We’ve had several weeks to process how the 2021 NFL regular season panned out. It’s now a good time to reflect on the success – and/or failures – of the 32 teams.
Here is recap of every NFL team’s 2021 campaign, with notes on the highest and lowest rankings they got on our power rankings throughout the regular season.
Arizona Cardinals: Highest Ranking 1, Lowest Ranking 13
The Cardinals looked like the team to beat following a flawless 7-and-0 start. But Kliff Kingsbury’s group was unable to overcome injuries to key players – namely DeAndre Hopkins and JJ Watt – nor an unforgiving second half schedule.
Sure, the Redbirds ended a six-year postseason drought. But getting pounded by the Los Angeles Rams on Super Wild Card Weekend overshadowed the team’s 11-win season. They were supposed to go much further.
Atlanta Falcons: Highest Ranking 19, Lowest Ranking 29
Atlanta was good enough to remain in the wild card contention at times but also not bad enough to garner a valuable top-five draft selection.
In some ways, it’s very impressive that first-year head coach Arthur Smith got seven wins out of this team that ranked 26th in points for and 29th in points against. Matt Ryan, Cordarrelle Patterson, AJ Terrell and Kyle Pitts were at least bright spots…
Baltimore Ravens: Highest Ranking 2, Lowest Ranking 19
The Ravens were unable to survive a rash of injuries to star players.
Baltimore was 7-and-5 in games Lamar Jackson started. They once stood at 8-and-3 and looked like the team to beat in the AFC. But a grueling schedule to close out the season with a banged-up roser led to their downfall.
The good news? They can’t possibly be hit worse by the injury bug next season.
Buffalo Bills: Highest Ranking 1, Lowest Ranking 14
It was Super Bowl or bust for the Bills in 2021. They mostly lived up to the “elite” status in 2021, but for the second straight year, their season was ended by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead.
What can we say? The Chiefs are the last major roadblock towards the Bills’ first Lombardi Trophy.
Carolina Panthers: Highest Ranking 6, Lowest Ranking 29
The Panthers started out 3-and-0 and looked every bit like a potential playoff team. Then Sam Darnold returned to his New York Jets ways, Christian McCaffrey got hurt, Cam Newton’s renaissance flopped and Panthers fans started screaming for Matt Rhule to be fired.
There has been no progress under Rhule so far. And that’s concerning.
Cincinnati Bengals: Highest Ranking 5, Lowest Ranking 23
The ultimate surprise team of the 2021 season. The Bengals won the AFC North, ended a six-year playoff drought and won their first playoff game in 31 years!
Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon led a prolific offense that could not be stopped. Trey Hendrickson and Logan Wilson anchored a ferocious defense that constantly bullied opponents in the trenches.
Sorry for all the mean things we said about this franchise over the years.
Chicago Bears: Highest Ranking 16, Lowest Ranking 29
Nothing really eventful here. The Bears regressed as expected. Veteran Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields never stood a chance behind that o-line. Allen Robinson had a mega disappointing season. Khalil Mack and David Montgomery missed time due to injury.
Cleveland Browns: Highest Ranking 7, Lowest Ranking 21
The Browns peaked with a Week 4 win over the Minnesota Vikings that moved them to 3-1 on the year. They would never be two games above .500 again.
Baker Mayfield fought through a shoulder injury but was greatly limited all season long. Odell Beckham Jr,’s release didn’t do anything to help the offense. Excellent seasons from Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb went to waste.
Dallas Cowboys: Highest Ranking 4, Lowest Ranking 20
They cruised to the NFC East division crown with a 12-5 record. Then it all crashed down on Super Wild Card Weekend with a gut wrenching home loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
There’s always next year. Then again, Dallas fans have been saying that every year for 25 years!
Denver Broncos: Highest Ranking 11, Lowest Ranking 25
Even though they started out 3-and-0, it was always tough to take the Broncos seriously. The defense was lights out, but the passing game and the o-line left a lot to be desired.
The offensive limitations led to a 7-10 season and a sixth straight non-playoff campaign. Vic Fangio was dismissed as a result.
Detroit Lions: Highest Ranking 26, Lowest Ranking 32
Has there ever been a more fun and lovable 3-win team than the 2021 Detroit Lions?
That Dan Campbell guy built an awesome and scrappy underdog culture, and it’s hard to forget this team was once winless through 11 games!
Green Bay Packers: Highest Ranking 1, Lowest Ranking 12
After getting crushed by the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, the Packers won 13 of their next 15 games to claim the NFC’s top seed for the second straight year. The fourth loss was a meaningless Week 18 game against Detroit.
Aaron Rodgers had another MVP-like season. The defense turned a corner under new DC Joe Barry. But it all added up to… Stop us if you heard this before: The 49ers dispatched Rodgers’ Cheeseheads in the postseason.
Houston Texans: Highest Ranking 26, Lowest Ranking 32
With no Deshaun Watson this season, everyone expected the Texans to be a bottom feeder. David Culley did a wonderful job getting the most out of this roster that somehow equaled last year’s win total of four.
There were some positives: Davis Mills showed plenty of promise throughout the year. Roy Lopez and Jonathan Greenard quietly enjoyed superb seasons on defense.
Indianapolis Colts: Highest Ranking 7, Lowest Ranking 28
They started out 0-and-5…lost five of their first eight and seemingly looked done for.
Then they caught fire in the second half behind Jonathan Taylor’s MVP-caliber season…even soundly defeating the Patriots and Cardinals.
And all of that came crashing down with two straight losses, the last one a stunning road loss to the lowly Jaguars that eliminated them from playoff contention.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Highest Ranking 27, Lowest Ranking 32
Is it bad that the real highlight of the Jaguars’ season was firing Urban Meyer after 13 games?
Jacksonville finished dead-last for the second straight year. Trevor Lawrence couldn’t get much of anything going behind this atrocious o-line and lackluster supporting cast. It’s on to 2022!
Kansas City Chiefs: Highest Ranking 1, Lowest Ranking 16
Order was eventually restored. The Chiefs fell below .500 on three separate instances this season, only to win nine of their final 10 games to once again claim the division title for a sixth straight year.
KC’s defense returned to elite status in the second half as Patrick Mahomes and the offense gradually got back into rhythm. Four years of Mahomes, four AFC title games at Arrowhead. It’s never been a better time to be a KC fan!
Las Vegas: Highest Ranking 2, Lowest Ranking 25
What a roller-coaster season it was for the Raiders.
But Derek Carr and the Raiders persevered under interim coach Rich Bisaccia, and the result was the franchise’s first playoff berth in five years. Yes, they were one-and-done in the postseason, but the Raiders finally reached a level of relevance following four straight years of mediocrity.
Los Angeles Chargers: Highest Ranking 7, Lowest Ranking 16
The Bolts won four of their first five games and eight of 13. A playoff spot looked to be on cruise control, but Brandon Staley’s over-aggressive fourth down gambles and a leaky run defense contributed to another midseason.
This team finished with its first winning season in three years. Yet it feels like a failure.
Los Angeles Rams: Highest Ranking 1, Lowest Ranking 12
Through at least the first year, the Matthew Stafford trade paid off big time. Stafford had an MVP-like year. Cooper Kupp won the receiving triple crown. Odell Beckham Jr. became a nice midseason pickup. And oh, Von Miller joined forces with another first ballot Hall of Famer in Aaron Donald!
The Rams dispatched the rival Cardinals on Wild Card Weekend then sent the defending champion Buccaneers packing in the Divisional Round. Folks, the Rams are a prime example as to why it’s good to go all-in sometimes!
Miami Dolphins: Highest Ranking 9, Lowest Ranking 30
The ‘Phins upset the Patriots in Foxborough in Week 1. Then they lost seven in a row. Then they reeled off eight straight W’s. They were eliminated from the postseason after losing to the Titans in Week 17…then they closed out the season with a win over the playoff-bound Patriots.
Minnesota Vikings: Highest Ranking 15, Lowest Ranking 27
Not once did the Vikings get above .500 this season. Remarkably, 14 of their 17 games were decided by one score.
A strong season from Kirk Cousins wasn’t enough. The defense continued its disturbing trend of getting worse and worse under Mike Zimmer. The latter and GM Rick Spielman lost their jobs following an 8-and-9 season.
New England Patriots: Highest Ranking 2, Lowest Ranking 23
The Pats overcame awful 1-and-3 and 2-and-4 starts to return to the postseason. Mac Jones had one of the best rookie QB seasons ever, for starters.
And New England rediscovered its identity under Bill Belichick with a hard-nosed rushing game and a lockdown secondary leading the way.
Yes, the season ended on a sour note with three losses in the final four regular season games followed by humiliation from the Bills on Wild Card Weekend. But the sky’s the limit for a team that just found its new franchise QB in the post-Tom Brady Era.
New Orleans Saints: Highest Ranking 5, Lowest Ranking 28
And yet, the Saints went 9-and-8, including a season series sweep of the Bucs, a blowout of the Packers in Week 1 and a dominant road win in New England back in Week 3.
The Saints would have made the playoffs if they had Jameis Winston the entire year. The future for this team is ultra bright. They just need a full-time starting QB, whether that’s Winston or somebody else.
New York Giants: Highest Ranking 23, Lowest Ranking 30
And the defense that surprisingly dominated a year ago was also a mess.
Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge are out. And so it’s back to the drawing board!
New York Jets: Highest Ranking 26, Lowest Ranking 31
Growing pains were expected here in year one under Robert Saleh. Zach Wilson greatly struggled, but Michael Carter the running back and guard Alijah Vera-Tucker had phenomenal rookie seasons.
Stunning wins over the Titans and Bengals were the season highlights for the Jets. There is at least some form of an established direction here in Gotham.
Philadelphia Eagles: Highest Ranking 11, Lowest Ranking 28
Philly dropped five of their first seven games, but they went on a 7-and-3 run the rest of the way to claim their fourth playoff berth in five years. Pretty good year for rookie head coach Nick Siriannni.
Jalen Hurts was hot-and-cold all season, but DeVonta Smith enjoyed a superb rookie year. The offensive line regained its elite form, and the secondary was a pleasant surprise. Nevermind the blowout loss to Tampa in the wild card round. The future is very bright here.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Highest Ranking 6, Lowest Ranking 22
Roethlisberger had perhaps the worst season of his career and the defense took major steps back. But thanks to a TON of help in Week 18, the up-and-down Steelers snuck into the postseason.
Big Ben’s career ended with a blowout road loss to KC on Wild Card weekend. But who cares? They weren’t supposed to get that far. T’was nice of the Steelers to give him one more chance at a third ring!
San Francisco 49ers: Highest Ranking 3, Lowest Ranking 23
Speaking of hot-and-cold roller-coaster teams! From 2-and-0 to 2-and-4 to 6-and-6 to…10-and-7! The epic comeback at SoFi Stadium in Week 18 against the Rams got the 49ers back into the postseason. That wasn’t all.
They upset the Cowboys in the wild card round then handed Aaron Rodgers another playoff loss in the snowy Lambeau Field environment. Remember all that criticism Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo got? Well, two NFC title games in three years. Take that, haters!
Seattle Seahawks: Highest Ranking 4, Lowest Ranking 28
Russell Wilson’s three-game absence didn’t help matters. Still, he was far from his Pro Bowl version for much of the 2021 season. The Seahawks never found their rhythm after starting out 3-and-2, and it added up to their first losing season under Wilson.
The defense was at least slightly better following a miserable showing last year. Rashaad Penny finally came into his own. But the ‘Hawks aren’t accustomed to watching the entire postseason from home, so chalk this season up as a failure.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Highest Ranking 1, Lowest Ranking 10
A rash of injuries and the Matthew Stafford-Cooper Kupp connection thwarted the Bucs’ bid for a three-peat. Tampa needed a lot of luck to go all the way last year, and things somewhat balanced out this time around.
Tom Brady had arguably the greatest statistical season of his career. The offense was a well-oiled machine all year after starting out sluggish a year ago. There was a lot to like despite the disappointing Divisional Round loss to the Rams.
Tennessee Titans: Highest Ranking 1, Lowest Ranking 10
They survived a ton of injuries to key players and still finished as the AFC’s top seed. But it was hardly worthy of celebration, because sloppy football led to the Titans being stunned by the Bengals in the Divisional Round.
Two years after making the AFC Championship Game, the Titans went one-and-done in 2020 and 2021. So ya, call this season a disappointment.
Washington Football Team: Highest Ranking 13, Lowest Ranking 30
The Football Team matched last season’s win total…only this time it wasn’t enough to claim the NFC East division.
Taylor Heinicke had nice moments and Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson were monsters out there. 2021 was a semi-disappointing year in DC, but this wasn’t a disaster compared to the pre-Ron Rivera years by any means.
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