Even though the 2021 NFL season is roughly five months from kicking off, it’s never too early to speculate about win totals. Or to gamble on them.
As far as the latter is concerned, Caesars William Hill released its initial projected win totals for each team for the coming season. There’s a lot that will still happen between now and then, with the NFL draft later this month being a major event to come. But NFL over/unders are open for wagering starting Friday, so we asked our 32 NFL Nation writers to handicap the win totals of the teams they cover based on the initial Caesars William Hill numbers listed below.
There is plenty of optimism from our reporters about the fortunes of the teams they cover, a little pessimism and the occasional pragmatic push here and there. Whether it’s optimism about running it back with a winning team (like the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers), giddiness about offseason additions (New England Patriots) or adopting a wait-and-see approach for rebuilding situations (Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets), NFL Nation is here to provide eager bettors with early advice.
Buffalo has reached double-digit wins in each of its past two seasons and, barring injury, should feature one of the league’s most explosive offenses for the second year in a row. An extra home game helps a Bills team that won nine games at its own stadium last season, and if the defense returns to form, another trip to the AFC Championship Game should be in store. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Prediction: Over, slightly
I expect the Dolphins to match their 10-win total from 2020, considering they have an extra game in which to do it. Miami played more rookies than any other team in 2020, including QB Tua Tagovailoa and three starting offensive linemen, so natural development and the signing of free-agent receiver Will Fuller V should make that group better. The strength of this team, a No. 5-ranked defense, largely remains intact, and the Dolphins return 19 of 22 total starters to couple with two upcoming first-round picks. — Cameron Wolfe
Bill Belichick and his coaching staff squeezed seven wins out of a 2020 team with lesser talent. Now that the Patriots have infused the roster with more talent due to a free-agency blitz that saw them upgrade at tight end (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith), pass-rusher (Matthew Judon) and several other positions — along with a 17-game schedule — the possibility of 10 wins seems realistic. — Mike Reiss
New coaching staff, new quarterback (a rookie). That screams “transition year” for the Jets. They can’t be worse than last season (2-14), but it will be difficult to top six wins. Their new QB, presumably BYU’s Zach Wilson, will experience growing pains, as most rookies do. There’s not enough talent around him to offset that. This season will be all about solidifying the quarterback position and establishing Robert Saleh’s program. The rebuilding continues. — Rich Cimini
This is a tough call because Lamar Jackson has won an NFL-best 81% of his games since taking over as Baltimore’s starter midway through the 2018 season and the Ravens return 19 starters from a team that won 11 games last season. But after taking advantage of the league’s easiest schedule in 2020, the Ravens face the NFL’s second-toughest schedule this year (.559). With Jackson and a strong defense, projecting 10 or 11 wins is realistic. It’s difficult to predict more than 11 when Baltimore has its most difficult schedule of the John Harbaugh era, at least by opponent record. Six of the Ravens’ nine home games are against teams that reached the playoffs last season. — Jamison Hensley
The Bengals are in Year 3 of a deep rebuilding project under coach Zac Taylor. If QB Joe Burrow is available in Week 1, Cincinnati should be in contention to surpass the .500 mark. The Bengals should give Burrow at least one big offensive assist in the draft and have spent a lot of money on defensive upgrades. All of those things should produce at least seven wins. Anything less than that will put Taylor and the front office under fire. — Ben Baby
Desmond Howard explains why he believes it’ll be difficult for the Buccaneers to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The Browns won 11 games last year despite a new coaching staff, several key players missing games due to COVID-19 and losing wideout Odell Beckham Jr. to a season-ending knee injury in October. Cleveland finally has continuity on offense around QB Baker Mayfield, while GM Andrew Berry has bolstered the team’s defensive talent this offseason, adding safety John Johnson III and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Yes, the AFC North is tough. But so are these Browns. — Jake Trotter
Yes, this goes against history. Mike Tomlin has not had a losing season in his 14 seasons, tying Marty Schottenheimer for the longest such streak to start an NFL head-coaching career. But the Steelers crumbled down the stretch last season, losing five of their last six games, including a playoff loss to the Browns. Now, Pittsburgh must play the NFL’s toughest schedule with a 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger playing behind a suspect offensive line. It feels as if Pittsburgh is nearing a rebuilding phase. — Jamison Hensley
The Texans won fewer games in 2020 with quarterback Deshaun Watson playing the best football of his NFL career. While there has been a lot of turnover on the roster, the team doesn’t seem to have really improved this offseason. Houston isn’t sure what Watson’s status will be for the 2021 season because he is facing 22 lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment, and the Texans likely expect Tyrod Taylor to start at quarterback in September. — Sarah Barshop
This isn’t an indication that the 2021 roster — minus this year’s draft picks — will be worse than last year’s, which finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs. It’s more that the Colts’ schedule will be tougher, having to face the NFC West along with the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Between those five games and having to also face the Ravens, Bills and Titans (twice), repeating last year’s 11 wins could be difficult, even with an additional game to do so. — Mike Wells
Stephen A. Smith still isn’t convinced that Cleveland has a team that can be considered a Super Bowl favorite.
With all the excitement surrounding the hire of Urban Meyer and the expected selection of Trevor Lawrence, people seem to forget that the Jaguars’ defense gave up the most yards and points in franchise history in 2020. They did address that side of the ball in free agency with CB Shaquill Griffin, S Rayshawn Jenkins, DT Roy Robertson-Harris and DE Jihad Ward. They’ll add more players in the draft, but expecting that to be enough to move Jacksonville into the middle of the league defensively is a reach. Which places a lot of pressure on the rookie QB against a schedule that includes trips to Seattle, the Los Angeles Rams and New England. — Mike DiRocco
The Titans have found a way to win at least nine games in each of the past four seasons, winning 11 games last year despite a porous defense that gave up an NFL-worst 51.7% third-down conversion rate and generated only 19 sacks. Titans GM Jon Robinson added Denico Autry and Bud Dupree to help fix that problem. The offense might not keep pace with the 2020 unit that scored 30 points per game, but any group that includes Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Ryan Tannehill is more than enough to win 10 games and compete for another AFC South division title. — Turron Davenport
Over/under number: 7.5
But over could certainly just mean the first 8-9 finish in franchise history, resulting in a sixth consecutive playoff miss, if the Broncos aren’t more of a threat to score more than 16 points a game. They scored 16 or fewer points six times last season and 20 or fewer points 11 times. Unless there is blockbuster in store on draft weekend, Denver is banking on quarterback Drew Lock being much better in 2021. The return of wide receiver Courtland Sutton from last year’s ACL surgery will help Lock’s cause, and defensive improvements in free agency will give the Broncos enough pop to get back in the playoff conversation. — Jeff Legwold
I’d take the under if the line were at 12.5 because it doesn’t figure to be easy. But the Chiefs have won 12 games in each of the past three seasons and four of the past five and there’s no reason to believe they will go under this season with an additional regular-season game on the schedule. Kansas City has had a winning streak of at least five games in each of Andy Reid’s eight seasons. If the Chiefs can get another one, they’ll have to be only slightly over .500 the rest of the way to get to 12 wins. — Adam Teicher
Alert the Las Vegas sportsbooks. If for no other reason than the Raiders have improved from four wins in Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline in 2018 to seven wins in 2019 to eight last season. So, if 1 plus 1 still equals 2, an improvement is imminent, no? Truly, the bigger question is whether they will collapse at the end again,…