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USATSI

We're officially at the halfway point of the 2021 season in the NFL with nine weeks in the rearview mirror and nine weeks still in front of us. As is the case with every season, there have already been a number of surprises that most didn't see coming over the first half. That includes the Cardinals going undefeated through the first eight games, Miami stumbling to a 2-7 record, and the Chiefs currently sitting outside of the playoff picture as we enter Week 10.

Of course, those are just a handful of examples of what has been an exciting start to the year. But what's next? What other surprises await up as clubs sprint to the finish? Below, we're come up with 10 bold predictions for what the second half of the season has in store for us. 

1. Lions go 0-17

Unfortunately for the Detroit Lions, they know about winless seasons all too well. They went 0-11 back in 1942 and more recently were the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 back in 2008. That's only happened one other time (Cleveland Browns, 2017) since, and now they could be looking at some more unwanted history if they were to remain winless for the rest of the season. In the league's first year moving up to a 17-game schedule, Detroit is en route to be the first team to go 0-17 as they currently sit at 0-8 with some heart-wrenching losses thrown into the mix. 

The road doesn't get much easier in the second half as they finish with more games on the road than at home and five of their remaining nine opponents are currently above .500. Those who are not aren't exactly easy matchups either in the Bears, Vikings, Falcons, and Seahawks

2. Derrick Henry returns to Titans

In the immediate aftermath of Derrick Henry suffering his foot injury, it seemed like the Titans star running back was going to be out for the season. However, there has been some optimism that he could return to Tennessee. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network back on Nov. 1, Henry is looking at a 6-10 week absence, which puts him at a potential return around Week 14. While that's an awfully quick turnaround, Henry has already shown us that he is a physical freak and it wouldn't be surprising at all if we see him on the field again this year. Not only do we predict Henry's return to action, but he'll jump right back into the fold and pick up where he left off as the key cog in Tennessee's offense and the best running back in the NFL just in time for the playoffs. 

3. Eagles bench Jalen Hurts 

When the Eagles traded Joe Flacco to the New York Jets earlier this year, I thought the most interesting nugget to come of that move was from Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who noted that the team wanted to bump Gardner Minshew to QB2 and possibly even higher than that. The Eagles current starter Jalen Hurts has battled inconsistencies as a passer and with the team moving further out of playoff contention, I predict that coach Nick Sirianni will make a change at quarterback to see what he has in Minshew. The former Jaguars quarterback is certainly less dynamic with his legs than Hurts, but does provide some more stability in the passing game, which could be something the coaching staff will want to explore prior to the year coming to a close. 

4. Tom Brady makes history en route to MVP

Given that Brady is the current favorite to win the MVP, this is hardly the boldest take in this group. That said, when has the projected MVP favorite heading into Week 10 actually hung on to the award? This is bold simply because if Brady does hang on to win league MVP, it would be another jaw-dropping, age-defying accomplishment for the Buccaneers quarterback. At 44-year-old, he'd become the oldest player in NFL history to win MVP honors, besting his previous record of winning the MVP at age 40. 

In doing so, Brady will also break the single-season passing yards record (5,477) and passing touchdowns record (55) previously held by Peyton Manning with the Broncos in 2013. Currently, Brady is projected to throw for around 5,632 yards and 52.7 touchdowns.  

5. Mac Jones wins a playoff game

The Patriots are currently vying for a playoff spot in the AFC, but we're taking it a step further with our bold prediction. Not only will Bill Belichick bring his team back into the postseason after a one-year absence, but Mac Jones will also record his first playoff win. 

Jones would join a small list of rookie quarterbacks to accomplish this feat. John Wolford of the Rams was able to record a playoff win last season in what was dubbed his rookie season, but he wasn't exactly as green as Jones is. Wolford entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018, but under the NFL's parameters was technically a rookie in 2020. If we're looking at true first-year rookies, Jones would become the first rookie signal-caller to win a playoff game since Russell Wilson did it in 2012. Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco are others who have also notched a playoff win in their first year in the league. 

6. Titans hang on to No. 1 seed in the AFC

Tennessee currently sits as the top dog in the AFC after an impressive win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9. We're predicting that the Titans hang on to the top seed in the conference and earn a first-round bye entering the playoffs, fending off the likes of the Ravens, Chargers, and Bills. A large part of that is thanks to their remaining schedule. The majority of their games are at home and five of their final eight opponents are under .500, which includes matchups against the Dolphins and Texans over the final two weeks. 

7. Chiefs reach AFC Championship 

I think some people will think that the bold take surrounding the Chiefs should be that they miss the playoffs, but that's currently where they are entering Week 10. I think it'd be much more shocking if Kansas City not only sneaks into the postseason but unlocks its potential and finds a way to the conference title game. All of the key pieces from their Super Bowl appearance last season are still in the fold and if Patrick Mahomes morphs back into the generational talent we've seen him be, they'll be an extremely tough out in these do-or-die playoff games. 

8. Cowboys reach NFC Championship

The last time the Cowboys were in the conference championship was back in 1995 when they eventually won the Super Bowl. This year, they'll be back knocking on the door of the Super Bowl with an appearance in the NFC Championship. Currently, Dallas is the No. 4 seed in the NFC, which will put them in a position to host at least one playoff game. Not only will they have some home field advantage on their side in the playoffs, but this is one of the more complete versions of the Cowboys that we've seen in quite some time. Their defense ranks seventh in the NFL in DVOA, while their offense ranks third in DVOA and is averaging the most yards per play (6.4) in the NFL entering Week 10. That's a dangerous combination entering the playoffs. 

9. Rams are one-and-done in the playoffs 

A lot of people's Super Bowl favorite entering the season will get into the postseason, but won't get much further than that. The Rams will be one-and-done in the playoffs with their star-studded roster being sent home much sooner than folks expect. If the Cardinals hang on to their lead in the NFC West, L.A. would be on the road for the bulk of the playoffs (outside of possibly reaching Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium). While the Buccaneers were able to successfully march down a similar path a season ago, that's not the easiest road to go down, especially with the NFC much better than it was in 2020.  

10. Bucs win second-consecutive Super Bowl, Brady retires

It hasn't been done since the 2003, 2004 Patriots, but the Buccaneers will win back-to-back Super Bowls. Even as they stand at 6-2 on the season, Tampa Bay feels like they have another level that they can reach and I expect them to flick that switch once the postseason begins. 

Of course, with the Bucs currently sitting as the current Super Bowl favorite, them hoisting another Lombardi isn't a super bold prediction, so let's add some spice to it: TOM BRADY RETIRES! After a season where he wins his eighth title, earns league MVP and solidifies himself atop of all the major NFL records for a quarterback, Brady fades off into the sunset on top with literally no other accomplishments left to achieve. 

The quarterback has long said that he plans to play until he is 45 and has even flirted with playing until he's 50 (!). With that in mind, it'd be quite a stretch to think that he walks away after this season. However, if he were to go back-to-back, it'd be one heck of a way to go out. 

How far will Tampa Bay go this season?

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