The 2021 NFL season is HERE! Well, it’s actually two days away from this publish time, but you get the point. Now is the perfect time for everyone’s favorite meaningful exercise: NFL Power Rankings! Let’s take a look at how all 32 teams stack up. What differentiates these rankings from others is that they’re the only truly accurate ones in the entire universe. So, enjoy! PLUS: Even more power rankings analysis in the latest episode of The ODDcast on The SB Nation NFL Show.
BLG’S WEEK 1 NFL POWER RANKINGS
1 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Did you know the Bucs are returning all of their starters and a number of role players from last year’s Super Bowl season? Yes. Yes, you did, because it gets talked about ad nauseam. Make no mistake, continuity has some value. But staying static in the NFL hardly guarantees success. Tampa Bay caught some breaks last year in terms of avoiding injuries and avoiding a tough path to winning a championship. They’ll still be good since that Tom Brady guy is decent but it’s not like they’re going to easily repeat.
2 - Kansas City Chiefs - Everyone loves the Chiefs as their Super Bowl pick. It sure is hard to bet against an Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes duo that’s 44-10 together (including playoffs). Kansas City shouldn’t be considered locks to win the AFC West, though. The Chiefs weren’t as dominant as their record indicated last year. They were 6th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 10th in Pro Football Focus’s overall grading. They were also sixth in point differential with a 9-1 record in one-score games. They’re probably due for more bad luck. Also, the offensive line might be revamped, but it could take time for that unit to fully gel.
3 - Green Bay Packers - We all know the ceiling for this Packers team is high; they’re 28-8 under Matt LaFleur the past two years. Aaron Rodgers is coming off an eye-popping MVP season. The question is: how much will the awkward dynamic of Rodgers eyeing his exit impact this season? Is he truly going to deliver another title before walking out the door? The Packers strike me as front-runners in that everything will be OK if they get the ball rolling. But I wonder how this team might respond to suddenly getting punched in the mouth. And there’s a tough stretch starting in November (at KC, vs. SEA, at MIN, vs. LAR, vs. CHI, at BAL, vs. CLE) where that might happen. Do things fall apart fast? Does Rodgers (discount double) check out at some point?
4 - Buffalo Bills - The Bills sure do have a lot of talent on their roster and Sean McDermott is a stabilizing presence. What isn’t as certain is Josh Allen’s projection. There’s an expectation that he’ll be very good again in 2020 and that could be the case. But the drop-off in accuracy bears watching. Regression seems inevitable after seeing him go from 56.3% over his first two seasons to 69.2% last year. At the very least, Allen should be good enough to help the Bills repeat as AFC East champions. To be determined if he can guide Buffalo to the Super Bowl.
5 - Los Angeles Chargers - It’s time to go all in on the Chargers. I know, I know. They’ve been the preseason hype team before. But things truly ARE different this time. Justin Herbert is the real deal. He impressed last year despite poor coaching, facing a ton of pressure (second most dropbacks), and not even having a real offseason to prepare as the starter. Herbert is better set up to succeed in Year 2, which is when some quarterbacks make a big jump (see: Carson Wentz in 2017, Lamar Jackson in 2019, etc.) Brandon Staley is going to be a big upgrade on Anthony Lynn. Tom Telesco did a good job of upgrading the Chargers’ offensive line. The Bolts are seriously going to challenge for the AFC West title so it shouldn’t be a shock if they overtake the Chiefs.
6 - Seattle Seahawks - There are some weird vibes in Seattle that prevent them from being considered a Super Bowl favorite. Russell Wilson seemingly wanting out. Pete Carroll’s antiquated insistence on running the ball. Those are things to not feel amazing about. But, hey, this team still has some really good things going for them. The floor is high for a quarterback who has experienced just one single-digit win season in his entire nine-year career (and it was nine wins). The reigning NFC West champions don’t seem to be getting as much hype as their rivals, which feels like a mistake.
7 - Cleveland Browns - The last time the Browns were in the AFC Championship Game? The 1989 playoffs. Is this the year they finally break that streak? It could be. They weren’t that far off last year. With some postseason experience now under his belt, Baker Mayfield could be better equipped to lead the Browns on a run. There are still questions about his consistency but, even if he’s not perfect, he’s working with such a talented roster around him. I feel good about the Browns as favorites to win the AFC North. And this is coming from someone who wasn’t quick to buy the (often premature) Browns hype in past years.
8 - Los Angeles Rams - No one denies that Matt Stafford is an upgrade on Jared Goff. And a significant one, at that. To the point where the Rams should be considered strong favorites to come out of the NFC, though? That’s a bit rich for my blood. We’re still talking about a guy who is 74-90 as a starter with a career 89.9 passer rating. The Rams’ defense could also see some regression due to defense not being as sticky year-to-year and their defensive coordinator leaving. The Rams’ floor is high with Sean McVay, even though his conservative game management leaves a lot to be desired. The ceiling seems higher with Stafford but by how much?
9 - Baltimore Ravens - Lamar Jackson has been pretty excellent in the regular season with a 30-7 starting record, an MVP title, a 102.6 passer rating, and nearly 3,000 rushing yards over three years. The postseason has been his bugaboo, though, with just a 1-3 record and a 68.3 passer rating. There’s a lot of pressure on Jackson to produce in the playoffs considering he’s due for a big contract extension.
10 - Tennessee Titans - The Titans stick out as favorites in the AFC South, which might overtake the NFC East as the NFL’s worst division. Ryan Tannehill has been incredibly efficient with a relatively low amount of pass attempts due to Derrick Henry shouldering an incredibly heavy workload. One can only wonder how long Henry will be able to keep his pace up but so far he’s shown no signs of slowing. Adding Julio Jones gives the Titans another big, physical weapon. I don’t know that they’re ready to get over the postseason hump but Mike Vrabel’s team is in a good position to at least make the playoffs for the third year in a row.
11 - San Francisco 49ers - Not entirely sure what to make of the Niners. Many assume they’ll be back to their 2019 form when they made the Super Bowl because they’ll be healthier than they were last year. They probably won’t be bit as hard by the injury bug in 2021, sure. But the quarterback position is still a big question mark. It seems like Kyle Shanahan is poised to use some kind of rotation of Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance at quarterback. A two quarterback system often sounds a lot better than it plays out in reality. And Jimmy G is a limited and injury-prone talent while Lance is wildly inexperienced. The 49ers hardly feel like a “take it to the bank” projection.
12 - Washington Football Team - WFT is being slept on a little bit. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick amazing? In terms of being funny? Yes! But as a consistently good football player? No, obviously not. That’s fine, though. He’s still a big upgrade on the dreck (Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, the corpse of Alex Smith, Taylor Heinicke) that Washington was trotting out at quarterback last season. And even if Fitzpatrick has some bad games, which he will, he has a strong defense to help bail him out to some extent. The Football Team’s defensive line is still poised to create a lot of issues. Ron Rivera also has a claim to being the best head coach in his division. WFT might actually be the first NFC East to repeat since 2004.
13 - Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys don’t have the best vibes. HBO’s Hard Knocks has done nothing to erase the perception that Mike McCarthy is a buffoon. Dak Prescott missing time with a shoulder injury doesn’t feel insignificant just because he’ll be ready to play in Week 1. What if that issue pops up again down the road? The Cowboys have enough offensive firepower that they’ll be competing for the division title and, yeah, maybe they should even be considered the favorites. A team that looks ready to make their first NFC Championship Game since 1995, though? That’s not what this appears to be. Beyond McCarthy and Dak, there are still issues on defense.
14 - Pittsburgh Steelers - The Stillers are another hard team to know exactly what to make of due to Ben Roethlisberger’s status. There’s a thought that the 39-year-old is cooked. I mean, it sure seemed like his arm just didn’t have it anymore by the end of last year. But perhaps Big Ben will be better with more distance from his 2019 elbow injury. The addition of his Najee Harris could take some pressure off of him. And, really, don’t the Steelers deserve the benefit of the doubt? It’s not just an accident that they haven’t had a losing season since 2003. Mike Tomlin always has his team fighting hard. It’s not like this is going to be a bottom five team.
15 - Miami Dolphins - That the Dolphins continue to be connected to Deshaun Watson certainly raises questions about their confidence level in Tua Tagovailoa. Tua wasn’t a total disaster as a rookie but he just didn’t pass the eye test. Perhaps a full offseason in an NFL program and being healthier will do him good. He’s got a lot to prove. Brian Flores and the rest of the roster offer a solid floor but Tua might limit this team’s ceiling.
16 - Minnesota Vikings - Does Kirk Cousins get benched for Kellen Mond at some point this season? I’m not suggesting it’s an inevitability, especially because Mond looks raw, but it’s at least a possibility. Especially since Cousins is in jeopardy of missing playing time due to not being vaccinated. We’ll probably just see more of the same from Cousins and the Vikings in 2021 where they’re not awful but not actually a serious threat to contend.
17 - Arizona Cardinals - The Cards are one of the most overhyped teams in the NFL. They seem to think they’re more ready to win now than they really are following the J.J. Watt and A.J. Green additions. They’re the worst squad in an admittedly tough division. Kyler Murray still has much to prove as a passer and Kliff Kingsbury is in the conversation for the first head coach to be fired this season.
18 - New England Patriots - Well, I have to give the Pats credit for not sticking with Cam Newton. The idea that he was going to bounce back in some major way after throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes last year was silly. New England’s ceiling might not be very high with Mac Jones but the rookie does help to raise their floor. Jones should help this team get to around the .500 mark. He’ll have some good games where things are clicking but there will be growing pains and moments where he’s not able to put the team on his back.
19 - Denver Broncos - The Broncos simultaneously raised their floor and lowered their ceiling by announcing Teddy Bridgewater as their starting quarterback. It’s just a shame for Broncos fans because they have to know that they’re not winning anything meaningful with Teddy under center.
20 - Indianapolis Colts - The Colts have terrible vibes. I don’t know how you look at how their offseason has gone and think ‘Yeah, this is a precursor for a successful year.’ Carson Wentz, who too often thinks he knows best and can’t be told otherwise, isn’t vaccinated. This “personal decision” combined with an unexpected foot injury has caused him to miss valuable practice time as he transitions to working in a new scheme with new teammates. Looking at the Colts’ schedule, there’s a very real chance they open the season something like 1-6 or 2-5. And, at some point, the Colts have incentive to bench Wentz to protect a 2022 first-round pick that will otherwise go to Philly.
21 - New Orleans Saints - Has Sean Payton earned some benefit of the doubt? Sure. This is a head coach who is 49-15 in the regular season over the past four years. But this is also a head coach who is no longer starting a future Hall of Fame quarterback under center. That there are those who believe in Jameis Winston is perplexing. His realistic best case scenario is what he showed with the Bucs in 2019, which had them finish with a 7-9 record. He’ll have some high highs but there are inevitably going to be low lows. This is a player with 138 combined interceptions and fumbles in 76 games played! That’s not good!
22 - Chicago Bears - Everyone finds it inexplicable that Andy Dalton is starting over Justin Fields. Has anyone considered that Fields hasn’t looked great in practice and/or behind the scenes? This isn’t to defend Dalton. Or Matt Nagy, who really should’ve been fired already, for that matter. I just think some of the Fields hype has gotten carried away. Sure, he’s an intriguing talent. But why has it seemingly become canon that every QB-needy team that passed on him is super dumb and that the Bears, who have made no shortage of terrible quarterback decisions, DEFINITELY got this one right without a shadow of a doubt? I do think Fields will take over sooner than later, as he should, but I’m pumping the breaks on him as this automatic Rookie of the Year favorite. He had the slowest time to throw in the preseason (per PFF) and that could result in a lot of fumbles/sacks, especially playing behind a suspect offensive line. Chicago isn’t ranked lower because they did do enough to actually somehow make the playoffs last yer.
23 - Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons are a weird team in that I don’t know what they want to do. They restructured Matt Ryan, which indicated an effort to win now. But then they traded Julio Jones away. What’s the goal here? I do like Arthur Smith based on his track in Tennessee. Kyle Pitts will be a very nice weapon. But what about this team screams being back in the mix to do anything special?
24 - Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles have surprisingly good vibes coming out of training camp. No major injuries, young players showing potential, refreshed energy with a new coaching staff, outshining the Pats and Jets in joint training camp practices … there are some positive signs here. That being said, there are still some big question marks. Jalen Hurts was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league last year, albeit in a small sample size. Nick Sirianni has never been a full-time play caller in the regular season. I feel like “The Eagles are actually going to be good this year!” gets presented as a minority opinion but has actually become a majority opinion, at least locally. Which then makes me think that expectations are actually getting a little too high. I had the Eagles finishing 8-9 in my record prediction when the 2021 NFL schedule came out but that felt like on the high end to me. I now feel more confident in that record as a likelier outcome. The Eagles have enough pieces to be respectable but the questions at quarterback and head coach lower the team’s ceiling.
25 - Las Vegas Raiders - Take away the market they play in and this is one of the most boring teams in the league. Where the intrigue? Derek Carr is what he is. It feels like they’re set up for a disappointing season where Mike Mayock takes the fall even though Jon Gruden is more to blame. But they can’t fire him since he still has six years left on his ridiculous $100 million contract.
26 - Carolina Panthers - I like Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. I do not like Sam Darnold. One can’t just totally throw out Darnold’s struggles with the Jets and blame it all on Adam Gase. A special talent finds a way to shine in spite of less than ideal circumstances. Darnold never did that. He might very well be better than he was with the Jets but is it really going to be to some large extent? The ceiling for this team is a .500ish record. The floor is picking in the top five.
27 - Cincinnati Bengals - Zac Taylor should be the favorite as the first head coach to be fired considering he’s 6-25-1 thus far. And it doesn’t seem like things are really ready to turn around. Joe Burrow didn’t have the best offseason while coming off a major injury. Ja’Marr Chase struggled in camp. Cincy still has offensive line issues. There’s zero chance this team is winning the AFC North. A wild card spot seems like a long shot at best.
28 - New York Giants - As my NFC East Mixtape podcast co-host likes to say, how many teams in the NFC do you think are definitely worse than the Giants? Detroit, sure. Anyone else? Daniel Jones fumbles too much and hasn’t shown signs that he’s poised for a bonafide breakout. The offensive line has a lot of question marks. The defense was solid last year but not anything incredibly special. The Giants just aren’t a team that deserves the benefit of the doubt. They’re tied with the Jets for the fewest wins since 2017.
29 - Jacksonville Jaguars - We all know Urban Meyer is going to be a disaster. It’s a shame that the Jags went this route. They didn’t need to overthink it and they totally did. Poor Trevor Lawrence.
30 - New York Jets - The Jets are the youngest team in the NFL. Zach Wilson offers some hope and Robert Saleh might be able to make the most out of the limited talent he’s working with. But this team has some growing pains to go through. They’re not nearly ready to win now.
31 - Detroit Lions - There are a lot of Dan Campbell jokes out there, which is understandable. I’m not willing to say he’s going to be an awful coach just yet. I don’t think we’ll get to really evaluate him that much this year anyway considering the lack of talent in Detroit. Jared Goff stinks and his supporting cast certainly isn’t going to be able to help him out much. I mean, the Lions’ top three receivers are Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond, and Quintez Cephus. This is a team with a long-term rebuild in mind.
32 - Houston Texans - The unanimous worst team in the NFL. And not only are the Texans bad, but they’re old as well. Really just the worst spot to be in. There isn’t even really an entertainment factor working for them with Tyrod Taylor as the starter. Any hope for the future lies in being able to trade Deshaun Watson for a package that’ll help them rebuild. Even then, they might not have the right people leading the way.