Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 22, 2021

Breaking down the top teams for the 2021 NFL season

By ALEX FORLENZA | September 2, 2021

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Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Forlenza’s favorites to make the Super Bowl again.

National Football Conference (NFC) Favorites

The NFC looks very similar to last year. I would be completely unsurprised if the NFC Championship Game came down to the same two teams as last year. 

The head of the pack in the NFC is the defending champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

On top of returning every meaningful free agent, the Bucs were able to simply draft the best player available every round of the draft because they had no starting needs. Logically, they should be Super Bowl favorites. 

That being said, a dinosaur playing quarterback for 20 or 21 games and staying healthy seems like a stretch, but I put nothing past Tom Brady at this point.

Right behind the Bucs are the Green Bay Packers. The Pack have had one of the most talented arms to ever play on a football field with Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off an MVP season.

But then again, the front office literally tried to replace Rodgers a year and a half ago and are bound to break up next off season. I do not know how well a relationship works with a timer in the background, but if anyone can make it work, it would be the MVP. 

The rest of the NFC: 

You look up and down the NFC, and it is obviously less deep than the American Football Conference (AFC). 

The Bucs and Packers will probably win their divisions. The Los Angeles Rams seem the most likely choice for the NFC West. And the NFC East will probably have the one team with a winning record who will make the tournament. 

There are still three other spots in the tournament. They will all likely go to NFC West teams. The division is top to bottom better than every other one. The worst team in this division is arguably the Arizona Cardinals, who will probably still have double-digit wins. 

The San Francisco 49ers, who will look completely different from a year ago, will look much more like their Super-Bowl contending form. Top draft pick Trey Lance adds an amazing dimension to their offense, and their defense will be back at full health. And the Seattle Seahawks are still a sensational offense with Russell Wilson. 

If this were last season, it would be less likely that a whole division makes the playoffs. However, the addition of a 17th game means games in division count slightly less with an additional out-of-conference game. So even though the NFC West will be brutal to play in, it is unlikely that anyone will push them out of the tournament. 

AFC Favorites: 

The Kansas City Chiefs lost the Super Bowl because Patrick Mahomes was running for his life behind an offensive line that could not hold up against the Buccaneers’ front, so the Chiefs went out and got offensive-line help. 

Now they have basically no weakness offensively. Of course, this assumes health and some luck, but unless their team magically loses all their ACLs, they will be able to score 50 points on any given Sunday. 

Their defense is above average as well with some good pass rushers and a top-five safety. It makes me incredibly sad to say that Mahomes is set to win the next two Super Bowls because of the level of their weapons, specifically at the receiver position; the best tight end in the game, Travis Kelce and one of the best offensive minds in Andy Reid, head coach.

The Buffalo Bills are one of four teams in the AFC that can make the Super Bowl. Their offense is dominant and their roster is up there with the best of them on both sides of the football.  

That being said, they will probably regress from last year simply because players who have had a ridiculously successful season usually have some nuance the league was not ready for. Josh Allen had a season no one would have predicted, and now people have taken his talent into account. They will still be in the class of the AFC, but I doubt Allen will be an MVP candidate again. 

Pigs can fly and the Cleveland Browns should universally be considered contenders... The Browns have Pro-Bowl talent at every single starting position. 

Baker Mayfield may not be amazingly talented like Mahomes or Rodgers, but he does not have to be because he has arguably the best receiving core, the best running back group and one of the best offensive lines. 

The only reason this team may not live up to the hype is because of internal issues and poor management. But they do have a great front office, and they have built a solid culture from nothing. If all goes to plan, the Browns could make it deep into January, maybe even February. 

The rest of the AFC:

The Tennessee Titans are a great Madden team, but they will be one and done in the playoffs.

This team has plenty of talented players at most starting positions, and they have been in the playoffs for a couple of years. The problem is football in real life comes with plenty of wear and tear and injuries. This year will have more of that with an extra game on the schedule. 

The Titans have good starters but no depth. The backups have quite a large drop-off in talent compared with their starters. This is generally true, which is why backups are backups, but in the Titans’ case it is one of the worst examples of it, particularly with their wide receiver position. Football teams need depth to play a full season; the Titans do not have that. 

The Baltimore Ravens will probably start off using an offense from 2018 (drives with eight runs and no pass attempts). This is not because Lamar Jackson can’t throw but because the Ravens’ receivers have been injured most of the preseason. Jackson also has been sidelined due to COVID-19.

However, the most exciting thing about this team is not the offense at all but rather the defense. The Ravens drafted a first-round pass rush for the first time since they drafted legend Terrell Suggs. The young inside linebackers have also had a whole off season to improve on the mental side of the game, and it has shown during the preseason. 

Even if the offense does not immediately start putting up 50 points, the Ravens are capable of shutting teams down on the other side, and it may be the difference to get them over the hump and to the Super Bowl.

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