Training camp is right around the corner, which means so is real football. You don't have to be an expert to know teams like the Buccaneers and Chiefs are expected to be among the best of the best in 2021, a year after going head to head in the Super Bowl. But what about the teams flying under the radar? The potential contenders who aren't getting nearly enough attention?
Below, we've identified four of the most underrated teams going into the 2021 season. Not all of them should be considered realistic candidates to win it all. But we'd be surprised if these four didn't surprise plenty of people this year:
Note: Projected win totals courtesy of William Hill Sportsbook.
2020 record: 5-11
Projected win total: O/U 8.5
Despite going 12-20 under Vic Fangio and 32-48 since winning the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, the Broncos are considered top-11 favorites to win it all this year. That has almost everything to do with Aaron Rodgers, who's drawn their interest even though the Packers refuse to deal the star quarterback. If/when Rodgers rumors are put to rest (and assuming he doesn't leave Green Bay), Denver will be widely projected to either challenge the Chargers for a wild card or miss the playoffs altogether. But there's a reason Rodgers would seemingly put them over the top; unlike, say, the Jaguars or Jets or even Raiders, they're built well enough to compete with A-Rod. Neither Drew Lock nor Teddy Bridgewater is a surefire top-15 starter, but between Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Bradley Chubb, Kyle Fuller and a healthier Von Miller, they've got play-makers on both sides of the ball.
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2020 record: 11-5
Projected win total: O/U 10
How in the world can a team fresh off 11 wins -- a team that's won 28 games and made the playoffs in two of Frank Reich's three seasons as coach -- be underrated? For one, the national buzz is still lagging. The Buccaneers, Chiefs and Packers all have more firepower as Super Bowl favorites, but considering Reich's track record, Indy deserves more love. They've got the coach. They've got a ground game. They've got a stingy defense. And then there's new quarterback Carson Wentz, who steps in after a premature exit from Philadelphia to replace Philip Rivers. For many, the pendulum has swung so far to the "he's broken and/or bad" side of the argument, when in reality it'd be surprising if Wentz didn't rebound to be at least a top-15 QB with fresh scenery. At the very least, he gives the Colts offense more upside. Couple all that with a winnable division, and they're capable of really challenging in the AFC.
2020 record: 7-9
Projected win total: O/U 8.5
Both their coach and quarterback have built a reputation as predictable mid-tier performers: never bad enough to bottom out, but rarely elite enough to get over the hump. How else do you explain the Vikings literally going in, then out, then back into the playoffs every year since Mike Zimmer took over, or Kirk Cousins posting Pro Bowl numbers without also posting a signature postseason run? And yet, even if Aaron Rodgers stays in Green Bay, they're poised to bounce back. Not only because Zimmer's due for his biannual playoff ticket, but because Cousins has more motivation (hello Kellen Mond), the offense has bona fide play-makers (Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson) and, best of all, Zimmer's defense is both deeper and healthier (welcome back, Danielle Hunter!) after an uncharacteristically porous year. They may not win the division, but the Vikings have the makings of a sneaky contender.
2020 record: 4-11-1
Projected win total: O/U 7
How can a team that just won the Super Bowl a few years ago already be one of the NFL's most underrated teams? Feast your eyes on the Eagles' 2020 season, when organizational dysfunction and a historic regression from a former MVP candidate resulted in a total overhaul of both the team's staff and QB spot. It's back to square one in Philadelphia, where first-time head coach Nick Sirianni has been tasked with injecting creative energy into a plan that quickly went stale under Doug Pederson. Almost no one, from a national perspective, seems to be buying the possibility of the ex-Colts coordinator surprising out of the gate, with young Jalen Hurts under center. But couple the fresh staff with Hurts' mobility, a healthier offensive line, a new No. 1 wideout in DeVonta Smith and some decent veterans on "D," and a late challenge for the always-open NFC East title isn't nearly as crazy as it sounds.