NFL Power Rankings: Cleveland Browns rise, Chicago Bears plummet after free agency

By Matt Johnson

The latest NFL power rankings are getting a shakeup, with free agency and blockbuster trades providing significant changes throughout the league. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the team to beat in the 2021 season, there will be plenty of competition.

It’s certainly been an interesting start to the spring. The Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts made huge additions at quarterback, increasing their Super Bowl odds along the way. Meanwhile, teams like the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals have been very active in free agency.

Keep in mind, we haven’t even reached the 2021 NFL Draft and training camp is months away. But just a few weeks into a wild offseason, it’s clear there will be some phenomenal competition next season.

Let’s dive into our latest NFL power rankings, updated throughout the offseason.

READ: Predicting NFL playoff teams and Super Bowl 2022 winner

Updated: March 28, 11:35 AM EST

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1)

NFL power rankings: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Winning one Super Bowl isn’t enough for the Buccaneers. Facing a shrinking NFL salary cap, Tampa Bay faced long odds to retain Chris Godwin, Shaq Barrett, Rob Gronkowski and Lavonte David. But, just two weeks into the signing period, the core is returning and there’s still hope for Antonio Brown. Now, the Bucs are the first team to return all 22 starters after winning a Super Bowl.

With a stellar coaching staff and roster in place, plus an incoming draft class and the return of O.J. Howard, the Buccaneers easily deserve the No. 1 spot in our NFL power rankings. Just as important for this team, they’ll have a full offseason to train together.

Related: Top takeaways from Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl LV victory over the Kansas City Chiefs

2. Kansas City Chiefs (2)

NFL power rankings: Kansas City Chiefs
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Credit to the Chiefs for getting aggressive this offseason. While they missed out on Trent Williams and JuJu Smith-Schuster, adding Joe Thuney and Kyle Long to the offensive line is huge. This is the mentality teams with elite quarterbacks must have, it puts them in positions to compete for the Super Bowl. An improved offensive line paired with Patrick Mahomes, that’s all this team needs to win another title. Let’s see if they can use the draft to close the gap between them and the Bucs.

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3. Buffalo Bills (3)

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After witnessing Josh Allen become an MVP-caliber quarterback in 2020, the Bills are making sure to put a championship-caliber roster around him. Emmanuel Sanders replaces John Brown and quality depth additions have been made, all while the front office retained the offensive line. The big question is on the defensive side, cornerback specifically. If Buffalo finds a starting-caliber player in the NFL Draft, this team can compete with the Chiefs.

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4. Cleveland Browns (6)

NFL power rankings: Cleveland Browns
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Cleveland knew exactly what it needed to do this spring, even after it struck out on J.J. Watt. John Johnson fills the void at free safety nicely and now there will be an exciting trio at the position with Ronnie Harrison and the return of Grant Delpit. The Browns will be even better against the pass, thanks to the signing of Troy Hill. Add a great edge rusher to complement Myles Garrett, with an explosive offense, you’ve got a team in Cleveland capable of winning a title.

Cleveland Browns draft picks: Top 2021 NFL Draft selections, ideal prospects to target

5. Los Angeles Rams (5)

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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. With that said, Los Angeles is still worthy of a top-five spot in NFL power rankings.

Related: Winners, losers from blockbuster Matthew Stafford trade to Los Angeles Rams

6. Green Bay Packers (4)

NFL power rankings: Green Bay Packers
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Read More: Why Aaron Rodgers must consider trade demand amid contract dispute

It was a surprise to see Green Bay re-sign Aaron Jones, who many assumed was a goner. It’s huge for this offense, the best in the NFL last season, but Green Bay also saw All-Pro center walk out the door. The hiring of Joe Barry as defensive coordinator was questionable and this defense is still missing two cornerbacks and some help in the front seven. Aaron Rodgers can carry this team pretty far, but it seems GM Brian Gutekunst might be more invested in a post-Rodgers future.

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7. Baltimore Ravens (7)

NFL power rankings: Baltimore Ravens
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Baltimore’s pass rush disappeared late in the season, so it’s not a huge surprise that the front office let Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk. But it turns a problem on defense into a glaring Achilles heel, one that is especially harmful in Don Martindale’s scheme.

The Ravens finally did their quarterback a solid, signing Sammy Watkins. It’s a nice move amid Lamar Jackson contract talks, but more can be done. We do expect Baltimore’s offense to be better in 2021, the Super Bowl hopes just depend on how this defense looks.

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8. Seattle Seahawks (9)

NFL power rankings: Seattle Seahawks
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It’s been a wild offseason in Seattle. Initial trade inquiries into the availability of Russell Wilson seemed laughable. Suddenly, his issues with the Seahawks’ organization went public and the front office didn’t like it. It even got to the point where Seattle seriously considered an offer. For now, Wilson remains in Seattle and it will likely stay that way this year. Given some of the additions made (Gabe Jackson, Gerald Everett), Wilson might even be happier in 2021.

Read: Blockbuster NFL trades that could happen in 2021

9. Indianapolis Colts (8)

NFL power rankings: Indianapolis Colts
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The Colts are taking a big gamble on Carson Wentz. It could work out nicely, a reunion with Frank Reich and a new environment turning back the clock on a quarterback who looked awful in 2020. The circumstances are certainly ideal and the Colts look like the best team in the division. But this passing attack and defense aren’t quite good enough to reach the AFC Championship Game and they’ll be even lower in our NFL power rankings if things go south for Wentz.

Related: Predicting NFL playoff teams and Super Bowl 2022 winner.

10. Arizona Cardinals (14)

NFL Power Rankings: Arizona Cardinals
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Talk about a win-now mentality. Arizona certainly overpaid J.J. Watt, but he is going to be better with Chandler Jones than we saw in his final year with the Houston Texans. A fearsome pass rush is great and Kyler Murray should be even better with Rodney Hudson at center and A.J. Green pairing with DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver. But Arizona is incredibly weak at cornerback and in playoff battles against the likes of Wilson, Rodgers and Tom Brady, that spells trouble.

Read More: 20 biggest NFL draft busts of all time

11. San Francisco 49ers (11)

NFL power rankings: San Francisco 49ers
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The 49ers seem committed to Jimmy Garoppolo for the 2021 season. It’s a bit of a bold decision, given the low ceiling he offers. But San Francisco made it to the Super Bowl with him at quarterback and if everyone is healthy, this team can compete for a Super Bowl. The 49ers certainly aren’t near the same level we saw two years ago, but they are much better than the 2020 version.

With Garoppolo under center, the blockbuster trade for the No. 3 overall pick gets even more interesting. Trey Lance makes a ton of sense, especially in this scheme. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was the started by the time the playoffs rolled around. Now, if San Francisco gave up all that capital for Mac Jones…ouch.

San Francisco 49ers draft picks: Top 2021 selections, ideal prospects to target

12. Miami Dolphins (12)

NFL power rankings: Miami Dolphins
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After being carried by its defense last season, Miami is improving on the other side of the ball. Will Fuller is exactly the kind of wide receiver Tua Tagovailoa needs and that likely won’t be the only addition this front office makes. If the Dolphins nail the 2021 NFL Draft, they could push for a higher spot in our post-draft NFL power rankings.

By the way, the trades with the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles were pure brilliance. Miami would have drafted the same player No. 3 overall that it will take from the No. 6 spot. In exchange for moving down, which will even save some money, the Dolphins picked up a 2023 first-round pick and more. This team will be a force for years to come.

Miami Dolphins draft picks: Top 2021 selections, ideal prospects to target

13. Tennessee Titans (13)

NFL power rankings: Tennessee Titans
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Tennessee’s defense was its biggest problem last season, ultimately sinking this team. In desperate need of a pass rusher, the Titans probably overpaid Bud Dupree. He won’t be nearly as effective as we saw in Pittsburgh, which will likely be the same story for Janoris Jenkins. All that said, this defense is improved. Unfortunately, the offense might be worse.

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14. New Orleans Saints (10)

NFL power rankings: New Orleans Saints
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It’s a new era in New Orleans. Drew Brees is gone, Jameis Winston is the projected starter and Taysom Hill will have an even bigger role in 2021. Believe it or not, the Saints’ passing attack might be better with a quarterback who the coaching staff believes offers more upside than Matthew Stafford. So, yes, this offense can still be elite. The same can’t be said about the defense, which has huge holes to fill after cap casualties.

15. Los Angeles Chargers (15)

NFL power rankings: Los Angeles Chargers
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The Chargers had two problems last season. First, head coach Anthony Lynn just seemed to make all the wrong decisions in key moments. Second, injuries and some pedestrian play-calling held this defense back. With Brandon Staley now at the helm, we expect both issues to be taken care of. Pair that with Justin Herbert in his second season and the Chargers, with an improved offensive line, look like a contender.

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16. Washington Football Team (18)

NFL power rankings: Washington Football Team
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FitzMagic is coming to Washington D.C. Admittedly, Fitzpatrick’s reputation exceeds his talents. He isn’t the caliber of quarterback who can go on a playoff run and he is prone to mistakes. But he is still an upgrade over Alex Smith. Pair that with the addition of Curtis Samuel and William Jackson III, Washington stands out as the best team in the NFC East.

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17. New York Giants (20)

NFL power rankings: New York Giants
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It all rests on Daniel Jones. The Giants have an outstanding defense, will get Saquon Barkley back in 2021 and just added Kenny Golladay. Everything is in place for New York to become a playoff contender, especially in a weak division. As of now, though, we’re not betting on a quarterback with an 84.1 passer rating and an alarming penchant for turnovers to get the job done. If Jones takes an unexpected leap in 2021 or this defense plays at the level we saw from Washington in 2020, then an NFC East crown is possible.

New York Giants draft picks: Top options in a strong class, ideal 2021 NFL Draft targets

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (16)

NFL power rankings: Pittsburgh Steelers
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Pittsburgh rode its defense to an undefeated start and the NFL Playoffs in 2020, all while Ben Roethlisberger aged rapidly. Big Ben will be back in 2021, a year older, playing behind a worse offensive line. There’s little reason to like the Steelers’ offense as of now, but that isn’t the real problem. Pittsburgh’s defense, due to multiple losses, is going to take a step back and that leads to this team plummeting in the NFL power rankings.

Pittsburgh Steelers draft picks: Top 2021 selections, ideal prospects to target

19. Dallas Cowboys (19)

NFL power rankings: Dallas Cowboys
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Read More: Dallas Cowboys mock draft: Latest 7-round 2021 NFL Draft projection

Dak Prescott finally got paid the contract he earned. With his return in 2021, the Cowboys immediately return as a threat to win the NFC East. There’s little question about this offense, which should be one of the highest-scoring units in the NFL. However, Dallas’ defense remains a glaring problem. While the division is winnable, the defensive edge held by the Giants and WFT puts them ahead of the Cowboys.

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20. New England Patriots (26)

NFL power rankings: New England Patriots
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Cam Newton is back and this roster looks so much better than it did last season. The foundation of New England’s offense will be the rushing attack, which should be strong thanks to Newton, Sony Michel and a great offensive line. The best news, the additions of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. An overhauled offense, complemented by a deeper and more talented defense, is a good sign for football fans in Foxborough.

Read More: New England Patriots mock draft – Seven-round predictions with trades

21. Minnesota Vikings (17)

NFL power rankings: Minnesota Vikings
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The Minnesota Vikings are a perfectly adequate team. Getting Danielle Hunter back next season would be huge, but he might also 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. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota’s offensive line is a question mark and Kirk Cousins isn’t exactly Mr. Consistent. The NFC North shouldn’t be close in 2021.

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22. Denver Broncos (28)

NFL power rankings: Denver Broncos
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Drew Lock is in the same boat as Daniel Jones. Heading into the 2021 season, the Broncos’ offense will have Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Noah Fant. That’s an exciting core, one with the talent to be one of the highest-scoring offenses in the AFC. Let’s pair that with a defense that added Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby, with Von Miller also returning. This roster can earn a playoff spot, but Lock’s volatility will swing things dramatically. 

Here’s where things could get interesting. The Broncos are clearly still interested in a quarterback upgrade. The latest Deshaun Watson allegations make a move for him unlikely, but a Russell Wilson trade is still possible. If Wilson decides to expand his list of preferred teams and realizes the potential Denver offers, this team could be a force in 2021.

Related: Predicting NFL playoff teams and Super Bowl 2022 winner.

23. Carolina Panthers (22)

NFL power rankings: Carolina Panthers
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If the Panthers land a great quarterback, they soar up our NFL power rankings. Christian McCaffrey is an All-Pro offensive weapon, play-caller Joe Brady is a mastermind and head coach Matt Rhule is building a special program. With that said, Teddy Bridgewater puts a very low ceiling on this team’s potential. For that reason, they hang around the fringe playoff-caliber teams.

Carolina Panthers draft picks: Top 2021 selections, ideal prospects to target

24. New York Jets (27)

NFL Power Rankings: New York Jets
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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. Let’s just see if the internal debate ends and the Jets make the right decision.

New York Jets draft picks: Top 2021 selections, ideal prospects to target

25. Atlanta Falcons (25)

NFL power rankings: Atlanta Falcons
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Matt Ryan is getting another year and that’s the right decision. He can still perform well, especially in Arthur Smith’s offense. Assuming Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley stay healthy, Atlanta can put up more than enough point to stay competitive in games. Those positives out of the way, this defense will be one of the worst in the NFL. If we’re advising the Falcons, now is the time to draft Ryan’s heir and there is a perfect target.

Atlanta Falcons draft picks: Best 2021 NFL Draft targets, potential draft selections

26. Las Vegas Raiders (21)

NFL power rankings: Las Vegas Raiders
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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. Fans are already counting down the minutes, literally, until Gruden is gone.

Las Vegas Raiders draft picks: Top 2021 selections, ideal prospects to target

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (23)

NFL power rankings: Jacksonville Jaguars
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Jacksonville is excitedly waiting for the 2021 NFL Draft to arrive. Trevor Lawrence is going to change this franchise, turning an offense with underutilized talent into a future AFC contender. On top of that, the Jaguars are using their cap space to strengthen this defense and even more moves will be made on draft day. Playoffs are out of the question in 2021, but it won’t be long for Jacksonville wins the division.

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28. Chicago Bears (24)

NFL power rankings: Chicago Bears
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Things aren’t going well in Chicago. The Bears keep missing out on quarterbacks, they just released top cornerback Kyle Fuller and Allen Robinson’s days with the team might be numbered. So, even in the best-case scenario, the defense is going to be worse and there’s not a single reason to think Andy Dalton can win more than six games. If Chicago can’t land Russell Wilson, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace will be fired before the year ends.

Related: NFL games today – Everything you need to know about the 2021 NFL season.

29. Philadelphia Eagles (30)

NFL power rankings: Philadelphia Eagles
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It’s a new era in Philadelphia. The Eagles likely didn’t imagine when they drafted Hurts with their 2020 second-round pick that he would be the face of the franchise a year later, but it seems that’s the outcome Jeffrey Lurie wants. There are plenty of issues with this organization, with salary-cap woes one of the biggest. Trading down from No. 6 to No. 12 overall, acquiring a 2022 first-round pick in return, changes the Eagles’ draft plans. One thing is for certain, a rebuild is underway.

Read More: Philadelphia Eagles general manager reportedly ‘berated’ star player, got into heated dispute in 2018

30. Cincinnati Bengals (29)

NFL power rankings: Cincinnati Bengals
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The Bengals remain a mess. Joe Burrow’s recovery from multiple ligament tears will take time and there’s no guarantee he plays at 100% when he hits the field. Riley Reiff is a short-term fix at right tackle, but the interior of the offensive line is still a mess. Oh, the Bengals’ secondary also looks awful outside of Jessie Bates III. A top-five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft feels like a safe bet.

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31. Detroit Lions (31)

NFL power rankings: Detroit Lions
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The rebuild is underway. Jared Goff is a bandaid, likely a one-year bridge at quarterback. The only real core pieces presently on this offense are D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson and Frank Ragnow. On the other side of the ball, this defense is going to tread water in the best-case scenario next season. Thanks to a war chest of future draft picks and a bright general manager, the future looks bright for Detroit.

32. Houston Texans (32)

NFL power rankings: Houston Texans
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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.