The offseason is the perfect time for optimism.
Every year, fans talk themselves into the best-case scenario for their favorite team. Unfortunately, the reality is far harsher. Few teams are playoff locks, while most of the league is mired in mediocrity... or worse.
But sometimes it's better to be bad than meandering in the middle.
Tanking might not have completely entered the NFL's lexicon like it has in the NBA or MLB, but bottoming out can help teams acquire cheap, elite talent to help rebuild. But which teams are looking like bottom dwellers in 2021?
We've ranked the five teams most likely to end the 2021 NFL season with the worst record. Our friends at FanDuel Sportsbook provided us some juicy odds to take advantage of.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (+1000)
Injecting Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence will help the Jacksonville Jaguars improve right away. But there's an inherent limitation for every team that ends the season as the worst in the league. It takes years to build quality depth even if you're hitting on picks.
The Jaguars' offense looks solid overall if we assume Lawrence is OK as a rookie. But there's no depth outside of the running back position. They can't sustain an injury to a key spot and expect to plug-and-play a fill-in without potentially ravaging the unit.
The defense also needs a lot of work even if the younger talent is looking good. The secondary will break in more competition, and a new regime always wants to put its stamp on the unit.
It'd be a surprise if the Jags get the worst record, but a Lawrence injury can firmly put them in the running, and I don't see a better candidate for the fifth spot.
4. Atlanta Falcons (+2500)
It's still perplexing why the Falcons didn't blow everything up this past offseason when they had the chance. They could've walked out of the 2021 NFL Draft with an additional first-rounder for Matt Ryan and two more picks for Julio Jones. Instead they're set to be bad again in 2021.
The offense looks solid if they can stay healthy. There's no depth at receiver, and Mike Davis must find more running lanes than Todd Gurley could last year, but new coach Arthur Smith has the ability to scheme and prop up talent. They can compete in shootouts.
It's actually impressive they could pull that off.
The secondary has a lot of projection as well. There's undeniable upside within the unit but it's a lot to ask of a new staff to get a bunch of young guys to work together well.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (+1000)
But the rest of the roster stinks. And there's reason to be highly skeptical of coach Zac Taylor and his staff. It's a recipe for disaster if Burrow isn't 100% ready to raise the profile of the entire franchise on his own.
This will be a fun team but they're stuck in a tough division and have a bad front seven and cornerback position. The future of the franchise is likely under a different regime unless this staff can really prove themselves.
2. Detroit Lions (+400)
The bones of the Lions are actually attractive. The offensive line is a strength of the team, and their backfield is functional even if Jared Goff is flawed. We'd love to see a young stud under center in the near future, or maybe Goff develops to play better under pressure.
The defense has some good pieces as well. The line has better depth than we've seen in a few years and should be a formidable unit for some time. It'd be great to see a star emerge at tackle to have more faith in the unit.
The linebacker situation must improve beyond 2022 but it's not a big area to worry about for a rebuilding team. They did well to let Jarrad Davis walk, and hopefully this is an area they can find a couple of more capable bodies in the future.
Detroit's secondary has to make a leap this season, too, but there's raw talent at least. I'm excited to see their corner room with all of the length available to the staff.
However, there are holes throughout overall. The receivers stink, the running game has to prove itself, Goff is limited, and the defense has to prove itself on every level. The Lions could easily use 2021 as a developmental year for a few first-year coaches.
1. Houston Texans (+225)
Want a fun game? Try to name the fourth-best player on the Texans after disqualifying Deshaun Watson for obvious reasons. The best is Laremy Tunsil, then Justin Reid, then Brandin Cooks. We quickly get down to role players at that point.
There's a few intriguing young players on the roster, but it's possible several get traded by the deadline. Contenders should target Cooks and Bradley Roby as potential difference-makers. It's strange the Texans signed guys who won't help their rebuild efforts, such as Shaq Lawson, Terrance Mitchell, Mark Ingram, and Randall Cobb.
The reality is we'll see Davis Mills start sooner than later. Watson may not play anywhere in 2021 and certainly not in Houston, and Tyrod Taylor's injury history and limited upside will eventually cost him the job. There's simply not enough on the team for them to win more than a couple games.
We also have to look at the coaching staff. It's laughable David Culley got the head coaching job and then hired Lovie Smith out of pseudo-retirement. The Texans quickly made a joke out of themselves with their decision-making in the last seven months.
Some of it was out of their control with Watson's legal situation. But they've instilled zero confidence in their ability to rebuild this roster in the future and become a quality franchise.