2021 NFL Season: Who Will Not Meet Expectations?
Just like all professional sports, the offseason is a time to craft expectations. The 2021 NFL season is no exception. While some expectations are far-fetched or unrealistic, there is not much a team can do about it other than proving their worth with their play on the field.
Often, an influx of talent on paper, combined with the amount of pressure a coach is facing, plays a big role in how these expectations are formed. Below, I selected one team from each conference that I believe will be unable to meet expectations.
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers
It was not too long ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers started off the regular season at a remarkable 11-0 record. While they were undefeated at the time, some argued that they were not sold on the team as a true championship contender due to the level of competition they faced.
It turns out that was the case all along as they lost four out of their remaining five regular-season games and got bounced out in the Wild Card round on their home field in an embarrassing loss against their division rivals, the Cleveland Browns.
Many pointed to the Steelers’ poor rushing attack as their reason for their collapse, which is a valid point. While the addition of rookie Najee Harris is definitely an upgrade from James Conner at running back, their offensive line is no better than it was last season which was the root of their problem.
In fact, some could argue that it is even worse this year than it was last year. After all, they did lose Center Marquis Pouncey to retirement and Tackle Alejandro Villanueva to the Baltimore Ravens.
Not to mention starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 39 years old and is a year removed from a serious elbow injury. Yes, he did put up decent numbers last season, but that had a lot more to do with the Steelers playmakers rather than Roethlisberger.
While I can see Pittsburgh squeaking into the playoffs as a wild card team, I do not anticipate them doing much damage, considering how talented the AFC is this year.
NFC: Los Angeles Rams
After the Mathew Stafford trade was made earlier in the offseason, many have chosen LA to be a true Super Bowl contender. While I do believe Stafford is an upgrade over Goff, I do not anticipate the offense to go as smoothly as everyone is anticipating, especially in the early stages of the season.
First off, Stafford is entering a completely new team for the first time in his 12 year career. While the Rams are surely more talented than the Detroit Lions, it is still an adjustment the veteran must go through. He must learn the playbook, build rapport with his teammates, and form a good relationship with head coach Sean McVay.
Something else that has not been mentioned nearly enough is the loss of defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley who is now the head coach for the Chargers. While the Rams have some very talented players on defense in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, Staley was the one who ultimately put them in the best position to succeed.
It will be interesting to see how effective this unit will be with Raheem Morris now leading that group.
Another factor to consider is the recent loss of starting running back Cam Akers to a season-ending Achilles tear. While Darrell Henderson is a good back in his own right, he is more of a change of pace guy rather than a bell cow.
Especially towards the end of the season, Akers really came on for the team, which is why they were able to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.
The absence of Akers will be felt in short-yardage situations, blocking assignments, and on the goal-line. It will be hard to replace a guy like that, especially in free agency.
Lastly, LA is in the best division in football. The Rams will have to play a total of six divisional games against guys like Nick Bosa, JJ Watt, and Russell Wilson. While I do see them competing hard, I do not anticipate them to win the majority of those games.
For that reason, I do not see Los Angeles winning the division, making their path to the Super Bowl much more difficult.