Based on Vegas win totals, the four teams expected to improve the most this NFL season are: the 49ers, Jaguars, Falcons and Cowboys. My metrics are in line with these assessments by the oddsmakers. But can these teams exceed their rather lofty win projections? Let’s break them down on a case-by-case basis:
Jacksonville - Record Last Year: 1-15 | 2021 Win Projection: 6
No team is expected to improve more than the Jaguars. This may seem shocking to you. Obviously, improvement is all but guaranteed after a one-win season that allowed the team to land QB Trevor Lawrence in the Draft. But first year head coach Urban Meyer inherits a team that is on a 15-game losing streak and has gone an NFL worst 39-105 straight up over the last nine seasons. Meyer strangely signed Tim Tebow. As far as former Heisman winners go, Lawrence’s game is much better suited to the pros than Tebow’s ever was. It should be noted that the Jags only win last season (27-20 in Week 1 vs. the Colts) came in a game where the defense failed to force a single punt! There is not much talent on hand. But … the last seven coaches who made the transition from college to the pros have improved their NFL team’s win total by an average of four wins in year one. The Jaguars had six one-score losses last year. Lawrence is probably the most talented QB to come out of college since Andrew Luck. The AFC South is not going to be all that good this year. But I still think seven wins is a lot to ask from the 2021 Jaguars.
San Francisco - Record Last Year: 6-10 | 2021 Win Projection: 10.5
Another team expected to improve by a lot this season is the 49ers. No team dealt with more injuries last season. They had a -11 turnover margin. Now they are expected to be healthier and face the easiest schedule in the league this year. It was just two years ago that they made the Super Bowl. Oddsmakers currently have them as the favorite in 14 of their 17 regular season games! But despite a schedule that’s perceived to be easy, the Niners do play in the NFL’s toughest division where both the Rams and Seahawks are also expected to make the playoffs. Arizona is not “slim pickings” either. In three of Kyle Shanahan’s four years here, the team has won six games or fewer. The health of QB Jimmy Garoppolo is huge. Shanahan is 24-9 straight up with Garoppolo as his starting QB, but just 7-27 SU without him. Rookie Trey Lance now waits in the wings. There is no doubt in my mind that the Niners will improve on last year’s disappointing win total. After all, the same plexiglass principle
that predicted they would regress in 2020 says they will improve this year. But getting to 11 wins will be difficult in the ultra-tough NFC West.
Dallas - Record Last Year: 6-10 | 2021 Win Projection: 9.5
The Cowboys are expected to improve along the same lines as the 49ers and for many of the same reasons. They too were immensely banged up during the 2020 season. The biggest injury was the one that ended QB Dak Prescott’s season in Week 5. I think Mike McCarthy is a pretty bad coach, but this is a win total I would bet Over. I have Dallas winning the NFC East, which has two weak teams (Giants, Eagles) and last year’s division champ (Washington) isn’t likely to be as strong on the defensive side of the ball. The Cowboys’ offense, when healthy, is among the most efficient in football. They had the worst fumble luck in the entire league last year and much of that can be tied to Prescott being out. Remember that there are 17 regular season games now. Dallas going 10-7 (or better) seems rather reasonable.
Atlanta - Record Last Year: 4-12 | 2021 Win Projection: 7.5
I also like the Over on this win total. The Falcons were perhaps the unluckiest team in the NFL last season. They led in 13 of 16 games. They led at the half nine times. Only six teams in the last 30 seasons blew more halftime leads. They were 2-8 straight up in games decided by eight points or less and 0-4 in games decided by three or less. They were only outscored by 18 points despite being 4-12. Over the first three quarters of their games, they were +28 in point differential. They blew five leads in the final two minutes. It was a tough schedule. QB Matt Ryan has thrown for 4,000+ yards in 10 consecutive seasons. Though he loses WR Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley will step up and Kyle Pitts is one of the top TE prospects EVER. Only 7 of their 17 games this year will be played at home (lose one to London), but the Falcons can absolutely finish second in the NFC South.