With less than 24 hours before our first NFL Sunday of the 2021 season, welcome to the first installment of Easton’s NFL Tiers!
Power rankings are great. They’re the guilty pleasure of sports fans, the comfort food of sports content. But this series is going to be looking at things from a different angle. Instead of focusing on exactly which team is slightly better than another, we’ll be grouping them into tiers. Each team fits neatly into a category that describes where they’re at as a franchise.
So without further ado, here is the Preseason edition of Easton’s NFL Tiers:
Each week, we’ll break down the list from bottom to top. We’ll go from team-to-team, briefly explaining why they belong where they are and what they need to do to move up.
Lets get into it:
Burn It With Fire
Houston Texans: My inaugural NFL Tiers list is going to start with something you may need to brace yourself to hear; I, Easton Freeze, think this Texans team is being undervalued. Allow me to be perfectly clear: Do I think they’ll be any good? Absolutely not. But do I think they’ll be the historic trainwreck everybody expects them to be? I don’t. However, I fully admit I may be crazy on this one, so until we see them play a game they must remain in a terrible league of their own.
Detroit Lions: Dan Campbell is as exciting as an NFL Head Coach gets, and for that reason I sincerely hope the Lions are at least entertaining this year. but realistically, I just don’t see it. Too many holes.
New York Giants: A lot of people think this Giants team will take a step forward this season. On paper, I can see why they think this offseason was a success for them. But they’re going to take a step back. Danny Dimes is on the clock this season, and even with better weapons around him I expect him to struggle behind that offensive line.
Las Vegas Raiders: Mike Mayock and John Gruden better hope this season isn’t playoffs or bust as they’ve publicly declared it to be. The Raiders appear to be the odd man out in the AFC West, and I have zero faith in Gruden’s ability to close out a season strong.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars are getting more national spotlight this year than maybe ever before, and for good reason; Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer are great new additions to the NFL soap opera. But they’re gonna struggle this season down in Duval. Let’s just see if Urban makes it out of this first season without quitting.
New York Jets: This Jets team is also on the rise, but they’re still a long way from really competing. Preseason losses on the defensive side of the ball only made their prospects bleaker. I expect Zach Wilson to show some promise, but they’re going to deal with a lot of growing pains.
Philidelphia Eagles: Everything about this franchise right now gives me an uneasy feeling. The new Head Coach seems awkward, the GM and owner appear to regularly leverage power where they shouldn’t, and their offensive weapons are suspect.
Denver Broncos: This Broncos team is finally on the rise. I don’t love the decision to go with Teddy Bridgewater over Drew Lock, but I’m willing to reserve judgement until we see what they can do. They have plenty of weapons on offense to give opponents trouble, and I think this defensive unit is a darkhorse best defense in the league.
Carolina Panthers: Expect Sam Darnold to look a lot better in Carolina. The weapons, the coaching, the fresh start: it should all work in his favor. That offensive line gives me a little pause, but I think we’ll see the Panthers taking steps in the right direction this season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow is healthy and ready to forge ahead. The reporting out of camp and practice so far has been that he’s struggled with skiddishness, but after an injury like he sustained that’s not abnormal. As long as Burrow can settle down and Ja’Marr Chase can remember how to catch the ball, the Bengals will be fiesty.
Chicago Bears: Andy Dalton or Justin Fields. That’s the question that many think the Bears’ season hinges upon. Unless their offensive line magically becomes competent, I don’t think it’ll matter either way.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are another team everybody is out on. Unless Big Ben finds a way to turn back the hands of time, they’re going to finish third at best in the very tough AFC North.
New Orleans Saints: I happen to be very excited to see Jameis Winston at the helm once again. I could see him really surprising a lot of people this year. But until we see it, this Saints team is headed in the wrong direction this year.
Miami Dolphins: Starting quarterbacks are always team captains, right? Well, usually they are. That’s not the case with Tua in Miami this season. Everybody in that building knows the team doesn’t think he’s their guy long term, and without a QB you can put your trust in, you’re a pretender in the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings: I’m not sure there is a more “meh” team coming into this season than the Vikings. Will they suck? no, they’re too talented to be terrible. but are they poised to compete? what reason have they given us to think that?
Atlanta Falcons: Despite being pretenders, I think this Falcons team is without a doubt headed in the right direction. Arthur Smith and Dean Peas just need a little time, but I fully expect them to be able to work with the talent they have to put together a competitive franchise in the coming years.
Dallas Cowboys: This might be one of the more controversial placements on the list this week. What we saw on Thursday night was Dallas doing everything in their power to win, and they still lost. I remain unconvinced by the Cowboys until they start beating somebody outside of their cupcake division.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals have a lot of pieces that should translate into success. But as long as Kliff Kingsbury is the Head Coach in Arizona, I’m not buying their ability to compete in the NFC West.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts should be in a higher tier, but I’m not sure their preseason could have gone much worse. Covid issues, broken feet, injuries to key positions… there are a lot of bad vibes coming out of Indianapolis. They remain pretenders until we see if they can tighten things up.
On The Fringe
Washington Football Team: Many are high on the Cowboys hype train, though in equally shocking news, the sun rose in the East today. Ron Rivera’s squad is the real deal, and they’re the leaders in the clubhouse in this division. Fitzpatrick, regardless of what you think his ceiling is, is a massive upgrade at QB over last year. Oh, and that defensive front hasn’t gone anywhere either.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are always in the mix, but I don’t see any reason to think they’ve got the leg up in this tough division.
San Francisco 49ers: Until the Niners resolve their QB situation, I’m sticking by the principle “If you have more than one quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks”. Even when both of those QB’s seem like good options, you’ve got to pick one to really succeed.
New England Patriots: If you want to doubt the hoodie now that he’s got a competent passer and all this new talent, be my guest. It’s your funeral…
Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert is the truth, and I think this team finally has some decent coaching. If anybody in the AFC West is going to challenge the Chiefs, It’ll be the Chargers.
Need To See It
Tennessee Titans: Every team in this tier is a real superbowl contenter if, and only if, they can show us improvement in one area of concern. For the Titans, it’s no surprise: this defense has to be better. Credit to the front office, they’ve fully remodeled the roster on that side of the ball. If they prove to be even just an average defensive unit, the Titans can compete for it all.
Cleveland Browns: This Browns team is, once again, the national darling of the offseason. And while I expect them to really thrive this season (especially with their cakewalk schedule), their defense also has to show us they’ve improved. Like the Titans, they’ve also done some significant renovating on that side of the ball.
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams are here not because of an issue. They’re here because we need tangible results from Matthew Stafford in a Rams uniform before we can offically call him a significant upgrade over Jared Goff. As long as he brings the level of play he’s expected to bring to the table, these Rams are firmly near the top of the NFC mix.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are down worse than any other team in the league right now. With injuries abound, the calculus on what this team will look like this season has changed dramatically in the past two weeks. The “Need To See It” with this team, frankly, is whether these injuries keep them from competing at the top of the conference.
Buffalo Bills: Everybody is high on the Bills this year, and for good reason. As long as Josh Allen can maintain the big leap in development he made last season, this year promises to be another big one for Bills Mafia.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were the offseason storyline gift that kept giving. They seem to have made amends, so as long as the drama is kept on the backburner they’ll be a force to reckon with again this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No shocker here. Now, the Bucs didn’t look their best on Thursday night, but that doesn’t change where they stand in the NFC. Tom Brady looked as good as ever, and I think the sloppy performance can be chalked up to the banner-night distractions. They’re only gonna look sharper as the season goes on.
Kansas City Chiefs: No shocker here either. The Chiefs remain at the top of the heap until somebody gives us adequate reason to think otherwise.