It is with a heavy heart that I am here to announce that someone near and dear to our hearts has left us: the NFL Regular Season.
How will we ever move forward as a society?
Oh yeah, that’s right: celebrating with the NFL Playoffs and having 14 teams for the first time ever and kicking off Super Wild Card Weekend with 6 total games.
That being said, it’s still necessary to go back and look at the year as a whole in retrospect- it was indeed the weirdest season ever given the Coronavirus pandemic, but we’re here. We made it.
Ever since the season began, I kept track of my personal power rankings week-to-week through a very complex scale known as the RPI (Russell Power Index, which is really just me ranking teams).
There’s nothing more humbling than looking at incredibly wrong predictions to start the year as the season progresses and you learn more about each team in a league that changes each week.
Let’s break everything down and take a look at the final rankings and the outlook for each franchise moving forward.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)
Highest Rating: 23 (Week 2) Lowest Rating: 32 (Final)
Aside from a weird week 1 victory, the tank job was started and was completed. A job well done down in Jacksonville. Doug Marrone and Minshew-mania died so Trevor Lawrence can live.
New York Jets (2-14)
Highest Rating: 28 (Preseason) Lowest Rating: 32 (Week 15)
Boy, the Jets better hope that Justin Fields at the #2 pick is the best quarterback of all-time after screwing up that tank job and winning.
On the other hand, Adam Gase is no more! It only took being one of the most laughable products in football history to be freed of his reign!
Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
Highest Rating: 24 (Week 9) Lowest Rating: 31 (Week 14)
Joe Burrow looked every bit as promising as he was made out to be right out of the gates to begin the year, and the Bengals were that “exciting bad team” to watch, but he signed a death warrant suiting up every Sunday behind that offensive line and it’s a complete bummer that he suffered such a brutal injury.
The Bengals had some weapons for him in Higgins, but outside of that, they’re just a BAD football team. Here’s to hoping they field an acceptable product around him by the time he returns (hopefully) next season.
Houston Texans (4-12)
Highest Rating: 15 (Preseason) Lowest Rating: 30 (Week 16)
At the beginning of the year, I thought the Texans losing was a product of just a plain difficult schedule (starting off with the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, and Vikings is tough for anyone) and I always gave them a bit of a pass since Deshaun Watson is so magical that he keeps you competitive in every game, but what a completely dysfunctional year for Houston. They looked miserable the whole year, and they won’t have their upcoming first-round pick. FREE DESHAUN.
Detroit Lions (5-11)
Highest Rating: 17 (Week 8) Lowest Rating: 30 (Week 2)
There was some moments midseason where the Lions showed some life, but I attribute that entirely to Matthew Stafford, who I hope they have enough mercy to trade somewhere he can win. Matt Patricia and the YMCA-level defense made that nearly impossible.
We’re talking about a coach that always has a pencil in his ear despite carrying around laminated sheets of paper. But good ol’ Matty P and GM Bob Quinn are gone, so hopefully, Detroit can start a full-scale rebuild.
Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Highest Rating: 16 (Week 10) Lowest Rating: 27 (Final)
The 90%+ win probabilities murdered the spirit of the team. The Falcons are the team that from afar, you think, “they’ve got Matt Ryan and Julio and Gurley? What an explosive team!” and they either lose in heartbreaking fashion or fail to put up points. It looks fantastic on paper, so we remember the Super Bowl run and forget the terrible defense and grade school offensive play-calling they have now. The new head coach/GM combo will be in the same spot as Detroit: a new era looming with an expensive QB on a bad team.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
Highest Rating: 15 (Week 15) Lowest Rating: 26 (Final)
The soap opera of the NFL this year was in Philly. Carson Wentz finally was able to stay upright, but that was to their own detriment since they started to play a bit better when they finally gave in and benched him for Jalen Hurts. It’s hard to bench a guy you’re paying $35 million a year, and I’m guessing that’s why it took Doug Pederson as long as it did to make the move, but it looks like we all just overrated the two months he looked like an MVP in 2018.
Now, the relationship between Doug and Wentz is said to be “fractured” (just like Wentz’s medical history. ZING) so we’ll see if they can get any value for him as they move forward and look to build around Jalen. The NFC East is so atrocious that they could easily be back in the playoffs soon if they find a way to manage their cap situation and improve their cookie-cutter secondary.
Denver Broncos (5-11)
Highest Rating: 22 (Preseason) Lowest Rating: 30 (Week 5)
To sum it up, the Broncos need a quarterback. Sorry, Drew Lock.
Let’s see the next 6-foot-plus pocket-passer Elway brings in to underperform despite a talented defense and a great home-field advantage.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
Highest Rating: 5 (Preseason) Lowest Rating: 30 (Week 10)
Overall, just a nightmare of a year for the Cowboys; some had them in the Super Bowl preseason from all the weapons they had on offense, and the clapper Jason Garrett no longer in the building.
Yes, their lack of success can be pointed to Dak going down with a season-ending injury, but the defense looking as awful as it was and Mike McCarthey running the same kindergarten offense that Aaron Rodgers was so thankful to get away from is concerning for the future.
Carolina Panthers (5-11)
Highest Rating: 14 (Week 5) Lowest Rating: 30 (Preseason)
The Panthers were almost the inverse of the Falcons this season. Without McCaffrey from injury, a new head coach, an entirely new defense, and Teddy Bridgewater at the helm, I expected the team to tank and use Teddy as a gap QB until they could draft Cam’s successor with a top pick, but Carolina was incredibly impressive and felt as if they kept every game competitive despite the losses. Matt Rhule looks like the guy, and Mike Davis and Christian McCaffrey back with a young defense makes this season ultimately something for the Panthers to be optimistic about.
New England Patriots (7-9)
Highest Rating: 7 (Week 3) Lowest Rating: 28 (Week 16)
Was I crazy to think that Bill Belichick was going to revive Cam Newton’s career at the beginning of the season? Maybe. The Patriots have been dominant for two decades and their excellence is a dominant, looming evil omnipresence, but they might have won those games in the most unimpressive fashion solely because of Belichick considering how poor Cam played and their defense took a step back.
It’ll be interesting to see who the quarterback will be next season, and with the COVID opt-outs back and the Pats with cap space, they could easily return to their supervillain-mastery.
San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
Highest Rating: 4 (Preseason) Lowest Rating: 28 (Week 15)
The 49ers were the biggest bummer of the year after making the Super Bowl last year, but it can pretty much all be traced back to bad injury luck. Kyle Shanahan was a miracle-worker for getting them to 6 wins with the rotating roster week-to-week. All you can do is write off the year as a wash, get healthy, and get back to competing at the 2019 level.
Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
Highest Rating: 15 (Week 4) Lowest Rating: 27 (Week 13)
The good news: after the medical staff accidentally stabbed Tyrod Taylor you found out you drafted your franchise quarterback! The bad news: even though Justin Herbert was incredible he played on a team coached with Anthony Lynn’s game management, meaning they should have won way more games this year than they should have. Something needs to change on that team and quickly so the Chargers can cash in on Herbert’s prime- hopefully they bring in a coach that maximizes the young stud.
Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
Highest Rating: 10 (Preseason) Lowest Rating: 27 (Week 6)
The Vikings feel like they underperformed considering how incredible Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson were, but when Mike Zimmer says it’s the worst defense he’s ever coached I’m not quite sure what else you can expect. Kirk Cousins was average per usual, so that extension is looking more and more egregious if he’s expected to be the man in a division with Aaron Rodgers. We’ll see if they can get a defense through the draft and free agency because if not, Zimmer is going to either retire or blow a fuse in anger first.
Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
Highest Rating: 12 (Week 6) Lowest Rating: 23 (Week 16)
The Raiders starting out hot and then having a complete meltdown to end the year in the exact same fashion as last season is poetic. But instead of an eloquently-written poem, it’s really just lyrics to a heavy metal song likely written by one of those scary-looking Raider fans with the chains.
Gruden is safe with his mega-contract, but it’ll be interesting to see the number of changes that are made defensively and if they decide to move on from Derek Carr or not.
New York Giants (6-10)
Highest Rating: 17 (Final) Lowest Rating: 31 (Week 7)
The Giants went 6-10 without Saquon Barkley and almost made the playoffs so I guess that’s a net positive? Joe Judge looks like a solid head coach and their defense was outstanding and that will ultimately be what Giants fans will look to rather than Daniel Jones still turning the ball over constantly.
It blows my mind that a team that couldn’t score 20 points consistently and started off the year 1-7 can look at the year with optimism but welcome to the NFC East.
Washington Football Team (7-9)
Highest Rating: 15 (Week 14) Lowest Rating: 30 (Week 9)
What a turnaround for the Washington Football Team after one of the most dysfunctional offseasons of all-time? They brought in a leader of men in Ron Rivera, Alex Smith almost DIED from his leg injury in 2018 and came in and led them to the playoffs, and after drafting Chase Young, they have a top-five defense in football.
Winning the NFC East isn’t anything to rest your laurels on that’s for sure, and the offense is about as lackluster as it gets, but the WFT progressed all season long and will have something to build on going forward if they continue to make improvements within the organization and maybe even add a big name quarterback in the offseason.
Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
Highest Rating: 9 (Week 10) Lowest Rating: 25 (Preseason)
We all kind of fell in love with the Cardinals after the “Hail Murray” victory against Buffalo midseason; they just don’t have enough developed personnel around Kyler to be a complete roster yet and it showed down the stretch when he was banged up and they lost 5 of their last 7.
That being said, I had no expectations for the Cardinals to play as well as they did this season – I thought it would just be Kyler and DeAndre Hopkins putting up highlights in losses, so Arizona was ultimately just a year ahead of schedule in the toughest division in football.
Kingsbury will enter next year on the hot seat though since he’s supposed to be the “offensive guru” a la McVay or Shanahan.
Chicago Bears (8-8)
Highest Rating: 11 (Week 6) Lowest Rating: 29 (Week 12)
How a team can lose 6 games in a row midseason and still manage to make the playoffs is beyond me, but here we are. The reality of the Bears is that they started 5-1 in some lucky games with a great defense and stagnant offense, then played some of the least-innovative offensive games we’ve ever seen, then beat up on atrocious defenses to end the year to sneak into the playoffs after switching back to Trubisky at QB.
You play the game to get into the postseason, but Chicago had a stretch there where they could’ve potentially kept losing and finally positioned themselves to draft a top quarterback to pair with their defense. Now, they’re stuck in the purgatory of “sort of good?”.
Miami Dolphins (10-6)
Highest Rating: 11 (Week 10) Lowest Rating: 27 (Week 1)
They might have gotten the short end of the stick on the year in going 10-6 and still getting left out of the playoffs, but this season was a Brian Flores coaching masterpiece. Just last season we were talking about if this was the worst team ever assembled as players were requesting to be moved left and right and at one point the Cowboys were favored by 21.5 points to start the year. But Flores created a winning culture and kept the momentum from the end of last season and built the team through the defense, forcing at least one turnover per game.
The management of Tua and Fitzpatrick was suspect, though- the rookie looked very pedestrian even in their wins and they never made a full-on commitment to either quarterback. They’ll have the #3 pick in the draft from a trade with the Texans, but I suspect they’ll keep Tua since he’s adjusting to the league after major injury and fill in every other team need. With a solid infrastructure, a load of picks, and great coaching, Miami was one of the biggest winners this season and going forward.
Los Angeles Rams (10-6)
Highest Rating: 2 (Week 14) Lowest Rating: 16 (Preseason)
For as much as Sean McVay is lauded as a young, offensive guru, the Rams seemingly only weakness is that there are days where they just can’t score. That doesn’t necessarily matter entirely when you have a defense as dominant as the one they have with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but when you look at it in the big picture, they’re going to be paying Jared Goff $34 million a year to be perceived as their weakness.
When Goff is on like he was midseason, they’re arguably the most balanced team in the league, but his inconsistent play makes the upcoming playoff game against Seattle that he’ll likely be injured and out for very interesting to evaluate.
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Highest Rating: 7 (Week 8) Lowest Rating: 19 (Week 1)
Given Philip Rivers’s age and a wild loss against Jacksonville to start the year, Indy seemed far from being a real threat in the playoffs to start the year, but they just kept winning ugly. Frank Reich fed the ball to a different hot hand every game, be it Nyheim Hines or Jonathon Taylor, and protected old man Rivers enough to where he has time to make reads behind the boulderous offensive line.
Their winning season was defined by being in the top 10 in time of possession by controlling the momentum and having their defensive draft picks over the last few seasons playing at a dominant level; it’s anything but flashy or impressive, but the difference in play style may create problems for Buffalo in the upcoming playoff game.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Highest Rating: 1 (Week 2) Lowest Rating: 12 (Week 12)
The Ravens came in as an elite team with the “fraud” stink on them from embarrassing losses their last two appearances. They’ve been criticized for beating up on weaker opponents and not being able to get up for big games, so naturally, it appeared to be more of the same when they got blown out by the Chiefs, lost to the Patriots and Titans, and lost to the Steelers twice to start the year; maybe it was a COVID outbreak, injuries, or just facing that sort of pressure to get over the hump, but they just didn’t appear to play with the same energy.
Now, on the other hand, they’re riding into the postseason with momentum on a 5 game win streak, albeit in blowouts against inferior competition, but they got their swagger back and it no longer feels like they have people hanging over their heads waiting to yell “GOTCHA!” if they blow a big game.
Tennessee Titans (11-5)
Highest Rating: 5 (Week 7) Lowest Rating: 13 (Week 10)
This is year 3 or 4 now of me waiting for Derrick Henry to slow down because of his workload and the amount of hits he absorbs and I officially don’t think it will ever happen after he put up a 2000 yarder and looks even scarier than ever. Tannehill proved he was worth the money this season and that last year’s playoff run wasn’t a fluke, too, because even though it looks like Henry carries the team, Tannehill’s bombs to AJ Brown and Corey Davis always seem to come at the right time. The Titans are a tough team to trust amongst the top tier because even though they put up the most points they also give up around 27 points, but any time I feel like I favor the other team they prove me wrong. They might’ve had the most fun all year.
Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Highest Rating: 3 (Week 2) Lowest Rating: 12 (Week 9)
The Seahawks had a Jekyll & Hyde season: to start off the year, it was Russell Wilson finally getting to cook in high-scoring affairs because they had a historically bad defense. Then after Jamal Adams got healthy on the defensive side and Carlos Dunlap got adjusted to their scheme, they held teams below 25 points per game but failed to get anything going offensively. Imagine if they could get both rights at the same time.
Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Highest Rating: 5 (Week 15) Lowest Rating: 30 (Week 1)
After 18 years of no playoffs, Kevin Stefanski is the Cleveland savior! The Browns got their teeth kicked in week 1 to Baltimore 38-6 and I thought it was going to be another carryover of last year’s drama-filled, overhyped team that had Baker Mayfield in every commercial on TV, but Stefanski’s hire was the best offseason addition for any team.
He maximized using the run and made Baker not have to do too much as he did in college and under Freddie Kitchens, and their combo of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb behind the league’s best o-line created a balance that improved every aspect of the team. It’s just a Shakespearian tragedy that the Browns finally have a head coach and just as they make the playoffs, Stefanski tests positive for COVID and won’t be available.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Highest Rating: 2 (Weeks 7-12) Lowest Rating: 12 (Week 15)
Starting 11-0 is all sunshine and roses until you get hit with the injury bug and go 1-4 to end the season. Even in their 11 wins, no one seemed to buy it since the aged Big Ben only threw checkdowns, they never got their run game going, and the general consensus was, “Yeah, BUT, you’re not the Chiefs..” Overall, 11-0 in itself is a start to be extremely proud of on the year, but they finished the season with a whimper going into the playoffs. Let’s see how that fairs out against a Cleveland team that is going to be JACKED to be there after ending their drought.
New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Highest Rating: 2 (Week 13) Lowest Rating: 11 (Week 5)
The Saints season is so difficult to critique because Drew Brees at 41 wasn’t exactly slinging it, then he broke 11 ribs and Taysom Hill came in, and HE’s no gun-slinger either, but it didn’t seem to matter as they still found ways to win with him at the helm because of how strong they are defensively.
All of their losses excluding Jalen Hurts’s first Philadelphia start were against strong competition, so the Saints continued to be a model of consistency. It was just a weird year in New Orleans, but I guess that goes to show how good of a coach Sean Payton is (and how focused he is on revenge from all of his tweets).
Let’s see how Brees the Broken fairs against the Chicago defense in round one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Highest Rating: 3 (Week 8) Lowest Rating: 13 (Week 5)
I would compare the Bucs’ season to a challenge on Chopped where the chef is given a bunch of random ingredients that don’t go together like eggs and gummy bears and orange slices or something and has to make a meal out of it. Bruce Arians got a 43-year-old Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and the previous season’s weapons in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Naturally, in a weird, COVID season where it’s not exactly easy to get acquainted with your team, the Bucs took some time to adjust altogether as a unit, but now, heading into the playoffs, they’re absolutely BUZZING. Brady looks as good as he’s ever been and in sync with his weapons as their offense put up 31, 47, and 44 to end the year, and they also have a top-10 defense in the league. I always thought the Patriots as a whole were the omnipresent evil, but it might just be Tom Brady.
Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Highest Rating: 3 (Final) Lowest Rating: 11 (Week 7)
“Josh Allen is the Bills’ only weakness.” “As long as Josh Allen doesn’t make mistakes the Bills can win.” “The Bills are great, but I’m not sold on Josh Allen.” He heard ALL of the critics, folks. Josh Allen is absolutely unstoppable and Buffalo is playing out of their minds. Everyone should apologize immediately because they’re riding the most momentum into this postseason and are your new kings of the AFC East for years to come.
Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Highest Rating: 2 (Final) Lowest Rating: 12 (preseason)
Remember when we all thought there was major dysfunction in Green Bay after they didn’t make any offseason moves to improve and drafted a quarterback when they already have Aaron Rodgers? Yeah, he just used that as fuel to put up an MVP-caliber year and take them to the mountain top of the NFC with Davante Adams as the best wide receiver in the league.
Other than the one stumble against Tampa Bay, they’ve looked completely balanced on both sides of the ball, and having home-field advantage in the frozen tundra makes them the team to beat out of the NFC. If Rodgers isn’t showing any sign of slowing down, what do you do now with Jordan Love? I’m convinced Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will be on our TV screens for the rest of the time.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
Highest rating: 1 (every week but week 2) Lowest rating: 2 (week 2)
The criticism surrounding the Chiefs all season was that they never run up the score on their opponents, they merely get the wins because they’re so much better than everyone else that they have the capability to be lazy like the Golden State Warriors in the NBA in 2017. That shouldn’t be a criticism- that should be the best compliment in sports…
If Mahomes was bored and still put up nearly 5000 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only 6 interceptions in a 14-2 season, what’s he going to do now that he’ll be locked in and every game is an elimination game?
The Chiefs are just the looming inevitability with how high their ceiling is and have now had back-to-back years of looking better than everyone else. The NFL is Kansas City vs. the field.
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