The 2021 NFL Draft is officially in the books, which means it’s time for the first edition of my NFL Power Ratings for the upcoming season. I’ll be updating my ratings every week once the season starts, and I’ll have an update or two during the preseason based on injuries and performance in August.
My power ratings are designed to be a starting point for point-spread betting between two teams. They take into account recent performances, long-term injuries, coaching, and strength of schedule. These ratings are intended to help predict performances in the present, but they’re not necessarily predictive for the rest of the season. I will take my Power Ratings into account when I make my weekly against the spread picks for the week, but I’ll also consider current injury reports, home-field advantage, weather, and other factors that may be relevant.
Example: My top-rated team, the Chiefs (7.5), would be 13.5-point favorites on a neutral field over my worst-rated team, the Texans (-6). Using a typical three-point adjustment for home-field advantage, the Chiefs would be 16.5-point favorites over the Texans at home and 10.5-point favorites over the Texans on the road.
|Rank||Team||Power Rating||2020 Record (ATS)||Final 2020 Regular Season Rating||Super Bowl LVI Odds|
|1.||Kansas City Chiefs||7.5||14-2 (7-9)||8.5||+525|
|2.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||7||11-5 (9-7)||6||+650|
|3.||Buffalo Bills||6||13-3 (11-5)||7.5||+1400|
|4.||Baltimore Ravens||5.5||11-5 (10-6)||7||+1500|
|5.||Los Angeles Rams||5||10-6 (9-7)||3||+1300|
|6.||Cleveland Browns||4.5||11-5 (6-10)||3||+1600|
|7.||Green Bay Packers||4||13-3 (10-6)||7||+1700|
|8.||San Francisco 49ers||3.5||6-10 (7-9)||0||+1400|
|9.||Seattle Seahawks||3||12-4 (8-8)||4.5||+2500|
|10.||New Orleans Saints||2.5||12-4 (9-7)||6.5||+2800|
|11.||Indianapolis Colts||2||11-5 (8-8)||4||+2800|
|12.||Minnesota Vikings||2||7-9 (6-10)||-1||+3300|
|13.||Miami Dolphins||2||10-6 (11-5)||.5||+2800|
|14.||Los Angeles Chargers||1.5||7-9 (9-7)||-.5||+3300|
|15.||Tennessee Titans||1.5||11-5 (7-9)||3.5||+4000|
|16.||Pittsburgh Steelers||1||12-4 (10-6)||4||+4000|
|17.||New England Patriots||1||7-9 (7-9)||-2||+2800|
|19.||Dallas Cowboys||.5||6-10 (5-11)||-2.5||+2500|
|20.||Arizona Cardinals||0||8-8 (7-9)||1||+4000|
|21.||Denver Broncos||-.5||5-11 (9-7)||-3||+2200|
|22.||New York Giants||-.5||6-10 (9-7)||-2.5||+6600|
|23.||Atlanta Falcons||-1||4-12 (7-9)||-.5||+5000|
|24.||Chicago Bears||-1||8-8 (8-8)||1||+5000|
|25.||Las Vegas Raiders||-1.5||8-8 (8-8)||-1||+6600|
|26.||Carolina Panthers||-2||5-11 (9-7)||-.5||+6600|
|27.||Philadelphia Eagles||-2.5||4-11-1 (6-10)||-2||+6600|
|28.||Cincinnati Bengals||-2.5||4-11-1 (9-7)||-6||+10000|
|29.||Jacksonville Jaguars||-3||1-15 (7-9)||-7.5||+8000|
|30.||New York Jets||-3||2-14 (5-11)||-5.5||+10000|
|31.||Detroit Lions||-4||5-11 (7-9)||-5||+15000|
|32.||Houston Texans||-6||4-12 (6-10)||-3||+17500|
INITIAL POWER RATINGS OBSERVATIONS
Super Bowl Favorites
Chiefs (7.5), Buccaneers (7), Bills (6), Ravens (5.5), Rams (5), Browns (4.5), Packers (4)
The Super Bowl LV representatives will start the 2021 season as the top contenders in their respective conferences. After the Buccaneers exposed their makeshift line in the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs retooled their offensive line this off-season by bringing in players like Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, and Kyle Long. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did no such retooling this off-season as they became the first team to retain all 22 starters from their Super Bowl victory during the salary cap era, which began in 1994.
The Buffalo Bills lead a pack of three teams chasing the Chiefs at the top of the AFC. The Bills are built to be AFC championship contenders for years to come with their current roster, but they have to get to Patrick Mahomes like the Buccaneers were able to do in the Super Bowl. It wasn’t surprising the Bills spent picks on a pair of EDGE rushers (Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham) with their first two picks in the draft with Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison getting long in the tooth.
The Baltimore Ravens are looking to expand their passing game this season to keep up with the Chiefs at the top of the AFC. They drafted Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace to go along with free-agent signee Sammy Watkins. The Cleveland Browns suddenly have one of the most well-rounded rosters outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, filling major defensive needs by drafting top-25 prospects in CB Greg Newsome and LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and signing S John Johnson, slot CB Troy Hill, and DL Jadeveon Clowney.
The second tier of the NFC is a little more wide open with the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers will try to mend the situation and they don’t seem to be in much hurry to trade away their star quarterback. If Rodgers would begrudgingly return, it’s difficult to see a disinterested Rodgers matching his level of play from 2020 when a pissed-off Rodgers took the Packers to the NFC Championship Game while winning the MVP. The Los Angeles Rams have the starting lineup to challenge any team in the league after landing Matthew Stafford, but we’ll see if their depth is tested at any point in 2021.
Super Bowl Contenders
49ers (3.5), Seahawks (3), Saints (2.5), Colts (2), Vikings (2), Dolphins (2)
Sportsbooks are certainly bullish about the San Francisco 49ers, as they’re tied with the Bills as the fourth favorites to win the Super Bowl. The 49ers are getting a pass for last season after they easily paced the league with 326 games missed because of injury in 2020, and they’re hoping the raw Trey Lance can get them over the hump. The Seattle Seahawks will try to hold off a loaded NFC West after their offense faded hard down the stretch in 2020. Russell Wilson butted heads with Pete Carroll and the coaching staff over the direction of the offense, and they had just three picks in the draft after acquiring Jamal Adams, Carlos Dunlap, and Gabe Jackson over the last year.
The New Orleans Saints’ window to win the Super Bowl may have closed after last season with Drew Brees leading a slew of departures. Sean Payton and his coaching staff should never be underestimated, and there’s a chance the offense could be more dynamic with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill running the show. The Indianapolis Colts will also be breaking in a new quarterback this season. The Colts could easily make a leap to the next tier this season if (and it’s a big if) Carson Wentz can find his old form playing with his old Eagles OC Frank Reich. If Wentz can drastically improve, the Colts have accumulated enough talent on this roster to make some noise.
The Minnesota Vikings have quietly gone about their business this off-season, improving their three biggest weaknesses in the secondary (Patrick Peterson) and along their offensive and defensive lines (Dalvin Tomlinson). They specifically attacked their offensive line issues during the draft by selecting Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, who figures to be a Day One starter at left tackle. The Vikings are trying to return to conference contenders while the Miami Dolphins are quickly knocking on the door to be contenders after tearing everything down in 2018-19. The Dolphins have accumulated a massive amount of talent in just a few years, but Tua Tagovailoa’s performance in Year Two will ultimately determine the team’s fate in 2021.
In the Playoff Hunt
Chargers (1.5), Titans (1.5), Steelers (1), Patriots (1), Washington (.5), Cowboys (.5), Cardinals (0)
Los Angeles Chargers GM Tom Telesco set out to improve Justin Herbert’s bad offensive line from 2020, and he did a great job reshaping the unit this off-season by drafting Rashawn Slater and signing C Corey Linsley and OG Matt Feiler. New HC Brandon Staley also figures to be a major upgrade over Anthony Lynn, who continually gave away victories with poor in-game decisions during his tenure.
The Tennessee Titans suffered three big offensive losses this off-season with Arthur Smith taking the top job in Atlanta while Jonnu Smith (Patriots) and Corey Davis (Jets) left behind massive holes in Tennessee’s passing attack. The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered their own big losses in free agency with Bud Dupree (Titans), Mike Hilton (Bengals), Matt Feiler (Chargers), Steven Nelson (FA), and Ali Villanueva (Ravens) departing this off-season.
The New England Patriots totally revamped their passing game this off-season by signing Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne, which they followed up by drafting Mac Jones at No. 15. The Patriots will also get some major in-house reinforcements after they had an NFL-high eight players opt-out for the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns.
The Washington Football Team has a defense that’s built to contend this season, and the front office made three win-now signings to improve their chances of being in the mix in January by locking up CB William Jackson, WR Curtis Samuel, and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Meanwhile, their top competition in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys, spent the off-season reshaping their defense since they have an offense that’s ready to contend this season. The Cowboys spent their first six picks in the draft on defensive players, including on stud LB Micah Parsons.
The Arizona Cardinals could have one of the worst cornerback groups in the league this season, which is troublesome going against the Seahawks (D.K. Metcalf/Tyler Lockett), Rams (Robert Woods/Cooper Kupp), and 49ers (Brandon Aiyuk/Deebo Samuel) in the NFC West. The Cardinals are getting closer to making real noise in the NFC but they’re still trailing the rest of their highly competitive division.
Broncos (-.5), Giants (-.5), Falcons (-1), Bears (-1), Raiders (-1.5)
The Denver Broncos are the clear front-runner to land Aaron Rodgers if he were to be traded in 2021, and the Broncos would instantly climb into the “Super Bowl Favorites” tier if they were able to land him. Denver was priced as a below .500 team with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock at quarterback before the Rodgers’ situation surfaced prior to the draft.
The New York Giants are determined to get the most out of Daniel Jones in his third season, signing the top free agent WR in Kenny Golladay and using their first pick on Kadarius Toney. This is a make-or-break campaign for the 2019 No. 6 pick in a gettable NFC East. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons are looking to make another run or two with Matt Ryan in the fold. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith began their tenure by landing arguably the best player in the draft, regardless of position, in Kyle Pitts. He could be in a great spot to post plenty of production immediately since they should be playing in plenty of shootouts with their shaky defense.
Ryan Pace hasn’t had many recent victories as the Chicago Bears’ GM, but he hit a home run by trading up nine spots to land a falling Justin Fields. Fields could take some time to develop but he’ll instantly give the Bears’ offense a higher ceiling, which is being reflected in their shrinking Super Bowl odds and their rising win total. The Las Vegas Raiders moved in the other direction after a bizarre off-season. They broke up their offensive line by trading away Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown before GM Mike Mayock and HC Jon Gruden made questionable decisions in the draft once again.
A Year Away from Contention
Panthers (-2), Eagles (-2.5), Bengals (-2.5), Jaguars (-3), Jets (-3)
The Carolina Panthers quickly changed course this off-season after one season with Teddy Bridgewater under center. They traded for Sam Darnold to see if they could unlock his potential after the Jets organization did their best to break him the last three seasons. The Philadelphia Eagles used this off-season to build for the future by collecting draft capital, landing 2022 first-round picks from the Colts and Dolphins. Those two trades also gave the keys of the offense to Jalen Hurts, who will be a full-time starter after getting a taste as the team’s starter at the end of last season.
The Cincinnati Bengals are the only team in this tier with the same quarterback from the start of the 2020 season, but Joe Burrow is being rebuilt after his devastating knee injury after 10 games. They bypassed protection (Penei Sewell) for one of the best recent WR prospects in Ja’Marr Chase, who starred with Burrow at LSU. The Bengals have an exciting skill group but O-line’s performance this year will determine if this offense takes a step forward in 2021.
Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke had a relatively disappointing first off-season in charge of the Jacksonville Jaguars. They failed to make a big splash in free agency despite owning the most cap space, and they made some head-scratching overpays for players with limited markets. The Jaguars have their sights set on contending in the near future instead of trying to build a winner in Year One with Meyer, Baalke, and Trevor Lawrence.
The AFC East has been the dregs of the NFL since the turn of the century, which certainly enabled the Patriots dynasty, but that could all be changing in the 2020s. The New York Jets made plenty of noise in free agency by signing WR Corey Davis, DE Carl Lawson, and DT Sheldon Rankins to big contracts before GM Joe Douglas crushed it in the draft by landing QB Zach Wilson, OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, and slot WR Elijah Moore in the first 34 picks.
The Battle for the Top Pick
Texans (-6), Lions (-4)
The race to the bottom is underway between the Texans and Lions but, unfortunately, these teams won’t be competing for a clear-cut top prospect like Trevor Lawrence. The Houston Texans have begun to prepare for life after Deshaun Watson by selecting Stanford QB Davis Mills with their first pick in the NFL Draft, which came in the third round. The Detroit Lions already traded away their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, this off-season and new GM Brad Holmes started the team’s rebuild by loading up in the trenches, which included selecting top offensive tackle Penei Sewell.