With life in general, but especially in the NFL, perception is reality.
If the general consensus viewpoint is that an NFL team is not supposed to contend for a playoff spot, and then they do, the level of positive vibes around a fan base and a city are electric.
On the other side of the coin, if a franchise is expected to advance deep into the postseason, and flames out early, there will almost assuredly be backlash and turmoil.
What was a “nobody believes in us” team in a prior season could easily turn into a “they need to make it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs” type of narrative over the course of an offseason.
A perception could also be based on how a team finished the prior year, and whether they should build on the conclusion of that season.
While there’s pressure on all 32 NFL teams to perform, let’s shine the spotlight on three teams who need to show us something during the 2021 season.
The Buffalo Bills had an extra ounce of pressure once it was established that Josh Allen was a cornerstone player in the 2019 season.
Then, once Tom Brady decided to leave the AFC East, the expectation meter was turned up another notch, since the dynastic New England Patriots would no longer be in the way.
To be fair to them, they’ve hit all of the checkmarks placed in front of them each year.
They continue to improve and take steps forward under head coach Sean McDermott, who has done a wonderful job in upstate New York.
Buffalo’s next logical step is to get past Kansas City and make it to the Super Bowl, which is about as high of a projection as you can make for a team.
Anything less than a repeat AFC Championship Game performance would be a disappointment.
📺: NFLN at 8pm pic.twitter.com/ZOktxxMErn
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) May 12, 2021
Ever since the Baltimore Ravens had their offense super charged by the dynamic play of Lamar Jackson, they’ve been expected to make a deep run into the playoffs.
Jackson’s first full season as a starter ended in utter dismay in a loss at home to the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round.
Baltimore finished the regular season 14-2 in 2019, and was supposed to be a lock for the AFC Championship Game at minimum.
Their 2020 campaign was a little bit more turbulent, but they still found their way into the playoffs, and displaced the Titans in the Wild Card Round.
However, they got shut down by the Bills in the Divisional Round, leading to another round of speculation as to whether they can get it done.
The Ravens will need to make their mark in January or February this year, otherwise the questions surrounding the team will only get louder in volume.
The 2021 Schedule❗️
Which game are you most excited for?
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 12, 2021
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams made one of the loudest initial statements of the NFL offseason.
Their trade of starting quarterback Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions basically told the league that they felt they were one player away from being a serious contender in the NFC.
In one resounding transaction, the league knew that they felt that player was not Goff, and that they felt like it could be Matthew Stafford.
There’s a lot of pressure on both Stafford and the Rams this season, because all the chips are being pushed to the center of the table.
The former Lions signal-caller will join a roster with easily the best talent he’s ever had in his NFL career, and will be expected to be the reason why Los Angeles wins close games.
If Stafford flops, the Rams will look silly for taking such a large swing and a miss.