The things that coaches roll out as motivational tools can sometimes be amusing. Consider Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians and one of his 2021 tactics.
His team, fresh off a Super Bowl victory last February, returns 22 starters, a rarity in this free agency era and, even just as important, now has over a full year of Tom Brady learning and running the offense.
With that as a backdrop, Tampa Bay should be a team that is a Super Bowl favorite again. Even Arians has to know that.
Yet there he was during a minicamp this spring telling me that last season was great and all, but something is still missing. He pointed to the banners in the team's indoor facility and said they have a Super Bowl-champion banner, but they didn't get a division-winning banner.
As trite as that may sound in terms of motivation, he's right. The Bucs won the Super Bowl as a wild card team, winning three games on the road, which is tough to do. That's why winning the NFC South is a top goal for the Bucs and Arians this season -- and a motivational tactic.
It's hard to believe that Tampa Bay won't do that with all the talent that is back, coupled with Brady being much more comfortable in the offense. This Tampa Bay team is actually better than last year's, which is why it opens in the top spot in my 2021 Power Rankings, which the champs almost always do in the first rankings.
That doesn't mean they are a lock to win it again. Repeating is tough, even for a seasoned, talented team like Tampa Bay. But I do think the Bucs will get back to the Super Bowl, only to fall short.
The Buffalo Bills will win it all. This is the year Bills quarterback Josh Allen cements himself as one of the best in the NFL by leading the Bills to their first Super Bowl victory. Allen still has doubters, despite his MVP-like season in 2020.
There is a big part of me that thinks Allen is only scratching the surface of what he can be as a passer, which is why I am bullish on the Bills. Coach Sean McDermott and coordinator Leslie Frazier will have the defense improved over last season -- they have to be better rushing the passer -- and that will prove to be the impetus to get this team to the Super Bowl and win it.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers will again be in the mix, but this time it's the Bills who beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game to move on and win it all, beating Brady, who brought a lot of misery to Buffalo in his time with the Patriots.
While the Bills Mafia will be happy with these first rankings, I know most of you will find something to complain about. Oh, well. Maybe you can use it as motivation.
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|The champs always open in the top spot in my rankings, which is why the Bucs are here. I don't expect them to move far off this spot at all this season.||--||2-1-0|
|This is a deep, talented team that has the weapons to score a bunch on offense. The defense will be better as well, which is why they are my pick to win it all.||1||2-1-0|
|The rebuilt offensive line should make the offense get back to scoring points in a big way with Patrick Mahomes lighting it up. There are some concerns about the defense that have to improve.||1||2-1-0|
|Surprise, surprise. Aaron Rodgers is back. Since he is, they are once again a team that can win it all. This is another team that has to make strides on defense to get to a Super Bowl.||--||2-1-0|
|The talent is there, so it's time to live up to the expectations. The Browns are the favorite in the AFC North for a reason. Can they handle the hype?||--||2-1-0|
|No matter who plays quarterback, this is the team I think will win the NFC West. Jimmy Garoppolo will likely start the season, but Trey Lance will get snaps as well. They are healthy again, which is bad news for the rest of the division.||--||1-2-0|
|The big issue is whether the passing game will improve enough this season. Lamar Jackson is an amazing weapon, but the passing game has to be better to win it all.||--||2-1-0|
|Matt Stafford brings his gunslinging mentality to the offense. That's a good thing. The defense should again be among the best, which is why some are picking the Rams to be a Super team.||1||2-1-0|
|They've added some nice veteran pieces in J.J. Watt and A.J. Green, showing it's time to make a real playoff push. This is a big season for coach Kliff Kingsbury.||1||1-2-0|
|They should score a lot with all the weapons, including Derrick Henry and Julio Jones, so it's all about the defense for this group. They were dreadful last season, so any improvement should give them a division title.||11||1-2-0|
|Mac Jones will be a rookie starter, which can be challenging - no matter how good he looked in the preseason. Bill Belichick again has the talent to get this team back into the postseason.||1||1-2-0|
|Carson Wentz is the big question mark here. He has to stay healthy, but even then there are those who wonder if he's the guy. The young defense will have to carry this team early in the season.||1||1-1-1|
|The defense will be nasty, maybe even the best in the NFL. So the big question is whether Ryan Fitzpatrick can be good enough on offense. I think he can be.||--||1-2-0|
|Dak Prescott is back, the offensive line is healthy again and the defense has added some key players. This is the year Mike McCarthy has to get this team a division title.||--||2-1-0|
|It's all about Tua Tagovailoa. If he makes the strides, they will be a playoff team - and maybe more. If not, there will be changes coming.||--||3-0-0|
|The defense, which is usually the calling card for Mike Zimmer-coached teams, will be back to playing at a high level after a bad 2020. Couple that with a good offense, and the Vikings should be back in the postseason.||--||2-1-0|
|The defense will carry this team, which means Teddy Bridgewater has to just manage the offense without turning it over. Denver will push for a playoff spot.||--||2-1-0|
|They still have Russell Wilson, which always makes them a threat. The key to their season will be the improvement of the defense, which means improvement of the pass rush. I am not sure it's good enough, which is why they are the fourth team in the division in my book.||6||1-2-0|
|Jameis Winston opens as the starter at quarterback in the post-Drew Brees era, but you know the Taysom Hill gimmick will be a big part as well. Sean Payton loves the makeup of this team, but will the fallout from being displaced by a hurricane impact their start?||1||1-2-0|
|I don't see a sophomore slump for Justin Herbert, which means the offense will be explosive behind an improved offensive line. The defense gets back Derwin James, which will help that side grow.||1||1-2-0|
|Ben Roethlisberger is back, and he's looked good so far. But the biggest question is the offensive line. They made big changes there. The defense will be outstanding again.||1||1-2-0|
|They are a tough team to evaluate under first-year coach Arthur Smith. Matt Ryan should put up big numbers, but the defense has issues rushing the passer, which could keep this team down.||--||1-2-0|
|Andy Dalton opens the season as the starting quarterback, but it's only a matter of time/games before Justin Fields takes over. The Bears are the third team in their division, which is why Fields should be playing soon.||--||2-1-0|
|This is a prove-it year for quarterback Daniel Jones. He has to show he's the long-term answer. Getting a healthy Saquon Barkley back will help. The concern is the line in front of him.||--||2-1-0|
|They will again be fun to watch on offense, but it's the defense that is an issue. They were awful last year, which isn't a good thing in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.||--||0-3-0|
|It's all about Jalen Hurts. If he can show he's the long-term guy, the Eagles will be much higher than this come December. The division isn't great, so that will help their chances.||1||3-0-0|
|The Trevor Lawrence-era begins, and he will be a superstar. The problem is they lack talent at some key spots. The defense has pass-rush issues that could result in a lot big plays against that unit.||1||2-1-0|
|Sam Darnold is the quarterback - for now. He's essentially in a prove-it year. If he struggles, you can bet they will be targeting a replacement next year. The young defense should be better.||--||1-2-0|
|Joe Burrow is coming off a major knee injury, which is why there is concern about his play. He has looked off in camp. In time, I think he'll get back to playing at a high level. They just might be a year away from competing in the division.||--||1-2-0|
|New coach Dan Campbell will have this team playing tough, physical football. The question is the talent. They don't have enough yet to compete in the division. Jared Goff will play better than the experts think.||--||1-2-0|
|It's going to be a long rebuild for Robert Saleh and the Jets. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson will have some growing pains this year, but it's all about the future for the Jets. This season will be step one.||--||1-2-0|
|They might not be as bad as some think because of all the veterans on the roster. They will be a feisty team, even if they don't win a lot of games. The problem is they just don't have a ton of top-level talent. The Deshaun Watson situation also hangs over this team.||--||0-2-1|