Splash’s NFL Preseason Power Rankings

Splash’s NFL Preseason Power Rankings

by September 8, 2021 1 comment

Welcome back to the futile exercise of ranking the 32 NFL teams. This is perhaps the most futile of the weekly power rankings, but here we are. Every team has at least some shred of hope of winning the Super Bowl (besides the Texans). This is based on positional rankings, projections, and a team’s culture. Is it perfect? You can decide until the games kick-off.

No. 32: Houston Texans

Tyrod Taylor will be starting Week 1 for the Texans. That should be enough of an indictment to put the Texans at No. 32. Beyond Taylor, the Texans have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Defensively, the Texans have little talent. Even if Deshaun Watson was starting, Houston would be plastered to the bottom of the power rankings. They could make some games interesting with a run-heavy attack, but “interesting” is far from good.

No. 31: Detroit Lions

Detroit is maneuvering to build through the trenches, generally a good idea. However, this leaves a barren group of skill positions (other than D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson). Detroit should have a sneaky-good offensive line, but it will be difficult to score points with Jared Goff under center. Defensively, the Lions desperately need Jeff Okudah to not be the worst defensive back in football. The pieces are in place for the future, but this is a terrible roster.

No. 30: Carolina Panthers

Carolina has talented players. The issue is that Sam Darnold has shown nothing besides being the worst quarterback in the NFL, and the Panthers manage to have a worse offensive line than Darnold had in 2019. Brian Burns is great. Jeremy Chinn and Jaycee Horn are exciting. Carolina has an electric group of weapons with Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore leading the line. However, Darnold is an unmistakable stench. Could he improve in 2021? Sure, but it would be a dramatic difference from his first three seasons.

No. 29: New York Jets

Without Carl Lawson, the Jets have lost their “shock the world” potential in the division. Zach Wilson will be good, and he could even be a top-20 quarterback by the end of the season. However, he has unproven weapons and an unproven offensive line. The likes of Elijah Moore and Alijah Vera-Tucker should be good eventually, but rookies are question marks in. Defensively, the Jets have the worst cornerback room in the NFL.

No. 28: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are an older version of the Lions with more upside at quarterback. While Detroit is trying to build through the trenches, Philadelphia has successfully built through the trenches. When healthy, Philadelphia has a good offensive line and a stellar defensive line. However, the pieces around the trenches are a horror show. Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert are redeemable, but they are far from elite. Darius Slay is a shell of himself, and the Eagles might have the worst linebacker corps in football.

No. 27: Jacksonville Jaguars

Like Wilson, Trevor Lawrence could be a top-20 quarterback this season. He has slightly more established weapons including DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, and Marvin Jones. Trench play on both sides of the ball will lack, but the offense should be workable. Even with the loss of Travis Etienne, Jacksonville could have some semblance of balance with James Robinson. Defensively, Jacksonville is a mess, but hey, you have a franchise quarterback. Congrats.

No. 26: Cincinnati Bengals

If the Bengals had a tackling dummy as the head coach, they would be five spots higher. Zac Taylor is a dampener on any expectations in Cincinnati. The revitalization of the Joe BurrowJa’Marr Chase connection would be exciting without Taylor. Jessie Bates is a superstar safety, but nothing in Cincinnati matters until Taylor is shown the door. Tanking is not advised in the NFL, but it may be worthwhile for the Bengals to tank, remove Taylor, and draft a blue-chip talent in the 2022 draft.

No. 25: Las Vegas Raiders

UNLV likely has a better defense than the Raiders. The issue with this is that UNLV allowed 35 points to FCS foe Eastern Washington. Vegas’ defense is simply not good. The silver lining is that Derek Carr and Darren Waller form one of the better duos in the NFL. Josh Jacobs is a passable running back, and Las Vegas has some talent sprinkled in the wide receiver corps. However, the offensive line is now a dumpster fire led by 2020 breakout Kolton Miller. Miller is a good player, but it is a major concern that he is the only proven commodity on the line.

No. 24: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta may score 30 points a week. Matt Ryan can still sling the rock. Calvin Ridley will be a top-five receiver. Kyle Pitts is the best tight end prospect in NFL history. The offensive line is underrated and projects as one of the league’s best units when healthy. Arthur Smith is bringing a successful scheme in. However, the defense will one-up the offense and allow 40 per week. The Falcons will be a fun team for fantasy purposes, but they will not be winning many games.

No. 23: New York Giants

The Giants are the first team who could realistically make the playoffs. While much of that stems from playing in the NFC East, the Giants will be competitive. Daniel Jones can be a competent quarterback from time to time. Kenny Golladay has been banged up through the offseason, but the Jones-to-Golladay connection could be lethal. Defensively, the Giants have a sturdy unit with James Bradberry, Blake Martinez, and Leonard Williams. Saquon Barkley is back to help out the offense as well.

No. 22: Chicago Bears

With Andy Dalton, the Bears will not be in playoff contention. With Justin Fields, there is a shot. Dalton might be a better quarterback as of this moment, but Fields raises the floor of the offense with his rushing ability. As the cliche goes, Fields may lose the Bears some games, but he will also win them some games. Dalton is a proven commodity as an average quarterback. Fields offers some volatility. The rest of the roster is solid enough with stars littered around the defense. The ball is in your court, Matt Nagy.

No. 21: Denver Broncos

Usually, there would be a joke here about the quarterback situation. However, the Broncos played a game without a quarterback in 2020 and proceeded to lose at home by 31. Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock may be bad, but they can throw the football (sorry, Kendall Hinton). Bridgewater has a reputation as a game manager, but he often failed at managing the game in 2020. Lock, while hilariously bad on his own, can make some jaw-dropping throws. This Denver roster is a shame. With a competent quarterback, they are a playoff lock. No pun intended.

No. 20: Dallas Cowboys

Head back to the Falcons blurb. Nearly everything said there applies here. Dallas is even trying to reconstruct the Atlanta defense with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (former Atlanta head coach) and linebacker Keanu Neal (former Atlanta safety). Dallas is marginally better at each facet of the offense, but the defense still projects to be putrid. At least Dak Prescott is back. Don’t buy into any of the hype around this team. They are not the best team in the division, and they will not make the playoffs unless the defense is competent.

No. 19: Washington Football Team

This is the best team in the NFC East. While they are only one spot ahead of Dallas, Washington begins the list of realistic playoff contenders. Washington has one of the best defenses in the NFL, and they have a better quarterback than the previous good defenses (Chicago and Denver). The offensive line is competent, while Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson are exciting weapons. Washington must compete with the playoff curse of Ryan Fitzpatrick, but this is perhaps the best team Fitzpatrick has been surrounded by. This is the year that Fitzpatrick makes the playoffs.

No. 18: Arizona Cardinals

Quarterbacks can often be overrated, but Kyler Murray is the sole reason for Arizona’s success or failure in 2021. If he makes the jump many believe he will make, Arizona will be a top 10 team. If he continues to be more flash than substance, they will return to the NFC West cellar. The offense around Murray is good enough. The defense has a solid group of players plus two superstars in Chandler Jones and Budda Baker. This team will go as far as Murray can go.

No. 17: Indianapolis Colts

Unlike the other teams with absolute train wrecks at the quarterback position (Denver and Carolina), at least Indianapolis’ quarterback was good at one point. Carson Wentz had one of the worst quarterback seasons in recent memory, and those transgressions cannot be ignored. The Colts do not have a real weakness outside of Wentz, but they lack elite position groups other than the offensive line. Indianapolis has a solid floor with an elite offensive line and a productive running game, but Wentz is the obstacle standing between Indianapolis and the playoffs.

No. 16: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh will win nine games (or more). No matter how bad Ben Roethlisberger might be this season, the Steelers will finish above .500. No matter how bad the offensive line might be, they will win more often than they lose. It is a simple fact of life; the Steelers do not have losing seasons. Najee Harris will magically be productive even behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The defense will magically replicate top-tier turnover production. They will record 50 sacks yet again. Pittsburgh will be in playoff contention.

No. 15: Minnesota Vikings

We now enter the teams who could make a deep playoff run if something breaks their way. Minnesota has an exceptionally talented offense. Kirk Cousins is a capable quarterback. Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook are elite players. Adam Thielen is one of the league’s premier No. 2 receivers. The offensive line does not know how to pass protect, but they will be an elite run-blocking unit. Defensively, Minnesota is leaning on a bevy of young players including Cameron Dantzler. This is a test for Mike Zimmer.

No. 14: San Francisco 49ers

This is Chicago 2.0 with a competent head coach. San Francisco should start Trey Lance and capitalize on the volatility of the roster. Jimmy Garoppolo provides a higher floor, but Lance secretly gives San Francisco a higher workable floor. Lance can be deployed in the same way that the likes of Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson can be, adding a number to the run game. Garoppolo will not make some of the mistakes that Lance will, but he adds no value to the run game. Defensively, the 49ers are healthy. Nick Bosa and Fred Warner will be in All-Pro contention. This team could conceivably go back to the Super Bowl (with Lance).

No. 13: Los Angeles Chargers

Kudos to the Chargers. Instead of watching Justin Herbert slice and dice defenses while under pressure and being content with a bad offensive line, they were proactive in the offseason. They signed All-Pro Corey Linsley and drafted Rashawn Slater. They even added Matt Feiler. Those are winning moves, and Herbert should have a much more sustainable level of success in 2021. Defensively, there are health concerns (primarily with Derwin James), but the talent is there.

No.12: Miami Dolphins

Miami needs a sophomore jump from Tua Tagovailoa in 2021. The defense will be good, bolstered by a top-tier secondary. While the offensive line is still among the worst in the league, odds are good that Miami will hit on at least one of the picks they spent on the line in the last few seasons. The weapons around Tagovailoa could give Miami a solid ceiling. Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle could score on any play. DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki are good contested catch targets. This is a good team.

No. 11: New England Patriots

Mac Jones is the starter. While the same San Francisco and Chicago rushing offense rules apply to Cam Newton and Jones, New England has the benefit of an elite offensive line. Newton would add a number in the run game, but it seems that Jones has progressed enough past Newton for any marginal upgrade in the run game to be outdone in the passing game. New England should have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They do not project to be a high-end offense, but it should be a reasonably efficient one.

No. 10: New Orleans Saints

Thankfully, the Saints are starting Jameis Winston. Winston gets a bad rep for his 30 interception season, but he has been a capable NFL quarterback. The weapons are not ideal with Michael Thomas out, but the Saints do have a top-tier offensive line. Defensively, the Saints are packed with talent. It is aging talent (including Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis), but they played at a high level in 2020. The Saints could be undone by Winston interceptions, but he is unlikely to throw 30 again. This Saints’ squad has a better shot than you think at making the playoffs.

No. 9: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle marks the beginning of the teams that are virtually guaranteed to not make the Super Bowl. Seattle’s chances are slim, yes, but having a potentially elite quarterback opens the window no matter what the rest of the roster is. Russell Wilson did slip down the stretch in 2020, but he has been a historically relevant quarterback, so he should bounce back in 2021. His weapons are among the best in the NFL with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Chris Carson is a competent running back. Defensively, Seattle is being held together with Pete Carroll’s gum. Seattle is the biggest boom or bust team in the NFL. Wilson could win the MVP, and Seattle could win 13 games. Wilson could also struggle, and Seattle could slump to a 6-11 record.

No. 8: Tennessee Titans

On paper, Tennessee got worse defensively. They lost several pieces in the secondary and only addressed the holes through the draft. Bud Dupree is the headline addition, but he has yet to prove he is more than a No. 3 option (for the NFL’s best pass rush). Dupree as a No. 1 seems sketchy. With that said, the Titans cannot possibly be as bad as they were on third down. In 2020, they set the NFL record for worst third-down defense. That will not happen again. Oh yeah, and the Titans have one of the best offenses in the NFL. They have a top-10 quarterback, a top-two running back, and two elite receivers.

No.7: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore is not as talented defensively as they have been in recent years, but if any team has earned the benefit of the doubt, it is John Harbaugh and the Ravens. Even with a diminished defense, Baltimore has the highest offensive floor of any team in the NFL. Baltimore has been drilled with offensive injuries in camp and preseason, but the only relevant regular-season absences will be J.K. Dobbins and Rashod Bateman. Dobbins is a painful loss, but Gus Edwards is a capable back, and Lamar Jackson is the engine of the rushing attack, not Dobbins. Bateman will begin the season on injured reserve, but Baltimore would likely start 2-1 regardless of Bateman’s health.

No. 6: Los Angeles Rams

The defense will take a step back from being the NFL’s best unit in 2020, but the offense will take a leap with Matthew Stafford. Like Baltimore, Los Angeles suffered an injury to its No. 1 back, but scheme is king for the Rams. Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel are competent backs. The Rams open the list of secondary contenders behind the reigning AFC and NFC champions. Los Angeles has a difficult road to the Super Bowl, but they can spring an upset on Tampa Bay, the NFC could be theirs.

No. 5: Buffalo Bills

This team is surprisingly top-heavy for a 13-3 team with Super Bowl aspirations. Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Tre’Davious White are elite. Beyond those three, Buffalo is fairly average. They have a solid offensive line. They have a solid front seven. Other than Allen and Diggs, they have a solid offense. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are a good safety duo, but they are not stars by themselves. This team has a Super Bowl window because of No. 17.

No. 4: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland and Buffalo are opposites. Cleveland has one superstar (Myles Garrett), but they have a dozen stars. Outside of quarterback, Cleveland has the best roster in the AFC, and they trail Tampa Bay by a narrow margin. Baker Mayfield will be a top 10 quarterback in 2021, and Cleveland could ransack the NFL in a similar way to the 2019 Ravens. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the NFL’s top running back duo. Odell Beckham is fully healthy, and he seems to have developed a solid rapport with Mayfield. The much-maligned defense of 2020 is gone. John Johnson, Troy Hill, Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit, and Greg Newsome represent a total overhaul of the secondary. Cleveland is back.

No. 3: Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers leads the line per usual, but this might be the most well-rounded of the Rodgers’ teams. Davante Adams is a top-two receiver. The offensive line should be among the better groups in the NFL. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are a terrifying one-two punch. Green Bay has solid auxiliary weapons with Robert Tonyan, Amari Rodgers, and others. Defensively, the Packers have a productive pass rush with Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, and Kenny Clark. As soon as Eric Stokes takes Kevin King‘s job, Green Bay will have one of the best secondaries in the NFL.

No. 2: Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have the NFL’s best offense. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce are top-two players at their respective positions at worst. The offensive line is revamped with potentially five new faces from the 2020 line. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a sneaky stud running back. On defense, the Chiefs have the two superstars in Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu. Beyond the potential All-Pros, Kansas City has a stable of solid enough players. Willie Gay and L’Jarius Sneed should be productive sophomores. Nick Bolton is an undervalued Defensive Rookie of the Year bet. Kansas City is the overwhelming AFC favorite for good reason.

No. 1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It may be cliche to say this about the reigning champions, but the Buccaneers are unequivocally the best team in the NFL. They are absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball and have multiple relevant players at just about every position.

They have three capable running backs. Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin could all masquerade as a top-10 receiver any given week. They have three capable tight ends. The offensive line is sturdy with potential Pro Bowlers in Ali Marpet and Tristan Wirfs. They have two interior defensive stars (Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh). They have two stellar pass rushers with Joe Tryon waiting in the wings. Tampa Bay has two elite linebackers. They have three quality corners. Safety is perhaps the weakest part of the lineup depth-wise, but Antoine Winfield is a stud, and Jordan Whitehead is competent. Tampa Bay even has a good group of special teamers.

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