The 2021 NFL season is around the corner, as teams prepare for a coveted run at the Super Bowl. An eventful offseason has come to a close, and preseason action is on the horizon. Here, we analyze the top franchises around the league:
32. Houston Texans
Even if the future of Deshaun Watson was guaranteed with the Houston Texans, this team would still be in a similar standing. This is a roster with question marks on both sides of the ball, as head coach David Culley has an uphill battle ahead of him.
31. New York Jets
With the Jets signing quarterback Zach Wilson to his rookie deal, early practices have resulted in expected growing pains. New York is led by rookie head coach Robert Saleh. They aren’t expected to be competitive in the AFC East this year, but there will be pressure on them to show signs of life after finishing with a 2-14 record last season under Adam Gase and Gregg Williams.
30. Detroit Lions
There was buzz over the offseason about incoming quarterback Jared Goff, but he appears to be more of a bridge quarterback at this time for Detroit. The offense lost valuable offensive assets in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, but new head coach Dan Campbell will go through his fair share of challenges this season.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Oddly enough, the 2021 Jaguars have more media attention than the AFC Championship roster they built a few years back. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence is playing in a forgiving market with low expectations, and while the team did bring in a few skill players over the course of the offseason, the expectations should remain minimal.
28. Philadelphia Eagles
Quarterback Jalen Hurts has impressed during the training camp phase, but new head coach Nick Sirianni has a lot of pressure to face ahead of the 2021 season. This was a roster that struggled to keep opponents out of the red zone last season and simply isn’t built to outscore other teams en route to a winning season.
27. Carolina Panthers
Running back Christian McCaffrey appears to be healthy entering the month of August, as he has benefited from Joe Brady’s offensive scheme. With Sam Darnold under center, however, it’s difficult to get too excited. In his career, Darnold has surrendered 39 interceptions across 38 games.
26. Cincinnati Bengals
It has been reported that the Bengals don’t plan to play Joe Burrow during the preseason stage, despite being cleared as a full participant in training camp. While it’s the right decision, Cincinnati should be expected to have a slow start offensively once Week 1 approaches.
25. Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders completed a head-scratching offseason, as their biggest moves involve trading for running back Kenyan Drake (with Josh Jacobs in the backfield) and parting ways with multiple offensive linemen. Their scoring defense was among the worst in the league last year, forcing Derek Carr to play at an elite level this season in order for Las Vegas to be successful.
24. Denver Broncos
Dreams of Denver landing Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson in the offseason appear to be in the past, leaving the team to settle with either Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock under center. While Denver has had individual standouts during the training camp phase, it will be difficult to remain competitive in the AFC West this season.
23. Chicago Bears
While the leash on Andy Dalton is short, the team continues to insist that he is the starter entering Week 1 of the new season. As long as that’s the case, it’s difficult to imagine Chicago being competitive. A lot can change between now and then, leaving rookie quarterback Justin Fields with the opportunity to impress during preseason.
22. New York Giants
There are a lot of questions surrounding the New York Giants this season, as this could be a make-or-break year for quarterback Daniel Jones. Running back Saquon Barkley needs to return to his previous form in order for New York to remain competitive in the NFC East, but the foundation is there to improve on their 6-10 finish from last season.
21. Atlanta Falcons
Despite adding Kyle Pitts through the NFL Draft, the Falcons offense will feel a void with Julio Jones departing to Tennessee. New head coach Arthur Smith will have to figure out how to address his team’s defense, which has been lackluster over the last few seasons.
20. Indianapolis Colts
With quarterback Carson Wentz scheduled to undergo foot surgery, the Colts are expecting him to miss the next 5-12 weeks. Jacob Eason has received first team reps in the meantime, but surely the offense won’t be as successful without trading for a veteran. The defense remains to be an elite unit, but who steps up when it matters most on the offensive end?
19. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings defense is likely to continue to struggle at times this season, and their run-first philosophy under head coach Mike Zimmer will only carry the offense to an extent. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is able to hold his own, but Minnesota needs to show improvement in select areas in order to improve their positioning.
18. New Orleans Saints
The Drew Brees era is in the past for New Orleans, and we still haven’t received a clear answer on who the starting quarterback is entering Week 1. Both Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston have earned first team reps during training camp, leaving us to wonder how successful the Saints’ offense can really be this season.
17. Washington Football Team
This is a team that has committed to their front seven and will give opposing offenses their fair share of troubles. The storyline isn’t as much about Washington surpassing expectations as it is about other teams within the NFC East being able to earn their right to remain competitive in the division this year.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Injuries continue to be a concern for the Cowboys, as an MRI revealed a shoulder strain for quarterback Dak Prescott. While it isn’t considered to be serious, we witnessed what happened with Dallas last season when Prescott was forced to miss time. The defense has challenges of its own, as the roster welcomes a number of new faces on both the roster and coaching staff.
15. Miami Dolphins
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has improved over the course of the offseason and shouldn’t be considered the same player who gave up five interceptions across his last four regular season games last season. Miami has maintained a successful defense behind head coach Brian Flores, leaving the offensive core of Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller to create separation on the scoreboard.
14. New England Patriots
After spending a hefty figure in free agency, the Patriots are in full motion towards a run at the playoffs this season. With Cam Newton as the presumed starting quarterback entering preseason, it leaves rookie Mac Jones on the backburner for the time being. The defense should be elite, but can the receiving core of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers get the job done for New England?
13. Los Angeles Chargers
This could be a stretch, but new head coach Brandon Staley will be tasked with maximizing the talent of his roster from both sides of the ball. Justin Herbert was one of the most productive quarterbacks last season, but Los Angeles has won 10+ games in the regular season on one occasion (2018 season) since the 2010 campaign.
12. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals maintained a productive offseason, adding veterans in wide receiver AJ Green and pass-rusher JJ Watt to their roster. Both should have value left in their respective tanks, but Arizona is stuck within a competitive NFC West division. Can Kyler Murray post the first winning season of his career?
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
Adding offensive coordinator Matt Canada to the coaching staff should benefit the Steelers offense, but Ben Roethlisberger is 39-years old and likely in the last season of his career. Even after adding Najee Harris to the backfield, Pittsburgh will have a difficult time outlasting divisional opponents such as the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns this season.
10. Seattle Seahawks
The issue surrounding the Seahawks is their defense, which was towards the bottom of the league against the pass last season. Jamal Adams reported to mandatory camp after a contract dispute with the team. There are no doubts that Russell Wilson and company will get the job done on offense, but the NFC is stacked with elite defensive units.
9. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are a legitimate contender when healthy, but that was a major issue last season. Entering August, there are questions surrounding whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance will be the starter in Week 1. While Garoppolo enters the preseason as the favorite for the job, but surely questions we have will be answered.
8. Cleveland Browns
The Browns enter preseason with arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and with running back Nick Chubb signed to a three-year extension. The defense welcomes Jadeveon Clowney, who always has potential to shift the momentum of a game in any given week. The pressure sits on quarterback Baker Mayfield, who posted an 11-5 record under center last season in a career year.
7. Tennessee Titans
By adding Julio Jones to the receiving core, the Tennessee Titans should once again find themselves as contenders in the AFC. The team’s largest concern surrounds Derrick Henry, who has led the NFL with 300+ carries in each of the last two seasons. Entering the 2021 campaign, it’s not practical to expect him to carry the ball another 300+ times in his age 27 season.
6. Los Angeles Rams
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the Rams over the course of the offseason, as Matthew Stafford provides an immediate upgrade at the quarterback position. However, with Cam Akers missing the 2021 season with a torn ACL, it throws in added pressure for the offense to find success in alternative manners.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The offense has come together nicely over the offseason, as Baltimore added Sammy Watkins in free agency and then Rashod Bateman in the NFL Draft. On the other side of the ball, the defense lost pass-rushers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, leaving pressure on the table for others to step up.
4. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is back, immediately placing the Packers among the favorites for a Super Bowl run this season. The front office took it a step further and brought back wide receiver Randall Cobb to fill in as a slot receiver for Green Bay. With a ‘Last Dance’ storyline, the Packers will surely be one of the most talked-about teams this season.
3. Buffalo Bills
The Bills return as an AFC powerhouse, as Josh Allen and company seek out their first Super Bowl since 1994. The offense will be challenged early on when the regular season begins, as Buffalo opens against Pittsburgh, Miami, and Washington.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The high-flying Chiefs offense should be in full form, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes enters the new season with no health issues. The offensive line saw multiple upgrades this offseason, leaving Kansas City as the favorites in the AFC until proven otherwise.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to secure a Super Bowl last year with a 43-year old quarterback in Tom Brady, who played most of the season with a torn MCL. All of the team’s starters on both sides of the ball have returned for the new season, leaving very little doubt that they will once again be major contenders in the NFC.