My thoughts on all 32 NFL franchises ahead of the chaotic 2021 off-season conclude today with thoughts on the eight teams from NFC south and west divisions.
Playoff and top draft positions sorted, coach firings, a butt fumble recovery and more bizarre occurrences in the final week of regular season action.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
Last week: 1
With every advantage sealed from the regular season, Kansas City took a break and let the back-ups have a go. So, no one is really worried about them losing this game handily to the Chargers. Andy Reid gave his top dogs a good two weeks rest, while offensive co-ordinator Eric Bieniemy is the busiest guy in K.C. right now, due to being interviewed by pretty much every team needing a head coach.
2. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Last week: 2
No one seemed too sure how the Bills would approach their game against Miami, who were trying to get into the playoffs. Turns out, they would put their top team on the field and absolutely destroy their divisional opponent. They put up 56 points on a defensive unit that has played well all year – albeit missing a number of players. Now, they get the first wild card game at home against Indy.
3. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Last week: 3
Never mind any tie-breaker calculations, Green Bay decided to keep their foot on the throat and wrap up home-field advantage, plus a first-round bye. The score did flatter the Packers somewhat, as presumed MVP Aaron Rodgers had a couple of struggles against the Bears defence. He should’ve been picked off at least twice, but the Pack D made those plays, Chicago’s didn’t.
4. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Last week: 5
As much as I’m not a fan of Sean Payton, I do respect all that he has achieved with this team – including this week’s hammering of Carolina Panthers. They entered the game with a hope of stealing the number one seed, but they had no running backs due to COVID. However, as they were able to do all year, this squad was able to adapt and make it a no-contest.
Playing on the Sunday slate of games (Monday AEDT) means they should get the running back crew – including one Mr Alvin Kamara – to take on the Bears.
5. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Last week: 6
These guys have really been able to fly under the radar among the scramble for playoff spots and seedings. In fact, the defence has really upped its game – ranking fifth in the league in passing yards, total yards and first in points allowed since Week 13. Quite an improvement from their early season struggles. Now they are racing the clock to try and get starting safety Jamal Adams fit to play against the Rams – it would be the first playoff game of his career.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Last week: 4
Pittsburgh nearly snuck a win against Cleveland with Mason Rudolph at quarterback, and despite the loss, they will now get to head home to play against the same team in the wild card round. Oh, and they’ll get to roll out the old boy too – Ben Roethlisberger. On paper that match looks close, but based on playoff experience, Pittsburgh should hold an edge in know-how.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Last week: 7
The Buccaneers got the win over Atlanta and now face a far friendlier playoff match-up against Washington, though it has come at a cost. Star linebacker Devin White will miss the game due to COVID and wide receiver Mike Evans will be a close call, after hyper-extending his knee a little trying to make a touchdown catch. It wasn’t too bad, but any hyper-extension makes me shudder.
8. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Last week: 8
Pop the champagne, cause the Browns are back to the playoffs! It’s been 18 long years for Cleveland fans, so this must be one of the feel-good stories of the season.
Knocking off Pittsburgh sealed their spot in the knockout phase and that result sets up an intriguing rematch against the Steelers. Pass rusher Olivier Vernon is gone with a torn achilles and COVID has ruled out their best offensive lineman – Joel Bitonio – and head coach Kevin Stefanski. Ouch. Can they call plays via zoom?
9. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
Last week: 9
All hail King Derrick Henry! The colossal running back became only the eighth player in NFL history to rush for 2000 yards in a season. Going into Week 17, he needed 223 yards to pass the mark, but there was a decent chance he’d get them, as they were up against the Texans. Turns out, he did it easil – starting with a 52-yard touchdown to begin the second quarter, then just rolled from there.
He finishes the regular season with 2027 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns and one congratulatory post from O.J. Simpson – for whatever that’s worth.
10. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Last week: 9
Run the ball, stop the run – that’s been the old adage for winning playoff games and is also the ethos of this Colts team. Chasing a win over the Jags to have a chance at getting into the playoffs, Indy rode a stingy defence, rookie running back Jonathan Taylor’s 253 rushing yards (and two touchdowns) and a Miami loss to the promised land. Now, we get a juicy game against Tennessee, where both teams have won as the away team this season.
11. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Last week: 12
Is anyone else scared of this team? They seem like they have really found their groove at the right time.
Having held their nerve to healthily dispatch the Bengals, Baltimore now head to Tennessee for wild card week. Yes, the same Tennessee team that rolled into M&T Bank Stadium and knocked off the AFC number one seed Ravens last season. One gets the feeling that Lamar will be up for this one.
12. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
Last week: 11
A seriously disappointing end to the season for Miami, as they gave up so many points to the Bills that the scoreboard operator nearly passed out.
Heading into the match without quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick left Tua Tagovailoa to try and lead the team without his weekly “training wheels”. It was a pretty good year overall and a 10-6 record would serve them really well in the NFC, but it’s just not to be. They did snare the third draft pick from the Texans, though.
13. Los Angeles (10-6)
Last week: 13
Without quarterback Jared Goff, the Rams defence showed up again to deny the Cardinals any way into the playoffs (albeit they were largely using their backup QB too).
Fill-in guy John Wolford is looking set to roll against Seattle and even though he did enough to get the win against Arizona, and even with the return of a number of key players like Cam Akers, Michael Brockers and Cooper Kupp, I still hold fears for what a Seahawks defence could do to them in the playoffs.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Last week: 14
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: the Bears deserve to be in the playoffs. Well, at least in a seven-team playoff format that has been adopted this year.
They competed well for the most part against Green Bay until folding late. As great as their defence has been this season, they really needed to make plays when Aaron Rodgers offered up a couple of clear interception opportunities, because if you don’t take them, the Pack will put up points.
Similar sort of deal against the Saints this week.
15. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
Last week: 15
Kyler Murray was noble in trying to play through an obvious injury against the Rams, but it just wasn’t supposed to be and the 2020 season is now over for the Cards.
Having watched the documentary All or Nothing which followed the Cardinals in 2016, it was clear to see what getting eliminated meant to legendary wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and this year there are whispers that he could be looking to retire. I hope he doesn’t, but we’ll have to wait and see.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
Last week: 16
A bit of reflection to be done over the coming offseason for Vegas. You get the feeling that the defence will be heavily scrutinised through the draft and free agency, as coach John Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock try to get things back on track after straight up missing on 2019 fourth overall draft pick Clelin Ferrell. Some recruitment going on for defensive coaches too.
17. Washington Football Team (7-9)
Last week: 17
As far as 7-9 teams go, this one is an absolute triumph. With head coach Ron Rivera beating cancer and quarterback Alex Smith returning to the field from a life-threatening leg injury, these men not only kept on fighting, they have led their side into the playoffs. Sure, it’s a soft record, but call me a romantic.
Now they get to host Tampa Bay.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
Last week: 20
Strange old time to support the Chargers – one day you’re beating the top team in the league, the next, your head coach Anthony Lynn gets the boot. Sure, there is a lot more to it than that.
K.C. rested a bunch of starters and Lynn has had four years to get things going, with only one playoff appearance to show for it, so I guess fair’s fair. Whoever’s selected as the new coach will be excited at the talent they have available to them though.
19. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
Last week: 21
It was a nail-biter of a win over the Lions to round out the year, which has largely been a lost one for Minnesota. Losing six of their first seven games just left them too far behind the eight ball to try and get back in the mix.
They’re another team with plenty of talent and rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson is a superstar in the making. A bit like the Falcons team of last year, you get the feeling that head coach Mike Zimmer will get another chance, but will have no room for early stumbles next season.
20. New England Patriots (7-9)
Last week: 22
Nawww, they got a win to finish the year off. That’s nice, isn’t it? What happens next is anyone guess.
The Cam Newton experiment appears over without having achieved any great success and there’s a number of wild scenarios doing the rounds about what Bill Belichick and the Pats will do next year – whether it be drafting a quarterback in the draft, getting a veteran like Matthew Stafford in or even trading to bring back Jimmy Garoppolo! Goodness.
It’ll be interesting to see how many defensive players they can bring back next season – after opting out this year, due to COVID.
21. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
Last week: 19
As far as Super Bowl hangovers go, this season has been a doozy for the 49ers. It’s hard to believe that this time last year they were about to go on a run that came up just short in the big dance.
However, given the myriad of injuries and COVID-related issues they’ve had to deal with, they have fought pretty well. What that all means for next year is a big question. They’ll get a lot of important troops back, but more than likely will need a new defensive co-ordinator, as their current guy – Robert Saleh – is interviewing for a lot of different head coach roles.
22. New York Giants (6-10)
Last week: 22
The Giants did their part by getting a win over arch enemy Dallas – sealing the win with a butt fumble recovery – but then had to hope for a Philadelphia win over Washington. The entire NFL world knows how that turned out. Anyways, 6-10 is not good enough to get to the playoffs – even in this crazy year, so no real sympathy for any Giants grumbling.
They can keep building next year and will hopefully get Saquon Barkley back in one piece, plus add a couple of contributors in the draft, who might just be able to push them to 9-7.
23. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
Last week: 18
Well, it’s back to his Bond lair for Jerry Jones, I guess. Plotting world domination, one win at a time.
A number of things to consider here – first is the health of Dak Prescott (and whether or not he’ll be re-signed), then there’s what’s to be done with Ezekiel Elliott and the defence. Oh boy, there’s a bit of work to go in there. They’ll hold the number ten draft pick, so one would assume they’ll get a key defender.
24. Denver Broncos (5-11)
Last week: 24
A loss to the Raiders signified the end of John Elway as general manager. Having been unable to find an answer at quarterback for this impatient fan-base, Elway lost his job, to get one higher up the chain.
What? Yes, he got promoted. He is now the president of football operations and will get to hire the new GM!
So, you can fall short on your job and work your way up?! Man, I need to get a job at the Broncos.
25. Carolina Panthers (5-11)
Last week: 25
Another disappointing year in Charlotte. The Panthers fell heavily to a running back-less Saints side and questions now surround the future of Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. He was benched against New Orleans and coach Matt Rhule has indicated that they are open to drafting a quarterback with the eighth pick in the draft (unless they decide to trade higher).
Despite a three-year deal with Teddy, Rhule also stated that he’ll need a “tremendous offseason,” which isn’t exactly encouraging.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
Last week: 30
Two seasons of minimal success has fans and critics questioning if coach Zac Taylor will stay on at Cincy. The official line from the team is they will give him a third year, despite his 6-25-1 record and give him a chance to actually get something going when Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon, the two Joes, return from injury. He could be on thin ice, though. Fun times.
27. Detroit Lions (5-11)
Last week: 27
Needing a new general manager, new head coach and maybe a new quarterback? So many things to consider in the Motor City. Whoever comes in will have the seventh overall draft pick, which will be another fascinating pick for them to ponder and more than likely squander (sorry, another accidental rhyme).
Could they trade up to the number four spot to draft a gun quarterback?
28. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
Last week: 28
Was Doug Pederson trying to set fire to his coaching job in Philly? That’s what it looked like to me. Treating the game as basically a 2021 pre-season game is not all that out of the ordinary, but something about the call to bench Jalen Hurts in favour of Kevin Sudfield, while trailing by three points, just doesn’t seem right.
Pederson might have burnt his bridges with not one, but two quarterbacks, as well as a raft of other Eagles players, who were and still are clearly disgruntled. The Eagles are maybe the most interesting side to follow during the offseason.
29. Houston Texans (4-12)
Last week: 29
Houston were actually pretty fun in their game against Tennessee – tying the game up until the defence (surprise, surprise) gave up a huge play to let it slip.
As bad as the defence has been, quarterback Deshaun Watson actually passed for the most yards of any quarterback this year, while throwing 33 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, at a completion rate of over 70 per cent. On an awful team, he still played incredibly well.
30. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Last week: 30
Defence again got squished by the Bucs and the offence played fairly well. As a Falcons fan, I’m just glad the horror show that has been this season is over. Atlanta now hold the number four draft pick and it’s really anyone’s guess as to what they will do with that. I guess it’ll start with signing a new coach and GM, as they are seemingly interviewing every available person for those jobs right now.
31. New York Jets (2-14)
Last week: 31
Adam Gase goes! Had to be done, really.
If there was a market on him getting fired, you could have put the house on it. Actually, there probably was a market on it, but anyway. On to (perhaps) greener pastures for the Jets as they try and figure out if Sam Darnold will stay or join Gase on the way out the door.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)
Last week: 32
I wonder what the Jags staff were thinking as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields completely outplayed the assumed number one draft pick Trevor Lawrence in the college football playoffs? It shouldn’t really take away from Lawrence’s overall body of work and Jacksonville should still take him.
After copping the loss, he even had to take an insult from a reporter about his moustache. He took it with good grace (as usual).