We’ve come to basically the end of the NFL off-season. Most rosters are pretty set, pending position battles for who will start in certain areas. I think we can accurately predict (the best we can anyway) which NFL teams will be great, and which ones will be terrible. My colleague Kendrick Lindsay did his piece on who will be the worst teams in the NFL. I’ll be doing the counter and delivering who I think will be the best NFL teams through the 2021-22 season.
Just as a disclaimer I will not be including the Green Bay Packers on this list. The situation with Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams is just too shaky to confidently say they’ll be one of the best teams in the NFL this season. With those two, they’re possibly top 5. Unfortunately, I can’t include them just because there’s a good chance the 2020 MVP won’t return to football this year.
10: Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have had quite the come up in the last few seasons. It’s easy to forget just four seasons ago, they became just the second team ever to go 0-16. They’ve built one hell of a roster in recent seasons. Baker Mayfield has proven to be a starting caliber quarterback through three seasons. He’s surrounded by an abundance of talent. Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, the running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Also accompanied by one of the best offensive lines in football.
Defensively they’re stout. Myles Garrett has racked up 42.5 sacks in just four seasons, and they have a top 10 rushing defense in the league. Their secondary needs work, but 2020 coach of the year Kevin Stefanski looks to show that last season was no fluke. Cleveland won their first playoff game since before the new millenium last year. As great as that is, their aspirations remain higher. They were just a touchdown away from an AFC Championship last time we saw them. With OBJ healthy and Baker Mayfield another year experienced, there’s no reason why they can’t continue to break that glass ceiling.
9: Arizona Cardinals
Simply put, the Arizona Cardinals are going to have to be a top 10 team this season. Kliff Kingsbury, as fun of a head coach as he is, has to prove that he can start winning or he might be on the hot seat at the end of the year. The Cards’ offense is electric. Quarterback Kyler Murray is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league. Showing shades of an even faster Russell Wilson, even if his arm needs some more work. De’Andre Hopkins, even if threatening to retire over the new COVID-19 regulations, is still arguably the best wide reciever in the league. They have a defense that has talent throughout. Edge rusher Chandler Jones, linebacker Isaiah Simmons, safety Budda Baker provide for some electric plays defensively.
Unfortuantely last season, the only team that was worse in scoring defense were the Cinicinatti Bengals. That would explain why five of their seven draft picks were defensive players, and the big signing of defensive end J.J. Watt was made just before the new league year. Arizona has the make of a top ten team this year, they just seriously need to put it all together.
8: Los Angeles Chargers
If everybody stays healthy, there is absolutely no reason why the Chargers shouldn’t be one of the best teams in the NFL this season. Justin Herbert is coming off of one hell of a rookie campaign. Throwing for 4,336 and 31 touchdowns is certainly worthy of a Rookie of the Year award. But he’s now in year two, with a new head coach, and elevated expectations. It doesn’t help that tight end Hunter Henry took a deal in New England, leaving him without a top red zone threat. But wide reciever Keenan Allen hasn’t gone anywhere, and Jared Cook even in his older age is still a productive tight end himself.
The big question for the Chargers is their defense. They have loads of talent, but they have a hard time staying healthy. Derwin James is a top five safety in the league when he’s on the field, Joey Bosa is one of the most productive defensive ends in football. They just addressed their secondary needs in the draft with Asante Samuel Jr, pairing him up with Chris Harris Jr, hoping for a big bounceback campaign.
The Chargers were able to give the Chiefs a run for their money in Herbert’s debut. I’m not saying that they’ll be the kings of the AFC West. But I think they’re more than capable of making it interesting down the stretch and make Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes sweat a little bit late in the season.
7: Seattle Seahawks
This is a little bit of a fall for the Seattle Seahawks. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still a fantastic squad. Russell Wilson is playing like a borderline MVP candidate, he’s been given a solid duo at wide reciever with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Running back Chris Carson is no slouch himself.
Defensively they’re still fairly productive. Safety Jamal Adams may become the highest paid safety in the league any day now, Bobby Wagner is still elite as ever as a middle linebacker. They just lack a whole lot of star talent outside of the names that I’ve mentioned. Seattle hasn’t exactly given Wilson the best chance for success as they could have. Consistent reaches in the draft, failure to address the offensive line, and the rest of the league just getting so much better doesn’t bode well for the 2020 NFC West champs. I think they’ll be giving up their crown this season, and will have a much tougher road to post-season stardom than recent years. Opportunites in which they’ve blown in recent seasons.
6: Los Angeles Rams
Losing running back Cam Akers is devastating for sure. But I don’t think the Rams will feel just how bad that could have been this season. They acquired one of the most under-appreciated quarterbacks in modern NFL history with Matt Stafford this off-season. This offense opens up immensely with Stafford taking the reigns from Jared Goff. Their passing game will be much more productive and dependable than recent seasons. They won’t have to rely on their running back stable as often as they have in immediate memory.
Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Gerald Everett, and Darrell Henderson make up a terrific core for the former Detroit Lions signal caller to work with. Typically, Sean McVay has been paraded for coaching one of the most consistent offensive gameplans in the league. Moving on from Goff to Stafford only broadens his horizons.
Defensively, the Rams have never been better. Aaron Donald continues to dominate games on his own, Jalen Ramsey is still one of the best corners in the NFL, they have infinite depth at all the spots, and the sky is the limit for the Rams. I fully expect them to rip the division away from Seattle, and assert dominance in the NFC West. Making the most out of their Super Bowl window before they seriously feel the affects of their “forget the future” tactics of recent years.
5: Minnesota Vikings
If Aaron Rodgers is out of the picture this season, I have no reason why the Minnesota Vikings shouldn’t be one of the most dominant teams in the NFL. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is consistently disrespected in NFL discussions. He may not be as electric as a Josh Allen, or as loud as a Baker Mayfield, but he’s a consistent preformer. He always finishes at least top 10 in any major passing stat, he’s fairly consistent year-in-year-out and is in a very good situation in Minnesota.
Adam Theilen and Justin Jefferson proved themselves as one of the best wide reciever duos in the NFL today, and Irv Smith Jr. is finally going to get his time to shine with Kyle Rudolph moved onto the New York Giants. They’ve also finally addressed their offensive line situation with the drafting of tackle Christian Darrisaw. Kirk Cousins may just be well protected for one of the first times in his career.
Defensively they struggled last season. Their secondary was young and inexperienced, thrown into the fire from the jump. The signing of Patrick Peterson should bring at least some relief to Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. Defensuve Danielle Hunter didn’t play at all in 2020 while linebacker Anthony Barr only played two games. This defense should be much improved in comparison to last season. If the health is in check and again, Aaron Rodgers is still feuding with the Packers, the sky is the limit for this squad.
4: Baltimore Ravens
I think it’s safe to say the Pittsburgh Steelers probably won’t be in their way this season. They’ll be competitve, but I would be floored if it was Pittsburgh hosting a home post-season game and not the Baltimore Ravens. This team looks just as good as ever heading into this season. 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson is surrounded by a revamped arsenal of weapons with rookies Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace, former Chief Sammy Watkins, and returning Marquise Brown. At tight end Mark Andrews is still one of the most productive ones in the league. They also boast a solid 1-2 punch with J.K. Dobbins entering his second season and Gus Edwards. As well as Jackson’s dynamic plays on the move himself, the offense of this team is second to none.
Defensively they lack a lot of star power, but they made it work last season with the best pound for pound secondary in the NFL. A great passing defense can mask a whole lot of things. Even if Baltimore doesn’t have somebody like Joey Bosa, or Chandler Jones attacking the passer. The secondary is going to give the wide recievers hell week in and week out. Jimmy Smith, Marcus Peters, and Marlon Humphrey headline the best cornerback unit in the NFL. I think Baltimore is itching to take the big leap forward, and will be threatening to push into the Super Bowl picture for the first time in almost a decade.
3: Buffalo Bills
This team took a huge jump in 2020. Quarterback Josh Allen shut up any doubters (including myself) about his ability to throw the ball accurately. wide reciever Stefon Diggs proved to be a hell of an addition to their offense, and it only got stronger with the signing of Emmanuel Sanders this past off-season. Cole Beasley, even if ignorant about the COVID-19 vaccine and believing all misinformation, is still one of the best slot recievers in the game. The only thing this offense seriously lacks is an efficent run game. Neither Devin Singletary or Zack Moss have been able to take the reigns and become the running back this team desires. Which explains why Buffalo went out and got Matt Breida in free agency.
Sean McDermott was just as worthy for coach of the year as anybody last season. He may just get it in 2021 if this team is as electric as they were last season. They ranked sixth in scoring defense last season and have one of the best young corners in the NFL today with Tre’Davious White. Safety Jordan Poyer provides excellent coverage deep and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds continues to improve. I fully expect them to be keeping pace with the Kansas City Chiefs again, and fend off a resurgent Patriots team and the Miami Dolphins getting ready to strike at any moment.
2: Kansas City Chiefs
There isn’t really much to dive into with this squad. They only got better this off-season signing Joe Thuney and trading for Orlando Brown Jr. to protect Patrick Mahomes. After watching them get dismantled in Super Bowl LV, how could you not make protecting the $50M man a priority this off-season.
We all know this team very well, and they should repeat their efforts to go to their third straight Super Bowl if everything goes smoothly. But the teams aforementioned are no jokes either, and will give the Chiefs a strong run for their money when it comes time to play in the playoffs. But when you have dynamic playmakers in Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, nothing is impossible. The AFC should run through Arrowhead once again in 2021.
1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you’re still not bought into the Buccaneers, I’m not sure what to tell you. Tom Brady straight up won a seventh Super Bowl championship on a torn MCL. Their defense obliterated Patrick Mahomes and arguably the most talented group of offensive weapons since the 2013 Denver Broncos. Brady is still surrounded by every single player that started in Super Bowl LV. Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and the return of O.J. Howard gives Brady the best core he’s ever worked with. Even entering his age 44 season, TB12 is still playing at his very best.
Defensively they’re still as strong as ever. Devin White, Vita Vea, Antoine Winfield Jr make up the young core and they’re surrounded by some of the best veteran presence the NFL hast to offer. Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul are all still very elite at what they do, and are just as hungry for another Super Bowl ring as the quarterback is.
I don’t see this being a team that wins a ring and falls apart. They only got better down the stretch of last season. They didn’t lose once after dropping a game to the Chiefs week 13 in Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs made up for it by beating them in the same stadium, in the biggest game the NFL has to offer. I fully expect them to only get more and more in sync, and take the NFC crown once again.