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The Rams laid the blueprint. Now everyone is trying it. Los Angeles general manager famously rocked a NSFW t-shirt at the team’s championship parade this year that summed up his feelings on draft picks. Let’s just say he doesn’t regret his aggressive approach to roster building.
As the old saying goes: it’s a copycat league. A whopping eight teams currently do not have a first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft. There are a few outliers in the group, as Chicago and San Francisco both parted with their 2022 picks in 2021 to trade up to draft a quarterback. However, the rest, which includes Denver, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Miami and, or course, the LA Rams, all did so in a win-now move in pursuit of a Super Bowl.
For the Rams, we’ve already seen the tact work. They brought in Matthew Stafford and sent Jared Goff packing. Continued aggression saw them acquire Von Miller from the Broncos for a second-round pick. It all paid off in the form of a Lombardi trophy won in February. Even if the Rams are terrible in two years, which is possible with an aging core and fewer draft picks to replace them, it will have been worth it because they won a title.
The important thing to remember when it comes to trying to emulate Los Angeles is that this was already a championship contender. The Rams featured in the Super Bowl three years prior against Tom Brady and the Patriots. That group ultimately came up short, but L.A. was very clearly within reach of a title. They just made the move to put them over the top.
I can’t say the same thing for any of the teams that have attempted to follow in their footsteps this offseason. We obviously saw the Colts fall well short of expectations last year and ultimately ship Carson Wentz to D.C. after just one season. They brought in Matt Ryan, but as I’ve talked about, they have some holes they still need to fill at corner, left tackle and wide receiver.
Then you have the Browns, who mortgaged their future to acquire Deshaun Watson. Cleveland is probably closer than most to competing for a title, but they need another receiver to complement Amari Cooper, possibly a new center and tight end and an edge rusher. It’s also far from a guarantee Watson will be available for much of this upcoming season given that he is facing civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment. The Browns also compete in the same division as the reigning AFC champions and the 2019 MVP in Lamar Jackson. Plus, you can never count out Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.
Miami has fewer clear holes on the roster after spending big in free agency and adding Tyreek Hill via trade. That being said, they have maybe the 10th best quarterback in the conference. We simply have not seen enough from Tua Tagovailoa to believe he is capable of leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl, or even to stay healthy for a full season. Perhaps he will take the next step in his development with a new, offensive-minded head coach in Mike McDaniel. Still, the Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. Not exactly a contender putting in the final piece of the puzzle. While Miami is unquestionably better, it’s hard to say they are even the best team in their own division with Buffalo coming off an impressive year and adding Von Miller.
Then there are the Raiders and Broncos. Many are describing the AFC West as the best division we’ve ever seen in football with Russell Wilson joining the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. Denver had a good defense last year, but some abysmal quarterback play, which led to a 7-10 record and the end of Vic Fangio’s tenure with the team. Las Vegas snuck into the playoffs after beating the Chargers in Week 18. Rich Bisaccia righted the ship after a season full of controversy and hardship.
There is no question both teams are better, but given the moves made by the Chargers (re-signing Mike Williams, signing J.C. Jackson and trading for Khalil Mack) and the continued presence of Patrick Mahomes, I’m hard pressed to say either Raiders or Broncos are a lock to make the playoffs, much less a true championship contender. All four teams are talented enough to make it, but the likelihood is someone will miss out because of how brutal those divisional games will be.
The all-in approach is one that I can respect. If you think you have a championship window, you should be doing everything possible to maximize it. The problem is, if you fall short after going all in, you wind up staring down a long rebuild without the resources necessary to do so. My prediction, none of the teams that went all in will win the Super Bowl this year. I think we are much more likely to see a team like the Chiefs, Packers or Buccaneers hoist the Lombardi trophy than a team like the Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins or Browns. What the Rams did is much harder to imitate than it might seem.
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Just when you think you know what is going to happen in the NFL, the league throws you a massive curveball. Three backup quarterbacks led their teams to victories, as Mike White shocked the Bengals, Trevor Siemian beat the Bucs and Cooper Rush humbled the Vikings. We also had a massive NFC showdown to kick off the week on Thursday night as the 1972 Dolphins were finally allowed to pop their champagne.
With no undefeated teams left, the rankings see a sizable shakeup. As if that wasn’t enough, trades and injuries changed the outlook of several teams moving forward. Let’s see how the league stacks up through eight weeks.
1. Los Angeles Rams: 7-1(Last Week: 2) Won 38-22 at Houston In addition to a big win over the Texans, the Rams added Von Miller to bolster its pass rush. Sitting at 7-1 with an offense capable of putting up tons of points, Los Angeles went all in for this season. As for the game on Sunday, L.A. led 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter before clearly taking its foot off the gas. Houston scored three touchdowns to make it seem a bit closer. It will be interesting to see if the Rams have any other areas they want to bolster before the deadline passes. They are running out of draft picks to make it happen though.
2. Dallas Cowboys: 6-1(Last Week: 4) Won 20-16 at Minnesota No Dak, no problem. Kind of. Cooper Rush did just enough to win the game, but it was the defense that really won the day. Dallas held Minnesota under 300 yards of offense and limited Kirk Cousins to a single touchdown drive. That is really impressive, especially when you consider that the Cowboys lost the turnover battle 2-0. Finding different ways to win when you are not at full strength is the sign of a good team. Thankfully, Dak Prescott should be back for Week 9 against the Broncos.
3. Green Bay Packers: 7-1(Last Week: 7) Won 24-21 at Arizona Aaron Rodgers loves proving everyone wrong. Without his top three wide receivers, the reigning MVP tossed two touchdowns to knock off the previously undefeated Cardinals. It was far from his most efficient performance, but it was good enough to get the job done, with a little help from Rasul Douglas. Green Bay keeps pace with the Rams and Cardinals atop the NFC and seems to be ready for another deep postseason run. The Packers will only get better when its full complement of receivers return and David Bahktiari gets back on the field.
4. Arizona Cardinals: 7-1(Last Week: 1) Lost 24-21 vs. Green Bay This was a really tough loss for the Cardinals, especially considering how it ended. A.J. Green apparently ran the wrong route on Arizona’s final offensive play, which led to a pass whizzing right past an oblivious Green and into the waiting arms of Rasul Douglas. An incompletion could have set up a game-tying field to force overtime or another chance to win the game in regulation. While it was a disappointing finish, it is also clear that the Cardinals are capable of competing with some of the top teams in the league. A rematch with the 49ers is up next.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-2(Last Week: 3) Lost 36-27 at New Orleans I turned to my wife while watching this game and said, “I would love it for the Buccaneers to get into a position to win and for Tom Brady to throw a pick-six to end it.” Low and behold, that actually happened, so I will be buying some lottery tickets this week. Tampa continues to struggle with New Orleans in the regular season. Even without Jameis Winston, the Bucs defense could not shut down the run game. Penalties also continue to crush Tampa, especially on defense. Sean Payton got creative to take advantage of their aggression up front. For Brady, this was one of the worst fourth quarters we’ve seen him play in some time. He was staring down throws and forcing the ball into double coverage, leading to two crippling interceptions. Tampa Bay still leads the division, but this changes the outlook for how the NFC South will be decided.
6. Buffalo Bills: 5-2(Last Week: 6) Won 26-11 vs. Miami Buffalo picked up the win, but some of the same issues that have plagued this offense in recent years reared their head again. Josh Allen accounted for more than half the team’s rushing yards and the passing game did not produce any big plays. Cole Beasley had Buffalo’s longest reception, which went just 20 yards. Thankfully, the defense bullied an overmatched Dolphins offense. Miami managed just 68 yards on the ground and Tua Tagovailoa threw a late interception to set up the Bills’ final touchdown. There is definitely no reason to panic, but this was far from the cleanest game we’ve seen from Sean McDermott’s side.
7. New Orleans Saints:5-2(Last Week: 13) Won 36-27 vs. Tampa Bay Just as we all expected, the Trevor Siemian-led Saints hold off Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to pick up a critical division win. Sean Payton put on a master class in creative play calling to take the pressure off Siemian and find some big plays to spark the offense. The defense finished the job with a pick-six to put the game out of reach. Unfortunately, Jameis Winston is likely out for the rest of the year and Taysom Hill is still questionable to play in Week 9. It could be another defensive battle featuring a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram if Siemian remains the starter against the Falcons.
8. Tennessee Titans:6-2(Last Week: 8) Won 34-31 at Indianapolis Tennessee won the battle, but may have very well lost the war. Derrick Henry will potentially miss the rest of the season after fracturing a bone in his foot. While Henry was not as effective in recent weeks, he is still crucial to everything the team does offensively. The Titans rank fourth in run percentage and eighth in play action percentage. Unless Adrian Peterson turns back the clocks big time, this offense is going to change dramatically. Thankfully, the Titans held on to beat the Colts in overtime and build a three-game lead atop the weakest division in the league. That should buy them a bit of wiggle room to reinvent themselves.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-3 (Last Week: 5) Lost 34-31 at New York Time to cool the hype. Cincinnati blew an 11-point lead in the final five minutes against Mike White and the Jets of all teams. White, making his first NFL start, lit up the Bengals secondary for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Part of the issue is Cincinnati’s inability to run the ball and Joe Burrow’s struggles with ball security in the fourth quarter. Joe Mixon managed just 33 yards on 14 carries for a whopping 2.4 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Burrow threw his fifth fourth-quarter interception of the season, tied with Taylor Heinicke for the most in the league. The Bengals are much closer to being contenders than in years past, but still have a few areas for improvement.
10. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-2 (Last Week: 12) Bye Week Las Vegas’ position in the AFC suddenly looks much better than it did a week ago, and the Raiders didn’t even play! The Chargers and Bengals took unexpected losses, while the Titans lost Derrick Henry indefinitely. The Raiders are tied for the fewest losses of any AFC team. Still, there is a long way to go and a lot of work to do. That starts at MetLife Stadium against the Giants in Week 9.
11. Baltimore Ravens: 5-2(Last Week: 9) Bye Week Somehow, the loss to the Bengals looks even worse now after they turned around and lost to the Jets. Hopefully, Baltimore spent the week off getting healthier and gelling a bit with some of the talent returning to the starting lineup. The Ravens have had to paper over so many injuries this year with backups and free agent signings, so it is fair to wonder what an additional week of prep will allow to finally get on the same page. The Vikings are up next.
12. New England Patriots: 4-4(Last Week: 19) Won 27-24 at Los Angeles Statement made. New England finally picked up a quality win. Bill Belichick seems to have Justin Herbert’s number. In two games against the Patriots, the former Oregon star is 0-2 with two touchdowns, four interceptions and a completion percentage of 50. With wins over the Texans and Jets up to this point, it was fair to wonder if the Patriots were really capable of knocking off an above average team. Now, the Pats are back to .500 and very much in the wildcard conversation. There is still room for improvement after giving up 163 yards on the ground, but this was a really good sign for New England.
13. Los Angeles Chargers:4-3 (Last Week: 10) Lost 27-24 vs. New England So much for revenge. The Chargers’ hot start has fizzled a bit with losses to the Ravens and Patriots bringing them back down to Earth. Justin Herbert is not taking care of the football, highlighted by a pick-six and the defense is not generating much pressure. There is still a silver lining in the form of the ground game. Josh Jackson’s 75-yard run inflates some of the numbers, but Los Angeles still had 88 yards on 19 additional carries. Had Los Angeles not been playing from behind, it would have been good to see them lean on that run game more to take some pressure off Herbert and the defense. L.A. looks to bounce back in Philly this week.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers:4-3(Last Week: 17) Won 15-10 at Cleveland Stories of the Steelers’ demise have been slightly exaggerated. The offense is as dysfunctional as expected, but Pittsburgh’s defense continues to step up. Cleveland narrowly eclipsed 300 yards of offense and went 3-for-12 on third- and fourth-down conversions. T.J. Watt also recovered a Jarvis Landry fumble in the fourth quarter to end a Browns drive. Offensively, it continues to be ugly, but Ben Roethlisberger and Najee Harris are getting the job done. Prepare for another defensive struggle as Pittsburgh hosts Chicago on Monday Night Football.
15. Cleveland Browns 4-4(Last Week: 11) Lost 15-10 vs. Pittsburgh While there is no doubt this season has been a disappointment for the Browns so far, it is amazing to see how much the expectations for this team have changed in recent years. It wasn’t that long ago that Tyrod Taylor was starting for a Cleveland team fresh off a winless season. Credit to the front office for building a much more competitive roster, but now it is time for the results to follow. Getting healthy should certainly help, but the front office might want to consider trading for a receiver at the deadline.
16. Kansas City Chiefs: 4-4(Last Week: 14) Won 20-17 vs. New York Kansas City managed the always impressive feat of winning a game while also making you feel way worse about the outlook of the team. Patrick Mahomes struggles yet again, completing 60 percent of his passes with a touchdown and an interception. He should have had more turnovers, but was bailed out when the Giants jumped offsides on a late pick. I suppose the bright side is that the defense played better. New York was nowhere near full strength, missing Kenny Golladay, Saquon Barkley and losing Sterling Shepard in the contest. Beating that team by just three at home does not inspire much confidence though. The schedule gets much tougher for the Chiefs with the Packers, Raiders and Cowboys on the docket.
17. Indianapolis Colts:3-5(Last Week: 16) Lost 34-31 vs. Tennessee Indianapolis feels better than its record, but it is time for the Colts to start winning some of these close games. Indy has lost one-games against the Rams, Ravens and now Titans. Frank Reich’s crew has led in the fourth quarter of each of those games as well. This latest loss will most definitely be pinned on Carson Wentz. The veteran quarterback threw two very costly interceptions, leading to a pick-six and the game-winning field goal. Reich might want to consider running the ball a bit more. There is no reason Wentz should be throwing it 51 times in a game, even in overtime.
18. San Francisco 49ers:3-4(Last Week: 18) Won 33-22 at Chicago It took a little while to get going for the 49ers offense. The Bears led 13-9 at halftime, holding Jimmy Garoppolo and company to three field goals. San Francisco scored 24 points over the final 21 minutes of game time to pull off the win, with Garoppolo rushing in two scores. Elijah Mitchell continues to look like a gem as he racked up 138 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the 49ers did just about everything well, except stopping Justin Fields scrambling. The rookie quarterback went over the century mark on just 10 carries, including a highlight-reel scamper to pull Chicago within one after a missed extra point. Things get much tougher as the Cardinals are up next.
19. Minnesota Vikings: 3-4(Last Week: 15) Lost 20-16 vs. Dallas This was nothing short of laughable. Facing the Cowboys without Dak Prescott at home, the Vikings were set up to perfectly control the game and pick up a much-needed win to get over .500. Did I mention they were coming off a bye? Instead, the offense fell flat, managing just one touchdown. Kirk Cousins was nothing short of mediocre, totaling 184 yards passing. The defense gave up a last-minute touchdown and the offense could not respond with under a minute remaining. This is an embarrassing loss for Mike Zimmer.
20. Carolina Panthers:4-4(Last Week: 21) Won 19-13 at Atlanta Carolina went from having questions at quarterback to having a problem at quarterback very quickly. Sam Darnold had a pedestrian day before exiting with a concussion in the fourth quarter. In fact, following an impressive start, Darnold has failed to top 207 yards passing in his past four outings. P.J. Walker has not looked much better in his limited snaps this year. Thankfully, the Falcons’ offense is even more inept and the Panthers’ defense made a few big plays when it mattered. Stephon Gilmore picked off Matt Ryan in his team debut while the front seven recorded three sacks and nine quarterback hits. Unfortunately, Carolina still feels much worse than a .500 team.
21. Chicago Bears: 3-5(Last Week: 20) Lost 33-22 vs. San Francisco Chicago was much more competitive, but still managed to pick up another double-digit loss. Justin Fields flashed his incredible wheels, specifically on his ridiculous 22-yard touchdown scramble that should have tied the game, but Cairo Santos missed the extra point. Khalil Herbert saw a heavy workload again, but was not as effective as he had been in previous weeks. Unfortunately, after a really strong first half, the defense fell apart down the stretch. The season is far from over, but the Bears need to turn things around quickly.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: 3-5 (Last Week: 23) Won 44-6 at Detroit This felt like a huge trap game for the Eagles on the road against a Lions team desperate for a win and fresh off a close game with the Rams. It turns out Philadelphia was totally prepared for this matchup. Jalen Hurts, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott each topped 50 yards rushing as the Eagles racked up 236 as a team. Hurts was impressive on his 14 pass attempts and the defense teed off on Jared Goff. Josh Sweat led the way as Philly sacked Goff six times. Darius Slay capped it all off with a scoop-and-score against his former team. Now, Nick Sirianni needs to figure out how to build on this momentum heading into a showdown with the Chargers.
23. Denver Broncos: 4-4(Last Week: 22) Won 17-10 vs. Washington Winning but moving down? Well, that’s what happens when you trade away one of the best defensive players in franchise history and the offense looks lackluster in the effort. I actually think the Broncos were smart to move on from Von Miller given his contract situation and the return they netted. However, there is no doubt they were better when he was on the roster. It is also clear the offense needs a jolt. The defense did a great job pressuring Taylor Heinicke, racking up five sacks, and Justin Simmons picked him off twice. Still, Denver is averaging 16.2 points per game over the past five games. It is hard to win with that type of scoring output.
24. Seattle Seahawks:3-5(Last Week: 26) Won 31-7 vs. Jacksonville This was exactly the get-right game Seattle needed following two tough primetime losses. Geno Smith played turnover-free football and completed a sterling 20-of-24 passes. He threw for two touchdowns and added another on the ground. Travis Homer capped it off with an onsides kick return for a touchdown, something I haven’t seen since Hines Ward in the Pro Bowl back in 2005. There is definitely still room for improvement offensively, as the Jaguars actually outgained the Seahawks by 80 yards. A much-need bye week awaits.
25. Atlanta Falcons: 3-4 (Last Week:24) Lost 19-13 vs. Carolina Things are looking bleak in Atlanta. Calvin Ridley stepped away early Sunday to focus on his mental health. It was evident right away how much the Falcons missed him. Matt Ryan finished with a meager 146 yards passing and a pair of interceptions as the offense stalled over and over again. The defense didn’t do them too many favors either, allowing Carolina to convert on 10-of-17 third-down plays. The Panthers also dominated time of possession. The Falcons ran 22 fewer plays on Sunday. Arthur Smith needs to get creative without a bellcow running back or a true No. 1 receiver.
26. New York Giants: 2-6(Last Week: 25) Lost 20-17 at Kansas City How much longer can we continue to allow the injuries facing the Giants be the excuse for why they don’t win? I understand it is uncontrollable, but Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard all carry significant injury histories. Them missing a few games felt inevitable this season. Clearly though, this offense is not built to handle missing all of them at the same time, which is understandable. At least the defense played well to keep things close. Dave Gettleman’s tenure seems close to ending as the Giants offensive line continues to flounder.
27. Washington:2-6(Last Week: 27) Lost 17-10 at Denver In a battle of two of the worst offenses in the NFL, Washington managed to come up second best. It was the fourth game this season where Washington failed to top 16 points. Taylor Heinicke looks overmatched, Antonio Gibson has clearly regressed and this receiving corps is underwhelming. On the bright side, Washington’s defense is finally starting to show signs of its 2020 form. Four sacks on Sunday tied a season high and gives the team seven in the past two games. Thankfully, a bye week is next.
28. New York Jets: 2-5 (Last Week: 32) Won 34-31 vs. Cincinnati I am beyond perplexed by the Jets. Following a 41-point thumping against the Patriots in which Zach Wilson suffered a knee injury, Mike White steps in for his first NFL start and leads them past the previously 5-2 Bengals. Make it make sense. New York now owns two very impressive wins this season over Tennessee and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, the Jets have been nothing shy of lifeless in their five losses. Robert Saleh needs to find a way to carry over this performance and build some momentum into a Thursday night matchup with the Colts.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: 1-6 (Last Week: 28) Lost 31-7 at Seattle The wait to win in the United States drags on. Seattle stomped the Jaguars in a game defined by missed opportunities. Jacksonville went 1-for-4 on fourth down and outgained Seattle, but struggled to get points on the board. In fact, the Jaguars’ list of drives is just pathetic. They went punt, punt, interception, downs, downs, punt, downs, punt, touchdown, end of game. Trevor Lawrence managed just 4.4 yards per attempt on 54 throws. This team is just incredibly dysfunctional at this point.
30. Miami Dolphins:1-7(Last Week: 30) Lost 26-11 at Buffalo Well, I guess this is an improvement over the last time Miami faced Buffalo. The Dolphins were shut out 40-0 in that one, so it was hard to do much worse. Unfortunately, the offense sputtered behind a hapless offensive line and the defense had no answer for Josh Allen. For a team that expected to build on a 10-6 season, it is a bit shocking to see them with more losses already in 2021 at the midway point. I wish I could say Miami could just tank for a draft pick, but they don’t even own their own first-round selection. This is not a fun situation to be in.
31. Houston Texans: 1-6 (Last Week: 31) Lost 38-22 vs. Los Angeles The final score looks better than this game actually was. Houston trailed 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Los Angeles is a talented team and should have won comfortably, but that is embarrassing. The Texans could have at least been competitive. With Deshaun Watson unlikely to move before the trade deadline, it is hard to find too much to be optimistic about at this point. Houston should definitely be major sellers on Tuesday.
32. Detroit Lions: 0-8 (Last Week: 29) Lost 44-6 vs. Philadelphia Oh Detroit. Just when it seemed like the Lions were making strides, they reminded everyone that they are the worst team in the league. A drubbing against the Eagles of all teams is not what was expected following a solid showing against the Rams. Jared Goff has been terrible and the infrastructure around him has to be one of the worst in the league. Detroit’s receiving corps is full of players that would not see the field on most other teams. The running game has been incredibly disappointing as well. The Lions knew they were headed for a long rebuild, that’s why they traded away Matt Stafford, but there are a ton of holes to fill on this roster.
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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: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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: 🔥🔥 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: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 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: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 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: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 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: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥 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: 🔥 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: 🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 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 Heat Index: 🔥🔥 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: 🔥 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
22. Chicago Bears 2020 record: 8-8 Key free agents: WR Allen Robinson, QB Mitchell Trubisky, WR CordarrellePatterson, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
3. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas CityChiefs 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.