NFL Power Rankings 2021: Which teams are legit contenders?

The NFL Power Rankings ask a lot of questions. The top tier of teams is easy to delineate. The worst teams are likewise easy to decipher. That’s why the group of eight PFN staffers creating the initial 2021 NFL Power Rankings pinched the rankings. As a group, we started at the top and quickly went to the bottom and worked our way back up. The theme of the conversations? Questions. A lot of these teams have different questions that need to be answered.

And please remember, we do not hate your favorite football team.

2021 NFL Power Rankings, Tier 4 | Flawed or rebuilding rosters

These teams all have flaws significant enough to make it a long shot for them to make the playoffs in 2021.

32) Houston Texans

There is not a lot to be positive about for the Houston Texans. Deshaun Watson played extremely well last season and still, the Texans struggled due to the lack of talent around him. With the future uncertain in terms of having Watson on the field in 2021, and the lack of improvement of the roster, this team looks destined to be among the worst in the NFL in 2021.

31) Detroit Lions

Sending Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles for Jared Goff and draft capital was a smart move. However, the Lions are now surrounding a quarterback with considerable questions with little in the way of game-breaking receiving talent. Even if Goff plays well, it is hard to see the Lions being a successful team this season. That is likely why they are the favorites for the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

In a strange way, Goff playing well in 2021 could actually be a problem for the Lions as it would raise doubts over whether they should invest a high draft pick in a new QB next year.

30) Jacksonville Jaguars

The Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville has got off to an unconvincing start. They hired a strength coach, who had to resign within two days, before signing Tim Tebow to play another new position, tight end. They did get Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft, so it is not all doom and gloom, but the early signs are concerning. Lawrence is going to have to play incredibly well to prevent this team from being among the worst in the league in 2021.

29) Philadelphia Eagles

Question marks all over the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster are the primary reason for their ranking at 29 overall. Can Jalen Hurts perform as the full-time starter? Can the Eagles’ offensive line stay healthy? Will the defense step up, with nothing more at linebacker and a lot of uncertainty in their secondary? Right now this team seems a long way from being one that can compete, even in an NFC East that has been among the worst divisions in football history over the past two years.

28) New York Jets

There is a lot to like about the post-Adam Gase New York Jets. Robert Saleh is an exciting replacement as head coach and there was a lot of excitement surrounding Joe Douglas when he took the job. He backed that up with the Jets having one of the best draft classes of 2021.

The key issue for the Jets revolves around their offensive line. With a rookie quarterback, the Jets need the line to improve across the board. If they can, then at least the offense could be competent. However, they also need Saleh to get to work with a defense that appears to have plenty of holes.

27) Carolina Panthers

There were promising signs early for the Carolina Panthers last season. In Matt Rhule, they have a head coach who has proven he can turn college programs in a short time period. Rhule took both Temple and Baylor from the doldrums when he took over to 10 and 11 win teams, respectively.

They chose to trade for Sam Darnold this offseason, as opposed to seeing whether a QB would drop into their lap in the 2021 NFL Draft. That decision could have huge ramifications for the Panthers. If Darnold struggles, the Panthers will be back at square one next offseason. However, if he thrives, then Carolina could be quickly back in the discussion as a contender.

26) Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta has a lot to prove in 2021. They have a new head coach, new general manager, and they just traded away one of the best wide receivers of all time in Julio Jones. New head coach Arthur Smith has been the mastermind of the revival of Ryan Tannehill‘s career and Atlanta will be hoping he can breathe new life into Matt Ryan.

The concerns for Atlanta can be found all over the field. The defense has continually underwhelmed, despite their previous head coach being defensive-minded. Offensively, they still have Calvin Ridley and added Kyle Pitts, but there are concerns about the offensive line and there is a lack of high-end options at running back.

25) Pittsburgh Steelers

Could 2021 be the season we see Mike Tomlin finally have a losing season as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers? The Steelers’ strong start to 2020 was somewhat deceiving based on a fragile schedule and those concerns manifested in a huge slide to end the season.

The pass-catching talent has the potential to be the most explosive in the league and Najee Harris is a mouth-watering prospect. The problem is that the Steelers have a fading force at QB in Ben Roethlisberger, protected by an offensive line that is extremely worrisome. Defensively, they should still be a strong unit, but the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton could prove to be pivotal.

24) Las Vegas Raiders

If I said I had any clue what the plan was in Las Vegas, I’d be lying. Too many decisions feel like I’ve spent all night building a backroll playing Texas Hold ‘Em before walking over to the roulette table and putting it all on the green.

The dismantling of 60% of the offensive line didn’t make sense when it happened and still doesn’t today. They surprised us with yet another head-scratching first-round pick and took three safeties in their next four picks. I’m astonished some think this team is a legitimate contender in 2021. If they do, I’ll admit that Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock are wizards.

23) Chicago Bears

Coming off a superb 2021 NFL Draft for the Bears, there is some optimism for the future. The short-term outlook is less clear. Matt Nagy appears committed to starting Andy Dalton ahead of Justin Fields, regardless of how good Fields looks ahead of the season.

They added Teven Jenkins to upgrade their offensive line, but then let Charles Leno Jr. leave, which could have a big impact. The defense should be strong, but whether the offense will score enough points to give them a chance is a serious concern.

22) Cincinnati Bengals

Listen, I believe the Bengals should have drafted Penei Sewell to protect Joe Burrow. However, drafting a player your quarterback threw 20 touchdowns to in one college season won’t have me on the streets with a torch and pitchfork. The Bengals are in a weird spot where the AFC North is an outstanding division, and there are still holes to fill on the roster. Yet, they have enough talent to remain competitive for the 2021 NFL season.

21) New York Giants

This will be a crutch season for the New York Giants in many ways. Next offseason will see decisions needing to be made on the infuriatingly inconsistent Daniel Jones, while Dave Gettleman’s job also seems to hang in the balance. The franchise invested heavily this offseason and traded back in the 2021 NFL Draft, picking up an extra first-round pick in 2022.

There is a lot to be excited about on this roster, but they need to get Jones playing with consistency if that is to count for anything. If he cannot, then the Giants may have to look to start again at the QB position next offseason.

20) Denver Broncos

The Broncos have one of my favorite rosters in the entire league. They’re stout in the trenches, have an above-average receiving corps, two over-achieving linebackers plus Hall of Famer Von Miller, and quite possibly the most intriguing secondary in the NFL. So why are they 20th in the initial 2021 NFL Power Rankings? Ding ding ding! That’d be Drew Lock.

This isn’t to discount the opportunity for growth at the position. Rather, it is an acknowledgment of what we’ve seen to this point. Not drafting Fields was a decision. Either they have confidence in Lock, or they have something big up their sleeve. The addition of Teddy Bridgewater could push Lock toward improvement. At least, I’m sure that’s their hope for the move.

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