It's Week 1! Finally!!!
After another fascinating offseason of ruminations, relocations and rookie hype, it's go time. Well, almost go time. But before Thursday night's season-opening game between the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and the Cowboys, it's time for some last-minute predictions.
I performed the same exercise one year ago at this time, and I feel like I acquitted myself pretty well:
- The Patriots will post their first losing record since 2000 -- CHECK!
- Jonathan Taylor will be the best rookie running back -- CHECK!
- The Browns and Buccaneers will end the NFL's two longest postseason droughts -- CHECK-PLUS!
But I still had some misses. Always room to get better -- and bolder!
So, without further ado, here are my last-minute predictions for the 2021 NFL season, Schein Nine style:
1) Josh Allen wins MVP and Super Bowl LVI
This cat has it. Year 3 was great, but Year 4's going to be special. In Buffalo, it will become known as The Season, with Allen accomplishing two things the great Jim Kelly never managed to do: take home MVP honors and win a Super Bowl.
Allen has taken tremendous strides over his first three NFL seasons, truly breaking through last year, when he finished second in MVP voting. It's so clear that the guy is singularly focused on getting better every day at practice. And his leadership poured through when we spoke last month on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein On Sports." Bills GM Brandon Beane rightly gave his QB a $258 million extension early in camp, because there is no longer any doubt or debate: Allen's the real deal. The arm and the athleticism were always there, but how about last year's accuracy, when he completed 69.2 percent(!) of his passes? He's a quarterbacking mix of Nolan Ryan, Shohei Ohtani and Greg Maddux. Anyone who still questions Allen is just being stubborn.
Beane has also provided his signal-caller with a beautifully talented and diverse set of receivers. Allen's rapport with Stefon Diggs is remarkable. And the fact that offensive guru Brian Daboll is still running Buffalo's offense -- instead of serving as another team's head coach -- is unreal and huge for Allen. The Bills' defense surprisingly took a step back last season, but I fully expect Sean McDermott to get that unit back on track in 2021, especially with some fresh pass-rushing juice in rookies Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham. Not to mention, it sounds like DE A.J. Epenesa is poised for a Year 2 breakout.
This is going to be a season they remember in Buffalo for a long, long time.
2) Aaron Rodgers nabs OPOY and NFC No. 1 seed
Despite all of the offseason drama, it seems to me that Rodgers is in a great place mentally entering the 2021 campaign. At least that's the sense I got when I spoke to him on SiriusXM a few weeks back. With this potentially being Rodgers' last dance in Green Bay, there's a vibe of stopping and smelling the roses. Have you seen the man's Instagram account lately? It's flooded with big smiles and fun with teammates. I expect this joy to translate into gleeful domination.
After three straight seasons with fewer than 30 touchdown passes, Rodgers was back with a vengeance in 2020, putting up an absurd 48-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio en route to his third MVP trophy. In my mind, it was the best season of his legendary career. And it won't surprise me if this year is even better. Rodgers' receiving corps is improved, with bestie Randall Cobb back in the fold. The run game is strong, with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon forming an imposing 1-2 punch. The defense is solid. The division is weak -- 6-0 against North foes is the official prediction here. Rodgers will guide the Packers to a minimum of 13 wins.
3) Derrick Henry hits 2K (again), carrying Titans to AFC South crown (again)
While I make my living debating in the court of public opinion, I am not quite sure how anyone could argue Henry isn't the top running back in the NFL today. There's a fight for second-best. Henry is a brilliant, freight train, bully of a back who has led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. Last year, he earned Offensive Player of the Year honors with 2,027 yards and 17 scores. How does 2,100 and 20 sound for 2021? Hyperbole? Or spot on? No one in NFL history boasts two 2,000-yard seasons, much less in back-to-back years. But no one in NFL history has played a 17-game regular season -- until now! Henry is in prime position to run wild once again, especially now that Julio Jones has joined A.J. Brown out wide.
And while Tennessee still has some question marks on defense, the Titans have the luxury of playing in the NFL's worst division in 2021. So, yes, I'm riding with "King Henry" in the AFC South.
4) Washington Football Team = Most disappointing football team
Look, I love Ron Rivera's defense. The Chase Young-led front is nightmare fuel to quarterbacks across the league. And don't sleep on the stout secondary.
But I think the Washington Football Team has serious problems in an area that kind of matters: the quarterback room. Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his ninth NFL team. There's a reason why the quarterback bounces around so often. Sure, it's more fun to talk about Fitzmagic, to note his Harvard pedigree and to thoroughly enjoy his amazing, chest-hair-infused press conferences. Honestly, Fitz is an extremely likable player. But everyone seems to conveniently forget about the Fitztragic part, when he starts throwing picks like they're going out of style. What happens when that guy rears his ugly head? Where does Washington go then? Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen hardly inspire confidence to me.
Everybody's all keyed up about Washington heading into the 2021 season. To me, this group has 8-9 written all over it. And this year, a losing record's not gonna get you a playoff berth, Football Team.
5) End of an error for Giants
From one NFC East turnover concern to another. Daniel Jones' knack for giving the ball to the other team is soul-crushing. Thirty-nine turnovers in two seasons? That's atrocious. So is the play of New York's offensive line, which sits dead last in Pro Football Focus' preseason OL rankings. In back-to-back years, Giants GM Dave Gettleman spent top-10 picks on a quarterback (Jones) and a quarterback protector (Andrew Thomas). At this point, does either look NFL-caliber?
I like Giants head coach Joe Judge. A lot. But there are just too many negatives across this roster, chiefly at the game's most important position. This feels like the end of the Daniel Jones error.
6) All five first-round quarterbacks dazzle, with Mac Jones nabbing OROY
Normally there's a dud in the group. Nope. Not in this quintet. I can't wait to watch all of these youngsters in the regular season. It won't just be solid -- it'll be borderline spectacular.
Trevor Lawrence is going to keep the Jaguars in games they have no business being in. This is one of the most skilled quarterbacks to enter the NFL in recent memory, which is why he was a no-brainer No. 1 overall pick. Meanwhile, No. 2 pick Zach Wilson has a high football IQ and gobs of wow talent. He'll have his ups and downs on a Jets team that's still forming its new identity under Robert Saleh, but the rookie will learn and improve over the course of the season. While I would start Trey Lance Day 1, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan can do whatever he wants because he's that great of an offensive guru. Lance oozes talent and is blessed to have such a loaded team and savvy coaching staff around him. Meanwhile, it's sinful that Matt Nagy is starting Andy Dalton over Justin Fields. But whenever Nagy comes to his senses and makes No. 1 the QB1, Fields will electrify Bears fans with his arm, athleticism and leadership. Lastly, Mac Jones must feel like he's in football heaven. I immediately loved the pick when New England made it, and figured he'd beat out Cam Newton in a fair competition. Jones did just that -- and now he'll take advantage of having the best coach in NFL history guiding him with a restocked cupboard. Jones will win Offensive Rookie of the Year and lead the Patriots back to the playoffs.
7) Javonte Williams is top rookie back (no offense, Najee!)
Denver is going to be a tough out every week. I really like the talent on the Broncos' roster, with their elite defensive backs, stud pass rushers and electric, young pass catchers. OK, so Teddy Bridgewater won the quarterback job mainly because he isn't Drew Lock. It was the right call, the only call. But inherently, Denver will need to run the football in order to win. Sure, veteran Melvin Gordon is there and still solid, but Williams is going to be the straw that stirs the drink in this backfield. A steal of a draft pick in Round 2, Williams is a fantastic blend of everything you want in a back. The guy was a tackle-breaking machine at North Carolina. Not to mention, he ranked as PFF's No. 1 inside zone/power runner in college football last fall, so Denver's offense will fit him like a glove.
8) Derek Carr enjoys best season yet
I recently had Carr on The Adam Schein Podcast for an in-depth conversation, and the Raiders quarterback was fantastic. I asked him about how he's viewed in the court of public opinion, where I think he is significantly undervalued. Carr hears it, knows it, but solely cares about winning football games. The Raiders haven't done enough of that lately, but don't blame the quarterback. He's been fantastic over the past two seasons, compiling a 48:17 TD-to-INT ratio and a 101.1 passer rating. There have been issues around Carr -- like defense and coaching last season -- but Las Vegas is just fine under center.
9) Texans become first 0-17 team
Last year in this space, I predicted the Jaguars would go 0-16. They proceeded to immediately prove me wrong in Week 1 with a stunning win over the Colts ... and then lost their last 15 games. So I felt somewhat validated.
Obviously, the Deshaun Watson situation casts a pall over everything in Houston. Pretty hard to believe this franchise had a 24-0 lead over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in a playoff game just 20 months ago. What a disaster ever since. At the moment, the Texans look dreadful, rudderless and talent-deprived. That's a gnarly stew. The David Culley hire was head-scratching to me, but given the state of the franchise this offseason, it's safe to assume the pickings were pretty slim. If Culley can make something out of this team, though, he deserves serious Coach of the Year consideration. I mean, look at the roster. Where are the playmakers on offense? Sure, Brandin Cooks is a nice piece, but I don't exactly envision him winning games as a one-man wrecking crew. On defense, the Texans have ... Zach Cunningham? Yeah, he'll rack up plenty of tackles on this lackluster unit. Shoot, Houston just traded away its best cover man in Bradley Roby.
I think the Jaguars sweep the Texans. So with that as a backdrop, find a win. I dare you.