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Bold NFL Predictions: Patriots Win AFC East, QB Competitions, Jameis Winston’s Pro Bowl Berth

Before the 2021 NFL season kicks off, the MMQB staff walks out onto some limbs. Here are some prognostications that certainly won’t backfire.

Welcome back to another edition of the annual post our MMQB staffers feel good about for a day or two before most of us wish we could bury it in the deep corners of the internet.

We already made our season predictions—playoff picks, award winners and more—but now let’s step out onto some limbs. These aren’t just predictions; these are bold predictions. Some bolder than others. But who knows, maybe a few of these will even come true.

Bold Predictions

History in Baltimore

The Ravens will be historic on defense this year—and I say that in a relative sense, because numbers like those posted by the old Bucs and Bears defenses of yesteryear, as well as the 2000 Ravens, aren’t really attainable any more. But the group is strong and deep at corner and on the edge, and has a blend of ascending young players (Tyus Bowser, Patrick Queen, Odafe Oweh), grizzled vets (Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams), in-their-prime studs (Chuck Clark, Marcus Peters) and a franchise player at a premium position (Marlon Humphrey). Add one of the game’s best defensive tacticians in Wink Martindale to that mix, and look out. —Albert Breer

Patriots win the AFC East

This is the first time since the turn of the century that this could be considered a “bold” prediction. But after one down year in New England, coupled with Josh Allen’s blossoming in Buffalo, picking the Patriots to win the division they once won 11 straight times is now against the grain. Yes, there’s some risk in this selection: Mac Jones’s promising preseason doesn’t mean he’ll thrive in the regular season, and it’s also true that free-agency spending sprees like the one Bill Belichick uncharacteristically embarked upon rarely work out. But the Patriots recognized that they have to do things differently without Tom Brady and devoted the resources to a new course, and this pick is allowing for the wild possibility that it might … work. —Jenny Vrentas

Colts go on a wild ride

The 2021 Colts put together the wildest winning and losing streaks in NFL history (game-by-game details here). Frank Reich bolsters his credentials as a masterful coach by steering Indianapolis out of the doldrums following an intense, bad-luck-laden losing streak and steadying the Colts for a playoff run. Indianapolis’s season is almost comically ping-ponged between unseen weather situations, injuries, doinked field goals, bounced passes and other did-this-stadium-get-built-on-a-cursed-burial-ground kind of happenings, including one high-profile instance of food poisoning at a non-coastal restaurant where the idea of ordering seafood might seem iffy. Regardless, they emerge stronger and more dangerous than ever before. Michael Pittman Jr. reaches 1,000 yards, and the seafood poisoning becomes a rallying cry late in the year. Fans bring empty shrimp casings and clam shells to games and tape them to wooden signs. It bolsters their belief in beef. It makes them feel alive as a community coming together again. Families eat dinner at the table together, with cellphones rotting in distant garbage cans, never to return. We practice mindfulness meditation in schools. We all start to inch back toward the middle again. Being together. The Colts clinch the playoffs on a 76-yard punt return during the season finale. —Conor Orr

Packers realize their mistake the hard way

Aaron Rodgers will miss some time with an injury—even if it’s just for part of a game—and Jordan Love will struggle enough for people to realize there is a sizable gap between the two of them. This shouldn’t really be considered a bold prediction. There is a sizable gap between Rodgers and almost everybody who has ever thrown a football. But there has been so much talk about transitions, Rodgers’s happiness, the Packers’ potentially moving on to Love and whether Love is a franchise quarterback, and it obscures a point that is both obvious and the only one that matters: There is really no way Love is as good as Rodgers. The Packers botched this. —Michael Rosenberg

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Pro Bowl Jameis

Jameis Winston will not just become the Saints’ starting quarterback but also make the Pro Bowl as an alternate for leading New Orleans back to the playoffs in year 1 A.B.—after Brees. All along, what Winston needed was better vision and a coach who could utilize his strengths. Sean Payton provides him both that and a talented complementary cast, while reaffirming to the NFL that his success was not predicated on Brees alone. —Greg Bishop

Beware the Panthers

The Panthers will be better than anyone thinks. Maybe not a Super Bowl contender, but they will be a good, solid and contending team. Why? I just believe in Matt Rhule. He came to Temple—yes, Temple—and turned it into a good college team that produced NFL talent. He came to scandal-rocked Baylor and upgraded their program in a big way. Those were bigger challenges than coming to the NFL and working for a billionaire with resources and having the best players in the world. I’m not a talent evaluator, nor an X’s and O’s guy—I’m the business guy, remember?—but I believe in Matt Rhule in Year 2 of his program. Watch out for the Panthers. —Andrew Brandt

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QB competition in Jacksonville

Realizing he’s found his schtick, Urban Meyer will announce he is reopening Jacksonville’s QB1 competition multiple times over the course of the season, despite Trevor Lawrence’s Pro Bowl–caliber performance dragging the Jaguars into playoff contention. The first-year head coach will then take credit for this motivational tactic, rather than his quarterback’s transcendent gifts, fueling Lawrence’s Rookie of the Year campaign. Meanwhile, backup C.J. Beathard, like Gardner Minshew before him, will be reduced to a motivational prop. Not unlike the King of the Hill episode in which Bobby makes the Tom Landry Middle School track team, but it turns out his sole purpose on the squad is as a threatened substitute for underachieving teammates who would be humiliated by losing their spot to him. They nickname Bobby “The Stick.” It’s a very good episode. —Gary Gramling

Overtime madness

The NFL’s overtime rules are going to dominate league discourse for an annoying amount of time this season. There will be three ties during the season for the first time since the NFL implemented overtime in 1974. This will leave five or six teams with aesthetically pleasing records where the wins and losses add up to 16, but many people will focus on the negatives. Mostly because there will also be a high-profile game decided by a touchdown drive before the other team’s famous quarterback gets a chance to touch the ball. There will be many, many calls to change the league’s rules—so many that they will in fact be tweaked next offseason. People will talk themselves into the Ravens’ “sport and choose” overtime rule, though I will futilely try to convince them to instead implement my far superior “first score gets first ball” idea I wrote about five years ago. Some people will get quite mad about it all, but many of us will find things sort of funny. If you like strange outcomes and goofy endings of games, this statistical outlier of a season will be for you. —Mitch Goldich

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