NFL teams have already taken care of most of the major offseason reconstructive work. The NFL schedule is officially published now. And the upcoming season, although still three months away, will nevertheless be here before you know it. So, what’s left but to start speculating in earnest about the future prospects of the 32 teams in the league as the pieces for the 2021-22 NFL season fall into place.
Each year the build up to the new NFL season is arguably the best bit and the source of the most captivating discussion amongst all manner of armchair critics. Hope springs eternal during this time. It’s an idyllic period for every NFL team and their fanbases alike. When anything seems possible, the future is bright and imagination gets free reign to run as wild as it so choose. [insert dramatic shiver].
Of course, expectation and reality don’t always converge in harmony and in accordance to projections when the season finally gets underway, but that in of itself is no reason to be discouraged from making way too early predictions. Speculating about the upcoming season is part of the annual build up to the first week of the NFL and the official start to the new season. It dominates the summertime airwaves and employs a multitude of NFL experts and analysts who share their insight, knowledge and opinions freely on a slew of premier NFL TV programs, and who, from time to time, even serve up bold predictions and bolder NFL picks in a broad range of areas.
So, in the same speculative spirit, here are a few projections for the 2021-22 NFL season. Given that there’s a whole slew of aspects to consider, this column is going to serve up the top three defenses going into the next season to spot. Right, with the remit settled now and the preamble out of the way – let’s get started then.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The reigning Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers are quite rightly sat lotus atop the defensive pile with many an NFL expert, so it should come as no surprise that they lead the charge here too. Todd Bowles has done a stellar job with the D-unit since joining Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay two years ago. However, it took the arrival of Tom Brady for the D-unit to truly flourish and spread its wings, so to speak.
It’s fair to say that the quality of the defense and offense aren’t mutually exclusive in American football. In other words, the defense can only be as good as its offense allows it to be. And by that we mean that if an offense isn’t up to snuff and is wholly ineffective against opponents then the defense is forced to carry the burden from game to game. Such a formula can work but only for so long and with limited success before cracks start to appear in the face of the game’s unrelenting physicality and pressure.
Indeed, one has to look back to the previous year, when the Bucs were reliant on the mercurial and inconsistent signal calling of Jameis Winston, to get a sense of just how important the quality of an offense is to the performance of the defense. Not to mention how things turned around completely for the Bucs as they went from a middleweight 7-9-0 SU team to a bona fide Super Bowl champion in the space of an offseason, thanks to the advent of Brady and his steady stewardship over Tampa’s offense and his leadership on and off the field.
The Bucs didn’t top every single defensive statistic in the league but they were well rounded enough in various defensive categories and importantly balanced on both sides of the ball so that they proved utterly dominant in their march to the Lombardy Trophy.
- Washington Football Team
Ron Rivera’s first year with the Washington Football Team was a mixed one as it resulted with a 7-9 SU record. However, it was good enough to deliver the NFC East crown, which neither Rivera nor the WFT will apologise for. Overall, it was a season filled with trials and tribulations both on and off the field, making Washington’s title success all the more extraordinary even though few anticipated Washington would be a contender at the start of the season.
Washington’s climb to the top of the division was a combination of internal and external factors. From the start of the season, Washington’s defense was something to behold. Chase Young, the No.2 draft pick and Rivera’s first selection for his new team, and lived up to expectations in his rookies season (six sacks, 40 total pressures) and he was well complemented by Montez Sweat Montez Sweat (nine sacks, 47 pressures) and Jonathan Allen (47 pressures) are a dominant front. Indeed, WFT was amongst the top defenses in the standings last season for good reason.
Washington’s offseason moves were heavily focused on shoring up the defense, which is an ominous sign if ever there was one. They added William Jackson III to start opposite Kendall Fuller. They also signed Bobby McCain to give a boost at the safety position and in the 2021 NFL draft they picked up Jamin Davis in the first round, who will deliver some pop, agility and power at linebacker.
Washington’s quarterback position is a bit of a question mark. Picking up Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency this offseason isn’t a long-term answer but the veteran signal caller brings pizzazz and flare that is sorely needed in the nation’s capital. Indeed, the Washington offense will look a lot different than it did in 2020, but perhaps only sentimentalists and fans of Fitz Magic and that might have Washington ranking overall much lower in public opinion.
- Pittsburgh Steelers
For the last two seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been one of the league’s top D-units. In 2019, while playing without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers defense carried the team to an 8-8 finish and very nearly made the playoffs. Last season, the Steelers with Big Ben back in the fold, got off to one of the most impressive starts, reeling off 11 straight wins before the wheels slightly came off down the stretch and they won just one of their last five games. The season caught up with the Steelers to a certain extent as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc with their schedule in particular.
In any event, the Steelers are a team to spot in the upcoming season especially because their defense has shown it can win games almost singlehandedly. T.J. Watt and brother Derek Watt are two of the more impactful players on the defense and if they can pick up from where they left off last season this unit can take another step forward in 2021. That and their offense isn’t too shabby either which makes the Steelers a balanced team that can’t be overlooked.