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A step back for the Packers? Improvement for the Falcons? Barnwell's six against-the-grain NFL predictions for 2021


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A step back for the Packers? Improvement for the Falcons? Barnwell's six against-the-grain NFL predictions for 2021


  • barnwell_bill.png&h=80&w=80&scale=crop
    Bill BarnwellESPN Staff Writer

The best prediction you can make about the NFL is that things are never going to stay the same. With what was a 16-game season -- and now is up to 17 -- we're always going to overreact to things we saw in the small sample. Too often, we end up using that as our new opinion or baseline of how a team will perform going forward. Often, history tells us that won't be the case.

Let's use some of the things we saw in 2020 and the historical evidence surrounding those ideas to challenge popular viewpoints surrounding teams heading into this season. I'll hit six teams, starting with one of the most potent offenses in football last season and why it might struggle to keep that up in 2021:

The Eagles should be better on offense than you remember

Your most recent memories of the Eagles' offense probably aren't pleasant. The final drive of the 2020 regular season saw Nate Sudfeld and a Philly attack that needed to score a touchdown in 56 seconds to win go 18 yards on seven plays. The clock expired on Philly's season and then on Doug Pederson's tenure as coach. The Eagles traded away Carson Wentz, let go of Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Jason Peters, and appear likely to cut ties with Zach Ertz before the season begins. It's an offensive rebuild under new coach Nick Sirianni.

There's something about the Eagles' offense from 2020 that might actually improve in 2021, if only by sheer chance. It's almost impossible to imagine this offensive line being as banged up as it was last season. Let's take a quick look back at how Philly's plans went last year:

  • Star right guard Brandon Brooks, who was coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, tore an Achilles in July and missed the entire season. The Eagles signed Peters to return to the team and convert to guard to take Brooks' place.

  • Second-year left tackle Andre Dillard, the team's first-round pick in 2019, tore his biceps in August. He also missed the entire campaign. Peters was shifted back to his longtime spot at left tackle to fill in for Dillard.

  • Peters lasted three games before suffering a toe injury that forced the 38-year-old to injured reserve. He then limped through four and a half games before going back on IR.

  • Left guard Isaac Seumalo suffered a knee injury in the Week 2 loss to the Rams and missed seven games before returning for the final seven tilts of the season.

  • Right tackle Lane Johnson, who was also coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl nods, dealt with COVID-19 over the summer and then suffered a high-ankle injury before the season began. The former fourth overall pick was pulled from multiple contests and sprained his MCL before eventually undergoing ankle surgery. He missed nine games outright and was able to complete only three games all year. By the time he went for surgery, Johnson told reporters that the inside of his ankle had collapsed.

  • Center Jason Kelce started all 16 games and missed just five offensive snaps all season.

The Eagles were counting on their five starters (and then Peters after he was signed) to take the majority of the snaps up front. Instead, they got 16 mostly healthy games from Kelce and about 13 complete games from the other five combined. Other teams dealt with serious offensive line injuries, including Philly's archrivals in Dallas, but this is about as bad as it gets for a team in a single season. On the whole, the Eagles were the second-most injured team in the league, according to Football Outsiders' Adjusted Games Lost metric.

What happens next is up in the air, but my suspicion is that the Eagles won't be as injured in 2021, particularly along the offensive line. Many of the players jettisoned were perennially dealing with injury problems and/or at the tail end of their careers. Some of the players left have injury histories, too, but Philadelphia has a much better shot of fielding an above-average offensive line in 2021. Given that it ranked toward the bottom of the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate (31st), a healthier line could do wonders for Jalen Hurts' efficiency as a passer in Year 2.



NOTE:  only posting the Eagles-related part of the article (click on the link if you wish to read up on his other predictions for Green Bay, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, and SF).

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