NFL Power Rankings: Here is why we are all-in on the Buffalo Bills

Through two weeks of preseason action, our 2021 NFL Power Rankings have seen a minor shakeup at the bottom of the list. Who fell, and why?

2021 NFL Power Rankings, Tier 3 | “It’s Time to Play the Game”

Most teams enter every NFL season with question marks at least at one position. These teams in this tier just want to play The Game so bad that I’m surprised they’ve been able to hold their water like Triple H. Injury concerns, offseason criticism, position battles, unfair scrutiny are just some of the terms these teams have been marred with. For these teams, it’s just Time to Play the Game.

19) Indianapolis Colts

No one wants to play the regular-season games more than the Colts. That means they likely have the services of starting QB Carson Wentz and potentially All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson. This team is poised to do big things potentially but will be dependent on a quarterback who lost faith in his fan base after just five seasons.

There are pieces in place for Indy that resemble a well-rounded team, including a potential Pro Bowl running back and multiple All-Pro caliber offensive linemen. The defense is still a bit in question with a questionable pass rush and an aging coverage unit. This year may be the year for head coach Frank Reich to turn a corner — they’ll just have to play the game.

18) Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Herbert will likely see a bit of a sophomore slump in 2021. It’s also likely that Herbert’s “slump year” is still among the league’s best from any quarterback this season. This team, like basically every other year of late, is reliant upon the health of major players.

Can the offensive line stay healthy and live up to their lofty offseason expectations? They probably won’t be any worse than last year’s unit.

Can Derwin James stay healthy? History is not on his side in this one. When healthy, however, he’s the best safety in the NFL, and as the kids say, “it isn’t even close.” Keep an eye on rookie Asante Samuel Jr. for a big year.

17) New Orleans Saints

Who will start at quarterback for the Saints in 2021? Odds are looking like it’s Taysom Hill for Week 1, but that’s likely a mistake. I know it seems weird to question a potential decision of a Super Bowl-winning coach. Yet, the decision to start Hill seems more rooted in a contract than it does in the level of play on the field.

Jameis Winston isn’t the athlete Hill is, but he’s closer to that than Hill is close to Winston’s ability to throw the ball. The NFL is a passing league, and as close as this Saints team may be to competing, they’ll be held back by an athletic quarterback who likely can’t sustain drives with just his arm. And for that, we’ll wait to move them any higher than in the bottom half of our 2021 NFL Power Rankings.

16) New England Patriots

The drama between Cam Newton versus Mac Jones will follow this team until the eventual departure of one of them. We thought we’d get some clarity on the situation once they started playing games this preseason. However, both quarterbacks have looked sharp.

Newton has displayed a touch on the ball we haven’t seen of late, especially not in 2020. Jones has also looked good and has shown an ability to adjust quickly to NFL defenses. Making matters worse for the rest of the AFC East not named Buffalo, the Patriots opt-outs from 2020 are also returning alongside a fabulous cast of free agents on defense.

15) Miami Dolphins

The offseason proved almost too much for even the most diehard Dolphins fan this year. Miami fans were ushered to pick sides — for or against Tua Tagovailoa, then for or against Xavien Howard’s new contract update — it’s just time to play the game.

When the game went on, Tua proved you should be for him, big time. In an impressive preseason performance, Tua hit 16-of-23 passes for 183 yards and 1 touchdown that warranted a jump up in the 2021 NFL Power Rankings. Jaylen Waddle also survived a scary potential injury moment, and for the time being, this team is healthy heading into the regular season.

With Tua playing well at quarterback, this is absolutely a playoff team in 2021.

14) Minnesota Vikings

If you were to judge a team by their preseason performance too much, the Vikings would absolutely slide down. What does make them an exciting unit entering 2021 is their defense. Danielle Hunter’s return to action is paired with what could be one of the most dominant defensive lines in the league. Patrick Peterson’s arrival to the secondary helps lessen the loss of former first-round pick Jeff Gladney.

This is all without mentioning that Dalvin Cook hasn’t played this preseason, and Justin Jefferson escaped major injury to his shoulder in camp. The sum of all parts here could warrant an even higher ranking on our NFL Power Rankings once the games begin.

13) Arizona Cardinals

There may not be a secondary in football that will keep up with the Cardinals’ aerial assault in 2021. Kyler Murray has a stable of receivers at his disposal and a Hall of Fame center in Rodney Hudson. J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler, and A.J. Green are valuable additions to a team needing veteran leadership.

Their young defensive corps may be one of the best up-and-coming defenses in a while after some impressive debuts this preseason. All the talk over their offseason acquisitions, Arizona just needs to play the games to show us who they actually are this season.

12) Washington Football Team

The NFL’s top pass-rushing unit and top defensive line as a whole belong to Washington. Chase Young could easily win Defensive Player of the Year this season, while first-round LB Jamin Davis could just as easily win Defensive Rookie of the Year. William Jackson III’s arrival in the secondary shores up a loose end in the secondary.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, however, has lost to 28 different NFL teams as a starting quarterback and could get that number up to a historic 31 teams this season. He’s at best a stopgap until they find a long-term answer at the position. Nonetheless, the biggest question will be — how many magic moments can Fitzmagic pull off in 2021? It may take a few more than last year to rise any higher on our NFL Power Rankings.

11) San Francisco 49ers

Will he or won’t he? Will head coach Kyle Shanahan play Trey Lance earlier than it has been led on that he will? Or will he let Lance sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo for longer than we’re all expecting? Again, we just need to play the games to know who this team actually is going to be in 2021.

The 49ers are a well-stacked team from a talent perspective; they just need an answer at quarterback. Garoppolo can carry this team, but Lance brings a “ceiling to elevate” this team. That will hinder this team as there is a chance fans turn against them quickly if things aren’t going well. How will they handle that potential adversity? We just need to play the games to find out.

Tier 2 | “Oh, You Didn’t Know?”

Tier 2 are teams you know but don’t quite think of as the best until you hear the famous “oh, you didn’t know, your _ _ _ better caaaaall soooomeboooody'” ring out over the Jumbotron. Like Billy Gunn and Road Dogg, these are teams that can absolutely win any matchup they’re put in. After the season shakes out, if these tiered teams won their division and even a King of the Ring tag-team tournament, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. You didn’t know?

10) Dallas Cowboys

Oh, you didn’t know is more of a rhetorical question here for the Cowboys, much like head coach Mike McCarthy is forced to answer about Dak Prescott at every turn. Prescott’s health is big business for not only “America’s Team” but for the rest of the NFL. Lest we all forget, prior to injury a year ago, no one had lit up NFL defenses in some time like Prescott was. Their trio is perhaps the best in the league — that’s without mentioning Cedrick Wilson and rookie Simi Fehoko.

Micah Parsons has shown what he can do in limited preseason time, and the defense in Big D is absolutely better for it. Still, they’re uber-dependent on their quarterback to move up from where they are in our 2021 NFL Power Rankings.

9) Tennessee Titans

Oh, you didn’t know the Titans are more than just a smash-mouth offense? Derrick Henry could topple 2,000 yards for the third straight season, but Ryan Tannehill has been dominant since changing scenery. Take Julio Jones’ impact on this offense, and you’ve got one of the league’s best offenses.

Jeffery Simmons is an ascending talent, and their additions on defense this offseason should pay dividends for advancing further in the playoffs.

8) Seattle Seahawks

Oh, you didn’t know the Seahawks were 12-4 a season ago and among the best teams in the league? Or did you just get too comfortable with them essentially “always being good?” Russell Wilson will always allow this team to contend, especially with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett as his go-to guys.

The contract controversy that followed Jamal Adams is finally behind them so the defense can move on. That is perhaps the best news of the preseason for Seattle fans.

7) Los Angeles Rams

Oh, you didn’t know that it’s rare to upgrade your quarterback position from a former first overall pick to another former first overall pick? That’s just what the Rams have done this offseason. Matthew Stafford is absolutely an upgrade for the Rams in Sean McVay’s offense, as they have the pieces to potentially make a run at the NFC Championship this season.

Stafford being without second-year RB Cam Akers is a big blow, but Darrell Henderson is more than ready to carry the load. They’ve brought in speedsters for Stafford to utilize in the vertical passing game with Tutu Atwell and DeSean Jackson. And this is all to not say much about the NFL’s best cornerback in Jalen Ramsey and the best defensive tackle ever in Aaron Donald.

6) Baltimore Ravens

Oh, you didn’t know Lamar Jackson could lead a successful offense? You should know now. The rest of the AFC should know that now. Say what you will about his downfield passing, Jackson can run an offense tailored to him with ease. Health will be a big concern with his receiving corps this season after injuries sustained this preseason and in training camp.

What won’t be a question for Baltimore, however, is their defense. Patrick Queen is on the verge of stardom, while Justin Houston and Calais Campbell have almost 200 sacks between the two of them in their illustrious careers. It’s a talented team that could win most divisions across the league but happens to play in the league’s toughest division in 2021.

5) Cleveland Browns

Oh, you didn’t know Baker Mayfield’s “height issues” wouldn’t be a concern this season? Lazy 2018 NFL Draft scouts aside, Mayfield has proven to be one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, but he pales into a comparison of the league’s best RB duo that he shares a backfield with.

Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb present the new-age version of a thunder-and-lightning combo as they both present thunder AND lightning. It also helps that the offensive line is arguably the league’s best, and they’ve made enough moves on the defensive side this offseason to warrant a top-five spot in these NFL Power Rankings.

Tier 1 | “You Can’t See Them”

These teams are so stacked they’re the John Cena arms of the NFL. And like Cena’s presence in the ring, these teams are the best at what they do for 2021. In fact, they’re waving their hands in front of their faces saying “You Can’t See Me” to the 28 other teams in the NFL.

4) Green Bay Packers

As long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback, the Packers will be the clear-cut second-best team in the NFC. Add Randall Cobb back into the mix, and this offense looks as scary as ever. They’ll have to answer the question that remains after Corey Linsley’s departure but again, with Rodgers at quarterback, it won’t matter too much.

They have an easy road this season, and they’re playing their version of The Last Dance, making them an even more dangerous team in 2021.

3) Buffalo Bills

If you are to buy into any sort of hype or reaction from a preseason performance, you can absolutely buy into the constants. For the Bills, it’s the coaching from Sean McDermott. In Week 2 of the preseason, the Bears were completely outcoached (and outplayed) by the Bills and McDermott.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll clearly found a weakness in the Bears’ defense, and they continued to exploit it repeatedly with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. The Bills also forged through their preseason action with few coachable penalties like illegal formations, lining up offsides, delay of game, or false starts. All of this proves that McDermott has his team ready to make noise and further themselves from the pack.

(I went an entire writeup of the Bills without mentioning Josh Allen, yay.)

2) Kansas City Chiefs

No, defenses have not figured out Patrick Mahomes. Not even close. You know how I know that? Because Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes haven’t even figured out Patrick Mahomes.

The Chiefs are clearly the cream of the crop in the AFC, even with the Bills closing in on them in our 2021 NFL Power Rankings. The only thing Mahomes will have to prove is that he isn’t too big for his own stature as the season progresses.

1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When the greatest of all time at the most important position in team sports returns for his 120th season and eleventy billionth game, you rank that team No. 1. The Bucs also famously return all 22 starters from their Super Bowl-winning team a year ago. That’s an impressive feat, but they potentially got even better this offseason.

The additions of Jaelon Darden, Giovani Bernard, and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka shore up depth as well as gives Tampa playmakers at each of their positions for 2021. They’ll hold on to the top spot in our NFL Power Rankings even with a handful of losses to start the year because we all saw how that went for the rest of the NFL last year.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of NFL News/Analysis for Pro Football Network. He is also the co-host of Between the Hashes, a college football and NFL draft podcast. You can find his writing here. Follow him on Twitter @CamMellor.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.


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