Seeing teams go from worst-to-first has become the norm in the NFL. We are likely to see that happen again in 2021. There will be many top teams that sink to the bottom while others rise up and surprise the football world.
We’re not here to predict which team will go from worst-to-first, but we are here to examine five teams that could surprise in 2021.
Let’s take a look.
5. Carolina Panthers
It almost feels like a fresh reset in Carolina after Matt Rhule’s first season as head coach was marred by injury, inconsistency, and personnel issues. They now have former first-round pick Sam Darnold under center, will see the return of running back Christian McCaffrey, and they added top-end talent like cornerback Jaycee Horn and wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. through the draft. They also made a hefty investment into their offensive line, which should pay immediate dividends. Yes, it will still be tough sledding against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but with both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints potentially in no man’s land, there is a path to the playoffs for Carolina if they can just stay healthy.
4. Minnesota Vikings
After five consecutive seasons of .500 or better, the Vikings slipped a bit in 2020 and finished with a record of 7-9. That largely came due to a poor defense and struggles at home. In an effort to combat that, Minnesota went out and added several big-ticket defenders. They added cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, quality depth in cornerback Xavier Woods, and a familiar face in defensive end Stephen Weatherly. They didn’t slow down during the draft, either, selecting defensive end Patrick Jones II and linebacker Chazz Surratt to go along with offensive lineman Christian Darrisaw. Their weaknesses appeared to be shored up. Provided the Vikings’ defense can make a quick leap, they should be back to competing for the NFC North title.
3. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers fell back down to earth in 2020 and landed with a thud. They finished 6-10 a year removed from making the Super Bowl, leading many to wonder if that had just been an anomaly mixed in among years of sub-.500 play. And maybe it was, but every season is different, and Kyle Shanahan’s group isn’t exactly low on talent. Yes, they lost some quality assistant coaches this offseason, but they also gained rookie quarterback Trey Lance, who will start sooner rather than later, and beefed up other areas of their roster with some underrated free agent signings. It’s also worth pointing out that they were 3-3 against a very tough division. Two of those losses coming by a combined seven points. So long as the 49ers can stay tough in the NFC West and improve their home record, they absolutely have a chance to surprise.
2. New York Giants
It feels like the Giants have been awaiting their sudden turnaround for about a decade now because, well… they have been. But perhaps more than at any other point over the past 10 years, there is optimism rising in East Rutherford. The Giants appear to have finally found their rock at head coach in Joe Judge, while the team’s personnel has vastly improved over the previous two seasons. Provided quarterback Daniel Jones can make the much-needed third-year leap, the stars may be aligning in New Jersey. The Giants very nearly stole the horrid NFC East a season ago thanks to a strong finish. If that can carry over, Big Blue could find themselves once again competing for a playoff spot, and potentially even a division title with the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys.
1. New England Patriots
Some may argue against New England’s inclusion on this list because they’ve been one of the league’s most dominant teams over the past two decades, but nothing lasts forever. Without Tom Brady a season ago, Bill Belichick’s squad came crashing down to earth in dramatic fashion, and he wasn’t happy about it. In response, the Patriots went out spent $159.6 million over the course of nine days to revamp their roster and return optimism to Foxborough. They also drafted well, as they usually do, and may have their QB of the future in Mac Jones. But the surprise in New England may not come via return to the playoffs. Rather, the Pats may surprise by being little more than average despite their desperate attempts to prove Brady wasn’t the driving force behind their previous success.
Many were shocked that the New England Patriots released Cam Newton this week, and one theory is that the quarterback’s decision to not get the COVID-19 vaccine played a role in the decision. As you might expect, Bill Belichick insists it did not.
Pro Football Network’s Adam Beasley reported on Tuesday that Newton being unvaccinated was one of three main factors that led to him being cut. Belichick was asked about that when he met with the media on Wednesday, and the coach said it is untrue.
“No. You guys keep talking about that, and I would just point out that … the number of players and coaches and staff members that have been affected by COVID in this training camp who have been vaccinated is a pretty high number,” Belichick said, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “I wouldn’t lose sight of that.”
Belichick was then asked if he considered keeping Newton as a backup to Mac Jones.
“I’m not gonna go through all the different things with any player on that,” he said. “We’ll just leave it the way it is and go from there.”
Those responses are exactly what you would expect from Belichick. He never reveals his motivation behind roster moves other than “doing what’s best for the team.”
Newton missed several days of practice last week due to what the Patriots called a “misunderstanding” with COVID protocols. The team was reportedly frustrated with him over the situation. He then played poorly in Sunday’s preseason game against the New York Giants, and Jones played well.
It’s worth noting that Urban Meyer already got himself into trouble by admitting vaccination status was a consideration when making roster decisions. Belichick isn’t about to make the same mistake.
Cam Newton was cut by the New England Patriots on Tuesday, as the team decided to move forward with rookie Mac Jones as their starting quarterback.
Numerous reasons have been given for the Patriots’ decision. One factor in New England’s decision reportedly was Cam’s vaccination status against COVID-19.
Pro Football Network’s Adam Beasley, who used to cover the Miami Dolphins, reports that the main factors were Cam’s uninspiring play, Jones’ emergence, and Cam being unvaccinated.
Interestingly, Beasley says that Newton’s vaccination stance “caused a bit of a stir behind the scenes.” Last week, Newton missed five days due to a testing misunderstanding. The team reportedly was frustrated with him over the situation.
It’s unclear whether that was the behind the scenes issue to which Beasley was referring, or if something else happened. But it sure seems like Newton’s choice did not help his cause. This is not the first time we have heard about vaccination statuses being a problem for teams.
The New England Patriots released Cam Newton on Tuesday, which means Mac Jones has officially been named the team’s starting quarterback. Fans in Foxboro made it clear that they have been waiting for this moment.
Jones’ No. 10 jersey sold out at the Patriots’ official Pro Shop within hours of Newton being released, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss. The jersey is still available at the team’s online Pro Shop, but there is a note that it is a “special event item” that is not guaranteed to ship before Oct. 8.
Patriots fans knew Jones was going to take over as the team’s starter eventually, but Bill Belichick has for months made it seem like he was leaning toward giving Newton the job. That may have changed after Newton missed practice time last week due to an issue with COVID protocols. The former MVP then played poorly in Sunday night’s preseason game against the New York Giants, completing 2-of-5 passes for 10 yards and an interception. Jones completed 10-of-14 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown.
Jones hasn’t played a regular season snap yet, but fans in New England are clearly feeling optimistic. The former Alabama star seemed to gain the confidence of his teammates early in the offseason, and he will now have a chance to show if that was warranted.
The New England Patriots will have their hands full on defense for a significant portion of the 2021 season, as Stephon Gilmore will miss at least the team’s first six games.
Gilmore, who is recovering from quad surgery he had last season, has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. That means he will not be eligible to play until Week 7 at the earliest.
That is a massive hit to the Patriots’ defense, as Gilmore is their best player on that side of the ball. The cornerback has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons and is just two years removed from being named Defensive Player of the Years.
Gilmore is in the final year of his contract and has been openly seeking a new deal. He still showed up to training camp, which seemed like an indication that negotiations could be heading in the right direction.
The New England Patriots have decided to go with Mac Jones as their starting quarterback, and Cam Newton will not be the rookie’s backup.
Newton was released by the Patriots on Tuesday, as first reported by Jim McBride of the Boston Globe. The move came as a shock to many, though it really isn’t one.
Jones outplayed Newton during the preseason. Newton then missed important practice time last week due to what the Patriots called a “misunderstanding” with the NFL’s COVID protocols. There was a report that people within the organization were frustrated with Newton over the situation. Jones played extremely well during joint practices with the New York Giants while Newton was out.
There was really no need for the Patriots to keep Newton as a backup, as they also have Brian Hoyer on their roster. The only way Newton was going to keep his roster spot was if he won the starting job, and the former MVP did not do that.
Newton appeared to proclaim himself New England’s starting QB with an Instagram post prior to Sunday night’s preseason game against the Giants. He then went 2/5 for 10 yards and an interception in the Patriots’ 22-20 win. Jones went 10/14 for 156 yards and a touchdown. That likely sealed Newton’s fate.
It appears that the tide could be turning in the New England Patriots’ quarterback competition, at least according to some of the team’s veteran players.
A number of veterans were full of praise for rookie quarterback Mac Jones after Wednesday’s joint practice with the New York Giants. Jones was characterized as outstanding against the Giants, putting together 18 consecutive completions at one point and looking in command of the offense.
“He’s getting a lot of reps now. He’s taking control of the huddle and just trying to do the best he can,” running back James White said, via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. “He’s just making sure everybody is on the same page, so we can go out there and execute not just for one period, but throughout the entire practice.”
That was echoed by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who praised Jones for taking charge of the offense and “making the team be a real team.” Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise went out of his way to congratulate Jones, summing things up when asked why: “Did you see the period?”
Cam Newton is expected to return to practice Thursday after missing five days due to a misunderstanding over COVID protocols, a situation that appears to have rankled the team. That issue, combined with Jones’ standout play, may open the door for the rookie to make a late charge and win the starting job. It certainly appears some teammates would be perfectly content with that.
The Los Angeles Rams were dealt a major blow when Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles prior to training camp, but they have made a significant addition to their backfield ahead of Week 1.
The Rams acquired Sony Michel in a trade with the New England Patriots on Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported. Los Angeles is giving up two late-round conditional picks in the deal.
Michel, a first-round pick in 2018, never lived up to his potential with the Patriots. The former Georgia star battled injuries last season that limited him to nine games. He finished with 449 rushing yards and just one score. Michel has 2,292 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns in three seasons.
The Patriots have solid depth at the running back position heading into the season, which is likely why they considered Michel to be expendable. They’re hoping for a big second-year leap from Damien Harris and also brought back pass-catching specialist James White. Rhamondre Stevenson, their fourth-round pick this year, has shined in the preseason. The former Oklahoma star has rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in two exhibition games.
While Michel has fallen short of expectations, he will have a great opportunity to shine in Sean McVay’s offense.
Cam Newton will miss what many consider to be crucial practice time this week due to a violation of COVID-19 protocols, and there are reportedly some people within the New England Patriots organization who are not happy with the former NFL MVP.
The Patriots announced in a statement on Monday that Newton will have to sit out five days due to a “misunderstanding” with the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. The quarterback was away from the team on Saturday for a club-approved medical treatment, but he did not follow proper testing protocols. Newton, who is unvaccinated, missed a day of testing even though he got tested away from the Patriots’ facility and tested negative. Daily testing is required for unvaccinated players at an NFL-approved facility.
According to Michael Giardi of NFL Network, there is some internal frustration with the Patriots over the Newton situation. One member of the organization, whom Giardi described as “important,” believes Newton’s absence will open the door for rookie Mac Jones to win the starting quarterback job.
The Patriots said Newton’s out-of-state medical treatment was approved by the team, so they should have clearly communicated the protocols to him before he left. If they did not, that is just as much on the team as it is Newton. If they did, you can understand why they’d be unhappy with the veteran.
Jones will now likely get most — if not all — of the first-team reps in joint practices with the New York Giants this week. Belichick offered his latest thoughts on the Patriots’ QB competition on Monday, but that was before we knew about Newton being ruled out for several practices. Time will tell if the situation has a significant impact heading into Week 1.
Cam Newton is competing with rookie Mac Jones for the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback job, but the former NFL MVP is going to miss some important reps in practice this week.
Newton has been ruled ineligible to practice for five days due to COVID-19 protocols. The Patriots announced the news in a statement on Monday and explained that Newton traveled out of the New England area on Saturday for a team-approved medical treatment. As the Patriots described it, there was a “misunderstanding” about COVID-19 tests that are conducted away from team facilities.
Here’s the full statement:
The NFL only restricts travel for unvaccinated players. Newton has been asked by reporters if he is vaccinated but said it is a personal issue that he does not want to speak about publicly. The 32-year-old missed some time last season after he tested positive for COVID-19.
The Patriots are holding joint practices with the New York Giants this week. Mac Jones will likely get most — if not all — of the first team reps while Newton is out.
Bill Belichick has not yet named a starter for Week 1. The coach offered some thoughts on the competition on Monday.