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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 3

The No. 1 team in the NFL power rankings for Week 3 is clear as ever, but there’s a lot of shuffling behind the defending champions.


1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) | Last week: 1

The defense of the Bucs allowed the Falcons to climb back into the game in Week 2, but they then quickly shut the door by pressuring Matt Ryan and getting two pick-sixes by Mike Edwards to emphatically put the game away and win by 23 points. Rob Gronkowski continues to look like prime Gronk, scoring two more touchdowns (making it three consecutive games with two touchdowns dating back to Super Bowl LV), and the Tampa Bay offense is impossible to stop if Tom Brady is protected. Brady has nine touchdowns through two games, but he says “I know I can play better. I could make some better throws.” Scary for the rest of the NFL.


2. Los Angeles Rams (2-0) | Last week: 4 (+2)

There was some consideration to just keeping the Chiefs at No. 2 in the power rankings, but I’ll put the Rams in the second spot for now after a 2-0 start. The rankings will sort themselves out this week after Brady and the Bucs travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams on Sunday. Darrell Henderson Jr. might miss the highly anticipated matchup because of a rib cartilage injury, but late-summer acquisition Sony Michel looked very good on his ten carries versus the Colts last Sunday. However, the Rams might not test Tampa’s stout front much—this will likely be a big test for Matthew Stafford and the passing attack.


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

Anything can happen and we don’t know for sure the game would have been won, but the Chiefs’ loss to the Ravens was similar to the Patriots’ Week 1 loss, as it looked like the game was probably won toward the end with a potential go-ahead field goal before a lost fumble by a normally reliable starting running back. The 20-0 hopes are now dashed, but the Chiefs might play even more freely than usual with that out of the way.


4. Buffalo Bills (1-1) | Last week: 5 (+1)

That was more like it for the Bills, who climb back up a spot in the power rankings after a 35-0 shutout against the Dolphins. It’s hilarious how wrong some people (I won’t mention them here and give them more of their precious “clicks”) have been consistently wrong about Buffalo. If the Bills have a stronger pass rush this season (we’ll see how much of it was the struggles of the Dolphins offensive line), they might be the AFC favorites over the Chiefs.


5. Las Vegas Raiders (2-0) | Last week: 14 (+9)

Aside from the Buccaneers, no team has had a more impressive start to the season than the Raiders. Las Vegas beat Baltimore in primetime to conclude Week 1, then they went to Heinz Field—without star running back Josh Jacobs—and beat the Steelers rather handily. Derek Carr and the offense are operating at a high level, but the Raiders defense might be the biggest story. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has his group flying around and swarming to the ball. I didn’t like the Raiders’ offseason in terms of player movement (letting Nelson Agholor walk, for example), which is why they were so low in the power rankings to start the year. But, while it’s early, Bradley looks like one of the top offseason acquisitions of any team in 2021.


6. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) | Last week: 3 (-3)

With Ben Roethlisberger, Diontae Johnson, and T.J. Watt all banged up (though hopefully they’ll all be fine for this week) and nose tackle Tyson Alualu being lost to ankle surgery, the Steelers drop a few spots in the power rankings. It was good to see Najee Harris get going as a receiver (catching five passes and scoring his first career touchdown), but Pittsburgh still needs to get more going on the ground like they wanted entering the season.


7. San Francisco 49ers (2-0) | Last week: 9 (+2)

The 49ers defense answered the call in a tough environment in Philadelphia, getting key stops and limiting the Eagles to 11 points. It was a strong bounce back after nearly surrendering a huge lead to the Lions in Week 1. Jimmy Garoppolo missed on some throws early, and I thought his leash might be getting shorter with Trey Lance set to take over at some point (ideally not until next season). But Jimmy G got in a rhythm and put some passes on the money in the close win. This Sunday night against the Packers will be a good measuring stick for San Francisco.


8. Baltimore Ravens (1-1) | Last week: 15 (+7)

I had a feeling the Ravens would have a shot to bounce back and get an upset victory over the Chiefs, partly because of Lamar Jackson’s ability to run around and make plays. He’s struggled some as a passer this season, but Jackson did plenty of damage with his legs against Kansas City, rushing 16 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. If that’s what it takes for Baltimore to win games—from now and into January—Jackson must block out the noise (of those saying they want to see him perform as a passer) and do it. The Sunday night win could be one that gives the Ravens supreme confidence that they can beat anyone moving forward.


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

The Browns are among the many teams that are banged up after a brutal Week 2 when it came to injuries. At least Baker Mayfield appears to be OK after a shoulder injury, but wide receiver Jarvis Landry will miss at least three weeks with an MCL sprain. We might now see Odell Beckham Jr. make his 2021 debut coming off the torn ACL from last season, though. Defensively, Cleveland was supposed to boast a top unit in the league, and we’ll see if they can show that potential in a matchup with a rookie quarterback (Justin Fields) making his first career start.


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

Davante Adams had said that it’s natural that he is going to face double teams, but that he and Aaron Rodgers talked about it and want to test those doubles more. However, the Lions played a lot of two-high on Monday night, which helped allow Aaron Jones to go off for four touchdowns (three receiving) in the Green Bay victory. The Packers present a pick-your-poison dilemma for undermatched defenses: stop the run or stop chunk plays to Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and others. Packers fans have to hope the defense is turning the corner after a slow start turned into a promising finish versus Detroit.


11. Seattle Seahawks (1-1) | Last week: 6 (-5)

The Seahawks controlled much of the Week 2 matchup with the Titans, but they couldn’t contain Derrick Henry late in the game. The front seven should be a strength for Seattle, and the team shouldn’t panic after facing a very uncommon opponent in the Titans. That said, the defense will need to turn it on when they face a stacked Vikings offense with Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen in Week 3. Russell Wilson (particularly with his connection with Tyler Lockett) is already feeling it through two games.


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

The Patriots did what they were expected to do by making it a miserable outing for the Jets offense led by a rookie quarterback. With the defense recording four interceptions, Mac Jones and the offense weren’t tasked with trying to do too much. There’s been some talk about Jones being held back and/or not being able to throw the deep ball with success, which I think is totally inaccurate. New England will take what the defense gives them, and they have the upside for shot plays from Jones, who showed at Alabama that he has a flag-football-like deep ball even if he doesn’t have a rocket arm.


13. Carolina Panthers (2-0) | Last week: 24 (+11)

I moved the Saints far into the top ten after an impressive Week 1 performance, and you could argue the Panthers could easily move up into the range after two fantastic weeks. I’ve said it’s probably a matter of when not if Matt Rhule gets the Panthers into perennial contention, and it might be as early as 2021. The athletic, versatile defense is getting after the quarterback (ten sacks through two games), and Sam Darnold is playing well at quarterback. It’d be big if Carolina can dominate rookie quarterback Davis Mills and Houston on a short week while getting to 3-0.


14. New Orleans Saints (1-1) | Last week: 7 (-7)

I really thought Jameis Winston might have been turning the corner (with LASIK helping that, as I’ve stated a couple of times), but it looked like same old Jameis in the upset loss to the Panthers in Week 2. Winston tried to do too much when the offense was struggling, which is natural for most quarterbacks—but it’s obviously been a concerning characteristic for Winston throughout his career. New Orleans must rely on Alvin Kamara more, but the Patriots defense might try to take him away this weekend. The Saints defense, especially when they get healthy and get their coaches back, should be able to keep them in games if Winston avoids mistakes.


15. Arizona Cardinals (2-0) | Last week: 17 (+2)

There’s an easy case for the Cardinals to be in the top ten. Kyler Murray and the offense have been lighting it up, and the pass rush is built to put games away. But, while you can point to many different things throughout a game, they would be 1-1 if not for a miss on a chip-shot field goal by the Vikings. And Murray is awesome for fantasy football, but he needs to take better care of the ball (three interceptions through two weeks), particularly against top teams the Cardinals will face.


16. Dallas Cowboys (1-1) | Last week: 19 (+3)

Dak Prescott and the passing game were mostly silent, but Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard powered an exceptional rushing attack against the Chargers. People complained way too much when the Cowboys opted not to run on the best run defense in the league to open the season, but they can beat you on the ground or through the air—and getting All-Pro Zack Martin back helped. Second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs stepped up again, as did Micah Parsons moving to the edge, and the Dallas defense has been a pleasant surprise thus far.


17. Tennessee Titans (1-1) | Last week: 18 (+1)

Another win on Sunday could push the Titans quite a bit higher than this in the power rankings. Their comeback at Seattle was extremely impressive, and Derrick Henry is showing that he remains arguably the most unstoppable non-quarterback in the league. Julio Jones went over 100 yards and started clicking with Ryan Tannehill (and had a touchdown that was called back when it looked like it should not have been). The Tennessee defense stepped up late. Overall, after about as bad of a start imaginable in Week 1, the Titans should be on track.


18. Los Angeles Chargers (1-1) | Last week: 13 (-5)

The Chargers apparently still have to shake off their inability to win close games, which has haunted them for several years. Maybe they should try a Ted Lasso-like “reverse the curse” ceremony. They did come through in Week 1, though, so maybe it’s much ado about nothing. Next up, the Chargers will be facing the Chiefs coming off a loss, continuing what looks like a very challenging opening season stretch on paper.


19. Denver Broncos (2-0) | Last week: 21 (+2)

With Jerry Juedy (ankle) out, Courtland Sutton stepped up as a No. 1 receiver for Teddy Bridgewater and the Broncos, catching nine passes for 159 yards versus the Jaguars. Head coach Vic Fangio, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and the team must be very happy with the way Bridgewater has played after two games, and the defense is playing at a high level despite losing pass rusher Bradley Chubb for more time due to arthroscopic ankle surgery. Denver should have a good shot to improve to 3-0 when they take on the Jets at home this Sunday.


20. Miami Dolphins (1-1) | Last week: 11 (-9)

Jacoby Brissett has starting experience and is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league, but it’s a tough blow to lose Tua Tagovailoa to fractured ribs (out for at least Week 3). The Dolphins continue to have no answers for the Bills on either side of the ball. On the positive side of things, at least Will Fuller is back with the team after dealing with a personal matter.


21. Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) | Last week: 16 (-5)

There were some missed opportunities for the Eagles in their first home game with a full crowd in a while. Jalen Hurts was just off on some deep balls (some argue he doesn’t have a strong enough arm, but I think he simply missed the throws), but his rushing ability helped Philadelphia have a shot at the end. Who knows what would have happened, but there was clearly a delay of game on the Niners that should have been called when they iced the game on a quarterback sneak. Now, the Eagles are without defensive end Brandon Graham (Achilles) for the season, and guard Brandon Brooks will miss time with a pec injury.


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

Don’t sleep on Taylor Heinicke. Washington was bailed out on a debatable offsides call at the end of the game on the Giants, but Heinicke did an outstanding job facing a solid defense. The throw to Ricky Seals-Jones to the back corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty, and I think Washington should be confident in the quarterback position with Heinicke. We’re still waiting to see more from the Football Team pass rush, and, unless they turn it on, it might be a long day when they take on Josh Allen and the Bills in Week 3.


23. Indianapolis Colts (0-2) | Last week: 20 (-3)

Carson Wentz has dealt with so many injuries throughout his career, and it’s borderline parody that he sprained both ankles against the Rams—just terrible luck, and the right ankle in particular looked ugly, but he’s going to try to push through it and play. Both the offense and defense showed promising signs against the Rams, but Indy will be in better shape if they can get the run game going with Jonathan Taylor.


24 .Chicago Bears (1-1) | Last week: 30 (+6)

Rookie quarterback Justin Fields will officially make his first career start at Cleveland this weekend, and it should be exciting to have the dual threat talent leading the Chicago offense. The Bears defense appeared to take it to heart that they had a poor Week 1 outing, and they stepped up to power last week’s win over the Bengals. Undoubtedly, the best-case scenario for the Bears is Fields playing so well that he can’t be taken off the field when Andy Dalton (knee) is ready to return.


25. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) | Last week: 23 (-2)

Joe Burrow probably had the worst game of his young career while going up against that Bears defense, but he’s the type of player that should quickly put the performance behind him and bounce back. It won’t be a walk in the park at Heinz Field, though, and the Bengals would benefit if they can open more lanes for Joe Mixon at running back. Cincinnati’s defense again gave an optimistic outlook with the way they competed with the Bears.


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

If anyone needs a “reverse the curse” it might be Mike Zimmer and the Vikings’ kicking room. You could almost feel that the last-second field goal attempt by Greg Joseph just wouldn’t go through the uprights, as Minnesota has had an awful track record in that department under Zimmer. And almost right on cue, a matchup with the Seahawks (you might remember the missed kick in January a handful of years ago) is up next.


27. New York Giants (0-2) | Last week: 26 (-1)

The Daniel Jones hate is outrageous. Jones played one of the best games of any quarterback in Week 2, putting passes on the money while nearing 100 yards rushing in the heartbreaking loss to Washington. The Darius Slayton deep ball wasn’t as easy of a catch as some claim it was, but he and Kenny Golladay left a couple of big plays on the field in the narrow defeat. If Andrew Thomas and the offensive line keep Jones upright, the Giants can turn this around.


28. Detroit Lions (0-2) | Last week: 27 (-1)

Jared Goff was kept upright for the first half of the Monday night matchup with the Packers, and Goff showed (yet again) that he’s very underrated as a franchise quarterback. The wheels fell off a bit in the second half, but Detroit is going to have the disadvantage talent wise most weeks. The strength is up the middle on offense for the Lions, with Goff, a top offensive line, D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams at running back, and emerging star tight end T.J. Hockenson.


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

While things also fell apart at the end for the Falcons in their loss to the Buccaneers, Matt Ryan and the offense might have gotten enough going in middle of the game to feel good about where they’re headed. Mike Davis is running well for Atlanta, but all-time great kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson has been a big story through two games—Patterson looks like a major weapon while being used more as a running back.


30. Houston Texans (0-2) | Last week: 29 (-1)

You have to feel for Tyrod Taylor, who’s another guy that’s had a bad time with injuries. He’ll miss time with a hamstring, which means third-round rookie quarterback Davis Mills will be thrust into action on a short week while battling a stingy Panthers defense. This will be plus playing experience for Mills, who was seen as a pro-ready type of signal caller.


31. New York Jets (0-2) | Last week: 31

We knew Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense were going to make things tough on rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, but it was a nightmarish first start against New England for the second overall pick. It’s easier said than done, but Wilson just needs to keep his confidence and battle through what’ll probably be a difficult campaign—Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman, and others have had to go through it.


32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) | Last week: 32

Trevor Lawrence is going through it, too. There’s simply a lot of work to do in Jacksonville based off the first two games. This week, perhaps the big Jaguars receiving corps can have some success versus the Cardinals secondary, but the big concern will be the Jags trying to find a way to contain Kyler Murray as Urban Meyer looks to get on the board with his first NFL win.


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