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