NFL Power Rankings: Are Pats real contenders entering camp?


Welcome to NFL hype season.Training camp is officially underway, which means you'll hear breathless reports about players in "the best shape of their life" and talented rookie quarterbacks who are outplaying their veteran counterparts (in 7-on-7 drills with no contact).The challenge is determining how much of the hype is real. Which teams are legitimately set up for success in 2021, and which clubs will recede toward mediocrity? Our latest 2021 NFL Power Rankings assess the state of all 32 teams to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

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Previous Rank: 32

Deshaun Watson reported to training camp Tuesday, but with 22 active lawsuits of sexual misconduct filed against him, it seems unlikely he’ll be on the field in Week 1. Watson’s status aside, this roster is a disaster with major questions on defense and the offensive line. New head coach David Culley has his work cut out for him.


Previous Rank: 31

We’re sure there will be some training camp buzz around Jared Goff and new running back Jamaal Williams, and new head coach Dan Campbell supposedly is working to change the culture after Matt Patricia’s departure. But don’t be fooled: The Lions are very much in rebuild mode and should be in the NFC North basement this season.


Previous Rank: 30

Thoughts and prayers to Zach Wilson, whose every move in training camp and the preseason will be dissected by restless New Yorkers. A young team with a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach is bound to endure growing pains, so it will be interesting to see how Wilson and Robert Saleh handle the pressure.


Previous Rank: 29

Same goes for Trevor Lawrence, who plays in a much more forgiving market but has much higher expectations than Wilson as the No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars have some talented skill players, but a subpar offensive line and porous defense should make Urban Meyer’s transition to the NFL quite difficult.


Previous Rank: 28

Bengals president Mike Brown said it’s unlikely Joe Burrow plays in the preseason despite being cleared to fully participate in training camp. That’s a wise choice, but it also means Cincinnati’s first few games could get ugly as Burrow plays his first competitive football since last November.


Previous Rank: 26

You’ll notice a theme among our NFL Power Rankings bottom-dwellers: new head coaches and inexperienced quarterbacks. Nick Sirianni will get no sympathy from the Philly faithful if Jalen Hurts and the new-look offense doesn’t deliver, while a defense that ranked 20th in points allowed last season may struggle to hold up its end of the bargain.


Previous Rank: 25

Christian McCaffrey is a welcome sight at Panthers training camp, and you’ll probably see Sam Darnold throw a few nice balls. But it’s hard to get too excited about a QB who’s thrown 39 interceptions in 38 career games. Carolina might win more than five games this season, but don’t expect this team to be in the playoff picture.


Previous Rank: 21

The Raiders made some head-scratching moves this offseason by trading for Kenyan Drake with Josh Jacobs already on the roster and parting with three starting offensive linemen in center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and tackle Trent Brown. Oh, and only the Jaguars and Lions allowed more points than Las Vegas’ defense in 2020. Derek Carr will have to be well above average for the Raiders to be good this season.


Previous Rank: 27

If the Giants want to be competitive in the NFC East this season, they need Daniel Jones to take a big step forward and need Saquon Barkley to stay on the field. Both are no guarantees with New York’s suspect offensive line, but the pieces are in place for an improvement from 6-10.


Previous Rank: 24

So much for the Aaron Rodgers pipe dream. Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock will battle for the starting QB job in training camp, but neither player really moves the needle. Denver will need to establish the run with Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams to keep pace in what should be a competitive AFC West this season.


Previous Rank: 23

The Kyle Pitts hype train is ready to leave the station. After trading No. 1 wide receiver Julio Jones to the Titans, the Falcons and new head coach Arthur Smith are putting a lot of faith in their rookie tight end to be a viable threat for Matt Ryan out of the gate. The defense is average at best, but the offense should do enough to keep the Falcons in games.


Previous Rank: 20

The Bears insist Andy Dalton, not talented rookie Justin Fields, is their starting QB. As long as that’s the case, they’re a .500 team at best. Here’s hoping Fields shows enough in training camp and the preseason to take over by Week 1 or soon thereafter.


Previous Rank: 19

Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson should make some exciting plays and there are plenty of worse quarterbacks than Kirk Cousins. But unless their defense improves dramatically, there’s nothing to suggest the Vikings will be anything more than a middle-of-the-pack team in the NFC.


Previous Rank: 22

Washington’s front seven is no joke, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has some solid offensive weapons in running back Antonio Gibson and wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. The question is how much you believe in FitzMagic. If the Cowboys live up to expectations this season, Football Team isn’t winning a second straight NFC East title.


Previous Rank: 13

Star wide receiver Michael Thomas is expected to miss the first six weeks while recovering from ankle surgery. That’s not ideal for whoever wins the QB battle between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston -- and could mean the Saints need to use Hill more as a rusher to jump-start the offense. New Orleans should finish second in the division, but a Wild Card spot seems too optimistic.


Previous Rank: 18

Dak Prescott exited the Cowboys’ training camp practice Wednesday with arm soreness. It doesn't appear serious, so if he’s OK, Dallas and its talented offense should be the NFC East favorite. But Prescott’s health and an inconsistent defense could knock the Cowboys down a few pegs.


Previous Rank: 17

The Chargers have a solid foundation, with talent on both sides of the ball and one of the best young QBs in the league in Justin Herbert. But can new head coach Brandon Staley finally maximize that talent? Los Angeles has won more than 10 games in a season just once in the past decade, so they need to prove us wrong to earn a higher ranking. 


Previous Rank: 14

The best coach in the NFL is on a revenge mission, and we know better than to count him out. A lot needs to go right for Bill Belichick’s group – ideally, Mac Jones beating out Cam Newton for the starting QB job and a wide receiver like Nelson Agholor or Jakobi Meyers emerging as a legitimate No. 1 option – but it’s hard to see this group finishing any worse than 10-7 after Belichick’s offseason spending spree.


Curran: Bill Belichick's rebuttal to Tom Brady begins now

Previous Rank: 15

Tua Tagovailoa had some encouraging moments as a rookie and has the talent to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. But he can’t be the guy who threw five interceptions over his last four regular-season games. Brian Flores has built a solid defense, so the pressure is on Tua to step up his game in 2021.


Previous Rank: 16

The Cardinals are the wild card of the NFC West. Kyler Murray is one of the most dangerous QBs in the league, while A.J. Green and J.J. Watt still have enough left in the tank to make an impact. But Arizona went 2-5 down the stretch last season and arguably is the worst team in a stacked division. Uphill sledding for Kliff Kingsbury’s group.


Previous Rank: 12

A new running back (Najee Harris) and offensive coordinator (Matt Canada) should inject some life into the aging Ben Roethlisberger. They’re not starting the season 11-0 again, but if Roethlisberger stays healthy, the Steelers should remain in the playoff mix.


Previous Rank: 11

The Titans once again should be AFC contenders, and Julio Jones gives them an elite deep threat to complement their bruising running game. Derrick Henry’s workload is a concern, though: He’s logged 681 carries over the last two seasons, and another 300 carries might not be sustainable.


Previous Rank: 10

Do you believe in Carson Wentz and Frank Reich? If so, the rest of this roster is pretty rock-solid. But Wentz has plenty of skeptics to prove wrong after a disastrous 2020 campaign in Philly, so we’re hesitant to call them a top-four team in the AFC.


Previous Rank: 8

The Seahawks should have no problem scoring points with the QB-offensive coordinator duo of Russell Wilson and Shane Waldron. They may have a problem preventing points, however: Seattle ranked second-to-last in passing yards allowed last season and plays in a division teeming with offensive talent.


Previous Rank: 9

The Niners should be much better on defense with edge rusher Nick Bosa back in the fold, and they have plenty of offensive weapons. Their ceiling hinges on the QB position: Can a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo lead another deep playoff run, and if not, can Trey Lance succeed in Year 1? Neither question has a clear answer.


Previous Rank: 4

As if Matthew Stafford didn’t have enough pressure already, No. 1 running back Cam Akers is out for the season with a torn ACL. Still, the Rams have tons of talent on defense and enough depth to have a serviceable running game that can help Stafford air it out. L.A. is the slim favorite to win the stacked NFC West, which features three teams in our top 10.


Previous Rank: 5

Baltimore lost two talented pass-rushers in Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue but boosted its offense by adding Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman at wide receiver. The pieces are in place for Lamar Jackson to return to MVP form in 2021, so if the defense finishes in the top five again, the Ravens will be one of the AFC’s best teams.


Previous Rank: 7

Will Rodgers’ “Last Dance” in Green Bay emulate Michael Jordan’s final title run with the Chicago Bulls? It certainly looks possible on paper: This team has won 13 games and reached the NFC  Championship Game in consecutive seasons. The Packers should be right back in the mix come January, and it will be up to Rodgers to elevate his game in the postseason if he wants to go out on top.


Previous Rank: 6

Armed with NFL’s the best offensive line (per Pro Football Focus) and two workhorse running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns should be able to dominate possession. A talented defense added another potential game-changer in Jadeveon Clowney. If Cleveland wants to leapfrog the Bills and Chiefs, though, Baker Mayfield needs to make the jump to a top-10 QB.


Previous Rank: 3

The passing game should thrive once again under potential MVP candidate Josh Allen, and the Zach Moss-Devin Singletary duo is good enough to keep defenses honest. Whether the Bills can reach their first Super Bowl since 1994 will depend on whether their defense can get enough stops against Patrick Mahomes and the high-flying Chiefs.


Previous Rank: 2

About those high-flying Chiefs… Kansas City averaged 415 yards per game last season (20 more than their closest competitor) despite Mahomes battling multiple injuries. An overhauled offensive line featuring Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown Jr. should be better at protecting the team’s most prized asset, and a third straight trip to the AFC Championship Game seems likely.


Previous Rank: 1

Even if we’re overselling Tom Brady’s ability to play an entire season on a torn MCL, the Super Bowl still runs through Tampa Bay. All 22 starters from last year’s squad are back, and Brady has a full, (somewhat) normal offseason to develop more chemistry with his offense. The NFC should be more competitive this year, but as long as TB12 is on the field, the Bucs are the team to beat. 

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