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Early NFL Power Rankings for 2021

Now that Super Bowl LV is in the books and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the champions, we can move on from a challenging 2020 season and look forward to 2021. That’s exactly what we’re seeking to do with these way-too-early NFL Power Rankings. How does our panel view Tom Brady and the Bucs in 2021? Where will the Kansas City Chiefs rank? And what about the Houston Texans, whose quarterback wants to be traded?

There’s no rest for the weary, and NFL teams will spend the next six or so months trying to bolster their rosters and make it to the top of the heap when games resume in the fall. The new league year (and free agency) starts on March 17, with the first round of the 2021 NFL draft set for April 29.

Here’s how we see next season now — from 1 to 32 — with our NFL Nation writers describing the offseason for the teams they cover in three or fewer words.

How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluated how teams stack up throughout the season.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

2020 record: 14-2

Offseason in three or fewer words: Draft well again

Despite a Super Bowl loss, the offseason will be a success for the Chiefs if they can surround their many high-priced players with good, young, inexpensive players, as they did last year. Despite drafting at or near the end of many rounds and having just six picks, the Chiefs hit on many of their choices, most notably fourth-round cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, and they found a couple of keepers after the draft, as well. — Adam Teicher


2020 record: 13-3

Offseason in three or fewer words: We’ll be back

They were perhaps the three words uttered most often by Bills players and staff following a loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Buffalo is equipped to make another run in the AFC but will require some tweaks to do so. The Bills will need to hit in this year’s draft as they do gymnastics with a diminishing salary cap. But with so many core players either on rookie deals or already locked in, they are built to make another run to the AFC title game. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

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Booger McFarland doesn’t see the Packers moving on from Aaron Rodgers anytime soon.

2020 record: 13-3

Offseason in three or fewer words: Get Rodgers help

That doesn’t necessarily mean a receiver in the first round — or any round for that matter. But if the Packers can take some of the week-in, week-out burden off Aaron Rodgers, that might help in the long run. Perhaps it’s why coach Matt LaFleur made changes with two of his three coordinators (defense and special teams). Another offensive weapon wouldn’t have helped Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game loss as much as an offensive tackle or another shutdown cornerback — or better in-game decisions and playcalls by the coaches — would have. — Rob Demovsky


2020 record: 11-5

Offseason in three or fewer words: What offseason?

The Bucs not only reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and won their first postseason game since 2002 — they won the Super Bowl with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski & Co. Considering they had no offseason last year to build an offense around Brady due to COVID-19 and still got to the Super Bowl, 2021 offers them a chance to grow even more together and build more chemistry. — Jenna Laine

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Joe Montana relates to Tom Brady’s desire to keep playing in the NFL for as long as he physically can.

2020 record: 10-6

Offseason in three or fewer words: Blockbuster moves

At the end of the season, Rams coach Sean McVay vowed to evaluate every position on the roster, including quarterback. McVay made no guarantees when asked if Jared Goff would be on the roster in 2021, adding another layer to what had become a murky situation following an inconsistent season by Goff and McVay’s decision to start backup John Wolford in a wild-card playoff despite Goff’s insisting he could play 12 days removed from thumb surgery. Two weeks after the Rams’ season ended in a divisional playoff, Goff was gone. The Rams traded him to the Lions, along with a 2022 and 2023 first-round pick and a 2021 third-round pick, in exchange for quarterback Matthew Stafford. It’s Super Bowl or Bust 2.0. — Lindsey Thiry


2020 record: 11-5

Offseason in three or fewer words: Help out Lamar

The Ravens spent most of their resources last offseason fixing the defensive front seven. This year, the focus has to be upgrading the supporting cast around Lamar Jackson and helping him progress throwing the ball. To improve the NFL’s 32nd-ranked passing attack, Baltimore has to bolster the offensive line, add a proven wide receiver and bring in another pass-catching tight end. The Ravens really didn’t replace the losses from last year after Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda retired and tight end Hayden Hurst was traded. The lack of a consistent passing game has hurt Baltimore, particularly in the playoffs. — Jamison Hensley


2020 record: 11-5

Offseason in three or fewer words: Keep it going

After years of futility, the Browns finally had a breakout season in 2020, winning a playoff game for the first time in 26 years. Now, to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, the key will be building off last season’s success. The good news is that the winning looks sustainable, with Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward and Baker Mayfield all currently age 25 or under. But the Browns still have work to do, particularly on the defensive side. After extending Garrett last offseason, they need to lock in their other young stars for the future, as well. — Jake Trotter


2020 record: 12-4

Offseason in three or fewer words: Waldron and Adams

The Seahawks’ new offensive coordinator and Pro Bowl strong safety share the billing given everything that lies ahead for both. Shane Waldron will be tasked with installing a new (or perhaps partially new) scheme and building a rapport with Russell Wilson in what might be another condensed offseason. Jamal Adams, meanwhile, is recovering from shoulder and finger surgeries while heading toward a contract negotiation that would presumably make him the NFL’s highest-paid safety. When the Seahawks acquired Adams last summer, they figured they could trade him this offseason as a last resort if they couldn’t get a deal done. That means they have lots of incentive to figure out his future before the draft. — Brady Henderson


2020 record: 6-10

Offseason in three or fewer words: Extend the window

The 49ers took a big step back in 2020 after a run to the Super Bowl the previous year. But most of that drop-off can be attributed to an unprecedented rash of injuries. Now, the Niners will spend the offseason working on getting healthy and answering a variety of difficult roster questions. The pieces are still in place to surge right back into contention if the 49ers can have better injury luck and keep the roster deep enough to fill holes when the inevitable health issues strike again. — Nick Wagoner


2020 record: 11-5

Offseason in three or fewer words: Continuity with coaching

Mike Vrabel promoted tight ends coach Todd Downing to replace offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who is now the Falcons coach. Vrabel chose Downing to avoid a total change in terminology and scheme. The Titans are also giving Shane Bowen a chance to “run it back” as the defensive playcaller, this time with the defensive coordinator title attached to his name. Tennessee finished with an 11-5 record last season and won the AFC South division title but suffered a disappointing first-round playoff loss. We’ll see how the coordinator decisions impact the Titans taking the next step. — Turron Davenport

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Dan Orlovsky breaks down what has to happen in the Steelers organization if Ben Roethlisberger comes back for another year.

2020 record: 12-4

Offseason in three or fewer words: Is Ben back?

It’s all about the Ben(jamin) Roethlisberger. The Steelers’ future hinges on what they do with the veteran quarterback. It’s clear that he can’t play for the $41.2M his contract says he’s owed in 2021. Roethlisberger appears to be leaning toward returning, but the Steelers can’t get anything done this offseason until Roethlisberger makes up his mind and agrees to whatever pay cut the Steelers ask him to take. And they’ll need him to take a major one to relieve some of the cap pressure and re-sign any free agents. Art Rooney II said the team is in a win-now mode, but the Steelers have significant work to do to field a team that can do that in 2021. — Brooke Pryor


2020 record: 10-6

Offseason in three or fewer words: Believe in Tua?

The Dolphins have given a strong public commitment to Tua Tagovailoa early in the offseason, naming him their 2021 starter, expressing confidence in his development and stating they expect him to take a Year 2 jump after an up-and-down rookie season. All of the Dolphins’ early moves signal being all-in on Tagovailoa, but Miami is going to be in the thick of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes and draft speculation for the next three months. So we are truly going to learn through the Dolphins’ actions how much they believe in Tagovailoa as their franchise QB. — Cameron Wolfe

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Tua Tagovailoa says he is focused on improving and isn’t letting the Deshaun Watson trade rumors get to him.

2020 record: 12-4

Offseason in three or fewer words: Life after Brees

Drew Brees is widely expected to retire after 15 seasons in New Orleans, and the Saints are projected to be nearly $100 million over the salary cap to start the league year. Unfortunately, their roster is still too loaded to consider a total rebuild. So they’ll have to roll up their sleeves, identify the next QB (most likely Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill) and decide which players they can’t live without. Their biggest decisions will include 2021 free agents Marcus Williams, Trey Hendrickson and Winston — and 2022 free agents Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead. — Mike Triplett


2020 record: 8-8

Offseason in three or fewer words: Figuring it out

After Week 7, the Cardinals were 5-2 and poised not just for a playoff berth but potentially a deep run in the postseason. Then, they went 3-6 to finish the year, including a loss to the Rams in a battle of backup quarterbacks in Week 17 with a postseason berth on the line, and were left watching the playoffs on the couch. What went wrong, and how do they keep it from happening again? That’s what the Cardinals need to figure out this offseason. — Josh Weinfuss


2020 record: 11-5

Offseason in three or fewer words: Who plays QB?

The Colts are on their way to their fifth different Week 1 starting quarterback in as many seasons. They’re in this position because Jacoby Brissett couldn’t hold down the job in 2019 and Philip Rivers despite leading the Colts to the playoffs this past season, decided to retire. One name you can cross off the Colts’ QB list is Matthew Stafford, who was traded from Detroit to the Rams. — Mike Wells


2020 record: 7-9

Offseason in three or fewer words: Return to contention

Although the Vikings’ offense was the most explosive unit Mike Zimmer has had in seven seasons, the defense soured in 2020. Minnesota needs to find some balance so the defense can carry its weight. That’ll require more pass-rushers, more defensive backs and carrying this year’s experience forward. The cap-strapped Vikings don’t look like a team that can make a big splash in free agency, but now’s the time to get creative (i.e., with a trade) if they want a serious upgrade at any position — whether it’s on defense or even quarterback. With all the movement going on across the league, why wouldn’t Minnesota consider all possible moves, no matter how aggressive, to get back in contention? — Courtney Cronin


2020 record: 8-8

Offseason in three or fewer words: Whither Derek Carr?

Welcome to the annual offseason tradition in Raider Nation in which the most polarizing figure in franchise history is either getting more firmly entrenched or being shipped out of town. Last year, it was Tom Brady who was going to replace Carr — allegedly — and now it’s Aaron Rodgers and/or Deshaun Watson. Never mind that it’s the Raiders’ defense that needs a major overhaul. When it comes to the Raiders and Carr, he is the franchise QB … until he isn’t. And nothing, shy of an actual move, will squelch that speculation. — Paul Gutierrez


2020 record: 7-9

Offseason in three or fewer words: Build a staff

The Chargers hired a head coach in Brandon Staley (their first defensive-minded coach since Marty Schottenheimer in 2002) and two coordinators — offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill. They appear confident and in charge. They just need assistants who are the same. That might be all a talented roster that includes the likes of Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen and Joey Bosa needs to get over the hump. — Shelley Smith


2020 record: 6-10

Offseason in three or fewer words: All about Dak

It’s been this way since the 2018 season ended. Twice Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ front office have had negotiations on long-term deals and were unable to get a contract done. Now, they face a third set of talks, with the hopes of getting it worked out or facing the possibility of finding another quarterback, either for this upcoming season or 2022. If the Cowboys tag Prescott for a second season, it would cost them $37.7 million and chew up a significant part of their salary cap. A long-term deal would do the same, but they would have their quarterback for at least the next four years. — Todd Archer


2020 record: 7-9

Offseason in three or fewer words: Belichick’s Revenge Tour

It’s time for the Patriots, who went 7-9 in their first year post-Tom Brady and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, to get aggressive in improving the talent across the roster — especially at quarterback, receiver and tight end. Just as Bill Belichick took an aggressive approach in the 2007 offseason, adding receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, he’s expected to be aggressive in that area this offseason, as well. — Mike Reiss


2020 record: 7-9

Offseason in three or fewer words: Wanted: QB help

Washington has had major questions surrounding this position for decades. It has a world-class defensive line that makes the defense ready to compete for titles now. It missed on quarterback Matthew Stafford, but the quest will continue. In the end, though, if Washington can’t get one of a handful of QBs it likes, it could roll it back with Alex Smith, perhaps adding yet another young QB to groom (to its already young backup group), and bolstering two areas on offense: line and wide receiver. Then resume the quest in 2022. — John Keim


2020 record: 4-12

Offseason in three or fewer words: Matt and Julio

The biggest question facing new GM Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith is what to do with QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones. Both have high cap figures ($40.9 million for Ryan, $23 million for Jones) and the Falcons are $41.7 million over the projected 2021 cap. Both Ryan and Jones are still playing at a high level, but would it be better for the new regime to trade one or both players (it might be hard to find a team willing to absorb their contracts), try to restructure those deals, or figure out another way to cut salary and try to patchwork the roster in order to attempt one more playoff push before eventually starting over? — Michael DiRocco


2020 record: 5-11

Offseason in three or fewer words: Upgrade at quarterback

That Carolina made a run at Matthew Stafford is the latest indication the team is looking to upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater, either through the draft or in a trade. Next up in trade interest will be Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. If there’s not a path for a deal, look for the Panthers to take a quarterback at No. 8 or possibly trade down and take somebody like Alabama’s Mac Jones, who impressed the staff at the Senior Bowl. — David Newton


2020 record: 8-8

Offseason in three or fewer words: Save our jobs

The Bears are in a precarious position without a franchise quarterback on the roster. General manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have been tasked with solving Chicago’s 70-year quarterback conundrum. The Bears are expected to exhaust every quarterback avenue in the coming weeks and months. The pressure on the duo is enormous. If Pace and Nagy fail to properly address the issue, the Bears are likely headed toward large-scale changes in 2022. — Jeff Dickerson


2020 record: 6-10

Offseason in three or fewer words: Find some playmakers

Wide receiver. Tight end. Edge rusher. Cornerback. The Giants need help at all those premium positions, whether it be in free agency or the draft. Owner John Mara and general manager Dave Gettleman even admitted after the season they needed to find “playmakers” this offseason. Let the hunt begin. — Jordan Raanan

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Adam Schefter breaks down the Eagles possibly trading Carson Wentz in the next few days.

2020 record: 4-11-1

Offseason in three or fewer words: Life after Wentz

Carson Wentz is expected to be traded as early as this week. Their long-term plan at quarterback was ripped up and thrown out following a disastrous 2020 season in which Wentz lost trust in the organization. Now it’s time to pick up the pieces. Jalen Hurts, the team’s second-round pick last April, showed promise over the last quarter of the season in place of Wentz. New coach Nick Sirianni, who replaces Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson, is charged with building out a system for Hurts, or whomever his QB1 is, while trying to help get this franchise back on track. — Tim McManus


2020 record: 4-11-1

Offseason in three or fewer words: Give Burrow help

This shouldn’t be complicated. The Bengals lost their franchise quarterback for the season because of shaky offensive line play. Cincinnati needs to strengthen that unit through the draft and free agency. Joe Burrow could also use another quality receiving option to join Tyler Boyd and breakout rookie Tee Higgins. Helping Burrow also means being better defensively and putting less of a burden on the offense and the young quarterback. Cincinnati could use a quality edge rusher, regardless of what happens once Carl Lawson hits free agency. — Ben Baby


2020 record: 5-11

Offseason in three or fewer words: Make a call

What the Broncos do at quarterback dictates much of their offseason plan. They thought about dipping their toe in the Matthew Stafford trade waters, but if the plan is to go with Drew Lock and find the best veteran possible to push him, then do that. If it’s to go with Lock and pick the best quarterback available at No. 9 or in the second round in April, then do that. If it’s to move on from Lock, then do that. But make a definitive call and roll. The “consider every option” approach makes for nice conversation, but without a traditional offseason schedule and with the salary cap expected to go down, the sooner the Broncos choose a plan, the better. — Jeff Legwold


2020 record: 2-14

Offseason in three or fewer words: Deshaun or de-picks?

The Jets have two paths back to respectability: (1) Trade for Deshaun Watson, who would be their best quarterback since Joe Namath. (2) Use their draft capital (four of the first 66 picks) to improve the roster, building around incumbent QB Sam Darnold. They can’t do both because the price to get Watson could clean them out of premium draft picks. They could throw a curve and draft a quarterback with the second overall pick, but the early sense is that it will be Watson or option 2. If it’s the latter, GM Joe Douglas needs to make the picks count. — Rich Cimini


2020 record: 5-11

Offseason in three or fewer words: Welcome to rebuilding

New Lions general manager Brad Holmes might not want to use that term — he prefers retooling — but let’s be clear: Detroit is at the start of a multiyear project to try to fix 60-plus-year-old problems. It starts with figuring out the quarterback post-Matthew Stafford — right now it’s Jared Goff, at least in the short term — and using the three picks the Lions received for Stafford (a third-rounder this year and first-rounders in 2022 and 2023) to bring in impact players. That should start on defense, where every position group has major questions. — Michael Rothstein


2020 record: 1-15

Offseason in three or fewer words: Starting over again

Owner Shad Khan hired Urban Meyer to reevaluate and revamp the organization that has lost 10 or more games in nine of the past 10 seasons. Changing the culture is the biggest task. Meyer is stocking his coaching and support staff with people he has worked with before on the collegiate level and who are familiar with his ideas and approach. But the most important thing is finding the QB, and the Jaguars are expected to draft Trevor Lawrence. That, as much as anything that Meyer does, has the potential to change the direction of the franchise. — Michael DiRocco

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No matter the Texans’ decision with Deshaun Watson, Domonique Foxworth says there are negative outcomes to either trading or keeping the QB.

2020 record: 4-12

Offseason in three or fewer words: Deshaun Watson watch

The Texans knew this would be a pivotal offseason, as team chairman and CEO Cal McNair would be hiring a new general manager and head coach after firing Bill O’Brien during the season. What the team could not have predicted is the relationship between Watson and the team deteriorating to the point that he requested a trade less than five months after signing a four-year, $156 million contract extension with Houston. It is likely going to be a long offseason for the Texans and new general manager Nick Caserio as he decides what the next step is with the franchise’s star quarterback. Based on this ranking, NFL Nation expects Watson to be somewhere else in 2021. — Sarah Barshop

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