2021 Pickwatch NFL Power Rankings | Training Camp Edition
Michael Schottey's initial NFL Power Rankings
32. Houston Texans
The Texans are a historically poorly run organization at the moment, and while that may change, the roster is among the most abysmal in recent memory. If Deshaun Watson plays a full season at quarterback (a big if), this team could find themselves overplaying their talent level, but if he’s unable to go, this could easily be an “o-fer” candidate.
31. Philadelphia Eagles
While the Texans are clearly the most poorly run NFL franchise, the Eagles are not entirely out of the conversation. Jalen Hurts is not a proven commodity at quarteback and the team lacks an identity on both sides of the ball.
30. Detroit Lions
The future in Motown is looking bright thanks to sharp drafting and a coaching staff full of former players talented enough to contend for a division title a generation ago. The present, however, is not great. Success will come in minor bursts if defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is able to get more out of his unit than what’s available on paper. QB Jared Goff, however, will lose this team a handful of games they should’ve been in.
29. New York Jets
I fully believe in Head Coach Robert Saleh’s ability to get the most out of this team, but the Jets are two-to-three years away from competing, and that’s only if quarterback Zach Wilson is everything he was advertised to be. In a tough AFC North, nothing is going to get handed to this team.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
Take all the confidence I have long term in Saleh and the exact opposite is what I have for Urban Meyer’s chances as an NFL Head Coach. QB Trevor Lawrence will keep this team competitive, but this isn’t Clemson. The cupboard is bare from a talent perspective and Meyer’s first offseason didn’t do anything to make us believe he’s the guy who knows how to put that talent together.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Getting rid of wide receiver Julio Jones was a clear signal that this team is moving forward with a youth movement, and that’s for the best. 2021, however, will be a bit of an “in-between” year before the rebuild starts anew this upcoming offseason. I’m excited for what an offense featuring tight end Kyle Pitts and WR Calvin Ridley will look like moving forward, but outside of a few shootouts, this team will lose a lot of games.
26. Denver Broncos
If defense truly won championships, the Broncos would be 20 spots higher in these rankings, but the NFL is a QB-driven league, so here we are. Head Coach Vic Fangio is probably closer to the hot seat and unemployment line than a divisional title, and it will take a massive improvement from either Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater at QB to change that.
25. Las Vegas Raiders
Something stinks inside the Raiders front office as four executives have left this summer. If the team stays insulated from whatever is going on, that may be much ado about nothing, yet the Raiders haven’t struck anyone as a particularly competent organization for the last two decades. The Jon Gruden, Derek Carr HC/QB marriage has about one more season of “honeymoon” left, and they might finally have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to make it work.
24. Indianapolis Colts
Losing both QB Carson Wentz and OG Quenton Nelson to “freak” foot injuries is why this ranking is so low. Without both, this team is going to look really terrible offensively. Yet, this ranking has as much room to grow as any team on this list because both are expected to return in anywhere from 5-12 weeks. That’s a huge timetable, which means the Colts either have little to worry about or their season is over before it begins.
Much like the Broncos a few spots higher, the Panthers are a talented team without a quarterback—that’s much the same story as lots of these teams in this area of the rankings. Yet, the Panthers will benefit from having an easier division to play in (the returning Super Bowl champs notwithstanding) as well as a healthy Christian McCaffrey at running back who can carry the team offensively even if QB Sam Darnold can’t.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
QB Ben Roethlisberger showed up to camp in great shape, but extra pounds around the midsection hasn’t been his problem. Last year showed a significant drop off in arm strength, and even if some of his mobility is back, it is unlikely he’ll hold up for a full season—especially behind a suspect offensive line. The defense, too, has fallen apart, and I don’t foresee Big Ben and co. able to keep pace.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Early returns from training camp have not been kind to QB Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense, and it’s clear that Burrow is still not ready for live game action. The OL is not going to do this team any favors, but Burrow can stay upright by getting rid of the ball early to his top-notch WR talent like newly added Ja’Marr Chase. Still, 2021 might be too early for any real success with this group.
20. New York Giants
As goes QB Daniel Jones, so will go the Giants. With RB Saquon Barkley back —even behind a patchwork offensive line—the Giants will lean on both him and a defense that was severely underrated in 2020. Yet, both Jones and newly added WR Kenny Golladay have struggled to find chemistry so far, and this team will not have the results they want unless the passing attack finds some sort of traction.
19. Chicago Bears
I’m bullish on the prospects of QB Andy Dalton leading this team to a potential wildcard berth in an NFC which might be even weaker than it was last season. Rookie QB Justin Fields is almost certainly a future superstar, but Dalton’s floor is much higher. The defense is legit, and even a subpar offensive showing will keep this team close in most games.
18. Miami Dolphins
The way casual fans and national pundits talk about QB Tua Tagovailoa is completely divorced from the person we actually saw on the field last season. That doesn’t mean this team (or even this offensive unit) can’t be successful, but it does mean that there’s something to prove in an NFL which doesn’t hand out wins on paper. Still, this is a top defense and a seriously upgraded wide receiver corps, so the potential is very, very real.
17. Arizona Cardinals
If the Cardinals played in any other division than the NFC West, they might be 10 spots higher in these rankings. I believe in QB Kyler Murray far more than the QB of any other team lower in these rankings and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has as much to work with as he ever has over in the desert.
16. New England Patriots
I fully believe that 2020 was (mostly) an aberration for HC Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but while 2021 may see a slight return to form, it isn’t like QB Tom Brady is walking back through that locker room door either. QB Cam Newton has struggled in camp after struggling last season but the defense is stacked and the offense is restocked after a big spending offseason. If the pieces click, a divisional title isn’t out of the question...no, really.
15. Minnesota Vikings
RB Dalvin Cook has yet to play a full 16-game season in the NFL, but he was as healthy last season as he’s ever been and that equated to a career best 1,557 yards and 5 yards per carry. The Vikings were in a lot of close games last season and are likely to be in the same boat moving forward. Is QB Kirk Cousins enough to provide the little extra boost they need? Some weeks, the answer will most certainly be “no,” but playoff contention is likely.
14. New Orleans Saints
The old adage “if you have two QBs, you don’t have one,” hardly seems to truly apply when those two QBs are Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill and the WR corps is decimated, but the Saints have a lot of institutional memory battling in their favor. With HC Sean Payton directing things, the offense should be average at worst and the defense still has a boatload of talent.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
Second-year QB Justin Herbert was one of the truly great surprises of the 2020 NFL season and this year will do a lot to either solidify his status as a top NFL signal caller or call into question whether his initial showings might have been an aberration. Defensively, Herbert has a lot of help but their young QB closing out games with a win will be the sole focus of this season’s efforts.
12. Tennessee Titans
Nearly everyone expects the Titans’ offense to take at least a few faltering steps with former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith now taking the reins in Atlanta, but the addition of WR Julio Jones will help keep that unit in shape. The defense, however, was a much bigger problem in 2020 and the offseason didn’t do enough to quell any concerns.
11. Los Angeles Rams
Did QB Matthew Stafford suddenly get *that* much better by traveling a few thousand miles west? Don’t misunderstand, Stafford was always better than the national conversation surrounding him in Detroit, but it isn’t like the offensive talent in L.A. is fundamentally that much better than what it was many years in Detroit. The Rams are a better team with Stafford than with Goff, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered before this is a Top 5 or even Top 10 team.
10. Dallas Cowboys
The NFC East was horrible last season, and the Cowboys were a big part of that ineptitude. However, getting back both QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott is worth at least a handful of ranking slots all in itself and the Cowboys have invested a bunch of both money and draft picks this offseason on the defensive side of the ball.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Easily the most tenuous Top 10 ranking in this list, the 49ers had what amounts to atrocious luck last offseason when it came to both injuries and COVID. A healthy Jimmy Garoppolo at QB may not make a lot of people excited , but he’s going to have an absolutely fantastic team around him and I like his chances to keep rookie passer Trey Lance on the bench for at least this season and lead this team to the playoffs.
8. Washington Football Team
In a rankings full of “this team would be higher if only for their QB” chatter, WFT is the king and the other side of the coin in terms of being a team that could easily drop 10+ points if things go really awry with Ryan Fitzpatrick. That said, the defense was scary good in 2020, and the linebacking corps got a big boost this offseason. I like their chances—even if the Fitzmagic runs out.
7. Cleveland Browns
In the world between “doesn’t have a QB” and “definitely has a QB,” Cleveland sits right in the middle. QB Baker Mayfield does not hold a candle to the signal callers on the teams higher in these rankings, but he’s no scrub either. Only in his fourth season, Mayfield saw his interceptions drop from 21(!) to 8 last year. If he’s able to continue that efficient level of play, RB Nick Chubb and the defense can do the rest.
6. Seattle Seahawks
A lot of my optimism for the Seahawks this season is based around the move to get rid of former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and move forward with OC Shane Waldron. Is the latter a better play caller? Who knows at this point, but the clear disconnect between Schotty (no relation), HC Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson was holding this team back. Now, if only the defense can pull it’s collective head from its rear end.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Consider me “all-in” on the Ravens. Is QB Lamar Jackson suddenly inept after last season’s bumpy ride? I don’t think so. Is the famed defense suddenly toothless? No, if anything, they’ve improved on last year’s second-ranked unit. The offense has added weapons in the passing attack and restocked the offensive line. This is going to be a good team in 2021, and could be the best team if Jackson returns to his rookie form in any meaningful way.
4. Green Bay Packers
With the offseason’s drama now over, is there any reason this Packers team can’t be right back in the NFC Championship? QB Aaron Rodgers was my pick for repeat MVP—no matter where he ended up, and I think the football world needs to look out for the dude with better weapons than last season and a chip on his shoulder.
3. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are either the next big team in football or they’re about to suffer a big fall to Earth. I’m thinking it’s going to be the former, because the major players are returning on both offense and defense while this young team just got a year older and more mature.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs still have Patrick Mahomes throwing the football, right? OK, then they’re officially in any football game no matter who is playing, anytime or anywhere. The questions for the reworked offensive line are very real, as it’s important for that unit to have more than just good communication—almost a sixth sense. But, the talent is here for this group to get right back to the Super Bowl.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’ve made it a rule to never bet against QB Tom Brady, but this offseason has just been silly. Not only do the defending Super Bowl champs have their entire crew coming back for a chance at a repeat, but they’ve gotten better over the offseason as well, with additions like first-round edge rusher Joe Tryon. One big name to watch this season is linebacker Devin White who really came on at the end of last season after an up-and-down start to the year. The best is yet to come from both him and cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr., which is scary for the rest of the league.