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Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins passing the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during a preseason game in August.
What can an off-season do for an NFL team? Look no further than the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who snapped a 12-year playoff drought and followed free-agent acquisition Tom Brady all the way to a Super Bowl title.
With the 2021 regular season kicking off next Thursday, all 32 teams are trying to convince themselves they could be next. So why burst their bubble? Here’s a look at what each NFL team could accomplish this season if everything goes right, with analysis from Forbes.com’s expert SportsMoney contributors.
NFL – Buffalo Bills
Best-case scenario: Josh Allen turns in a repeat of his remarkable 2020, and additions on the defensive front start to put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks, helping the Bills get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1993 season. Read more on the Bills’ outlook from Forbes contributor Nicholas McGee.
Best-case scenario: Tua Tagovailoa improves his grasp of the playbook, and a stout defense carries the Dolphins back to ten wins and into the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season. Read more on the Dolphins’ outlook from Forbes contributor Patricia Traina.
New England Patriots
Best-case scenario: With help from a rebuilt offensive line and secondary, rookie quarterback Mac Jones rescues the Patriots from their worst season in two decades and leads a charge toward a wild-card playoff berth. Read more on the Patriots’ outlook from Forbes contributor Liam Fox.
NFL – New York Jets
Best-case scenario: Zach Wilson grows up quickly, and the young defense matures despite some injuries, laying the groundwork for playoff appearances to come. Read more on the Jets’ outlook from Forbes contributor J.P. Pelzman.
Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers running the ball in a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys in August.
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Best-case scenario: The passing game adds some balance to a run-heavy offense, and a defense that’s as solid as ever gives the Ravens a shot at dethroning the Chiefs in the AFC. Read more on the Ravens’ outlook from Forbes contributor Liam Fox.
Best-case scenario: Joe Burrow’s reconstructed knee holds up, and coach Zac Taylor starts making a name for himself after going 6-25-1 in his first two seasons in Cincinnati. Read more on the Bengals’ outlook from Forbes contributor J.P. Pelzman.
Best-case scenario: Kevin Stefanski’s high-powered offense overwhelms opponents, an off-season overhaul solves the defense’s problems, and the NFL’s most tortured fan base parties like it’s 1964. Read more on the Browns’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jim Ingraham.
Best-case scenario: Rookie running back Najee Harris follows in the footsteps of Alabama alumni Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry and Josh Jacobs and gives the Steelers a ground game to create time and avenues for Ben Roethlisberger to exploit in his 18th and possibly final NFL season. Read more on the Steelers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jack Magruder.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence after throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. during a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys in August.
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Best-case scenario: Deshaun Watson returns to the field, and the Texans take steps toward future success, on the field and behind the scenes. Read more on the Texans’ outlook from Forbes contributor Vincent Frank.
Best-case scenario: The Colts make it through a tough five-game stretch to open the season, and new quarterback Carson Wentz and a talented young core establish Indianapolis among the AFC’s elite. Read more on the Colts’ outlook from Forbes contributor Evan Sidery.
Best-case scenario: Trevor Lawrence lives up to his billing as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, ending a decade of despair in Jacksonville as the defense shows dramatic improvement and Urban Meyer proves he can match wits with the NFL’s best coaches. Read more on the Jaguars’ outlook from Forbes contributor Rob Reischel.
Best-case scenario: Free-agent acquisition Bud Dupree gives the defense a boost, and the Titans remain the class of the AFC South with some better luck this time, after last season’s 11-5 record yielded only a wild-card playoff berth. Read more on the Titans’ outlook from Forbes contributor Phil Rogers.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes looking to pass during a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals in August.
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Best-case scenario: Teddy Bridgewater excels as a stopgap quarterback—channeling Ryan Tannehill in his move from the Dolphins to the Titans—and an upgraded defense saves coach Vic Fangio’s job. Read more on the Broncos’ outlook from Forbes contributor Patricia Traina.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best-case scenario: An overhauled offensive line keeps Patrick Mahomes upright and sends the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl for the third straight year, with a result more like the first than the second. Read more on the Chiefs’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jeff Fedotin.
Las Vegas Raiders
Best-case scenario: A remade offensive line and a young receiving corps turn the offense into a top-five scoring unit, and the defense shows big-time improvement with as many as a half-dozen new starters. Read more on the Raiders’ outlook from Forbes contributor Vincent Frank.
Los Angeles Chargers
Best-case scenario: New coach Brandon Staley, the coordinator of the NFL’s top defense with the Rams last year, looks like the second coming of Sean McVay, and Justin Herbert flourishes in Year 2, making the Chiefs sweat in the AFC West. Read more on the Chargers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jay Paris.
Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys catching a touchdown pass against the New York Giants in October.
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Best-case scenario: The offensive line lives up to expectations, allowing Dak Prescott to dominate in his return from injury, and the defense improves enough to keep the Cowboys consistently competitive in a playoff push. Read more on the Cowboys’ outlook from Forbes contributor Emily Iannaconi.
New York Giants
Best-case scenario: The Giants, who have something just shy of a “playoffs or bust” mandate from their leadership, jump up from six wins as third-year quarterback Daniel Jones takes an anticipated step forward à la Josh Allen of Buffalo. Read more on the Giants’ outlook from Forbes contributor Patricia Traina.
Best-case scenario: Jalen Hurts shows signs of long-term viability at quarterback, and getting out of the bottom third of NFL offenses pushes the Eagles to .500 or better—perhaps enough for a division crown in the NFC East. Read more on the Eagles’ outlook from Forbes contributor Howard Megdal.
Washington Football Team
Best-case scenario: Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick continues his late-career surge, and one of the NFL’s strongest defenses carries Washington back to the NFC East title, with a winning record this time. Read more on Washington’s outlook from Forbes contributor Emily Iannaconi.
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter celebrating a 2019 sack.
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Best-case scenario: Andy Dalton plays well enough to keep the Bears around .500 before Justin Fields takes over the offense, with the offensive line showing improvement from last season despite an early injury to rookie tackle Teven Jenkins. Read more on the Bears’ outlook from Forbes contributor Phil Rogers.
Best-case scenario: Trade acquisition Jared Goff rediscovers his form under new Lions coach Dan Campbell, helping D’Andre Swift make a leap after a disjointed 2020 season. Read more on the Lions’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jack Magruder.
Green Bay Packers
Best-case scenario: Aaron Rodgers sets aside his differences with management and plays at or near his 2020 MVP level, leading the Packers to their first Super Bowl in 11 years alongside a terrific running game and an elite secondary. Read more on the Packers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Rob Reischel.
Best-case scenario: With superstar pass-rusher Danielle Hunter returning to the lineup, the defense shows explosive improvement as the Vikings top the Packers for the NFC North crown and keep up Mike Zimmer’s every-other-year playoff streak. Read more on the Vikings’ outlook from Forbes contributor Steve Silverman.
Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs in February.
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Best-case scenario: Arthur Smith shows why he’s regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the NFL, and a talented roster capitalizes on a fourth-place schedule. Read more on the Falcons’ outlook from Forbes contributor Rob Reischel.
Best-case scenario: Sam Darnold starts a career resurgence after leaving the Jets, Christian McCaffrey regains his form after an injury-riddled 2020, and former college whiz kid Joe Brady becomes a fearsome NFL play-caller. Read more on the Panthers’ outlook from Forbes contributor J.P. Pelzman.
New Orleans Saints
Best-case scenario: The offense doesn’t miss a beat in the transition from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston, who keeps his interception numbers down as the Saints win a fifth straight NFC South title. Read more on the Saints’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jeff Fedotin.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best-case scenario: The Buccaneers’ ready-to-repeat roster gets another age-defying performance from Tom Brady (who incidentally led the last team to go back to back). Read more on the Buccaneers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Nicholas McGee.
Tyler Lockett and Russell Wilson celebrating a Seattle Seahawks touchdown during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
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Best-case scenario: J.J. Watt and A.J. Green show they have something left in the tank, and Kyler Murray thrives in his third season, leading the Cardinals to the postseason after a six-year absence. Read more on the Cardinals’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jack Magruder.
Los Angeles Rams
Best-case scenario: Matthew Stafford, replacing Jared Goff, makes use of his new weapons and an innovative coaching staff, and the defense shuts down opponents the way it did last season, putting the Rams in the Super Bowl at their home stadium. Read more on the Rams’ outlook from Forbes contributor Jay Paris.
San Francisco 49ers
Best-case scenario: Rookie quarterback Trey Lance takes over from Jimmy Garoppolo early in the season and gives the offense a new dimension, and a healthier defense returns to its 2019 form, putting the 49ers back in the Super Bowl mix. Read more on the 49ers’ outlook from Forbes contributor Vincent Frank.
Best-case scenario: The Seahawks expand their offense in more creative ways under Shane Waldron, marrying Russell Wilson’s love for the deep ball with a more dictated approach that quickly gets the ball out of his hands. That takes Seattle from steady playoff team to true Super Bowl contender. Read more on the Seahawks’ outlook from Forbes contributor Liam Fox.