Projecting win totals for AFC South, burning questions for AFC, NFC North, predicting when rookie QBs play

Good day, everyone. Is it just me, or does it feel like months have already passed since the draft and schedule release? Maybe it’s just the fact that John Breech has now been out of newsletter commission for three straight days. This has been a week unlike any other. Anyway, while Breech continues to soak up the sun on his exotic vacation, I — Cody Benjamin — have plenty of news for you.

This is the Pick Six Newsletter. Now let’s get to it. (And please, do yourself a favor and make sure you’re signed up to receive this newsletter every day! You don’t want to miss our daily offerings of everything you need to know around the NFL.)

We’ve got AFC south previews, predictions for rookie QBs, insider notes and much more:

  1. Today’s show: Projecting win totals for AFC South contenders

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Few NFL divisions contain as many questions as the AFC West, where the Texans could be navigating a quarterback change, the Jaguars are kicking off the Trevor Lawrence era, the Titans are looking to overcome a tough offseason and the Colts are banking on a rejuvenated Carson Wentz. On Wednesday’s Pick Six NFL Podcast, Jordan Dajani joined Will Brinson to “reset” expectations for all four teams now that the draft, free agency and schedule release are in the books.

Some highlights:

  • Oddsmakers have the Texans’ over/under at 4.5 wins for 2021, and Brinson thinks that is spot on: “This team is not winning five games.” Even if Deshaun Watson returns for part of the year, he argued, Houston’s roster is a hodgepodge of spare parts.
  • As for the other team in rebuild mode, both Brinson and Dajani think the Jaguars could surprise out of the gate, suggesting Jacksonville could be 3-3 or even 4-2 through its first six games.
  • The Titans, meanwhile, are a cause for concern. Their receiving depth is very thin after losing both Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, and Dajani thinks their defense is even more troublesome: “I think that front seven improved, but the secondary was the major issue on the defense, and I think that got worse this offseason … I’m not very bullish on the Titans.”
  • As for the Colts, Brinson thinks the move from Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz is a “massive downgrade” at QB and doesn’t rule out a rough start — perhaps as dire as 1-4 or 0-5 — but admits, if Wentz returns to form, Indy makes sense as both a division favorite and Super Bowl sleeper.

Catch the entire discussion (and subscribe for all kinds of daily NFL talk) right here.

2. Burning questions in AFC, NFC North: What’s next for Rodgers, Mayfield?

We’re asking pressing questions of each and every team ahead of the 2021 season. On Wednesday, we tackled both the AFC North and NFC North. How soon will the Bears turn to Justin Fields? Can Mike Zimmer’s defense return to form? Is the Steelers‘ offensive line built to last? Did the Bengals do enough to protect Joe Burrow? They’re all part of the examination. No two questions may be bigger, however, than those in Cleveland and Green Bay, two cities with Super Bowl aspirations.

For the Packers, the question is obvious: Will Aaron Rodgers even be around to make another title run?

As long as Rodgers is in tow, they’re a Super Bowl contender. The Rodgers-Matt LaFleur duo hasn’t gone 28-8 since 2019 (playoffs included) by accident. Without the reigning NFL MVP, the (Packers) would obviously be an entirely different animal: A well-rounded team with a total unknown under center — most likely 2020 first-rounder Jordan Love, who entered the league as more of an untamed arm and has yet to take a single snap in the pros.

For the Browns, the question is more about their QB’s ceiling: Can Baker Mayfield lead Cleveland to a title?

It obviously won’t fall solely on his shoulders, but Mayfield does carry the expectation of a franchise and a fan base that is starving for a championship. As Troy Aikman once said, when a franchise takes you with the No. 1 overall pick, that franchise isn’t drafting you to to win a division or two; they’re drafting you to win a championship. That’s the expectation for Mayfield and the Browns in 2021. Anything else is a disappointment.

3. Insider notes: Predicting when top rookie QBs debut in 2021

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Five different QBs went in the first round this year, and all five are expected to suit up at some point this season. When, exactly, will they make their NFL debuts? Insider Jason La Canfora has predictions for each, along with his own recommendations for how teams should handle their new signal-callers. Here’s JLC’s forecast for when the first-rounders will actually make their first starts:

The boldest projection of the bunch? Perhaps Jones, who enters the summer up against Cam Newton for the job in New England. La Canfora is also fairly confident Lance will see the field early as a situational QB, but that San Francisco is committed to letting Garoppolo open the year under center.

4. Ranking the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates

The top of the first round in this year’s draft was heavily populated by offensive players, from star quarterbacks to play-making wide receivers. But that doesn’t mean rookie defenders won’t be making headlines this year. Draft expert Chris Trapasso has identified 11 of his favorites to win 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and both the Browns and the NFC East are well represented. Here’s a sneak peek at his top five, plus some insight on his No. 1 pick:

5. Colts DE Kwity Paye
4. Dolphins OLB Jaelan Phillips
3. Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
2. Giants DE Azeez Ojulari
1. Washington LB Jamin Davis

Davis is a towering linebacker with the explosion and athletic fluidity needed to hold up in coverage in today’s NFL … Another reason he’s my DROY pick: The Washington defensive line is going to keep his jersey as clean as if he didn’t even step foot on the field … How good is the Football Team’s front four? In 2020, journeyman Jon Bostic led the team with 118 tackles. While Bostic’s still on the roster, Davis will get to play one of the play-making outside linebacker spots. Not only will he hit the 100-tackle threshold, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to disrupt on pass plays. And Davis will. Frequently.

5. Surgeon says Bengals’ Joe Burrow is a lock to start Week 1

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Attention, Bengals fans! Your quarterback is back. As ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, Burrow’s operating surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, has cleared the former No. 1 pick for a full return to action by Week 1 of the 2021 season. Burrow underwent knee surgery in December following a torn ACL, but ElAttrache has nothing but good news regarding the QB’s outlook for the opener against the Vikings:

“He’s doing all the work. He’s worked his tail off and been an amazingly mature participant in his recovery. He’s focused and great to work with … Notwithstanding the nature of his injury and extent of his reconstruction, his knee is performing perfectly. We just had him tested out here with a high-tech video and biomechanical evaluation and he was ahead of where we anticipated, and well into the return to performance phase of his recovery. With him already performing this way, it’s ‘all systems go’ for the start of the season.”

6. Rapid Fire Roundup: Cowboys hunt for QB2, Antonio Brown on hold

Want more NFL news? Good. We’ve got a couple more nuggets for you right here:

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