For the overall 2021 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the divisional previews.
AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Tennessee is just boringly good.
Just the sight of Ryan Tannehill makes me yawn but he’s one of the highest rated QBs in the league the last two seasons — and his supporting cast just got a whole lot more exciting with the addition of Julio Jones to an offense that already boasts A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry. Being three deep at receiver AND a 2,000-yard rusher? Good luck, NFL defenses.
Speaking of defense, the Titans’ was bad in 2020 but they added Bud Dupree to bolster one of the worst pass rushing units in the league. Dupree is coming off a season-ending knee injury so this signing might not pan out until late this season at the earliest. First round corner Caleb Farley might be a steal that offsets the Janoris Jenkins-for-Adoree Jackson lateral move.
That said, I have two causes for concern: new offensive coordinator Todd Downing may or may not be as good as the departed Arthur Smith, and the seven previous 2,000-yard rushers never came close to replicating the feat the following year. They were still productive, however, so I expect the Titans to take advantage of the Colts’ failure to capitalize on their preseason hype.
If not now, Wentz?
Indy’s 2021 season — and the Frank Reich era, really — hinges on the success of the Carson Wentz trade. And so far, he’s been more trouble than he’s worth.
A preseason foot injury and a stint in COVID protocols robbed Wentz of getting any meaningful work with his new team. And frankly, he needed it — he was flat out awful in 2020 and simply reuniting with his former Philly coordinator won’t fix it entirely.
The Colts have a Super Bowl-caliber team on both sides of the ball, and the front office and coaching staff are among the league’s best — but even the owner knows this team only goes as far as Wentz can take them.
The reason why I don’t see Indianapolis winning this division is because the Colts’ first five games are against teams that won 10 or more games in 2020. With a new QB that had very little work with his team, I expect a rough start to the season but a late rally that gets them in the wild card playoff race.
In college, Urban Meyer’s teams averaged a five game improvement from the season before he took over. In Jacksonville, simply winning five games will be an improvement.
Will he have the patience to see it through?
As if it weren’t puzzling enough that a coach who retired from two cushy college jobs for health reasons thinks going to the pros for the first time will do anything less than kill him, Meyer is surrounded by valid concerns about his ability to develop NFL caliber quarterbacks and his hiring practices both on his coaching staff and his roster. Oh, and the head scratcher to end all head scratchers was exhuming Tim Tebow’s football remains for a brief reminder that his legendary college career in no way means he’s any good in the NFL.
Oh, did I mention Meyer was fined $200k for OTA violations?
But Trevor Lawrence is the whole reason Meyer is here, and the first overall pick looks legit. Losing Travis Etienne for the season takes some potential sizzle away from the offense but James Robinson was a revelation at running back last year and the Jaguars spent a bunch of money adding skill position players in free agency. Having veteran NFL offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will undoubtedly make this an improved unit from last year.
The defense will probably not be as competitive. As we’ve seen here in Washington, a switch from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 can be a painful one, and however talented they are — edge rushers K’Lavon Chiasson and Josh Allen can be difference makers — the sum of the parts likely won’t be nearly as good on the field as it is on paper.
I believe Urban Meyer isn’t long for this job — three years tops but more likely two — and will land on the long list of college coaches failing in the pros. Even Steve Spurrier had a decent first season. Meyer won’t.
Let me preface by saying this: I’m rooting hard for David Culley. He seems like a good dude and, as the oldest head coach in NFL history at the time of his debut, he’s a great feel-good story.
But Culley feels like a token hire set up to fail, and he’s been treated as such throughout the Deshaun Watson saga.
Hell, there was even talk of a line of succession that involved an active player becoming head coach!
How much more dysfunctional can Houston get?
Well, if a front office power struggle and a franchise quarterback following an unprecedented season with a trade request that then landed on the back burner because of off-field issues doesn’t answer that question, I don’t know what does (and don’t want to, thank you very much).
So I won’t waste time breaking this team down. They’re terrible and will likely hold the first overall pick in the 2022 draft because their culture is so rotten Bruce Allen would call it “damn good.” My heart hurts for David Culley.