The 2021 NFL Draft is behind us and the NFL schedule is out, meaning football fans can get excited about the upcoming season. With strength of schedules known and key matchups circled on the calendar, let’s dive into our latest NFL power rankings.
Everything kicks off on Sept. 9, when the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet in the NFL Kickoff Game It’s the perfect way to kick off the new 18-week season, with every team playing 17 games in the new expanded format.
Let’s dive into our latest NFL power rankings following the release of the 2021 schedule.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Everything is going Tampa Bay’s way in 2021. The Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, became the first defending champion to retain all 22 starters and they have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. A perfect regular season is very possible for Tom Brady and Co. Of course, we know how that ended the last time TB12 went undefeated into a Super Bowl.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes should be very excited about the upcoming season. Kansas City went from having the worst offensive line in Super Bowl history to a potential top-10 unit in pass protection this fall. Mahomes is already dangerous, he might set records if he’s given all day to attack defenses.
3. Cleveland Browns
Yes, the Cleveland Browns are a Super Bowl contender. They were one of the biggest winners of the NFL offseason, turning the defense from a weakness into a strength. The running game, pass-catching weapons, offensive line and defensive talent are all there to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. It’s all going to come down to Baker Mayfield.
4. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo didn’t do a lot this offseason, but it really didn’t need to. With an above-average offensive line, MVP candidate Josh Allen and a defense capable of turning things around, everything is in place. Questions in the Bills’ secondary prevent them from being ranked ahead of Cleveland, but there’s no denying this team is capable of beating anyone in 2021.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Finally, the Baltimore Ravens are building a passing attack around Lamar Jackson. Adding Sammy Watkins is nice, he’ll be a fine complementary receiver, but Rashod Bateman is the real game-changing talent. Baltimore is going to boast one of the NFL’s best offenses in 2021. Granted, it’s necessary given the level of inexperience from the Ravens’ pass rush.
6. Los Angeles Rams
Landing Matthew Stafford is huge for this offense. We’re finally going to see some of the more creative elements from Sean McVay’s scheme, helping the Rams become one of the NFL’s best offenses. If they kept the same defense from last season, this team would be right up there with the Buccaneers. After losing defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and safety John Johnson, though, this defense will regress.
7. Tennessee Titans (8)
After losing Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, the Titans’ offense needed to find another big weapon for Ryan Tannehill. Credit to general manager Job Robinson, who swings for the fences by landing Julio Jones. Good luck trying to stop Tennessee. Jones and AJ Brown can’t be stopped in single coverage and they stretch the field like few others can. Opponents can put safeties over the top, sure, then Derrick Henry devastates the front seven. Tennessee is the team to beat in the AFC South.
8. Seattle Seahawks (10)
Russell Wilson sparked the first quarterback drama of the 2021 NFL offseason. Fortunately for the Seahawks, fences were mended and the star passer will be staying in Seattle. It’s a good thing, because this team plummets to the bottom of the NFL standings without him. If the Seahawks’ offense is more consistent in 2021, they win the NFC West.
9. Green Bay Packers (11)
Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of Brian Gutekunst’s actions. Turns out, trading up in the first round to draft the heir to your Hall of Fame quarterback and not communicating with him can backfire. Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay and despite the organization’s efforts, we’ve likely seen the last of AR12 with this franchise. The slim, diminishing hopes for a return are the only thing preventing Green Bay from plummeting in the NFL power rankings.
10. Miami Dolphins (9)
If Tua Tagovailoa is starting for the Miami Dolphins, this can be a top-10 team. But if Deshaun Watson is allowed to play in 2021, which is increasingly likely, Miami needs to be at the front of the line for a blockbuster trade. Put Watson on this team and the Dolphins are going to cause serious problems for the Browns and Chiefs.
11. Arizona Cardinals (7)
The NFL world is split on the Arizona Cardinals and for good reason. Kliff Kingsbury still hasn’t proven he is an NFL-caliber coach who makes the right decisions in key situations more times than not. Plus, Arizona’s secondary stands out as the Achilles’ heel of the roster.
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12. Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis sure loves to take chances. After trading for Carson Wentz, a deal that will likely cost this franchise its 2022 first-round pick, Chris Ballard kept showing that willingness to roll the dice. The Colts spent their second-round pick on Dayo Odeyingbo, who tore his Achilles in January. They also signed left tackle Eric Fisher, who also tore his Achilles that same month. This could all work out, in which case the Colts win the division, but the downside is staggering.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (14)
The Los Angeles Chargers finally built an offensive line that can adequately protect the franchise quarterback. In fact, Justin Herbert might be playing behind a top-10 offensive line, in terms of pass blocking, next season. Suddenly, a quarterback who just set rookie records will have the luxury of operating from a clean pocket. Pair that with an underrated defense and quality coaching, you’ve got a breakout pick for next season.
14. San Francisco 49ers (11)
There’s plenty of debate about who the 49ers’ starting quarterback in 2021 will be. Jimmy Garoppolo is a safe option, especially if he opens the season as the starter and provides some stability early on. But Trey Lance offers superior skills and while there will be bumps, he does offer the most upside. Ultimately, San Francisco is a year away from Super Bowl contention.
15. Washington Football Team (15)
The Washington Football Team could have traded up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones, but decided against it. That might have long-term consequences for this franchise, but this is team is more talented than the one we saw win the NFC East in 2020. With an elite defense and a more consistent offense, Washington is the favorite to win the division and could win its first playoff game since 2005.
16. New England Patriots (20)
The New England Patriots found their next franchise quarterback and they didn’t have to overpay to land him. Mac Jones lands in an ideal situation, moving to an offense that is significantly better than what Cam Newton had around him the year prior. Jones isn’t extremely gifted physically, but he’ll get the football out on time, make the right reads and consistently hit his targets. The upside might not be high, but the Patriots have the pieces in place to make this a team effort.
17. New York Giants (16)
Dave Gettleman traded down, a thing no one actually thought would happen. The Giants are winners for picking up a future first-round pick from the Chicago Bears, even if trading down meant reaching for Kadarius Toney. New York’s defense will be very good, Saquon Barkley should be ready for Week 1 and the weapons on this team are strong. Can Daniel Jones protect the football and maintain consistency? That’s the unknown that will determine if New York competes this year.
18. Dallas Cowboys (19)
The Dallas Cowboys have the skill players on offense to easily win the NFC East. Unfortunately for their faithful fans, this defense still looks like a major problem. Cornerback wasn’t addressed after Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II came off the board, leading Dallas to select Micah Parsons. He might have All-Pro talent, but this secondary is still bad and there are reasons to fear the Cowboys’ offensive line won’t protect Dak Prescott. It’s baffling that Jerry Jones seemingly ignored his team’s most pressing needs. We’ll see what the consequences are this season.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (21)
Najee Harris is an outstanding running back and he should do great things at the next level. Pittsburgh’s mistake was falling in love with him and failing to recognize just how atrocious the state of this offensive line is. With an opportunity to address that problem in Round 2, Pittsburgh took a tight end. An aging quarterback, one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and a defense in decline. Put that all together and you’ve got a recipe for a top-10 pick.
20. New Orleans Saints (18)
The best decision the New Orleans Saints can make this summer is naming Jameis Winston the starting quarterback. There is a lot of volatility with him, but he’s also a superior player to Taysom Hill. We expect this offense to be more explosive this year, but it will come with more turnovers. In order to balance that, a shallow defense needs its young guys to step up.
21. Denver Broncos (20)
If the Denver Broncos acquire Aaron Rodgers, they immediately become Super Bowl contenders and a top-six team in our NFL power rankings. Adding Surtain II makes this a top-five defense and there is more than enough talent offensively for this to be a great team. Teddy Bridgewater is a safer bet for stability than Drew Lock, but both quarterbacks put a damper on this team’s potential.
22. Chicago Bears (28)
The Chicago Bears finally landed their franchise quarterback. Trading up to get Justin Fields, even if it cost a future first-round pick, is worth it. Chicago badly needed a quarterback it could build its offense around, a passer who could get the football to Allen Robinson and make plays with his legs. We’ve also got to give credit to Ryan Pace for landing Teven Jenkins, a first-round talent, to upgrade at offensive tackle. This defense is going to take a step back, but we’re excited about Chicago’s offense.
23. Minnesota Vikings (21)
The Minnesota Vikings are a perfectly adequate team. Getting Danielle Hunter back next season would be huge, but he might want a trade. The Vikings beefed up the defensive line with Dalvin Tomlinson, but there are bigger needs in the secondary and on the edge. Minnesota made a great decision, trading down from No. 14 overall and still landing left tackle Christian Darrisaw. But, while we think this is a quality team, it’s not good enough to be ranked higher.
24. Carolina Panthers (23)
The Carolina Panthers are certainly confident the Sam Darnold trade will pay off. Consider us skeptical. Quarterbacks with a sub-60% completion rate after three seasons don’t suddenly get better in most cases. Carolina had a chance to draft Fields, it chose to pay Darnold $18 million guaranteed on his fifth-year option. For the sake of Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, we hope it works out.
25. New York Jets (24)
New York is starting to turn a corner. The Jets hit a home run with Robert Saleh, a coach who will revitalize the locker room and help turn this defense around. Adding Carl Lawson and Lamarcus Joyner is a nice boost to help New York start shutting down the pass. As for the Jets’ offense, Denzel Mims, Corey Davis and Chris Herndon can be a quality trio, with the right quarterback.
Will Zach Wilson be the guy who finally does it? Only time will tell, but New York is doing a far better job helping their young quarterback this time around. Landing Elijah Moore is a great sign that New York will do right by Wilson. As for the defense, that can be addressed next offseason.
26. Atlanta Falcons (26)
Julio Jones was gone the moment Atlanta drafted Kyle Pitts over Justin Fields. We love Pitts, he can quickly become one of the best tight ends in the NFL. But moving your best player in franchise history and passing on a potential franchise quarterback with Georgia roots isn’t a great look for the Falcons’ future.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (29)
Drafting Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell is a decision that will draw plenty of criticism. Joe Burrow suffered that gruesome knee injury because of Cincinnati’s porous offensive line, not due to a lack of receivers. With that said, there is something special about the connection Chase and Burrow have.
People wanted to give Cincinnati the benefit of the doubt entering Day 2, especially with the offensive linemen available. The Bengals traded down and eventually took an offensive lineman, with no experience on the inside, who they will convert to guard. This organization is a disaster.
28. Las Vegas Raiders (26)
It’s fair to say Jon Gruden should no longer have roster control. Tearing apart a strong offensive line, failing to address clear needs on defense and overpaying a change-of-pace running back. The Raiders’ offense is going to be worse in 2021 and it seems like the blame for that will wrongly be placed on Derek Carr. Unsurprisingly, Gruden proved in Round 1 that the criticism for his roster decisions is warranted. This team is deteriorating and there wasn’t a lot to work with before.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (27)
Urban Meyer might be turning the Jacksonville Jaguars into a reality show. It’s possible Tim Tebow helps serve as a bridge between the new regime and the locker room, but this is also a 33-year-old gifted a roster spot after last taking a regular-season snap in 2012. This almost certainly won’t work out, which could be said about Tebow and Meyer.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (29)
The Philadelphia Eagles traded up with the Dallas Cowboys, a sentence no one expected. While plenty had size concerns with DeVonta Smith, it’s clear general manager Howie Roseman believes in the talent. Ignore that this is a 166-pound receiver, Smith is better than anyone in this class at getting open and that’s someone Jalen Hurts desperately needs. The Eagles are still just beginning a massive rebuild, but Smith was a nice step forward.
31. Detroit Lions (31)
The Detroit Lions crushed the No. 7 overall pick, landing a generational prospect. Adding Penei Sewell to the offensive line is another piece of a foundation that is just starting to come together. Once the structure is in place, Detroit will be a perfect landing spot for a quarterback from the 2022 NFL Draft class.
32. Houston Texans (32)
Quantity doesn’t mean quality. Nick Caserio has been the most active general manager this offseason, swinging trades or signing free-agent talent every other day. The overall depth on this team will be better than what fans witnessed in 2021, but the starting lineup will be worse. If all of this wasn’t enough, now the Deshaun Watson trade saga has turned into alarming off-field accusations that threaten his future and the Texans’ hopes of rebuilding anytime soon.
As for the Texans’ draft, not making their first pick until Round 3, they took Davis Mills. Drafting a pure pocket passer with limited arm strength and issues reading the field is a bold decision. If Mills had any hope of becoming a quality quarterback, that might be gone thanks to the environment in Houston.