Today is the first day since 2015 that you can read an NFL newsletter with Tim Tebow officially on an NFL roster. How does it feel? Waits patiently. I thought so. To ring in the special day, you’ve got me — Cody Benjamin — to deliver all the latest from around the league, with John Breech busy sailing the seven seas on vacation.
This is the Pick Six Newsletter. Now let’s get to it. (And please, do yourself a favor and make sure you’re signed up to receive this newsletter every day! You don’t want to miss our daily offerings of everything you need to know around the NFL.)
We’ve got division predictions, 2021 offense rankings, Julio Jones rumors and more:
- Today’s show: Projecting win totals for AFC North contenders
With the draft, free agency and schedule release in the rear view, we’re burning through every NFL division to “reset” expectations for the 2021 season. On Thursday’s Pick Six NFL Podcast, resident Steelers expert Bryan DeArdo joined Will Brinson to update projections in the AFC North. Their entire 40-minute conversation is jam-packed with smart analysis, but here are some highlights:
- If the Bengals can’t protect Joe Burrow this year or finish with a record worse than 7-10, both Brinson and DeArdo could see Cincinnati looking to replace coach Zac Taylor, who’s entering his third season. “Ownership needs them to be competitive,” DeArdo said, and unless they lose a lot of one-score games, it’ll likely take at least seven wins to “buy [Taylor] another year.”
- Despite the Steelers’ late-2020 plummet and quiet offseason, DeArdo thinks Pittsburgh is the most balanced it’s been in years. Pointing to Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth as key additions, he envisions a 10-7 finish and playoff push in Steel City.
- Both Brinson and DeArdo like the Browns’ chances of hitting the over on their win projection (10) but aren’t yet sold that Cleveland is Super Bowl-bound. DeArdo, in particular, thinks 2021 is critical for Baker Mayfield, who needs to “emphatically plant his flag as a franchise guy” when it matters most.
- No surprise, but the Ravens are considered locks to be in the playoff mix. “I wouldn’t be shocked,” Brinson said, “if they’re 6-1 going into the Week 8 bye.”
Catch the full episode (and follow for all kinds of daily NFL talk) right here.
2. Ranking 2020’s eight division winners from most to least vulnerable
Every year brings new playoff contenders — and sends old ones home. With that in mind, we decided to assess all eight of 2020’s division winners and rank them from most to least vulnerable entering the new season. Who’s most likely to keep their division crown? Who’s most likely to lose it? Here’s how we stack them up, from shakiest to sturdiest, with some insight on the No. 1 pick:
- Seattle Seahawks (NFC West)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North)
- Washington Football Team (NFC East)
- New Orleans Saints (NFC South)
- Tennessee Titans (AFC South)
- Buffalo Bills (AFC East)
- Green Bay Packers (NFC North)
- Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West)
Why are the Seahawks the shakiest? All four NFC West teams have claimed a division title since 2015. The Seahawks have repeated as first-place finishers just once since Pete Carroll took over in 2010. More importantly, they should have at least two legitimate challengers. The 49ers and Rams stand out, with the former set to rebound from an injury-riddled slip to 6-10 (complete with a potentially new quarterback in Trey Lance) and the latter replacing Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford to boost title hopes. The Cardinals are facing a critical year for the Kliff Kingsbury-Kyler Murray pairing as well, so Seattle’s road won’t be a cakewalk, even if Russell Wilson always makes them playoff-caliber.
3. Grading all 32 NFL offenses: Chiefs, Bucs, Packers reign supreme
Jared Dubin has delivered an absolute must-read with his annual offensive infrastructure rankings, in which he assigns point values to every major piece of every team’s offense (quarterback, running back, pass catchers, offensive line, play-caller) to assign all 32 clubs into tiers. This includes giving more weight to important positions (i.e. QB) and helps frame which teams are entering the new season with a leg up at certain skill spots. The winners this year? No surprise: The Chiefs, Buccaneers and Packers, each of whom advanced to a conference championship in 2020.
The entire rundown is worth a thorough read, especially to unpack some surprises — like the Steelers (No. 22) coming in below teams like the Patriots (No. 21) and Eagles (No. 19), or the Titans (No. 13) still claiming a top-15 unit after a rough offseason. But here’s a sneak peek at Dubin’s entire top 10:
4. Burning questions in the NFC South: Will Julio Jones be back?
The Athletic reports that the Falcons would prefer to deal their All-Pro wide receiver for salary cap purposes. Neither Matt Ryan nor Atlanta fans would likely side with them, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Patrik Walker has Jones’ future as the biggest burning question in the NFC South ahead of 2021:
Newly hired general manager Terry Fontenot isn’t too keen on the deal his predecessor struck with Jones, and openly admits he’s shopping the future Hall of Famer — albeit in a supposedly “classy” way. Matt Ryan isn’t on board with it, however, pointing at the value of Jones to the Falcons offense and to his quarterback career on the whole, but with the phones ringing in Atlanta with offers for Jones and Fontenot seemingly conceded to ship his All-Pro receiver out of town for cap space, the question no longer feels like an if, but instead a when.
Walker’s look at other NFC South issues touches on the Saints’ unclear path at QB1, the Buccaneers’ ability to repeat and Sam Darnold’s upside in Carolina as the Panthers’ new signal-caller.
5. Jaguars officially sign Tim Tebow, who will wear No. 85 to start
Boys and girls, it’s finally real. After eight years out of the NFL, Tim Tebow is officially back. The Jaguars announced Thursday that they’ve signed the former QB, whose reported addition has stirred headlines for more than a week, and he’ll apparently start his revived football career by wearing No. 85 — appropriate for his move to tight end. (Though some are already speculating he’ll eventually switch to his signature No. 15, in the event backup QB Gardner Minshew is cut or traded.)
“I want to thank the Jaguars for the opportunity to compete and earn the chance to be part of this team,” Tebow said via a Jaguars statement. “I know it will be a challenge, but it is a challenge I embrace. I am dedicated to taking the direction of our coaching staff and learning from my teammates. I appreciate everyone’s support as I embark on this new journey.”
Cue the calm and sensible social media reaction.
6. Aaron Rodgers drama could cost Packers in Davante Adams talks
The Packers have a big issue to resolve in terms of their QB situation. But the longer the Rodgers drama lingers, with the face of the franchise reportedly bent on playing elsewhere or seizing control of his future in Green Bay, the more likely it is the Pack will have another issue on their hands. That’s according to Joel Corry, who thinks Rodgers’ uncertain future could soon affect talks with star wide receiver Davante Adams regarding a contract beyond 2021.
(The) Packers are going to have to pay him a premium if he is going to be catching passes in the future from 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love, an unproven commodity, rather than the reigning NFL MVP. Typically, the Packers are proactive in signing core players to extensions before free agency is imminent. Even without the Rodgers issue, retaining Adams long term could be a difficult task … Adams can make a case that he should be the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver … Comparatively speaking, the salary cap gymnastics Green Bay would have to perform to accommodate Adams wouldn’t be monumental, although not ideal.