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Predicting the MVP of each NFC team: Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray primed for breakout seasons in 2021

There can only be one league MVP. Last year, the award went to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who set career highs in completion percentage (70.7%) and touchdown passes (48) while leading Green Bay to a 13-3 record. And while it takes a total team effort to have success in the NFL, there are certain players whose performance can play a significant role in the overall success of the team. 

With the 2021 season kickoff around the corner, we’re combing through NFC rosters to find each team’s potential MVP. Some selections will go to players with a legitimate shot at league MVP, while others will go to players whose success will determine whether their team will be a championship contender or pretender.

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Arizona CardinalsKyler Murray, QB 

A Pro Bowler last season, Murray was briefly in the MVP conversation after helping lead Arizona to a 6-3 start. The Cardinals brass has set Murray up to have an even bigger season in 2021 with the offseason acquisitions of former Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green, former Pro Bowl running back James Conner former Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson and rookie receive Rondale Moore. Barring an injury, Murray’s name should be mentioned in the MVP conversation for the duration of the 2021 season. Murray would likely trade an MVP for a playoff berth, however, as the Cardinals are in search of their first playoff appearance since 2015. 

Atlanta FalconsKyle Pitts, TE 

The highest-selected tight end in NFL history, Pitts will have the unenviable task of trying to fill the void left by Julio Jones‘ offseason departure. That task won’t solely fall on Pitts, however, as receivers Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and fellow tight end Hayden Hurst will also look to elevate their roles in the passing game. Pitts should be up for the challenge after catching 12 touchdowns (and averaging nearly 18 yards per catch) in just eight games for the Gators last fall. Pitts has the luxury of playing with former league MVP Matt Ryan, who has enjoyed successful partnerships with his tight ends over the years. 

Carolina PanthersBrian Burns, EDGE 

There hasn’t been much buzz surrounding Burns despite his impressive start. After recording 7.5 sacks as a rookie, the former 16th overall pick logged nine sacks and three forced fumbles in 2020. Year 3 could be a breakout year for Burns, whose success will be vital for a young but promising Panthers defense. Burns would specifically benefit from an uptick in play from fellow pass rusher Yetur Gross-Matos, who recorded just 2.5 sacks in 12 games as a rookie. 

Chicago BearsRoquan Smith, LB 

Like Burns, Smith is another former high draft pick whose early success has yet to garner national acclaim. One of the NFL’s biggest Pro Bowl snubs in 2020, Smith filled up the stat sheet with 139 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Smith, who is still just 24 years old, is primed for his best season to date in 2021. If that happens, the Bears already talented defense should resume its place as a top 10 scoring unit this season. That would likely result in more wins for a Chicago team that made the playoffs as an 8-8 outfit in 2020. 

Dallas CowboysDak Prescott, QB 

Dallas didn’t give Prescott a $160 million extension so he could constantly give the ball to Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is still vital to Dallas’ success, but if the Cowboys are going to legitimately contend for a championship, Prescott’s name will have to be in the league MVP conversation. Assuming he stays healthy, that is a high probability, as Prescott had thrown for nearly 1,900 yards during the first five games of the 2020 season before suffering his season-ending injury. A healthier Cowboys offensive line is also crucial, along with another year of growth from receiver CeeDee Lamb, who should be primed for a big season after nearly breaking 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie.

Detroit LionsPenei Sewell, RT 

Every first-year coach needs a leader who reinforces the message. For Dan Campbell, that player is Sewell, the top-rated offensive lineman from this year’s draft. The former Outland Trophy winner allowed just one sack during his decorated career at Oregon. But beyond his ability as a player, Sewell possesses a gritty mentality that Campbell is surely hoping can permeate throughout the Lions locker room. If Sewell is able to realize his potential, it could lead to many good Sundays for the Lions and quarterback Jared Goff and running back Cam Akers

Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers, QB 

The reigning league MVP has been the talk of the 2021 offseason. If he returns to the Packers, Green Bay will once again be among the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. If he doesn’t, the Packers will be in uncharted waters with Jordan Love under center. Assuming he’s back in Green Bay, Rodgers is set up to have another banner season. Along with 2020 Pro Bowlers Davante Adams and Aaron Jones by his side, Rodgers has a new weapon in rookie receiver Amari Rodgers, who caught 77 passes for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns during his final season at Clemson. 

Los Angeles RamsVan Jefferson, WR 

Matthew Stafford was considered, but his success will be significantly impacted by the success of his receivers. With Josh Reynolds now in Nashville, the Rams need Jefferson to ascend as a solid No. 3 receiver alongside Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Sean McVay spoke glowingly of Jefferson during his rookie training camp, but Jefferson’s rookie stats didn’t match up with the hype. Not all of that was his fault, as Jefferson saw two or fewer targets in 12 regular-season games. Jefferson showed his potential in the playoffs, as he caught six of seven targets for 46 yards and a score in the Rams’ divisional round loss to the Packers. Look for Jefferson to pick up where he left off in 2020. 

Minnesota VikingsDalvin Cook, RB 

The league’s second-leading rusher last season, Cook was getting MVP hype after helping the Vikings bounce back from a 1-5 start. If Cook has another MVP-caliber season in 2021, the Vikings should be back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. Cook is the headliner, but the Vikings need several newcomers to step up in 2021. First-round pick Christian Darrisaw is in line to replace longtime starting left tackle Riley Reiff. Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter returns after missing 2020 with a neck injury, bolstering a pass rush that finished 28th in the league in sacks. Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson was brought in this offseason to help a secondary that finished 25th in pass defense. 

New Orleans SaintsAlvin Kamara, RB 

Drew Brees is gone and the Saints didn’t make any significant moves as it relates to replacing receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Jared Cook. With Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill battling for the starting spot under center, Sean Payton’s offense will likely rely even more on Kamara, the only running back in league history to catch more than 80 passes in four consecutive seasons. A healthy Michael Thomas will certainly help, but Kamara will have to have another big year if the Saints are going to have a shot at making the playoffs for a fifth straight season. 

New York GiantsAndrew Thomas, LT 

While it wasn’t a disaster, Thomas’ rookie season left a lot to be desired. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 draft allowed four or more pressures in over half of his games last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Thomas’ play (particularly his pass protection) did improve during the second half of the season, as the Giants won five of their final eight games after a 1-7 start. Thomas’ success is vital for the Giants and quarterback Daniel Jones, who is hoping to have a breakout year in 2021 after the offseason acquisitions of former Pro Bowler Kenny Golladay, rookie receiver Kadarius Toney and former Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph. A good season for Thomas will also result in more big plays from Saquon Barkley, who is looking to return to his former Pro Bowl level after missing most of last season with an injury. 

Philadelphia EaglesDeVonta Smith, WR 

The Eagles have a nice receiving corps returning in Travis Fulgham, Greg Ward, second-year wideout Jalen Reagor and tight end Dallas Goedert. But the Eagles need Smith to pan out if Jalen Hurts is going to have considerable success during his first full year under center. Smith is an easy player for Philadelphia fans to get behind. Despite his success at Alabama, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was dogged with questions about his size (he checks in at 6-feet and 175 pounds) that likely contributed to him being selected after Ja’Marr Chase and college teammate Jaylen Waddle during the draft. Smith is hoping to parlay his underdog mentality into numbers — and wins — for the Eagles. 

San Francisco 49ersNick Bosa, DE 

You can flip a coin between Bosa and George Kittle. Both players were part of the slew of 49ers who dealt with injuries last season. And while Kittle is a huge part of San Francisco’s offense, the 49ers defense is relying heavily on Bosa to return to form after missing 14 games in 2020. As a rookie in 2019, Bosa earned Pro Bowl honors while helping San Francisco reach the Super Bowl. Whether or not Bosa can get back to that level (or higher) will likely determine where the 49ers fall in the NFC West hierarchy. San Francisco’s defense will also need elevated play from cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and Jason Verrett with the offseason departure of Richard Sherman

Seattle SeahawksChris Carson, RB 

Russell Wilson may very well find himself back in the MVP conversation, but Seattle’s hopes of making a deep playoff run rest on Carson’s shoulders. The former seventh-round pick had blossomed into a modern-day Marshawn Lynch before injuries limited him to 12 games in 2020 (Seattle was 10-2 in those games). With Carlos Hyde now in Houston, Carson’s success is tied even more to the Seahawks’ success in 2021. Carson will have the luxury of running behind new right guard Gabe Jackson, who recently helped Josh Jacobs begin his NFL career with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Carson will again be the workhorse, but expect the Seahawks to disperse the workload more between Carson, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas

Tampa Bay BuccaneersAntoine Winfield Jr., S 

Winfield got a lot of attention for his infamous taunt of Tyreek Hill near the end of Tampa Bay’s 31-9 romp of Kansas City in the Super Bowl. But Buccaneers fans have a much better memory of Winfield’s highly successful rookie season. The 45th overall pick in last year’s draft, Winfield was an immediate starter who helped Tampa Bay’s defense finish eighth in scoring. He made four tackles, two passes defensed and an interception in Super Bowl LV. Assuming he makes another leap this season, Winfield could be an even bigger reason for the Buccaneers’ success in 2021. 

Washington Football Team – Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB 

Chase Young is too obvious of a pick here. There’s no reason to believe that the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year won’t reach greater heights in 2021. The same can’t be said for Washington’s new quarterback. For all of his “Fitzmagic” over the years, the 38-year-old has never quarterbacked a team to the playoffs. The closest he came to doing so was in 2015, when Fitzpatrick led the Jets to a 10-6 record. Fitzpatrick won’t have any excuse if he comes up short again in 2021, as Washington has surrounded him with talent that includes receives Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel and running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. Ron Rivera will certainly give Fitzpatrick freedom to open up the offense, but he will have to find a way to cut down on the interceptions that have contributed to his ongoing playoff drought. 




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