Team expectations for the 2021 NFL season will shift again after the draft, but with BetMGM releasing projected win totals Friday, it’s a great opportunity for evaluating where teams stand right now.
Five teams’ win totals stood out to me as inviting additional commentary, so we’ll break out the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, and San Francisco 49ers separately. Should the Rams actually lower their expectations with Matthew Stafford replacing Jared Goff behind center? That question was on my mind even before these win totals were released.
I’ve also constructed a table stacking all 32 teams by the difference between their projected win totals for 2021 and their actual win totals from last season, adjusted for the new 17-game schedule. Teams that won at a high rate last season will have lower totals and the reverse will be true for losing teams, but this still lets us quickly see where expectations have shifted the most (yes, Chicago Bears fans, even with Mitch Trubisky heading east to Buffalo, expectations for your team could be heading south at least a little).
2020 Adjusted Wins: 12.8
2021 BetMGM total: 10.0
Projected difference: -2.8
The Seahawks’ minus-2.8 projected difference is less interesting than the 10-win total. Last year, the Vegas total for Seattle was 9.5. That works out to a 10.1-win total on a 17-game season, which is nearly identical to the 10-win total set for 2021. That is fascinating in light of the energy spent debating whether the organization is doing enough to support quarterback Russell Wilson. Seattle has won nine, 10, 11, and 12 games over the past four seasons, respectively. If Wilson’s misgivings about coach Pete Carroll and the organization, in general, suggest an organization headed for decline, the betting markets seem to like the Seahawks as much now as before.
New England Patriots
2020 Adjusted Wins: 7.4
2021 BetMGM total: 9.5
Projected difference: +2.1 wins
The Patriots’ unprecedented (for them) spending spree in free agency upgraded the roster without much question. We might also expect better from the quarterback position even if Cam Newton is again behind center for Week 1, simply on the thinking that Newton is another year removed from serious injury, and if contracting COVID-19 last season did trigger his downward slide in production, he’s had plenty of time to recover from that as well. I still think there’s good reason to bet the under on New England until the Patriots prove they can function over time without Tom Brady.
Everyone acknowledges Bill Belichick’s greatness as a coach. Everyone should know the Patriots were hurt more than most by the COVID-19 opt-outs last season. But it’s also fair to question to what degree Belichick’s outstanding record in free agency depended upon Brady. Without Brady setting a high standard with both his play and approach to the game, the Patriots might be less effective in maximizing their investments in the free-agent market. The return on investment for new receiving weapons Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne surely would have been greater if New England still had an all-time great passer.