AFC East: Patriots bounce back
1. Buffalo Bills 12-5
2. New England Patriots 11-6 (Wild Card)
3. Miami Dolphins 8-9
4. New York Jets 5-12
Comments/Fantasy Predictions: Josh Allen takes home the MVP award, while Buffalo wins the AFC … Both Zack Moss and Devin Singletary disappoint fantasy managers, while Tyler Bass outscores Justin Tucker … Dawson Knox is a sleeper.
It’s possible Bill Belichick has lost his fastball, but New England enters absolutely loaded up front both on offense and defense … Damien Harris scores double-digit touchdowns and finishes as a top-10 fantasy back, while Jakobi Meyers ends as a top-25 WR … Mac Jones has a strong rookie season, helping lead the Patriots to a wild-card berth.
While reports on Tua Tagovailoa have been overwhelmingly positive throughout summer, the Dolphins are due for regression this season when it comes to incredibly fortunate health and an uncanny ability to force turnovers. The team’s offensive line also looks like one of the worst in the league, but at least Miami counters with strong coaching … Jaylen Waddle proves the better fantasy pick than Myles Gaskin.
Ty Johnson emerges as the Jets’ best fantasy back, while Corey Davis and Elijah Moore both finish as top-35 fantasy wide receivers. Moore also outscores fellow rookie Ja’Marr Chase and is drafted as a top-15 fantasy WR in 2022 … Mike White not only wrote the best TV show of the summer but also somehow won the Jets backup QB role in his spare time.
AFC North: Joe Burrow‘s return not enough to bring Bengals forward
1. Cleveland Browns 11-6
2. Baltimore Ravens 11-6 (Wild Card)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-9
4. Cincinnati Bengals 5-12
Comments/Fantasy Predictions: Cleveland finished 11-5 last year despite a negative point differential, but they enter 2021 with a loaded roster, elite coaching, and one of the league’s easiest projected schedules … Baker Mayfield’s stats suffered having to play a few games under extreme wind conditions (and from missing Odell Beckham Jr.), yet he still got 7.8 YPA with an 11:1 TD:INT ratio over the second half of last season. Mayfield finishes with more fantasy points than Joe Burrow in 2021 … Beckham averaged the most PPR fantasy points per game all-time before joining Cleveland, and he’s a nice bounce-back candidate with a cheaper ADP than ever before … Nick Chubb is arguably the league’s best runner right now and finishes ahead of Derrick Henry and as a top-five fantasy back in 2021, while Myles Garrett wins Defensive Player of the Year.
After suffering from more drops than any QB in the league last season, Lamar Jackson now has to deal with seemingly all of his receivers (as well as his starting RB) going down with preseason injuries. Even so, Jackson has something like a 45% chance of finishing with more fantasy value than Patrick Mahomes, yet he’s going 3-4 rounds later in drafts … Mark Andrews catches 10+ touchdowns and finishes far closer to Travis Kelce’s fantasy value than their ADPs would indicate.
Najee Harris is looking at a historical level of projected touches for a rookie and is well worth a first-round fantasy pick … Chase Claypool paces all Steelers wideouts in fantasy points, finishing as a top-15 WR, while Pat Freiermuth outscores Eric Ebron … While Pittsburgh’s offensive line looks like a real problem, a change in offensive coordinators will hopefully lead to more play action and a bit less predictability. Of course, it’s possible Ben Roethlisberger is washed either way, as this is a 39-year-old who got 5.8(!) YPA over the second half of last season.
Joe Burrow has a bright NFL future but faces a few obstacles this season, including returning from multiple injuries, overcoming an extremely shaky offensive line, and facing what looks like one of the league’s tougher schedules … Tee Higgins is the real deal and should be drafted as a top-20 fantasy wideout … The Bengals will have a different-looking coaching staff in 2022.
AFC South: Titans and Colts battle for the top spot
1. Indianapolis Colts 9-8
2. Tennessee Titans 8-9
3. Jacksonville Jaguars 6-11
4. Houston Texans 2-15
Comments/Fantasy Predictions: This division looks wide open with Carson Wentz a huge question mark, but ultimately coaching wins out … Jonathan Taylor is a star and a top-five fantasy player on my board entering the season.
Derrick Henry’s near 800 carries over the last two seasons are scary, but any concern admittedly could be unwarranted, as he’s just different … Only health prevents me from ranking A.J. Brown as an easy top-five fantasy WR, while Tennessee would be lucky to get the same production from 32-year-old Julio Jones that they did from Corey Davis last season (top-five in yards per route run) … While the team’s extreme lack of pass rush is one worry, their biggest concern by far is the loss of play-caller Arthur Smith. It could prove significant and is one of the main reasons why I’m on Tennessee’s Under.
I bet on Jacksonville to win this division at +700 earlier this summer and have been horrified at pretty much every Urban Meyer move since. Trevor Lawrence would have to be truly generational in talent for it to happen, although the AFC South looks like arguably the weakest division in football … Laviska Shenault ends the season as Jacksonville’s most valuable fantasy player, while Meyer lasts just one year coaching in the league.
With a roster only Bill O’Brien would be proud of, I have the Texans winning just two games despite the NFL adding one to the schedule … Tyrod Taylor proves to be a Superflex sleeper, while Deshaun Watson doesn’t play a snap for any team all year … No Houston back helps fantasy managers, while Nico Collins emerges as the team’s clear WR1 down the stretch after Brandin Cooks is traded … Hammer the Texans Under.
AFC West: Broncos poised to make playoffs
1. Kansas City Chiefs 12-5
2. Denver Broncos 10-7 (Wild Card)
3. Los Angeles Chargers 9-8
4. Las Vegas Raiders 6-11
Comments/Fantasy Predictions: A reminder that Patrick Mahomes is on a different planet … Clyde Edwards-Helaire outscores Austin Ekeler (shots fired!), while Mecole Hardman proves the haters wrong and goes down as one of the biggest WR steals at draft tables … While I’d complain it’s unfair to the rest of the league that Mahomes and Andy Reid are on the same team, Trey Lance is now joining Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, so I wouldn’t want to be hypocritical.
The Broncos have one of the best defenses in the NFL, are absolutely loaded at WR/TE/RB, and have one of the easiest-looking schedules in football. In other words, Denver would have had a strong argument to be THE favorites to win the Super Bowl had they traded for Aaron Rodgers (or Deshaun Watson at one point). As is, it’s possible Teddy Bridgewater is a bit underrated and plenty capable of still leading this Broncos team to the playoffs, although coaching could be a hurdle … Denver committed malpractice drafting a corner over Justin Fields, although in their defense they could be fully planning on Aaron Rodgers coming in 2022 … I have Jerry Jeudy ranked as a top-15 fantasy WR.
Over the final nine games last season, Justin Herbert got 6.6 YPA, and while he dealt with incredibly shaky coaching, he may have to do so again in 2021. Still, Herbert obviously looks the part and could carry the team with further growth in Year Two, especially with the offensive line so improved.
The Raiders have botched their drafts and fumbled free agency since Jon Gruden rejoined the team, and their offseason was highlighted by the O-line getting significantly worse. I’m on the Raiders Under … Bryan Edwards looks like a young T.O. and a clear breakout candidate … Darren Waller finishes as the No. 1 fantasy tight end and with first-round value.
My NFC preview will come out later this week.