SPORTS: Analyzing The Top NFL Playoff Contenders In 2021.

The very first 17-game, 18-week NFL regular season will commence next Thursday, when the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcome the Dallas Cowboys in the annual Kickoff Game.

For the second straight year, the NFL will run a 14-team playoff field, with an additional wild card both in each conference. Like last year, only the top seed in the AFC and NFC will get a first-round bye.

The 2021 Playoffs will commence with Wild Card Weekend on Jan. 15. The tournament will conclude with Super Bowl 56 on Feb. 13 at Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

NFL consensus has clear favorites as to which teams will make up the playoff field in 2021.

The Heavy Favorites & Virtual Locks

Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, coming off their second straight Super Bowl appearance, are the betting favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy this season (+500).

The Chiefs brought in Orlando Brown Jr., Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Joe Thuney and Kyle Long to rebuild an offensive line that was torched in the Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. The Chiefs are far-and-away the team to beat in the AFC, with the game’s best quarterback and a defense that finished seventh and 10th in scoring for 2019 and 2020, respectively.

At the very least, Kansas City should claim its sixth straight division title without much trouble.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s been a while since the Bucs qualified for the postseason in consecutive years (four appearances from 1999 to 2002). But the defending champions feel like a sure-bet to get in, having brought back all 22 starters from last year’s Super Bowl squad.

It took Tom Brady a while to get his full grasp on the offense, and yet the Bucs still finished third in scoring (492 points).

A full year of familiarity plus a regular offseason should make this offense even more potent. And of course, that star-studded front seven can take over a game at any point.

The retirement of Drew Brees makes things easier for the Bucs, who are in line to win their first NFC South division title since 2007.

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Buffalo Bills

Josh Allen’s MVP-caliber season led Buffalo to 13 wins and the franchise’s first division title in 25 years. The Bills, who boasted the NFL’s second best scoring offense (501 points), ultimately fell to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

The Bills are the heavy favorites to win the AFC East again. But it’s Super Bowl-or-bust mode now. Leslie Frazier’s defense ranked just 14th in yards and 16th in points, and no Bills player reached six sacks in 2020.

A turnaround on defense is imperative if Buffalo is to get past Kansas City in the AFC. Rookies Gregory Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. will be heavily relied upon to bolster the pass rush.

But as long as the offense doesn’t regress too much (if at all), Buffalo will punch its third straight trip to the postseason.

Green Bay Packers

Packers at Redskins 09/23/18

After the Bucs, the back-to-back conference runner-ups have the second best Super Bowl odds in the NFC (+600).

Aaron Rodgers is the reigning MVP, and the scary thought is this offense (No. 1 in scoring with 509 points last season), could be even better. The wide receiver depth chart was upgraded with the acquisitions of Randall Cobb (trade with the Houston Texans) and Amari Rodgers (drafted in round three).

As long as Rodgers is here, the Packers will always have a chance at the Super Bowl. They should run away with the NFC North yet again in 2021.

Should Get In, Barring Disaster

Two NFC West clubs, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, are also poised to enter the postseason as long as everything goes according to plan. They carry equal Super Bowl odds of +1200.

L.A. featured the league’s best defense a year ago (yards and points), and the addition of Matthew Stafford should take this offense to another level. The 49ers are also a safe bet to get in as long as they avoid the brutal injury bug that derailed their promising 2020 season.

Two AFC North clubs, the Baltimore Ravens (+1200 Super Bowl odds) and Cleveland Browns (+1600) are coming off 11-win seasons, wild card berths and trips to the Divisional Round. These two clubs feature heavy rush-first offenses (Baltimore first, Cleveland third last season) and physical, wear-you-down defenses. It’d be quite a stunner if they don’t both qualify.

The Seattle Seahawks overachieved last season and simply weren’t as good as their 12-4 record. It’s hard to see them beating out the Rams or 49ers for the division, but this team hasn’t had a losing season since Russell Wilson’s 2012 rookie year. As usual, the explosive offense should do just enough to get this team into the postseason.

With Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson set to possibly miss time, the Tennessee Titans (+2800 Super Bowl odds) are the team to beat in the AFC South. Adding Julio Jones to an offense that averaged 30.7 points per game in 2020 (fourth-most in the NFL) makes this team even more potent and scary-good.

The Remaining Favorites To Qualify

After Tampa, Green Bay, L.A., San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC? The New Orleans Saints (+3000 Super Bowl odds) and Dallas Cowboys (+3500, the consensus favorites to win the NFC East) have the next best odds.

The Los Angeles Chargers (+3000), have the sixth-best odds in the AFC. The future is ultra bright there with second-year quarterback Justin Herbert leading a dynamic offense.

The Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots all carry +3500 Super Bowl odds. It figures to be quite a dog fight between those three teams, one of the Ravens or Browns (whoever doesn’t win the division), Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, with only a trio of wild card spots up for grabs.

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