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.

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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.

Ranking Cities Sports Title Droughts

It has been a wild couple of years in sports in terms of ending title droughts. In 2016, Cleveland won its first championship in any sport in over half a century and the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year curse by winning the World Series. In 2017, the Houston Astros won their first ever World Series title. 2018 has already seen the Philadelphia Eagles win a long-awaited championship and the Washington Capitals finally bring home the Stanley Cup. Some of the most historic title droughts in all of sports have ended in recent years, begging the question of which cities remain the most tortured for a title. Here is my top ten.

10. Detroit
Teams: Lions (NFL), Pistons (NBA), Red Wings (NHL), Tigers (MLB),
Last title: 2008

It has only been a decade since a Detroit team has won a title, but the history of sports success in the Motor City is not a great one. The Lions have famously (or infamously) never won a Super Bowl, or even appeared in one. They also hold the NFL record for most consecutive playoff losses. Baseball is a little more promising because the Tigers have won before, three times actually, but the last World Series victory came in 1984. The Pistons have had some great teams, but have also been one of the worst run NBA franchises in the last ten years. In the NHL, the Red Wings represent the true bright spot. Detroit has hoisted the Stanley Cup twice since the turn of the century. It hasn’t been that long for Detroit, but it might be a while before one of these four teams wins another title.

9. Indianapolis
Teams: Colts (NFL), Pacers (NBA)
Last title: 2006

Only two teams reside in Indianapolis and the Colts have won a title. The Peyton Manning era is still one fans could look back on proudly, but for a long time the Colts were one of the most tortured franchises in the NFL. They have resumed that post since then. For a city as crazy about basketball as Indy, zero NBA titles is a real bummer as well. The Pacers have only reached the NBA finals once in franchise history losing to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Both the Colts and Pacers have been competitive in recent years as well, but always end up faltering in the playoffs, leaving a bitter taste in fans’ mouths.

8. Charlotte
Teams: Hurricanes (NHL), Hornets (NBA), Panthers (NFL)
Last title: 2006

It has also been 12 years since Charlotte has won a title, but they get the edge for having three teams as opposed to Indy’s two. The Hornets have been one of the worst franchises in NBA history. It has been 30 years since the Hornets were founded and the team has never so much as won a division title. Football has treated fans a little better, as the Panthers did reach the Super Bowl back in 2003. They came agonizingly close to beating that Brady guy, but Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winner as time expired to beat Carolina. The Hurricanes are the only team in Charlotte to win a title. After losing in the 2002 Stanley Cup final, Carolina broke through in 2006 to lift the cup. Still, just one title between three teams over the past 30 years is a poor return.

7. Nashville
Teams: Predators (NHL), Titans (NFL)
Last title: N/A

If you also lump in the Memphis Grizzles, the Tennessee would likely move up a few spots on this list. Seeing as Memphis and Nashville are on opposite sides of the state though, it did not seem too fair. Both teams moved to town in 1997, but the Predators came close to bringing home a title in 2017. On the other hand, the Titans made the playoffs in 2017 for the first time in nearly ten years. What holds Nashville back is how new of a sports city it is. It has only had pro teams for 20 years, so the lack of a title is not totally shocking. Only one appearance in a finals setting is more than enough to qualify for this list though.

6. Cincinnati
Teams: Bengals (NFL), Reds (MLB)
Last title: 1990

Oh, where to begin with Cincinnati. For one, the Bengals have been a punch line in the NFL for quite some time. Head coach Marvin Lewis took over in 2003 and has taken the team to the playoffs seven times in his tenure. He is also 0-7 in the postseason. It has been 27 years since Cincy has won a playoff game, the longest active streak in the league. The Bengals weren’t always this way though. In the ’80s, Cincinnati made it to two Super Bowls, both times losing by less than a touchdown to the Joe Montana led 49ers. The Reds haven’t been a whole lot better. Since winning the World Series in 1990, Cincy’s baseball team has only made the playoffs four times. With the Bengals looking like an average team and the Reds in the middle of a rebuild, it could be a while before Cincinnati celebrates another championship.

5. San Diego
Teams: Padres (MLB), Chargers (NFL)
Last title: N/A

Technically, there is only one pro team still in San Deigo, but to not include the struggles of the Chargers in evaluating the drought this city has gone through would be unfair. I actually think the fact the Chargers left makes life as a fan in this city even more torturous. Boasting one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, San Diego never managed to reach a Super Bowl. Its lone appearance was a blowout loss to the 49ers in 1994. Even during the early 2000s, it seemed like the Chargers would finally break through, but never managed to reach the Super Bowl. For the Padres, opportunities for postseason success have been few and far between. In 49 years as a franchise, the Padres have made the playoffs just five times, including two different losses in the World Series. San Diego has long awaited a title and now will have an even tougher time securing one with only the Padres left in town.

4. Phoenix
Teams: Cardinals (NFL), Coyotes (NHL), Diamondbacks (MLB), Suns (NBA)
Last title: 2001

It has been 17 years since the largest city in Arizona brought home a sports championship. The Cardinals came agonizingly close in 2009 before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild Super Bowl. The Suns haven’t been good in years, but still remember the days of Charles Barkley and Steve Nash fondly. Neither of the ever managed to bring home a title. The Coyotes have never made it to a Stanley Cup final, much less won one. That leaves the Diamondbacks, who won the cities last championship in 2001. It is the only title in the city’s history. The Cardinals won an NFL Championship in 1947, but that was actually while the team was located in Chicago. Only one title between four teams is tough for fans to swallow and it does not seem like any of them are close to a title for a least a few more years.

3. Atlanta
Teams: Hawks (NBA), Falcons (NFL), Braves (MLB),
Last title: 1995

Between the Hawks, Falcons and Braves, Atlanta has only brought home one title in the history of sports in the city. The Braves broke through in 1995, which isn’t really that long ago, but this city definitely knows what it is like to want a title. The Hawks have never made it to the NBA Finals while in Atlanta. The 2016 Falcons made it to the Super Bowl and blew the largest lead in the history of the game. It marked the second time the Falcons lost in the championship. Looking at the Braves, they lost four other World Series during the ’90s. Had it not been for that World Series in ’95, Atlanta might very well top this list.

2. Buffalo
Teams: Bills (NFL), Sabres (NHL)
Last title: N/A

Western New York is home to one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports. The aptly named “Bills Mafia” provides a fun home field advantage whenever the Bills are hosting. Sabres fans have suffered through many years of woeful play on the ice, but still support the team nonetheless. Between these two franchises, Buffalo has appeared in six different championships, winning none of them. The Bills came up short in four consecutive Super Bowls! Talk about torture for fans. The Sabres made two different runs to the Stanley Cup final over the years, but fell short in both. It was the NHL team who made Buffalo’s last championship appearance in 1999. Up until last year, the Bills hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 1999. What holds Buffalo back from the top spot is the fact that the city only has two teams.

1. Minneapolis
Teams: Timberwolves (NBA), Twins (MLB), Wild (NHL), Vikings (NFL)
Last title: 1991

21 years ago was the last time a team from the Twin Cities won a title. Minneapolis is home to some of the most tortured fan bases in sports. On one hand, you have the Vikings. The Purple People Eaters lost four Super Bowls from 1969 to 1976. The Vikings have never made it back to the big game since their loss in ’76. It seemed like they would in 1998, with a historically good offense, only to lose in their first playoff game that year. Then there are the Timberwolves. Minnesota finally broke the second longest playoff drought in NBA history in 2018 after 13 years of failing to qualify. In a league where more than half the teams make it to the postseason, that is quite a feat. The Wild haven’t been in town long, but like the Timberwolves, have never even reached the finals. The Twins are the only team in town with a title, but have not returned to the World Series. While Minneapolis has won a title, none of the teams in the city have even reached the championship stage in the 27 years since. This city is starved for a title and well-deserving of the top spot on our list.

Projecting the postseason

Football is back!!! It has been too long that we’ve had to wait to watch the best sport in America. Matt and myself continued our tradition by picking the winner of every NFL game. You can see those here and here. Now we move on to the playoffs.

For a refresher of who I had in the playoffs, here our how the conferences finished the year.

Playoffs
AFC

  1. Indianapolis
  2. Denver
  3. New England
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Kansas City
  6. New York

NFC

  1. Arizona
  2. Green Bay
  3. Dallas
  4. Atlanta
  5. Seattle
  6. Minnesota

Wildcard
(3) New England over (6) New York
(4) Pittsburgh over (5) Kansas City
(3) Dallas over (6) Minnesota
(5) Seattle over (4) Atlanta

The Jets were lucky to make the playoffs thanks to a really easy schedule. Their luck completely runs out against division rival New England. The Pats may have lost a lot of their defensive talent but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have enough to handle the Jets. Pittsburgh’s ground game will rumble them through Chiefs defense. LeVeon Bell is a stud and Ben Roethlisberger will probably light it up versus a young KC secondary. Dallas proves to be too much for this young Minnesota team. The offensive line keeps Romo clean for way too long. Seattle might be a wildcard team but it doesn’t matter. They will run Atlanta out of their own building.

Divisional
(1) Indianapolis over (4) Pittsburgh
(2) Denver over (3) New England
(1) Arizona over (5) Seattle
(3) Dallas over (2) Green Bay

We get some absolutely fantastic matchups in the second round. Pittsburgh’s patchwork secondary folds under the wieght of Andrew Luck and company. Manning vs. Brady returns to the playoffs for another round. Manning gets the better of Brady in this one as that same Patriots defense fails to hold up against Denver’s diverse passing attack. The better matchups are actually in the NFC though. Arizona and Seattle face off as the two best teams in the conference. Arizona’s steady offensive play and smothering defense proves to be too much for a shaky Seattle o-line. Dallas finally gets its revenge at Lambeau and finally we can all put the Dez catch talk to bed.

Andrew LuckConference Championships
(1) Indianapolis over (2) Denver
(1) Arizona over (3) Dallas

Sure it is kinda lame to have the two number one seeds going on but they both deserve it. Peyton returns to where he began and falls against his replacement. Luck and his new veteran friends Frank Gore and Andre Johnson defeat the Broncos once again and Manning must once again consider retirement. People think I am too high on Arizona but the Cardinals were undefeated last year in games that Carson Palmer started. A revamped offensive line with Mike Iupati means that they keep him clean and defeat Dallas.

Colts logoSuper Bowl
Indianapolis over Arizona

This is probably Carson Palmer’s best shot at a ring. However, that isn’t enough for them to overcome Andre Luck and the Colts. Luck is primed for a huge season in a contract year and some new weapons. The Colts are crazy deep at wide receiver and the defense gets Robert Mathis back. Arizona will be tough to beat with a great defense. However, the running game just isn’t enough to keep that potent Colts offense off the field enough. Luck wins his first of what I’m sure will be many Super Bowl appearances.

So that’s it. The whole season predicted from start to finish. Check out Matt’s playoff picks here  and enjoy your season!