prediction: 10-7

Miami Dolphins

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Dolphins took a big step forward last season with a defense that relied heavily on free agents and an offense that turned to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for seven starts and nine appearances. This year, the training wheels come off as it's Tua Tagovailoa's job from the start. 

    Tagovailoa showed promise in his rookie season despite rumors the Dolphins might not be sold on their rookie passer and their involvement in Deshaun Watson buzz early in the offseason. 

    Instead of pivoting, the Dolphins did the right thing in surrounding Tagovailoa with the help he'll need to prove he belongs. The Dolphins signed William Fuller V and spent the sixth pick of the draft on Jaylen Waddle. An argument could have been made for Penei Sewell to bolster the offensive line, but Liam Eichenberg's selection in the second round softens that missed opportunity. 

    They invested in the defense, too. Jaelan Phillips could be the best pass-rusher in the draft if he can stay healthy, and Jevon Holland has a direct path to playing time now that the Dolphins released Bobby McCain. 

    The defense may take a small step back in 2021. They released Kyle Van Noy and traded away Shaq Lawson. Much of the success came from having one of the best defensive backfields in football, but cornerback play can be finicky on a season-to-season basis. 

    Prediction: 10-7

Minnesota Vikings

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    General manager Rick Spielman had one of the better showings in the 2021 NFL draft. The Vikes clearly saw their need for improvement on the offensive line and managed to get two good options by trading back in the first round, taking Christian Darrisaw with the 23rd pick and getting Ohio State's Wyatt Davis with the third-rounder they picked up in the trade. 

    Still, the fact that those two could wind up being the starting duo on the left side of the line doesn't bode well in 2021. They will each take their lumps adjusting to life in the NFL. 

    The good news is the Vikings have one of the best trios in Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook. Kirk Cousins is good enough to post winning numbers with that skill around him. 

    The season's overall success is going to rely on a defense that was ranked 27th in efficiency in 2020. Losing Danielle Hunter to injury and breaking in multiple defensive backs didn't help matters. Come the offseason, they lost Ifeadi Odenigbo on the defensive line and Anthony Harris at safety, so some of those problems could continue. 

    Mike Zimmer will have to tap into his defensive background to unlock the potential of this roster. 

    Prediction: 9-8

New England Patriots

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The narrative of Bill Belichick vs. Tom Brady dominated last season, but that wasn't an apples-to-apples comparison. The truth is the Patriots have simply relied on Brady to hotwire an offense without keys to turn the ignition for years. 

    They found out that's hard to do with Cam Newton under center and no time to develop the offense. Newton wasn't signed until late June last offseason, leaving him little time in an already hectic COVID-19-affected offseason to jell with his new coaches and teammates. 

    The Patriots obviously don't view Newton as the long-term guy in New England. They wouldn't have taken Mac Jones with the 15th pick if they did, but Belichick proclaimed that Newton is still "our quarterback" after the selection. 

    Regardless of who is throwing passes, the Pats helped their quarterbacks. Free-agent signings Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry open up lots of possibilities for 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), while Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne are upgrades over what the Pats had last season. 

    Perhaps more importantly, reinforcements are coming on defense. Matthew Judon gives them a legitimate pass-rushing force, and the return of Kyle Van Noy won't hurt either. 

    This is a hard team to pin down with so many moving pieces. For now, they are right on the fringe of the playoffs in the AFC. 

    Prediction: 8-9

New Orleans Saints

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    2020 marked the end of the Drew Brees era. What are the odds the Taysom Hill era is about to last the next 15 years?

    It's always hard to replace "the guy." That task becomes even harder when you're expected to do so with just 134 passing attempts across four seasons in the league. 

    In an appearance on The Rich Eisen Showhead coach Sean Payton simply said both Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston would have opportunities before breaking down the other quarterbacks on the roster, including rookie Ian Book.

    But Payton's love for Hill is well known at this point, and he started four games for the Saints in 2020, going 3-1 as the starter. 

    Either way, the Saints will have a drop-off in quarterback play in 2021. Neither Hill (10 fumbles in 2020) nor Winston (30 interceptions in his last year as a starter in Tampa) takes care of the ball as well as Brees did.

    That's bad news for a team that lost several key contributors outside of Brees through free agency. Emmanuel Sanders, Janoris Jenkins, Jared Cook, Trey Hendrickson and Alex Anzalone all found new homes. 

    For better or worse, the Saints will be under a microscope in the post-Brees era. They are currently scheduled for five primetime games, tied for most in the league. 

    There's still enough in New Orleans to be competitive if the quarterback play is good enough, but the Super Bowl window has closed. 

    Prediction: 7-10

New York Giants

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Dave Gettleman had a busy offseason setting up what feels like a make-or-break year for a few important people in the organization. This will be his fourth season as general manager, Daniel Jones' third season as the starting quarterback and Joe Judge's second season as the head coach. 

    The club was aggressive in adding pieces for instant improvement through free agency. They threw big money at Kenny Golladay and added Kyle Rudolph to their cache of offensive weapons. They also brought in Adoree' Jackson, who figures to start at corner. 

    Gettleman got even more support for Jones in the draft after trading back for the first time in his career and drafting Kadarius Toney with the 20th selection. Edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari is also a potential impact player.

    With Saquon Barkley back in the fold, the Giants have an explosive collection of skill players, a stout defensive front and a strong secondary. 

    The Giants could be one of the most surprising teams in the league if they put it all together. They could also have their third consecutive losing season with Jones behind center. For now, they're too unproven to get too excited over. 

    Prediction: 7-10

New York Jets

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    There's reason for optimism in the Big Apple.

    The Adam Gase nightmare is over. Robert Saleh takes over as a promising head-coaching debutant, and while it may take a season to establish his culture, he comes with high praise from those who have worked with him. 

    They missed out on the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes but get a guy in Zach Wilson who is as talented a passer as anyone in the draft class. That's a refreshing reboot from the Sam Darnold era. Both parties needed a reset there. 

    This was a roster that had to be ripped down to the studs and rebuilt. 

    The Jets have taken the steps to do that. Corey Davis and Carl Lawson were the kind of signings who can live up to their contracts. Drafting Alijah Vera-Tucker and Elijah Moore shows they are dedicated to protecting Wilson and giving him weapons in a way they didn't with Darnold. 

    Things are trending in the right direction, but it's a long road to the top. Their lack of depth could be particularly troubling with their schedule. The Jets have their bye week in Week 6 after a game in London for Week 5, then they'll have to play 12 games in 12 weeks to close the season. 

    Prediction: 4-13

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Few teams are ready to move on from the 2020 quite as much as the Philadelphia Eagles. The injuries to several key players, the quarterback drama with Carson Wentz and tension between the front office and Doug Pederson was too much to overcome. 

    2021 offers a reset. Wentz and Pederson are gone. Second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts and new head coach Nick Sirianni step in to give the franchise a fresh start. 

    The only problem is neither are proven.

    The offense will rely on several relative unknowns including Hurts. First-round pick DeVonta Smith was prolific in college, but there are questions about his frame. Jalen Reagor showed promise as a rookie but couldn't stay healthy. Miles Sanders is productive, but the offensive line ranked 19th in a year when they were constantly being shuffled around. They played 11 different players up front last year, per PFF

    The secondary was also a problem. According to Pro Football Reference, the Eagles had the fifth-worst passer rating allowed last season and couldn't do much to remedy that in free agency. They did add six rookies on defense through the draft, but that's more of a long-term solution than an immediate fix. 

    Prediction: 6-11

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the most uneven seasons in 2020. After starting 11-0 they lost five of their last six games, free-falling from Super Bowl contenders to one-and-done in the playoffs. 

    In typical Pittsburgh fashion, the defense was elite. However, the offense had no run game and relied heavily on an aging Ben Roethlisberger to carry it. 

    Facing a tough cap situation, the Steelers did what they could to hold the defense together and address the issues that plagued the offense.

    The offensive line struggled last season, but with limited cap space the Steelers are rolling with Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner at tackle. Okorafor ranked 70th among tackles at PFF last year, while Banner has played 302 career snaps across three seasons. 

    Adding Najee Harris in the draft will help the run game, but it's still going to depend on how good the blocking is for him. 

    The limited financial flexibility hit the defense especially hard. Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton will wear different colors next season. Steven Nelson was cut (although he still hasn't signed anywhere). Avery Williamson is also a free agent. 

    To make matters worse the Steelers draw the toughest schedule in the league on paper. It shapes up to be especially brutal at the end of the season where they will see four consecutive 2020 playoff teams in Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. 

    The Steelers have proved to be a fairly resilient franchise over the years. They haven't had a losing season since 2003. That streak will be challenged this season. 

    Prediction: 8-9

San Francisco 49ers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    In 2019, the San Francisco 49ers were NFC champions. In 2020, they finished 6-10 and felt the need to trade up to the third overall pick in this year's draft for a new franchise quarterback to replace Jimmy Garoppolo. 

    2020 was a dramatic drop that didn't have much to do with an actual drop in talent, but was more a result of a rash of injuries. The Niners had to survive injuries to Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt and K'Waun Williams. 

    Given the role each of those players had on the roster, no team would have had a winning season losing that many players for extended periods of time. 

    Penciling in the team to return to their Super Bowl contending status would be a bit hasty, though. Garoppolo has been injury-prone his entire career, and Trey Lance might not be ready to take over after playing one game in 2020 at North Dakota State. 

    Free agency wasn't kind to them either. Richard Sherman has yet to sign for a team, Thomas, Ahkello Witherspoon and Kerry Hyder are gone as well. They signed Samson Ebukam to reinforce the pass rush, but the defense got worse through free agency. 

    The draft was mostly focused on the offense. Third-round pick Ambry Thomas wasn't on our big board and opted out of the 2020 season, so it might be a while before he makes an impact. 

    Playing in the NFC West will slow the rebound as well. 

    Prediction: 8-9

Seattle Seahawks

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Sometimes, a quiet offseason is a good offseason. The Seattle Seahawks didn't do much, but they were able to ride the storm of rumors that Russell Wilson could be traded, and that's enough to keep them atop the rugged NFC West. 

    The rift between the quarterback and the franchise reportedly stems to their inability to keep him upright. Wilson has absorbed plenty of punishment behind Seattle's offensive line. He's taken at least 40 sacks in every season except his rookie year. 

    By comparison, the most Patrick Mahomes has been sacked in a season is 26. 

    Seattle did trade for guard Gabe Jackson. He gave up zero sacks on 1,062 snaps last season with the Raiders. But that may be fixing a leak in the Hoover Dam with a piece of chewing gum. 

    Defensively, the team made some good-not-great signings that should keep the unit afloat. Kerry Hyder will help with the pass rush, while Ahkello Witherspoon will ease the loss of Shaquill Griffin in free agency. 

    Prediction: 11-6

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The more you think about the Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl in 2020, the scarier it is to think about what they can do in 2021. 

    Last season, they brought in Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette, among others. In a season with no true offseason and no time to jell, they started a rookie tackle and relied on a rookie safety on defense. 

    Head coach Bruce Arians' vertical system was not a natural fit for Brady. They had to figure out how to marry Brady's skill set and experience with Arians' philosophies. 

    Despite all of those challenges, they still won it all. They've also found a way to fit every starter under the salary cap. In a league where continuity is huge, the Bucs are the first team to return all 22 starters on offense and defense from a Super Bowl team. 

    The cost of that is there are few additions who will make an impact. Giovani Bernard is probably the best free agent they added. First-round pick Joe Tryon is more of a developmental pass-rusher than immediate starter. 

    Back-to-back championships are always hard. From a culture standpoint, it's difficult to keep the hunger that drives a championship team, but the Bucs have all the ingredients in place. 

    Prediction: 14-3

Tennessee Titans

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Ryan Tannehill and the Titans showed their 2019 breakout season was no fluke in 2020. They returned to the playoffs on the strength of an 11-5 season after four consecutive seasons of 9-7. 

    They ultimately fell short in the playoffs, though. The Baltimore Ravens avenged their loss to the Titans the previous year after the Titans run defense, which was 18th all season, wasn't able to stop the Ravens. 

    General manager Jon Robinson spent serious resources to ensure that doesn't happen again. They signed Denico Autry and Bud Dupree to beef up the defensive front. 

    That will have to offset losses in other areas. Malcolm Butler, Adoree' Jackson and Desmond King are all gone at cornerback. Additions in rookie Caleb Farley, Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson will be relied upon. 

    The offense will be tested as well. Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis provided Ryan Tannehill with depth in his offensive arsenal but are both playing for new franchises. Beyond Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown, there aren't a lot of proven commodities on the roster

    Still, that trio has earned enough respect that they shouldn't be written off. 

    Prediction: 11-6

Washington Football Team

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    Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

    Washington wasn't supposed to be good last year. Relying on Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith at quarterback in Ron Rivera's first season, there were no expectations. 

    Instead, the NFC East was atrocious and the WFT overachieved, winning the division with a 7-9 record. That puts some expectations on the franchise going forward, but they are equipped to live up to them. 

    Washington's NFC Wild Card Round loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers is a great example of what this team can do with even decent quarterback play. Led by Taylor Heinicke, the Football Team gave the Bucs their closest game in the playoffs outside the NFC Championship Game with the Packers. 

    The defensive line is one of the best in the league. If Chase Young takes the next step after a strong rookie season, it could be the best. They upgraded at corner with the addition of William Jackson III and brought in Curtis Samuel to add a weapon to new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's arsenal. 

    The schedule complicates things for Washington in the division. They end the season with three road games in four weeks against NFC East opponents. But as long as Fitzpatrick provides steady quarterback play, Washington will continue to be a dangerous team. 

    Prediction: 9-8


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