Like many, every year I compete in a College Football Bowl Pick ‘Em where you must apply confidence points alongside your winners. If you are not familiar with this process, allow me to break it down briefly.
Let’s say there are 30 college bowl games. You have confidence that Alabama is going to win the Sugar Bowl. So much confidence in fact, that Alabama is the team you are MOST confident in of any other team, in any other bowl game. In that instance, you would pick Alabama and write ’30’ next to your selection. Let’s say Iowa is the team you are the 2nd-most confident in. In that instance, you would pick Iowa and write ’29’ next to your selection. Proceeding until you have all the teams you believe to be the winners selected, and all the numbers from 30 to 1 applied. So it’s a first-to-worst list if you will.
I bring up this premise because every year I run through an interesting exercise. I remove any preconceived notions and start from scratch. Start with a blank slate and place each NFL team where I believe they will finish by the end of the season. In the following exercise, I will walk my way through, team by team, applying a confidence point 32 to 1. Along the way, I will pick a few division odds that I like and recommend laying a little cash on. Down the rabbit hole we go.
Most Confident to Least Confident:
32) Cincinnati Bengals +2500 (Last in the AFC North):
I hate to damper the expectations of Bengal fans heading into 2021, but the odds of them climbing out of the AFC North are very slim. Expect progress, but Cincinnati is nowhere near the trio of division heavyweight Ravens, Browns, or Steelers.
31) Las Vegas Raiders +1800 (Last in the AFC West):
The Las Vegas Raiders are in a similar boat as the Browns. They continued to make questionable moves after questionable moves and seem like a franchise going nowhere.
30) Houston Texans +2500 (Last in the AFC South):
The Houston Texans are the odds on favorite to be the worst team in the NFL. The only reason the Texans don’t receive the MOST confidence points in this exercise is that they share a division with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Would it surprise you if the Jaguars are equally as bad in 2021?
29) Detroit Lions +2500 (Last in the NFC North):
We are getting many bad teams out of the way early. Call me crazy, but a Jared Goff-led Lions offense with limited weapons doesn’t inspire much confidence. It will be stunning if the Lions are not once again last in the NFC North.
28) Jacksonville Jaguars +650 (3rd in the AFC South):
I understand that there is excitement around the Jaguars organization for the first time in a long time with Trevor Lawrence at the helm. Let’s pump the brakes on success from the organization, at least in year one.
27) Tampa Bay Buccaneers -190 (1st in the NFC South):
For a team that did NOT win their division last season, there is a lot of confidence in the Buccaneers heading into 2021. Year two of Tom Brady, an incredibly talented roster, and a division that appears to have taken a step back, the Bucs feel like a virtual lock to win the NFC South.
26) New York Jets +2500 (Last in the AFC East):
Excitement abounds the Jets franchise. I like what the Jets have done this off-season, but I believe this is step one of the rebuild. With the Bills and Dolphins on the rise and the Patriots expected to bounce back, the Jets will remain at the bottom of the AFC East for the time being.
25) Green Bay Packers -165 (1st in the NFC North):
The Packers are the most complete team in the NFC North once again. With the Bears breaking in a rookie QB and the Vikings pass-defense as their Achilles heel, the Pack should be back to their winning ways in 2021.
24) Atlanta Falcons +800 (Last in the NFC South):
While the NFC South seems to have stagnated, it doesn’t feel like the Atlanta Falcons have made much progress. I would expect their defense to get torched once again in 2021.
23) Kansas City Chiefs -275 (1st in the AFC West):
Some might be surprised to see the Kansas City Chiefs this far down the list. This assessment has nothing to do with a lack of confidence in the Chiefs, more to do with how good I believe the Los Angeles Chargers could be in 2021.
22) Arizona Cardinals +600 (Last in the NFC West):
The NFC West should be the most competitive division in the NFL. The last-place team could very well have a winning record. The Cardinals find themselves surrounded by better, more veteran-laden teams.
21) Buffalo Bills -150 (1st in the AFC East):
Although it feels like the Patriots and Dolphins will be stronger challengers in 2021, it still feels like the AFC East remains the domain of the Buffalo Bills.
20) Denver Broncos +700 (3rd in the AFC West)
19) Los Angeles Chargers +450 (2nd in the AFC West):
I’m going to pair the Broncos and Chargers together here. The same gap that I feel separates the Chiefs from the Chargers separates the Chargers from the Broncos. The Bronco’s defense is ready to challenge. I question their offense under Teddy Bridgewater. The Charger’s primary issue has been health. As long as the Chargers can maintain health, I like them as a 2021 playoff team.
18) Philadelphia Eagles +500 (4th in the NFC East)
17) New York Giants +450 (3rd in the NFC East):
I’m going to pair two NFC East rivals in this section. The NFC East feels like a race to the last place with the Giants and Eagles as the primary contenders. The Giants have their issues, but I believe they have a solid foundation on defense. The Eagles feel like a team in transition that doesn’t quite know what it wants.
16) Los Angeles Rams +190 (1st in the NFC West):
I spoke earlier about how good the NFC West will be in 2021. I am also very confident in the Los Angeles Rams. With Matthew Stafford under center, the Rams should have their most prolific offense since the days of ‘The Greatest Show on Turf.’ The Rams are the first bet I am recommending. Take the Rams to win the NFC West at +190.
15) Tennessee Titans -110 (1st in the AFC South)
14) Indianapolis Colts +150 (2nd in the AFC South):
The AFC South is essentially a coin-flip. With the Texans and Jaguars out of contention in 2021, we have ourselves a 2-horse race. The Colts are already dealing with injury issues–never a good sign heading into the season. The Titans feel like a team searching for an identity on the defensive side of the ball. I give the slight edge to the Titans, but not enough to wager on them. I don’t mind a small wager on the Colts at +150.
13) Carolina Panthers +1000 (3rd in the NFC South)
12) New Orleans Saints +325 (2nd in the NFC South):
The NFC South feels pretty well defined. The Bucs seem poised to win the division while the Falcons feel settled as the doormat. Who will finish 2nd is up for debate? Post- Drew Brees, the Saints feel like they have more question marks than answers. Can Carolina take another step and take over the 2nd chair? I’ll lean Sean Payton keeps the ship afloat in a transition season and holds off the Panthers for now.
11) Seattle Seahawks +275 (3rd in the NFC West)
10) San Francisco 49ers +190 (2nd in the NFC West):
Every aspect of the San Francisco 49ers is superior to the Seattle Seahawks–but one. The fact that I have these two teams so close is a testament to Russell Wilson’s greatness. Ultimately I believe both teams find a way to get into the playoffs as wild cards.
9) Miami Dolphins +325 (3rd in the AFC East)
8) New England Patriots +350 (2nd in the AFC East):
We spoke about these two teams taking a step forward to challenge the Bills. The Dolphins continue to ascend steadily. The Patriots feel like a team poised for a rebound with many pieces returning after opting out a season ago, with the steady hand of Mac Jones running the show. Slight edge to the Patriots, but these two teams are razor-close.
7) Minnesota Vikings +250 (3rd in the NFC North)
6) Chicago Bears +550 (2nd in the NFC North)
The NFC North is another division that feels pretty settled. The Packers are preparing for their ‘Last Dance.’ The Lions are a team without a direction. The question that remains: what do the Chicago Bears look like with Justin Fields under center? I am a believer in Fields, and I think he changes the dynamic for this franchise dramatically. I’ll take the Bears as the 2nd place finisher in the NFC North and a sneaky playoff contender.
5) Washington Football Team +220 (1st in the NFC East)
4) Dallas Cowboys +135 (2nd in the NFC East)
Long-time rivals Washington and Dallas will ultimately settle the NFC East. Dallas is crowned the favorite every year but also has disappointed in past seasons. Washington may not have the firepower on offense that the Cowboys possess, but their defense is FAR superior. When the call is this close, take the team with the better odds. I will take Washington to claim the NFC East for the 2nd season in a row and lay down a wager at +220.
3) Cleveland Browns +150 (3rd in the AFC North)
2) Baltimore Ravens +115 (2nd in the AFC North)
1) Pittsburgh Steelers +425 (1st in the AFC North)
The AFC North is the most difficult call by a wide margin. You have a legitimate three-horse race here with the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns as contenders. You can make a case for any of these teams to win the AFC North, and you would receive no argument from me. I will take the Pittsburgh Steelers to rebound and get it done in Big Ben’s swan song, and at +425, I love those odds.