2021 NFL Dark Horses

2021 NFL Dark Horses

One of the best things to watch for every football season is for the NFL dark horses. Why? We always get the favorites, the playoff teams, and the tanking teams, but there is a grey area of franchises that are good enough to compete in the postseason but also could upset the favorites en route to an unlikely Super Bowl victory. These are the NFL dark horses. Whether they have a stout defense or an electric offense, or a bit of both, these are the teams the contenders should not take lightly this year.

Let's review them.

AFC Dark Horses

Los Angeles Chargers

They have it all. Top-tier talent on defense like pass rusher Joey Bosa or elite secondary presences like Derwin James. On offense, Justin Herbert is a talented QB with a bazooka for an arm. Receivers like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Jaylen Guyton will ball. Add a big offensive line and a dual-threat weapon like RB Austin Ekeler, and the Chargers are as dangerous as they come.

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Indianapolis Colts

It is a coin toss. If the Colts' QB balls out, the dark horse label is appropriate. Carson Wentz makes the Colts a boom-or-bust team this year. They do have an elite offensive line, a rock-solid defense, a top running game, and the only thing they're missing is a great player under center.

Tennessee Titans

The only reason the Titans aren't a contender is because of the concerns their defense causes. They were one of the worsts defenses in the NFL in 2020. But then, you see their offensive talent and it is undeniable that they can out 30+ points every night.

Ryan Tannehill is a clutch QB; with weapons like AJ Brown and Julio Jones catching the ball, and the monster himself, Derrick Henry, coming from the backfield, the Titans can steamroll anyone.

New England Patriots

We get it. No one likes this entry, but if you don't consider the Patriots a dark horse, you have another thing coming. This team has plenty of talent. Last year they finished 7-9, with a new QB in the system, and a really bad team.

Now, $250 million was spent in the Free Agency, Cam Newton in his second year, and lots of players coming back after opting out last season, and the Pats are back on track. We're talking about Bill Belichick here; he is the cream of the crop when it comes to HC in the league. And if you look closely, the Pats were two plays away from being 9-7 instead of 7-9.

NFC Dark Horses

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals shouldn't be here; that's the reality. They should not be on this list. Ideally, they'd be in the Super Bowl contenders guide. Why, oh why, then, are the Cardinals only regarded as a dark horse? Because they get outcoached practically every week. Look at the roster. They have playmakers like JJ Watt, Chandler Jones, Isaiah Simmons, and Budda Baker on defense. And on offense, you have Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, AJ Green, and -hopefully- Larry Fitzgerald.

Kliff Kingsbury is just too limited as a coach, and he is in the NFC West, with three of the best HCs in the league. He is in the hot seat, but, should he deliver, the Cardinals can take anyone.

Seattle Seahawks

This is the opposite of the Cardinals. Don't get it wrong, the Seahawks' offense is as good as it gets. Miracle-maker QB Russell Wilson has two big-time receivers in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Add the great RB Chris Carson on the backfield and they score points left and right. However, they've been stuck for years. 

They haven't added any good protection to Wilson, their defense is average at best, and they need to overcome a complicated division in the NFC West. However, Wilson has never had a losing season since being in the NFL, so they can defeat anyone any given Sunday.

Chicago Bears

Similar to the Colts, what Chicago needs to thrive in the NFC is a good QB. They flat-out stole Justin Fields in the draft, and as soon as he starts, Chicago's stock rises. He is a potential playmaker that can take the offense to the next level. Their defense is a top unit in the league guided by the big boy DE Khalil Mack, Chicago needs Fields to ball, and they are trouble.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees left, and that's why they are not contenders anymore. However, HC Sean Payton has proven he can do without Brees, only now he will need to do it in an extended period of time. They still have RB Alvin Kamara, the best dual-weapon in the league to carry the offensive workload.

With DE Cam Jordan hunting the QBs, and a good linebacker core, the Saints may not be a powerhouse anymore but can make some noise if taken lightly.

Dark Horses Honorable Mentions

Washington Football Team

They have one of the best defenses in the whole NFL, capable of giving a hard time to any team in the league. Their front seven is made of first-rounders and have a generational talent in DE Chase Young, who should make a giant leap this season. If wild man QB Ryan Fitzpatrick can minimize his interceptions, the ceiling is high for this team.

Dallas Cowboys

They are here because of their offense. Dak Prescott is a top 10 QB in the league, RB Ezekiel Elliott should rebound from a down 2020 season, and their WRs are elite. CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup can kill any secondary in the way.

If they could only fix their defensive woes, and present a decent unit, the Cowboys can go shootout after shootout taking their chances.