NFL Power Rankings Week 1
New Normal. Old Normal. Everywhere you turn, someone is trying to explain what “normal” is supposed to be. Normal at work. Normal at home. Normal in public. It’s all about getting back to “normal”.
I’m tired of hearing about normal.
So, I suppose it’s a good thing that the NFL season is back upon us. Because nothing about professional football betting is normal. Blown leads and bad beats. Backdoor covers and stacks of dollar bills. Hail Mary parlays and long shot moneylines. Red zone failures and defensive yards per point. Take all of it, mix it together and slam it into your veins with a bottle of scotch chaser.
I don’t want normal. I want adrenaline. I want chaos. I want to feel the rush that comes with making those last second decisions on who to put big money on. I want the electricity that comes with my team driving down the field with 1:18 to play and no timeouts, going for that spread-busting score. I want the jolts and volts that come with steaming lines, stunning upsets and Sundays spent in a haze of panic and euphoria.
And I want the intoxication that comes from Being Right. From knowing what is going to happen on A Given Sunday – in spite of what the rest of the world thinks – and then having everything go exactly as planned.
You can keep trying to figure out where normal is. You can keep fighting the fatigue, the fear, the selfish spite and simple-minded anger that you encounter on a daily basis. I’m letting all that go and diving head long into The Chaos.
Chaos is a gift. There will be plenty of time for Normal later.
Doc’s Sports offers NFL picks for every game on our NFL predictions page.
Here is Doc’s Sports NFL Power Rankings:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) – Everyone is back, and I’m expecting everyone to be even better this year in Tampa Bay. Last year this group was thrown together, with no offseason to get on the same page. That’s not the case here. Everyone in this organization has fully bought in, and everyone is rowing in the right direction (as indicated by their 100 percent vaccination rate). There is no weakness on this roster, and I will be surprised if they don’t sport Top 10 units on both sides of the ball.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) – This is usually right around the time that things get bumpy. Kansas City lost in the AFC Championship three years ago. Then they took the next step and won a championship. Last year they made it back to the title game only to lose. Now everyone in this organization understands that they will only be judged by Super Bowl titles. So don’t be surprised to see less effort in the regular season from this group, and I can see them sliding back from 14 wins last year to maybe 12 this season.
3. Buffalo Bills (0-0) – I am expecting a major jump forward from the Bills defense, and that should make the difference for this group. Buffalo absolutely dominated on D in 2018 (No. 2 in total defense) and 2019 (No. 3) before backsliding to No. 14 last year. Getting Star Lotulelei back is massive. And I’m expecting a jump from one of their young defenders (Ed Oliver, A.J. Epenesa or Greg Rousseau). I know they want to put the ball in Josh Allen’s hands, but Brian Daboll can help his defense by trying to establish a better running game.
4. Green Bay Packers (0-0) – The Packers are hoping that Aaron Rodgers’ talent still outweighs the bad karma that he drags into the locker room. That has been the case the last two years as Green Bay has gone 26-6 during the regular season. Having two rookie starters along the offensive line won’t help, and I don’t see this group winning 13 games again. Regardless, Rodgers should keep them among the league’s elite in his farewell (from Lambeau) season.
5. Cleveland Browns (0-0) – I know: I can’t believe it either. The Browns were comically overrated last season – they ended the year with a -11 point differential and went 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less – and have set the standard for losing in the NFL over the past 20 years. Yet there is no denying that their roster is absolutely bursting with talent. We will find out where this team is really at after their trip to Arrowhead in Week 1.
6. Baltimore Ravens (0-0) – Is it me, or does it feel like the window has already closed for the Ravens as a championship team? It shouldn’t feel that way for a group that has gone 25-7 in the last two regular seasons and made the playoffs three straight times. Yet here we are. It doesn’t feel as if the Ravens did enough in the offseason to change the calculus in the AFC. And until Lamar Jackson does anything in January, this group must resign itself to being a Big Bad that one of the other contenders must slay on the road to a title.
7. Seattle Seahawks (0-0) – Rusty Wilson and Pete Carroll just continue to overachieve. It might not seem like it to the Seattle fans clamoring for a return to the Super Bowl. But statistically speaking, this team beat its Pythagorean Win Total by 2.8 wins in 2019 and by 2.0 wins in 2020 and continues to win more games than this roster should be capable of. Those Pythagorean numbers make the Seahawks a regression candidate. Yet I am not in a rush to bet against a group that did enough retooling this offseason to keep them in the NFC’s top tier.
8. San Francisco 49ers (0-0) – This feels like a make-or-break campaign for Kyle Shanahan. And I am obviously buying in. Shanahan isn’t in any real danger of losing his job. But another losing season would cripple his credibility. The Niners went 13-3 in 2019. They are 16-32 in his other three seasons at the helm, and now they have a quarterback controversy. There are a lot of moving parts here. Yet if they can stay healthy (and it is mathematically improbable that they will suffer the same poor injury luck this season), then this roster still has enough talent to bang with anyone.
9. New Orleans Saints (0-0) – I’m not buying into Jameis Winston’s redemption. He is definitely a better quarterback than Taysom Hill. That’s not even a question. Winston is nowhere near Drew Brees, though, and there is no way anyone can convince me that Winston has somehow grown past his turnover-prone ways. The Saints roster is still pretty well stacked, and Sean Payton is still one of the best in the business, so their drop-off shouldn’t be precipitous.
10. Tennessee Titans (0-0) – This is another team that has made a recent habit out of winning more games than their numbers suggest they should. Whether it is conjuring up injury luck, turnovers or defensive yards per point, Mike Vrabel has been able to rub his rabbit’s foot and steal wins. Is it time for that luck to run out? Tennessee is 20-10 in one-score games over the last four seasons, including going 7-2 last year.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (0-0) – While teams like Seattle and Tennessee have made a habit out of exceeding their talent levels, the Chargers have made underachieving a tragicomic art form. This group, which boasts one of the most skillful rosters in the NFL, has gone 4-16 in one-score games over the last two seasons. That’s insane! Last year alone they lost four games in which at one point they held a 90 percent win probability. If they take care of the ball and avoid injuries, this group is like an AFC version of the 49ers in terms of overall ability and strength.
12. New England Patriots (0-0) – You didn’t think that Bill Belichick was going to stay down for long, did you? The Patriots defense looks nasty. Their offense, which should flow through a deep stable of capable running backs, looks capable. This veteran-laden team has a big chip on its shoulder, and I think it is primed to rally around rookie quarterback Mac Jones. It won’t be pretty. But it should be effective enough to keep the Patriots in the AFC mix as a team no one wants to face come January.
13. Arizona Cardinals (0-0) – Kliff Kingsbury is a huge loser as a head coach. Winner in life; loser as a coach. The sooner Arizona realizes that, and cuts bait, the better off they will be. Unfortunately, they look prepared to squander a talented, experienced roster that should be ready to take the step forward that squads like Buffalo and Cleveland did last year. Arizona’s offseason moves, like acquiring J.J. Watt and A.J. Green, put the team in “win now” mode. If they get off to a slow start, then Kingsbury could lose the locker room and sink this squad.
14. Los Angeles Rams (0-0) – As you can tell, I don’t love the Rams as much as everyone else. I would say that at least 50 percent of the media bobbleheads are picking Los Angeles to win the NFC. Why? When did Matt Stafford, King of Garbage Time Stat Padding, become The Missing Piece? The Rams once again have one of the youngest rosters in the league, they overachieved defensively last season, and if anything happens to Andrew Whitworth, Aaron Donald or Jalen Ramsey, then this team is completely screwed.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) – It is tough to put the Steelers this low on the list. It is truly remarkable that this franchise has finished below .500 only once so far in the 21st century. I simply don’t trust Ben Roethlisberger to hold up for 17 games, though. Pittsburgh has gotten too far away from its ground-and-pound roots, and they are simply too dependent on the aging Roethlisberger. As we saw last year, that plan may work for a few early months in the season.
16. Denver Broncos (0-0) – If this team underachieves and has another losing season, Vic Fangio will be gone. If that happens, then without question the worst decision he made was bringing in Pat Shurmur to run the offense. Shurmur has been one of the worst offensive coordinators of the last quarter century, and it might not even matter who Denver has under center with Shurmur calling the plays.
17. Minnesota Vikings (0-0) – This might end up being too low for this group. Mike Zimmer completely reloaded the defense after last year’s catastrophe. Now the core of the stop unit closely resembles the group that finished in the Top 5 in either total defense or scoring defense for five straight seasons from 2015-2019. If they can get back to being a Top 10 unit, then this team has the goods to challenge Green Bay in the North.
18. Indianapolis Colts (0-0) – I will admit that I originally felt like the Carson Wentz deal this offseason was a home run for the Colts organization. Now? Not so much. This is still a solid roster with plenty of good players. But they don’t have enough high-end difference-makers to be considered a real threat in the AFC. They should be solid enough to find 9-10 wins, but their ceiling is clearly just making the postseason.
19. Chicago Bears (0-0) – The Bears brain trust definitely deserves credit for their bold, aggressive maneuvering to get Justin Fields. He looks like a keeper. However, Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy didn’t do anything to improve Chicago’s team for this year, so they likely won’t even be around to mold Fields in the future. The Bears offensive line is one of the weakest in the NFL, and that will be the undoing of an otherwise better-than-people-think roster.
20. Dallas Cowboys (0-0) – Mike “Analytics” McCarthy really appears to be running a tight ship, eh? The Cowboys have had one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the league this preseason. And if Hard Knocks showed us anything this August, it is that this franchise is still way, way, way more about style than it is about substance. The Dallas defense, outside of its loaded linebacker room, still stinks, and there are questions about key offensive players’ abilities to stay healthy.
21. Las Vegas Raiders (0-0) – This team is spare parts. They’ve missed with too many recent draft picks. And there attempts to try to bolster the Q-rating of the defense with retread signings like Gerald McCoy and K.J. Wright is an obvious ploy to generate some excitement in their home market. The bottom line is that we are four years into the Gruden Experiment, and this team still has no identity. Are they are running team? Is this Derek Carr’s team? Are they a defensive team (obviously not)? Who are the Raiders?
22. Miami Dolphins (0-0) – I think that the Tua Tagovailoa situation is one of the most interesting storylines in the NFL this year. But it is kind of a red flag that the No. 1 question surrounding him is: “Is Tua actually any good?” If the answer is yes, then this ranking is comically low. If the answer is no, then it will be interesting to see how Brian Flores keeps this locker room together and what the Fins do with the franchise moving forward. This team just never stays relevant for very long.
23. Washington Football Team (0-0) – I love the defense. You love the defense. Everyone loves a defense that should be one of the best in football. And Ryan Fitzpatrick is always a fun story. But there are reasons that Fitzpatrick is 59-86 in his career and reasons why he doesn’t have a winning record for any of the eight teams that he has started for. The reason is that he actually stinks, and you just can’t win with this guy.
24. Carolina Panthers (0-0) – This team was much, much better than its record suggested last season, and I was kind of excited about the direction this team was pointed in. However, I don’t think they improved at all this offseason, and by November we may look back on Carolina’s 2020 and chalk it up to COVID overachievement. Sam Darnold has never done anything, in college or the NFL, to make me think he would be a competent NFL starter. So, I’ll believe it when I see it with him.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) – I have zero faith in Nick Sirianni, and that was an awful hiring by the Eagles front office. That said, I think that Philadelphia has the potential to be a surprise team, and I really think they have a chance to win the East. They whole key is health. Injuries demolished their season last year, and guys like Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and Fletcher Cox aren’t getting any younger. If they stay healthy, and if Jalen Hurts can take care of the ball, these guys won’t be an easy W for anyone.
26. Atlanta Falcons (0-0) – Arthur Smith’s Falcons are still somewhat of a mystery after a preseason played pretty close to the vest. Atlanta was the league’s biggest Pythagorean underachiever last season, meaning they were way, way better (by nearly four wins) than their 4-12 mark suggested. Changing head coaches and schemes while bringing in a lot of new faces could take a bite out of any natural gains we could’ve expected from this team, though.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) – What is there to be said? These guys are still The Bungles. They watched their franchise quarterback run for his life and get beaten into submission his rookie year. So, with a Top 10 pick and money to spend in free agency, do the Bengals invest heavily in the offensive line? Of course they don’t! These guys have improved their talent level on both sides of the ball. But without a coherent plan or identity or approach from this clown show organization, they will remain bottom feeders.
28. Houston Texans (0-0) – The Texans aren’t any good. However, they will be better than people expect. This roster is filled with veteran players and guys that have produced in this league. Brandin Cooks, Laremy Tunsil, Tyrod Taylor, Mark Ingram, Philip Lindsay and David Johnson have all been Pro Bowlers. It is the same thing on defense; they don’t have any stars, just solid veteran contributors. The ceiling for this group is low, but I at least expect a game effort from them every week.
29. New York Giants (0-0) – I love the talent that the Giants have at running back and receiver. None of it is going to matter behind this horrendous offensive line and with turnover-prone Daniel Jones under center. I also don’t expect the defense to overachieve at the same level that it did last season. Any step back on that side of the ball, and New York is really in trouble.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) – The Jaguars have some pieces in place and have reasons to be optimistic about the future for the first time in a long time. They still have a long way to go, though. And despite the high upside, this is still a team with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. They will be competitive, but I wouldn’t expect more than four or five wins out of this group.
31. Detroit Lions (0-0) – Is Dan Campbell really a step up from that chud Matt Patricia? I don’t hate Campbell’s old-school approach, and I see the Lions trying to run the ball 40 times per game. The problem is that this might be the least-talented roster in the NFL, and they are going up against one of the most difficult schedules in the league.
32. New York Jets (0-0) – Maybe Zach Wilson is the guy. Maybe not. The Jets, as an organization, don’t get the benefit of the doubt, though. Wilson is the highest profile rookie but not the only first-year player expected to make an impact for this team. The Jets have five rookies prepared to start, and they have nine first-year players on the two-deep. Throw in a rookie head coach, and things are likely to get worse before they get better.
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