Former NFL head coach Jeff Fisher wouldn’t know what to do. Gone are the 8-8 non-losing seasons from the NFL record books. For the first time ever, the NFL will play a 17-game schedule. Teams will play one less preseason game and one more regular season contest.
Which NFL team or teams will have the NFL’s best record in 2021? Here’s a look at the odds to have the league’s best record in the first-ever 17-game season.
The Safe Bet – Kansas City
In any discussion of NFL teams and best records in 2021, the Kansas City Chiefs have to be part of the discussion. Oddsmakers agree which is why the Chiefs are the +300 favorite to finish the new season with the NFL’s best record.
Head coach Andy Reid’s team did it a year ago. The Chiefs led all NFL teams with a 14-2 record. Kansas City was upset at home by AFC West Division rival Las Vegas and then rested its starters in Week 17 in a loss to the L.A. Chargers.
Reid’s team should be able to do the same in 2021 though they do have some tough dates on their schedule. They will face the AFC North which features three teams – Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland – that made the playoffs last year. They also have Green Bay (13-3 last season), Buffalo (13-3), and Tennessee (11-5) on the schedule.
Kansas City has now gone 14-2, 12-4, 12-4, and 10-6 over the past four seasons. The Chiefs might be the safe bet at +300, but they might not be the best bet.
The Defending Champions
Bettors can find a bit more value in the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are given +500 odds to have this season’s best record and that may be more likely than Kansas City.
First and foremost is the returning roster for Tampa Bay. All 22 players that started on offense and defense in Super LV return for the Bucs in 2021. If that’s not enough to feel confident in Tampa Bay’s chances at owning the league’s best record when it is all said and done, then there is the 2021 schedule.
Remember, Drew Brees will no longer quarterback the New Orleans Saints after retiring in the offseason. Tampa Bay went 4-2 in the NFC South last year. Both losses were to Brees and the Saints.
The rest of the schedule is advantageous as well. The Bucs cross over to play the AFC East. Buffalo will be the toughest test there, but the game with the Bills is in Tampa. Games against the Jets and Patriots are almost virtual locks. Miami is improving, but Tampa Bay gets the Dolphins at home too. The rest of the schedule features what has been the weakest division in football – the NFC East.
With a schedule like that, all 22 starters back, and a guy named Tom Brady at quarterback (even if he is 44 years old), it’s easy to see why there is value on the Bucs at +500.
Other Value Picks
Both the Chiefs and Bucs make complete sense as both NFL teams are among those favored to reach Super Bowl LVI. Indianapolis would have been a nice longshot at +2500, but then QB Carson Wentz went down with a foot injury. The Colts are still strong defensively and have an outstanding running game with Jonathan Taylor and the NFL’s best offensive line, but without Wentz, it’s hard to imagine Indy winning the most games in the league this season.
Baltimore, on the other hand, is not so hard to imagine reeling off several wins in 2021. The Ravens return the 2019 NFL MVP in Lamar Jackson as well as one of the league’s best defenses. Baltimore held opponents to just 18.9 points a game last season. That was second in the NFL.
The Ravens schedule offers the opportunity to at least match last year’s 11 wins. In the AFC North, Pittsburgh beat Baltimore twice last season, but the Steelers lost a good chunk of their offensive line as well as pass rusher Bud Dupree. The Ravens have beaten Cincinnati in five straight and they have won three straight, four of the last five, and nine of the last eleven against Cleveland.
Baltimore gets Kansas City, Green Bay, and the LA Rams all at home and they will face the rest of the AFC West and NFC North Divisions. The Ravens are listed at +1200 to have the best regular-season record in 2021.
The other NFL team that makes sense as a longshot is Tennessee. The Titans have a schedule similar to the Colts. They’ll get two games each against Houston and Jacksonville. The Jets and Patriots are on the schedule and games with Buffalo and Kansas City are at home.
The Titans offense with NFL leading rusher Derrick Henry, QB Ryan Tannehill, and new WR Julio Jones should be hard to stop, and head coach Mike Vrabel has improved upon an already decent defense. At +4000, they are a longshot, but one that could build upon its 11 wins and AFC South title from 2020.