NFL Predictions 2021: Projecting Teams with Most Improved Win Totals

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2021

NFL Predictions 2021: Projecting Teams with Most Improved Win Totals

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    As NFL teams prepare to open training camps, fans are filled with a sense of hope. Everyone is undefeated, and every fanbase can feel its team has a chance to contend. This sense of optimism is bolstered by the reality that teams regularly go from being basement-dwellers to postseason threats in the course of a single season.

    A year ago, the Washington Football Team was coming off of a 3-13 campaign. It went on to win the NFC East at 7-9. The Miami Dolphins were coming off of a 5-11 season. They missed the playoffs but notched 10 wins in 2020. The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, went from 6-10 to 11-5 last season while advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs.

    The 2021 season is likely to see some similar turnarounds, with teams posting five-, six- or even seven-win improvements. While that may not necessarily lead to playoff success, it will show that some recently struggling teams are on the right track.

    Which teams could make the biggest win-total jumps in 2021? Let's take a look. First, though, let's examine how every team finished in 2020.

2020 Regular-Season Standings

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Kansas City Chiefs 14-2

    Buffalo Bills 13-3

    Green Bay Packers 13-3

    New Orleans Saints 12-4

    Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4

    Seattle Seahawks 12-4

    Baltimore Ravens 11-5

    Cleveland Browns 11-5

    Indianapolis Colts 11-5

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5

    Tennessee Titans 11-5

    Los Angeles Rams 10-6

    Miami Dolphins 10-6

    Arizona Cardinals 8-8

    Chicago Bears 8-8

    Las Vegas Raiders 8-8

    Los Angeles Chargers 7-9

    Minnesota Vikings 7-9

    New England Patriots 7-9

    Washington Football Team 7-9

    Dallas Cowboys 6-10

    San Francisco 49ers 6-10

    Carolina Panthers 5-11

    Denver Broncos 5-11

    Detroit Lions 5-11

    Cincinnati Bengals 4-11-1

    Philadelphia Eagles 4-11-1

    Atlanta Falcons 4-12

    Houston Texans 4-12

    New York Jets 2-14

    Jacksonville Jaguars 1-15

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars make this list almost by default. They won a single game in 2020 and have no place to go but up—though, to be fair, the Browns won a single game in 2016 and went winless the following season.

    Still, the Jaguars have a big reason to believe a turnaround is possible. His name is Trevor Lawrence. The former Clemson quarterback has been viewed as a can't-miss prospect since he first took to a college field, and he's done nothing to diminish outlook since.

    "Overall, Lawrence is living up to the hype he received as the top high school quarterback in the country and looks like a Week 1 franchise quarterback with the upside to win multiple MVPs, and only injuries or an incompetent franchise will put him on a path toward failure," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    If Lawrence is close to as advertised in Year 1, the Jaguars will make a jump. It could be a significant one if additions like rookie running back Travis Etienne, receiver Marvin Jones Jr., defensive tackle Malcom Brown and cornerback Shaquill Griffin make effective contributions.

    Playing in an AFC South division that sent two teams to the playoffs last season should temper any playoff expectations. However, a five- or six-win improvement is far from out of the question. A lot is going to hinge on new head coach Urban Meyer and how his style translates to the NFL.

    Predicted 2021 Record: 6-11

San Francisco 49ers

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have a new franchise quarterback too—though he isn't likely to see the field in Week 1. The 49ers traded up to grab North Dakota State's Trey Lance, though incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo will be back for one more run.

    It's Garoppolo's return—along with those of other players who were injured in 2020, like Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Dee Ford and George Kittle—that provides the biggest reason for optimism. When these players were healthy two years ago, San Francisco was a Super Bowl participant.

    Competing for a championship will be tough this season, however. The 49ers are in the brutal NFC West, which sent both the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams to the playoffs in 2020. San Francisco was the only team in the division with a losing record last year, and climbing back to the big game will be a massive challenge.

    Still, a substantial improvement is possible. In addition to getting players back from injury, the 49ers added the likes of center Alex Mack, edge-rusher Samson Ebukam, wideout Mohamed Sanu, rookie guard Aaron Banks and rookie running back Trey Sermon to the equation.

    Losing both defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur could hurt, but head coach Kyle Shanahan will still be running the show. With an experienced coaching staff and a roster that, on paper, is nearly as good as the 2019 Super Bowl squad, the 49ers will be relevant this season.

    Predicted 2021 Record: 11-6

New York Jets

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Like the Jaguars and 49ers, the New York Jets have a new franchise quarterback. Zach Wilson may not be the sure thing that Lawrence appears to be, but he has the upside of a true franchise signal-caller. The Jets also have a new head coach in Robert Saleh, a new offensive coordinator in Mike LaFleur and several new additions throughout the roster.

    As undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah pointed out, the Jets are in store for a culture change.

    "Everything is new. It's a new culture," Yeboah said, per Eric Allen of the team's official website. "They're starting to make a new brand for the Jets, so I just want to be a part of that honestly."

    If Wilson can be a capable starter out of the gate, the Jets could push for a playoff spot. Saleh is a well-respected coach, and it's hard to believe he won't be an upgrade over Adam Gase—who went just 9-23 in two seasons.

    Newcomers like Corey Davis, Carl Lawson, Tevin Coleman, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, Michael Carter and Wilson make for a massively improved roster on paper. Playing in a tough AFC East will be an obstacle, though the New England Patriots no longer dominate the division as they once did.

    It's realistic to think that New York can make the sort of leap that Miami did a year ago. It may be too much to hope for the postseason, but a winning campaign is possible.

    Predicted 2021 Record: 9-8