Updated: Jul 1, 2021
The 2021 NFL is setting up to be among the most interesting in recent history. Many teams that struggled in 2020 made the necessary moves and adjustments to bounce back in 2020 and finish the season with a winning record. Below are 4 teams that I believe have set themselves up for success and will return to winning ways in 2021.
New England Patriots
After a disappointing 7-9 season with Cam Newton at Quarterback, Bill Belichick made an unanticipated number of additions to avoid a similar season in 2021. He added QB Mac Jones through the draft, who will likely compete with Newton, as well as some weapons such as WR Nelson Agholor, TE Hunter Henry, and TE Jonnu Smith. Defensively, they added Matt Judon, who had been among the Ravens best Linebackers over the past couple seasons. They also brought back LB Kyle Van Noy, who spent 4 seasons with the Patriots before signing with the Dolphins in 2020 and being released at the end of the season.
While Quarterback is unlikely to be New England's strength in 2021, they are a much better rounded team than they were a year ago. I think Jones' competition with Newton will push and improve him and if Newton could get anywhere near the levels he was playing at 5 years ago with Carolina, the Patriots could certainly make some noise come playoff time. They are in a very tough division, competing with the Bills, who will likely finish on top, and the Dolphins, an up and coming team led by Tua Tagovailoa. The competitiveness in the division is what keeps me from calling them a "likely" playoff team but I still think it is still possible despite the AFC as a whole being very tight.
Out of this list, the Broncos have the best prospects heading into the 2021 season. Since Peyton Manning left in 2016, the Broncos have struggled at Quarterback and that remains the question mark heading into 2021. The Broncos are building a robust defense led by what I think will be the best secondary in the NFL, consisting of S Justin Simmons and 2021 additions Kyle Fuller, Kareem Jackson, Ronald Darby, and Patrick Surtain II. They also have 2016 Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller, who is coming back from a season-ending tendon injury, as well as 4th year Defensive End, Bradley Chubb, whos thrives when playing alongside Miller.
Offensively, the Broncos have surrounded 3rd year QB, Drew Lock, with a lot of talent but Lock's consistency remains a fear. In his 5 games in his Rookie season, he totaled 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a record of 4-1 but the following season, he regressed and ended with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 13 games. Lock's top target, Courtland Sutton, is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in Week 1 of the 2020 season but I think a breakout season is coming for him. Lock also has third year Tight End, Noah Fant, and receiver Jerry Jeudy, who the Broncos drafted 15th overall in 2020. If Lock plays similarly to 2019 and takes the next step, the Broncos will be a darkhorse heading in to 2021.
Joe Burrow, the Bengals first overall pick in 2020, had arguably the single greatest college season of all time in his final year at LSU. His above average Rookie season was cut short due to a torn ACL and MCL suffered in Week 11 but amazingly, he believes he will be ready to play for Week 1. Burrow showed his talent on many occasions including a win over the Titans. Burrow totaled 13 touchdowns and 5 inetrceptions and had a strong 10 games.
Despite the offensive line struggles, the Bengals opted for a receiver with the 5th selection in the 2021 Draft, selecting Ja'Marr Chase from LSU. In a pre-draft interview, Burrow expressed his desire for the team to draft Chase due to the fact that Burrow and Chase combined for an incredible 20 touchdowns in their 2019 season at LSU. Burrow also has receiver Tee Higgins, who had a fantastic Rookie season in 2020 and was among the best Rookie receivers in the league.
The defense was a big issue for the Bengals in 2020, allowing the 7th most yards per game (Titans allowed 5th most). They did lose their top Defensive player in Carl Lawson but added depth in the secondary as well as across the defensive line.
The Bengals are in the most contested division in Football, competing with the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns. The Bengals last playoff win came in 1991 and while I am not saying that will change this season, largely due to the competitiveness in their division, the Bengals will be much improved in 2021.
New York Giants
Similar to the Broncos Quarterback situation, the Giants success in 2021 hinges largely on the success of QB Daniel Jones. Jones, 24, totaled 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2019 but followed it up with a disappointing 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2020. Jones' set up for 2021 is very favorable as RB Saqon Barkley returns from injury, the team added a true WR1 in Kenny Golladay, and drafted WR Kadarius Toney from Florida. Jones' top target in 2019 and 2020, Darius Slayton, will no longer draw other teams top corner, another benefit for Jones and the Giants offense.
To me, the defense is not a concern after New York ranked as the 12th best defense in 2020 and continued to build out a strong secondary. Notably, they signed CB James Bradberry, who ranked as the 5th best Corner in the NFL in 2020 according to PFF. They also added former Titan, Adoree Jackson, and have many young players across the defense. Notably, they have DE Leonard Williams who had a breakout season in 2020 and has become one the teams most important players.
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