Welcome to the February edition of the Hot-Take-o-Meter. Be sure to follow along with monthly installments of the Hot Take-o-Meter. Some of the Hot Take-o-Meter’s 2020 hot takes aged like fine wine. Others resemble raw sewage.
Stage 1: Siberia
Baltimore resets the single-season rushing yards record.
The Ravens set the NFL record with 3,296 yards in 2019. They took a slight step back in 2020, finishing with 3,071 (fourth-most ever), but with a full season of J.K. Dobbins and Lamar Jackson, Baltimore could flirt with the record yet again. Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie, and Jackson has averaged 6.6 over the last two seasons. If the Ravens can secure a No.1 wide receiver, they might become even more efficient on the ground as some of the attention must go to that wide receiver. Regardless, Baltimore should continue to be an elite rushing offense.
If the NFL expands the season to 17 weeks, Baltimore would only have to average 194 rushing yards per game to set a new record.
Stage 2: Chicago in February
Derrick Henry romps to 2,000 yards again.
Henry reached 2,000 yards in 2020, and he has averaged 133 rushing yards per game over the last 22 games. Even with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith leaving for Atlanta, Henry should be a focal point of the Tennessee offense moving forward. Todd Downing, Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator is likely to give Henry much of the same volume that he enjoyed under Smith. Henry has hit at least 57 yards in his last 25 games played, breaking 60 in 24 of those 25. The NFL is a league of change, but Henry should be just as dominant in 2021 as he has been for the last two seasons.
In a potential 17-game season, Henry would only need to average 118 yards per game; he averaged 127 yards per game in 2020.
Stage 3: Boston in June
Washington clinches the NFC East by Week 16.
It took 256 games, but the Washington Football Team clinched the NFC East in 2020. In 2021, any sort of progression at the quarterback position will leave Washington unmatched at the top of the NFC East. Even if Dak Prescott returns for Dallas, no team in the NFC, let alone NFC East, can match the consistency of Washington’s defense. As long as Washington has remotely competent quarterback play, the Football Team will cruise to double-digit wins and should lock up the division crown relatively early.
Stage 4: Atlanta in June
It will be an all-NFC West showdown in the NFC Title Game.
The Rams have been slotted in as co-favorites with the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, but one should not sleep on the 49ers. San Francisco brings back much of their 2019 NFC Champion team, but they have upgraded at key positions. San Francisco, even with the limitations of Jimmy Garoppolo should have one of the best offenses in the NFL. On the defensive side, Fred Warner has blossomed into a superstar, and a certain pass rusher will be back to wreak havoc against opposing offensive lines. Speaking of …
Stage 5: Phoenix in August
Nick Bosa will lead the NFL in sacks.
As a rookie in 2019, Bosa had nine sacks, but he came alive in the playoffs, posting one of the most dominant runs by any player at any position in recent memory. Had the 49ers won the Super Bowl, Bosa would have been a favorite for Super Bowl MVP. His 2020 season did not go to plan as he only played in two games, but Bosa should be back, better than ever, in 2021. Bosa is now the unquestioned best defensive player in San Francisco, and he should be in play for a double-digit sack season as he is still surrounded by talented pieces such as second-year player Javon Kinlaw. The 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year will reassert his NFL dominance and crush offensive lines and quarterbacks.
Stage 6: Sauna
Minnesota will win the NFC North but lose to Green Bay in the playoffs.
The Vikings slipped to a 7-9 record in 2020, but much of that stems from the loss of Danielle Hunter before the season. Without Hunter, Minnesota simply forgot how to play defense. Sacks do not tell the whole story, but it cannot be good for a team when your leading sack-accumulator was on a different team by Halloween. Hunter is a star and instantly improves the Minnesota defense. Couple Hunter’s return with improvement from the likes of Cameron Dantzler and other young pieces on the defense, Minnesota is geared up for a big run in 2021 …
Well, until they face a disgruntled Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the playoffs.
Stage 7: Crematorium
Atlanta will slip into the final NFC wild-card slot.
4-12 is a bad look for any team, but the Falcons were ultra-competitive down the stretch. After a 0-5 start under Dan Quinn, Raheem Morris guided the team to a 4-7 finish with heartbreaking losses against the Lions, Chargers, Buccaneers (Week 15), and Chiefs. Defensively, the Falcons made massive strides, even holding the Chiefs to under 400 yards. In both 2019 and 2020, Atlanta has started poorly before finishing relatively strong. If the Falcons can avoid a 1-7 or 0-4 start in 2021, they should have enough weapons to contend for the final wild-card spot.
Stage 8: Satan’s Favorite
Tua Tagovailoa will make the 2021 Pro Bowl roster.
Tagovailoa had a rough stretch for the Dolphins in 2020. He had good numbers on the surface, but Brian Flores called upon Ryan Fitzpatrick to relieve Tagovailoa in several games. In a do-or-die Week 17 game in Buffalo, Tagovailoa folded, throwing more touchdowns to the Bills than his Dolphins until garbage time. According to expected interceptions, Tagovailoa was among the worst quarterbacks in the NFL in his time as a starter.
However, all is not lost for the 2020 draftee. Miami has the opportunity, two first-round picks and cap space, to provide Tagovailoa with talent that suits him. Expect Miami to target either DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle, both college teammates of Tagovailoa in the draft. If neither head to Miami, Miami likely picked generational tackle prospect Penei Sewell.
Stage 9: The Sun
The winner of the AFC North will host the AFC Title Game.
With apologies to the Steelers, the Browns and Ravens project to be the cream of the AFC North crop. The Ravens have the higher floor; Baltimore’s defense allowed the second-fewest points in 2020. The Browns have the higher ceiling as Baker Mayfield still has room to grow as a quarterback. Either way, the AFC North is likely to come down to the final week of the season. There could be a rubber match in the playoffs. Historically, Baltimore wins the matchups, but it is a new era in Cleveland. The Browns are poised to snap a 32-year drought of not making the AFC Title Game.
What about Kansas City?
Stage 10: ITER Plasma
The Chargers will win the AFC West.
Outside of New England’s gory execution of Los Angeles, the Chargers fought with valor each week. They appear to be perfectly placed to usurp the Chiefs to the AFC West crown. The Chiefs have more important things to worry about than winning the division. An upstart team such as the Chargers could make things difficult. The Chargers found their Golden Goose in Justin Herbert. Herbert had a phenomenal rookie season, and he will look to build upon it. Brandon Staley, the former defensive coordinator of the cross-town Rams brings a unique coaching philosophy. All of Staley’s coaching experience comes on the defensive side of the ball, but he was a collegiate quarterback at Dayton. While every team seems to be looking for the next offensive genius to install at head coach, the Chargers seem to have made a great pick with a defensive-minded head coach with a quarterback background.