Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who spanked the Power Rankings darling Chiefs to win the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.
The Bucs won their final eight games of the season and went on a steady climb on our board, reaching the No. 1 spot for the first time following their dominant Super Bowl win. Tampa was a team that rose as high as No. 3 in our rankings back in Weeks 8 and 9, before dropping as low as 12 after Week 14. Then came the ferocious close to the regular season and a barnstorming playoff run. This was a team that peaked twice, including when it mattered most.
With the 2020 season now in the rearview, let's spin forward to a new year with all 32 teams back in the mix. Thanks to all the readers who've enjoyed -- or been infuriated by -- the Power Rankings all season.
The great experiment was a historic success. The Bucs targeted Tom Brady in free agency, hoping the soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback still had greatness in him. Brady rewarded that faith with a stellar season capped by an MVP performance in the Super Bowl. Of course, Brady didn't beat the Chiefs alone. Tampa Bay's defense delivered a legendary effort, putting enormous pressure on Patrick Mahomes and nearly erasing Tyreek Hill, the same wide receiver who hung 200 yards on them -- in one quarter -- two months earlier. A total team victory and a masterclass in team-building for general manager Jason Licht and the whole Bucs organization.
Super Bowl LV will be remembered, in part, as the day we learned Patrick Mahomes wasn't invincible. The quarterback is as special and gifted a player as we've seen enter the league in the past 30 years, but even the great Mahomes was no match for an unyielding Bucs pass rush that made mincemeat of Kansas City's compromised offensive line. The craziest stat, per Next Gen Stats: Mahomes ran a total of 497 yards before his passes/sacks, the most pre-throw/pre-sack yards run by any QB in a game this season. A day that began with dreams of back-to-back titles turned into an ambush.
Forget the idea of 2020 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers leaving town -- that never felt realistic even in the immediate aftermath of Green Bay’s painful NFC championship loss to the Bucs. The real question is what can the Packers do to get over the hump and return to the Super Bowl -- 10 years after Rodgers’ one and only appearance? A better, more dynamic defense would bring some balance to the operation -- new defensive coordinator Joe Barry has an important job on his hands in a crucial season for the franchise.
Buffalo fell one win short of reaching the Super Bowl, but there’s no shame in losing to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC title game. Now comes the time for some difficult decisions: The Bills are already right around the projected 2021 salary cap and have 14 players slated to become unrestricted free agents, per Over The Cap. Buffalo will need to make some hard decisions as it looks to take the final step.
After another disappointing postseason exit, it’s time for the Ravens braintrust to put the best possible offense on the field around Lamar Jackson. That should mean adding a dynamic talent to a wide receiver group that managed just 137 receptions and 1,729 yards receiving this past season (both easily league lows). The pending free-agent market could include names such as Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay. Any of those players would provide a much-needed boost to Baltimore’s attack.
Now what? The Saints were turned back at the gate of the Super Bowl once again this January in what was very likely Drew Brees’ final bite at the apple. Sean Payton told Good Morning Football that New Orleans has “big interest” in bringing back Jameis Winston (a pending free agent) and jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill is under contract. The Saints have continually said they believe in both players -- we’ll find out in the next two months if that’s legit or merely a smokescreen ahead of an aggressive next step.
A second-half swoon on offense led to Seattle’s one-and-done postseason exit and also cost Brian Schottenheimer his job as offensive coordinator. Pete Carroll replaced Schottenheimer with former Rams passing game coordinator Shane Waldron, a bit of a mystery hire given Waldron’s absence of experience in the OC role. Waldron has never called plays in his seven seasons on the sideline in the NFL, but former boss Sean McVay has called the 41-year-old a “phenomenal coach.” Russell Wilson asked for input in the hire, so you can assume the quarterback is on board.
The end of the relationship between Jared Goff and the Rams was stunning in its swiftness. Goff helped take the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018, signed a monster extension in 2019, and opened the 2020 season as the unquestioned franchise quarterback. Or, at least, that's how it appeared from the outside back in September. More likely, Sean McVay had some reservations and then felt compelled to act when Goff regressed further in his final season in blue and yellow. Now Goff's in Detroit and Matthew Stafford is the man behind center. After the blockbuster trade, the Rams are scheduled to go seven years between first-round picks. This better work.
In the 2020 offseason, the Browns put their focus on building a better offense around Baker Mayfield. That gambit worked, but now Cleveland has to turn its focus toward improving the defense. The unit’s inability to get a final stop against a Patrick Mahomes-less Chiefs offense will stick in the craw of Browns fans for a long time. The D has star wattage thanks to Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, but GM Andrew Berry will be tasked with adding more surrounding talent at linebacker and the secondary.
We have -- for the first time in a long time -- drama at the quarterback position in Pittsburgh. Fresh off the 2020 campaign's team-wide collapse, Steelers president Art Rooney II said there would have to be "significant concessions" for Ben Roethlisberger to return for an 18th season, and the soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback replied by telling The Athletic he didn't care how much the Steelers paid him in 2021. It all points to a reunion of the two sides for one last rodeo, but you wonder if team brass and Mike Tomlin will seriously ponder having a new QB option in the mix come September.
The Titans failed to adequately address their shortcomings on defense entering 2020. After a season of record-breaking offense and porous play on the other side of the ball, GM Jon Robinson should again put his focus on achieving better team balance. That means finding a pass rush (Tennessee had the third-fewest sacks in the league) and improving a secondary that flailed once Adoree' Jackson went down with a knee injury.
Tua Tagovailoa labeled his rookie voyage with the Dolphins -- a season in which he was benched multiple times in favor of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick -- as "below average." We respect the 22-year-old's candor, and you hope he'll get an opportunity to build his career in Miami. Rookie struggles aside, it's easy to forget that Tua came into the league off major hip surgery and without a traditional offseason due to the pandemic. In other words, it is far too early to make a snap judgment about his future in the NFL. Even with Deshaun Watson potentially on the market, Miami should think carefully about a quick pivot.
Matthew Stafford is off the table as an option, and the Texans appear steadfast in their refusal to trade Deshaun Watson (for now, anyway). That would seem to increase the chances Jimmy Garoppolo gets another season in San Francisco, but use pencil to fill the injury-prone QB into your starting-lineup sheet. Other intriguing veteran options remain on the trade market, and the Niners could target a quarterback in the draft. Kyle Shanahan has not shown his hand the way the Rams did with Jared Goff -- which leaves us in a suspended state of blind speculation. Stay tuned.
Philip Rivers is retired. Andrew Luck is not coming back. Ever. We've been told the Colts want to bring in an experienced passer to replace Rivers, but who will that be? Reports surfaced during Super Bowl weekend that a Carson Wentz trade could be imminent, and Indy is the most logical landing spot due to the combination of need and Wentz's relationship with Frank Reich going back to their time together in Philadelphia. Can Reich fix Wentz? Given Wentz's struggles, is he worth the high cost it would likely take to secure him?
Justin Herbert easily snagged Offensive Rookie of the Year honors last weekend, a no-brainer after the quarterback set six major passing records in his debut season. Despite Herbert's instant excellence, the Chargers made the decision to reboot the coaching staff around their young star, and there will be scrutiny if Herbert regresses in Year 2. That's cynical thinking, of course: Herbert has the goods, and it's more likely he continues to blossom with more experience. The Chargers hit a grand slam in last year's draft, and now they can turn their focus to building a championship-caliber team around their young star.
The Cardinals made significant year-over-year improvement from 2019 to 2020, it just didn't feel that way when the season wrapped. You can chalk that up to the team's poor finish -- six losses in the final nine games -- and an offense that sputtered down the stretch as Kyler Murray battled multiple injuries. Murray will enter his third NFL season with hype as an MVP candidate, while coach Kliff Kingsbury will face pressure to take the team to the playoffs. Anything less than that might feel like Arizona has the wrong man in charge on the sideline.
It came as somewhat of a surprise that coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace survived another disappointing season, but change will be a given if the pair can't get the Bears on the right track in 2021. That all starts with figuring out the quarterback position. The frustrating saga around Mitchell Trubisky is well-documented, and now it's time for the franchise to move forward. The question is whether they'll do that with a veteran passer via trade or the free-agent market, or find a fresh option through the draft. Get it right or everybody disappears.
Quarterback is the position to watch in Washington. Dwayne Haskins is no longer in the picture and Alex Smith is more a great story than a great option at quarterback at this stage of his career. Ron Rivera and the Washington brain trust need to find a long-term answer to pair with a star-studded defense. They also need to provide their 2021 quarterback with better weapons beyond star receiver Terry McLaurin?. Although its 2020 season featured a strong finish, Washington still has much work to do to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
When you sign a head coach to a 10-year contract -- as the Raiders did with Jon Gruden in 2018 -- you put yourself in a potentially vulnerable position. A second consecutive December free fall doomed the Raiders in 2020, and the jury is most definitely out on the Gruden/Mike Mayock era. It's rare in today's NFL that any coach can survive four seasons without a single postseason berth, but Gruden still feels like a head coach with as much job security as any in the league heading toward the fourth campaign of his second Raiders tenure. If the Raiders regress further in 2021, things will begin to get very uncomfortable behind the scenes in Vegas.
A major offseason focus will be improvement and reinforcement in the trenches. The Vikings' defense finished 2020 with the fifth-lowest sack total in the league, while their offensive line delivered a tepid pass-block win rate (56.3%, 18th overall) and allowed Kirk Cousins to be sacked 39 times (sixth-most in football). The return of monster pass rusher Danielle Hunter following a lost season will be a huge lift if the player and team can work out contract issues. That might be the biggest storyline of the next two months in Minnesota.
The Falcons got their man in new head coach Arthur Smith, and all indications point to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones getting a chance to jump-start the franchise's fortunes with one of the brighter offensive minds in football. New GM Terry Fontenot has his work cut out for him: Per ESPN, the Falcons are currently projected to be tens of millions of dollars over the salary cap in 2021. Fontenot needs to whittle that number down while finding economic solutions to plug roster holes. A productive 2021 draft class would be a huge lift.
The Dallas Cowboys have now gone 25 years without a Super Bowl trip. How close are they to ending that streak? Their 6-10 record this season indicates America's Team is a long way off, but 2020 was also a Murphy's Law year, where everything that could go wrong pretty much did. The first order of business, of course, is settling business matters with Dak Prescott, the quarterback who's in line to get a new contract of Mahomesian proportions. Locking up Dak would be seen as a win, but it will also make team-building more difficult, with a significant amount of cap space tied up in one player. Dallas needs to be smart and efficient to build a long-term winner and finally get back to the Big Game.
The run of six titles and nine Super Bowl appearances was glorious, but it couldn't have been easy for many Pats fans who watched Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski hoist the Lombardi Trophy for another team on Sunday night. This all feels like the hangover after an incredible party that seemed like it would never end. New England has much work ahead, but while on the subject of Brady and Gronk, the Pats would do well to come out of this offseason with young new options at quarterback and tight end.
The Panthers reportedly made a serious offer in their attempt to land Matthew Stafford. It didn't work out, but it all checks out for a franchise -- and, specifically, an owner in David Tepper -- that is willing to take big swings in the quest to build a sustained winner in Charlotte. To that point, Deshaun Watson remains a fascinating potential option in the trade market. Carolina would offer Houston the ability to send the disgruntled star out of conference and out of mind (in theory, anyway). A potential trade package would start with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and expand from there.
Daniel Jones is coming off a disappointing second season, but you're not hearing the Giants mentioned much in speculation surrounding veteran quarterbacks on the move. Perhaps that's by design as part of a stealth, seek-and-acquire plan by GM Dave Gettleman, or -- and this isn't nearly as exciting -- Big Blue still believes in Jones and wants to see him on the field with a healthy Saquon Barkley and an improved supporting cast in 2021. To be fair, a strong case can be made for either option.
The Eagles took a big step toward a fresh start by replacing Doug Pederson with new head coach Nick Sirianni, but they can't truly turn the page until their inevitable divorce from Carson Wentz is finalized. Reports indicate that could come as soon as this week, and a healthy asset return in a trade of the former No. 2 overall pick would set the franchise up well, with a promising young quarterback in Jalen Hurts ready to take center stage.
John Elway has handed team-building duties to new GM George Paton, who told the media last month it will be his responsibility to awake a "sleeping giant" in Denver. Five years ago, it was the Broncos celebrating a Super Bowl title, but the seasons since have been filled with frustration and failed expectations. Paton has big decisions to make: Should the team stick with Drew Lock at QB? Should Denver pick up the pricey option on Von Miller during a time when the three-time All-Pro is under criminal investigation? There are quality roster pieces already in place, but Paton has much work to do as the Broncos attempt to catch up to the Chiefs in the AFC West.
What is going on in Houston? The Texans have frustrated fans and alienated players with their decision-making and front-office hierarchy, but NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports the team remains focused on retaining disgruntled star Deshaun Watson. The problem, of course, is that recent NFL history tells us that players of Watson's ilk hold the leverage in these staredowns, and he might ultimately leave the Texans with no other choice but to trade a 25-year-old quarterback on a Hall of Fame trajectory. This feels like the darkest timeline.
The Bengals allowed No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow to take a beating in his rookie year, one that was ultimately ended prematurely by a terrible knee injury. Burrow's rehab from reconstructive surgery appears to be on track, and now Cincinnati needs to apply common sense and put its focus this offseason on protecting its most prized asset. Consider it a major surprise if Cincinnati doesn't pour millions of dollars and draft picks into fixing the offensive line. Take the road map of the Cleveland Browns and follow it closely.
It wasn't easy to say goodbye to Matthew Stafford, but give the Lions credit for maximizing the trade potential of their one-time franchise cornerstone. The blockbuster deal with the Rams netted two first-round picks to expedite the Detroit rebuild under a new regime, as well as a quarterback in Jared Goff who is not nearly the liability the Rams seemed to present him to be in the final weeks of that relationship. Goff might never ever reach the expectations that came with his status as a No. 1 overall pick, but he can play and produce at a high level when surrounded with the right scheme and talent. Under the category of "reclamation projects," you could do a lot worse.
The skies suddenly seem a lot brighter over Florham Park following the successful courtship of Robert Saleh, the head coach who's become the face of a new era of Jets football. New York enters a crucial offseason with ample cap space and two first-round picks, including the second overall selection. The Jets are well set up to make a serious run at Deshaun Watson, and they also have the option to complete their organizational reboot with a new quarterback or use their cap freedom and draft riches to give Sam Darnold a second lease on life in Gotham. No matter the course, you get the feeling the Jets have people in charge who know what they're doing. It's been a minute.
The Jaguars got their man in Urban Meyer, and soon enough, they'll have their franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. Now comes the next big decision for the Jaguars brain trust: Do they go all out in free agency with the goal of building an immediate contender around their generational prospect at QB -- or do they take a more conservative, measured approach to team-building in what will be a deep rebuild in Jacksonville? Either way, it's hard not to get excited about the future in Duvvvvvvvvvvvvvvval.
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