Who doesn't love power rankings? Everyone loves power rankings. Right?
Fun fact: Did you know that Pete Prisco invented Power Rankings? Yup. Verified fact ... Well, at least he will speak, if prompted, in such a convincing way about being the first human to ever construct an NFL power ranking that you will come away believing him. And for Pete that is quite a feat, because most conversations with him leave you shaking your head and wondering what the hell he is yammering about.
But I digress. It's power ranking time. With a twist.
I'm not going to rank all 32 teams. Refuse to do it. Won't do it. Haven't done one in at least a half-decade, and perhaps longer. I am contractually obligated (sort of) to produce one mock draft a year and no one is demanding I do power rankings and so I continue to abstain.
I will, however, do divisional power rankings. That's more my speed. You can systematically tick off entire legions of fans at once, finding a way within a few paragraphs alone to get, say, Saints and Falcons fans to bond over their hatred of you and your crappy football opinions. It's proven to be a great way to bring people together -- even the Hatfields and McCoys! -- and in trying times likes these for our country, well, who wouldn't want to bond over their discontent with one hack's opinion of the division in which their favorite team plays?
What can I say? I'm a giver.
So here is my latest far-too-early attempt to bring together division rivals in my own unique away. From best to worst, your 2021 NFL Divisional Power Rankings! Hope I make you proud, Pete!
1. NFC West
I could make the case for all four of these teams reaching the postseason, if I wanted. Personally, I still have major reservations about the Cardinals' ability to compete at a high enough level defensively and I am waiting for that offense to truly evolve as well. Kyler Murray can only run around and make so many players. With the Rams making a major upgrade at quarterback, I am more bullish on them than I have been in years. The Seahawks are in the dance every year as long as Russ is there (and he still is!), and the 49ers are a trendy pick for a bounce-back season for good reason. The games between these teams will be wild. I really believe three of these teams have the chops to win the NFC West despite the challenges playing in it presents. Ultimately, injuries and travel could be what separates them. There is no truly weak link. Power division; power ratings.
2. AFC North
I am a Browns believer. Love the upgrades to the defense and the offense can beat you in a multitude of ways. If OBJ comes back and is a game-breaker, great. If not, they can still win the division. Myles Garrett will be Defensive MVP. For all the talk about how tough Baltimore's schedule is, I still see the Ravens winning around 11 games and I think they make some gains in the passing attack. The Steelers are in decline but Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season and they could still mess around and win 8 or 9 games. The Bengals were far more competitive with Joe Burrow under center -- and if they can keep him upright they will be pretty interesting to watch. I still seem them picking in the top 10 of the draft, but have the ability to knock off a quality team or two along the way. They have two teams who could make a legit Super Bowl case. That carries the day for the AFC North.
3. AFC West
The Chiefs are quite likely the best team in football with that rebuilt offensive line and with a generational QB just entering his prime. That alone is going to carry some weight in this exercise. I am buying the Chargers as a playoff team given Justin Herbert's remarkable rookie campaign and the moves they have made on the offensive line. Denver's defense is going to be a problem for other teams and Teddy Bridgewater will provide a baseline of professional quarterbacking long missing there. I see them as a potential wild card if Teddy protects the football as he has most of his career. The Raiders will be bad again because of that defense but at least can do some fun things on offense sometimes. And they play really well against the Chiefs, which has to count for something. (Notice a trend here with which conference is superior?)
4. NFC South
Tompa Bay, baby! Or is it Chompa Bay? Or Gronk's Creek? Whatever you want to call the Bucs, they have the Lombardi and the GOAT who is thirsty for his first repeat since 2004. They brought the entire band back together (backup singers, the dude who plays the triangle, two guys to man the cowbell -- everybody). But the rest of this division is in QB purgatory, at best, which is never where you want to be. The Saints are banking on Jameis Winston and just went all in from a cash-and-cap standpoint to try to win one more with Drew Brees. That generally comes with ramifications the following year. The Falcons' refusal to do a full-blown rebuild will haunt them in the standings for years to come and they still don't have a defense. I'm not buying Sam Darnold as the solution to the Panthers' QB issue, and that roster still has a long way to go on defense as well. I see one playoff team here -- but it is the reigning champs, which gets the division a little bump.
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5. AFC East
I buy the Bills as a legit Super Bowl threat. Prisco's boy Josh Allen is the real deal. I was wrong about that. They will run the ball better and the defense is better on paper now than it was a year ago. They have established a winning pedigree. New England will bounce back after an offseason splurge that could still end up including Julio Jones. Miami doesn't excite me, and I sense some unrest there, but the Dolphins will be hanging around the wild card scene until the end. The Jets will be one of the three worst teams in football and I have major reservations about them playing a QB far too soon, but they have been awful for about five years running now, anyway. Still, I see two playoff teams here and the Dolphins won't be awful, which lands them middle of the pack.
6. NFC North
The Aaron Rodgers saga trumps anything else going on this division thus far in 2021. It wasn't very good with him; without him it will be like last year's NFC East (more on that in a minute). I don't see the Packers as a Super Bowl threat even if the powers that be can convince Rodgers to come back for one more year -- that dynamic rarely plays well in a lame-duck situation and this thing has gotten too personal to have a happy ending at this point. No one else in the division is special, and frankly the Bears and Lions will be picking in the top 10, I figure. Detroit is totally rebuilding and will push the Texans for the first overall pick, and everyone in the Bears' building is trying to save their jobs to put off another rebuild. Again, not a winning dynamic. The Vikings will be better, but they, too, may have a QB transition on the horizon and they hit the wall on their all-in spending spree to try to win with Kirk Cousins and jacked up the cap and don't have a stellar roster to say the least.
7. NFC East
It's called the NFC Least, far and wide, for good reason. Seven wins is all you needed to win it a year ago. It has no dominant team; no annual Super Bowl contender. All four teams are in various cycles of rebuilding or retooling, even if some of them won't really admit it. I like WFT to win it again based on its defense, but Washington doesn't have enough to go far in January. The Cowboys may get that final wild card spot in a watered-down conference, but Dak is coming off a major injury and will need time to readjust, and that defense still stinks. The Eagles will be better than a year ago, and could compete within the division but I don't buy them as a true postseason factor. The Giants, to me, will be back in the QB market come 2022 and could be one of the six worst teams in football.
8. AFC South
Not much to see here. Maybe Carson Wentz turns it around and the Colts are decent, and I do like them to win this division. But a juggernaut, they are not. The Titans' roster has taken some major hits and I see regression -- possibly major regression -- in their future. Too much brain drain from their coaching staff the past two years, also. The Jaguars' grand experiment with Urban Meyer is wrought with potential peril and repeated warning signs and, well, nothing the Jags have tried has worked under Shad Khan for very long, so skepticism is baked into that cake. And the Texans seem hell-bent on being the worst team in professional football -- perhaps by quite a margin -- for myriad reasons on field and off.