A little over a quarter of the way through the 2021 season, and we have one unbeaten left (surprisingly, the Cardinals), and two winless teams remaining (unsurprisingly, the Jaguars and Lions) with a dozen games to go.
That leaves a lot of teams within a couple games of one another and no real answers.
So that’s the preamble to my crack at the Power Rankings! Without a crystal ball, I don’t have foresight on which team is going to catch fire at the right time, which team will slump at that point, who will have a young star or two breakout, or who will have a guy who can’t take his game to another level when he’s expected to.
Let’s jump in...
1. Arizona Cardinals (5—0)
Last week: Win vs. San Francisco, 17–10
Next week: at Cleveland
I understand there are still skeptics out there. But they’ve got a young QB playing at an MVP level, a layer of vets that have helped the team mature, and wins over the Titans, Rams, 49ers and Vikings.
2. Buffalo Bills (4—1)
Last week: Win vs. Kansas City, 38–20
Next week: at Tennessee (Monday)
The most impressive team through five weeks, no question. And it really goes back to last year. Their four-game winning streak has come with an aggregate score of 156–41, and they’ve won 10 of their last 11 regular-season games, with nine of those wins coming by double-digits and the tenth one by 9 points.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4—1)
Last week: Win vs. Dolphins, 45–17
Next week: at Philadelphia (Thursday)
Interestingly, they probably looked most vulnerable in a tight win over New England. They rebounded nicely Sunday against the Dolphins, but still have injury concerns (Rob Gronkowski, Lavonte David, all the corners) that they’ll have to work around that didn’t exist during last year’s run.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (4—1)
Last week: Win vs. Cleveland, 47–42
Next week: at Baltimore
The Chargers play a smart disciplined game and have an absolute alien at quarterback. On paper, at least, there’s still a lot of untapped potential here.
5. Los Angeles Rams (4—1)
Last week: Win at Seattle, 26–17 (Thursday)
Next week: at New York Giants
After a loss to the Bucs and a less-than-dominant 'TNF' performance in Seattle, it feels like everyone’s taking a deep breath on the Rams and how good they are. Update: They’re still really, really good, and have three of the best players in football—plus one of the game’s best coaches, leading the way.
6. Dallas Cowboys (4—1)
Last week: Win vs. New York Giants, 44–20
Next week: at New England
Maybe having them sixth is being slow to come around—since they’ve looked as impressive as anyone of late, without a real discernible weakness showing up. I just want to see how they handle success, and this week should be an indicator with a trip to New England to face a Patriots team they should handle on tap.
7. Baltimore Ravens (4—1)
Last week: Win vs. Indianapolis 31-25 (OT) (Monday)
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Chargers
What a comeback on Monday night, and what a freaking amazing football player Lamar Jackson is. Here’s hoping he gets the credit he deserves for the work he’s put in to improving as a passer.
8. Green Bay Packers (4—1)
Last week: Win at Cincinnati, 25–22 (OT)
Next week: at Chicago
They are pretty much who we thought they are. They need to get healthier on the offensive line, and with key pieces (Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith) on defense. But Aaron Rodgers is leading the team to win games it shouldn’t, and as the roster gets healthier there’ll be fewer of those.
9. Cleveland Browns (3—2)
Last week: Loss at Los Angeles Chargers, 47–42
Next week: vs. Arizona
Renewed concern with the defense? I don’t think so. They’re still strong upfront, young in the back seven, and well-coached and coordinated. I’d bet on them figuring it out.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (3—2)
Last week: Loss vs. Green Bay, 25–22 (OT)
Next week: at Detroit
Joe Burrow keeps raising the ceiling for this group. Now, they just have to be able to keep him healthy.
11. Carolina Panthers (3—2)
Last week: Loss vs Philadelphia, 21–18
Next week: vs. Minnesota
I bought all the way in and got burned—Carolina cracked the last couple of weeks against the Eagles and Cowboys, and the offense really looks like it misses Christian McCaffrey.
12. New Orleans Saints (3—2)
Last week: Win at Washington, 33–22
Next week: Bye
The Saints will start to get guys like Michael Thomas and David Onyemata back into the fold, and if they can beat Geno Smith after their bye, they’ll go into a showdown with Tampa on Halloween at 4—2.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (2—3)
Last week: Loss vs. Buffalo, 38–20
Next week: at Washington
Five new linemen. Some aging and banged-up pieces on defense. Thirty-eight games the last two years. It’s easy to see, with the benefit of hindsight, where the Chiefs hitting some roadblocks might happen early this year.
14. Tennessee Titans (3—2)
Last week: Win at Jacksonville, 37–19
Next week: vs. Buffalo (Monday)
Given the issues on defense, and the physical state of the receivers, it’s hard to believe that the Titans are 3—2. But they are, and it’s happened behind, who else, their freakish reigning Offensive Player of the Year at tailback.
15. Chicago Bears (3—2)
Last week: Win at Las Vegas, 20–9
Next week: vs. Green Bay
Justin Fields was finally named the starter, and the defense and run game end up carrying the day in Vegas. Which is actually just how you’d think a smart coach would arrange his team around a rookie starter at the position.
16. Denver Broncos (3—2)
Last week: Loss at Pittsburgh, 27–19
Next week: vs. Las Vegas
Denver’s lost two straight now, to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and it seems pretty obvious that as good a story as Teddy Bridgewater is, the Broncos are going to looking for a difference-maker at the most important position. There could be a pretty interesting situation, too, waiting for an Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson here.
17. San Francisco 49ers (2—3)
Last week: Loss at Arizona, 17–10
Next week: Bye
Injuries are hitting Kyle Shanahan’s gang again. I still think there’s a winning roster here, and certainly a winning coaching staff. But if that can’t be proven on the field … it’s pretty tough to truly assess where they are.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (3—2)
Last week: Loss vs Chicago, 20–9
Next week: at Denver
Bizarre few days for a team that’s over .500 but no longer has a coach. And so there are a lot of questions to answer here for a team that also lacks a team president, and has a general manager who had been, more or less, working for the head coach. Important times ahead.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (2—3)
Last week: Win vs. Denver, 27–19
Next week: vs. Seattle
I have faith in Mike Tomlin’s ability to squeeze everything there is out of the Steelers. My belief in Ben Roethlisberger is flagging though, and so I think the shift you’re seeing now will result in the offense becoming Najee Harris’s, which should help to highlight a rock-solid defense.
20. Minnesota Vikings (2—3)
Last week: Win vs. Detroit, 19–17
Next week: at Carolina
Did you know Kirk Cousins is having a career year? It’s true! And yet, Minnesota was this close to giving visiting Detroit its first win on Sunday and falling to 1—4.
21. New England Patriots (2—3)
Last week: Win at Houston, 25–22
Next week: vs. Dallas
The Patriots roster simply isn’t all that, and the reworked front-office needs another draft class to get it back up to the old standard. The silver lining is that should allow New England to push Mac Jones as the year goes on.
22. Washington Football Team (2—3)
Last week: Loss vs. New Orleans, 33–22
Next week: vs. Kansas City
The defense should be far better than it has been given the horse the Football Team rolls out there up front. And you have to wonder if a coordinator change will, eventually, come.
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23. Seattle Seahawks (2—3)
Last week: Loss at Los Angeles Rams, 26–17 (Thursday)
Next week: at Pittsburgh
This is now Geno Smith’s show. Buckle up.
24. Atlanta Falcons (2—3)
Last week: Win vs. New York Jets, 27–20 (London)
Next week: Bye
New coach Arthur Smith’s team appears to be making strides, having played well three weeks in a row, with two wins snuck in there. And don’t look now, but Matt Ryan’s getting better in Smith’s scheme, which has some familiarities to the one Ryan ran for Kyle Shanahan during his MVP campaign.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (2—3)
Last week: Win at Carolina, 21–18
Next week: vs. Tampa Bay (Thursday)
The Eagles are right where most of us figured they would be—young and retooled at a lot of spots, with some strength on the lines, and a young quarterback they have to find out about over the next three months.
26. Indianapolis Colts (1—4)
Last week: Loss at Baltimore, 31–25 (OT) (Monday)
Next week: vs. Houston
Lots of bad breaks for Indy this year, with the rash of injuries, and now they need to get past another heartbreaker. Also, Monday night’s loss was Carson Wentz’s eighth in his last nine starts, going back to Philly.
27. New York Giants (1—4)
Last week: Loss at Dallas, 44–20
Next week: vs. Los Angeles Rams
Another team beset by injuries, and with the Rams, Panthers and Chiefs up next, it’ll take an upset somewhere to avoid 1–4 becoming 1–7. Joe Judge has his work cut out for him.
28. Miami Dolphins (1—4)
Last week: Loss at Tampa Bay, 45–17
Next week: at Jacksonville (London)
Tua Tagovailoa will be back soon, and it’s hard to know how big a difference it’s going to make.
29. New York Jets (1—4)
Last week: Loss at Atlanta, 27–20 (London)
Next week: Bye
Clearly, the roster still needs a lot of work.
30. Houston Texans (1—4)
Last week: Loss vs. New England, 25–22
Next week: vs. Indianapolis
31. Detroit Lions (0—5)
Last week: Loss at. Minnesota, 19–17
Next week: vs. Cincinnati
Like everyone else, I love the fight, and I love how Dan Campbell is so invested in his players. It’ll probably be a little while before we can use wins and losses to assess the job he’s doing. For now, at least, the thing to watch is how engaged the team is, and how young players are developing.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0—5)
Last week: Loss vs. Tennessee, 37–19
Next week: vs. Miami (London)
One thing opposing coaches have told me is that the Jaguars continue to play very, very hard, and that continued Sunday against the Titans. So that’s a plus, after a week with a lot of minuses.
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