Ranking NFL divisions by quarterbacks, plus exploring Tom Brady mystery team and Saints lock up star OT

Hi, everyone! Cody Benjamin here, the man responsible for the 2021 head coach rankings you either love or despise with endless fury. I’m filling in for John Breech on this fine Wednesday, so please don’t accidentally misdirect your anger over Andy Reid edging Bill Belichick (yes, that’s right) at my colleague. Speaking of rankings, we’ve got plenty more — and lots of other good stuff — to dish up today.

This is the Pick Six Newsletter. Now let’s get to it. (And please, do yourself a favor and make sure you’re signed up to receive this newsletter every day! You don’t want to miss our daily offerings of everything you need to know around the NFL.)

We’ve got linebacker rankings, divisional QB standings, Tom Brady mysteries and much more:

Today’s show: Ranking the NFL’s top 10 linebackersBobby Wagner

One of our missions here at CBS Sports is to produce a new ranking every single day, for the rest of the year. OK, maybe not, but it sure feels like it, because we’ve been churning these puppies out on the reg. Today is no exception, with Jordan Dajani joining Will Brinson on the Pick Six NFL Podcast to rank and debate the NFL’s top 10 linebackers entering 2021.

Some highlights:

Catch the entire discussion (and subscribe for all kinds of daily NFL talk) right here.

2. Ranking all divisions by QBs: AFC West edges NFC West as No. 1

Told you we believe in rankings! For this one, I had the pleasure of sorting through each division and ranking all eight according to their combined quarterback power. Which divisions have the most QB talent? Which divisions are hurting for franchise signal-callers? Here’s how the rundown shook out, with some explanation for the top choice:

AFC WestNFC WestAFC NorthNFC NorthAFC SouthNFC SouthAFC EastNFC East

Why the AFC West at No. 1? Patrick Mahomes is so automatic in his highlight-reel throws and crunch-time delivery that no one will bat an eye — or even consider it — if he throws 40 TDs and wins another Super Bowl this year. He’s the closest thing to a video-game cheat code at QB, and thus the chief reason (pun intended!) the AFC West headlines the list. Justin Herbert is off to a historic start, pairing prototypical NFL size and talent with a surprisingly confident debut. MVP candidacy, here we come? Derek Carr fizzles a little too much down the stretch, but he’s been solid as a conservative and field-stretching passer. In Denver, Teddy Bridgewater raises the floor of the QB room as a cool, if unspectacular, hand. Drew Lock, meanwhile, has the arm and fire to make plays, as long as his own aggression doesn’t get in the way.

3. Unraveling the Tom Brady mysteryTom Brady
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Somehow, Brady’s recent comments on HBO’s “The Shop,” in which he jokingly blasts a team for sticking with “that mother——” rather than pursuing him during 2020 free agency, have inspired more than a week of speculation regarding the QB’s mystery (non-)suitor. But which team, really, passed on Brady and sparked the QB’s comments? CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora has dissected each and every NFL division to get to the bottom of it, and he’s down to a couple probable culprits:

La Canfora notes that he “heard more chatter and scuttlebutt and theories about Brady and Gisele Bündchen coveting a spot on South Beach more than perhaps any other team” before Miami hired Chan Gailey as its offensive coordinator and drafted Tua Tagovailoa. He believes Brady and Sean Payton may have envisioned a win-now team-up before Drew Brees returned for a final year, and suggests the Rams and Raiders never showed as much interest as Brady expected. But it’s the Chargers who just might fit the bill for TB12’s dagger:

Given his West Coast ties and Hollywood production aspirations, many close to Brady believed the Chargers would always be in this thing. And they clearly did kick the tires. Everyone knew Philip Rivers wasn’t going to be back. L.A. had some very talented pieces, but is this the kind of major move the Spanos family pulls off? Is this their lane? This is pre-Justin Herbert. You have to wonder if Brady had them in mind when he went off.

4. Patriots were worried Tom Brady was going to be a Dolphin

Speaking of alternate Tom Brady realities and unrealized destinations, ProFootballTalk reports that the Patriots “had very real concerns” going into 2020 free agency that their 20-year QB would end up staying in the AFC East, with Miami. As La Canfora confirms, the Dolphins certainly appeared to have Brady’s eye, and Florio adds that the QB’s relationship with Dolphins minority owner Bruce Beal had Patriots brass especially worried about Brady playing them twice a year.

In the end, of course, Brady did go to Florida, but not to the Dolphins. But that doesn’t mean the possibility wasn’t real when the QB first said goodbye to New England and embraced the first venture into free agency of his career. Imagining Brady in a Dolphins uniform has to be almost as unsettling to the Pats as watching Brady waltz his way to another title in Tampa Bay.

5. Predicting Saints’ final record, every game on 2021 scheduleJameis Winston
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If you’re sick of rankings or Brady, here’s something else for you: Regular-season predictions! We’ve been running through every team’s schedule ahead of the expanded 2021 slate, and today we’ve got a forecast for the New Orleans Saints, who’ve long been contenders under Payton but will be without Brees for the first time since 2005:

Key game predictions:

Week 2 at Panthers: In a battle of former first-round reclamation projects, Jameis Winston outshines Sam Darnold on the road, thanks in large part due to Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas working Carolina’s young defensive backfield early and often. Saints win 27-19.Week 15 at Buccaneers: Winston returns to Tampa Bay for a second shot at upending Brady and the reigning champs. But Bruce Arians refuses to let it happen. Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard all get a steady dose against New Orleans’ young LBs. Saints lose 29-24.Week 18 at Falcons: Atlanta plays host looking to sneak into the postseason to close an uneven debut season for Arthur Smith, but once again, the Falcons defense just can’t hold up. Winston plays hero by posting another big day through the air. Saints win 35-28.

Final record prediction: 9-8

6. Saints reportedly pay Ryan Ramczyk; Stephon Gilmore seeks payday from Pats

New Orleans didn’t spend a ton this offseason while managing a tight salary cap, but the Saints unloaded the Brink’s truck on Wednesday by locking up right tackle Ryan Ramczyk on a reported five-year, $96 million extension that makes him the highest-paid player at his position. The 2019 All-Pro was set to enter a contract year. Now he gets $60 million guaranteed to stick around for the long term. 

Meanwhile, in New England, we’ve known for a while now that Gilmore may or may not be back with the Patriots in 2021, what with the former All-Pro entering the final year of an outdated contract. But the star cornerback came the closest to confirming his current displeasure this week by tweeting our list of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive backs — a list curiously absent of his name, despite the four-time Pro Bowler leading New England’s secondary for years.

This comes after Gilmore skipped the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp, reportedly in search of a new deal. New England isn’t necessarily likely to trade the corner as a result of the holdout, but a future move can’t be ruled out. Be sure to check out our breakdown of the situation — why the Pats might ultimately sell, what they could get for Gilmore, and where the corner could end up.


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