College football season is underway and the big — or bigger — boys are not far behind. The official 2021 NFL campaign is less than a week away, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (defending Super Bowl champions) and Dallas Cowboys (haven’t had anything of note to defend in 20-plus years) kicking off the festivities next Thursday. They will be followed by a full slate of Week 1 action on the ensuing Sunday and Monday.
If you’re looking for in-depth analysis and futures picks ahead of the 2021 NFL season, be sure to check out our predictions for who wins Super Bowl 56, as well as our assessment of which three teams will improve dramatically this year, and which teams will regress. As for individuals, we have also taken a look at the main player markets—including MVP and Offensive Rookie of the Year.
For now we are focusing on the aforementioned Week 1, which not only includes the Bucs-‘Boys blockbuster but also Steelers-Bills, Seahawks-Colts, Browns-Chiefs, Dolphins-Patriots, and Packers-Saints. Let’s take a look at three of upcoming storylines.
Can Chiefs be challenged? Who is the NFC’s best behind the Bucs?
There are only two division rivalry games on the Week 1 schedule. One (Jacksonville vs Houston) is thoroughly unspectacular, although at least getting a look at Trevor Lawrence will be a worthwhile viewing activity. The other (Miami vs New England), is a lot better even though that one also doesn’t feature any team favored in its division.
More intriguing season-opening contests pit conference foes against each other, including Cleveland vs Kansas City in the AFC and Green Bay vs New Orleans in the NFC. The Browns hung with the Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs last season before coming up on the short end of a 22-17 decision. Will Baker Mayfield and company be able to take the next step in 2021? Week 1 may tell us something. In the NFC, will the Packers still be neck and neck with the Bucs now that Aaron Rodgers is back? Are the Saints on the way down—as expected—without Drew Brees? We will begin to find out when Jameis Winston and the Saints “host” the Packers in Jacksonville as New Orleans recovers from Hurricane Ida.
Still a couple of QB controversies
What is San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan going to do with quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance? How long can Andy Dalton hold off Justin Fields and hang onto the starting job in Chicago? Those are the main QB questions going into Week 1 — and perhaps well beyond Week 1.
The 49ers may not need great quarterback play since they are going up against the Lions, but it will still be interesting to see how much time Garoppolo and Lance get. In Chicago, head coach Matt Nagy’s naming Dalton as the starter was—according to the media—one of the most curious preseason decisions. The Bears aren’t playing at home in their opener, so fans won’t be able to voice their displeasure whenever Dalton throws his first interception. Still, the leash is short and we may find out just how short it is if the veteran plays poorly against the Rams.
On the heels of Bucs vs Cowboys, the next two Week 1 primetime games pit the Bears against the Rams (Sunday night) and the Ravens against the Raiders (Monday night).
Considered to be one of the top contenders in the NFC, it will be interesting to see how the Rams look against an opponent that is not terrible but also one that they should dispose of at home. It’s the beginning of the Matthew Stafford era in Los Angeles, and if he leads his team to a convincing rout of Chicago then LA may already start planning another parade. As for Ravens-Raiders, it should be a raucous atmosphere in Las Vegas. But the thing to note is if Lamar Jackson looks like MVP Lamar Jackson or just really good Lamar Jackson. He may need to be MVP Lamar Jackson in 2021 now that running back J.K. Dobbins is out for the year.
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