The NFL season is over, but the NFL Power Rankings never sleep, even in the absence of football. It’s essential to get a feel for the outlook of all 32 franchises before free agency and the NFL Draft. Which teams are in a good or bad position before we head into the meat of the NFL offseason?
Way Too Early NFL Power Rankings: Tier 5 | Rebuilding or floundering
The Tier 5 teams are either rebuilding or trying to convince themselves they don’t have to.
32) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a raging dumpster fire. Shad Khan’s unwillingness to part ways with general manager Trent Baalke sparked a full-out fan revolt against the team’s owner. They even went as far as to dress like clowns for Jacksonville’s final home game.
Doug Pederson should help with Trevor Lawrence’s progression as an NFL QB. However, there are several questions about the organization, and the roster needs a rebuild to be competitive again. They have over $55 million in salary cap space to spend, should they choose to.
31) Houston Texans
The Texans might be even more dysfunctional than the Jaguars. David Culley miraculously won four games with a roster that we thought might struggle to win one. But after just one season with a subpar roster, the organization cut Culley. We won’t get into the ridiculousness of their head coaching search.
Despite being generally terrible, the Texans still don’t have a ton of room to operate with in terms of cap space. They rank just 15th in the league with slightly less than $20 million available. They have questions at nearly every spot on the roster, and we’ve yet to see any specific direction from this team since Bill O’Brien left.
30) New York Jets
The Jets are one of the youngest teams in the NFL. It wouldn’t hurt for the front office to go outside of the organization in free agency to fill a few leadership roles. They have $44 million to work with and a lot of holes to fill on the roster, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
The problem is they must also do everything in their power to protect their second-year quarterback. That means not only adding help on the offensive line but also revamping their weapons. They’ll find themselves low in the NFL Power Rankings until they can do that.
29) Detroit Lions
The Lions appear to be one of the basement-dwelling teams from 2021 that could be on the upswing moving forward. Dan Campbell somehow propelled a hilariously underwhelming group of offensive weapons to a three-win season. But the victories themselves weren’t the most impressive part.
Detroit played in a ton of close games throughout the season. Six of the Lions’ 13 losses were one-score contests. Detroit also won three of its last seven games. Although they only have about $21 million in salary cap space, they have five picks in the top 100 and 10 total selections.
28) New Orleans Saints
The Saints are a complete unknown heading into the 2022 campaign. They’re currently $60 million in salary cap debt, and their head coach of 15 years just up and walked away from the game. They don’t have a quarterback at the moment, and they’ll probably lose multiple vital contributors on defense.
Their offensive line is struggling to stay healthy, and there doesn’t seem to be money in the budget to retain Terron Armstead. Michael Thomas is a complete wild card moving forward, and the rest of the receiving corps is underwhelming at best.
27) Carolina Panthers
Matt Rhule and the Panthers’ front office have made their fair share of mistakes thus far in his tenure. Trading assets for Sam Darnold was a big mistake, especially given the 2021 QB draft class. The second mistake was making ex-offensive coordinator Joe Brady the fall guy, especially when one of the biggest reasons for his firing was that the Panthers weren’t running the ball enough. Third, Rhule admitted they didn’t draft Rashawn Slater because of his arm length.
Drafting Jaycee Horn wasn’t a mistake, but admitting to an antiquated arm length threshold was a bad look. No quarterback or running back will prosper behind the current iteration of the Panthers’ OL. And with only $18 million in spending money this March, I struggle to see how they’ll improve there or in the NFL Power Rankings.
26) New York Giants
As of mid-February, nobody has had a better offseason than the New York Football Giants. If there wasn’t an incredible retirement party thrown for former general manager Dave Gettleman, there should have been. They also did the right thing by relieving Joe Judge of his duties.
Why? Well, forcing a general manager into a head coach that ownership wants is a bad start to a professional relationship. After defensive coordinator Patrick Graham decided to move on, New York hired Joe Schoen, Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and Wink Martindale. That’s an incredible staff, and it came together incredibly fast. For the first time in a long time, the Giants look to be headed in the right direction.
25) Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were an outlier in 2021. They were legitimately terrible on both sides of the ball, yet somehow snuck their way into a seven-win season. For reference, they had a worse point differential than the three-win Detroit Lions. They finished with the 30th-ranked DVOA (Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric).
Kyle Pitts appears headed for superstardom, but the rest of the roster needs work. Aside from A.J. Terrell and Grady Jarrett, the defense struggles. Losing Calvin Ridley was a blow to the offense, and the offensive line is below-average in spite of the significant draft resources Atlanta’s front office has expended on the unit.
The organization needs to be patient with Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot because there is still a lot of work to do on this roster.
24) Chicago Bears
Matt Eberflus is an excellent defensive coordinator, but it was a bit surprising to see the Bears hire him as their next head coach. Ryan Poles takes over as general manager, and he has his work cut out for him. The Bears’ offensive line struggled in 2021, and the defense has lost some talent over the past few years.
Justin Fields flashed some special traits as a passer and runner. However, the offense is set to lose Allen Robinson, leaving only Darnell Mooney as a legitimate receiving threat. With no first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, it’ll be difficult to address the line and receiver positions in the offseason.
23) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers’ 2021 season doesn’t make sense. They somehow made the playoffs despite posting inefficient numbers in all three phases. Their weighted DVOA ranked 26th in the NFL. Yet, Mike Tomlin somehow led this team to its 16th straight season of .500 or better.
Their immediate future looks bleak. They don’t have a viable option at quarterback. Their offensive line is a trainwreck, and the defense is held together only by their incredible pass rush. Even Minkah Fitzpatrick had his struggles in 2021.
If the Steelers attack the offensive line in free agency and hit on a QB in the draft, they’ll pick up right where they left off. But for now, 2022 looks like it could be the one to break Tomlin’s streak.
Way Too Early NFL Power Rankings: Tier 4 | Not far away
The three teams in Tier 4 aren’t that far away. With a few adjustments, they could all be playoff teams in 2022.
22) Washington Commanders
We were all guilty of overestimating the Washington defense in 2021. With names like Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and Jonathan Allen, it should have been a dominant unit. They even improved at cornerback on paper with the addition of William Jackson III. Kamren Curl was a great hit in the draft.
But things turned sour for Washington, leading to a physical altercation between Allen and Da’Ron Payne, who were college teammates at Alabama. They finished 29th in expected points added (EPA) per play allowed on defense. The Washington defense couldn’t get to the passer, and they couldn’t defend the ball in the air.
21) Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are in a precarious position heading into 2022. The Lions and Bears aren’t competitors yet, and the Packers’ future is on hold awaiting a decision from Aaron Rodgers.
Meanwhile, the Vikings are under new management. They hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as general manager and Kevin O’Connell as their next head coach. The team isn’t talented enough to truly compete for a championship, but if Rodgers walks, there isn’t much keeping Minnesota from the playoffs.
They’re also dangerously over the cap, which could be managed through a Kirk Cousins restructure. But the staff would need to want him around past 2022 for that to make sense. Until there’s more clarity, it’s difficult to have Minnesota any higher in the NFL Power Rankings.
20) Miami Dolphins
It’s been a tumultuous 20+ years for the Miami Dolphins. But the past few months have been a real doozy. They fired a successful head coach in Brian Flores, who then decided to sue the NFL. He accused them of trying to pay him to tank in 2019. They’ve watched Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert run laps on Tua Tagovailoa.
But they also made a head coaching hire that was almost universally loved in Mike McDaniel. The hope is for McDaniel to cultivate an offensive environment that suits Tua and the talent around him. I’d expect Jaylen Waddle to become an even bigger focal point in the offense, which is a great thing.
Way Too Early NFL Power Rankings: Tier 3 | No man’s land
These teams have good rosters that could compete for the playoffs. However, there are some unknowns with a few clubs in this group, and a lot hinges on the quarterbacks of each franchise.
19) Denver Broncos
The Broncos are so close. They have control of four solid playmakers at receiver, another two at tight end, and one great running back. They have a star in Patrick Surtain II and one of the best free safeties in the NFL. Denver simply can’t figure out the quarterback position. They gave up on Drew Lock and rolled with Teddy Bridgewater for most of the season.
Now, if they make a move and somehow acquire Rodgers, we’re looking at a Super Bowl-caliber roster, even in a tough AFC West. Denver doesn’t deserve to see a great roster foiled by subpar quarterback play. If they can figure that out, they pose a serious threat in the AFC.
18) Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders overachieved in the face of turmoil for the entire 2021 NFL season. Derek Carr is good enough to keep the Raiders competitive, and Josh McDaniels could be the right fit to find some offensive consistency.
But their defensive makeup needs reimagining. Maxx Crosby and Trevon Moehrig are foundational pieces, and Nate Hobbs looks good in the slot. Aside from those three, there aren’t any building blocks. Las Vegas also needs to replace Henry Ruggs’ speed on the outside. They sorely missed that vertical threat.
17) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks will most likely rise as the season creeps closer. However, it’s difficult to properly place Seattle until we know for sure the fate of franchise QB Russell Wilson. Reports indicate that he’s staying, but until the rumor dies completely, there will be at least some mystery.
The Seahawks need a difference-making pass rusher. There are a few in the free agency market they could look at. They also have nearly $35 million in salary cap space to work with.
16) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles need another outside receiving threat. I’d expect prospects like Treylon Burks and Drake London to be in consideration midway through Round 1, where the Eagles have three draft picks. The Eagles don’t have a mass of salary cap space to work with, but they have a golden opportunity to acquire multiple building blocks in the draft. That also gives them an excellent chance to rise in the NFL Power Rankings.
What anybody outside of the organization thinks of Jalen Hurts is irrelevant. He’s inexpensive and he can find ways to win football games. His rushing ability is an added layer, and a second good receiver will only help in his development. Philadelphia’s offensive line is great, and they have some solid veterans on the defensive front. If they can find better linebacker play, this defense could surprise people in 2022.
15) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers should probably be lower at this point, but I’m curious to see what they’re able to do at quarterback. The roster is still rock solid, even if they’re unable to retain Chris Godwin. The absence of a quarterback is significant, but Tampa Bay has great players up and down their roster.
Tom Brady retired still playing at an incredible level, so this won’t be as “easy” as trying to replace a heavily washed Peyton Manning. Heck, many believed that Brady deserved the MVP over Rodgers. However, because of their team success, the Bucs don’t have great draft capital, and they’re just barely in the black in terms of the cap. So it’ll be nearly impossible to improve in 2021.
14) Green Bay Packers
If Rodgers returns, the Packers are a top-seven team. If he retires or is traded, they’re a bottom-tier team in the worst division in football. That’s how much Rodgers means to Green Bay. Being $50 million over the cap isn’t ideal, either.
There are many questions to be answered by the Packers this offseason. Until they are, it’s easier to keep them toward the middle of the pack. It won’t be easy to become cap compliant, but they can do it with a few anticipated moves. Retaining Davante Adams will be key.