2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 1

The NFL season is upon us, and it’s finally time for teams to prove their mettle. 

Last year’s Super Bowl participants are again the favorites to win this year’s title, and there is no argument here. Which teams are best-positioned to knock them off? That’s where it gets interesting.

Here is a look at my power rankings heading into the season, from No. 1 all the way down to No. 32. Super Bowl odds courtesy of DraftKings on Sept. 8.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl odds: +500

Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL, and almost as importantly, his cap hit is only $7.4 million this season. When that number balloons in 2022, the Chiefs will start shedding talent, but for now, the team is again poised to make a Super Bowl run. An offensive line that was last year’s Achilles’ heel should be better.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Super Bowl odds: +600

The defending champions brought back everyone — literally, every starter — from their title team, and are the clear favorites in the NFC. The Buccaneers have the most talent and the best balance in the league, but they sit slightly behind Kansas City because Tom Brady isn’t on the same plane as Mahomes. Even so, these two teams enter the season a cut above the rest.

3. Baltimore Ravens

Super Bowl odds: +1400

Which team is most likely to crash the party in the AFC? Most analysts like the Bills or Browns, but the choice here is the Ravens. Baltimore has led the NFL in point-differential in each of the past two seasons and has a former MVP quarterback in the prime of his career. Lamar Jackson has his detractors, but has the same upside as Josh Allen in 2021. The J.K. Dobbins injury hurts, but running backs can be replaced. The Ravens are underrated.

4. Buffalo Bills

Super Bowl odds: +1000

There is no questioning the season Allen put together in 2020, finishing second in the MVP race. The Bills have great coaches and a stacked roster, which is going to keep them in contention. But if Allen can’t duplicate his elite production from a year ago, it could be a slight step back for a Buffalo team with outsized expectations.

5. San Francisco 49ers

Super Bowl odds: +1400

There is a muddled group of contenders to Tampa’s crown in the NFC, and the 49ers are the best of the second tier. San Francisco was ravaged by injuries a season ago, but still returns much of the core which led the team to the Super Bowl. The defense should be great and the skill weapon trio of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will help out the quarterback. The big question: Will it be Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance under center for the majority of the year? Quarterback play will make or break the 49ers.

6. Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl odds: +1300

Despite some offseason drama, Aaron Rodgers is back to lead the Packers following an MVP campaign. Green Bay is the clear favorite in the NFC North, but if Rodgers regresses a bit in 2021, the Packers won’t be the type of juggernaut many are expecting. Green Bay could be a good, but not great, club in 2021.

7. Los Angeles Rams

Super Bowl odds: +1400

The Rams are an interesting team. They were dominant on defense last season, but lost pass-rusher Michael Brockers and defensive backs Troy Hill and John Johnson in free agency. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Aaron Donald are the best defensive duo in the NFL, but the depth is lacking. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was added via trade this offseason, and if he takes off under coach Sean McVay, it will make up for any defensive regression. The Rams are such a top-heavy team, this could be a feast-or-famine campaign.

8. Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl odds: +2000

The Seahawks have been on the edge of contention since the Legion of Boom broke up — good enough to win double-digit games but never the favorites like at their peak. Russell Wilson is arguably a top-3 quarterback, and that’s always going to keep this team’s floor high. But unless he gets more help, a conference title will remain a longshot.

9. Cleveland Browns

Super Bowl odds: +1600

The Browns finally broke through with an 11-win season in 2020, advancing to the AFC Divisional Round before losing to the Chiefs. The talent on offense is plentiful, and the defense should be better. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has a lot on his shoulders to lift this team to elite status, but after a point-differential of negative-11 last season, it’s a wait-and-see approach for contender status in these power rankings.

10. Tennessee Titans

Super Bowl odds: +3000

The offense could be scary good. Ryan Tannehill has been a different quarterback in Tennessee, and is complemented by running back Derrick Henry, wide receiver A.J. Brown and wide receiver Julio Jones. The defense, though, is just scary. There is precious little talent, and Football Outsiders projects the group to finish No. 32 in the NFL. It’s an offensive league, but the Titans will need some semblance of balance to be an AFC contender.

11. Miami Dolphins

Super Bowl odds: +3500

The Dolphins have a really good defense and some talent at wide receiver. This projection all comes down to second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the accompanying offensive line. Tua struggled as a rookie, but some grace should be given because of a suboptimal setup due to COVID-19. If Tagovailoa takes a sizable step forward, Miami will be a playoff team. If not, the Dolphins will be in plenty of low-scoring battles and finish near .500.

12. Arizona Cardinals

Super Bowl odds: +4500

The Cardinals play in the brutal NFC West, but they have a high ceiling. Kyler Murray has the talent to become a top-5 quarterback this season, while Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt may prove to be a fearsome pass-rushing pair. The schedule isn’t easy, and Arizona is relying on several older and injury-prone players to produce, but if the passing attack can find a groove, the Cardinals have enough helium to rise up these rankings.

13. New England Patriots

Super Bowl odds: +3500

There is reason for optimism in New England. Mac Jones has proven to be a quick study, and his presence as the starter raises the team’s ceiling. Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are talented tight ends, so the offense should be better than a year ago. The biggest difference, though, is on defense, where the Patriots will be seriously upgraded.

14. Dallas Cowboys

Super Bowl odds: +3500

The Cowboys have a really intriguing offense if it can stay healthy. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s shoulder injury is a concern, and the offensive line has dealt with myriad issues over the past couple years, but there is major upside. The defense was a mess last year and must improve. Even if some things go wrong, the Cowboys play in a poor division and should win it.

15. New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl odds: +3000

The Saints are a high-floor, low-ceiling outfit this year without star quarterback Drew Brees. Jameis Winston was the right choice to replace him, but the former No. 1 overall pick has never lived up to that draft status. Star wideout Michael Thomas will miss significant time with an ankle injury, which puts New Orleans squarely in the middle of the NFL pack after years of contender status.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers

Super Bowl odds: +4500

The Steelers started 11-0 last season, but a bad stretch run and an aging Ben Roethlisberger has given people pause. It’s possible that Roethlisberger’s decline has been overestimated, and if so, Pittsburgh could be a playoff contender. But the schedule is rough, and the defense may have to do the heavy lifting.

17. Minnesota Vikings

Super Bowl odds: +5000

The Vikings have a defense that has the capacity to be great, and the trio of Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen on offense could be special. Quarterback Kirk Cousins continues to put up decent statistical seasons, but until it translates into consistent team success, Minnesota will remain in the middle of the pack.

18. Los Angeles Chargers

Super Bowl odds: +3000

Justin Herbert may become a legitimate star in Year 2, provided he builds upon an excellent rookie campaign. But success isn’t always linear, and if there are speed bumps, the Chargers won’t make the leap many are expecting. There is too much regression possibility in 2021 to place the Chargers any higher.

19. Denver Broncos

Super Bowl odds: +4500

The Broncos have some talented pieces, but much like the Saints, the upside just isn’t there because of the quarterback situation. Teddy Bridgewater can help the team win games against many opponents, but Denver won’t be able to hang with the upper echelon, because the passing attack won’t cut it.

20. Indianapolis Colts

Super Bowl odds: +3500

The Colts have a balanced roster, but I’m skeptical. Injuries and COVID-19 have taken their toll in the preseason, and there is a lot riding on quarterback Carson Wentz to have a bounceback year with his new team. Indy starts with games against the Seahawks, Rams, Titans, Dolphins and Ravens. Not easy.

21. Washington Football Team

Super Bowl odds: +5000

The defense should be solid, but what will Washington get out of new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick? He has been very impressive at times during his career, and lost his starting job in many other instances. Washington should be competitive in most of its matchups, but the offense will need to prove it can move the ball efficiently.

22. Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl odds: +8000

The Falcons are in the midst of a quasi-rebuild after hiring Arthur Smith as their new coach and dealing superstar wideout Julio Jones to Tennessee. Things shouldn’t be awful because Matt Ryan can still throw the ball, even at age-36, but there are too many holes for the Falcons to be truly competitive.

23. Las Vegas Raiders

Super Bowl odds: +10000

The Raiders have a good quarterback in Derek Carr, so another season around .500 could happen, but there is a lack of star talent on either side of the ball. Las Vegas needs its defense to improve, or else questions about coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock will begin to heat up.

24. Chicago Bears

Super Bowl odds: +6500

Mitchell Trubisky clearly wasn’t the answer in Chicago, but he was actually decent last year as the Bears made the playoffs. Andy Dalton will begin the season as the starting quarterback, but this will be Justin Fields’ team at some point. The defense is still stout with Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson leading the way, but Chicago is not good enough on offense to be competitive this year.

25. Philadelphia Eagles

Super Bowl odds: +10000

Jalen Hurts hopes to prove that he can be the team’s starting quarterback moving forward. While he showed some flashes as a rookie, the overall body of work was lacking. The Eagles are not likely to be particularly good on offense this season, and the defense doesn’t have enough talent to pick up the slack.

26. Carolina Panthers

Super Bowl odds: +9000

The Panthers made a head-scratching decision to trade for Sam Darnold this offseason. The best-case scenario would be a Ryan-Tannehill-like rejuvenation with his second team, but the more likely outcome is below average production. Running back Christian McCaffrey is a beast and the Panthers seem headed in the right direction, but bottom-tier quarterback play cannot be overcome in the NFL.

27. New York Giants

Super Bowl odds: +8000

The Giants keep waiting for quarterback Daniel Jones to break out, but there is little reason to believe such a development is on the horizon. Running back Saquon Barkley could help improve New York’s fortunes if he comes back healthy and finds superstardom in 2021, but that’s hard to forecast. The Giants could be hunting for a new quarterback in the draft next year.

28. Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl odds: +15000

Joe Burrow showed promise as a rookie and Cincinnati has a nice wide receiver corps, but that’s about where it stops with this team. The offensive line is talent-deficient and star safety Jessie Bates can’t do it all on defense. The Bengals should be entertaining because they will throw a lot, but it won’t result in many victories.

29. Detroit Lions

Super Bowl odds: +20000

The Lions fired coach Matt Patricia and dealt Stafford to Los Angeles. While they may be the worst team in the NFC, they probably won’t be the worst in the NFL. Jared Goff has taken his lumps after regressing the past two seasons, but he’s not a terrible quarterback. The Lions should be a little better than projected, though that’s not saying much.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

Super Bowl odds: +13000

No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence has impressive natural talent, but it’s going to be a bumpy first season with the Jaguars. The offense is missing impact playmakers, especially after fellow first-round pick Travis Etienne was lost for the season with a foot injury. Myles Jack, Josh Allen and Shaqull Griffin are good players on defense, but it’s not nearly enough.

31. New York Jets

Super Bowl odds: +15000

Zach Wilson, the No. 2 pick, looked good in the preseason, so maybe there is hope for the Jets. But probably not. Like Lawrence, it could be a trying rookie year. The main thing for both the Jaguars and the Jets is to make progress this season and bring some optimism for the future.

32. Houston Texans

Super Bowl odds: +30000

It seems like Deshaun Watson will remain on the sidelines this season, as he is technically eligible to play but has 22 civil suits against him for coercive and lewd sexual behavior. Without their best player, Houston is going to struggle mightily this season. The Texans look like the worst team in football.

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