Two NFL offenses will leap lightyears ahead offensively in touchdowns scored in 2021. That statement isn’t just a gut feeling. Instead, the last four years of data indicate that this prediction has verisimilitude.
To get on the same page, let’s arbitrarily define “Making the Leap” offensively as an NFL offense scoring 20 (or more) additional touchdowns than the previous season. While somewhat arbitrary, using that threshold appears analytically significant because the teams that scored 20+ touchdowns more than the prior year are standout teams, often separating themselves from the pack considerably. With this definition elucidated, let’s dive into the numbers from the table below.
As you see, two teams (Kansas City, Indianapolis) in 2018, three teams (Baltimore, Tennessee, and San Francisco) in 2019, and three teams (Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Green Bay) in 2020 “made the leap”. That’s rather amazing consistency year-over-year for a league as random as the NFL sometimes seems. Given this consistency, I can safely project that two or three teams will “make the leap” in 2021.
Correctly forecasting “leaping” teams is bound to help the Footclan take home those #FootClanTitles. In fact, these “leaping” teams almost always produced at least one league-winning player. You need look no further than Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, and Aaron Rodgers from 2020. 2018 Kansas City produced Patrick Mahomes’ historic year and 2019 Baltimore gave us Lamar Jackson’s record-smashing year. These “leaping” teams inherently generate fantasy goodness.
Furthermore, offenses that “make the leap” usually finish as a top-5 scoring offense. In fact, six of the eight teams listed above finished as a top-5 offense, and five of the eight finished as a top-2 offenses! Thus, it’s frankly no surprise that an offense that “makes the leap” is nearly guaranteed to unearth league winners.
The Mechanics of “Making the Leap”
So why did these eight teams make the leap? Of course, this question is likely far more nuanced than my cursory, largely non-analytic explanations provided below. Still, simply knowing a few common factors or trends might help us identify a few 2021 candidates that might make the leap for similar reasons.
For Indianapolis in 2018, Andrew Luck missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury and returned in 2018 to throw 40 touchdowns. Also, the Colts hired offensive guru Frank Reich in 2018.
The 2018 Chiefs made the leap upon ceding control to Patrick Mahomes. A generational talent probably isn’t going to provide much guidance to us, but you again see a change in quarterback as prompting increased offensive efficiency.
2019 Baltimore was Lamar Jackson’s first full year at starter, 2019 Tennessee saw a quarterback switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill, and 2019 San Francisco, like 2018 Indianapolis, got a healthy year from Jimmy Garoppolo after he missed almost all of 2018 with an ACL tear. Again, you see that similar storyline with 2020 Pittsburgh regaining Ben Roethlisberger after an injury-riddled 2019.
Buffalo and Green Bay don’t exactly fit neatly with the above narratives. Josh Allen made a historic, unprecedented improvement in efficiency, and the team added Stefon Diggs. Meanwhile, Green Bay changed very little but did severely vex Aaron Rodgers by drafting Jordan Love, which seems to have evoked Rodgers to play out of his mind (a suspicion more-or-less confirmed by the off-season trade request rumors). I just don’t see any undiscovered, generational talents busting out this year, nor do I see any legends furious about their team drafting their replacement. Perhaps Trevor Lawrence is a generational talent, but notably, none of the eight “leaping” teams were helmed by a rookie QB. Hence, it’s highly unlikely that Jacksonville will make the leap.
Lastly, it’s important to note that most teams that “made the leap” are not at the bottom nor the tippy top of the league in touchdown scoring. So, I want to identify a team in the middle (e.g. in the high 30s or 40s in touchdowns scored) because those are teams that, when they make the leap, surge to the top of the league in touchdowns scored, not just back to respectability. So, while the Giants could, theoretically, score 20 more touchdowns this year, that improvement would still only put them somewhere in the middle of the pack of NFL touchdown scoring.
Teams That Could Make the Leap in 2021
The Cowboys’ 2021 narrative couldn’t comport any better with the above research. They lost their QB to injury for most of the year and scored 42 TDs in 2020. Dallas has a ton of young talent on the outside, an established, mended QB, and a great running back. Sure, the offensive line has lost some luster, but Dallas’s offense will still need to compensate for a below-average defense. The Cowboys can easily be a top-2 in offensive scoring in 2021.
Los Angeles Chargers
This team fits the 2019 Ravens narrative quite well. 2021 will be Justin Herbert’s first full year as QB, the team returns Austin Ekeler from injury, and the offensive line has significantly improved. The Chargers could surprise everyone by scoring the most TDs in 2021.
The Bengals make a lot of sense with Joe Burrow returning. They might make a significant leap, but not enough to be that league-winning leap. Still, this is an offense to watch and consider as a potential leaping team.