September 14, 2021

2021 NFL Power Rankings: Who's No. 1?

The 2021 NFL season has arrived. 

Will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stay atop the NFC? Who's No. 1 in the AFC? Are the Houston Texans really the worst team in the NFL? 

The answers you seek lie below. 

1. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

Last Week: 1

The Chiefs' Week 1 comeback against the Browns was eerily reminiscent of their Super Bowl victory over the 49ers two years ago.

Kansas City struggled to start the game, but a long, soul-crushing completion to Tyreek Hill completely changed the contest.

Ultimately, the beast was awoken and there was nothing the Chiefs' opponent could do about it.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)

Last Week: 2

The first game of the season was arguably the best so far.

The Buccaneers' offense is nearly unstoppable with Antonio Brown appearing to regain his All-Pro form. The defense sprouted some leaks, especially with the loss of starting corner Sean Murphy-Bunting, but Vita Vea and Tampa Bay's pass rush will cause problems all season long. 

3. Los Angeles Rams (1-0)

Last Week: 4

On Sunday night, the Rams unveiled their new futuristic stadium and their high-octane offense powered by Matthew Stafford. The big-ticket acquisition lived up to the hype with his deep-passing game that the Bears had no answer for.

The NFC West will be a bloodbath all season long, but Los Angeles could emerge as the top team in the best division in the NFL. 

4. Seattle Seahawks (1-0)

Last Week: 6

Of course, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' passing game looked great in their Week 1 beatdown of the Colts, but it was the defense that was rather surprising.

Seattle's defensive line brought the heat and put Carson Wentz under pressure all game long. If the 'Hawks have a strong pass rush this season, they could be the team to beat in the NFC West. 

5. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0)

Last Week: 7

It wasn't flashy, but the Chargers looked like one of the best teams in the NFL in Week 1. The defense took out Washington Football Team starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as Joey Bosa and Derwin James looked healthy and spry while Justin Herbert converted back-breaking third down after back-breaking third down. He could be in the MVP discussion if he continues his ascent to superstardom. 

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

Last Week: 15

The Steelers still have a lot of work to do on offense as Pittsburgh struggled against the Bills' rebuilt defense. But the Steelers' defense absolutely dominated one of the NFL's best offenses.

T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith combine for a ferocious pass rush while Minkah Fitzpatrick roams the middle of the field. If Pittsburgh can get the offensive line playing better and opening up running lanes for rookie Najee Harris, then the Steelers might not be dead yet. 

7. San Francisco 49ers

Last Week: 10

Garbage time aside, the 49ers completely dominated the lowly Lions on the road. A furious — and quite frankly, odd — comeback from Detroit made this game a lot closer than it actually was. But it could be a sign of future problems for the Niners.

The defense definitely missed Robert Saleh, and they'll certainly miss Jason Verrett, who is out for the year with a torn ACL. The 49ers have a huge hole at cornerback, which means they'll need to score A LOT of points this season to compete. 

8. Buffalo Bills (0-1)

Last Week: 3

It was a rough Week 1 for Josh Allen and the Bills. The Super Bowl hopefuls looked lost on offense with Allen struggling with his accuracy and holding onto the ball. But it's not time to overreact just yet. The Buffalo defense looked fast and Allen should bounce back as the season progresses. 

9. Cleveland Browns (0-1)

Last Week: 5

The Browns might not be Super Bowl contenders ... yet, but they put up a hell of a fight against arguably the best team in the NFL. If it wasn't for a few miscues — such as the Browns' punter dropping the snap — then we might be talking about the Browns as the No. 1 team in the NFL. Instead, they'll have to settle for 0-1 after dominating for three quarters. 

10. New Orleans Saints (1-0)

Last Week: 19

Jameis Winston had one of the weirder stat lines you'll see from a quarterback. Despite throwing for just a paltry 150 yards, he unfurled five touchdown passes in the Saints' demolition of the Packers.

Winston operated well behind the NFL's best offensive line while the defense made the reigning NFL MVP look pedestrian. It's a good sign for a team that has an uphill battle in the NFC South. 

11. Arizona Cardinals (1-0)

Last Week: 20

In the super-competitive NFC West, everyone made sure to talk about the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks, but what about the Cardinals?

Kyler Murray looks much improved with his array of weaponry on offense while Chandler Jones has to be the early front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year thanks to five (!) sacks against the Titans. It was so bad that the Titans' starting left tackle, Taylor Lewan, tweeted to thank him for humbling him. 

12. Miami Dolphins (1-0)

Last Week: 12

The Dolphins emerged victorious over their AFC East rivals in the New England Patriots in Week 1, but there are still plenty of concerns for Miami.

Tua Tagovailoa looks improved in Year 2, but he still struggled with decision-making and holding onto the ball too long. He took a massive hit on the Patriots' wild interception.

He should improve as a passer who can cut defenses up through the middle but he'll always struggle to hit outside receivers, which will limit this team's offensive upside. 

13. Green Bay Packers (0-1)

Last Week: 8

Tumbling five spots in our rankings, the Packers exited Week 1 as the most disappointing team in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers played like a guy who was enjoying the offseason a little too much. While that's concerning, everyone should just R-E-L-A-X. The entire NFC North lost and Green Bay still has a great chance to win the division.

14. Baltimore Ravens (0-1)

Last Week: 9

Every year there's a cursed team in the NFL. This season it might be the Ravens. Baltimore has struggled with injuries — losing multiple players for the season already — and now they can't even beat the Las Vegas Raiders.

Lamar Jackson will have to do even more for the franchise so expect some rollercoaster games out of him with some high highs, like his incredible touchdown pass, and some low lows, such as his fumble in overtime. 

15. Denver Broncos

Last Week: 16

The Broncos, behind Teddy Bridgewater, look like a potential playoff contender. The defense will be one of the best in the league thanks to its combination of talent and coaching. Despite losing Jerry Jeudy to a high-ankle sprain, the offense should be able to put up points with their array of talent. The AFC West is loaded, but the Broncos should be in the hunt for a postseason spot all season. 

16. Dallas Cowboys (0-1)

Last Week: 13

Dak Prescott might not have the same arm strength or speed before his devastating leg injury, sure, but he still has enough talent to dissect the Super Bowl champions' defense. Prescott is so good before the snap that he already has an advantage before his all-star cast of skill players take over.

If Micah Parsons and the Cowboys' defense can improve, then Dallas should be extremely dangerous.

17. Philadelphia Eagles

Last Week: 21

The Eagles' destruction of the Falcons was one of the more surprising results of Week 1, but perhaps it shouldn't be. The Eagles are strong on both lines and their biggest weaknesses were perceived to be their skill players and quarterback. That doesn't look to be a problem so far. Jalen Hurts improved immensely over last season while Philadelphia's offensive weapons are fast and dynamic. Philly could make the NFC East a three-team race — especially if they pull off the upset of the 49ers on Sunday. 

18. Las Vegas Raiders

Last Week: 26

It wasn't always pretty, but the Raiders pulled off the upset over the favored Ravens on Monday night. Las Vegas' offense seemingly consists of throwing the ball up to Darren Waller and hoping he makes a play as the tight end tallied 19 (!) targets in Week 1. The defense — especially the pass rush — does look improved for Las Vegas with the emergence of Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib. The team is thin at the position after Yannick Ngakoue went down with an injury, though. 

19. Washington Football Team (0-1)

Last Week: 14

Sadly, we won't see much magic from the Washington Football Team this season after Ryan Fitzpatrick was placed on IR with a hip injury. That'll make WFT's fight to make the playoffs a little tougher, although Taylor Heinicke is a solid replacement for the time being. The Football Team will have to rely on its defense to keep them in games again. They'll have to be better on third down after Herbert diced them up all day. 

20. New England Patriots (0-1)

Last Week: 17

First-year quarterback Mac Jones is as advertised. He won't wow you with his arm strength or athleticism, but he seems to always make the right play and has uncanny accuracy even if it does take longer to get there. He'll need the Patriots running backs to hold onto the ball if they want to make a run for the playoffs in Jones' rookie campaign, though. 

21. Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

Last Week: 18

Carson Wentz was fine in his first game with the Indianapolis Colts. He didn't do anything to move the needle, which is an improvement after his dumpster fire of a 2020. But it was hard not to compare him to his counterpart Sunday in Russell Wilson who outplayed him mightily.

22. Carolina Panthers (1-0)

Last Week: 27

The Panthers' defense was flying around the field Sunday against the lowly Jets. Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn look even better this season while first-rounder Jaycee Horn is already showing his tantalizing shutdown corner ability. The offense still has some things to work through but it was an encouraging start for Sam Darnold in his Revenge Game against the team that drafted (and ruined) him.

23. Tennessee Titans (0-1)

Last Week: 11

If the Packers were the most disappointing team in the NFL so far, then the Titans are a close second.

The offense clearly missed former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as the Titans failed to run much play-action or have much creativity at all. It doesn't help that it was an ominous start to Julio Jones' tenure in Tennessee. He failed to get separation and angered his coach Mike Vrabel for a boneheaded mistake.

Here's hoping the Titans can turn it around in Week 2. 

24. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)

Last Week: 30

After all the talk about how Ja'Marr Chase was a bust who couldn't catch, the Bengals' first-round pick showed exactly why Cincinnati selected him so high. He had arguably the best debut of any rookie receiver, topping 100 yards receiving.

The Bengals should be feisty this season now that they are unleashing Joe Mixon as well. If the defense improves then the Bengals might not be so bad. 

25. Minnesota Vikings (0-1)

Last Week: 22

Kirk Cousins played well against the Bengals, no doubt, it was the rest of the team that let him down. It could be a long season in Minnesota if they can't even beat the Bengals. 

26. Chicago Bears (0-1)

Last Week: 25

We hate to be hot-take machines here at Lines, but we're about to fire one off. The Bears should start Justin Fields immediately! Stop trotting out Andy Dalton and give the people what they want!

27. New York Giants (0-1)

Last Week: 29

The Giants have a talented ensemble of skill players on offense, but clearly, Jason Garrett is the wrong person to put it all together. It's sad the Giants clearly haven't figured that out.

Sterling Shepard does look pretty clean in No. 3, though. 

28. Atlanta Falcons (0-1)

Last Week: 24

It could be another loooong season for the Atlanta Falcons. The offense looked non-existent under new coach Arthur Smith, and it was disappointing to not see rookie Kyle Pitts truly unleashed. The defense is desperate for a pass rusher, too.

29. New York Jets (0-1)

Last Week: 28

The Ravens aren't the only cursed team in the NFL so far. The Jets have been bit by the injury bug early on in the season, losing major contributors. Their latest loss is mammoth left tackle Mekhi Becton who is imperative to keeping rookie Zach Wilson upright. Wilson had his up and downs in his debut, but he showed glimpses of his bright future. Although, that future is a long way out in the distance.

30. Houston Texans (1-0)

Last Week: 32

The Texans boat racing the Jaguars was one of the most surprising finishes in the NFL. The talk all offseason — outside of the Deshaun Watson drama — was about how awful Houston was going to be this season and whether they'd even win a game. Well, they did. Even if it was over last year's worst team, it's still better than the doomsday scenarios everyone was discussing in the offseason.

31. Detroit Lions (0-1)

Last Week: 31

The Lions were getting absolutely blown out by the 49ers before San Francisco took their foot off the gas. But don't get it twisted: Detroit is bad. Jared Goff struggled against the Niners' defense, like usual, until Verrett got hurt and the starters were taken out. The bright side is, rookie Penei Sewell looked like a stud at left tackle and D'Andre Swift continued his ascent to being the next great receiving back in the NFL. 

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)

Last Week: 23

The worst team in the NFL last season didn't look much better despite starting generational talent Trevor Lawrence under center. While Lawrence looked decent, the rest of the team did not. Urban Meyer might pull a Bobby Petrino and go to USC if his team fails to show up this season. 

Follow Lance Cartelli on Twitter

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration