NFL Power Rankings 2021

A Glance At All 32 Teams

The NFL has a new champion as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blasted the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV. We now turn the page to the 2021-22 season, where Tom Brady and the Bucs start in the No. 1 slot. The runner-up Chiefs open at No. 2, with the Bills at No. 3.

Here are Nate Weitzer‘s early NFL Power Rankings for 2021-22.

NFL Power Rankings: Feb. 7

TB Buccaneers
The Bucs star-studded defense stole the show in Super Bowl LV by completely shutting down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs passing attack. Tom Brady might not just play until he’s 45, he might continue to compete for championships with such a talented roster around him.
KC Chiefs
Kansas City’s grab-happy secondary got flagged at the worst possible times in the first half and Super Bowl LV slipped away from the defending champs. With Patrick Mahomes locked up on a 10-year mega deal, the Chiefs aren’t going anywhere.
BUF Bills
Josh Allen took a number of costly sacks and could have been charged with 3 INTs in the AFC Championship. He’s come a long way from costing his team in the 2019-20 Wild Card Round against Houston, but still has a long way to go to become a Super Bowl winning QB.
GB Packers
Matt LaFleur was crushed for kicking a field goal on 4th and goal with 2:05 remaining and the Packers down by 8 in the NFC title game. Aaron Rodgers could’ve prevented that tough decision by running for a TD on either of the previous plays, and the Packers defense could’ve made a stop to keep their hopes alive.
LAR Rams
Matthew Stafford is a significant upgrade over Jared Goff and it will be exciting to see what Sean McVay can do with one of the more talented QBs in the league. The Rams defense is on par with any unit in the NFL and Cam Akers gives them another dimension as a power running team.
NO Saints
Drew Brees met a bitter end to a storied career with 3 interceptions in a third straight home playoff loss for the Saints. As great as Brees has been, his limitations and injuries were the weakest link for an otherwise loaded team.
BAL Ravens
Lamar Jackson needs the right conditions to thrive as a passer and hectic winds in Buffalo in the Divisional Round did him no favors. His critical interception in the red zone proves that he needs to work on reading coverages. The Ravens front office should get him help at receiver this offseason.
TEN Titans
Derrick Henry managed just 2.2 YPC and the Titans couldn’t find enough receiving weapons aside from A.J. Brown to keep pace with the Ravens in the playoffs. Their defense rose to the challenge, but they have a lot of work to do on that side of the ball this offseason. 
CLE Browns
The Browns followed up their upset of the Steelers in the postseason with another gutsy performance in Kansas City. They will be tough to beat in 2021-22 if they are healthy along that impressive offensive line and are able to integrate Odell Beckham Jr. (knee) back into the fold.
PIT Steelers
What a debacle for this proud organization. After an 11-0 start, the Steelers backed into the playoffs and collapsed in the first half against the Browns. They’re looking to rebuild from the ground up by signing over a dozen players to Reserve/Futures contracts.
SEA Seahawks
Russell Wilson underwent a precipitous drop in production over the course of the season and OC Brian Schottenheimer took the fall as a result. Shane Waldron will look to turn Seattle’s offense into what he described as a “balanced but explosive” attack.
SF 49ers
The Niners ended the season with a pair of strong performances against the Cardinals and Seahawks. With Nick Bosa (knee) set to return, they will be closer to their elite status from the 2019-2020 season.
MIA Dolphins
Brian Flores might have lost out on Coach of the Year due to his Dolphins performance in Week 17. Miami’s top priority this offseason may be to sign Xavien Howard, who led the NFL in interceptions. 
IND Colts
Philip Rivers is calling it a career after another solid season. The Colts have a projected $58.3M in cap space to consider deploying for another QB or help at other positions.
DAL Cowboys
Coming up short in classic fashion, the Cowboys allowed 6.1 yards per play to an anemic Giants offense and lost out on a chance at the NFC East title. But Dak Prescott returns as a potential MVP candidate.
CHI Bears
The Bears midseason turnaround got them into the playoffs, but their run ended with a whimper in a feeble offensive performance at the Saints. Will they bring in Carson Wentz?
ARI Cardinals
Kyler Murray was in the running for MVP halfway through the season, yet he finished his second campaign with a rough stretch of play that was due in part to ankle and shoulder injuries. 
WAS Football Team
Taylor Heinicke turned in an impressive performance to keep Washington competitive against a superior Bucs team in the Wild Card round. Washington is finally headed in the right direction under Ron Rivera.
LAC Chargers
Anthony Lynn took the fall despite his starters missing over 100 combined games this season. The Chargers have an elite roster headlined by Justin Herbert, but the front office chose to focus on the defensive side of the ball by hiring former Rams DC Brandon Staley as head coach.
NYG Giants
Leonard Williams wrecked the Cowboys game plan and allowed the G-Men to steal a 23-19 win in Week 17. Their defense outperformed their offense all year but things could even out if Saquon Barkley (ACL) returns at full strength. 
PHI Eagles
Doug Pederson opted to tank in a nationally televised game, which moved the Eagles up to the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 draft, but eventually cost him his job. Philadelphia replaced him with former Colts OC Nick Sirianni.
LV Raiders
Darren Waller broke Tim Brown’s record with the most receptions (105) in franchise history as the Raiders won a 32-31 thriller in Denver to close out a tumultuous season. Jon Gruden’s squad flashed tons of potential but will have to find consistency to become a contender. 
MIN Vikings
Kirk Cousins posted a 25:3 TD:INT ratio with great numbers across the board over the last two months of the 2020 season. But the run-heavy Vikings aren’t built to win shootouts.
ATL Falcons
Raheem Morris made the most of Atlanta’s defensive talent with a remarkable turnaround after taking over Dan Quinn midway through the season. Yet Morris is out, in favor of former Titans OC Arthur Smith.
CAR Panthers
Down to their third-string RB, the Panthers stood no chance against the Saints in their 2020 finale. Matt Rhule has done a great job with this team and they could be a threat in 2021 if Christian McCaffrey stays healthy. 
NE Patriots
Where do the Patriots turn for a QB next year? Cam Newton averaged just 118.3 passing YPG over 3 feeble efforts before finding some success against the lame duck Jets in Week 17. 
DEN Broncos
Producing 4 turnovers in Week 17 without Bradley Chubb or Von Miller indicates the potential of this Broncos defense. Drew Lock and the Broncos offense have a ton of room for improvement.
HOU Texans
The Texans are said to be trying to patch up their relationship with QB Deshaun Watson instead of trading him. They hired former Ravens assistant Dave Culley as their new head coach.
CIN Bengals
The Bengals were absolutely manhandled by the Ravens swarming defense in Week 17, producing just 7 yards on 9 plays before Baltimore took a 17-0 lead late in the first half. Their passing attack should be dangerous next year with Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins leading the way. 
NYJ Jets
The Jets will likely trade either Sam Darnold or the No. 2 overall pick in an attempt to start fresh with a new QB now that Adam Gase (and his 9-23 record) has been shown the door in favor of boisterous former 49ers DC Robert Saleh.
JAX Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence should be the starter for Jacksonville next season under Urban Meyer, a brilliant coach who should find success at the NFL level. 
DET Lions
The Lions finished their season ranked dead last in most defensive metrics and they decided to give Saints assistant Dan Campbell a six-year contract with Anthony Lynn coming on as OC and Jared Goff stepping in as a sitting duck behind a poor offensive line.

How to use NFL Power Rankings

Stay tuned for updates to our power rankings all season long! These can serve as a valuable tool for placing NFL futures bets or planning how to bet on NFL games.

Of course, you have to account for factors such as travel time, home field advantage, and injuries as the season progresses. Yet early in the season, it’s possible to go against the betting public by sticking to your own process.

Bettors tend to overreact to recent results and are very reactionary in an “update league” like the NFL. Therefore, the betting market shifts to these reactions.

If you stick with the raw data, i.e. metrics on offensive line play, a quarterback’s record at home, and turnover differential, you might be able to cash big early in the season before oddsmakers and the betting public adjust. Trust your data and stay one step ahead with a comprehensive Power Rankings system.

How to handicap NFL games

What does it mean to “handicap” a game? At first, it might seem that you’ll be running advanced metrics and spitting out numbers and point spreads. In reality, handicapping is a fancy bettor’s term for preparing and researching. There’s dozens of game factors that need to be taken into account like injuries, matchups, and metrics but also market factors like line movement and public biases.

Surface-level factors

First are the surface-level factors that can determine a game like home field advantage (though in 2020, that is severely diminished), key injuries, and the weather. For injuries, don’t just browse the fantasy football injury report– a diminished offensive line or defensive secondary can be devastating to a team’s performance. For example, the Washington Football Team was able to record eight sacks on the Eagles’ Carson Wentz and overcome a 17-point deficit and underdog odds due to three key offensive line absences for Philadelphia in Week 1 of the 2020 season.

Traditionally, the home team is given a 2- or 3-point advantage for playing in their home city in front of their home fans. Even without fans in attendance, travel takes a toll on visiting teams and has some (albeit diminished) effect on the line. Also needed for consideration is the weather: rain, wind, and snow can hurt a pass-heavy offense and cold weather might hurt warm-climate teams. Teams playing at altitude (Denver) may also have an advantage over teams that don’t frequently play at altitude (Miami).

Strength of schedule is useful when looking at futures bet. For example, the Houston Texans averaged 23.6 points per game against the 13th-toughest schedule in the NFL in 2019. In 2020, the Texans were scheduled the 8th-toughest schedule in the NFL and traded away star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Using this information, we could have determined that the Texans were likely to see a negative regression in points per game. Strength of schedules are also broken down positionally and should be taken into consideration, as well.

Deeper factors

Beyond those easily-identifiable factors are matchups, schemes, and metrics. If you aren’t a film junkie, don’t worry– there’s plenty of Twitter follows and websites that can help you break it down and make it easily understandable.

Look for size advantages in receivers and defensive backs; players like Julio Jones can make life difficult for a 5’ 8” corner and the Falcons might gameplan to exploit that advantage. Other positional advantages to keep in mind: pass rushers against inexperienced/struggling offensive tackles and athletic pass-catching tight ends against linebackers who struggle defending receivers. Schematic advantages are also worth noting. For example, seasoned vets like Josh McDaniels (Patriots offensive coordinator) or Mike Zimmer (Vikings head coach and former defensive coordinator) will have an advantage against a first-year play-caller.

Advanced metrics can be telling and expose weaknesses in teams, but with thousands of metrics out there, it can be difficult to tell which are really helpful. NBC’s Warren Sharp is a great resource for finding advanced metrics that make significant differences in outcomes. A quick tab on stats worth paying attention to:

  • Yards per play (rather than total yards)
  • Expected points per drive (rather than points per game)
  • Air yards per attempt (rather than passing yards thrown)
  • 3rd down conversion

These numbers will break down the efficiency and effectiveness of an offense (or defense, if you’re going with allowed) and remove the “garbage time” numbers plenty of players can pile on. Contrary to the belief that stats never lie, stats can actually be the best liars when used incorrectly.

If you’ve really got a handle on the NFL game, a popular focus recently has been on coaches’ understanding of analytics and their willingness to utilize probability factors in their gameplan. For example, failing to use analytics and probability both cost the Cowboys and Broncos opening-week wins (rushing on third and long, hoarding timeouts, settling for field goals inside the three yard line, etc.). Older coaches who’ve rejected the use of modern analytics can move lines (especially over/unders) and are worth keeping tabs on.

Market factors

Outside of the game itself, bettors should understand how lines move and react to sharp bettors and the general public. One thing to remember about public betting: they are easily and drastically influenced by recency bias and non-sequitur trends. For example, Sammy Watkins almost always comes out in Week 1 and dominates, but disappears for the rest of the year. Yet year-in and year-out, Watkins is picked up in thousands of fantasy leagues with hopes that he continues his streak. This affects statistical futures from the droves of public bettors that go and bet his over in receiving yards and moves the line up (say, from 405.5 yards to 425.5 yards).

Sharp bettors (professionals and those who prepare correctly) can take advantage of moving lines and get better odds for their wagers. Taking the Watkins example, bettors who take the under now have 20 more yards of breathing room and a higher probability of success. The same goes for good players who play a poor Week 1 (ex. Saquon Barkley). Their futures will decrease due to the public all betting under their totals, and gives sharp bettors more space to work with when betting overs.

This tactic is known as fading the public and has a long track record of success.

Power Rankings vs. Power Ratings

Everyone sees Power Rankings just about everywhere you look– SportsCenter, the Herd, just about every website– and those are useful in their own right. The concept is simple, just a 1-32 list of the best team to the worst team. Maybe it’s based on metrics, maybe it’s based on the eyeball test, maybe it’s both.

Power Ratings differ quite a bit despite sounding similar. Ratings quantify the numerical advantage one team has over another based on past scores and season performance. Ratings are drawn exclusively from quantifiable metrics (though those metrics may differ person to person) and are used to help predict future scores and outcomes, rather than saying Team X is just better than Team Y and should win.

How to build your own Power Rankings

For those looking to rank teams 1-32 based on last season, the games ongoing this season, and a looking quickly at the depth chart, you can do just that. However, it likely won’t serve as a useful tool when it comes to betting, especially against the spread; you’ll want to build (or find) a set of power ratings first. That way, you’ll have a more accurate and quantifiable justification to your rankings and remove potential biases.

To create these power ratings, begin with ranking the teams according to projected number of wins. This will give you a base to work with rather than working from scratch. Assign a number to each team, starting at the top with 16 and running down to the bottom where the last ranked team receives -16. From there, adjust the numbers– 16 through -16, with zero being the middle– based on projected point totals, defensive ranks, and personnel. If interested, look up formulas on expected point differentials to create a more pinpoint rating for each team.

Putting it together

Once you have your numbers, compare two teams (numbers in parentheses are hypothetical power ratings): Indianapolis (12) @ Los Angeles Chargers (-8).

The difference between these teams ratings, 4, is now your theoretical point spread. Add in a 2.5-point advantage for the home team (Los Angeles) for an adjusted point spread of 1.5 in favor of the Colts.

Now add in your factors (injuries, metrics, etc.) to fine-tune your spread. Derwin James is out for the season and creates a massive disadvantage for the Chargers’ defensive secondary (the numbers on this are worth looking up) and should benefit the Colts at least half a point. Your final spread for this game comes out to Colts -2 (-110) @ Chargers.

Now, take your projected spread of -2 and compare it to the Vegas lines. Say the opening line comes out to Colts -4.5 (-110) @ Chargers. That should be an easy bet, since our projected point total is -2 and we would take the Chargers to cover. The process will take some refining and new factors will emerge as the season goes on, but this is the basic process in handicapping your own NFL games.

Not only will this help you quantify point spreads and decide on feasible spreads, but it will help you dig deeper and find new metrics that create a new dimension of understanding for betting on the NFL.

2021 NFL Pre-season Power Rankings

Here are our pre-season Power Rankings accompanied by their FanDuel Sportsbook Super Bowl odds.

RankTeamSuper Bowl odds
1Tampa Bay Buccaneers+950
2Kansas City Chiefs+500
3Buffalo Bills+1100
4Green Bay Packers+1100
5LA Rams+1200
6New Orleans Saints+1900
7Baltimore Ravens+1400
8Tennessee Titans+2700
9Cleveland Browns+2200
10Pittsburgh Steelers+3100
11Seattle Seahawks+2000
12San Francisco 49ers+1300
13Miami Dolphins+2800
14Indianapolis Colts+2900
15Dallas Cowboys+3300
16Chicago Bears+6000
17Arizona Cardinals+4100
18Washington Football Team+8000
19LA Chargers+3100
20New York Giants+7000
21Philadelphia Eagles+5000
22Las Vegas Raiders+5000
23Minnesota Vikings+4400
24Atlanta Falcons+5000
25Carolina Panthers+5000
26New England Patriots+3700
27Denver Broncos+8000
28Houston Texans+7000
29Cincinnati Bengals+8000
30New York Jets+6500
31Jacksonville Jaguars+8000
32Detroit Lions+12000