With one week to go until the NFL season gets underway, Neil Reynolds assesses all 32 teams and their hopes of Super Bowl glory in Los Angeles in February…
Buckle up and get ready for another exciting ride as the 2021 NFL season kicks off one week from tonight! It’s sure to be another dramatic campaign filled with many twists and turns, making it impossible to predict how things will unfold.
With that in mind, I’ve assigned groupings to all 32 teams who will be competing to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles in February.
If you don’t like where your favourite team has been placed, don’t take too much offence…
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THE LEADING CONTENDERS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers… The defending Super Bowl champions return all 22 starters on their offense and defense from a year ago and legendary quarterback Tom Brady is a year more comfortable in the attacking system. The Bucs are very much ready to go again.
Buffalo Bills… With strong-armed and mobile quarterback Josh Allen now considered elite, the Bills are ready to mount a challenge to win the Super Bowl for the first time. Buffalo were last in the big game in the early 1990s, losing four in a row. Long-awaited success is well within their grasp.
Kansas City Chiefs… The Chiefs are never going to be too far away from contention with $500 million quarterback Patrick Mahomes at the helm. Kansas City were stung by last season’s Super Bowl loss to Tampa and will be itching for revenge. But is their defense reliable enough?
Green Bay Packers… The rift between star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his bosses is real and not going away. I doubt the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player plays in Wisconsin in 2022. But while he is there, this team that was in the final four in 2019 and 2020 will be a contender.
Cleveland Browns… The Browns have been hyped before and fallen flat on their faces, but leadership is strong with head coach Kevin Stefanski at the helm. The offense is high-end and multiple reinforcements have arrived to bolster a so-so defense.
IN THE HUNT
Tennessee Titans… How can a Tennessee attack that ranked second in the NFL in 2020 be stopped this season? Ryan Tannehill is in his stride at quarterback, Derrick Henry unstoppable in the backfield and A.J. Brown explosive at receiver. Add in future Hall of Famer Julio Jones and the Titans are dangerous.
Los Angeles Rams… Sean McVay has the cannon-armed quarterback he has long desired to run his offense in Matthew Stafford, so scoring points will not be a problem. Add in a dominant defense that ranked first in the NFL a year ago and the Rams could go all the way.
San Francisco 49ers… Will it be Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback or rookie first-rounder Trey Lance? It could end up being a combination of both. Either will benefit from Kyle Shanahan’s excellent scheming and the fit-again Niners look good for a return to the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens… An injury-hit summer has been capped with the season-ending loss of running back J.K. Dobbins. That aside, the Ravens will do what they always do – run the ball, play solid defense and win games.
Seattle Seahawks… I originally had Seattle in the hunt, but quarterback Russell Wilson wants away and the defense is shaky. This team could genuinely go either way.
Los Angeles Chargers… Cannon-armed second-year quarterback Justin Herbert brings great hope to a talented team that found ways to lose last season.
New Orleans Saints… The Saints are being written off following the retirement of Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees. But coach Sean Payton and new QB Jameis Winston could yet have a trick up their sleeves.
Denver Broncos… Quarterback has been the problem in Denver ever since Peyton Manning retired at the end of the 2015 season. If ‘Steady’ Teddy Bridgewater avoids mistakes, the rest of the attack is loaded with playmakers.
Washington Football Team… Ron Rivera’s men made the playoffs with a losing record last season. I think they can be much better this time around with trusted veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
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IF IT ALL FALLS INTO PLACE
Miami Dolphins… The success of an ascending and well-coached team will depend on the growth of second-year passer Tua Tagovailoa.
Dallas Cowboys… If quarterback Dak Prescott returns to full fitness, Dallas will score points for fun. But can they avoid the annual drama that is rarely too far away?
Indianapolis Colts… Injuries have slowed the Colts this summer. New quarterback Carson Wentz is at a career crossroads. A talented team depends on him.
Minnesota Vikings… Quarterback Kirk Cousins has his critics, but the offense will be fine. Things must be picked up on defense after a terrible 2020 campaign.
New England Patriots… Mac Jones looks the part at quarterback, but will an offseason of historic spending result in a quick return to contention? Never bet against Bill Belichick.
Pittsburgh Steelers… Pittsburgh don’t do losing seasons under head coach Mike Tomlin. But they have started to fall upon some late-season slumps. Can they last the distance in 2021?
Las Vegas Raiders… With 19 wins out of a possible 48 since he stepped out of the TV booth and returned to the sidelines, the pressure is mounting on head coach Jon Gruden.
Arizona Cardinals… Kyler Murray is a sensational talent at quarterback, but does he have enough around him? The Cards are dangerous on their day, but consistency eludes them.
Chicago Bears… The only way the Bears take the next step is if head coach Matt Nagy relents and inserts rookie quarterback Justin Fields into the starting lineup.
ASKING TOO MUCH
Philadelphia Eagles… Explosive youngster Jalen Hurts is the quarterback, we think. But this is an ageing team going in the wrong direction.
Carolina Panthers… The Panthers play hard for head coach Matt Rhule but can Sam Darnold be anything other than one of the most disappointing quarterbacks in the league?
Atlanta Falcons… Losing leads has become a worrying trend for a team with one of the most productive attacks in the league. Atlanta will have their moments, but will likely come up short.
New York Giants… It’s a big year for under-pressure quarterback Daniel Jones. If he fails, the Big Blue could move on in 2022. The return of running back Saquon Barkley will help.
Jacksonville Jaguars… Trevor Lawrence’s arrival at quarterback should boost the win total, but not enough to make the Jags a playoff contender in 2021.
Cincinnati Bengals… Quarterback Joe Burrow is coming off a knee ligaments injury and the attack has looked shaky in the preseason. That’s bad news for head coach Zac Taylor, who has won six of his 32 games in charge.
New York Jets… Fresh-faced rookie quarterback Zach Wilson offers great hope, but injuries have hit hard and the Jets will likely have to settle for steps in the right direction this year.
Detroit Lions… Jared Goff is the new quarterback in the Motor City and when that is one of your big offseason positives, it’s fair to say trouble could be just around the corner.
Houston Texans… First-time head coach David Culley has walked into a viper’s nest. Star quarterback Deshaun Watson is on his way out (via trade or a raft of league issues) and the remaining talent is thin.
For updates on preseason, be sure to follow along at skysports.com/nfl and on Twitter @SkySportsNFL.
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