For several years, right around this time, I have been clustering quarterbacks in specific subgroups in an attempt to categorize them ahead of the following season.
It involves assessment and projection in order to come up with a list of sorts to indicate the similarities between players and to indicate who is ascending and who is not. It's an exercise that tends to elicit heated reactions in fans, and it's something I will be renewing later this week … but that's not why we're here today. Over the weekend the thought occurred to me that there might be a similarly split apart – while also lumped together – list of NFL franchises as we sit in the doldrums of the offseason (and a quiet period that might be less active than anything we have ever seen before, given the uncertainties of this pandemic).
Of course, step one in this process is to come up with some categories that apply to multiple teams. In general I don't believe in more than five or six categories in my QB rankings, so I went with the same concept here. Some categories are just plain obvious, though the deeper we got, the more explanation necessary. Here is what I went with:
Tier 1: True Lombardi contenders – 'Nuff said.
Tier 2: Best of the rest – Could see these teams making the playoffs or getting close ... just not winning it all. Basically, they're the NFL's middle class.
Tier 3: Rebuilding and rebounding – They seem to have a cogent, or at least semi-cogent plan and understand who they are and where they need to go.
Tier 4: Stuck in the middle – Still have enough talent to mess around and maybe finish .500, but given their lack of assets and strange decision making and the pressure they are under, I don't envy their position.
Tier 5: Is this rock bottom? – Would anyone be shocked to see these teams picking in the top 10 again next year?
So with the descriptions out of the way, let's see who landed in where.
Tier 1: Lombardi contenders (8 teams)
San Francisco 49ers – Love their roster and love their offseason. Could be back in the big game. Don't foresee a hangover here.
Baltimore Ravens – Best record a year ago with an MVP QB who just turned 23 and a rebuilt defensive front 7.
New Orleans Saints – If not for some terrible calls and bad breaks they'd have won one in the last few years already.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Maybe the best defense in the NFL and they get Big Ben back.
Tier 2: Best of the rest (9 teams)
Dallas Cowboys – If only they had a defense.
Buffalo Bills – Not sure they win a title with their QB, but they will be a factor in the AFC, big-time.
Tennessee Titans – Always good for nine wins or so, but will be hard pressed to duplicate last year's run.
Minnesota Vikings – Generally good enough to reach the postseason, but not nearly good enough to grab a trophy.
Denver Broncos – Defense should keep them viable through December.
Los Angeles Chargers – Plenty of wild-card potential here.
Arizona Cardinals – Wouldn't be stunned to see them grab the seventh playoff spot in the NFC if the defense can hold its own. That's a big if.
Tier 3: Rebuilding and rebounding (4 teams)
Cleveland Browns – If not for yet another regime change with another rookie HC/GM and all that constant turmoil, they would be in the above group. I don think they could push for a playoff spot. But I gotta see it to believe it when it comes to this franchise.
Miami Dolphins – The tear down is over and they've begun reaping their draft pick haul with another monster class coming in 2021.
Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule understands the college rebuild game like no one else and I like the direction they are headed in.
Las Vegas Raiders – They are done shedding expensive veterans and had a ton of picks in 2020. Time for more wins.
Tier 4: Stuck in the middle (6 teams)
New England Patriots – Brady is gone, and some older players on defense, too, but they kept a guard on a franchise tag, didn't upgrade much at the skill positions and could be in store for their first losing season in forever. Jarrett Stidham may be good enough for them not to be awful, although being awful now might be best for the long term.
Atlanta Falcons – Notorious for overestimating their own talent and being askew on how good the roster really is, looks like more of the same in 2020. Can they survive another middling-at-best season with a suspect cap situation and with so much $$ in aging stars?
Houston Texans – The run of former Bill Belichick assistants continues (maybe we need a New England subgroup, sans Titans?). Deshaun Watson will keep them from being terrible, but Bill O'Brien's GM mistakes have them in cap/draft pick trouble for years to come and that locker room will not get over the DeAndre Hopkins trade anytime soon.
Los Angeles Rams – The heady times of that Super Bowl appearance seem long ago. Roster has taken a nosedive, huge questions remain about the overpaid QB, salary cap and budget issues are real, getting sued by former players not a good look and they have plundered future drafts already. Since they flirted with the playoffs a year ago I kept them out of the bottom tier, though I suspect that is where they land next year at this time.
Cincinnati Bengals – Had they done the tear down that was screaming out to be executed in 2019, shed salary and vets at the deadline and entered 2020 with more than just seven picks, they would be with the rebuilding teams. They will be a better team, but will an old-school front office adjust to the changing times? Regardless, they are the only team in this group likely not heading in a downward direction.
Tier 5: Is this rock bottom? (5 teams)
Chicago Bears – No QB of the present, no QB of the future, not enough draft capital and a front office that has gone a long while without hitting a double much less a homer, with far too many K's along the way.
New York Giants – DeAndre Baker situation just the latest in a long line of ugly situations for this once storied franchise. They have been stuck in reverse for years now and not sure when that stops. Rough time to hire a novice coach.
New York Jets – They won seven games a year ago, but face a brutal schedule this year and the specter of Woody Johnson returning from the UK in 2021 casts a unique shadow.
Washington Redskins – Another new set of coaches for their young QB and perhaps the worst offensive talent in the NFL. No history of any sustained success under this owner. Some analysts tabbing them for 1st overall pick in 2020.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Still fighting with their best players. It's a toxic culture that players have been trying to avoid. Gave away some vets for pennies on the dollar yet still riddled by bloated contracts. Perennially picking in the top 10.