Welcome to the Labor Day edition of the Pick Six newsletter!
It's fitting that today is Labor Day and that's mainly because I spent my entire weekend laboring over my predictions for the 2021 NFL season. The NFL schedule has 272 games on it this year and I went through and picked them all. Sure, I haven't slept since Friday and I'm 98% sure I drank a near fatal amount of coffee over the past 72 hours, but the important thing is that my picks for the season are in and we'll be covering those in today's newsletter.
Who's going to make the playoffs? Who's going to win the Super Bowl? Who's going to finish with the worst record in the NFL? We're going to answer all of that today and we're doing it in celebration of the fact that there is ACTUAL NFL FOOTBALL being played this week. I'm so happy I could cry, but I'm not going to, because at this point, I'm pretty sure my tears would just be coffee.
Alright, you don't care about my coffee tears, so let's get to the rundown.
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1. Today's show: Bold predictions for the 2021 NFL season
Some NFL podcasts take Labor Day off, but not us.
With the NFL season officially kicking off this week, we thought today's show would be the perfect time to unveil some bold predictions for the 2021 season. I jumped on today's episode of the Pick Six podcast with Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson and we each made three bold predictions for the year. The one thing you'll notice below is that we all made a prediction on who's going to win MVP this year and we all picked a different player so only one person is going to get the last laugh at the end of the season and that person might not even get to laugh if we all end up being wrong.
- Trey Sermon wins Offensive Rookie of the Year. No one is higher on the 49ers rookie then Brinson, who thinks that Sermon is going to take home the Offensive Rookie of the Year over all the first-round quarterbacks.
- Matthew Stafford wins MVP. The former Lions QB has never even received a single MVP vote, but Brinson thinks that's going to change this year with Stafford now in Los Angeles playing for Sean McVay.
- Cowboys finish LAST in the NFC East. I think Brinson's goal for Labor Day was to get as much hate mail as possible and the easiest way to get hate mail is to predict that the Cowboys are going to be bad, which is what he did.
- Gus Edwards rushes for 1,200-plus yards. With J.K. Dobbins out for the season, this prediction feels realistic. The bold part here is that 1,200 yards is pretty difficult in today's NFL. Only TWO running backs in the entire league cracked the 1,200-yard mark in 2020 (Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook).
- Justin Herbert wins MVP. Wilson is all in on Herbert. The Chargers QB has 20-1 odds to win MVP, which means if you bet $100 on Herbert to win MVP, you'd profit $2000 if he's able to pull it off.
- Texans win more games than Jags and Lions combined. I think Wilson is assuming that the Jags and Lions are only going to win one game each.
- Steelers win AFC North and the Ravens miss the playoffs. This is two predictions for the price of one. Everyone is sleeping on the Steelers, except for me, because I don't sleep. This team won the division last year and as bad as they were down the stretch, I actually think they can be better this year.
- Josh Allen wins MVP. The Bills QB finished second in MVP voting last year and I think he's going to make the jump to the top in 2021.
- Jameis Winston sets NFL single-season passing yards record. Sean Payton's offense has produced four of the six highest single-season passing totals in NFL history. Winston has the eighth highest single-season passing total in NFL history (5,109 yards in 2019) and when you put that all together, plus add the fact that there's an extra game this year, I think that equals Jameis breaking Peyton Manning's record.
We also graded each other's bold predictions and if you want to know how the grades turned out, then be sure to listen to our Labor Day special.
To listen to today's episode -- and to subscribe to the best daily NFL podcast out there -- be sure to click here.
2. Tom Brady reveals he had COVID earlier this year
Father Time hasn't been able to slow down Tom Brady, but apparently, COVID almost did earlier this year. The Buccaneers quarterback revealed over the weekend that he tested positive for COVID back in February, shortly after the Buccaneers' Super Bowl parade.
Brady is one of the healthiest people on the planet and if he couldn't avoid catching COVID, that tells you just how ubiquitous the disease is right now. As a matter of fact, when it comes to COVID, Brady actually thinks 2021 is going to be more challenging than 2020 for the NFL.
"I think it's going to be challenging this year," Brady told the Tampa Bay Times. "I actually think it's going to play more of a factor this year than last year, just because of the way what we're doing now and what the stadium is going to look like and what the travel is going to look like and the people in the building and the fans."
Brady is predicting that a lot of players are going to miss a lot of games.
"It's not like last year, although we're getting tested like last year," Brady said. "It's going to be, I definitely think guys are going to be out at different points and we've just got to deal with it."
Brady's ominous prediction is already coming true with several players already out this week, including one Cowboys star.
- Cowboys already hit by COVID. The Cowboys took a major COVID hit over the weekend when starting Zack Martin tested positive. The positive test means that the All-Pro right guard won't be eligible to play in Thursday's opener against Brady and the Buccaneers. If you're wondering how big of a hit this is for Dallas, Ezekiel Elliott recently referred to Martin as the "best player" the Cowboys have on offense.
- Dolphins hit by COVID. The Dolphins could be short-handed on Sunday against the Patriots after starting left tackle Austin Jackson and tight end Adam Shaheen were both placed on the COVID list. Shaheen is unvaccinated, which means he'll definitely be missing Sunday's game. As for Jackson, there's still a chance that he could play. For more details on the situation, be sure to click here.
From a COVID standpoint, things could get uglier for the NFL over the next 24 hours. Many players were given the weekend off and many of them decided to travel during their time off. All players, even if they're vaccinated, will be required to take a test this week and if they test positive, that could jeopardize their status for Week 1 (If an unvaccinated player tests positive, they're definitely out. If a vaccinated player tests positive, they could play as long as they record two negative tests at least 24 hours apart before game day and as long as they're not showing any symptoms).
3. AFC predictions for 2021
As I mentioned at the top, I spent my entire Labor Day weekend going through all 272 regular-season games on the NFL schedule and after 72 straight hours of contemplating the 2021 season, my picks are finally in.
Here's my prediction for how everything in the AFC will break down this year:
AFC playoffs: 1. Chiefs; 2. Bills; 3. Titans; 4. Steelers; 5. Patriots; 6. Browns; 7. Chargers
AFC Super Bowl team: Buffalo Bills
This is usually the part where I would apologize to Bills fans for jinxing their team, but after looking at my picks over the past six years, I might not be a jinx! I've somehow correctly picked the AFC's Super Bowl team in four of the past six years (Broncos in 2015, Patriots in 2017, Chiefs in 2019 and 2020).
4. NFC predictions for 2021
If there's one thing I'm already regretting about my AFC predictions, it's the fact that I have every single division champion from 2020 repeating as a division champion in 2021. That's definitely going to blow up in my face. In the NFC, I didn't want to make the same mistake, so I have a new champion in two of the four divisions (NFC South and NFC West).
Here's my prediction for how everything in the NFC will break down this year:
NFC playoffs: 1. Buccaneers; 2.Packers; 3. 49ers; 4. Washington; 5. Rams; 6. Seahawks; 7. Saints
NFC Super Bowl team: Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl winner: Packers 34-31 over Bills
Besides picking the Super Bowl winner, I also made eight bold predictions about the 2021 NFL season and you can check out all of those by clicking here.
5. Eight NFL players who could shift the divisional balance of power in 2021
The NFL season is almost always unpredictable, and sometimes, just one player can help decide who's going to win a division. With that in mind, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora took a look at eight players who could have a major impact on each of the divisional races this year.
JLC picked one player from each division who could make or break things this year. Here's a look at the players he chose in the AFC:
- AFC East: Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds. "The cast around him in this Buffalo front seven is much improved and they have the beef up front now to allow Edmunds to run to the ball and through some open lanes and become much more disruptive in the backfield."
- AFC North: Browns pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. "I know the injury history. ... But I love the way he got through the summer and I am buying the improved depth and ability of the other men along this Browns defensive line, and the interchangeability between him and Myles Garrett is going to be a problem for opposing teams."
- AFC South: Colts QB Carson Wentz. "Your guess is as good as mine as to what to really expect from a player who has fallen so far, so fast. Factor in his vaccination status and the overall issue the Colts have in that regard compared to most other teams, and things could get even murkier for this group from week to week."
- AFC West: Chargers OT Rashawn Slater. "Slater is a mountain of a young man, my man Brian Baldinger has been gushing to me about him, and at some point the Chargers have to put a decent line together, right? Securing the blind side would be huge, and that is what I anticipate Slater providing."
To check out the NFC players or for a more detailed explanation why he chose these AFC players, be sure to click here.
6. Rapid-fire roundup
It's been a busy 24 hours in the NFL and since it's nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you.
- The Texans finally have a starting QB. With just six days to go until their opener, the Texans have finally named a starting QB. Coach David Culley revealed on Monday what everyone else alive already knew: Tyrod Taylor will be the team's starter in Week 1. This presumably means that Deshaun Watson will be inactive for each game.
- 49ers sign Josh Norman. The 49ers beefed up the depth in their secondary over the weekend by signing Norman to a one-year deal. Although he's not quite the All-Pro corner that he used to be, Norman did start three games for the Bills last season.
- Seahawks and Steelers pull off a trade. Like the 49ers, the Steelers also needed some depth in the secondary heading into Week 1 and they did that by making a trade with Seattle to acquire Ahkello Witherspoon. In exchange for Witherspoon, the Seahawks will get a 2022 fifth-round pick. Witherspoon spent the first four seasons of his career (2017-20) in San Francisco, where he started 33 of 47 games. He signed with the Seahawks in March, but never actually played a down with them.
- Steelers negotiations with T.J. Watt going down to the wire. Watt hasn't practiced or played at all in training camp this year and that's because he's sitting out until he gets a new contract, which means one of two things is going to happen over the next day or two: He's going to get the new contract or negotiations are going to stall. If that second things happens, it's not known if he'll play against the Bills on Sunday.
- Steelers legend Tunch Ilkin dies at 63. The former Steelers offensive lineman and longtime broadcaster for the team died on Saturday due to complications of ALS. Ilkin had announced in October that he was battling ALS, which is better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Ilkin played for the Steelers from 1980 to 1992 and was to be inducted into the team's Hall of Honor this season. After his career, Ilkin spent 23 years working as the color analyst in the Steelers' broadcast booth.
- Raiders make surprise cut. With one week until their opener, the Raiders made a pretty surprising cut on Monday when they released Tanner Muse. The linebacker was a third-round pick in 2020 and had been taking starter reps during training camp, according to NFL.com, which is one reason why the move was so surprising.