The NFL schedule won’t be released for another two months. Tampa Bay’s second Lombardi trophy has likely not collected any dust.
What does this mean?
It is time to predict the 14 playoff teams.
No. 1 Seed: Buffalo Bills
The dominoes are aligning for Josh Allen to have another MVP-caliber season. Allen and the Bills can load up to earn the top seed in the AFC if Kansas City slips at all. Buffalo needs to add pieces to the defense, but by the end of the season, the Bills were a well-oiled scoring machine. With the rest of the division in flux, Buffalo could put six quick wins on the docket and earn the AFC’s top seed.
No. 2 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs
There are two paths for the Chiefs. They could come back to earth after losing Super Bowl LV. On the other hand, they could pull out all the stops and roll through the regular season again. At a certain point, the Chiefs are no longer judged by their regular-season performance. Would a second MVP be great for Patrick Mahomes? Sure. Would yet another AFC West crown bolster Andy Reid‘s career? Sure. At the end of the day, Kansas City is judged on what they do in January and February. They could be inclined to take their foot off the gas pedal to ensure peak health heading into the playoffs.
No. 3 Seed: Tennessee Titans
If Tennessee’s defense improves in any manner, then they will coast to the AFC South title. The offense will be as explosive as advertised, and Derrick Henry will challenge for 2,000 yards again. Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown are one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in the sport. Tennessee won 11 games with the worst third-down defense in NFL history. They will not be that bad again. By the end of the season, the Titans may not be better than the Colts, but they do not have a question at quarterback like the Colts do with Carson Wentz.
No. 4 Seed: Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore endured the worst month in franchise history, going 1-4 over 35 days. When the team was not missing various All-Pro players, Baltimore was steamrolling folks. Baltimore underachieved in 2020, and they managed to go 11-5 and knock off the Titans in Nashville. 2021 projects to be somewhere in between Baltimore’s ridiculous 2019 season and their disappointing 2020 season. Baltimore could bolster the passing attack with the acquisition of a star No. 1 wide receiver, but they could mimic their acquisitions of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith in the past.
No. 5 Seed: Cleveland Browns
Baltimore and Cleveland are interchangeable. Both teams have loaded offenses built on historically efficient rushing attacks. Baltimore has the advantage on the defensive side of the ball, but Cleveland’s passing offense presents more opportunities for Cleveland on the other hand. Either way, Baltimore and Cleveland will be locked into a battle that could spill into the playoffs if the seeding were to work out like this. Both teams have championship upside, but the Ravens get the AFC North crown with the superior defense. Cleveland should have their first playoff streak since the 1980s.
No. 6 Seed: Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis has added Wentz in a sort of reclamation project. If Wentz returns to his 2017 form, the Colts will be immediate Super Bowl contenders. Even if Wentz is just a competent quarterback, Indianapolis has a loaded roster. Offensively, the Colts should flow through Jonathan Taylor and an elite offensive line. If the Colts can add an offensive tackle in the first round of the upcoming draft, expect the Colts to make yet another playoff appearance. The defense is star-studded, but they work as a unit to form one of the best defenses in the NFL.
No. 7 Seed: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are the only new team for the moment. Justin Herbert and the Chargers offensive should be elite. Defensively, the Chargers will be getting Derwin James back to fortify the secondary. The Chargers have enough talent to make the playoffs, but they must avoid the self-inflicted mistakes that have undone their recent seasons.
Pittsburgh has a good enough defense to be in contention, but the offense has issues at the moment. Ben Roethlisberger deteriorated down the stretch, and the offensive line resembles a garbage bin. Pittsburgh could look for a short-term fix in the form of Najee Harris or Travis Etienne to boost the rushing attack, or they could look for more a larger-scale rebuild.
No. 1 Seed: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have been the winners of the offseason so far with their acquisition of Matthew Stafford. Outside of Stafford, the Rams have a plethora of strong offensive weapons to go along with one of the best defenses in the NFL. Even if the defense slips a little bit after the departure of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, they should still be in the top 10 or so across the NFL. The Rams are loaded, and they could end up being the top seed in the NFC.
No. 2 Seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Similar to the Chiefs, the Buccaneers may be inclined to coast through the regular season. As the reigning champions, the Buccaneers will likely only care about the playoffs. In this case, they win enough games to secure a top-two seed in the conference. The defense should be spectacular, and the offense will star-studded once again, even if Chris Godwin and/or Antonio Brown leave in free agency. The Buccaneers will present a strong repeat bid.
No. 3 Seed: Washington Football Team
Washington is the inverse of the Titans. The defense will be elite, and it could be the very best in the NFL in 2021. The offense was competent enough to win seven games, but it seems unlikely that it will be worse in 2021. Washington could kick the tires on playoff legend Taylor Heinicke, or they could be in play for a quarterback in the draft or free agency. Either way, Washington should be better offensively.
No. 4 Seed: Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota slipped to 7-9 in 2020, but much of that can be explained by Danielle Hunter‘s absence. Without Hunter, the Vikings had virtually no pass rush, exposing a young set of cornerbacks. With Hunter returning, the Vikings should generate some pressure, making life easier for the likes of Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. The offense will be one of the most efficient units in the league. Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson will be in play for All-Pro bids.
No. 5 Seed: Green Bay Packers
In this universe, the Packers would win the ensuing playoff game against the Vikings, but this is a case of Minnesota working hard to get as high of a seed as possible while the Packers trust in Aaron Rodgers to win in any NFC city. The offense will be top-notch once again, but the defense will also show growth. Darnell Savage and Rashan Gary blossomed into stars in December and January, and they could be potential All-Pros in 2021.
No. 6 Seed: San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco-based media outlets likely went through a full thesaurus of synonyms for “injured” in 2020. However, 2021 is a new year, and it is mathematically unlikely for San Francisco to lose as many pieces to injury as they did in 2020. It would be nice if San Francisco went after Deshaun Watson, but the 49ers could contend with Jimmy Garoppolo. Nick Bosa is a strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, and the 2020 draft duo of Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk could break out in 2021.
No. 7 Seed: New Orleans Saints
For the sake of writers across the country, please sort out the quarterback situation. Drew Brees has yet to officially retire, and it is growing increasingly likely that he suits up in 2021. With Brees, the Saints will be right back in the conversation as one of the best teams in the NFC. Even with Jameis Winston, New Orleans should be great. Taysom Hill presents a different set of questions, but he proved he could win games for New Orleans, so he should get the benefit of the doubt.
Russell Wilson could be on his way out of Seattle, but here, it does not matter. Seattle, as a roster, cannot compete with the rest of the NFC. Sure, they may win eight games. They may even make the playoffs again, but this is not a team that can win the Super Bowl. They have glaring holes across the offensive line and defense, but the shiny toys of Wilson, Bobby Wagner, shirtless D.K. Metcalf, and Jamal Adams paint this facade of a good football team. At their core, the Seahawks are overly reliant on their stars.
Nick Foles? No. Mitchell Trubisky? No. The Bears need a quarterback to earn a spot back in the playoffs. It seems unlikely that eight wins will be good enough to make the playoffs again. If the Bears could trade for the aforementioned Wilson, they immediately become contenders, but this is a ticking time bomb. Allen Robinson could be on his way (via trade or free agency), and his landing spot could be determined by who is planned to be under center for the Bears in 2021. The defense is terrific, per usual, but it does not matter when the offense is as abysmal as Chicago’s can be.