Breakdowns

The 17-Game Schedule Creates Added Stress Points for Every NFL Team

The NFL unveiled its 2021 schedule Wednesday – the league’s first-ever 17-game schedule. The 17th game creates more excitement for fans, but it also creates more work for the teams. With an extra game, teams must be laser-focused on their strengths and weaknesses. They must address any potential Stress Points that could be exacerbated by having to play an extra game.

With that in mind, here are the biggest strengths and stress points for all 32 teams heading into the 2021 season:

Arizona Cardinals

  • Biggest Strength: Pass Catchers
  • Biggest Stress Point: Long-Term Solutions at Cornerback

The Cardinals’ strong offense got even better with the additions of A.J. Green and Rondale Moore. Now Kyler Murray has a plethora of options to throw the ball to in addition to DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. On the defensive side of the ball, however, the Cardinals’ cornerbacks are still very much a work in progress as Patrick Peterson was not re-signed, and Malcolm Butler was signed to a 1-year deal. Still, neither one of these players are long-term answers, and the Cardinals may still struggle against the pass in 2021.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Biggest Strength: Strong Passing Game
  • Biggest Stress Point: An Effective Pass Rush

After drafting Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick, the Falcons now boast one of the best passing attacks in the NFL with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Pitts and veteran tight end Hayden Hurst; however, without any significant additions to their front seven, Atlanta could be in for a rough time against the ever-improving NFC South. Atlanta’s sack leader in 2020 was ILB Deion Jones with 4.5, and it will be up to late-round additions Ta’Quon Graham and Adetokunbo Ogundeji to inject some life to Atlanta’s pass rush in order for this team to have an easier time against the likes of the Buccaneers and Saints.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Biggest Strength: Cornerback
  • Biggest Stress Point: Inside Linebacker

Despite the plethora of losses the Ravens had this offseason, they still have one of the strongest cornerback groups in the NFL led by Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. This tandem combined for 5 INTS and 20 PDS in 2020, and they will be out to prove that they are not an easy matchup once again in 2021. The biggest issue for the Ravens will be the inside linebacker position. Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison both had their struggles in 2020, and the Ravens did not get an off-ball linebacker in the draft. It will be interesting to see if Queen or Harrison can make the next step up this coming season.

Buffalo Bills

  • Biggest Strength: Offensive Play calling
  • Biggest Stress Point: Running Back

The Buffalo Bills will look to defend their AFC East crown next season with Brian Daboll leading the play calling duties on the offensive side, and he will be a hot name in the coaching carousel after the season. The issue that may plague the Bills once again is their inability to run the football effectively. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss combined for 1,168 yards last season, and Buffalo’s rushing offense as a whole only averaged 107.7 rushing yards per game, which was 20th in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers

  • Biggest Strength: Drafted players who are ready to start by Day 1
  • Biggest Stress Point: Sam Darnold

The Panthers made some big moves this offseason with their signal-caller as they acquired Sam Darnold from the Jets and then promptly traded Teddy Bridgewater to the Bronco; however, it has yet to be proven if Darnold is the quarterback of the future, as he has thrown 39 interceptions in his brief career along with facing a plethora of injuries. The Panthers did draft many players who will be available to help out Darnold (Terrace Marshall, Shi Smith, Chuba Hubbard, etc.) as well as improving a secondary that gave up 239.1 yards per game through the air with the addition of first-round pick Jaycee Horn. 

Chicago Bears

  • Biggest Strength: Front Seven
  • Biggest Stress Point: Offensive Tackle

The Bears’ biggest strength for the past few years has been their front seven with players like Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks and others who have caused a lot of havoc for the teams of the NFC North. The biggest question for the Bears will be how will their offensive tackles perform. Will Teven Jenkins be able to step in right away and be a viable option at left tackle after Chicago decided to part ways with veteran Charles Leno Jr.? Also, is newly acquired Elijah Wilkinson the long-term solution at right tackle? This offensive line will have to do a much better job than it did last year–the Bears gave up 36 sacks last season–with a new franchise QB in the fold.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Biggest Strength: Wide Receiver
  • Biggest Stress Point: Quality Starting Linebackers

Even though the Bengals decided to draft Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell, this move sets the Bengals up really well for the future, and especially this season, as far as wide receivers go with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins also in the fold as reliable weapons for second-year QB Joe Burrow. What could hold the Bengals back, especially if they are devastated by injuries again, is the lack of quality starting linebackers. The Bengals heavily invested in Trey Hendrickson and others to boost the defensive line while also drafting players like Joseph Ossai to make this pass rush better–the Bengals were second-to-last in pressures and last in sacks in 2020; however, their linebackers are still extremely inexperienced with two of their projected starters both going into their second years of their young careers.

Cleveland Browns

  • Biggest Strength: A great 1-2 punch at running back
  • Biggest Stress Point: Pass Defense

The Cleveland Browns committed to a run-first approach last season, and it worked out immensely for them as they averaged 148.4 YPG and 4.8 Y/A in 2020 (3rd and 5th in the NFL, respectively) en route to winning its first playoff game in a long time. As long as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are lining up in the backfield, the Browns have the formula to succeed once again this upcoming season. The Browns upgraded their secondary immensely with the additions of John Johnson III, Troy Hill and Greg Newsome II, which will be vital for a team that gave up the 11th-most passing yards per game in 2020. Without having seen these players in action in 2021, the pass defense of Cleveland will be the biggest hole entering this season until proven otherwise.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Biggest Strength: Playmakers on Offense
  • Biggest Stress Point: Consistency in the Linebacker Group

Before Dak Prescott’s horrific injury in 2020, the Cowboys had one of the best offenses in the league, particularly in the fourth quarter. This group will continue to get better, especially with the offensive line getting a boost this season. The strength of this team lies in its skilled playmakers like Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb; however, this team struggled mightily in its linebacker group, particularly with consistency. Injuries had something to do this, but will this unit get better with the additions of Keanu Neal, Micah Parsons, and others? It will have to be if the Cowboys want to avenge the unit that gave up 158.8 rushing yards per game (2nd-most in the league).

Denver Broncos

  • Biggest Strength: Defensive Line
  • Biggest Stress Point: Right Tackle

Vic Fangio and the Broncos front office have built this team very much like the Bears team from 2018 in the fact that this team has a defensive mentality. The Broncos have a very stout defensive line that is led by Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris. It should be even better this year with Miller coming back from injury. The Broncos still have a huge hole on their team which lies in the right tackle position. Ja’Wuan James got hurt, which ensures that he will miss a significant amount of time. Denver drafted Quinn Meinerz with an early pick, but he is not a right tackle, which will leave them with a big question to answer as the season progresses in order to give Drew Lock his best chance to succeed.  

Detroit Lions

  • Biggest Strength: Center
  • Biggest Stress Point: Talent at Wide Receiver

The Lions appear to be set at center for a while after handing out a huge extension to Frank Ragnow, giving Dan Campbell a reliable starter on the offensive line for years to come; however, even with the addition of Jared Goff via trade, the Lions are seriously lacking in their wide receiver group after losing both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. They will have to rely on inexperienced receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sage Surratt among other rookies and aging veterans like Tyrell Williams to try to make this offense flow. With how unproven these players are, it may be a difficult season for the Lions to air the football out.

Green Bay Packers

  • Biggest Strength: Running Back
  • Biggest Stress Point: Uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ Future with the Team

After re-signing star running back Aaron Jones to a huge deal, the Packers appear to look very strong at running back, especially with second-round pick A.J. Dillon showing a lot of flashes down the stretch of last season. The biggest question mark for the Packers comes with their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It is unclear if he will be staying with the team this season, which could be detrimental to any championship hopes this team has for this upcoming season. If he stays, the Packers look to be contenders once again in the NFC.

Houston Texans

  • Biggest Strength: Laremy Tunsil
  • Biggest Stress Point: The Deshaun Watson Situation

The Texans are going to have a tough season if Deshaun Watson does not play in 2021. He makes this team a lot better due to his dual-threat abilities. It will be tough for the Texans to rebound if they are forced to start second-round QB Davis Mills this upcoming season. No matter who is starting, though, they will have a strong presence at left tackle in the form of Laremy Tunsil. He has been a solid player for Houston, and he only had seven penalties called on him in 2020 (down from 17 in 2019).

Indianapolis Colts

  • Biggest Strength: Offensive Line
  • Biggest Stress Point: Questions at Positions of Importance

The Colts boast one of the best, if not THE best, offensive lines in football coming off of a season where the Colts gave up the second-least amount of sacks in the NFL (21). This is big news for newcomer Carson Wentz as he was sacked 50 times in just 12 games in 2020. The biggest hole for the Colts lies in the questions surrounding their positions of importance. Can Carson Wentz get back to his 2017 form with Frank Reich? Is Eric Fisher the solution at left tackle? Who is the number-one receiving threat on this team? The list goes on and on, and these questions will need to be answered at some point in 2021.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Biggest Strength: Weapons on Offense
  • Biggest Stress Point: Inconsistent Secondary

The Jaguars improved their offense immensely through the draft and free agency as they added the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Marvin Jones and Carlos Hyde. This team now has Etienne and James Robinson in the backfield along with a receiver group of Jones, Laviska Shenault and D.J. Chark, providing plenty of options for Lawrence to succeed. On the other side of the ball, the Jags will need to figure out their secondary even with the additions of Shaquill Griffin, Tyson Campbell and Andre Cisco this offseason. That unit gave up 264.4 yards through the air in 2020, which was the sixth-most in the entire league.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Biggest Strength: Patrick Mahomes/Revamped Offensive Line
  • Biggest Stress Point: Edge Rusher/Linebacker Depth

The Chiefs’ biggest strengths on offense this season are a Patrick Mahomes-led offense that averaged 29.6 points per game in 2020 while also improving an offensive line that looked all out of sorts in Super Bowl LV. The acquisitions of Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Orlando Brown Jr. should help the Chiefs to get back to their previous offensive form. The main issue to monitor this season will be the depth of the edge rusher and linebacker positions. Kansas City has built a winning formula based off its great offense, but that defense has fallen behind in the process. Will players like Nick Bolton, Willie Gay and Taco Charlton be able to step up for the Chiefs and make them an even more dangerous team this upcoming season? 

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Biggest Strength: Wide Receiver
  • Biggest Stress Point: Thin Linebacker Room

The Chargers have upgraded their offense a lot this offseason, particularly along the offensive line where Justin Herbert now has his protection for the foreseeable future. Still, this team’s strength lies in its wide receiver group that is deep beyond just Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The linebacker room, on the other hand, is not nearly as deep, and it will need to be improved going forward considering that Kenneth Murray and Kyler Fackrell may be the only dependable starters in that group for this season.

Los Angeles Rams

  • Biggest Strength: Defensive Line
  • Biggest Stress Point: Depth along the Offensive Line

Although the Rams lost DC Brandon Staley to the Chargers, they should still boast one of the best defenses in the league (3rd in rushing yards allowed per game and 1st in passing yards allowed per game in 2020) thanks to their dominant defensive line. Leonard Floyd was brought back after a breakout season, and Aaron Donald should be a force once again. Unlike some of the great Rams teams, this one may struggle somewhat on offense due to the depth of its offensive line. There is not much of an insurance policy behind Andrew Whitworth, and he is getting older. Without adequate cap space, the Rams could struggle to fill out this part of their offense with capable starters.

Las Vegas Raiders

  • Biggest Strength: Running Back Talent
  • Biggest Stress Point: Depth in the Secondary

The Raiders have tried to construct this team with a winning culture in mind. The running back position has two capable starters in the forms of Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake, which should help alleviate a lot of the pressure from QB Derek Carr. But they still have a lot of questions on their defense, particularly in the secondary. They focused heavily on adding safeties, but the depth is still questionable as some of them are potentially moving to linebacker. It’ll be interesting to see what Jon Gruden has in mind with some of the picks they spent on the secondary.

Miami Dolphins

  • Biggest Strength: Secondary led by Xavien Howard and Byron Jones
  • Biggest Stress Point: Running Back

The Dolphins came one game away from making the playoffs last season led by a defense that turned teams over a lot. Part of this was due to the play of Xavien Howard, who had a career year with 10 of Miami’s 18 interceptions in 2020, along with Byron Jones who had a solid year after coming over from Dallas. Despite the success of the defense at turning teams over, the Dolphins failed to put together a strong running game as Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Matt Breida and Jordan Howard had their issues for the most part. Gaskin and Ahmed were the best of the bunch, but they still had many struggles on the goal line where the Dolphins stalled and had to kick a field goal–this was part of the reason for Jason Sanders having 16 field goals attempted (and made) from within 40 yards.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Biggest Strength: Plethora of Offensive Weapons
  • Biggest Stress Point: Young Secondary

The Minnesota Vikings are in a great spot to succeed on the offensive side of the ball thanks to their plethora of weapons that include Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Jefferson, who will be entering his second year, broke a number of Randy Moss’ records as a rookie and will be looking to improve upon what was a fantastic season (88 receptions, 1,400 yards, 7 TDs). Minnesota upgraded its secondary with the additions of Patrick Peterson, Mackenzie Alexander and Xavier Woods in free agency, but it is still an extremely young secondary that will most likely have some growing pains, especially if second-year corner Jeff Gladney misses any amount of time.

New England Patriots

  • Biggest Strength: Secondary with Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson staying put
  • Biggest Stress Point: Lack of a true number-one receiving threat

The Patriots should once again have a formidable secondary with Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson staying put after many rumors that they could be on the move this offseason. Furthermore, the Patriots added to this secondary with versatile DB Jalen Mills, which should make up for Patrick Chung retiring. On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots may have a tough time without a true number-one receiving threat. They added both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, but it has still yet to be proven if either of those guys can be big-time receivers consistently. Moreover, are Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne the answers for the Patriots moving forward.

New Orleans Saints

  • Biggest Strength: Dependable Offensive Stars
  • Biggest Stress Point: A Dependable Option at QB

The Drew Brees era is over, and Jameis Winston was re-signed, thus giving him the keys to the offense. Taysom Hill is still in the mix, but it seems like this is Winston’s team now; however, the last time Winston started a full season, he became the first QB to throw for 30 TDs and 30 INTs. Can he be counted upon the whole season, especially since the Saints failed to pick up another dependable option if Winston doesn’t work out? Thankfully for the Saints, they still have dependable offensive stars like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, who should be able to help out whoever is starting under center as long as they can avoid injuries.

New York Giants

  • Biggest Strength: Interior Defensive Line
  • Biggest Stress Point: Right Tackle

The New York Giants nearly made the playoffs last season thanks to an incredible season from their interior defensive line. Leonard Williams had his best year to date while Dalvin Tomlinson also had a very good season. Even with the latter departing in free agency, this part of the line is still strong with Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill and Danny Shelton in the fold. On the offensive side of the ball, New York will still need to find an answer at right tackle as Andrew Thomas appears to be the left tackle of the future, and Matt Peart does not appear to be the long-term answer at that spot.

New York Jets

  • Biggest Strength: New Face of the Franchise and Coach
  • Biggest Stress Point: Quarterback Depth Behind Zach Wilson

The Jets have a face of the franchise and a clear direction of where they want to be under new head coach Robert Saleh. This will be extremely helpful to improve an offense that ranked last in the league in points per game in 2020 (15.2). In the process of clearing room for Wilson, the Jets shipped out Sam Darnold, leaving Tanner Morgan as the backup for the BYU QB. If Wilson gets hurt, the Jets could be in line for a rocky season unless they find a better veteran presence to back him up.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Biggest Strength: Defensive Line
  • Biggest Stress Point: Linebackers

The 2020 Philadelphia Eagles were ravaged with injuries, which is part of the reason why the team struggled so much; however, the Eagles still boast a tough defensive line with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave. Philadelphia still has to improve in a linebacker group that was part of the blame for the Eagles giving up 125.8 rushing yards per game (9th in the NFL). The Eagles added Eric Wilson in free agency, but there is still a lot of work to be done for this group to become an integral part of this team.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Biggest Strength: Young, Cheap, Productive Wideouts
  • Biggest Stress Point: Offensive Line Talent

The Steelers were able to retain JuJu Smith-Schuster, thus ensuring that their young, talented receiving corps is still intact after a disappointing end of the season. Meanwhile, the Steelers saw the likes of Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and Matt Feiler depart the team this offseason in some fashion, and the Steelers did not address the offensive line quite as early as it was expected they would. The Steelers will be stretched for offensive line talent this season, especially if some of their picks in this year’s draft do not progress as fast as needed.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Biggest Strength: A Strong Defensive Line
  • Biggest Stress Point: Lack of a go-to option outside of George Kittle

As long as the 49ers can stay healthy, they should be back in the swing of things in the NFC West. This team boasts one of the better defensive lines in all of football with 2019 DROY Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead along with 2020 first-round pick Javon Kinlaw, who improved a lot down the stretch. The biggest question for the Niners will be who is their go-to option in the passing game outside of George Kittle? Will Brandon Aiyuk be able to fill that role or will Deebo Samuel be healthy enough to be the number-one option? Both of these players have shown flashes, and they will be tasked with getting even better in 2021 with the departure of Kendrick Bourne and others in free agency.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Biggest Strength: Talent at Wide Receiver
  • Biggest Stress Point: Edge Rushers

With the Seahawks’ second-round selection of Western Michigan wideout D’Wayne Eskridge, Seattle looks to have a formidable trio at wide receiver with Eskridge, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. These three will look to help the Seahawks’ pass offense improve after a tough stretch of games at the end of 2020 (Seattle finished 16th in passing yards per game after a hot start to the season). Still, the Seahawks will have to find somebody to step up off the edge as they have still not found a star to help them get after the quarterback–the Seahawks’ sack leader in 2020 was safety Jamal Adams with 9.5 sacks. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Biggest Strength: Amount of Offensive Weapons
  • Biggest Stress Point: Aging Veterans

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got red hot at the end of last season, which propelled them to their first Super Bowl victory since the 2002 season. The Buccaneers were able to retain all of their key players on offense while also adding players like Gio Bernard and Jaelon Darden, who should add even more of a spark for a team that averaged 30.8 PPG in 2020 (3rd in the NFL). There aren’t many holes on this roster, but it is worth monitoring the number of aging veterans this team has. Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh are expected to play big roles once again in Tampa’s title defense, so it will be interesting to see if these two players can continue to produce at a high level.

Tennessee Titans

  • Biggest Strength: A great run game
  • Biggest Stress Point: Getting After Opposing QBs

Tennessee’s bread and butter on offense will be pounding the ball with Derrick Henry once again as he looks to build off of a year that saw him rush for over 2,000 yards for the first time in his career. Tennessee finished second in the league in both rushing yards per game and yards per rushing attempt, which is a clear indication of where this team’s strength lies. The biggest issue for Tennessee this upcoming season will be its pass rush. The Titans only compiled 19 sacks (30th in the NFL) and 72 QB hits (29th in the NFL). With the additions of Bud Dupree and Denico Autry in the offseason, Tennessee will have to improve these numbers in order to capitalize on their potential championship window.

Washington Football Team

  • Biggest Strength: Defensive Line Production
  • Biggest Stress Point: Left Side of the Offensive Line

The Washington Football Team walks into the 2021 season with one of the best defensive lines in the league headlined by 2020 DROY Chase Young, who put on a clinic last season. Young along with Da’Ron Payne, Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen make up a defensive line that led Washington to its first playoff berth since 2015. The issue with the Football Team outside of a long-term solution at QB lies in the left side of the offensive line where Washington has struggled to fill the hole that Trent Williams left when he was traded last season.

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