The NFL season starts today. I know, I can’t believe it either. But it’s real, so it’s time to tier rank all the teams so fans can properly set their expectations for this season. Oh, and inside the individual tiers, the teams are in no particular order.
The best of the best: Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints
At the very top, we’ve got four teams, two from each league. If everything goes chalk, they’ll be the teams in the AFC and NFC championship games. The defending champion Chiefs brought back much of the same squad and are the clear favorite to repeat this season. They’ve also got the no-brainer best player in the NFL, no matter what any NFL top-100 players list will have you believe.
The Ravens have the reigning MVP and possibly most dynamic player in the league, Lamar Jackson, along with one of the best defensive units in the NFL. Their season rides on if Jackson can even come close to replicating the success he had in 2019 now that defenses have had an entire offseason to gameplan around him. I’m not saying he won’t, but it’ll be tough.
The 49ers came ever so close to winning the Super Bowl before Patrick Mahomes worked his magic, but they’ve still undoubtedly got one of the most talented rosters in the league. My biggest concern for them is Jimmy Garoppolo — he’s just not all that. He’s fine, but he’s not going to really win you any games based solely on his play. If they want to make it back to the final Sunday of the season, they’ll have to do it on the backs of their defense once again.
As for the Saints, they’ve been one of the best teams in the NFL over the past couple of seasons but have underperformed when the playoffs rolled around (not always their fault, but hey it was two postseasons ago, Saints fans just have to move on already). If Drew Brees can hold off significant natural age regression for another year and Alvin Kamara actually shows up, this team could seriously go all the way. If both those things don’t happen, they’re still the best team in the division.
Could make some serious noise: Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings
My two hottest takes come in this tier — the Houston Texans and the Minnesota Vikings. Listen, every year there are those teams that are criminally underrated because even though they have talent, people are overreacting to a move they made in the offseason. That’s the case with these two teams.
Did everyone forget the Texans made it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season and put up 31 points only to lose because they were playing the Chiefs? Sure, Bill O’Brien is a very questionable head coach/general manager and trading away DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson wasn’t smart, but their receiving corps with new addition Brandon Cooks are still very above average and they did get an upgrade at running back. But ultimately, it comes down to this for me: The Texans have the best quarterback in the NFL not named Pat Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. Deshaun Watson is a legitimate superstar. He makes things happen on a football field not many other quarterbacks can. With him at the helm and a still very solid roster surrounding him, I could very much see a deep playoff run in their future.
As for the Vikings, yes they traded away Stefon Diggs but he had a bit of an attitude problem and they did a good job replacing him by drafting Justin Jefferson in the first round. Their defense, despite losing Everson Griffen, is still very above average, and the offensive unit as a whole should also be above average. Kirk Cousins isn’t as bad of a quarterback as people make him out to be. He’s actually pretty good, believe it or not, and if Adam Thielen is healthy, the two of them will have a very nice season together. Oh, and did I mention they also made the Divisional Round, beating the Saints along the way, only to lose to the eventual NFC champion 49ers? This team is still very, very good.
Now for the other two teams, the Seahawks and Titans. Both of them finishing towards the top of the league wouldn’t be that surprising. Seattle has a very good offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Russell Wilson and a very good defense that will only improve with the addition of Jamal Adams. Meanwhile, the Titans need a repeat year from Derrick Henry, which isn’t that crazy to ask for. Their defense is also very solid, and the addition of Jadeveon Clowney a few days ago makes them even better.
Might make the playoffs but probably won’t seriously compete: New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams
There are a lot of teams here (and still left to go) so I’m going to quickly mention each one of them so this article isn’t 5,000 words. The Patriots obviously have had a lot of change and are no longer the favorites in the AFC much less the AFC East. Cam Newton might work, he might not. They also lost a bunch of players to either free agency or opt-outs, so I just don’t see this team being that good. The only reason they’re not lower is because I’ve learned you can never count Bill Belichick out. A lot of people also like the division rival Buffalo Bills, but even though their defense is very good, Josh Allen in my opinion is one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. You need a good QB if you want to seriously compete. Reference the first article I ever wrote for The Daily Campus back in 2017 (don’t judge).
In the opposite East division, I’ve also seen a lot of people buying into both the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. Sure, the Cowboys have the talent to be great but something about them always doesn’t let them do so, and I don’t expect anything to change this year. As for the Eagles, if Wentz gets hurt (which at this point seems more likely than not), the season goes down the drain once again. Even if he doesn’t, nothing about their team jumps out at me and screams contender.
The Packers are going through a lot of turmoil right now, selecting players for seemingly all the positions they didn’t need help at in the early rounds of the NFL draft. One of which was a first-round QB, so that doesn’t bode well for future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Rodgers. Too much drama potential for me to buy into them being contenders.
The Buccaneers are interesting, but all of their chips are now on 43-year-old Tom Brady who is moving to a new offense for the first time in his career. Who knows if it will work? He also showed some clear signs of decline last season (don’t believe me? Look at the stats), so that will probably only get worse. The division rival Atlanta Falcons are just one of those teams that’s solid, should win games, but unless Matt Ryan has another MVP season, won’t seriously compete.
The Arizona Cardinals are one of the more interesting teams in the league, and while they have a ton of potential with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins now in the same offense, it’s just that, potential. I need to see it actually work before they get put higher on this list. Now for the Los Angeles Rams, they very well could finish the season with a record of 8-8 or better and be the No. 4 team in the division, it’s just that good. They’re still a solid team, but they’re not the same as when they went to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago.
Lucky to finish .500: Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, Detroit Lions
This group is divided into two main groups: Need to move on from a quarterback and need to develop a quarterback. The talent isn’t inherently bad on any of these teams, but they’re just not good enough to go anywhere this season. The biggest shocker on this list for some might be the Steelers, but even though they have a very solid defense, their offense is atrocious. Big Ben is nowhere close to what he used to be and they don’t have good options behind him. We saw that last season.
The Colts just signed Philip Rivers, and while I do think he’s been one of the most consistently underrated QBs throughout his career, it’s clear he’s past his prime. The Raiders are stuck with Derek Carr, and while they can cut him soon, for now, they have to live with what they’ve got, and what they’ve got isn’t good. The Lions are in a similar position, and while I do think Stafford is better than Carr, it’s clear they’re not going anywhere with him. They’re just stuck for a few years.
As for the Bengals, Chargers and Broncos, they each have their future quarterback they just need to take some time to develop. It’s not their fault they’re this low, if everything works out they should be much higher soon, but for now, they’re not winning anything. They’re on the right track though, unlike the other four teams in this group.
Get ready for the draft: New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Washington Football Team, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears
There are some teams here that also just have to develop their quarterback: The Jets, Dolphins, Giants and Browns, but their supporting cast isn’t as good as the teams above them (or they don’t have the reigning Heisman-winning National Champion). The Jets have a solid defense but an atrocious offense. The Giants have a solid offense but an atrocious defense. The Dolphins are bad (but not completely atrocious) on both sides of the ball. But they all have what they consider to be the future at quarterback. They just need some time to build around them. Oh, and the Browns are a dumpster fire. It’s a sinking ship with too many egos over in Cleveland, and it’s only a matter of time before they implode.
Washington is really, really bad all around. Who knows if they believe in Haskins at QB? The Panthers are going into a clear rebuild, and not even Teddy Bridgewater will be able to pull them out of it. And the Bears might have the worst quarterback in the NFL, Mitch Trubisky, leading them into the abyss. Did you know he was taken before both Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson?
Jaguars: Jacksonville Jaguars
Did you think I forgot about them? No, this team is just so bad that it would be insulting to put them on the level of any other teams. They needed their own tier.
Jacksonville isn’t even trying to hide the tank. They’re committing to going after the No. 1 overall pick, and to be honest they might already have it locked up. I’m not going to say they’re going to go 0-16 because as we all know that’s very, very hard to do, but I think they’re clearly worse than the Dolphins were at the beginning of last season and a lot of people thought they could go 0-16.
I don’t envy the fanbase of the first team the Jaguars beat. They’re going to get put through the ringer.
Chalk: Chiefs over Saints
There’s nothing original about this pick but it’s the most likely, at least in my eyes. The Chiefs are still king, and I think this will be the year the Saints get over the hump and make the Super Bowl.
Bold: Texans over Vikings
I talked these two teams up earlier and I’m doubling down. Deshaun Watson wins MVP and the Vikings have the best defense in the NFL in this scenario. Will it happen? Probably not, but I did say this is a bold prediction.
Wild: Cardinals over Broncos
If Kyler Murray has a breakout season, Drew Lock really steps up and the Broncos can overcome the loss of Von Miller, this would be a really fun matchup that gives us a glimpse at the future of the NFL.