2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 11

Welcome to the NFL’s new normal. Top teams are upset on a weekly basis, Hall of Fame quarterbacks crumble against mediocre defenses, and no one has any idea who is good and who is bad. In a word, the NFL has achieved parity. Every week, chaos is bound to wash over the NFL, sending a shockwave through these power rankings.

Just a quick recap, the Eagles coasted past the Broncos, who beat the Cowboys last week. Meanwhile, the Cowboys shelled the Falcons, who topped the Saints a week ago. Two weeks ago, the Saints beat the Buccaneers, who have now lost two straight after a truly stunning defeat in D.C. Add in the new-look Rams falling flat against the previously downtrodden 49ers and you have a pretty clear picture of the mess that is the NFL right now. Even the teams that are 8-2 have some pretty clear question marks.

With all of that in mind, here is my best attempt at ranking the league’s teams.

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1. Green Bay Packers: 8-2 (Last Week: 1)
Won 17-0 vs. Seattle
Defense wins championships and it seems like the Packers defense is rounding into form. Russell Wilson was clearly shaking off some rust, but he had never been shutout before Sunday. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers made his return to the field and didn’t look great. He had no touchdowns and an interceptions. A.J. Dillon plunged in for a pair of short-yardage touchdown runs to seal an important victory. Even with Aaron Jones set to miss a week or two, the Packers should be in good shape to keep winning with a strong defense and reliable run game.

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2. Tennessee Titans: 8-2 (Last Week: 4)
Won 23-21 vs. New Orleans
Is Tennessee really the second-best team in the league? Honestly, I don’t know. They sit at 8-2, but these two wins without Derrick Henry have been anything but convincing. The Titans got a bit of help from the refs with a questionable roughing the passer call and the Saints nearly tied the game in the closing minutes. In the end, the defense made a few big plays when the game was on the line. Mike Vrabel has built a gritty team. It doesn’t have to be pretty if they just keep winning.

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3. Dallas Cowboys: 7-2 (Last Week: 6)
Won 43-3 vs. Atlanta
Talk about bouncing back. Dallas put a horrendous offensive performance in its rearview mirror with a thrashing of Atlanta. The Cowboys led 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, then outscored the Falcons 29-0 in the second quarter to put the game to bed. Dak Prescott played efficiently and the defense played lights out, holding Atlanta to just 214 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers. As of right now, the loss against Denver looks like an anomaly, but they can’t afford too many more duds like that.

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4. Arizona Cardinals: 8-2 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 34-10 vs. Carolina
There is only so much magic the Cardinals can work with a depleted offense. The combination of Colt McCoy and Chris Streveler totaled 143 passing yards to go with an interception and four sacks. Defensively, the Cardinals had no answer for Christian McCaffrey, who finished with 161 yards of offense. This is one that you can probably just throw out when evaluating Arizona, but the offensive line still struggled against an elite defense. That is a red flag.

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5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-3 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 29-19 at Washington
Tampa Bay fell flat once again, this time coming off their bye week. Tom Brady played his worst game of the season and the Buccaneers defense got pushed around all afternoon. While Brady’s two first-quarter interceptions made life difficult, the bigger issue was definitely the defense’s inability to get off the field. Washington held the ball for 39 minutes of game play, leaving the Bucs with very little opportunity to get into a rhythm. Tampa’s 47 plays were easily the fewest they have run all season. Bruce Arians has some serious work to do in order get this club back on track.

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6. New England Patriots: 6-4 (Last Week: 8)
Won 45-7 vs. Cleveland
Oh no. The Patriots are back. Maybe not to the high-flying days of Tom Brady leading the league’s No. 1 offense, but this New England side is starting to resemble those early 2000s teams that won three Super Bowls in a four-year span. I’m not saying the Pats are going to win a title this year, but smashing the Browns definitely underlines this team’s potential. I know they have lost four games this season, but three of those four came by six points or fewer. With four straight wins, Bill Belichick has this team trending in the right direction.

7. Los Angeles Rams: 7-3 (Last Week: 5)
Lost 31-10 at San Francisco
You can take the quarterback out of Detroit, but you can’t take the Detroit out of the quarterback. Matt Stafford continues to come up well short in big moments for the Rams. For the second straight week, Los Angeles got whipped in primetime as their big offseason acquisition floundered. This week though, he might have an excuse. His receivers could not catch anything on Monday night. Stafford’s second interception went right through the hands of Tyler Higbee. Without any semblance of a running game and a defense that could not stop a nosebleed, much less Elijah Mitchell, L.A. looked completely overmatched. Sean McVay has a lot of questions to answer on the other side of their bye week.

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8. Buffalo Bills: 6-3 (Last Week: 9)
Won 45-17 at New York
Buffalo clearly did not dwell on its stunning Week 9 loss to the Jaguars. The Bills jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. They led 38-3 heading into the fourth quarter. Josh Allen played well and got plenty of help from the ground game. Four different players recorded a rushing touchdown in this one. Similarly, four different defensive players intercepted Mike White in a dominant performance. Buffalo clearly showed that its floor is very low, but this was a good reminder that they also have a very high ceiling.

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9. Kansas City Chiefs: 6-4 (Last Week: 14)
Won 41-14 at Las Vegas
It is important not to overreact after just one game on the heels of about a month of lackluster play, but we saw the Patrick Mahomes of old on Sunday night. He shredded the Raiders secondary for 406 yards and five touchdowns in a resurgent performance. What’s more, Kansas City ran the ball enough to keep Las Vegas honest. The Chiefs averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, so there is room for improvement, but this was a good sign of things to come. Kansas City cannot afford a let down though with Dallas up next.

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10. Baltimore Ravens: 6-3 (Last Week: 7)
Lost 22-10 at Miami
Goodness this was ugly. Miami bottled up Lamar Jackson as the offense spun its wheels all night long. The Ravens could not adjust to the consistent pressure Brian Flores sent throughout the game. Defensively, Baltimore held Jacoby Brissett in check, but gave up way too many big plays in big moments. With the Browns losing and the Steelers tying this week, this would have been a huge opportunity for the Ravens to build some separation in the division. Instead, Baltimore must rethink its offensive approach against blitz-heavy defenses.

11. Los Angeles Chargers: 5-4 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 27-20 vs. Minnesota
Reminder: the Chargers are a young team and there are going to be some growing pains. Justin Herbert turned in an uneven performance, with a touchdown, an interception and just 195 yards passing. Defensively, Kirk Cousins generally had his way with the secondary and Minnesota chewed up clock on the ground. This loss does not undo wins over the Chiefs or Browns, but Los Angeles is clearly not a true Super Bowl contender yet.

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12. New Orleans Saints: 5-4 (Last Week: 11)
Lost 23-21 at Tennessee
Question time. Why is Trevor Siemian starting for the Saints? Taysom Hill went 3-1 as a spot starter for New Orleans when Drew Brees got hurt, in ahead of Jameis Winston. Now, Hill is back to his gadget player role, despite receiving a monster extension this offseason. I understand it was primarily for salary cap purposes, but it still makes me wonder what has changed since last year. Considering this loss came by two points on the road against a good team while the Saints were missing their best player, the sky is not falling. However, after two straight losses, it is fair to wonder if a change at quarterback is necessary.

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13. Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-3-1 (Last Week: 12)
Tied 16-16 vs. Detroit
If nothing else, we learned that Mason Rudolph is not the Steelers quarterback of the future. He managed a meager 4.8 yards per attempt and finished with a QBR of 36.7. There is plenty of blame to go around though, as Pittsburgh coughed up two fumbles in overtime to halt two potential game-winning drives. Meanwhile, the defense gave up 229 yards rushing. All the way around, it is a wonder the Steelers did not lose this game. They desperately need Ben Roethlisberger back in Week 11.

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14. Indianapolis Colts: 5-5 (Last Week: 17)
Won 23-17 vs. Jacksonville
Perhaps we should just chalk this up to divisional games being difficult. However, the Colts did not play well and let the Jaguars hang around way too long in this one. Carson Wentz was pedestrian at best and no one other than Jonathan Taylor really produced much. If not for a special teams touchdown early in this game on a blocked punt, there is a good chance Indianapolis loses this game. Like I said, divisional games are wonky and often lead to unexpected results. Hopefully, the Colts can raise their play because a visit to Buffalo is up next.

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15. Minnesota Vikings: 4-5 (Last Week: 19)
Won 27-20 at Los Angeles
At long last, Minnesota built a late lead and hung onto it. Kirk Cousins aired it out and Dalvin Cook put in a ton of work. The defense deserves a ton of credit for making life difficult on Justin Herbert, sacking him twice and intercepting him. Controlling the clock on offense and limiting big plays on defense is a winning formula for this side.

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16. Cleveland Browns 5-5 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 45-7 at New England
What to make of the Browns? On the heels of a blowout win against Cincinnati, Cleveland drove right down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. Then, the Browns surrendered 45 unanswered points as Baker Mayfield struggled mightily before exiting with a knee injury. D’Ernest Johnson did his best to carry the load, racking up 157 yards of offense, but Cleveland looked lifeless on both sides of the ball. The sign of a great team is consistency, which goes a long way towards explaining the Browns’ 5-5 record. This team cannot string together performances right now.

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17. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-4 (Last Week: 16)
Bye Week
It was a good week for the Bengals. The Ravens, Browns and Steelers all did not win. Now Cincinnati needs to take advantage. Joe Burrow and company have flashed the potential to be one of the best teams in the AFC, but are coming off back-to-back losses to the Jets and Browns. With a bye week to regroup, the Bengals now have a chance to prove they are a legitimate playoff team and not just another middle-of-the-road side.

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18. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-4 (Last Week: 15)
Lost 41-14 vs. Kansas City
It seems like the on-going circus around the Raiders has finally caught up with them on the field. First, Jon Gruden was fired (technically, he resigned, but let’s read between the lines) for some horrible emails containing racist, homophobic and misogynistic language. Then, Henry Ruggs was arrested after killing someone while driving drunk, going 156 miles per hour with a loaded gun in the car. Most recently, Damon Arnette was released following a series of social media posts containing death threats while he brandished firearms. And that was all before they went into a rivalry game with the Chiefs. Needless to say, Las Vegas fell flat. Patrick Mahomes pulled apart the Raiders secondary and the offense did not score after halftime. Rich Bisaccia has a tough task ahead of him.

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19. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-6 (Last Week: 22)
Won 30-13 at Denver
Philadelphia put together a complete game as it ran all over Denver’s defense. The Eagles racked up 214 yards on 40 carries and got stronger as the game went on. With the game tied at 10 midway through the second quarter, Philly outscored Denver 20-3 the rest of the way. Given how much chaos has occurred in the NFL this season, the Eagles are just one game back of a playoff spot. They will face another wildcard contender in Week 11 as the Saints come to town.

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20. San Francisco 49ers: 4-5 (Last Week: 25)
Won 31-10 vs. Los Angeles
Kyle Shanahan clearly has Sean McVay’s number. San Francisco has notched five straight wins over Los Angeles, with Monday’s being the most impressive, and perhaps important, yet. The 49ers ran the ball 44 times to amass a time of possession of over 39 minutes. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford never looked comfortable and the Rams could not hold onto the ball. Two early interceptions, including a pick-six, coupled with an 11-minute scoring drive set the tone for the game. L.A. never recovered. San Francisco will have a chance to build on this win in Jacksonville.

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21. Carolina Panthers: 5-5 (Last Week: 24)
Won 34-10 at Arizona
Even though he did not start, there is no doubt Cam Newton provided a huge emotional boost for the Panthers. Super Cam scored on his first two offensive snaps in his return to Carolina. The defense certainly benefited from facing Colt McCoy instead of Kyler Murray, but still impressed nonetheless. The Panthers tallied four total sacks and only allowed 169 yards of offense. It was the type of stifling performance that makes you think that Carolina could be a real problem down the stretch if Newton can get into form and provide some kind of stability on offense.

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22. Denver Broncos: 5-5 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 30-13 vs. Philadelphia
Denver followed up an impressive road win over the Cowboys with a lopsided home loss to the Eagles. Make it make sense. The biggest difference was the run game. After allowing just 78 yards to Dallas, Philadelphia rumbled for 214 yards on the ground. After falling behind, the Broncos could not continue to run consistently, which is where they found a decent amount of success earlier in the game. Still at .500 and only a game back in the AFC West, Denver is in the mix, but results like this make it hard to believe in the long-term potential.

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23. New York Giants: 3-6 (Last Week: 21)
Bye Week
This was a tough week for the Giants. Not because of anything they did. Hopefully, they finally got healthy. Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Kenny Golladay and more have missed enough time already. No, unfortunately, every other team in the NFC East won, which pushes New York back into the divisional basement. Joe Judge and Daniel Jones have a lot to prove in the second half of the season.

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24. Atlanta Falcons: 4-5 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 43-3 at Dallas
Last week, I said that Matt Ryan was putting together a Jekyll and Hyde type season. He turned it up a notch in Week 10. After an impressive win over the Saints in which he had 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Ryan went 9-for-21 passing for 121 yards and two interceptions. He was pulled late in the third quarter with the team trailing by 40. Atlanta is still just a half game back of the Panthers for the NFC’s final wildcard spot at the moment, but it is hard to think of this group as a playoff team.

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25. Seattle Seahawks: 3-6 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 17-0 at Green Bay
So, Russell Wilson didn’t exactly fix the offense. The veteran quarterback struggled mightily, finishing 20-of-40 throwing for 161 yards and two interceptions. He simply did not look sharp, nor did he have much time to throw. Green Bay hit him five times, including three sacks. On the bright side, the defense limited Aaron Rodgers and kept Seattle in the game until late on. Unfortunately, things will not get much easier with the Cardinals up next.

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26. Miami Dolphins: 3-7 (Last Week: 28)
Won 22-10 vs. Baltimore
Don’t look now, but the Dolphins are on a win streak. Brian Flores blitzed the hell out of Lamar Jackson, mostly from his secondary, holding the former MVP in check. In fact, this has to go down as one of the most impressive defensive performances of his tenure. However, questions must be asked of Flores’ handling of his quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa was deemed injured and unable to start the game. Yet, he was active as a backup. Jacoby Brissett exited with an injury, thrusting Tagovailoa into the game. Brissett never returned despite being cleared to play. So if Tagovailoa was too hurt to start, why was he left in when Brissett was able to come back? Miami’s quarterback situation continues to be an enigma.

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27. Washington: 3-6 (Last Week: 29)
Won 29-19 vs. Tampa Bay
Add the Washington Football Team to the list of teams that act as kryptonite to Tom Brady. Washington intercepted the future Hall of Famer twice in the first quarter to build an early lead. However, the real key was a 10-plus minute touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Washington remained committed to the run despite only managing 2.8 yards per carry. Now, Ron Rivera must prepare for an emotional reunion with his former team in Cam Newton’s first home game since returning to the Panthers.

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28. Chicago Bears: 3-6 (Last Week: 26)
Bye Week
Maybe a week off will allow Matt Nagy and Bill Lazor to finally build an offense that suits Justin Fields’ skill set. The rookie quarterback has had the typical ups and downs that come with the transition to the NFL. However, the Bears have been unable to unlock their best offensive player in Allen Robinson and often leave Fields in tough situations. Chicago’s defense is usually good enough to win games. If the offense can find a bit more consistency, the Bears could be a factor down the stretch.

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29. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-7 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 23-17 vs. Indianapolis
Jacksonville nearly followed up one upset with another. Trevor Lawrence was strip-sacked after making it into Colts territory on the team’s final drive, ending hopes of another massive win, but there are some positives to take away. The defense seems to have taken a much-needed step forward. Carson Wentz did not find much success through the air, but ultimately, the Jaguars could not slow down Jonathan Taylor. Now, if Urban Meyer could find a way to help Lawrence develop, Jacksonville would be in a good place.

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30. New York Jets: 2-7 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 45-17 vs. Buffalo
It is ridiculous to think about, but how warm is Robert Saleh’s seat getting right now? New York’s defense has been almost unprecedentedly bad, allowing 417 yards per game and just shy of 33 points per game, both the worst marks in the league. Saleh was formerly the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, so this was supposed to be his forte. I don’t expect the Jets to fire him after just one season, but it would be good for the unit to show progress in the second half of the year.

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31. Houston Texans: 1-7 (Last Week: 31)
Bye Week
Houston largely sat out the trade deadline and now sits at 1-7. An extra week to get Tyrod Taylor back to full health likely bodes well for the offense. With very little expectation and already having won a game to avoid the dreaded winless season, there really does not seem to be much to play for in Houston.

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32. Detroit Lions: 0-8-1 (Last Week: 32)
Tied 16-16 at Pittsburgh
This might be the most Lions way to break a 12-game losing streak: an ugly tie in a game where Detroit probably should have won, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. Jared Goff is clearly not the quarterback of the future, but with a mediocre quarterback class coming up, how the Lions address the position will be interesting. Dan Campbell has this team competing hard, but at some point, that is not going to be enough any more.

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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 10

I give up. I have no idea what to do with these rankings. Week 9 turned the NFL’s hierarchy on its head with a slew of upsets. Many of the things we thought we could count on fell apart. Matt Stafford reverted to Detroit form against a Derek Henry-less Tennessee squad. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott returned only for Dallas’ offense to bottom out against a Denver side that just traded away Von Miller. To top it all off, it turns out Jacksonville had the better Josh Allen on Sunday as they shocked Buffalo.

Which team is the best in the NFL right now? I don’t know if there is a clear cut answer to that question. Green Bay lost without Aaron Rodgers, but it also beat previously undefeated Arizona the week before. Speaking of the Cardinals, they cruised by the 49ers without Kyler Murry or DeAndre Hopkins. Perhaps you could say the Buccaneers, but they just lost to a team led by Trevor Seimian in Week 8. Those Saints turned around and lost at home to the Falcons this week. Maybe it is the Titans, fresh off a win over the Rams. However, they could not really move the ball much, finishing with 194 yards of offense. Most of their scoring was led by the defense, which does not feel sustainable.

All of this is to say, I don’t know right now. I cannot remember a time where the league has felt so wide open. There are no elite teams in the NFL and the list of true contenders feels both very long and very short at the same time. Anyway, here is my best guess at how everyone stacks.

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1. Green Bay Packers: 7-2 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 13-7 at Kansas City
Let’s start with something potentially controversial. I’m actually not talking about Aaron Rodgers here. That shouldn’t be controversial. He lied. Plain and simple. He also should be adhering to league protocols. No, the controversy is about moving a Packers team coming off a loss to No. 1 in the rankings. I look at it this way. Green Bay lost by six points in a game where Mason Crosby missed a field goal and another blocked. Jordan Love also made his first career start and looked nothing short of terrible. If the Packers defense can play at that level and get Rodgers back under center, this team is going to be just fine and looks to be the best in the league.

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2. Arizona Cardinals: 8-1 (Last Week: 4)
Won 31-17 at San Francisco
Kliff Kingsbury deserves credit here. Without Kyler Murray or DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals went on the road for a divisional game and won comfortably. Colt McCoy played great while the ground game picked up 163 yards. Defensively, Arizona limited San Francisco to just 39 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. This team is deeper than I think people realize and definitely deserve contender status. There is a reason the Cardinals are the only one-loss team in the league.

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3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-2 (Last Week: 5)
Bye Week
I toyed with moving the Buccaneers down. Their two losses this season came against the Rams and Saints, who flopped as home favorites in Week 8. New Orleans simply seems to have this team’s number. I don’t think anyone should be too worried about this team’s long term outlook. The amount of talent they have on both sides of the ball is close to unrivaled. A week off should give Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown a chance to get healthy, which will only make this offense more potent down the stretch.

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4. Tennessee Titans: 7-2 (Last Week: 8)
Won 28-16 at Los Angeles
Who could’ve seen this coming? I certainly did not. With Derrick Henry out, it was the defense who stepped up, intercepting Matt Stafford twice, including a pick-six from Kevin Byard. The other interception gave Ryan Tannehill the ball inside the five yard line. Perhaps even more significant, the five sacks the Titans racked up set a new season high. If the Titans can consistently generate a consistent pass rush, it will take a lot of pressure off the offense. Life without Henry was a bit rough running the ball, as Tennessee averaged 2.7 yards per carry. It will take some time for them to adjust.

5. Los Angeles Rams: 7-2 (Last Week: 1)
Lost 28-16 vs. Tennessee
Goodness, that was ugly. Apparently, taking Matthew Stafford out of the Motor City did not eliminate those horrific outings from his repertoire. Stafford posted a 17.6 Total QBR complete with a pair of interceptions and five sacks. Los Angeles did not find the end zone until the game was well out of reach in the fourth quarter. Given how well the Rams have played up to this point this year, I don’t think this is anything to panic about, but a good reminder that Stafford is capable of tanking the team’s game plan when he is out of sync.

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6. Dallas Cowboys: 6-2 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 30-16 vs. Denver
Do we start the quarterback controversy conversation in Dallas? I’m joking obviously, but Dak Prescott did have an abysmal day against the Broncos. He didn’t get much help from his receivers, with drops from just about everyone on the field. However, it was clear Prescott was having an off day. The defense was not at its best either, giving up a host of big plays to Teddy Bridgewater in the passing game. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon also combined for 191 yards on the ground. This is one where it might be best to just burn the film and move on.

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7. Baltimore Ravens: 6-2 (Last Week: 11)
Won 34-31 vs. Minnesota
Where in the world would the Ravens be without Justin Tucker and Lamar Jackson? Jackson didn’t have his best game as a passer with two interceptions, but his three passing touchdowns and 120 yards rushing should more than make up for that. Meanwhile, Tucker made his second game-winning kick of the season, this time in overtime. It is really hard to understand how Baltimore did not run away with this, out gaining Minnesota 500 to 318 on offense. Some of that can be accounted for with the Vikings’ 98-yard kick return touchdown, but still, the Ravens had 23 more first downs! A win is most important, but maybe the defense needs to step up a bit.

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8. New England Patriots: 5-4 (Last Week: 12)
Won 24-6 at Carolina
Don’t look now, but the Patriots have won three straight and have early 2000s Patriots vibes. This team has a strong running game and a talented defense leading the way. Mac Jones threw the ball just 18 times, but he really did not need to do much with his defense holding the Panthers to just six points. It would be good to see him take better care of the football following an interception and a lost fumble in this one, but he unquestionably outplayed Sam Darnold. Not hard to do, but still important. New England faces another big matchup with Cleveland up next.

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9. Buffalo Bills: 5-3 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 9-6 at Jacksonville
Clearly, the Manning Cast curse is alive and well. A week after making an appearance on Peyton and Eli’s Monday Night Football watch party, he had one of the worst games of his career in a loss to the hapless Jaguars. It is clear Allen needs some help from his run game. He managed 50 yards with his legs, but the combination of Zack Moss and Devin Singletary accounted for just 22 yards on the ground. This game was all kinds of ugly, but this is not the first time we’ve seen the Bills offense sputter. It is something Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll need to resolve as the year rolls on.

10. Los Angeles Chargers: 5-3 (Last Week: 13)
Won 27-24 at Philadelphia
It one was too close for comfort. As we’ve seen though, making the East Coast road trip is not easy. Just ask the Raiders. Coming out with a win in the most important thing, but it was also really good to see Justin Herbert get back on track. He completed 32-of-38 passes for 356 yards and three total touchdowns. It would be nice to see the defense play a bit better, particularly against the run. That could be the Chargers’ Achilles heel the rest of the way.

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11. New Orleans Saints: 5-3 (Last Week: 7)
Lost 27-25 vs. Atlanta
Will the real New Orleans Saints please stand up? I feel like this is not even the first time I’ve called for this in 2021. New Orleans’ maddening inconsistency struck again on Sunday. One week after frustrating Tom Brady with two late-game interceptions, the Saints surrendered 343 yards and two touchdowns to Matt Ryan. What’s more, the Falcons could not run the ball, so there was no reason not to play the pass. It didn’t matter though as Ryan simply carved up the secondary. Trevor Seimian played fine, but it is fair to wonder if Taysom Hill will take over soon.

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12. Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-3 (Last Week: 17)
Won 29-27 vs. Chicago
Well, it wasn’t without drama, but the Steelers picked up another crucial win in exciting fashion. Chicago’s 65-yard field goal as time expired fell well short, which pushed Pittsburgh back into the AFC North race. Ben Roethlisberger played well and led the game-winning drive when it mattered. There is certainly room for improvement as Najee Harris finished with 2.8 yards per carry and Ray-Ray McCloud fumble on a punt return was returned for a touchdown to shift momentum big time. The Steelers seem to be like cockroaches. You just can’t kill them.

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13. Cleveland Browns 5-4 (Last Week: 15)
Won 41-14 at Cincinnati
Talk about a bounce back. After a string of lackluster offensive performances with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in and out of the lineup, the Browns exploded for 41 points with help from all three phases of the game. Cleveland turned to the big play with a 70-yard touchdown run, a 60-yard touchdown pass and a 99-yard interception return in the same game. The sustainability of that success will be tested against the Patriots in Week 10, but the Browns’ outlook is much brighter than it was a week ago. Clearly, Odell Beckham Jr.’s services were not missed.

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14. Kansas City Chiefs: 5-4 (Last Week: 16)
Won 13-7 vs. Green Bay
It is hard to believe this is still the same Chiefs offense that averaged nearly 31 points per game over the first six games of the season. In their past three, they have averaged 12. Patrick Mahomes looks a bit lost right now, with no signs of getting back to his previous MVP form. Credit to Steve Spagnoulo for blitzing the hell out of Jordan Love in his first career start, but Kansas City will need more from Mahomes and company on offense in order to make a real playoff run. A pivotal Sunday night matchup with the Raiders is up next.

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15. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-3 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 23-16 at New York
There are too many distractions in Las Vegas. No, not the casino and nightlife kind. The Raiders said goodbye to their second former first-round draft pick in as many weeks as they released Damon Arnette on Monday. When you consider that Mike Mayock has spent his first round picks on Clelin Ferrell, Jonathan Abram, Josh Jacobs, Damon Arnette and Alex Leatherwood, it is a wonder this team has a winning record. Hopefully, this was just a blip as the team continues to navigate a tumultuous season, but things won’t get any easier with the Chiefs visiting in Week 10.

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16. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-4 (Last Week: 9)
Lost 41-16 vs. Cleveland
The NFL is a what have you done for me lately league. While the Bengals win over the Ravens is still impressive, following it up with a blown lead against the Jets and a blowout against the Browns really puts a damper on things. Joe Burrow seems to be pressing and the offensive line is clearly not a strength for this team. On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati gave up way too many big games to be successful. All is not lost, but a reality check after a hot start now has the Bengals needing to respond. This feels like a very good time for a bye week.

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17. Indianapolis Colts: 4-5 (Last Week: 17)
Won 45-30 vs. New York
Don’t let the final scoreline fool you, this one was never in doubt. Indianapolis ran all over the Jets to the tune of 260 yards and three touchdowns. Carson Wentz played great as well. The Colts feel like a solidly middle of the road team. They beat the teams they are supposed to, but lose to the teams they are supposed to as well. We will see if Frank Reich can change the narrative in the second half of the year. Jacksonville is up next coming off a very surprising upset.

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18. Denver Broncos: 5-4 (Last Week: 23)
Won 30-16 at Dallas
This would have gone down as the most improbable result of the weekend if not for the stunner the Jaguars pulled off. The Broncos seemed down and out following a string of offensive struggles and trading away one of the franchises’ most iconic defensive players. Instead, they beat the brakes off the Cowboys for three and a half quarters before finally taking their foot off the gas. Teddy Bridgewater had one of the best performances of his career, airing the ball out nicely and taking care of the football. That Broncos backfield is starting to look like a two-headed monster as well. This definitely changes the team’s outlook moving forward.

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19. Minnesota Vikings: 3-5 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 34-31 at Baltimore
What to make of the Minnesota Vikings. On one hand, this was their fifth loss by seven points or fewer on the season. Those losses are against the Bengals, Cardinals, Browns, Cowboys and Ravens, all of whom have winning records. However, the Vikings also lost to Cooper Rush last week and blew a 14-point lead this time around. Pressure is mounting for Mike Zimmer to get this defense trending in the right direction. It wouldn’t hurt for Kirk Cousins to do a bit more as well.

Falcons logo

20. Atlanta Falcons: 4-4 (Last Week: 25)
Won 27-25 at New Orleans
Matt Ryan continued his Jekyll and Hyde season with a masterclass on Sunday. He has had some rough games, but he is quietly putting together a solid season. What’s more impressive is who his supporting cast is. Atlanta’s starting running back is a gadget player and its receiving corps is full of unproven youngsters and role players. The offensive line is far from a strength either. This win keeps the Falcons in the wild card conversation in the NFC, but the schedule is definitely not the easiest the rest of the way.

Giants Logo

21. New York Giants: 3-6 (Last Week: 26)
Won 23-16 vs. Las Vegas
New York’s defense played well enough to win once again, but this time the offense actually did enough to allow it to happen. The Giants forced three turnovers, including a pick-six and held the Raiders to just one touchdown. Despite the win, the Giants offense still looks like a major work in progress. Daniel Jones passed for just 110 yards and lost a fumble. Thankfully, Devontae Booker carried the load with 21 carries for 99 yards. New York has a week off before a showdown with the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.

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22. Philadelphia Eagles: 3-6 (Last Week: 22)
Lost 27-24 vs. Los Angeles
Though it was a loss, I think the Eagles offense showed signs of progress against the Chargers. Jalen Hurts was very efficient passing, even if he only did it 17 times. Jordan Howard continued his career renaissance as well with 71 yards and a score. It is far from perfect, but Nick Sirianni is clearly experimenting with what works best for Hurts’ skillset. Unfortunately, the defense still has a long way to go. Justin Herbert picked apart the secondary for 356 yards and two touchdowns. There is a reason most mock drafts have Philadelphia selecting defensive backs.

Seahawks logo

23. Seattle Seahawks: 3-5 (Last Week: 24)
Bye Week
He’s back! Russell Wilson has been cleared to return for Week 10’s showdown with the Packers. It remains to be seen if his opposing counterpart will be Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love. Either way, the Seahawks should be a much more competitive team with Wilson back in the fold, particularly given that the defense stepped up in his absence. It might have been against the Jaguars, Saints and Steelers, but they stepped up nonetheless. There is basically no margin for error left for Seattle though, especially given how well the Rams and Cardinals are playing. The Seahawks still have a lot of work to do to reach the postseason.

Panthers logo

24. Carolina Panthers: 4-5 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 24-6 vs. New England
Another team struggling through mediocrity, Carolina turned in an absolute dud. The offense in particular continues to struggle. Sam Darnold had another horrid week when facing Bill Belichick, throwing three interceptions, completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes and posting a woeful Total QBR of 3.0. Whether in the draft or free agency, it seems more than likely the Panthers will be looking for another quarterback to compete with Darnold for the starting job next season.

49ers Logo

25. San Francisco 49ers: 3-5 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 31-17 vs. Arizona
Kyle Shanahan is officially on the hot seat. Facing a team missing its starting quarterback and No. 1 receiver, the 49ers gave up 31 points and did not mount much of a challenge. Often championed for his ability to use running backs interchangeably, Shanahan’s offense suddenly cannot run the ball effectively. As a team, San Francisco managed just 39 yards rushing. Given all the defensive talent, there is definitely cause for concern. The 49ers need to turn things around quickly to save their season.

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26. Chicago Bears: 3-6 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 29-27 at Pittsburgh
Dropping the Bears five spots feels harsh given that it was a close loss, but when the Broncos, Falcons and Giants all win, it is hard not to move them down. Justin Fields continues to show signs of improving and the running game once again showed up strong. Unfortunately, it was the defense that could not find a way to slow down Ben Roethlisberger and company. Particularly on the Steelers’ go-ahead drive, the Bears defense looked disjointed and unprepared for a two-minute drill. With hopes of a playoff berth rapidly dwindling, Chicago will no doubt begin to search for a new coach to develop Fields.

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27. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-6 (Last Week: 29)
Won 9-6 vs. Buffalo
At long last, fans in Jacksonville finally got to witness a win. The Jaguars only other win this season came in London. It wasn’t pretty, but the defense turned back the clocks to 2017 with a stellar showing. Josh Allen made Josh Allen’s life a living nightmare. While the defense was dominant, the offense left a lot to be desired. Trevor Lawrence averaged just 4.5 yards per attempt and Jacksonville couldn’t even crack 80 yards rushing. While a win is great, there are still quite a few issues to iron out for this team.

Dolphins logo

28. Miami Dolphins: 2-7 (Last Week: 30)
Won 17-9 vs. Houston
Miami spoiled Tyrod Taylor’s return with a strong defensive performance, complete with three interceptions and five sacks. The Dolphins needed the defense to play at that level too, because the offense was struggling. Jacoby Brissett threw two picks in relief of an injured Tua Tagovailoa while the running game mustered a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. It takes a little bit of the pressure off for now, but Miami still has a lot to prove this year.

Washington made up logo

29. Washington: 2-6 (Last Week: 27)
Bye Week
Washington feels like a team on the brink. It could either try to rally coming off a bye week to salvage the season and maybe get back into the playoff race or tank the rest of the way with hopes of securing a high draft pick to find a new quarterback. This team has taken a major step backwards in several other areas as well, namely the run game and pass rush. Antonio Gibson is clearly in the midst of a sophomore slump while Chase Young and company have not been able to replicate their heroics from 2020. Those two things do not bode well for an offense already starting a backup quarterback and lacking proven playmakers outside of Terry McLaurin. At least Logan Thomas should be close to returning from injury in Week 10.

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30. New York Jets: 2-6 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 45-30 at Indianapolis
The whole Mike White thing was fun while it lasted. The Western Kentucky product exited with a forearm injury early against the Colts and that seemed to end any chances of the Jets keeping up. The Colts gashed Gang Green’s defense for 260 yards and three scores while Carson Wentz pulled apart the secondary like cotton candy. For a defensive mastermind, Robert Saleh has some questions to answer about how overmatched his defense has been this season. New York is dead last in points allowed per game.

Texans logo

31. Houston Texans: 1-7 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 17-9 at Miami
The list of one-win teams has been whittled down to just one. Houston lost its seventh straight uninspiring fashion. Tyrod Taylor struggled mightily in his first game since Week 2. The offensive line continues to be a problem as well. This is what was expected of the Texans this year though. It doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

Lions Logo

32. Detroit Lions: 0-8 (Last Week: 32)
Bye Week
Well at least the Lions didn’t lose this week. Their chances of getting a top-two pick also skyrocketed this week with wins by the Jaguars and Dolphins. I would expect an ugly game against the Steelers in Week 10.

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NFL Coaching Hot Seat Tracker: Preseason Preview

It’s almost time for football! Training camp is getting underway and the NFL rumor mill is in full effect. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and even Chandler Jones could be on the move.

There will be plenty of time to get into all of the potential scenarios for the big names looking for a change of scenery. I wanted to take a look at where every coach in the NFL stands though as we approach the preseason. Every year, we see about seven or eight head coaching openings in the league. Those openings don’t happen without a coach losing his job. Here is an early look at which coaches could be sweating it out at the end of the season. My plan is to update this list at the midway point and again after the regular season.

New York Jets – Robert Saleh
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. It’s the first time the Jets have ever had both heading into the same season in franchise history. That takes the pressure off everyone here. While seeing a massive turnaround from a 2-14 season would be great, it is not expected. As long as Saleh can show signs that he is putting the pieces in place for future success, that’s all that matters. Besides, after dealing with Adam Gase for two years, Saleh will be a breath of fresh air.

New England Patriots – Bill Belichick
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Could the Patriots really fire Bill Belichick? It feels unlikely. At this point, I think it is more likely Belichick retires or leaves on his own accord than being fired. Still, after a very rocky 2020 season, the Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to retool their roster. They also spent a first round pick on Mac Jones. If New England takes a step backward though and the offense flops again, maybe the team could think about making a change. Again, it feels incredibly unlikely, but the expectations are certainly higher for the Patriots in 2021.

Buffalo Bills – Sean McDermott
Heat Index: πŸ”₯
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The Bills are entering a clear championship window in the final two years of Josh Allen’s rookie deal. Allen took a massive step in 2020 and put together an MVP-caliber campaign. If he can come close to replicating that performance, Buffalo will be very capable of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In order to get to that point, Sean McDermott needs to get the defense back to its 2019 form. With higher expectations comes increased pressure. It would take a truly miserable season for McDermott to lose his job, but he has to deliver.

Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

Honestly, if the Dolphins went 0-17 and Tua Tagovailoa lost his starting job to Jacoby Brissett, I think Brian Flores might still keep his job. He is a ton setter and a great culture builder. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect the above scenario to come true. Miami came up one game short of reaching the playoffs in an incredibly competitive AFC. Even if Tagovailoa falters again, I think Flores would get a chance to pick another quarterback and continue building the framework of this team.

Indianapolis Colts – Frank Reich
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Which direction are the Colts headed? The team has a championship-caliber roster in a lot of areas. Their front seven is incredible. The secondary should be even better in 2021. The offensive line is definitely among the top five units in the league. They lack a true No. 1 receiver at this point, but they have depth at the skill positions. It now all falls on Frank Reich and Carson Wentz. Indianapolis acquired Wentz this offseason for a decent amount of draft capital, reuniting him with his offensive coordinator from his early days in Philadelphia. If the Colts struggle in what looks to be a fairly weak AFC South and miss the postseason, there could be some significant turnover in Indy.

Houston Texans – David Culley
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

If there was ever a team that could be accused of tanking in the NFL, it has to be the Houston Texans. After releasing franchise icon J.J. Watt amid a massive quarterback controversy on the heels of a 4-12 season, it seems like the Texans are entering a long rebuild. With limited draft capital in recent years, this roster has a massive talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. The roster building is confusing as well, as the team continues to target veteran running backs. Deshaun Watson was likely not going to play this season before his pending legal situation unfolded. Now it seems certain he will not see the field in 2021. All of this is to say, there is absolutely no pressure on David Culley to succeed this season.

Tennessee Titans – Mike Vrabel
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Mike Vrabel has the Titans playing at an extremely high level. They are tough, determined and disciplined, which is usually a product of good coaching. After making a splashy move to land Julio Jones, the pressure is on for Tennessee to make a deep postseason run. With Arthur Smith heading to Atlanta, it is going to be interesting to see if the Titans can maintain their offensive success. A major step backward could see Vrabel come under scrutiny. I think his job is safe, but stranger things have happened.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Urban Meyer
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It is very bizarre to say a first-year head coach is on the hot seat, but Urban Meyer is unlike most rookie coaches. Meyer comes with a ton of clout from his days at Ohio State and Florida. He also just drafted arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The heat here mostly stems from Meyer’s checked history with team culture. The league fined the Jaguars $200,000 for OTA violations and slapped Meyer with a $100,000 fine of his own. The fines stemmed from breaking the non-contact rules of OTAs. This comes on the heels of Meyer hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Doyle resigned one day after his hire following a chorus of former Hawkeyes saying he discriminated against them. The Jaguars have a chance to build something special around Trevor Lawrence. There have already been red flags. Jacksonville needs to be sure it has the best possible system in place for Lawrence to succeed.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin
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With Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh seemingly at its end, could the Steelers opt for a fresh start and move on from Mike Tomlin as well? It certainly feels possible. Despite winning the AFC North and reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled mightily down the stretch, including a dismal playoff loss against the rival Browns. With no clear succession plan in place and a roster coming up against the cap, the Steelers could look to rebuild with a new coach and a new quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh
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A few years ago ago, it felt very possible the Ravens were set to move on from John Harbaugh. Baltimore missed the playoffs from 2015-2017. Joe Flacco was struggling. The defense was far from its championship-winning dominance in 2012. Lamar Jackson likely saved Harbaugh’s job. Baltimore is now among the top title contenders heading into 2021. Harbaugh feels very safe, but there is always a scenario where he could not be back. There have been concerns around the Ravens offense being too one dimensional with Jackson at the helm. Finally winning a playoff game took the edge off, but if Baltimore somehow misses the postseason in 2021, the heat will be turned up on Harbaugh.

Cleveland Browns – Kevin Stefanski
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1994, Kevin Stefanski is among the safest coaches in the league. His run-heavy approach was incredibly successful, utilizing the two-headed attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to great effect. Stefanski also put Baker Mayfield’s career back on the right path. Now, there are still questions that persist around Mayfield, but after investing heavily in the defense, he might not need to do much for the Browns to be successful again.

Cincinnati Bengals – Zac Taylor
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Through two years on the job, Zac Taylor owns an ugly 6-25-1 record as a head coach. Some of that is a product of joining a team in the midst of a rebuild, but this is the year to start seeing some progress. Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati. Coming off a gruesome knee injury, expectations will be tamped down some for Burrow, but another double-digit loss season could cost Taylor his job. The team needs to take advantage of Burrow being on his rookie contract and can’t afford to waste another year of his development and that salary cap window waiting to see if Taylor can put together a winning formula.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

Unsurprisingly, the pressure seems to be fairly low on Andy Reid. He delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl victory since 1970 in 2019. He led the team back to the big game in 2020 despite having an offensive line decimated by injuries. It cost the Chiefs a chance at repeating, but Kansas City is expected to be among the top contenders to lift the Lombardi in 2021. As long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are still clicking, the Chiefs are going to be among the best teams in the league.

Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio
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Maybe this is a bit warmer than Vic Fangio truly deserves, but the Broncos are heading into a pivotal season. The team put a lot of faith in Drew Lock by passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones on draft night. Courtland Sutton is back after missing 2020 due to injury. So is Von Miller. Winning the division is an incredibly tall task at this point with the Chiefs leading the way, but it feels like the Broncos need to be in the playoff conversation for Fangio to keep his job. Another five-win season with suspect quarterback play and a subpar defense is going to trigger a rebuild.

Los Angeles Chargers – Brandon Staley
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

Brandon Staley walks into a fantastic situation. He has a talented defense with a number of proven playmakers. He inherits one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in the league in Justin Herbert. Los Angeles is also stocked with some reliable playmakers on offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Chargers are simply looking to take a step in the right direction this year. Anthony Lynn was a good coach, but struggled with time management and maintaining leads. If Staley can show an ability to at least be average in those two areas, he will be a major improvement and the Chargers will be at least a league average team.

Las Vegas Raiders – Jon Gruden
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At what point are the Raiders going to put it all together? Heading into his fourth year of his second stint with the franchise, Jon Gruden has yet to post a winning record or reach the postseason. Las Vegas had its moments in 2020, but on the whole it was a disappointing campaign. If the Raiders don’t show signs of progress, expect a rebuild to follow. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had ample opportunity to shape this team how they want it to. Now it is time for the results to follow.

New York Giants – Joe Judge
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Only entering his second year, Joe Judge might be a victim of circumstance more than anything else if he were to lose his job after this season. New York had a rocky 2020 campaign, finishing 6-10 and struggling to figure out its direction offensively. The Giants are in for a much better season in 2021. Saquon Barkley should be healthy at some point early in the year. Dave Gettleman invested draft capital at wide receiver and edge rusher, two positions of need. However, if Daniel Jones struggles and New York suffers through another 6-10 season, Gettleman will almost definitely be gone and the Giants will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback. If there is already that much turnover, Judge could be gone as well.

Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Sirianni
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It is incredibly rare that coaches are fired after just one season. However, it has also happened twice in the past three years. Steve Wilks only got a single season in Arizona and was fired after 2018. Cleveland canned Freddie Kitchen after a disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s not out of the question for the 2021 season either. I already touched on Meyer. Nick Sirianni is not facing as much pressure as his Jacksonville counterpart, but Philadelphia has never been known for being patient. Sirianni inherits a team with more questions than answers at a number of key positions, namely quarterback. If Jalen Hurts flames out and Sirianni shows no signs of building a positive culture, I could see a scenario where ownership decides to clean house.

Dallas Cowboys – Mike McCarthy
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Speaking of coaches lasting one year with a team, there was some buzz that Mike McCarthy could be done after a single season in Dallas. Even before Dak Prescott went down for the season, the Cowboys looked outmatched. It got much worse after that. McCarthy did enough to somehow earn a second year, but now the pressure is on. Dallas needs to win the NFC East for McCarthy to keep his job. It is an incredibly weak division and the Cowboys have the most talented roster, at least on paper. McCarthy might even need to win a playoff game to truly secure his place in 2022.

Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera
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Ron Rivera seems to have endeared himself well to the fans and to the locker room in D.C. After scraping together a playoff appearance despite a losing record, Washington still has not addressed the quarterback position long term. If it takes a step back in 2021, I don’t think that will be enough to force Rivera out. It would take a truly terrible season to see him lose his job. However, there will be those who feel like Washington’s defense gives them a good chance to repeat as division champions. Expectations lead to increased pressure. Given what we’ve seen in recent years, nothing is out of the question.

Atlanta Falcons – Arthur Smith
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After impressing as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith has earned the chance to lead a team of his own. The Falcons are coming off a tough season full of late-game collapses and bad injury luck. Atlanta is caught in limbo as well. They have some veteran players that would make you believe they want to contend, mainly Matt Ryan. The front office gave Ryan a vote of confidence, or realized they could not afford to move him, when it passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. Instead, they grabbed an elite pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts for Ryan to work with. That feels like a move towards contending in the short term. Then, the Falcons traded Julio Jones to Smith’s former team. Like I said, the team is in limbo. I think that bodes well for Smith’s job security while Atlanta attempts to figure out its direction moving forward.

New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton
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It is the end of an era in the Bayou. Drew Brees’ retirement leaves the Saints with uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in a decade and a half. New Orleans is also in salary cap hell after loading up to contend in the future Hall of Famers’ final few years. Now, the Saints seem set for a step backward. Where does that leave Sean Payton? He has shown he can win games without Brees in recent years with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill stepping in to lead the team when Brees went down with injury. I think the pressure is likely off for Payton in 2021. It is a year for the Saints to retool their roster and identify their new franchise quarterback. If New Orleans tanks, Payton’s seat could get warmer, but I expect him to be back in 2022.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians
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The only way Bruce Arians is not the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 is if he decides to retire after the season. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Buccaneers brought back essentially their entire roster to make a run at a repeat. Even if Tampa suffers from a major Super Bowl hangover and misses the postseason, it would be a rash move to fire Arians. He has the trust of Tom Brady, which goes a really long way in securing his position on one of the best teams in the league.

Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

2020 was a rebuilding year for the Panthers. Carolina rebuilt its defense in the 2020 NFL draft, gave Teddy Bridgewater a try at quarterback and lost their best player for most of the season due to injury as Christian McCaffrey played in just three games. Honestly, going 5-11 was a decent feat given how young Carolina’s starters were on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule has earned the title of one of the best teachers in the game. His coaching skills were showcased during the Senior Bowl this past January. Given that the Panthers made a move to acquire Sam Darnold, I think the expectations will be slightly higher, but I still don’t think Rhule has anything to worry about heading into 2021.

Detroit Lions – Dan Campbell
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

If Detroit goes 1-16 in 2021, that might just be mission accomplished for the Lions. Avoiding a winless season and setting the team up to find its quarterback of the future would be a solid start to what will likely be a long rebuild. Dan Campbell likely won’t let any of that happen. He is competitive as hell and I think we could see the Lions win a game or two that they probably shouldn’t simply by putting in a ton of effort. Campbell is going to have his team motivated to play every week. Unless his tough as nails persona rubs players the wrong way in the locker room, I think Campbell will be given a few more years to rebuild this team.

Chicago Bears – Matt Nagy
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Drafting Justin Fields likely takes a little bit of heat off Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, I don’t think it changes a tremendous amount for how this duo needs to approach the 2021 season. It needs to be clear at the end of the year that Fields is on track to be a franchise quarterback and that Nagy is the right person to help him reach his potential. Nagy was lucky to keep his job following a 2020 season where Chicago’s offense was nothing short of anemic. The combination of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky was tough to watch. David Montgomery having a breakout season made up for some of those deficits, but the Bears need to show major progress offensive. It does not mean they will suddenly become the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, but fewer turnovers and sharper play will go a long way.

Green Bay Packers – Matt LaFleur
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Much of how Matt LaFleur will be judged stems from what happens with Aaron Rodgers. Will management blame him for the fractured relationship with the 2020 MVP? Unlikely, seeing as Rodgers’ issues seem to stem more from how the front office operates. There are two ways to spin LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers have reached back-to-back NFC Championship games and dominated the NFC North. For reference, Seattle was the last NFC team to reach back-to-back conference title games in 2012 and 2013. However, unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have been unable to get over the hump. Could another year where the team comes up short in the postseason raise enough questions about LaFleur’s ability to win the biggest games of the year to cost him his job? That seems bold, but don’t rule it out.

Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer
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Mike Zimmer said after the 2020 season that Minnesota’s defense was the worst he ever coached. Enter Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Now, it falls on Zimmer to get the most out of this new talent. Kirk Cousins is locked in through 2022, but another lackluster season from the Vikings could get the wheels turning on a rebuild. Especially if Aaron Rodgers does not play this season, this is Minnesota’s division to lose. Failing to do so would be a major letdown that would likely cost Zimmer his job.

Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll
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An underperforming defense, inconsistent play and a disgruntled star quarterback are a recipe for losing your job as a head coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks in the mix as a playoff regular, but they have not made it past the division round since their 2014 Super Bowl loss. With Russell Wilson complaining this offseason about his offensive line, it certainly will turn up the scrutiny on Seattle’s performance this season. Another early playoff exit highlighted by a team that can’t quite put it all together could spell the end of Carroll’s tenure.

Arizona Cardinals – Kliff Kingsbury
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Entering his third year in charge of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury needs to start producing some results. Arizona came close to reaching the playoffs in 2020, losing the tiebreaker to Chicago for the final spot. However, after starting 5-2, the Cardinals limped to a 3-6 finish. I mean limped literally as well because the team started to struggle right around the time Kyler Murray suffered an ankle injury. Murray still has three years left on his rookie deal, which gives Arizona a fairly lengthy Super Bowl window, but this year feels like an important one to show some progress after signing veterans like J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and James Conner to an already talented roster.

Los Angeles Rams – Sean McVay
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While Cam Akers certainly strikes a blow to Los Angeles’ title hopes, it should not drastically change the team’s expectations for 2021. After making the bold move to acquire Matthew Stafford, the Rams are positioning themselves as championship contenders. Taking all of that into account, I still think Sean McVay is entrenched in the organization that he can weather an underwhelming season. Long praised as one of the great offensive minds in the sport, McVay has proven himself to be valuable to this franchise. After all, the team is only three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, the Rams upset the Seahawks in Seattle with an injured Jared Goff at quarterback. I think McVay is likely safe, but expectations are high for this Rams team heading into 2021.

San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan
Heat Index: πŸ”₯

After slogging through a ridiculous season of injuries, the 49ers seem poised to bounce back in a big way in 2021. However, the team is also facing a changing of the guard at quarterback after selecting Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in April. I think that actually increases the likelihood Kyle Shanahan keeps his job. He is praised as an offensive guru who has developed several quarterbacks in his coaching career. On top of that, he and general manager John Lynch signed six-year extensions following a Super Bowl appearance. Shanahan will be around for a while in San Francisco.

Way-too-early 2021 NFL Power Rankings

Welcome to the NFL offseason. The Buccaneers put a bow on the 2020 season by steamrolling the Chiefs 31-9 in a lopsided Super Bowl. Now, all 32 teams shift their focus to 2021. After a year like none we have ever seen before, we are heading for an offseason like none before.

There are at least a dozen teams that could make a change at quarterback. The NFL combine will not be taking place as usual either due to COVID-19 restrictions. On top of all of that, the salary cap is set to decrease by close to $15 million. This sets up one of the most interesting and pivotal offseasons in recent memory.

With tons of key players potentially switching teams, there is bound to be a lot of movement in these rankings before we get anywhere close to the start of the 2021 season. As it stands though, this is how each team stacks up following Super Bowl LV, as well as a quick look at each team’s biggest free agents.

Chiefs Logo

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2020 record: 14-2
Key free agents: WR Sammy Watkins, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Charvarius Ward, SS Daniel Sorenson, OLB Damien Wilson
Even coming off a drubbing in the Super Bowl, no team is better positioned to make another run at the Super Bowl than the Chiefs. The core of the team is signed through at least 2021 and Kansas City’s front office has done well in recent years to find solid contributors in the draft. As long as Patrick Mahomes is healthy, it is going to be hard to pick against him and Andy Reid.

Buccaneers logo

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: WR Chris Godwin, OLB Shaquille Barrett, LB Lavonte David, TE Rob Gronkowski, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, RB Leonard Fournette, WR Antonio Brown, K Ryan Succop
Tampa Bay will not be going anywhere as long as they have Tom Brady. Yes, Brady will be 44 next season, but this team is built for success all across the roster. There are a number of critical free agents the team will need to lock up, but players like Gronk and AB are likely to stick around to keep chasing rings. There are probably a few other veterans around the league that would do the same thing. Call it the Brady effect, but this team is going to be a front runner to repeat.

Bills logo

3. Buffalo Bills
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: G Jon Feliciano, OT Darryl Williams, LB Matt Milano, CB Josh Norman, DE Trent Murphy, TE Tyler Kroft
Make no mistake, the Bills are for real. Buffalo has the offensive firepower and defensive grit to be one of the best teams in the league in 2021. Without a ton of crucial free agents, the front office could get aggressive in pursuing another corner across from Tre’Davious White or a more reliable tight end. If Josh Allen can come anywhere close to repeating his performance next year, Buffalo will be back in the postseason.

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4. Green Bay Packers
2020 record: 13-3
Key free agents: RB Aaron Jones, C Corey Lindsley, CB Kevin King, RB Jamaal Williams, WR Allen Lazard, TE Robert Tonyan, DE Montravius Adams
Once again, the Packers found themselves on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, but could not break through. This team is still really close to putting it all together and finally getting Aaron Rodgers his second ring. Green Bay has some key offensive pieces to re-sign in Jones, Lazard, Lindsley and Tonyan, but this roster is pretty solid throughout. With the right additions at cornerback and along the offensive line, this team should be primed for another deep playoff run.

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5. Baltimore Ravens
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: OLB Matt Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, OLB Tyus Bowser, C Matt Skura, RB Gus Edwards, WR Willie Snead
It was a rocky start to the year, but what we saw from the Ravens in the second half of the season points to this team’s championship credentials. Baltimore has some clear holes to fill in the front seven on defense with Judon, Bowser and Ngakoue all out of a contract. The offensive line could use a boost and Baltimore is desperate for another receiver, but the foundation is still strong.

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6. Cleveland Browns
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: OLB Olivier Vernon, SS Karl Joseph, DT Larry Ogunjobi, WR Rashad Higgins
I am very bullish on the 2021 Browns. Cleveland has arguably the best offensive line in the league, a deep group of offensive playmakers and a solid front seven. The secondary should be a bit healthier this season, but the Browns also have enough cap space to make a signing or two to bolster the unit. Baker Mayfield does not need to be Superman for Cleveland to take the next step. If he can avoid turnovers, this team should be in the thick of the division title race.

7. Los Angeles Rams
2020 record: 10-6
Key free agents: C Austin Blythe, OLB Leonard Floyd, RB Malcolm Brown, CB Troy Hill, TE Gerald Everett, SS John Johnson, WR Josh Reynolds, LB Sam Ebukam
Los Angeles created themselves a two-year window to go win a championship by acquiring Matthew Stafford. The Rams’ biggest obstacle to accomplishing that goal will be finding a way to supplement the roster with limited draft capital. L.A. is projected to be $25 million over the cap as of right now. They are likely going to lose a lot of their key role players. Stafford is not a mobile quarterback, so if the Rams cannot find a way to protect him, this is going to be a really ugly collapse.

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8. Seattle Seahawks
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: LB K.J. Wright, RB Chris Carson, DE Bruce Irvin, G Mike Iupati, DT Poona Ford, LB Shaquem Griffin, CB Shaquill Griffin, G Ethan Pocic
Seattle played two halves of a great season. The offensive was unstoppable in the first half while the defense looked helpless. In the second half, the offense ground to a halt while the defense found its stride. It all culminated in a disheartening first-round playoff loss. The Seahawks have some critical free agents to re-sign and a number of holes left to fill. Russell Wilson will give them a chance to be great, but the supporting cast is not ideal. Mike Iupati’s retirement is just another sign that this front office needs to invest in the offensive line. If the Texans have taught us anything, it’s that you need to keep your franchise quarterback happy.

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9. Miami Dolphins
2020 record: 10-6
Key free agents: C Ted Karras, LB Elandon Roberts, DT Davon Godchaux, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
It all falls on Tua Tagovailoa now. With a solid amount of cap space, a few premium draft picks and a great coaching staff, Miami seems to have the foundation in place to be successful this year and beyond. The theme of this offseason will be finding Tagovailoa some help. Miami knows it needs to find a No. 1 receiver and to solidify the offensive line. Expect the team to be in the running back market as well. With a strong offseason, the Dolphins could definitely push themselves into the top five.

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10. Tennessee Titans
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: WR Corey Davis, TE Jonnu Smith, DT Da’Quon Jones, OLB Jadeveon Clowney, LB Jayon Brown, K Stephen Gostkowski
Tennessee could not take that next step forward after an AFC Championship run in 2019, but the Titans did well to avoid falling apart as well. It is clear the Titans have a formula that works. They just need to reinvest in the front seven on defense to get back on track. Jadeveon Clowney did not work out and you can bet the front office will be looking for some pass rushing help this offseason. Some really interesting free agent decisions exist too in Corey Davis and Jayon Brown.

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11. San Francisco 49ers
2020 record: 6-10
Key free agents: OT Trent Williams, CB Richard Sherman, FB Kyle Juszczyk, DE Solomon Thomas, CB K’Waun Williams, RB Jerick McKinnon, FS Jaquiski Tartt, RB Tevin Coleman
How does a 6-10 team that lost both its offensive and defensive coordinator end up 11th? Well when pretty much your entire roster is hurt and you still find ways to win football games, that inspires a lot of confidence for when you do get Nick Bosa and company back on the field. This is going to be a crucial offseason for the 49ers, who could be a player in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. Cutting Jimmy Garoppolo would get this team up to roughly $45 million in cap space, so big decisions lie ahead.

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12. Arizona Cardinals
2020 record: 8-8
Key free agents: CB Patrick Peterson, WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB Kenyan Drake, G J.R. Sweezy, DT Corey Peters, OLB Markus Golden, OLB Hassan Reddick, OT Kelvin Beachum
The future still seems bright in Arizona, even after a rough finish to the season. Kyler Murray is clearly the team’s franchise quarterback. The defense had some bright spots. This team is still a few key pieces away from truly contending and the front office has some tough decisions to make regarding Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald. Finding a new running back will be on the to-do list as well. This offseason is critical for the Cardinals.

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13. Indianapolis Colts
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: DE Justin Houston, DE Denico Autry, WR T.Y. Hilton, S Malik Hooker, CB Xavier Rhodes, TE Trey Burton, RB Marlon Mack, WR Zach Pascal, QB Jacoby Brissett
Not included in that list of free agents are Philip Rivers and Anthony Castonzo, both of whom retired. For the third straight year since Andrew Luck retired, the Colts do not have a plan at quarterback. Perhaps Jacob Eason is the answer, but it is hard to feel too strongly about a player who has yet to attempt an NFL pass. Meanwhile, Indy has a bunch of free agents at key positions on defense and several players close to needing extensions. Thankfully, the Colts have nearly $80 million in cap space to reshape this roster.

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14. Pittsburgh Steelers
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: WR Juju Smith-Schuster, RB James Conner, OLB Bud Dupree, OT Alejandro Villanueva, DE Tyson Alualu, FS Sean Davis, LB Robert Spillane, CB Mike Hilton, OT Zach Banner
Pittsburgh’s offensive line is in shambles and Ben Roethlisberger is mulling retirement. Big Ben will probably be back, but the Steelers are going to need to rework his contract to avoid a $41 million cap hit. This offense has a number of critical needs and the Steelers have limited cap space to work with. Maurkice Pouncey is gone as well after announcing his retirement. All eyes will be on the draft for Pittsburgh. Don’t be surprised if a couple of big-name players walk away in free agency.

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15. New Orleans Saints
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: QB Jameis Winston, DT Sheldon Rankins, FS Marcus Williams, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB P.J. Williams, TE Jared Cook
When you are $70 million over the cap and your future Hall of Fame quarterback is about to retire, you are in for a pretty steep drop. There is still plenty of talent on the roster, but New Orleans has a number of major question marks. With key players on defense headed for free agency and no cap space to re-sign them, the Saints could be headed for a rebuild. I think they will be aggressive in trying to stay competitive, but it is hard to see the path forward right now.

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16. Dallas Cowboys
2020 record: 6-10
Key free agents: QB Dak Prescott, DE Tyrone Crawford, LB Sean Lee, C Joe Looney, OLB Aldon Smith, S Xavier Woods
This ranking mostly stems from the belief that the Cowboys will bring back Prescott. Before his injury, Dak Prescott was putting up MVP-type numbers. Dallas’ offensive line was decimated by injuries as well and the defense crumbled. Still, with the offensive firepower at Prescott’s disposal and a number of key players returning from injury, this Cowboys team should be in the mix to win the NFC East.

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17. Minnesota Vikings
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: FS Anthony Harris, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, LB Eric Wilson, LB Todd Davis
The Vikings have very few free agents to tend to. Anthony Harris and Ifeadi Odenigbo are quality starters, but Eric Wilson and Todd Davis were rotational players this year and could easily be allowed to walk. Minnesota’s defense needs a huge turn around in 2021 after a very disappointing 2020 season. There is room for improvement on the offensive line as well. This is a make-or-break year for Kirk Cousins and potentially Mike Zimmer.

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18. Carolina Panthers
2020 record: 5-11
Key free agents: OT Russell Okung, G John Miller, RB Mike Davis, LB Tahir Whitehead, WR Curtis Samuel, OT Taylor Morton
Reports have placed the Panthers in the middle of conversations for Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson. It is clear the front office feels it needs to upgrade at quarterback. With a young defense, there is a lot to like in Carolina. One major area for concern is the offensive line. Three of the team’s starting linemen are headed for free agency. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers spend some draft capital to rebuild their offensive front.

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19. New England Patriots
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: QB Cam Newton, G Joe Thuney, CB Jason McCourty, RB James White, DT Lawrence Guy, C David Andrews, DE Adam Butler, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Damiere Byrd, CB J.C. Jackson, DE Deatrich Wise
New England is primed for a makeover this season with tons of cap space, several key free agents and, potentially, a new quarterback on the way. The Patriots will have a bit more talent, specifically on defense, with several players likely to return after opting out of the 2020 season. Bill Belichick has his work cut out for him to overhaul this roster.

20. Los Angeles Chargers
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: OLB Melvin Ingram, TE Hunter Henry, C Mike Pouncey, LB Denzel Perryman, G Dan Feeney
Los Angeles is headed in the right direction, but this team still has a long way to go before it is ready to compete for a title. The Chargers are breaking in a first-time head coach in Brandon Staley and have a patchwork offensive line. Mike Pouncey definitely won’t be back either after announcing his retirement. Justin Herbert gives this team a bright future, but there is still a ton of work ahead.

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21. New York Giants
2020 record: 6-10
Key free agents: DT Leonard Williams, OT Cameron Fleming, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, WR Austin Mack, RB Dion Lewis, RB Wayne Gallman
New York had some significant highs in 2020, taking the Bucs to the brink and beating the Seahawks in Seattle. Unfortunately, those were few and far between. Getting Saquon Barkley back will help this offense, but the team is still lacking playmakers. It seems like Joe Judge has reset the culture though and given the team a much brighter outlook. This defense is underrated and is capable of keeping New York in games.

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22. Chicago Bears
2020 record: 8-8
Key free agents: WR Allen Robinson, QB Mitchell Trubisky, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, FS Tashaun Gipson, G Germain Ifedi, DE Mario Edwards
Chicago has a big decision to make this offseason. Consensus seems to be that Trubisky is not the answer at quarterback, but the Bears are not well positioned to find his successor. With Robinson unlikely to return, and an uninspiring offensive line, this is not exactly a prime spot for free agents quarterbacks either. How the Bears answer their quarterback question is going to determine their outlook for 2021.

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23. Washington
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: G Brandon Scherff, DE Ryan Kerrigan, CB Ronald Darby, QB Kyle Allen
Washington’s defense is one of the best in the league. Now it needs to invest its resources in building an offense to match. Alex Smith is one of the league’s best comeback stories ever, but he is not the long-term answer at quarterback. He might not even be the short-term solution. With a sizable amount of cap space, Washington could get aggressive in finding some free agent additions, but everything hinges on the quarterback.

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24. Las Vegas Raiders
2020 record: 8-8
Key free agents: DE Jonathan Hankins, DE Takkarist McKinley, WR Nelson Agholor, LB Raekwon McMillan, OLB Vic Beasley
This franchise has been stuck in neutral for the past five years. Since a short-lived playoff run in 2016, the Raiders have been toiling away in obscurity and mediocrity. Derek Carr likely isn’t the answer at quarterback. Las Vegas’ defense is still one of the worst in the league. This team had it’s moment in the sun after stunning the division rival Chiefs, but it feels 8-8 is the ceiling given who the Raiders currently have on their roster.

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25. Denver Broncos
2020 record: 5-11
Key free agents: OLB Von Miller, FS Justin Simmons, SS Kareem Jackson, DT Shelby Harris, WR Tim Patrick, A.J. Johnson, RB Phillip Lindsay
Denver’ s offseason is going to be dictated largely by the decision the franchise makes at quarterback. There is some buzz about Deshaun Watson being interested in the Broncos. Drew Lock is still developing, but if the club is going to make a move like that, it would accelerate this team’s timeline significantly. They still have some key pieces on defense to lock up and a major decision looming regarding Von Miller. There is plenty of room for upward mobility.

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26. Atlanta Falcons
2020 record: 4-12
Key free agents: C Alex Mack, RB Todd Gurley, SS Keanu Neal, S Damontae Kazee, DE Charles Harris, K Younghoe Koo
Where in the world is this team headed? They still have Matt Ryan under contract through 2023 with a pretty easy out after 2021. The future of the club is going to be determined with what the Falcons decide to do with the fourth overall pick. Atlanta has a ton of options. They could find a successor to Ryan, pick their favorite non-QB prospect, or trade down and restock the roster. It is a tough call for new general manager Terry Fontenot.

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27. Philadelphia Eagles
2020 record: 4-11-1
Key free agents: OT Jason Peters, WR DeSean Jackson, DE Vinny Curry, S Jalen Mills, RB Corey Clement, WR Greg Ward
Carson Wentz is in Indianapolis. Zach Ertz is likely to follow. The Eagles are in salary cap hell and headed for something of a rebuild. Philly has an intriguing young quarterback to work with in Jalen Hurts, but there are question marks all over this roster. Not to mention, the Eagles have a first-time head coach who is a relative unknown. This team does not have the cap space to replenish this depleted roster right away. It is going to be two years before we see the Eagles competing in the NFC East again?

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28. Cincinnati Bengals
2020 record: 4-11-1
Key free agents: CB William Jackson, WR A.J. Green, WR John Ross, DE Carl Lawson, DT Mike Daniels, K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber
The key to this offseason will be protecting Joe Burrow. After the former Heisman winner spent much of 2020 running for his life, rebuilding the offensive line is the focal point. Expect the Bengals to be aggressive in the draft and free agency looking for ways to upgrade its current unit. Cincinnati has a few key free agents as well with William Jackson and Carl Lawson. There is a good chance that one of them departs, opening up another need on that Bengals defense. Cincy will need to stay patient, finding long-term solutions instead of short-team patches.

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29. Houston Texans
2020 record: 4-12
Key free agents: DE J.J. Watt, WR Will Fuller, CB Gareon Conley, CB Vernon Hargreaves, DT P.J. Hall, DE Carlos Watkins
Things look bleak in Houston. Franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson wants out. J.J. Watt is gone. The roster has holes at cornerback, edge rusher, running back and wide receiver, just to name a few. Under normal circumstances, the Texans could be well-positioned to land a top prospect to accelerate this rebuild. Instead, Houston does not have a pick in the first or second round. The organization maintains that it wants to keep Watson and rebuild his trust, but it is looking like this team might be headed for a long rebuild.

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30. Jacksonville Jaguars
2020 record: 1-15
Key free agents: OT Cam Robinson, CB Tre Herndon, WR Dede Westbrook, WR Keelan Cole, WR Chris Conley, CB D.J. Hayden, TE Tyler Eifert, P Dustin Colquitt
A new era is coming in Jacksonville. Urban Meyer takes over as head coach and presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence will be the team’s new franchise quarterback. Things are definitely looking up, but the Jaguars have a lot of work to do still. Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson offer exciting building blocks on defense, but the cupboard is pretty bare in the defensive playmaking department. Jacksonville’s secondary was one of the worst in the league in 2020. With a number of receivers headed for free agency, there is a clear need there as well. Lucky for the Jaguars, no one has more cap space this offseason, so Meyer and new general manager Trent Baalke will have every opportunity to reshape the roster.

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31. New York Jets
2020 record: 2-14
Key free agents: FS Marcus Maye, WR Breshad Perriman, CB Brian Poole, LB Jordan Jenkins, S Bradley McDougald, CB Arthur Maulet, LB Tarell Basham
The Adam Gase experiment ended with a resounding thud as the Jets played their way out of contention for the No. 1 pick. New York now has a huge decision to make about Sam Darnold’s future. It is very possible he is traded this offseason to make way for a new rookie quarterback selected with the second overall pick. The Jets are also still in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but it is seeming less and less likely they are the winners. At least the organization landed Robert Saleh to be the team’s next coach. His arrival should bring some much needed leadership to the locker room, but also means a scheme change and a likely massive roster turnover. New York is going to be busy this offseason.

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32. Detroit Lions
2020 record: 5-11
Key free agents: WR Kenny Golladay, DE Romeo Okwara, WR Marvin Jones, DE Everson Griffin, WR Danny Amendola, LB Jarrad Davis, S Durron Harmon, K Matt Prater
Welcome to the bottom of the pile, Detroit. With Kenny Golladay headed for free agency and Matt Stafford now in SoCal, the outlook for the Lions is not very inspiring. It is hard to get excited about anyone on this roster at the moment. Jared Goff gives new coach Dan Campbell a reclamation project, albeit an expensive one. The defense needs an overhaul after some poor roster building in recent years. With a ton of future draft capital now available, the future is a bit brighter in Detroit, but 2021 is going to be a year where this team bottoms out, sheds veteran contracts and looks to rebuild the foundation of the franchise.

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2020 NFL Awards: Picking the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and more

The NFL regular season is officially over! It was a wild year with elements that no other NFL season has ever faced. Between social justice initiatives (that have very noticeably faded as the year has gone on), COVID-19 and no offseason, there is no question that this season will be remembered forever.

Now that we are headed for the playoffs, it is time to hand out some end of the season awards. This has been one of the most fascinating MVP races in recent memory. Defensive Player of the Year is crazy competitive as well. There could be some history made with the Offensive Player of the Year award as well.

Let’s make this clear, I am not predicting who will win these awards, simply deciding who I would vote for if I had a vote in these types of situations. There were some really tough decisions to make, so I did my best to break down why I chose these players (or coaches) to win in each category. Let’s (hypothetically) hand out some hardware!

Coach of the Year

3. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
When you end an 18-year playoff drought, you end up getting some love for Coach of the Year. Kevin Stefanski has turned the Browns around very quickly. A year ago, the Browns were a 6-10 team without much leadership. Now, Cleveland is headed to the playoffs at 11-5 and there is stability in the locker room. Stefanksi deserves a ton of credit for finally getting this team over the hump. The five-game jump they made this year is tied for the biggest turnaround in the league. This team still has some major shortcomings and has gotten blownout a few too many times, but Stefanski has really pushed them further than any coach in recent memory has.

2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
While they did not make the same level of a jump as some of the other teams in the league this past season, it was hard to improve a whole lot from a 10-6 record a year ago. Buffalo still won three more games this year, locking up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and looking incredibly consistent in the process. There were some hiccups in the form of an early-season blowout against the Titans. The defense also unquestionably took a step backwards, but the Bills still competed with some of the top teams in the league and won their first division title since 1995. Sean McDermott did an excellent job leading this group and this team is poised to win its first playoff game in 25 years.

1. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins
No team outperformed expectations more than the Dolphins this year. Brian Flores deserves so much credit for turning this team around in such a short time. Miami’s roster is full of unheralded names, players looking for a second chance and young players still learning how to acclimate with the NFL. Flores got the most out of that talent, handling a complicated quarterback situation in the process. While the regular-season finale leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Dolphins fans, finishing 10-6, one game out of the playoffs is a massive accomplishment. It bodes well for the future of the franchise and it is clear Miami has a leader in place to build behind.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

3. James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
My third spot came down to James Robinson and Jonathan Taylor. I gave the edge to Robinson in the end for being a more consistent presence on the Jaguars offense throughout the season. Keep in mind, this was a 1-15 team. Jacksonville started three different quarterbacks and none of them were good. His offensive line is not a great one either. Yet, Robinson still finished tied for fifth in rushing yards and scored ten total touchdowns. He provided a ton of stability on an offense that had very little. Is Taylor more talented? Absolutely. But, I think Robinson had a better overall season, where Taylor essentially just got hot in the final six games of the year.

2. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
When you are breaking Randy Moss’ records, you are doing something right. Justin Jefferson had an unbelievable rookie year. He finished with 1,400 receiving yards, fourth-most in the league and most by a rookie receiver in the Super Bowl era, and punched in seven touchdowns. Jefferson showed a great ability to stretch the field as well, averaging the ninth-most yards per reception this season. As if that wasn’t enough, Jefferson dropped just two passes on 125 targets this season. In just about any other year, he likely would have won this award. In 2020 though, there was another guy named Justin who broke a bunch of rookie records this year.

1. Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
This is just what we all expected, right? The third quarterback taken in the 2020 draft and the guy who couldn’t beat out Tyrod Taylor to start the season wins Rookie of the Year. That’s how it goes down in my book this year. Justin Herbert shocked everyone with the level of dominance he displayed this year. He set tons of records for rookie quarterbacks, including most passing touchdowns (31) in a season and most pass completions (396) in a season. He finished 38 yards shy of Andrew Luck’s record for passing yards by a rookie, becoming just the fourth rookie to pass for over 4,000 yards. Herbert actually averaged the most passing yards per game in NFL history, but didn’t start the first game of the season. He also posted the second-best completion percentage by a rookie ever, trailing Dak Prescott. Give Herbert the award. He has earned it.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

3. Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys
This ended up being a less-than-stellar race for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but there have still been some impressive performances. Trevon Diggs had some rough moments, as you would expect most rookie cornerbacks to when they are thrown into a starting job without an offseason or a preseason. Still, Diggs took his lumps and improved over the course of the season. He finished with a top-20 completion percentage allowed at 54.2 percent. He did give up five touchdowns, but also came up with three interceptions. He missed four games in the middle of the year, which knocks him down a bit, but still put together a solid first year.

2. Jeremy Chinn, S, Carolina Panthers
Is a safety, is he a linebacker? I don’t really have the answer to that one, but he is a damn good football player. Jeremy Chinn burst onto the scene for this young Carolina defense. He led the team in tackles this year and made a big impact with his playmaking. He had two forced fumbles, an interception and two defensive touchdowns. He did struggle in pass coverage, which holds him back from ultimately winning this award, but he feels like a Budda Baker or Jordan Poyer-type asset to this Panthers defense.

1. Chase Young, DE, Washington
This was not the forgone conclusion I think many expected coming into the year. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that Chase Young should win this award. He is a dynamic player on a super talented defensive line. Young finished the year with 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He didn’t just get home either, he knocked the ball loose, tallying four forced fumbles on the season. Young also recovered three fumbles and scored a defensive touchdown. There are few players who have been such a focal point of opponent’s offensive game plans than Young. I think he comfortably wins this award.

Offensive Player of the Year

3. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
In one of my power rankings a few weeks ago, I noted that we probably take Davante Adams for granted way too often. This is me doing my best to not make that same mistake. In 14 games this season, Adams had an NFL-leading 18 touchdown catches to go along with 115 catches, which is tied for second-most and 1,374 receiving yards, which is tied for fifth. Imagine the numbers he could have put up in two additional games! What I think people overlook is Adams’ ability after the catch, where he put up the second most yards in the league, trailing only Alvin Kamara. Adams is a complete receiver and one of, if not the best one in the game right now.

2. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Whenever you run for over 2,000 yards in a single season, you end up getting consideration for the top offensive player in the league. Derrick Henry, has continued to show that he is the most difficult running back to stop in the league. He had his fair share of ineffective games this season, but his usage is also one of the most impressive in league history. What limits Henry’s claim to the award is his role as a pass-catcher in the Titans’ offense. He finished the season with just 19 receptions. Henry deserves credit for how dominant he can be on any given week, but I don’t think he managed to outshine the next player on this list.

1. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
This award was first handed out in 1972, and never in its history has it been won by a tight end. That should change. Travis Kelce has, almost quietly, put together the most dominant season by a tight end in NFL history. With 1,416 receiving yards, he broke George Kittle’s record for the most by a tight end in a single season and ranked second in the NFL among all players. He finished tied for fifth in receiving yards and receptions among all receivers as well. What shocks me most about Kelce’s season is that he is third in the league in yards after the catch. As if that wasn’t enough, he has only two drops, one of the best marks in the league. Kelce deserves this award after the season he has put together.

Defensive Player of the Year

3. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
By far the most difficult award for me to figure out, Aaron Donald narrowly edges out Myles Garrett for the third spot on the list. A fixture in the Defensive Player of the Year by now, Donald put together another stellar year, racking up 13.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Both rank among the top six in the league. He once again dominated along the interior of every offensive line he faced. Donald is the best interior pass rusher in NFL history and he has shown no signs of slowing down yet.

2. Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins
Sure, interceptions are a sexy stat. That only tells half the story for Xavien Howard. He has been targeted a ton this year, and I can’t seem to figure out why. Howard has allowed just 51.5 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. While Howard did allow four touchdown passes this season, he was still one of the best lockdown corners in the league. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 48.3 when he was in coverage, trailing only Bryce Callahan for the best mark in the league. Between leading the league in interceptions and pass break ups, it is easy to see why he is in the running for the award.

1. T.J. Watt, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers
No player in the NFL has been more disruptive for opposing offenses this season than T.J. Watt. He led the NFL in sacks with 15 this season in 15 games and racked up 23 tackles for loss, also the best mark in the league. He also was tops in quarterback pressures and quarterback hits. Simply stated, Watt is the hardest player to stop in the league right now. That is evidenced even more so by him having the best pass-rush win rate in the league. ESPN detailed earlier this year how Watt has the fastest pass-rush get off in the league. Teams have had all year to try to figure out how to stop him, and right now, no one has an answer for Watt.

MVP

3. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
A few weeks ago, it seemed like Patrick Mahomes was running away with the award. Then he just kind of slowed down. He still put together a fantastic season. Mahomes finished with an impressive 38 touchdowns to just six interceptions. His 4,740 passing yards ranked second in the NFL, behind his draft mate Deshaun Watson. The biggest knock on Mahomes is his completion percentage, which is still solid at 66 percent. However, that ranks 16th in the league overall. Mahomes absolutely deserves to be an MVP finalist, but I don’t think he did enough to win the award again.

2. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
If you asked me at the beginning of the year, I would never have believed Josh Allen would be in the MVP conversation. Yet, here we are. Allen scored 45 total touchdowns in 2020, 37 through the air and eight on the ground. What has really jumped him from fringe starter to elite quarterback though has been his improved accuracy. Allen has always had a rocket for an arm, but he polished his technique. His completion percentage jumped up to 69.2 this year, the fourth-best mark in the league. As a result of all of this, he has the fourth-best passer rating and third-best QBR in the NFL. He has led this Bills offense that is solid, but lacks elite playmakers to a 13-3 record and put together a season that in most years would be enough to win this award. Unfortunately, he had to come up against this next guy.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
It took me a while to recognize just how great Aaron Rodgers has been this year, but I’m not missing it now. With 48 touchdowns, only five interceptions and a passer rating over 120, Rodgers put together one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. His QBR and completion percentage were the best in the league as well. What is even more impressive than any of that though is Rodgers throwing a touchdown on 9.1 percent of his passes this year. Russell Wilson had the second-best mark at 7.2 percent. Only Peyton Manning in 2004 and Ken Stabler in 1976 had better marks in the Super Bowl era. Without a doubt, Rodgers is deserving of the award this year.