This offseason has been unlike any other in NFL history. Aside from the fact that two likely Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks switched teams for the first time in their careers and the league now has its first franchise in Las Vegas, the COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that the 2020-21 season will look a lot different than what we’re used to.
All preseason games have been scrapped and players have the right to completely sit out the season if they are worried about their safety, meaning many teams will be shorthanded before play even starts on Sept. 10. Still, we have a pretty good idea of what the teams will look like this year, so we’ve decided to rank them from worst to best. Here’s how each NFL franchise stacks up as we get ready for kickoff.
32. New York Jets
The Jets finished last season at 7-9 but that record is a little deceptive compared to how this squad looks today. They’ve got a brutal schedule coming up, with a four-game stretch against playoff favorites to start the season, followed by mid-season road trips to Seattle and Kansas City. This is a team that had the second-worst scoring offense in the NFL last year, averaging just over 17 points per week. Le’Veon Bell’s comeback was about as underwhelming as Sam Darnold’s play at quarterback has been so far, and the decision of linebacker C.J. Mosley to sit out the season will likely have a major effect on their defense.
31. Detroit Lions
There’s a decent chance the Lions don’t win a single game in the NFC North this season. The other three teams in that division look strong coming into the season and the Lions only got worse this offseason. Their defense was already awful in 2019 and it lost the services of three-time Pro Bowler Darius Slay in the secondary, which is something Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins will love. You can always count on Matthew Stafford’s numbers at quarterback to be great but he’ll be without wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who started six games last season and is a deep-ball threat, as he’s sitting out the year.
30. Washington Football Team
We have to give Washington props for opting to change its team name — even if the decision came decades too late — but this franchise still has a long way to go to be taken seriously. They made a smart change at head coach in hiring Ron Rivera and a can’t-miss draft pick in Chase Young, but we still think they are at least a year away from challenging for the NFC East crown. Washington had the worst scoring offense in the game last season as new quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine games and now he won’t even have the backfield services of the aging-yet-dependable Adrian Peterson.
29. New York Giants
The Giants made a couple offseason moves to fix what was one of the NFL’s worst defenses last year but they still have an uphill climb. Quarterback Daniel Jones showed some talent but it didn’t translate to many wins and he’ll be without the protection of two-time Super Bowl winner Nate Solder on the offensive line, who has opted to sit out the season. Losing Solder may also hurt the production of Saquon Barkley, who is immensely gifted but hasn’t been able to carry the franchise to a winning season, even when he was putting up superhuman figures in 2018-19.
28. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are completely in flux as they get set to open their first season at their shiny new home stadium in Los Angeles. What looked like a surefire playoff team a year ago disintegrated under contract drama and mediocre play from their stars, leading to arguably the most disappointing season for any franchise in 2019-20. Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon are gone and they’ll be counting on veteran passer Tyrod Taylor to lead them this season. We see this Chargers season as one best used for growth, especially because the competition in the AFC West is stiff. The good news is they didn’t have any players opt out for the season due to COVID-19 caution.
27. Miami Dolphins
It seems like the Dolphins are trying to rebuild themselves every season and 2020-21 is no different. The team took a gamble by drafting Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa as the new franchise quarterback, given his slight stature and injury issues, but it could pay off because he was an incredible passer in college. The Dolphins posted the worst scoring differential in football a year ago, mostly due to the fact that their defense gave up a league-high 494 points. They didn’t improve much on that side of the ball and the addition of Matt Breida on offense won’t fill the hole left by Kenyon Drake last season.
26. Los Angeles Rams
Sorry, LA football fans, but we’re expecting some bad football being played every weekend at the brand-new SoFi Stadium this fall. Between the Chargers and Rams, there will likely be plenty of groaning through masks from the limited-capacity home crowds. The Rams said goodbye to Todd Gurley this offseason and didn’t do much of anything to make up for that new gap in their offense. Given Jared Goff’s weak numbers last year and the fact that the three other teams in the NFC West have only gotten tougher, this could be the start of a rebuild for the Rams.
25. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are going to look very different this season, with the sudden departures of Cam Newton and Ron Rivera. Teddy Bridgewater will step into the quarterback role after the stellar run he had filling in for an injured Drew Brees in New Orleans last season. He’s going to find a much less talented team around him in Carolina, however, with the notable exception of Christian McCaffrey, who just might be the most gifted running back in the game. The team’s defense is suspect, and will be without two potential backup linebackers — Christian Miller and rookie Jordan Mack — who decided to sit the season out.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars
In the weeks right before the 2020-21 regular season’s start date, the Jaguars made the decision to jettison a trio of talented starters. They suddenly cut ties with running back Leonard Fournette, despite his output being mostly stellar in the past few years, and traded defensive anchors Yannick Ngakoue and Ronnie Harrison. They looked like contenders for the AFC South crown but now it looks like they are in rebuilding mode.
Still, it’ll be fun to see Gardner Minshew be completely unleashed and allowed to lead the Jaguars this entire season after he became a sensation last year by contributing more than 3,600 yards of offense, 21 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. The team also had a great draft, picking a few guys who could be defensive starters from day one.
23. Cincinnati Bengals
It’s been a long time since this much excitement surrounded a Cincinnati Bengals team but we still see them bringing up the rear in the AFC North this season. The franchise made a smart call by drafting Joe Burrow as their quarterback of the future, as he’s a legitimate day-one starter, but he’s taking over a squad that was downright awful last season. Their dreadful scoring offense is bound to improve thanks to Burrow hooking up with A.J. Green but they still play in a stacked division. Starting defensive tackle Josh Tupou has decided to miss the year, costing them some experience up front, but that’s a hole they should be able to fill.
22. Atlanta Falcons
If quarterback play alone could make a team great, the Falcons would still be among the NFC’s elites every season. Matt Ryan’s remarkable stats since his 2016-17 MVP campaign have been largely overlooked because the team has finished 7-9 for the last two years running. We don’t see them improving this season even with the addition of Todd Gurley in the backfield. His record was just too spotty in Los Angeles and the loss of Austin Hooper at tight end this offseason will likely hurt Ryan’s figures a bit.
21. Houston Texans
Perhaps we are overvaluing wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins by placing the Texans this low after they won the AFC South a year ago — but it’s not likely. He was targeted more than twice as often as any other receiver on the team in 2019-20, giving the team nearly 80 yards per game and helping quarterback Deshaun Watson look like the next Drew Brees. So the team’s decision to trade him away for the services of running back David Johnson — who was uneven at best in Arizona — looks like the worst move of the offseason.
20. Green Bay Packers
After a shocking 13-3 season, the Packers suddenly look like they’re in rebuilding mode. When the franchise drafted quarterback Jordan Love, it sent a clear signal to franchise legend Aaron Rodgers that his days are likely numbered and we can’t imagine that will inspire him to play with much confidence this time around. Even with the awkwardness surrounding their top position, the Packers boast one of the NFC’s best defenses, a fact that helped them go undefeated in the NFC North in 2019-20. This season will likely be a different story.
19. Philadelphia Eagles
The NFC East is very weak at the bottom but we just don’t see the Eagles repeating as division champions this season. The Dallas Cowboys simply look too talented for this squad to match. The loss of new wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who’s sitting out the season, probably won’t hurt too much but saying goodbye to Malcolm Jenkins during the offseason was a major blow to the pass defense.
18. Cleveland Browns
For the Browns to live up to that immense hype they had a year ago, they’re simply going to have to be more consistent. It all starts with Baker Mayfield, who lost his edge and looked as erratic as any starter last season, taking them to a 6-10 finish. They’ve got plenty of talent on offense and even added tight end Austin Hooper to Mayfield’s impressive list of targets but we still don’t see them as a playoff team. They’ll have another new head coach, no preseason games to help him get acclimated and a very stout AFC North to contend with.
17. Chicago Bears
We’re two years removed from the Bears looking like world-beaters in going 12-4 and winning the NFC North. Last season saw them look like a shell of that 2018-19 team, making it difficult to get a bead on what this squad is capable of. We know their defense is among the elites, allowing less than 300 points to opponents all last season, and the addition of Robert Quinn makes their pass rush even better. However, two defensive starters in Eddie Goldman and newcomer Jordan Lucas have opted out of the season and their offense remains a total mystery with neither Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky inspiring a ton of confidence as dependable answers.
16. Indianapolis Colts
It’s honestly tough to guess what to expect from the Colts. With Philip Rivers taking over as the new face of the franchise, they could either be 13-win juggernauts or another middle-of-the-road AFC South contender. We’re thinking something in between because Rivers’s accuracy left something to be desired in his final season with the Chargers. Rivers isn’t going to have the same caliber of receiving weapons he had in Los Angeles, but Marlon Mack posted his first 1,000-yard season in 2019-20 and rookie running back Jonathan Taylor will be one of the best backups in the game.
The Colts defense also looks pretty tough, especially with DeForest Buckner joining the pass rush.
15. New England Patriots
We aren’t one of the many publications that are declaring the demise of the Patriots following the departure of Tom Brady, but this season will likely be one of discovery for the league’s most steady franchise of the 21st century. The squad was 12-4 a year ago, helped immensely by having a defense that allowed a league-best 14 points per game. However, the pandemic has caused more players to sit out from New England’s roster than any other team, with eight players sitting out, including four starters from a year ago. The defense will suffer most, as Pro Bowler Dont’a Hightower and veteran leader Patrick Chung have opted out.
The combination of those decisions and the addition of Cam Newton at quarterback make this Bill Belichick’s greatest challenge yet.
14. Las Vegas Raiders
We like the chances of the Raiders getting back into the playoff race for their first season in Las Vegas. No starters have opted to sit out and this offense boasts one of the best running backs in the NFL with Josh Jacobs. We also think Derek Carr is criminally underrated as a starting quarterback, as his numbers over the past two seasons have been right there with the best passers in the game. The addition of Jason Witten at tight end may not provide much big-play opportunity, but he’ll be impossible for defenses to ignore in the red zone.
13. Buffalo Bills
In the wake of the Bills clinching a playoff spot last season and Tom Brady departing the AFC East, plenty of people are eager to crown Buffalo the new powerhouses of the division. They’ve got one of the best defenses in the league, a unit that allowed just 249 points last season, but will lose a starter up front as Star Lotulelei has opted out for 2020-21. The big question remains Josh Allen’s quarterback play, which has been nothing but mediocre so far. He’s held a 78.2 passer rating in his first two seasons as a starter but we’re imagining the addition of Stefon Diggs will immediately up his game.
12. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals may turn the corner this year and separate themselves as one of the real contenders in the NFC. Kyler Murray had a very good rookie season with the only knock against him being a few too many picks. The front office took care of him by trading for DeAndre Hopkins, who will join Larry Fitzgerald to give Murray one of the best receiving tandems in the league. Locking up Kenyan Drake as the featured running back was a great move, too, giving the Cards an explosive-looking offense that should carry them into the playoffs.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh hasn’t had a single player opt to miss the 2020-21 season, which leaves them in an enviable position as kickoff approaches. Last year’s squad relied heavily on a stellar defense that allowed fewer than 19 points per game and was led by Pro Bowl and All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The x-factor will be the play of future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, who missed 14 games last season with an elbow injury on his throwing arm. He’s put up some of his best stats ever in recent years but, at 38 years old, it’s tough to assume he’ll bounce right back.
10. Denver Broncos
The Broncos offense looks pretty loaded heading into this season but they were dealt a blow by the pandemic. Starting offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James has decided to skip the season, which will leave young quarterback Drew Lock with less protection. However, the starting defense will be intact and they were among the league’s best a season ago. Lock’s figures weren’t that amazing in his five games as Denver’s starter last season but he gave them an undeniable jolt of energy and helped them to a 4-1 stretch when he had the keys. The additions of three-time Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon and rookie wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler give the passer a strong arsenal.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who wouldn’t be excited to watch the Buccaneers this season? Signing Tom Brady to lead an offense that was already loaded immediately makes them into a playoff favorite. In his 20 seasons in the NFL, the future Hall of Famer has arguably never had a group of receivers as talented as this one, with Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin being joined by Rob Gronkowski, who might be Brady’s all-time favorite target. The surprise addition of Leonard Fournette into the backfield weeks before the season starts makes them look even better.
They’re also one of only five teams to have no players opt out for the year, showing that everyone in that Tampa Bay organization seems pumped for this new direction.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Losing Stefon Diggs this offseason could make a major dent in the Vikings offense but this roster is still one of the most talented in the NFC. They drafted Justin Jefferson to fill the hole at receiver and he has the potential to be a star at this level. Minnesota’s defense also continues to be one of the most dominant, although the decision of new defensive lineman Michael Pierce to skip the season deflates them a bit. Kirk Cousins is about as accurate as any passer in the league and Dalvin Cook should again be a 1,000-yard rusher, provided the team can reach a deal with him to avoid a costly holdout.
7. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys look as talented as they’ve been in decades, on paper at least. This franchise has always found ways to disappoint its rabid fans in recent years but we like their chances to win the NFC East this season. Longtime head coach Jason Garrett is gone and Mike McCarthy is in, which could help their defense get even better. The offense won’t need much help, as Dak Prescott has been remarkable the past couple years and Ezekiel Elliott gave them 1,777 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns last season.
6. Tennessee Titans
The Titans finished the 2019-20 season by running roughshod over heavily favored opponents and coming a game away from the Super Bowl. We haven’t seen any signs of regression this offseason, especially since they haven’t had any notable players opt out of the 2020-21 campaign. The front office officially made Ryan Tannehill the franchise quarterback after he had the NFL’s best passer rating at 117.5 and led them to a 7-3 mark in his 10 starts. Then there’s also Derrick Henry, who was the best pure rusher in all of football last season.
5. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks looked nearly unbeatable last season but it could be argued that they’ve gotten a little worse this offseason. That would be because of the likely loss of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, whose free agency saga is lasting into the final month of the preseason. However, the team hasn’t lost any starters over COVID-19 concerns and they’ve still got arguably the best quarterback in football. Russell Wilson has been giving them superhuman production recently, including a passer rating of 108.4 over the past two seasons.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
After a Super Bowl-winning season, the Chiefs’ offense may have been dealt a decent blow by the pandemic this offseason. They’ll be playing without running back Damien Williams and offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, both of whom are starters who’ve opted out of the season. This will make the job of Patrick Mahomes a little tougher, but he’ll still have plenty of great options to throw to, including Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs defense should be even better this time around, too, as they drafted linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and will see Juan Thornhill recovered from his season-ending injury.
3. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers squad that dominated the NFC and challenged the Chiefs in the Super Bowl looks very tough again this season. The weapons that Jimmy Garoppolo has to throw to will be a little different after letting Emmanuel Sanders go, but he’ll have plenty of weapons at his disposal. The team’s rushing attack was one of the best in the game last year and Raheem Mostert will have plenty to do as he gets to prove his value as a No. 1 running back. San Francisco’s defense was also a huge part of their success last year and some NFL pundits think they’ve gotten even better on that side of the ball with the drafting of Javon Kinlaw as a co-star for Nick Bosa and Dee Ford.
2. New Orleans Saints
The Saints look very dangerous this season and could be the only team in the NFC that’s better than the 49ers. It can easily be argued that Drew Brees has never had as much talent surrounding him on offense — and he’s been at this for 19 seasons. Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara are as gifted a wide receiver-running back tandem as there is and the addition of Emmanuel Sanders to his receiving corps makes them look unstoppable. The fact that they haven’t had a single starter opt out of the season also bodes well for their plans in 2020-21.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were the most exciting team in the NFL last year and they don’t look to have regressed a bit this offseason. Lamar Jackson did everything in his power to prove he’s the best quarterback in the game, putting up video game numbers en route to being named the league’s MVP. Back-to-back playoff disappointments should have him more focused than ever and he’ll again be joined by Mark Ingram in the backfield and one of the game’s most reliable tight ends in Mark Andrews. The Ravens’ defense will again be one of the best in football, thanks to the addition of five-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell this offseason.