The 2021 NFL regular season kicks off Thursday night, but it’s never too early to look ahead to the biggest game of the campaign, right?
The Chiefs currently are the odds-on favorite to win Super Bowl LVI, with the reigning champion Bucs not far behind. That said, Kansas City and Tampa Bay both will be very hard-pressed to return to the big stage, let alone win their respective conferences.
As we celebrate the start of a new season, NESN.com tasked eight staff members with predicting both a Super Bowl LVI matchup and winner. Spoiler alert: No one picked the Bucs to repeat as champs.
Ben Watanabe: Los Angeles Rams over Kansas City Chiefs
It’s best not to overthink the AFC, where you could squint really hard and see a few teams in the mix, but ultimately the Chiefs are still the class of the field. In the NFC, all the Rams really needed was a modest upgrade over Jared Goff, and what they got is a major upgrade in Matthew Stafford. Pretty chalky pick, I know, but both teams are popular Super Bowl picks for a reason.
Dakota Randall: Green Bay Packers over Baltimore Ravens
The Aaron Rodgers offseason drama seemingly has made people forget that the Packers nearly made it to the Super Bowl last season, and certainly are good enough to go all the way in 2021. The offense should be elite, and the defense just good enough, for the Packers to bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay. As for Baltimore, I expect Lamar Jackson to rebound this season after the league adjusted to him last year. The Ravens are talented on both sides of the ball and should be a force in the AFC.
Lauren Campbell: Buffalo Bills over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are talented enough to repeat, but Year 4 for Josh Allen will be his best yet after making strides in his previous three seasons. With a receiving corps that includes Stefon Diggs, this very well could be the Bills’ season. Buffalo finally will get its way against Tom Brady.
Sean McGuire: Chiefs over Rams
It’s hard to pick against the Chiefs after watching Kansas City improve its key weak spot ? the offensive line — with top interior lineman Joe Thuney and others this offseason. It will make for quite the difference for Patrick Mahomes and Co., who could very well capture their second Super Bowl in the last three seasons. The Rams, on the other hand, will be led by Aaron Donald and their defense this season, but they’re much improved on the other side of the ball following a trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
LA further slid its chips into the middle with the Sony Michel trade, and while that may not be the most impactful of transactions, it shows the franchise is all-in. This exact matchup pays out 22-to-1 at DraftKings Sportsbook, meaning a $100 bet would pay out a total of $2,300. And the best part? You win the money before the Super Bowl is even played.
Logan Mullen: Bills over Packers
Rodgers gets the Packers to the Super Bowl in what proves to be his NFL swan song but falls short to an Allen-led Bills team that, for once, doesn’t choke in the postseason. Buffalo’s defense is legit, and the offense has plenty of firepower. The Bills are the real deal.
Ricky Doyle: Packers over Browns
The floor is high for Green Bay so long as Rodgers is quarterbacking the offense. So, too, is the ceiling. The Packers haven’t been able to get over the hump since winning Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 season, losing in the NFC Championship Game four times (including the last two seasons). But Rodgers seems to have a hair across his you-know-what, which spells trouble for the rest of the NFL.
Green Bay remains loaded with playmakers, should again have an excellent offensive line once David Bakhtiari returns and is well-coached with Matt LaFleur. Expect the Packers to roll through the NFC North, securing a first-round bye, before ultimately knocking off the Browns, who will ride an elite O-line, a hard-nosed rushing attack and a vastly improved defense to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Zack Cox: Packers over Bills
After losing in consecutive NFC Title Games, Rodgers gets over the hump and wins his first Super Bowl in 11 years — then promptly leaves Green Bay. Allen wins NFL MVP but can’t deliver Buffalo its long-awaited first championship.
Adam London: Chiefs over San Francisco 49ers
This prediction isn’t very spicy, as we saw this matchup on football’s biggest stage less than two years ago. But it’s tough to pick against the Chiefs, whose offense is virtually unstoppable when it’s humming. Kansas City’s defense also is above-average, and Andy Reid’s team as a whole should be motivated as ever after falling just short of back-to-back titles in February.
The 49ers probably would have been in the mix for the NFC crown last season had they not been derailed by key injuries. Jimmy Garoppolo once again leads the Niners to Super Sunday, but another shaky performance under the brightest of lights prompts Kyle Shanahan and Co. to start Trey Lance under center from the get-go in 2022.