Welcome to Week 3 of the NFL season. Now precisely how much do we know about all 32 teams?
It’s a tricky time of year, because we are weighing the small sample size of two games against everything we thought we knew coming into the season. (And we were all so confident then!)
One thing I think many people—particularly power rankings critics—fall into a trap of, is placing too much of an emphasis on the wins and losses. Which is understandable because, well, you know the old Herm Edwards line.
But the first two weeks of the season have had some games that have shown us how silly it is to overinflate the meaning of one tally in the W or L column. Look at teams like the Vikings and Cardinals. That game they played against each other was so ridiculous, how can you put too much stock in either team based simply on the result of the final play? And the same can already be said for so many other games: Washington-Giants and Chargers-Cowboys came down to field goals; Seahawks-Titans and Vikings-Bengals went into OT. Each had a fluky bounce, a questionable call or some coin flip occurrence along the way. How can we even assume the better team won?
So try not to worry too much about record. The exercise is to list the teams in order of how good I think they are. If the idea was to rank the teams in order of their record, you could just look at the standings.
Here goes nothing.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2–0)
Last week: Win vs. Atlanta, 48–25
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams
I am not one of those people who believes the Super Bowl champs are automatically bequeathed the top spot and get to stay there until they lose. I actually voted for the Chiefs at No. 1 in our preseason poll. But the Bucs have begun their title defense by very clearly looking the part. The 2021 version of the team has earned this status.
2. Los Angeles Rams (2–0)
Last week: Win at Indianapolis, 27–24
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay
The Rams were preseason darlings in many corners of the internet (including the MMQB staff predictions), and the early returns have shown that, yes, Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay seem to get along quite nicely. Last week Conor Orr put the Rams No. 1 in this very space. We’ll know much more about this Rams team after this three-game stretch against the Bucs, Cardinals and Seahawks. But for now I see a contender that I expect to get better as the season goes along.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (1–1)
Last week: Loss at Baltimore, 36–35
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers
In general, we shouldn’t overreact to single games. The Chiefs lost a road game against a very good team that has spent the last few years obsessed with developing strategies to finally beat them. And it was a close game that came down to just a few swing plays. So my opinion of Kansas City hasn’t changed at all, and I’d still pick the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl. But the teams ahead of them deserve to be there at the moment.
4. Buffalo Bills (1–1)
Last week: Win at Miami, 35–0
Next week: vs. Washington
Here’s where the rankings started to get a little tricky for me, with a few teams I thought about putting No. 4. Let’s go with the Bills, who let the Steelers score 17 points in the fourth quarter of their Week 1 loss, but have allowed six points total in the other seven quarters they’ve played combined.
5. Baltimore Ravens (1–1)
Last week: Win vs. Kansas City, 36–35
Next week: at Detroit
The Ravens have dealt with a staggering number of injuries early, but I trust John Harbaugh’s team to overcome whatever obstacles it faces more than I’d trust most squads. They’ve played two wild toss-up games, which resulted in a frustrating loss and a signature win. I don’t think they’ll blitz their way through most of the season like they did in 2019, but after proving they can beat the Chiefs in September, everyone should know they are one of the few AFC teams that could topple them in January.
6. Cleveland Browns (1–1)
Last week: Win vs. Houston, 31–21
Next week: vs. Chicago
The Browns entered this season with legitimate expectations and have so far done about what you could expect, given their schedule. Cleveland went toe-to-toe with the Chiefs in Week 1 and then took care of business against the Texans in Week 2. The Browns remain solidly in the AFC’s second tier until proven otherwise.
7. San Francisco 49ers (2–0)
Last week: Win at Philadelphia, 17–11
Next week: vs. Green Bay
Trey Lance played zero snaps in Week 2, which feels like a funny joke from Kyle Shanahan, who showed us before the draft that he enjoys messing with people by throwing us all off the scent. But it’s good to see one of the league’s most interesting teams bounce back from last year’s injury-riddled disaster. And despite a QB situation that could be a distraction for lesser franchises, this team seems to be pretty clearly focused more on what matters.
8. Green Bay Packers (1–1)
Last week: Win vs. Detroit, 35–17 (Monday)
Next week: at San Francisco
Alright, so the Packers are still the Packers. Right? At least they are capable of cruising against the Lions. Week 1 was a surprising egg, but it’s possible that bumping them from where most people had Green Bay in the preseason down to here is possibly an overreaction, given where this team may end by the end of the season. But there are enough other good teams in the league right now that I’d like to see this bumpy season smooth out a little more before I put them back in the top five.
9. Seattle Seahawks (1–1)
Last week: Loss vs. Tennessee, 33–30 (OT)
Next week: at Minnesota
I’m perennially bullish on the Seahawks, who every year manage to win enough games in whatever strange way it takes. It’s never a good time to blow a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, but Seattle is far from the first defense to let Derrick Henry run over them at the end of the game, and I’m enjoying this new Shane Waldron offense where every 20 minutes Tyler Lockett is on my TV catching some ridiculous deep ball over his shoulder.
10. Las Vegas Raiders (2–0)
Last week: Win at Pittsburgh, 26–17
Next week: vs. Miami
No team has moved up more spots from where I had them before the season started than the Raiders. Am I overhyping them? If so, it’s a product of spending the last 24 hours reading about how impressive their first two weeks were from just about every football writer on the internet. We have seen them play well before, so I’ll want to see a little more before I fully buy-in. But they beat two 2020 playoff teams in six days and looked like a top-10 team doing it.
11. Arizona Cardinals (2–0)
Last week: Win vs. Minnesota, 34–33
Next week: at Jacksonville
The Cardinals would be No. 1 in our entertainment rankings so far this season. The Vikings’ radio booth has them at 1–1, but I am seeing them as 2–0 elsewhere. But again, their Week 2 game is such a reminder of how easily these records could all look different. So it’s that Week 1 win by 25 points over the Titans that compels me to put them ahead of some of these teams you’ll see directly below them. If Kyler Murray’s shoulder injury was really what torpedoed Arizona’s season last year, and we get this version of him for a whole season, a ridiculously fun NFC West race could get, uhhh, even more ridiculously fun? They play the Rams and 49ers in Weeks 4 and 5, so they’ll soon have a chance to move up.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (1–1)
Last week: Loss vs. Las Vegas, 26–17
Next week: vs. Cincinnati
The Steelers felt like a polarizing team coming into the year, so winning in Buffalo and losing to the Raiders at home is a perfect start. You can choose to focus on their strengths or flaws. But we know how good the defense is (when healthy), we know what a problem the offensive line is and I’m not sure anyone feels differently about this team than they did 16 days ago.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (1–1)
Last week: Loss vs. Dallas, 20–17
Next week: at Kansas City
Justin Herbert is as good as advertised here in his second season. Many of us have been burned by this team before, but I look upon the Bolts favorably, despite a classic Chargers-style loss in Week 2. They play in Kansas City this week and the tough schedule doesn’t slow down from there (Raiders, Browns, at Ravens, Patriots), but I’m excited to see how they come out of that run.
14. Denver Broncos (2–0)
Last week: Win at Jacksonville, 23–13
Next week: vs. New York Jets
Broncos fans are probably ready to complain about not being higher on the list, though Denver is actually not the lowest-ranked 2-0 team on my board. It’s not the Broncos’ fault that the schedule makers gave them the Giants and Jaguars to start (and the Jets this coming week), but it’s still true that we haven’t seen them beat anyone good. But stacking wins is important, and they’ve handled their business impressively. It’s a talented roster and Teddy Bridgewater has been one of the best stories of the season so far. I picked the Broncos to win the No. 7 seed in the AFC this year, and I still have them right at that bubble.
15. Tennessee Titans (1–1)
Last week: Win at Seattle, 33–30 (OT)
Next week: vs. Indianapolis
The Titans took one on the chin in Week 1 and then fell behind early in Week 2, but it was nice to see them not just battle back against the Seahawks but do it in a way we’ve seen them win in this run the last few years under Mike Vrabel. Derrick Henry’s workload is ridiculous, but I think, at this point, I’ll just continue to believe in him until the wheels fall off. A home win over the Colts this week could already put them in control of the division.
16. Dallas Cowboys (1–1)
Last week: Win at Los Angeles Chargers, 20–17
Next week: vs. Philadelphia (Monday)
The Bucs’ offense looked great on opening night, but the Cowboys still gave the defending champs all they could handle and forced them to win it on a field goal at the end. Then they beat the Chargers in a game with a very different flow and game script. I still have Dallas as the best team in the NFC East, but we know that doesn’t necessarily mean too much these days.
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17. Carolina Panthers (2–0)
Last week: Win vs. New Orleans, 26–7
Next: at Houston
Should the Panthers be higher? Maybe. But I thought about the old tried-and-true “who would you pick to win on a neutral field?” method and I’m not ready to put them higher than this. That was obviously a very impressive performance against the Saints, but this is still a young team and I’m interested to see how it handles whatever speed bumps or growing pains pop up along the way.
18. New Orleans Saints (1–1)
Last week: Loss at Carolina, 26–7
Next week: at New England
So which team are they? The one that demolished the Packers 38–3 or the one that got six first downs and only one score against the Panthers? Probably somewhere in the middle.
19. New England Patriots (1–1)
Last week: Win at New York Jets, 25–6
New week: vs. New Orleans
I’m sort of fascinated by this version of the Patriots. For so many years, we just knew what to expect from them on a week-to-week basis, and what a big Patriots game felt like. Now it’s just interesting to look at New England on the schedule and wonder what kind of game it’ll be. After seeing the defense manhandle the Jets, it’ll be fun to see Bill Belichick scheme up against Sean Payton.
20. Miami Dolphins (1–1)
Last week: Loss vs. Buffalo, 35–0
Next week: at Las Vegas
I think the Saints win the award for team that looked most different between Week 1 and Week 2, but going from beating the Patriots to getting blanked 35–0 at home (even against a very good team like the Bills) is still quite a ride. Hopefully Tua Tagovailoa’s injury doesn’t hamper his season too much, because we know Brian Flores can coach up a defense and seeing how Tua develops is easily this season’s top priority.
21. Washington Football Team (1–1)
Last week: Win vs. New York Giants, 30–29 (Thursday)
Next week: at Buffalo
Cult hero Taylor Heinicke has wandered back into our lives like a beloved minor TV character you forget about for a few months until he pops up unexpectedly in a later season. How long will he stay? Is he getting his own character arc, or just here for a quick stay? He believes he should get to keep the starting job, and there’s no reason to think he can’t earn it if he plays like we’ve seen him play.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (1–1)
Last week: Loss vs. San Francisco, 17–11
Next week: at Dallas (Monday)
The Eagles were among the biggest surprises of Week 1, but scoring just 11 points in the follow-up game against the 49ers takes some of the shine off a 32-point effort in Atlanta. The Eagles have plenty of veterans, but at the start of a new era with a first-year coach and young quarterback, more ups and downs should be expected.
23. Indianapolis Colts (0–2)
Last week: Loss vs. Los Angeles Rams, 27–24
Next week: at Tennessee
We knew the Colts started the season with a tough opening schedule. Now they’ve lost two home games, head out on the road for three straight and have already had Carson Wentz leave a game with not one but two sprained ankles. No game in September is truly must-win, especially with the season now 17 games, but Indy’s situation would look very different with a win against the Titans. Otherwise the whole season would be spent making the long climb back.
24. Minnesota Vikings (0–2)
Last week: Loss at Arizona, 34–33
Next week: vs. Seattle
One thing doing this exercise has reinforced is that I actually think there are a bunch of really good teams, and also a bunch of average teams, and it takes a while before you get to the really bad ones. Watching the Vikings, I don’t think, “Oh, that’s the 24th best team in the league.” But then looking at where to put them, this is where I landed. But outside of having a few playmakers who are fun to watch, I just can’t get excited about the general direction this team is headed in. Even though they are a couple of bounces away from being 2-0! Our brains are weird.
25. Chicago Bears (1–1)
Last week: Win vs. Cincinnati, 20–17
Next week: at Cleveland
The Bears tried to create a deliberate plan for when the Justin Fields era would begin (even if they wouldn’t exactly share that plan with the rest of us), and then football happened, with Andy Dalton’s injury forcing Fields into an extended role against the Bengals and injecting even more chaos into the most scrutinized QB situation in the NFL. In the long run, I think it’ll be good to rip the Band-Aid off and get Fields out there gaining experience.
26. Atlanta Falcons (0–2)
Last week: Loss at Tampa Bay, 48–25
Next week: at New York Giants
The Falcons showed signs up life in Week 2, though the final score was made uglier by two pick-sixes in the fourth quarter. Still, this has been a discouraging start to the season for a team that opted to bring back Matt Ryan instead of making a run at a young quarterback. Again, it’s way too early to declare that a good decision or a bad one. And Atlanta can right the ship the next three weeks with games against the Giants, Washington and the Jets.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (1–1)
Last week: Loss at Chicago, 20–17
Next week: at Pittsburgh
Yes, the Bengals do have a win already this season, against a team I’ve ranked above them, But, as I’ve repeated several times now, so many of these games are coin flips and I think you should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from the end of that Bengals-Vikings overtime game. Sunday’s loss to the Bears, in which Cincinnati was down 20–3 with six minutes left, was not inspiring. (And was more in line with what I expected coming into the season.)
28. Detroit Lions (0–2)
Last week: Loss at Green Bay, 35–17 (Monday)
Next week: vs. Baltimore
I think a lot of people are enjoying getting their shots in at Dan Campbell because of the persona he has taken on since arriving in Detroit. I’m actually interested to see how it works out and willing to give his schtick a chance. But the team isn’t very good right now.
29. New York Giants (0–2)
Last week: Loss at Washington, 30–29 (Thursday)
Next week: vs. Atlanta
The Giants are a bit of a mess right now. Not just 0–2, but sloppy, undisciplined and fighting amongst themselves. When the big-ticket free agent wide receiver has to come out and clarify that he wasn’t yelling at the quarterback, he was yelling at the offensive coordinator, you’re not where you want to be after Week 2.
30. New York Jets (0–2)
Last week: Loss vs. New England, 25–6
Next week: at Denver
A new era of Jets football has started out looking sort of like the Jets football we’ve all grown familiar with. I don’t want to overreact to one game against a Bill Belichick defense, but a four-interception day is the kind of performance that gets you a No. 30 ranking. It’s only temporary, but it feels right today.
31. Houston Texans (1–1)
Last week: Loss at Cleveland, 31–21
Next week: vs. Carolina (Thursday)
The Texans did actually win a game, albeit against the Jaguars, and they looked good enough doing so that it was tempting to put them above more of the seven remaining winless teams. But with Tyrod Taylor now hurt and Davis Mills in line to take over, I think they’ll be back at No. 32 before too long.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0–2)
Last week: Loss vs. Denver, 23–13
Next week: vs. Arizona
The Jaguars tweeted a dramatic apology for starting out 0–2, and I don’t think it played how the people behind the message thought it would. You can’t go to that well too many times, and it’s going to be a long season if the team is already at that point.
If you haven’t liked the first two weeks of the MMQB’s power rankings:
More NFL Coverage:
• Week 2 Takeaways: Henry Saves Titans, Panthers Are for Real
• Carr's Newfound Fearlessness Has Raiders Rolling
• MAQB: Sam Darnold Has More Support on the Panthers
• MMQB: Harbaugh Discusses Fourth-Down Conversion
• Lamar Jackson Provides the Antidote for Ravens' Ailments
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