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.

Packers logo

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.

Ravens logo

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.

Browns logo

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.

Seahawks logo

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.

Dolphins logo

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.

Titans logo

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.

49ers Logo

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.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)

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.

Colts logo

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.

Pittsburgh_Steelers logo

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.

Saints logo

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.

Cowboys logo

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.

Vikings logo

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.

Panthers logo

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.

Patriots Logo

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.

Giants Logo

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.

Bears logo

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.

Washington made up logo

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.

Raiders logo

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.

Denver_Broncos

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.

Falcons logo

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.

Eagles Logo

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?

Bengals Logo

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.

Texans logo

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.

Jaguars logo

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.

Jets logo

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.

Lions Logo

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.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

NFL Draft Podcast – AFC Free Agency Primer and Draft Implications

After breaking down the NFC last week, it is time to discuss which AFC free agents will impact the 2020 NFL Draft. The Patriots await Tom Brady’s free agent decision while the rest of the division hopes to close the game and patch up their offensive lines. Tennessee’s incredible run came courtesy of a number of players that are not under contract for 2020. Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville all enter free agency with at least one major player it needs to bring back. The reigning Super Bowl champs have to figure out what they will do with Chris Jones. Meanwhile, Los Angeles might need to rebuild its whole offense. In the North, the Ravens have some difficult decisions to make regarding Matt Judon and Michael Pierce. The Browns, Bengals and Steelers all need reinforcements in the trenches. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
https://anchor.fm/theaftermath

Trade a Bell? How the Le’Veon Drama Can (and Should) End

In case you have not heard, Le’Veon Bell has not played an NFL snap this season.

Oh, who am I kidding? If you are a Steelers fan, follow an NFL-related social media account, or made the mistake of drafting him in fantasy and hoping for the best (guilty as charged), you know the whole story. Considered by many as the top running back in the league, Bell put up strong numbers again in 2017, getting over 400 touches and putting up a combined 1,946 years and 11 touchdowns for the playoff-bound Steelers, getting voted first team All-Pro for the second time in the process.

However, for the second straight year, the Steelers put the franchise tag on Bell, refusing to give him the long-term contract he believed he deserved. While I would easily jump at the opportunity to play ball for $14.5 million, the cash-strapped Steelers, who had given Antonio Brown a four-year, $68 million-dollar extension weeks before, decided to balk at giving the same money to Bell. Obviously taking offense, Bell very publicly bashed the franchise and demanded money worth his play. Pittsburgh did eventually make Bell an offer in July, willing to pony up $70 million over five years, but Bell turned down the offer, not wanting to play for less than his tag on an annual basis.

587px-leveon_bell_26_practicing_2013
Bell has told the Steelers he will return during the team’s week 7 bye. (Wikimedia Commons)

Fairly so, might I add – Bell was well within his rights to turn down such a gargantuan payday, because he might be worth more. At 26, Bell is still in his prime and will continue to perform at very high levels before even being considered an old running back. Not to mention that Bell is far more than his position on the depth chart – he has been the engine that makes the Steeler offense run for the last few years. He caught 85 passes last year for over 650 yards. Bell is rare breed. Very few receivers can keep up with those numbers, and definitely not while shouldering almost 1,300 yards rushing on top of it.

One of the few other players capable of putting up numbers like that is Todd Gurley. He has done it just once, in 2017, and luckily it was a contract year for him. The upstart Los Angeles Rams did pay their man, giving Gurley $15 million a year for his services. When healthy, Bell has put up those kinds of numbers ever since he came into the league – he deserves as much if not more than Gurley. Top flight receivers like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr., have been getting paid recently, too, getting $16.5 and $19 million a year respectively to go along with Antonio Brown’s aforementioned $17 million. For Le’Veon’s talents, he feels his contract should be in that stratosphere to play football.

However, Pittsburgh refuses to pay it, so they turned to the second-year player, cancer survivor and hometown hero from the University of Pittsburgh in James Conner, to take the reins in the backfield. While his hairstyle might be questionable (like a mop glued to the back of his shaven head), his play has been anything but. Project his numbers through five weeks for the entire season, and Conner, currently averaging over four yards a carry and almost 11 yards per catch, would get over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. Those are the kind of numbers Pittsburgh would be happy to get from Bell, but instead of paying over $15 million for them, they only give Conner $578,000, and they have him under control for another two seasons after this one.

So could Bell play again with the Steelers this season? Maybe. Having both Conner and Bell on the field could give opposing defenses fits in game planning, especially since Bell is capable of lining up out wide and taking screens. The issue is Conner and Bell still play very similar games. Bell might be a bit more explosive, and Conner may pack a bit of a stronger punch at the point of attack, but both have shown that they can be factors in the running and passing games, all the while making defenses adjust and opening holes for Ben Roethlisberger to find the likes of Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster downfield. However, it would be hard to justify paying Bell for the rest of the season when he may not add significant value over just having Conner. Realistically, he should not stay in Pittsburgh.

Likewise, if Bell is going to leave in the offseason when the tag expires and officially become a free agent, the Steelers would be remiss not to get something back for him, and more than the third round compensatory pick Pittsburgh will likely get if he signs elsewhere. The problem about trading Bell this season, however, is the salary cap hit that comes with him. Bell is not officially under contract at the moment, but his franchise tag cap number would be about $10.3 million. There are not a ton of teams that have that much free space right now. The team looking to trade for him would likely need to sign him to a long-term deal to justify the trade as well.

So who can meet Bell’s demands? Here are the teams that could afford him for this season:

Team Salary Cap Remaining Current RBs
San Francisco 49ers $87.6 million Jerick McKinnon*, Matt Breida
Cleveland Browns $54.6 million Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson
Indianapolis Colts $52.5 million Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines
Denver Broncos $34.4 million Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay
Tennessee Titans $23.1 million Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry
Houston Texans $20.7 million Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue
New York Jets $19.1 million Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell
Philadelphia Eagles $11.3 million Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement
Cincinnati Bengals $10.7 million Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard
Buffalo Bills $10.6 million LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory

An interesting crew, to say the least, but unfortunately not too many places make sense. In fact, four of these teams signed new starting running backs this past offseason. The Browns, Titans, and Jets should be pleased with their new additions for now, so consider them out. The 49ers caught a bad break when their new guy, Jerick McKinnon, tore his ACL in the preseason, but Matt Breida has been a suitable replacement, and the 1-4 start would not justify making a brash decision when the division leader is 5-0 right now.

Let’s address the obvious ones, too. There is no way Pittsburgh deals Bell to Cincy. It would be insane to move him within the division. Denver has two rookie running backs it really likes in Freeman and Lindsay. The Bills would be a fascinating place for Bell to land, but that team is way more than just one piece away and likely not interesting in pursuing Bell anyway, especially since they are trying to shop their star running back already.

Philly has been heavily linked with this deal after restructuring Fletcher Cox’s deal to open up more cap room. However, the Eagles are also rumored to be pursuing a reunion with LeSean McCoy. McCoy fits more of what Philadelphia needs, which is a one-year rental that is at least somewhat familiar with the system. The assumption is that at 30 years old, McCoy will cost a lot less for the Eagles to acquire as well.

The Colts and Texans make some interesting suitors. Both live in the AFC South, where the Jaguars and Titans are both tied rather unconvincingly to the division lead at 3-2. At 2-3, the Texans are still very much so in the hunt. However, Deshaun Watson does not look as explosive this season in his return from a knee injury of his own, struggling to keep possession with nine turnovers on the season. Lamar Miller was injured in Week 5 and has been unconvincing in a Texans uniform otherwise. Alfred Blue provided a decent target out of the backfield in his stead, but neither is a kind of bell cow you can hand or dump the ball off to and let the magic happen. $16 million is a large sum to pay when Miller is still on the books through the end of next season, but Bell could add some relief to the Houston offense and open up their playbook a bit.

Andrew Luck
Adding Bell would take a ton of pressure off Andrew Luck. (Wikimedia Commons)

As for Indy, take everything I just said and amplify it. Sure, the Colts are off to a 1-4 start, but they are only two games back with well over half the season to go. The offense may look like its purring, but take deeper look into the stats and you will see there is room for improvement. Andrew Luck is averaging almost 50 pass attempts per game, but has under 1,500 passing yards for the season. His 6.09 yards/attempt ratio is 32nd in the NFL right now, only ahead of the magnanimous crew of Tyrod Taylor, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford, all of whom have since been benched. Meanwhile, not a single Colts running back is averaging more than 35 yards per game. 35!!! Le’Veon Bell could vastly improve the 29th ranked rushing attack in the league, as well as provide a dynamic safety blanket for the oft-pressured Luck. Those two together could single (double?)-handedly carry Indianapolis to the postseason. Maybe them playing defense could help, too, because I doubt it would hurt.

Another interesting tidbit is that the Texans and Colts have the same assets to offer back to Pittsburgh as well. In 2019, both teams are sitting on two second round picks after making moves in last year’s draft. With the Colts getting the Jets’ pick in the Sam Darnold trade, and the Texans shipping Duane Brown to Seattle for their 2nd rounder, the Steelers may be willing to part with their formerly-beloved star in exchange for that pick maybe paired with another player or a lower round pick.

Personally, I think it make a lot of sense for the Colts to go after Bell. They can offer him whatever contract he wants basically with their ample cap space. Their offense is already fairly strong and adding Bell would only make it more threatening. Plus, Bell is an excellent pass blocker, which coupled with his mere presence in the backfield will protect Luck from opposing rushers. Even with two rookie running backs, Indy could add a franchise player for well under his usual trade value. If the Colts think they still have a shot this season, do not be surprised if they make a play for one of the best players in the NFL before the deadline in Week 8.

Until then, I’ll dangle Bell on my own fantasy trading block and hope someone bites.

Counting down the most successful sports city

So following the Super Bowl and now starting the long four-month lull until another championship game is played, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city makes the list.

The cities just missing the cut are Houston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Houston has two titles, both coming from their MLS club the Dynamo. The Astros made a World Series run in 2005 but got swept. The Texans haven’t helped. Philly has four appearances in the big game but only one victory. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 but then lost the next year. The Eagles lost in 2005 as did the Flyers in 2010. Baltimore has two titles but both came from the Ravens. The Orioles did not do enough to really pad Baltimore’s resume.

#10 Kansas City 2 total titles in 4 total appearances
Not exactly a massive market but Kansas City has been a pretty solid sports city since 2000 when it comes to success. The forgotten team here will be the MLS club. The Kansas City Wizards, who is now Sporting KC, won the MLS Cup in 2000 and later made it to the 2004 final. 13 years later, Sporting KC left its mark with a MLS Cup victory. Then just this past year, the Royals made a shocking run to the World Series, eventually losing to San Francisco. The Kansas City NFL team, the Chiefs, could have boosted this city up the list some but they have had very little playoff success since 2000, not coming anywhere near the Super Bowl.

#9 St. Louis: 3 total titles in 5 total appearances
The St. Louis Rams were actually the first team to win a sports championship in the new millennium, taking home the 2000 Lombardi Trophy (which I ranked as my most exciting Super Bowl game of all time). The baseball team in St. Louis has done most of the heavy lifting though as the Cardinals have been among baseball’s best in the past 15 years. The Cards have two World Series titles from the 2006 and 2011 campaigns. This MLB team also came up just short in both 2004 and 2013, at the hands of the Boston Red Sox on each occasion. A little help from the Blues in the NHL could’ve pushed St. Louis above the next few cities on this list.

#8 San Francisco: 3 total titles in 5 total appearances
The San Francisco Giants have been baseball royalty over the past five years. In that time span, they have nailed down three World Series titles. San Francisco also made a trip to the Series in 2002, eventually losing in Game 7 to the Anaheim Angeles. The football team in San Francisco is pretty good as well. The 49ers came close for years to making it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. They finally accomplished that goal in 2013, but came up short against the Baltimore Ravens. Close, but no cigar. That Super Bowl victory could have vaulted San Francisco past the number seven city on the list.

#7 Pittsburgh: 3 total titles in 5 total appearances
If this were an all-time list, Pittsburgh would have to be higher up on it. As it is only since the year of 2000, the city takes a drop. This has still been a successful city though when it comes to sports titles. The Steelers have earned two of them, in 2006 and 2009. They also came up a touchdown short in 2011 of winning another one against the Packers. On the ice, the Penguins have been one of the top teams in the NHL for some time now. They are perennial contenders and managed to make a Stanley Cup run in 2008, losing to the Detroit Red Wings, before returning the following year to beat those same Red Wings. Unfortunately, the Pirates haven’t been much help to the Pittsburgh cause in a while. Pittsburgh has been good, just not as good as…

#6 San Antonio: 4 total titles in 5 appearances
Amazing that a city with only one professional sports team can make the list. Well that’s what happens when the San Antonio Spurs are that one team. After a win in the NBA Finals in 1999, the Spurs watched as the Lakers won three consecutive titles to open the 21st century. The Spurs retaliated by winning three out of the next five. After an eight-year finals drought, San Antonio got another shot at a ring in 2013, eventually losing in Game 7 to the Heat. The rematch the following year though fell the other way giving the Spurs their fourth title since 2000.

That is the bottom half of the list. Check back in tomorrow for the top half of the countdown.

AFC playoff scenarios

Week 17 in the NFL is approaching quickly and while the playoff picture is beginning to take shape, there is still a lot of shuffling around that can occur. I am going to take some time here to explain all of the scenarios and then tell you which I think is the most likely.

Here is what we already know: New England has secured the number one seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Even if they lose this weekend to Buffalo and Denver wins against Oakland, the Patriots have the advantage with a victory over Denver earlier this season. Outside of that, the Broncos, Steelers, Colts and Bengals have all also earned playoff berths. The only one cemented into a spot is Indianapolis who has grabbed the fourth seed.

Here is what is still undetermined, the seeding for numbers two, three, five and six, not to mention who will be the sixth seed. I will start from the top and work my way down. First, Denver can clinch a first round bye with either a win over the Raiders or a loss or tie by the Bengals against the Steelers. This is probably how things shake out. Oakland has played better recently but I don’t think the Broncos will lose to a division rival at home with so much on the line.

Cincinnati can nail down the third seed if they beat Pittsburgh on the road this Sunday. A Bengals loss would mean a drop to the fifth seed and a trip to Indianapolis rather than hosting the eventual sixth seed. I think it’s likely for Cincy to come up short based on the last match up between these two teams, where Pittsburgh ran away with it late. That being said, if the Steelers win as I think, Pittsburgh would be the third seed and play host to the eventual sixth seed. If the Black and Gold fall however, their fate is a road trip to play Andrew Luck. Neither Pittsburgh nor Cincinnati can be caught by another team and drop lower than the fifth seed.

The sixth seed is an absolute toss-up. There are four teams alive for the final spot including San Diego, Baltimore, Kansas City and Houston. For the Charges, a win means a playoff berth. It is as simple as that. If the Bolts can knock off the Chiefs in Kansas City than San Diego will be heading to either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati for a wild card match up. I think this is the most likely scenario to play out. The Chargers have been a good team down the stretch while the Chiefs have struggled to find an offense outside of Jamal Charles. The Chiefs could make it with a win over San Diego and losses by both the Ravens and Texans. Seeing as Kansas City needs the most outside help, I don’t see a playoff appearance happening.

Those Texans are still alive and have a tiebreaker over the Ravens after beating them this past weekend. But Houston needs help from Cleveland, who must defeat Baltimore for that tiebreaker to mean anything. The Texans also need to make sure not to slip up against division rival Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Ravens fans will be rooting for both their team and the Chiefs this weekend, as that is their team’s recipe for playoff life. I think the Ravens will win at home versus the Browns but I just don’t see the Chargers losing meaning Baltimore will be kept out of the playoffs for the second year running.

That’s all the possible scenarios here. So my wild card round matchups would be the Steelers hosting the Chargers and Cincinnati trekking out to Indianapolis to play. Keep an eye for first round predictions once the playoff field is set. To see the NFC playoff scenarios, click here. Hope you enjoy this final week of regular season football.