The 2021 NFL season is finally here. It’s likely to be another season affected by the coronavirus, but if last year is any indication, the NFL will find a way to play every single game — no matter how it has to shake up the schedule to do it. Plus, there will be fans in the stands, which is a nice change of pace from last year.
The league has added a 17th regular-season game and is now in Year 2 of the 14-team playoff era, and we here at CBSSports.com are here to break things down for you before things kick off on Thursday night with the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing host to Dak Prescott (in his first game back from a gruesome ankle injury) and the Dallas Cowboys. In the space below, we’ll bring you our official expert predictions for each of the league’s eight divisions, as well as the wild-card teams and the Super Bowl.
Here are a few notes before we get to the predictions:
There was more agreement among our panelists this year than ever before. We had unanimous agreement on the exact order of finish for the AFC East, and nearly had the same in the AFC South and NFC North. We had five unanimous playoff teams in the AFC (Bills, Patriots, Browns, Titans, Chiefs) and one team (Chargers) that was one vote shy of unanimity. There were also five unanimous playoff teams in the NFC (Football Team, Packers, Buccaneers, Rams, and 49ers), but a bit more disagreement on the sixth and seventh teams.
There was one (very obvious) division where our panels could barely agree on everything: The NFC West. Three of the four teams received at least one vote to finish as division champions, as well as at least one to finish second. All four teams received at least one vote to finish third.
There was a lot of disagreement on two teams in particular, with the Cowboys and Seahawks each receiving at least one vote to finish in first, second, third, and fourth in their respective divisions. The Seahawks, though, did receive playoff votes from all but one panelist.
There were THIRTEEN (13!) teams that received exactly zero votes for the playoffs, and those teams were: The Dolphins, Jets, Colts, Jaguars, Texans, Bengals, Raiders, Giants, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Panthers and Falcons.
Our seven experts combined to have a total of six different teams playing in the Super Bowl. Five received multiple votes to make it to Los Angeles, but only one received more than two. There were also just two teams that received multiple votes to actually win the Lombardi Trophy, both coming from the AFC.
For more expert predictions, be sure to click here to see our picks for who will win all the major awards in 2021, including regular season MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Rookie of the Year.