The first week of the 2021 NFL season is complete, and with that will come many different overreactions. Some of these predictions may seem to fall into that category, but the goal of these takes is to not do that and have an actual basis to the explanations. With that said, these predictions will be my opinion, and most of them will likely be wrong. Regardless, here is one prediction for each division in the NFL for the 2021 season.
AFC East: Mac Jones will win the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
Although it has only been one week, Mac Jones has emerged as one of the favorites for the AP OROY award, and I think he is currently the favorite. Jones was nothing short of impressive in his NFL debut, as he ranked 11th out of all NFL quarterbacks in PFF offense grade (78.3). He was 29/39 for 281 yards (7.2 YPA, 6.5 aDoT, 7.7 CPOE) and 1 touchdown. He was smart with the football as he only recorded 1 turnover worthy play, and he recorded 4 big time throws, which suggests he took risks and made some excellent throws. All of this came against a solid defense in the Miami Dolphins, a unit that ranked 7th in the NFL in EPA/play during the 2020 season. Easier matchups will come, which means better opportunities to put up some big numbers. Expect Jones to be a frontrunner in the OROY race throughout the year as he should continue to work in the quarterback-friendly Patriots offensive system.
AFC North: The Baltimore Ravens will miss the playoffs
Although I am predicting the Baltimore Ravens to miss the playoffs, it does not mean I think they will have a bad season. The Browns are my favorite to win the AFC North, and my opinion only strengthened with the numerous injury problems the Ravens face. The Ravens have lost Marcus Peters, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards for the season, and they are currently missing 2021 first round pick Rashod Bateman, who is on IR. The depletion to the running back room has left the Ravens searching for answers in terms of replacements, and they relied on Ty’Son Williams and Latavius Murray during their Week 1 loss against the Las Vegas Raiders. Losing a player like Marcus Peters is a huge loss as well since the Ravens will not be able to blitz as much due to a weakened secondary. The AFC is loaded with talented teams, and I think there will be seven teams besides the Ravens that grab the AFC playoff spots.
AFC South: Trevor Lawrence will struggle a lot
In previous years, Trevor Lawrence has won a lot of games, and he has had a lot of individual success. However, I think the total opposite will occur for Lawrence as the 2021 NFL season continues to progress. Lawrence was up and down in his NFL debut, but a lot of things about Jacksonville are against him for the chances of having success. The Jacksonville Jaguars rank 21st in PFF grade for pass blocking and 29th on PFF for receiving grade. In addition, Lawrence and the Jaguars should often find themselves playing from behind, which means they will have to throw a lot. These factors do not work in favor of Lawrence, and it should result in frequent struggles. In his debut, Lawrence did throw for 332 yards, but he threw 3 interceptions and his CPOE was -11.1. His 57.7 PFF offense grade is simply not very good, and it will be hard to turn things around considering his matchups will only get harder.
AFC West: Keenan Allen will lead the NFL in receptions
Coming off four consecutive seasons of over 100 receptions, Keenan Allen has proven to be one of the most consistent and reliable pass catchers in the NFL over the years. Entering his age 29 season, Allen is arguably in the peak of his career development, which means there is a great possibility of a career year coming. Allen has emerged as the clear favorite target of Justin Herbert, and their connection will only grow stronger as they continue to play together. In the Chargers Week 1 victory over the Washington Football Team, Allen secured 9 of 12 targets for an even 100 yards. One of the more encouraging developments from the game was Justin Herbert attempting 47 passes, which means lots of volume should come in the direction of Allen throughout the season. With the combination of elite route running and hands, Allen is in line for a big year, and he is my pick to lead the NFL in receptions for the 2021 NFL season.
NFC East: The Philadelphia Eagles will win the division
Despite a last place finish in the NFC East last season, my favorite to win the NFC East in 2021 is the Philadelphia Eagles. Although the Dallas Cowboys are the favorite to win the division, the Eagles were very impressive in their season opener in a blowout win against the Atlanta Falcons. They were able to feature a well-rounded offensive attack and a solid defense. The sample size is very small, given that it is only a single game, but the Eagles are top 10 in both PFF team ratings on offense and defense, ranking them 7th in overall PFF grade. Playing in arguably the weakest division in the NFL, the Eagles do not need to have a fantastic record to win the division, which makes it all more realistic of it happening. Jalen Hurts threw the ball very well (89.5 PFF grade), the rushing attack was strong, and Devonta Smith displayed his abilities in a strong debut. On the other side of the ball, Javon Hargrave recorded 2 sacks, Hassan Ridgeway recorded 3 QB hits, and the unit only surrendered 6 points to a solid offense in the Atlanta Falcons. It was an encouraging start to the season for the Eagles, and I expect them to build on the performance until they reach the playoffs.
NFC North: The Detroit Lions will exceed expectations
Setting all bias aside, as I am a Detroit Lions fan, I do think they will exceed the low expectations set for them. Their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers started very poorly, but they turned things around in the 2nd half, falling short in defeat by only 8 points. Jared Goff led the offensive in a comeback effort, Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift both scored touchdowns and played important roles in the rushing and receiving game, and T.J. Hockenson is developing into one of the best tight ends in the NFL. There is not much to note from the defensive performance, but they did force 3 turnovers. It will be interesting to see how things unfold, but Dan Campbell seems to have his guys playing hard, as they showed no signs of quitting. I do not expect many wins for the Lions, but I do expect them to be competitive in many games they play. That in itself would be an encouraging sign for a team looking for a culture change.
NFC South: Jameis Winston will have an elite QB season
While the Saints-Packers matchup was one of the more surprising results from the Week 1 slate, one of the surprising individual performances was from Jameis Winston. The former #1 overall pick made his first start since 2019, and he was nothing short of spectacular. He completed 14/20 passes for 148 yards and 5 touchdowns. Although Winston was not required to throw the ball much, he was very good when he did. In Week 1, he ranked 2nd (only to Tom Brady) in QB PFF grade for offense, and one of the most important things to note from his performance is the 0 turnover worthy plays recorded. In his 2019 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston threw 30 interceptions despite over 5000 yards passing and 33 passing touchdowns. Ball security was one of the biggest things preventing Winston from progressing as a quarterback, but the system and his time in New Orleans seem to have positively impacted him so far. It will be interesting to see how things develop, but given his talent and potential, Winston will have an elite season if he can take care of the ball.
NFC West: Kyler Murray will win MVP
Coming off a career year in 2020, Kyler Murray is looking to build on his past success in this current season. So far, I would say his Week 1 performance shows he is continuing to develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Murray was 21/32 for 289 yards with 4 TD’s and 1 INT. In addition, he ran for 20 yards on 5 attempts and found the endzone once for a total of 5 touchdowns on the day. Murray’s skill set was on full display, as he showed a combination of mobility and passing ability throughout the contest. One of the most impressive plays from the game was a 3rd down conversion in which he connected with Rondale Moore on a 18-yard completion. Murray scrambled all around the backfield before delivering the strike, and the play was very video-game like. Plays like that do not show up in the box score, and they truly capture how valuable it is to have a player like Kyler Murray. After a dominant win over the Tennessee Titans, the Cardinals have positioned themselves to have a breakout season, and Kyler Murray would be the main reason why they succeed. With the expectation of the Cardinals greatly improving, Murray is my favorite to win the 2021 NFL MVP.
Although a lot of these predictions were made from a small sample size, I do think at least a few of them will come true. It will be interesting to see how these claims stand the test of time, and I plan on writing another piece once the season concludes to assess the accuracy of these predictions. But for now, the NFL season is far from over, and a lot can change over time. It remains unknown whether these predictions will remain correct.