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AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 2


An exciting NFL opening week is over, and we’re on to Week 2 with fresh power rankings. There’s a lot of shuffling in the rankings, and that’ll probably continue to be the case early in the season as we find out what teams are really made of following the speculations and predictions all offseason.

 

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) | Last week: 1

While Tom Brady and the receivers were on fire, the Buccaneers overall did not play particularly well to open the season—yet they still found a way to win the opener against a Cowboys team that played about as well as possible on offense. It’s a scary sight for the rest of the league that Tampa Bay finds a way to win games even with a few turnovers and sloppy play.

 

2. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) | Last week: 2

The Chiefs are in a similar boat. They’re a team that can just hang around and seemingly flip a switch to go on a late-game run and find a way to score touchdowns, get key defensive stops, and win. The combination of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill remains almost impossible to guard, and it doesn’t hurt that Patrick Mahomes is throwing them the ball. The Chiefs continue to top the odds to win the Super Bowl in 2022.

 

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) | Last week: 7 (+4)

The Steelers made a big-time statement in Week 1, winning at Buffalo despite falling behind 10-0 to the Bills. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense were sharp, and rookie running back Najee Harris looks the part despite not having a good statistical performance in his debut. The Pittsburgh defense might have been the most underrated unit in the league entering 2021.

 

4. Los Angeles Rams (1-0) | Last week: 10 (+6)

After one of the best all-around performances of Week 1, the Rams deserve to move up into top-five territory. But, again, some might be going a little overboard with the Matthew Stafford praise. It feels like people are already punching tickets for the Rams to get to the Super Bowl. Chicago had a couple of blown coverages on Sunday night, and I really think others (Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Tom Brady among them) were better picks for NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Pretty strange that Stafford won. We’ll see.

 

5. Buffalo Bills (0-1) | Last week: 3 (-2)

The Bills don’t mind playing in low-scoring matchups if that’s what it takes to win, and people should not overreact to the loss in the season-opener to a contender like the Steelers. The offense obviously didn’t play at the level we saw last year, but they didn’t play poorly—the big two turning-point plays were probably the Josh Allen fumble and the failed fourth-down on the tricky pitch to Matt Breida. Buffalo’s defense looks good, and the team should be fine.

 

6. Seattle Seahawks (1-0) | Last week: 12 (+6)

Maybe it’s just that they’re a force no matter when and where they play, but Pete Carroll’s teams have a ton of success heading east, and the Seahawks had a dominant performance at Indy in Week 1. Safeties were just no match for Tyler Lockett, and Russell Wilson can navigate the pocket and buy time about as well as anyone. And the Seattle defense will look to keep it going against Derrick Henry and company this Sunday. Also, I thought Wilson was exceptoinal when he joined the Manning broadcast of Monday Night Football on ESPN2. If Wilson wants, he could certainly have a bright future as a television analyst if he goes that route when he retires years from now.

 

7. New Orleans Saints (1-0) | Last week: 15 (+8)

You don’t want to overreact too much to one week, but I think I might have made a mistake leaving the Saints out of my 2021 NFL playoff picks. The defense had a showing reminiscent of when the eventual champion Buccaneers shut down the Packers last season, and they should be a very strong group despite dealing with some injuries. On offense, Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns in his first start, and it looked like Sean Payton had fun putting together this offense. If Winston avoids turnovers, watch out.

 

8. Cleveland Browns (0-1) | Last week: 8

Following a close loss to the Chiefs with a chance to win it at the end, the Browns stay at No. 8 in the Week 2 power rankings. Baker Mayfield is getting criticized for the game-ending interception, and maybe he should have just held onto the ball and taken the sack, but he was clearly trying to just throw the ball away and out of bounds (and said so himself after the game). The Browns aren’t interested in moral victories, but they know they can hang with Kansas City after the past two matchups.

 

9. San Francisco 49ers (1-0) | Last week: 6 (-3)

The Niners move down a few spots from the Week 1 power rankings after the defense allowed an undermatched Lions team to climb back and make it a game in Week 1—and the Raheem Mostert season-ending knee injury is a tough blow to the offense considering his explosiveness and the way he played in the postseason a couple of years ago. On the positive side, Jimmy Garoppolo looked excellent spreading the ball to Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and his weapons. Keep an eye on third-round rookie running back Trey Sermon (a healthy scratch in Week 1) potentially making an impact over the course of the season.

 

10. Green Bay Packers (0-1) | Last week: 4 (-6)

As stated, you don’t want to overreact too much to one week. While head coach Matt LaFleur was mad, quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t seem too concerned about getting blown out by the Saints. The issue is that the Packers tend to occasionally get blown out for whatever reason over the past few seasons, and that obviously cannot happen in January/February. Green Bay will look to get right when they host a Detroit team that’ll be playing hard on Monday night.

 

11. Miami Dolphins (1-0) | Last week: 13 (+2)

Say what you want about Tua Tagovailoa, but the Dolphins have found a way to win games since he was put under center last season. It might not have been pretty, but starting 1-0 after heading to Foxborough is a great start for Miami. The upcoming schedule for the Dolphins looks like it’ll continue to be a challenge, and they’ll have a chance to show they’re serious contenders throughout the first month-plus.

 

12. New England Patriots (0-1) | Last week: 5 (-7)

The Patriots suffer a sizable drop in the power rankings, but it’s due in large part because I couldn’t justify keeping them ahead of the Dolphins after losing at home. But I am still bullish on New England. The defense should be a top-tier unit, and rookie quarterback Mac Jones was incredibly poised and played well despite taking some hits in his first start—and I love how he was harsh on himself postgame (despite playing well), basically taking the attention from mistakes by his teammates in the loss. The costly late fumble by Damien Harris was not a common occurrence for him, and ultimately, the Patriots might be better for this disappointing Week 1 loss.

 

13. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0) | Last week: 16 (+3)

The Chargers also found themselves in a defensive battle to kick off their season, surviving with a 20-16 victory over Washington. The offseason hype for Mike Williams (eight receptions, 82 yards, one touchdown) carried over to Week 1, as he looks like a legitimate 1B option that’ll post big numbers next to the super-smooth Keenan Allen this season. Look for Justin Herbert and the offense to put up big points this week against the Cowboys.

 

14. Las Vegas Raiders (1-0) | Last week: 25 (+11)

Derek Carr started off a bit rusty and was a prime case of—in my opinion—how not playing in the preseason hurts you early in the year (and both the Mannings agree with that assessment). However, Carr and the Raiders eventually got it going—including second-year receiver Bryan Edwards catching fire late—winning a massive game in the first with fans at Allegiant Stadium. Maxx Crosby and the pass rush made plays on Lamar Jackson when they needed it, and Vegas looks like a team to keep an eye on under Jon Gruden and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

 

15. Baltimore Ravens (0-1) | Last week: 11 (-4)

Former undrafted running back Ty’Son Williams looks like an emerging breakout player this season, and the Ravens passing attack has promising growth potential with Sammy Watkins added to the group. While they drop four spots in the power rankings, I’m not panicking if I’m a Ravens fan. It was going to be difficult to beat the Raiders in that energized stadium on Monday night. That said, things won’t get much easier facing the Chiefs on Sunday night in Week 2.

 

16. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) | Last week: 18 (+2)

Not picking the Saints to make the postseason is something I would probably change after one week, but I feel good about my prediction of the Eagles winning the NFC East. Veteran center Jason Kelce still looks like he’s in prime form, and the offensive line can help Philadelphia stay in every game. DeVonta Smith is as advertised. The defensive line looked superb against the run after a concerning start. And Jalen Hurts looks like the future star I’m expecting he has a chance to be.

 

17. Arizona Cardinals (1-0) | Last week: 24 (+7)

The Cardinals couldn’t have had a much better start to their season. I was very concerned about the cornerback group going up against A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, but Arizona’s front seven was all over the Titans—Chandler Jones, who wanted to be traded this summer, had a whopping five sacks to begin his 2021 campaign. Offensively, Kyler Murray was again running around like he was a video-game character. The talk about him not using his legs as much this season might have been just talk—Murray is undoubtedly at his best when he is outside of the pocket. This might still prove to be far too low for the Cardinals, but I want to see more.

 

18. Tennessee Titans (0-1) | Last week: 9 (-9)

The Titans were lit up by Murray, but they probably didn’t play quite as poorly as the score might indicate—the Tennessee offense just simply couldn’t get anything going, which put more pressure on the other side of the ball. This is another case of preseason playing time—or at least good practice reps during training camp—being important. Ryan Tannehill and his receivers were not connecting in Week 1, and they’re kind of working on chemistry on the fly in live action now.

 

19. Dallas Cowboys (0-1) | Last week: 19

An easy case could be made for the Cowboys to vault up closer to the top ten in the power rankings after putting the Buccaneers on the ropes in the season opener. Dak Prescott came out and threw the ball all around the field, and his shoulder and ankle (though he doesn’t appear as eager to run as usual) are not much of a concern. Dak didn’t get preseason reps, but you could see on Hard Knocks that he was extremely engaged and doing as much as possible when health allowed in practice. I was encouraged by the defense, which played hard despite some lapses in coverage. Second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs is quickly emerging as one of the league’s top players at his position.

 

20. Indianapolis Colts (0-1) | Last week: 14 (-6)

Carson Wentz and the Colts offense did not get much practice time at all together during the summer, and I think that led to the disappointing Week 1 versus the Seahawks. Not an ideal recipe to still be working things out when you have to face the Rams while staring at an 0-2 start. Hopefully cornerback Xavier Rhodes can return to the lineup and give the defense a boost.

 

21. Denver Broncos (1-0) | Last week: 20 (-1)

Teddy Bridgewater did what was expected in taking care of the ball for Vic Fangio and the Broncos, but he also made off-script plays to help keep things moving and ultimately score 27 points on a stingy Giants defense. Melvin Gordon continues to be one of the NFL’s most underrated players at any position. Gordon broke of a 70-yard touchdown run for Denver, which wants a plus running game, efficient passing attack, and elite defense to win games.

 

22. Washington Football Team (0-1) | Last week: 17 (-5)

The Ryan Fitzpatrick hip injury, which will keep him out for six-to-eight weeks, is really unfortunate. But I think Taylor Heinicke can operate the Washington offense at a high level. He brought a lot of energy for the entire team in the playoff loss to the Bucs last January, and the Football Team can still run the ball well with Antonio Gibson. However, they have a short week for Heinicke to prepare as the starter, and they’ll be facing a Giants team they’ve struggled against in recent history (five consecutive losses).

 

23. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0) | Last week: 29 (+6)

The concerns over Joe Burrow’s knee injury thankfully appear to be well in the rearview mirror, as do the concerns over first-round rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s drop issues during the summer. The former teammates at LSU connected for a long touchdown in the Week 1 overtime win against the Vikings, and running back Joe Mixon appears ready to handle a massive workhorse role in what should be a dangerous attack. Defensively, the front four was a pleasant surprise; remember, this defense has some veteran pieces and some young, athletic linebackers; they could take a step forward in 2021.

 

24. Carolina Panthers (1-0) | Last week: 21 (-3)

The Panthers defense got after Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, powering their 19-14 victory. Both sides of the ball for Carolina are versatile, and I like where they are headed under Matt Rhule. It’s awesome to see superstar running back Christian McCaffrey—perhaps the NFL’s most versatile player—on the field again. The Panthers only drop in the power rankings because a few teams that were behind them had to be elevated. They can make a leap with a triumphant game against the Saints in Week 2.

 

25. Minnesota Vikings (0-1) | Last week: 23 (-2)

An overtime loss is a tough pill to swallow to open a season. Dalvin Cook and the run game couldn’t get much going against the Bengals, and this Sunday at a dynamic Arizona defense will be a big test for the offensive line both in the run game and pass game. I’m curious to see how Mike Zimmer combats the rushing ability of Kyler Murray.

 

26. New York Giants (0-1) | Last week: 22 (-4)

It felt like much of the same for the Giants in their Week 1 loss to the Broncos. Daniel Jones was able to hit some big plays as a passer, but New York simply is not going to win many games if they can’t run the ball and he’s their leading rusher with just 27 yards. Saquon Barkley breaking chunk plays would give everyone a boost, and hopefully he’s able to get more work despite it being a short week on Thursday night.

 

27. Detroit Lions (0-1) | Last week: 27

Week 1 might have encapsulated what the Lions will be about under Dan Campbell this season. Things were not looking good, but Jared Goff and company battled back to make it a one-score game against the 49ers. The offensive line doing a nice job of protecting Goff helps, but Detroit is going to need more outside weapons long-term. It’s a shame that former first-round pick Jeff Okudah is out for the year with an Achilles injury.

 

28. Atlanta Falcons (0-1) | Last week: 26 (-2)

It was difficult not to be encouraged by the start the Falcons had on Sunday. Atlanta hasn’t been able to run the ball with much effectiveness for years, but Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson started off hot against the Eagles before the run game ran out of gas and was stymied. Still, you could see the identity Arthur Smith wants on the offensive side of the ball. The defense obviously still has more work to do.

 

29. Houston Texans (1-0) | Last week: 32 (+3)

The Texans added a bunch of proud veteran players this offseason, and they probably saw the headlines with the talk about how bad they’d be (and I assume they were ranked No. 32 in the power rankings most places, as they were here). The thing with Houston is that Tyrod Taylor will help keep them in games with his playing style, and they’ll be a team that plays hard. The Texans might not contend for a playoff spot, but they probably won’t be easy to beat most weeks.

 

30. Chicago Bears (0-1) | Last week: 28 (-2)

With a defense that gave up huge plays and showed only flashes of solid play (led by Roquan Smith and Akiem Hicks), it’s hard to pinpoint an identity for the Bears right now. It’s early, but Week 2 will be critical for Andy Dalton and the offense as Dalton takes on his former Bengals team. On the positive side, it was encouraging that the Bears offensive line was able to open up holes for a hard-running David Montgomery, who should again be among the NFL’s leading rushers after a scorching end to the 2020 season.

 

31. New York Jets (0-1) | Last week: 30 (-1)

The preseason and Week 1 were two different animals for Zach Wilson and the Jets offense. Losing left tackle Mekhi Becton for multiple weeks (if not longer) is a ginormous loss (literally and figuratively). Becton was set to be a stalwart blindside protector that could also help open up gaping run lanes for Tevin Coleman and company off the left side. Now, Wilson quickly faces Bill Belichick for the first time.

 

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1) | Last week: 31 (-1)

We probably should have seen this coming after a concerning preseason. Hopefully Trevor Lawrence doesn’t try to do too much while playing for a below average team, as he’s used to playing on stacked teams that win. At least head coach Urban Meyer has strongly denied the USC rumors, saying there is “no chance” he leaves Jacksonville to take that job.

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