It feels like the 2021 NFL season just started. But, believe it or not, we’re about to be four weeks in. It used to be that marked the quarter post. But now we’ve got 17 regular season games. Still, I thought this would be a good time to make some early assessments on who is likely to make the playoffs in the two conferences.
Buffalo was a surprise loser in Week 1. Since then they’ve outscored two opponents 78-21. Even with the loss, the Bills are tied with the 3-0 Broncos for the best point differential through three weeks (+50). Expect them to run away with the AFC East. The Tua-less Dolphins are going to regress, the Patriots aren’t going to be better than middle of the road with rookie QB Mac Jones and the Jets are awful.
Tennessee should also be a runaway division winner in the AFC. Not nearly as impressive as Buffalo so far, the Titans will instead benefit from a weak South Division. Houston and Jacksonville are two of the worst teams in the league. Indianapolis, off to an 0-3 start, looks like one of the big regression teams this year.
The AFC North will likely produce two playoff teams and I’m talking about Baltimore and Cleveland. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, both the Ravens and Browns will be favored in all of their remaining games except one - when they visit one another. Pittsburgh’s streak of non-losing seasons, which goes back to 2003, could be in jeopardy. Big Ben is toast and the team has lost seven of nine games going back to the end of 2020. Cincinnati, off to its first 2-1 start in three years, is improved but not yet ready to contend for the playoffs.
The West is definitely going to produce multiple playoff teams, likely three, but all four are thinking playoffs this year. Shockingly, the two-time defending AFC Champion Chiefs are the team in last place right now. They are a dreadful 2-12 ATS in their last 14 games. Regression was due after an extremely fortunate record in one-run games last year. The Raiders and Broncos are the two 3-0 teams in the division. But two of Las Vegas’ three wins came in OT. Denver’s first three opponents are a combined 0-9. Don’t look past the Chargers’ improvement either as they thankfully rid themselves of the odious Anthony Lynn. My guess is that the Raiders will be the “odd team out” come playoff time.
Tampa Bay is probably the most certain division winner in the NFC. The Saints aren’t as good as they used to be. Carolina is off to a 3-0 start, but Christian McCaffery is hurt. It’s hard to envision a team with Sam Darnold at QB making the playoffs. Atlanta just isn’t very good.
I think Dallas might be just as likely to win the East as Tampa Bay is to win the South. For the Cowboys, it’s very similar to what I talked about with Tennessee in the AFC South. The rest of the division stinks. Washington is a clear regression team while the Eagles and Giants are both bad.
After a disastrous Week 1 showing, Green Bay has won two straight and Aaron Rodgers has the Cheeseheads R-E-L-A-X-I-N-G. I’d still make the Packers the favorite to win the NFC North, but they definitely aren’t winning as many games as they did last season. If the Vikings can get their act together, they will challenge the Pack. They might be 1-2, but Minnesota could easily be 3-0 right now. The Pack and Vikes need not worry about the Bears and Lions as the latter two seem destined for double digit losses.
That brings us to the NFC West, which is pretty easily the best division in football. Three teams will definitely make the playoffs and it could be all four. The Rams already beat the Buccaneers and could end up as the #1 overall seed. Matt Stafford is a clear upgrade over Jared Goff. I like Arizona too as long as Kyler Murray stays healthy. San Francisco was on everyone’s shortlist for most improved teams in 2021. Even with some early attrition and question marks surrounding Jimmy G, I think the Niners win 10 games. So Seattle could be the odd team out come playoff time, which sounds shocking. They will battle with the Saints and the second place team in the North for that 7th playoff spot.
See you next month!