The 2021 NFL season will be unlike any in league history.
Not only is the world still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, a hurdle that caused major problems in 2020. The NFL also is transitioning to a 17-game regular-season schedule for the first time ever.
That said, one tradition stands the test of time and change: Predictions.
We’re back to forecast the upcoming football campaign, which begins Thursday night with a clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, let’s get right into it. Here are seven bold NFL predictions for 2021.
1. Patriots trade Stephon Gilmore to Saints
Gilmore and the Patriots had a bit of a contractual standoff this offseason, and now the Pro Bowl cornerback will begin the 2021 campaign on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, meaning he’ll miss at least New England’s first six games. It’s also entirely possible he’s played his final contest in a Pats uniform, as ESPN’s Dan Graziano recently wrote New England remains open to trading Gilmore and that New Orleans could consider swinging a deal for the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year.
The Saints definitely could use another top-level cornerback to play alongside Marshon Lattimore. While Gilmore, like Lattimore, regressed in 2020, he’s still one of the best in the business. His addition to New Orleans’ defense down the stretch would be a game-changer in the NFC South.
2. Texans trade Deshaun Watson to Dolphins
This probably won’t happen during the season. It’s far more likely Miami rolls with second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa while Watson continues to sit in Houston amid his legal uncertainty. But what if Tagovailoa struggles and it becomes clear he’s not the answer in South Beach? Perhaps then the ‘Fins will push in their chips for 2022, with a trade being agreed to right before Super Bowl LVI — much like last season when the Los Angeles Rams agreed to acquire QB Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions prior to Super Bowl LV.
3. Cam Newton signs with Steelers
Pittsburgh already has three quarterbacks on its roster, with Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins backing up longtime starter Ben Roethlisberger. But Big Ben was a shell of himself last season, and neither Rudolph nor Haskins instills much confidence.
Newton, just released by the Patriots, might have to wait a bit for his next NFL job, and the Steelers, should their situation change, would be an interesting fit given their defensive excellence and the number of offensive skill players they have who can do damage with the ball in their hands.
4. None of the five first-round quarterbacks wins Offensive Rookie of the Year
The five QBs selected in the first-round of the 2021 NFL Draft — Trevor Lawrence (+400), Mac Jones (+600), Zach Wilson (+750), Trey Lance (+750) and Justin Fields (+750) — have the best odds to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Makes sense. They all were picked high for a reason, quarterbacks tend to dominate individual awards and at least three (Lawrence, Jones and Wilson) are slated to start right away.
But there are several other rookies who figure to feature prominently within their respective offenses almost immediately, including Steelers running back Najee Harris (+850), Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (+1000) and highly regarded first-round wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase (+2000), Jaylen Waddle (+2200) and DeVonta Smith (+2200), among others. We’ll take the field.
5. Justin Herbert wins MVP
Herbert looked like the real deal in his rookie season, throwing for 4,336 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The arrow is pointing up. If he takes another step forward and the Los Angeles Chargers improve under first-year head coach Brandon Staley, the AFC West won’t be a cakewalk for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chargers QB will secure some hardware. Herbert (+1800) is tied with Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott for the eighth-best MVP odds, meaning there’s some value in such a bet. Just sayin’.
6. Neither Buccaneers nor Chiefs win a playoff game
It’s hard to repeat as champions (Bucs) and it’s hard to reach the Super Bowl in three straight seasons (Chiefs). So, while Tampa Bay and Kansas City should be able to win the NFC South and AFC West, respectively, we’re banking on a couple of hangovers that culminate with both teams losing in the divisional round. After all, there are plenty of dangerous NFC teams — the NFC West looks especially stacked — and the AFC could be much more daunting by the time the postseason arrives.
7. Browns make first Super Bowl appearance
Cleveland ended its 18-year playoff drought last season and beat Pittsburgh in the wild-card round before falling to Kansas City in a hard-fought divisional-round matchup. Now, it’s time for the Browns to assert themselves as legitimate championship contenders. They have an elite offensive line, plenty of playmakers, a confident quarterback, an intelligent head coach and an intriguing defense. They might not win the Super Bowl — hello, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers — but a trip to the big game at SoFi Stadium isn’t far-fetched.