The 2021 NFL season began with a back-and-forth Thursday shootout between the Cowboys and defending champion Buccaneers capped off by a Tom Brady game-winning drive, and it concluded with a wild Monday night finish with the Raiders stunning the Ravens in electric fashion.
Suffice it to say, opening week delivered big-time thanks to those two games and everything in between.
Both the AFC West and NFC West went 4-0 while the NFC North had a winless weekend, and the Texans, Eagles and Dolphins all unexpectedly sit alone atop their respective divisions after Week 1.
There were a handful of significant injuries that leave some teams shorthanded already. Washington QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (hip subluxation), Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy (high-ankle sprain), Jets OT Mekhi Becton (dislocated kneecap), Lions CB Jeff Okudah (ruptured Achilles), 49ers CB Jason Verrett (knee) and RB Raheem Mostert (knee) – just to name a few – are all expected to miss either the rest of the season or multiple weeks.
With the first 16 games in the books and 256 more to go, here’s a power ranking of all 32 teams, grouped into tiers based on performance and potential so far.
THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)
3. Los Angeles Rams (1-0)
4. Seattle Seahawks (1-0)
5. Cleveland Browns (0-1)
6. San Francisco 49ers (1-0)
No surprises here. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers looked like the reigning champs, while the Chiefs are still the front-runner to meet them in February.
The NFC West? Yup, it's still definitely the best -- and looking better than ever. Sean McVay's got his guy in Matt Stafford, Russell Wilson has some big weapons in Seattle, and the 49ers are (mostly) healthy. Can the Cardinals join them in the top tier soon?
The only team from this top group of contenders to lose in Week 1 was Cleveland, who were reminded just how minuscule the margin of error is against the Chiefs. Our first glimpse of their renovated defence confirms their billing as one of the most complete teams in the league, while their elite offensive line allowed Baker Mayfield and his arsenal of weapons to not just keep pace but outpace the Chiefs through most of Sunday's matchup. It feels promising that the Browns' losses will be few and far between. – Sadler
— PFF (@PFF) September 14, 2021
DON'T OVERREACT, WE NEED TO SEE MORE:
7. New Orleans Saints (1-0)
8. Arizona Cardinals (1-0)
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)
10. Buffalo Bills (0-1)
11. Tennessee Titans (0-1)
12. Baltimore Ravens (0-1)
We’ll give Baltimore a couple more weeks before we hover our hand over the panic button as they adjust to losing several key starters to injury late last week.
The Steelers shut down the Bills thanks to an elite defence yet the Pittsburgh offensive line continued to struggle. Will that be their undoing again this season? The Bills and Titans should be able to rebound following humbling losses. Both face tough Week 2 road challenges.
Two teams flying slightly under the radar in the NFC heading into the season were the Saints and Cardinals and they might’ve had the two most encouraging outings of the week. Kyler Murray and Jameis Winston both produced five touchdowns in message-sending performances. The Cardinals play in the league’s toughest division and Winston has to keep proving the Saints have helped him quell his mental errors, so take the wins with a grain of salt.
Still, Murray looked like a video game character and Winston looked like...well, he looked...what did he look like? He looked prepared. – Johnston
AARON, YOU OK BUDDY?
13. Green Bay Packers (0-1)
After the strange saga that was Green Bay's off-season, we were all expecting a big statement to start Aaron Rodgers' (likely) swan song with the Packers.
Just... not that statement.
Against the Saints on Sunday, Rodgers recorded his Worst. Game. Ever. The reigning MVP completed just 15 of 28 pass attempts for 133 yards and no touchdowns while tossing a pair of interceptions. The embarrassing performance had the Jeopardy! jokes flying and led to a fourth-quarter appearance by Jordan Love. That the 38-3 loss came opposite Jameis Winston made the scene all the more shocking.
Surely, things will get better in Green Bay (Rodgers may as well have told us to R-E-L-A-X post-game), but for now we'll let our over-reactions remain until Monday night’s divisional matchup against Detroit kicks off. – Sadler
NOT PERFECT BUT PLENTY TO BUILD ON:
14. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0)
15. Dallas Cowboys (0-1)
16. Miami Dolphins (1-0)
17. Denver Broncos (1-0)
18. New England Patriots (0-1)
19. Las Vegas Raiders (1-0)
20. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)
There’s plenty of promise in this mushy middle of the rankings. The Cowboys need to answer some questions on defence, while the Broncos and Eagles need stiffer tests to determine where their ceilings might be.
AFC East rivals Miami and New England were as closely matched as two teams can be in a battle of former Alabama QBs. Both of those teams have quality defences and coaching staffs you can put your faith in.
There were no signs of sophomore slumps for Eagles QB Jalen Hurts or the Chargers’ Justin Herbert, both of whom led their teams to underdog road wins. Brandon Staley (LAC) and Nick Sirianni (PHI) appear to be early Coach of the Year candidates, to boot. Credit to Jon Gruden for his bold overtime call that has the Raiders off to a positive start. – Johnston
THEY'VE STILL GOT SOME WORK TO DO:
21. Indianapolis Colts (0-1)
22. Washington Football Team (0-1)
23. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)
24. Minnesota Vikings (0-1)
25. Carolina Panthers (1-0)
26. Chicago Bears (0-1)
27. New York Giants (0-1)
We've got questions. More specifically, quarterback questions. With the exception of the Bengals and (mostly) Minnesota, who treated us to an overtime thriller on Sunday, every club in this group has some uncertainty under centre. Washington's defence alone should have the Football Team ranked higher, but the offence will have to prove itself in the coming weeks with veteran leader Ryan Fitzpatrick now on IR and the largely unproven Taylor Heinicke taking over.
And then there are the comebacks: The jury's still out on whether Carson Wentz can succeed in Indianapolis, and the same can be said of Sam Darnold in Carolina. He got some sweet revenge against his old Jets on Sunday, but Week 2's meeting with the Saints will show us more about what we can expect there.
We can still hear Sunday's chants of Bears fans calling for rookie Justin Fields, while we... uh, well, we might need to bleep out some of the shouts sounding from New York after another flawed outing from Daniel Jones. We may already have our answer there. – Sadler
WE OWE THEM AN APOLOGY:
28. Houston Texans (1-0)
Despite all the off-field distractions with Deshaun Watson, the questionable off-season roster decisions and basement-dwelling expectations, the Texans actually looked like a relatively competent football team in Week 1. Tyrod Taylor has proven success as a starter, the same goes for their running backs, and the locker room seems keen on playing hard for new coach David Culley.
The consensus worst team was not that in Week 1. Sorry, Houston. – Johnston
LOOKS LIKE IT COULD BE ANOTHER LONG SEASON:
29. Detroit Lions (0-1)
30. Atlanta Falcons (0-1)
31. New York Jets (0-1)
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)
Credit to the Lions for their valiant comeback effort against the 49ers (and for helping underdog bettors with a crazy backdoor cover) but don’t get your hopes up even in a weak NFC North.
The Falcons looked reasonably competent for about two drives before momentum ground to a halt. The red zone offence is brutal and Matt Ryan is going to get sacked non-stop this season, something Zach Wilson will be able to relate to with the Jets now that his left tackle is out.
Dear Urban Meyer, please don’t ruin Trevor Lawrence’s potential. – Johnston