The 2021 NFL season is slated to get started Thursday when Tom Brady and the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams hope to be in the championship conversation in 2021. For Dallas, that will have to include Dak Prescott remaining healthy.
Another season that will certainly be defined somewhat by the pandemic also includes a number of young players set to make their marks. This includes second-year quarterback Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow attempting to take that next step. These are among the individuals and teams we look at in giving you our 10 bold predictions for the 2021 NFL season.
Justin Fields will take over for Andy Dalton in September
The Chicago Bears’ brass has been under a microscope in the few months since they traded up for Justin Fields in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. In a vacuum, it was a great decision for head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. Unfortunately, the Andy Dalton backdrop has created some major drama in the Windy City.
Dalton has pretty much been anointed Chicago’s Week 1 starter since he signed a one-year deal with the team during the spring. There really wasn’t any sort of competition during training camp. Expect this to change early on during the NFL regular season. Fields played well during the exhibition slate. Dalton looked every bit the part of a journeyman backup. Look for the former to get the start as early as early as Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns.
Kliff Kingsbury will be the first head coach casualty
Despite boasting a mediocre 35-40 record during his six-year collegiate run at Texas Tech, Kingsbury was hired in Arizona ahead of the 2019 season to much fanfare. He’s seen as an innovative offensive mind who should shine at the NFL level. Once Arizona selected Kyler Murray No. 1 overall months after hiring Kingsbury, the sky seemed to be the limit in the desert.
Kingsbury, 42, now enters his third season in Arizona firmly on the hot seat. The Cardinals are 13-18-1 with him running the ship. Murray has yet to take that next step to elite status. Existing in a difficult NFC West, getting off to a slow start could spell and end to Kingsbury’s tenure with the Cards. Opening up against the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings before a run of three consecutive games against the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns won’t help matters here.
Surprise for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
The normal names have been bandied about. They are all quarterbacks. Mac Jones (New England Patriots), Zach Wilson (New York Jets) and Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars) are all slated to start Week 1. The aforementioned Justin Fields and Trey Lance of the San Francisco 49ers likely won’t be much further behind.
We’re here to say that none of them will win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Instead, that honor will go to Kyle Pitts of the Atlanta Falcons. The generational tight end prospect looks every bit the part of an immediate star. He has a borderline future Hall of Fame quarterback in Matt Ryan tossing him the rock. New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is a genius on offense. Look for Pitts to amass well north of 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns en route to coming away with this top individual honor.
Deshaun Watson is dealt before NFL trade deadline
The past several months have found Watson in the news for all the wrong reasons. The reigning NFL passing yards leader requested a trade early in the offseason. Since then, he’s been accused by north of 20 women of sexual assault and/or misconduct. This has Deshaun Watson as the No. 3 quarterback on the Texans’ depth chart and a likely inactive on a weekly basis.
Despite trade rumors surrounding Watson, it’s unlikely any team will trade for him until his legal situation is resolved. We’re here to boldly predict that it will happen ahead of the NFL trade deadline in late-October, leading to Watson being dealt mid-season. Said trade will come in the form of Deshaun heading to the Philadelphia Eagles for a package surrounding Jalen Hurts and draft picks.
Cincinnati Bengals finish with winning record
The Bengals were pretty competitive in the 10 games then-rookie Joe Burrow started before tearing his ACL, boasting a 2-7-1 record. Of those seven losses, four came by a single score. With Burrow 100% healthy and much-needed help on both sides of the ball, we’re expecting Cincinnati to be even better in 2021.
A core skill-position grouping of Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase should help what promises to be an electric offense. If Cincinnati can go 3-3 within the extremely competitive AFC North this season, it would not be a surprise if it finishes with a 9-8 record.
Surprise candidate for NFL MVP award comes out on top
Odds for this year’s winner are heavily slanted in the direction of quarterbacks. In fact, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (+4000) is the only non-quarterback to even show up on the most-recent Vegas odds.
While we are still going to predict that a quarterback will walk away with the hardware, it’s not who you might expect. With +1800 odds, we boldly predict that Los Angeles Chargers sophomore signal caller Justin Herbert will come away with the award. The Oregon product had a tremendous rookie season, throwing for 4,336 yards with 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He’ll finish his sophomore season with north of 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, shockingly earning the NFL MVP award in the process.
Trey Lance leads San Francisco 49ers to the playoffs
It’s not a bold prediction to conclude a loaded 49ers team will make the playoffs in 2021 after an injury-plagued 2020 campaign. What makes this prediction so bold is that we’re indicating Kyle Shanahan will move off Jimmy Garoppolo in favor of Trey Lance before the midway point in the season. Heck, it could happen before October comes calling.
Lance performed much better than his veteran counterpart during the preseason. He provides both a dual-threat ability and down-field passing game that has been missing in San Francisco under Garoppolo. He’s just too dynamic to keep off the field. Add in the 49ers’ elite-level defense and tremendous skill-position players, and it will be enough for “Trey Area” to take over in 2021.
Derrick Henry bests Eric Dickerson, makes history
Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson boasts the NFL record with 2,105 rushing yards, a feat accomplished all the way back in 1984. More recently, Adrian Peterson (2,097 yards) came close to smashing that mark in 2012. Now that running backs have been devalued in today’s NFL and with the passing game taking on more importance, this seems to be a record that will remain for the long haul.
That’s until we realize the 2021 season will represent the first 17-game schedule in league history. Coming off his first 2,000-yard season, we’re going to boldly predict that Henry will break Dickerson’s record. He’d have to average 124 yards per game. Last season saw the former Heisman winner average 126.7 yards. You can do the math from here.
Josh Allen also makes NFL history
Just recently signed to a massive contract extension, Allen’s ascension to elite status in Western New York has been something to behold. In just his third NFL season, Allen completed north of 69% of his passes for 4,544 yards with 37 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He also added 421 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Back in 2013, Peyton Manning threw for 5,477 yards to break the single-season record. Allen would have to average 323 passing yards per game in 2021 to break that mark. Given how much Buffalo invested in him this past offseason and with issues still remaining on defense, it’s not hard to imagine Allen breaking this record.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers flirt with perfection
The Buccaneers’ Super Bowl title last February was in no way a fluke. It proved that Tom Brady was in fact the missing part for Bruce Arians and Co. Now returning all 22 starters and with other external upgrades on both sides of the ball, Tampa Bay is well-positioned to repeat.
Just how dominant Tampa Bay is in 2021 will depend in a few factors. As long as Brady doesn’t regress, we’re looking at the obvious NFC South champions. Speaking of that, the NFL schedule gods also did the Buccaneers a favor. Their division is pretty darn bad. The Bucs will also take on all four NFC East teams. Could this squad go a perfect 17-0? At this point, we wouldn’t bet against Tom Terrific and his seven Super Bowl titles.