It’s Week 5 and we’re getting a bit of a late start on the 2021 NFL Power Rankings, but rest assured this series will continue through at least Week 18 and possibly beyond. The NFL landscape is starting to come into focus as the good teams start to separate themselves from the bad teams. So far, it has been one of the most entertaining NFL seasons in recent memories with nail biters, comebacks, overtimes, and upsets populating the schedule. So far, this is how I see the power structure in the NFL.
32. Houston Texans (1-3)
I know it’s weird to put the Texans at the bottom of these NFL power rankings, considering they handily defeated the winless Jaguars in the first game of the season. But, the Texans are starting to turn into the team we all assumed they would be at the beginning of the season. They haven’t truly been competitive in a game since the first half of their Week 2 game in Cleveland. This week, they got exposed with a 40-0 beatdown from the red-hot Buffalo Bills. The Bills scored on every possession of the second half until they kneeled to run out the clock on the final drive. Don’t fret too hard, Texans fans. It’s a tear down season. Maybe you’ll get a solid trade package for the MIA Deshaun Watson before too long.
31. Detroit Lions (0-4)
Jared Goff continues to do Jared Goff things. He gives you hope with these impressive touchdown drives late in games. False hope appears to be the theme of the season. Why? Because those late surges almost make you forget about him doing things like fumbling twice in goal-to-go situations in the first half. Combine that with the failed fourth down conversion at the Bears’ 5, and you’ve got a Lions team that seems to thrive on pulverizing the hearts of Lions fans with metal spiked cleats.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)
Bad decisions continue to doom the Jaguars’ hopes for a respectable 2021 season. That said, don’t forget this is still the team that has played closely and held a 2-score lead both of the last two weeks against the Cardinals and Bengals, who are a combined 7-1 right now. Throw in a Broncos team they played close in the first half, and that’s a combined 10-2 record for their last three opponents, none of which they looked totally outmatched against.
29. New York Jets (1-3)
You have to give credit to the Jets for coming out with a win this week. Had these NFL power rankings existed last week, they would have been ranked either 31 or 32. That said, the win came against a Titans team that was missing AJ Brown, Julio Jones, Bud Dupree, and Caleb Farley. Even then, they never held a lead until the fourth quarter and still would have finished the game with a tie were it not for a missed 49-yard field goal by Titans kicker Randy Bullock at the end of overtime.
28. Atlanta Falcons (1-3)
The Falcons had their thumb on WFT’s throat. All they needed was one stop against Taylor Heinicke with less than two minutes left in the game. Then again, if you’re a Falcons fan you know no lead is ever certain. Falcons gonna Falcon. Matt Ryan gave it everything he had with 283 yards, four touchdowns, and a 111.5 passer. But, with that defense, you need luck to be on your side too and it definitely has not been all season.
27. New York Giants (1-3)
Have a damn game, Daniel Jones. 402 yards passing and two touchdowns plus four runs for 27 yards is exactly the kind of performance the Giants need from their inconsistent signal caller to make things work. It wasn’t always pretty as the Giants had to claw themselves back from a 21-10 deficit late in the fourth quarter. But, they did, won the coin flip in overtime, and didn’t squander the opportunity. That’s progress.
26. Miami Dolphins (1-3)
It’s been a rough season so far for a Miami Dolphins team that, just last season, looked like a team ready to take the next step toward being a perennial playoff contender. Unfortunately, poor player development and poor coaching decisions are rearing their ugly head. The offensive line stinks. Jacoby Brissett and Myles Gaskin don’t stand a chance back there. This team looked a little better with Tua Tagovailoa behind center, but quarterback play isn’t really the main issue right now. Hopefully a matchup with the Jaguars when he is expected to come back will be what the Dolphins need to get things turned around.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3)
Jalen Hurts is doing his best to give the Eagles and their fans some hope. But, dear god, that defense is terrible. They have allowed 853 yards and 83 points over the past two games. There is still a lot of bad football happening in the NFC East this year, and the Eagles have been responsible for the worst of it over the past three weeks.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3)
You could probably make the argument the Steelers deserve to be placed lower on this list. Although, I’m not entirely sure the Steelers are as terrible as their 1-3 record and their stats on both sides of the ball indicates. Clearly, their defense has regressed and their offense is a trainwreck. Perhaps taking Najee Harris in the first round instead of any of the talented offensive linemen left on the board wasn’t the smartest move. Perhaps letting Roethlisberger come back for another season wasn’t either. Maybe the Steelers are headed for a lengthy rebuild and they haven’t even scratched the bottom yet. But, they’re not quite there yet and, therefore, not scratching the bottom of these NFL power rankings.
23. Chicago Bears (2-2)
The Bears could easily be 1-3 right now were it not for an inexplicable whiffed tackle by Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson in Week 2. But, they’re not, so you have to give them some credit for having two wins. That is, despite a state of utter chaos seemingly coming from the top down. They essentially dominated the Lions for most of three quarters this week, until a late rally made the final score seem closer than it really was. Still, the poor fourth quarter play in both wins is a bit concerning.
22. Washington Football Team (2-2)
The WFT defense was supposed to be the heart and soul of this team in 2021. Yet, they rank bottom-10 in the NFL in sacks, turnovers, passing touchdowns, passer rating allowed, first down percentage allowed, and completion percentage allowed. Taylor Heinicke is not going to save you from the Falcons every week, so I think it’s safe to say there are some major concerns here.
21. Indianapolis Colts (1-3)
Despite the Colts’ record, they’ve been surprisingly competitive since Week 2. They finally broke through with a win over the struggling Miami Dolphins this week. They let the Dolphins come back a little in the fourth quarter, but this game essentially looked over after they recovered a Jacoby Brissett fumble in Dolphins territory early in the fourth quarter and capitalized to extend the lead to 20-3.
20. New England Patriots (1-3)
It’s still tough to tell whether Mac Jones is good or not. After a solid Week 1, he looked average in Week 2 and bad in Week 3. Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was back to good. He looked much better than former Patriots’ franchise QB Tom Brady in this game. The problem is the Patriots’ run game was virtually non-existent. WR Nelson Agholor was the only one who had a positive gain on the ground for the Patriots this week, and that run went for four yards.
19. New Orleans Saints (2-2)
The Saints are really hard to get a read on. Are they the contenders who spanked the Green Bay Packers 38-3 in Week 1 and handily defeated the Patriots last week? Or, are they the team that got spanked by the Panthers 26-7 in Week 2 and just lost to the lowly New York Giants? I’ll lead toward pretenders for now, rather than contenders for the sake of these NFL power rankings. Mainly because they couldn’t hold on to an 11-point lead over the Giants with under 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
18. Tennessee Titans (2-2)
Had the Titans not been missing so many key players due to injury, I doubt they would have lost to the lowly Jets. But, they did. Power rankings are about how powerful each team looks right now, so the injuries play a factor too. Perhaps if the Titans had someone other than Randy “calf cramps” Bullock as their kicker, they would still be just above .500. But this isn’t about “what ifs”. Once the Titans get healthy I could see them shaking this loss off and climbing back up these NFL power rankings, but for now this is where they reside.
17. Minnesota Vikings (1-3)
The Vikings are literally a fumble, a missed field goal, and a defensive holding call away from being 4-0 right now. They had the Bengals beat in Week 1 before Dalvin Cook fumbled in overtime. K Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard chip shot that would have put the Vikings over the Cardinals as the clock expired. This week, they had the Browns stopped on their only touchdown drive of the game after a failed fourth down attempt, but Eric Kendricks was flagged with defensive holding and Kareem Hunt ran the ball in the endzone three plays later. This team is almost good and could easily turn their season around if they can avoid these critical mistakes.
16. San Francisco 49ers (2-2)
It appears I am in the minority of people who were not wildly impressed by Trey Lance’s debut. Sure, he had some really nice looking plays. He helped bring the 49ers back from a 21-7 deficit in the later parts of the third quarter to make it look like a game. But, there were also quite a few bad plays. Missing a wide-open George Kittle and a horribly overthrown pass to Deebo Samuel on his first two pass attempts. Shanahan himself said, “that’s why he was the No. 2 quarterback going into that game.” So, forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical on the 49ers’ current trajectory.
15. Denver Broncos (3-1)
The Broncos are pretenders. Sorry, but that’s my impression after four weeks. Solid wins over the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets were enough to catch the NFL world’s attention through the first three weeks. Unfortunately, as soon as that attention came they had to face off against a real contender in the Baltimore Ravens. Teddy Bridgewater gave the Broncos the early lead at the beginning of the second quarter, but they couldn’t hold that lead and Drew Lock was a clear downgrade after Teddy went out at halftime with a concussion. It was never close after that.
14. Las Vegas Raiders (3-1)
The Raiders looked nothing but sloppy through three undefeated weeks. That sloppiness reared its ugly head again on Monday Night Football in the form of penalties, lack of awareness, a missed field goal, and a game-killing interception. The Raiders had multiple opportunities to go take that game back despite a 21-0 deficit at halftime. But, the Raiders did the Raider thing and fell short of the moment. So, they fall short in these NFL power rankings.
13. Seattle Seahawks (2-2)
I don’t care how injured the 49ers are or how unstable their QB situation looks right now. Going on the road and getting a pretty convincing win over your arch rivals is always a tough ask. The Seahawks have had their struggles the past couple of weeks but they looked like a playoff team in Week 4. It was an all-around team win where nobody looked particularly elite, but also they didn’t turn the ball over and kept their heads in a hostile environment.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)
Despite Joe Burrow’s ice-cold performance, I think this defense deserves some love. Despite being dominated by the Jaguars through most of the first half, they held strong on a fourth and inches at the goal line with 59 seconds left in the first half and down 14-0. The momentum generated by that play carried over to the second half where they completely flipped the script on the Jags. On the season, the Bengals’ defense is top-10 in interceptions, sacks, first-down rate allowed, passing touchdowns, yards per carry, and scoring allowed. They’ll have a chance to prove they belong in the playoff discussion, and possibly higher in the NFL power rankings, this coming week against the Packers.
11. Carolina Panthers (3-1)
You wonder if Sam Darnold was seeing those pesky ghosts again after a third quarter where he threw two interceptions as the Cowboys racked up 23 unanswered points. Zane Gonzalez’s missed 54-yard field goal at the beginning of the second half didn’t help either. However, you still get the sense that if these two teams meet again in the playoffs it could be a different result.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (2-2)
The Chiefs looked like the Chiefs again beating up on the downtrodden Eagles. Mahomes was masterful going 24/30 for 278 yards and five touchdowns. He did throw one interception that led to an Eagles field goal, but he came back and threw touchdowns on each of the final three meaningful drives. You still worry about their defense, which allowed nearly a 400-yard passing day to Jalen Hurts. But, despite that they still won by double digits. Now, let’s see if they can return to consistent winning, then they can return to the top echelon of the NFL power rankings.
9. Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
I haven’t been shy about not being as impressed by the Ravens as most. But, this week they proved to me they are worthy of a top-10 spot in the NFL power rankings. I’m still skeptical about their loss to the Lions (because that play clock expired dammit). Also, I felt they looked a bit sloppy in their first two games. But, they absolutely took care of business against a Broncos team that was insisting they’re to be taken seriously. The first quarter was a little dicey, but they turned in a strong second quarter and maintained their lead in the second half.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (3-1)
The Chargers look for real. Granted, letting the Raiders back into the game after going up 21-0 at the half doesn’t exactly have the best optics. But, you have to give them credit for gathering themselves and regaining control of the game. With Herbert playing as well as he’s been playing, Austin Eckeler finally getting going, the Chargers look like they have one of the most balanced and effective offenses in the league right now.
7. Cleveland Browns (3-1)
Oof. After three weeks, the Browns looked like Super Bowl contenders. Not so much after one of the ugliest football games I can remember watching against the Minnesota Vikings. The Browns were bailed out after a failed fourth down conversion by Eric Kendricks, who was flagged for defensive holding. The Browns capitalized on the opportunity and a two-point conversion. Without that lucky turn of events, they would have lost 7-6. That doesn’t make them look like a Super Bowl caliber team, and it’s why they’re out of the top-5.
6. Green Bay Packers (3-1)
I’m not yet fully bought in on the Packers. After being absolutely annihilated by the Saints in Week 1, they took a while to get going against the Lions and almost lost to the 49ers. They handily beat the Steelers this week, however. So, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. When Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback and fully locked in, it’s hard to bet against you.
5. Los Angeles Rams (3-1)
Last week, the Rams looked like clearly the best team in the NFL. This week, their elite defense looked a bit more like wet toilet paper. They had absolutely no answer for a Cardinals team that racked up over 200 yards both passing and rushing. Matt Stafford put up a valiant effort, but the game was far out of hand after Sony Michel’s fumble early in the second quarter. Luckily for the Rams, there’s still plenty of time to fix those mistakes and be the Super Bowl team so many expect them to be this year.
4. Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
The Cowboys have beaten two quality opponents in the Los Angeles Chargers and the Carolina Panthers. They also shellacked the Philadelphia Eagles last week on national television and almost took down the Buccaneers in Week 1. Dak Prescott is looking like a top contender for both Comeback Player of the Year and MVP. Against the Panthers, he was nearly perfect (14/22, 188 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions). Zeke also looked like Zeke, making this Cowboys team look virtually incomparable to the disappointing unit they trotted out in 2020.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1)
Tom Brady joined Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning as one of only four quarterbacks to beat all 32 teams in the NFL this week. It might be the only reunion he’ll ever get, as I can’t see the Patriots making it to the Super Bowl any time soon, and these teams won’t play each other for another four years. Then again, the way his career has been going, you can’t rule out the possibility of him playing until then. It wasn’t the cleanest game for Tampa, and Tom Brady didn’t play as well as Mac Jones, but a strong running game and a solid defense kept the Bucs on track.
2. Arizona Cardinals (4-0)
The Cardinals are the last undefeated team in the NFL and rightly so. They handily beat a Rams team many expect to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year. Two of their other three games were won by decisive margins, and they’ve shown they can sweat out the close ones too against the Vikings. Then again, the Cardinals are 3-1 right now if Greg Joseph hits that field goal. They were down two scores to the Jaguars late in the third quarter. I just need to see a little more consistency to put them at No. 1.
1. Buffalo Bills (3-1)
I know it’s weird to have a team that isn’t undefeated at the top of the rankings. But, I’ve been far more impressed with the Bills’ victories. Yeah, they lost a weird game to the Steelers in Week 1. But, I doubt that game goes that way again if they were to replay it. Since then, they’ve won their games by a combined score of 118-21. And that’s only because the Washington Football Team scored 21. The other two games were shutouts, one of which was on the road. I know the Dolphins and Texans are bad teams right now. But, winning by that margin in the NFL is impressive no matter who you’re playing.