What teams do or don’t do in NFL free agency and the draft set the tone for the upcoming season, months before everything has to come together for kickoff. With every team through the major roster overhauling portion of the offseason, it’s time to check in with Sporting News’ updated power rankings.
Right after Super Bowl 55, the winning Buccaneers and losing Chiefs looked pretty good to stay near the top going into 2021. Behind them, the rest of the playoff-caliber NFC and AFC contenders did their best to stay ahead of fast risers, but as with every year, some are bound to be displaced.
Here’s how things are looking before the offseason training program begins in earnest with OTAs and minicamps just around the corner
2021 NFL DRAFT:
Full results | Team-by-team grades | Winners & losers
NFL power rankings 2021
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (previous rank: 2)
The Buccaneers did the improbable and kept all the strengths of their championship team intact without gaining any weaknesses. Tom Brady hopes he has one more repeat left in him.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (1)
The Chiefs didn’t waste time making the needed changes to their offensive line and defensive front seven to become a little mightier with Patrick Mahomes. They are stronger AFC favorites with the potential of a Super Bowl hangover fading away.
3. Buffalo Bills (3)
The Bills will continue to breathe down the Chiefs’ necks with a still loaded offense around Josh Allen, only with a few different options and a defense that hopes to combat better via the pass rush and secondary.
4. Cleveland Browns (7)
The Browns have a solid offensive formula of running the ball and setting up Baker Mayfield for efficiency. But they have the new look of also fielding an elite defense with Joe Woods with all their additions and injury returnees.
5. San Francisco 49ers (8)
The 49ers should be more dangerous defensively with a much healthier roster and the potential of rookie Trey Lance starting gives their versatile offense a much higher ceiling.
6. Green Bay Packers (4)
The Packers have to keep massaging the Aaron Rodgers situation as they did their best to reinforce the back-to-back NFC North champions to keep the Super Bowl window open with the MVP.
7. Baltimore Ravens (6)
The Ravens will need to recover from some gutting defensively. To that end, they’ve reloaded their passing game for Lamar Jackson to be more diverse and less run-heavy predictable.
8. Los Angeles Rams (5)
There’s a lot of hype for Sean McVay’s team because of Matthew Stafford. The offense may be more reliable for a running game and big-play passing game, but there’s no question the defense will hurt some without Brandon Staley’s scheming.
9. Los Angeles Chargers (11)
Speaking of Staley, more great vibes are coming from the other L.A. team because of what he can do with their defense to support what should be a fun Year 2 of Justin Herbert leading a new offense.
10. Miami Dolphins (10)
The Dolphins established plenty defensively under Brian Flores. They’ve added to that on top of getting Tua Tagovailoa better settled with his protection and weapons so he can be let loose a lot more as a sophomore.
11. Dallas Cowboys (12)
The Cowboys got a lot better simply knowing Dak Prescott is well on the mend to be his elite passing self again post big contract. They can light it up everywhere offensively with him and even with lingering defensive issues, Dallas can score enough to rebound to take a still weak, transitional division.
12. Minnesota Vikings (22)
The Vikings got plenty of immediate help to shore up some disappointing weaknesses from last season and they also stashed a little for the future, both at quarterback and for their steady defensive rebuild. They look on track to bounce back as a wild-card team.
13. Indianapolis Colts (17)
The Colts are looking good with Carson Wentz’s upside in an offense that gives him stronger support back with Frank Reich, starting with Jonathan Taylor and the running game. The defense also remains an underrated backbone on every level for Matt Eberflus with a little more youthful juice.
14. Seattle Seahawks (9)
The Seahawks’ drama with Russell Wilson has quieted, but it won’t totally go away. They’re a good bet to keep finishing above .500 with him but they’re getting less inspiring for another division title.
15. Tennessee Titans (13)
The Titans lost some key offensive pieces and had to make some defensive changes on every level. For now, Mike Vrabel’s team falls into more wild-card level again behind the Colts.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (16)
The Steelers are a good bet to be left out of a return to the playoffs from the AFC North as the return of Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t inspire, despite their defense and what else they have on offense. It was a mediocre offseason by their big standards.
17. New Orleans Saints (15)
The Saints got into a tight salary-cap situation and were forced to scramble to recover, mainly defensively. Also, their quarterback situation post-Drew Brees is very unpredictable with Taysom Hill vs. Jameis Winston and now developmental Ian Book looming.
18. Chicago Bears (26)
The Bears are a tough team to read. If they go bridge with Andy Dalton, they will have more limitations offensively in trying to complement the defense better. if they go upside with Justin Fields, watch out for his dual threat raising their scoring and lessening their burden on the other side.
19. New England Patriots (18)
The Patriots kept up their bridge with Cam Newton, but now have a totally different rookie waiting in Mac Jones. Bill Belichick’s team remains a a bit of a wild-card, bound to be on the slightly better side of .500.
20. Arizona Cardinals (14)
The Cardinals were buzzy with Kyler Murray breaking out last season, but the next gear of the offense might be limited and they have developed a few more defensive issues.
21. New York Giants (23)
The Giants’ chances of being much better than this hinge completely on Daniel Jones responding like he should to all the positive change around him and the defense being set up to play with more leads because of it.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (19)
The Eagles like what they have in Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni’s rookie direction as head coach should give them a spark, too. They will hope to have better luck fighting age and injuries, but being caught between contending and rebuilding is a tough spot.
23. Washington Football Team (24)
Washington won’t be winning the East again with a 7-9 record. There’s some promise for Ryan Fitzpatrick in a revved up offense, but here’s to thinking Jones and Hurts will play better to give the Giants and Eagles’ offenses a few more welcome dimensions. WFT’s defense, however, is still a calling card the other three teams don’t have.
24. Atlanta Falcons (20)
Arthur Smith will need just a little time to implant his vision for the Matt Ryan-led offense that should feature better running and more dynamic passing. But It’s hard to expect a lot of favorable defensive results
25. Carolina Panthers (25)
The Panthers have a lot of good offensive pieces in place for Joe Brady in Year 2, but protection and what Sam Darnold will accomplish are concerns. Defensively, the youth has served well but there still might be too much of it for Matt Rhule.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (27)
The Bengals would be much higher if they were in another division. Joe Burrow should have a big second season with improved weapons and yes, protection. The defense has invested play in front-seven impact. Should Pittsburgh stumble a little behind Cleveland and Baltimore, Cincinnati has a fair chance to jump into third.
27. Las Vegas Raiders (21)
The Raiders don’t seem like they’re better or worse than they were last season, still hovering around offensive flashes and defensive disappointment, which now add up to subpar than mediocre.
28. Denver Broncos (30)
The Broncos can’t be listed above here despite a productive offseason in filling a lot of present and future needs because another season of either Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater starting in the NFL doesn’t inspire.
29. New York Jets (29)
Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas have worked well to accelerating the turnaround for the Zach Wilson Era, but it will take them burning through the rebuilding fuel for one year.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (28)
Trevor Lawrence will make the offense better in Year 1 and show plenty of why he was a can’t-miss QB prospect. But he also will be throwing a ton with a rebuilding defense set up for more big lumps.
31. Detroit Lions (31)
The Lions are cleansing their past roster messes as Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell try to bring a fresh attitude. At first, however, the talent dearth will bury them in the NFC.
32. Houston Texans (32)
The Texans have limited talent away from the quarterback and the prospects of not having Deshaun Watson suggest multiple wins will be hard to come by.