2021 NFL Divisional Power Rankings: NFC West flexes muscle as No. 1; Eagles, Cowboys catapult NFC East


Week 1 of the NFL season is the perfect time of the year for overreactions. The Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens suffered crushing kickoff weekend defeats while the Houston Texans stand alone in first place of their division. Will those results ultimately prove meaningless?

None of the victories and defeats in Week 1 are an indicator of how a team will perform this upcoming season, but it’s fair to wonder if teams will carry their opening-week success and failures for several weeks, or even an entire year. The same rings true with a division.

What we thought we know about the eight divisions in the NFL heading into the year — well, Week 1 threw us a curveball. In our first edition of the NFL divisional power rankings for the 2021 regular season, we’re pretty certain we have a grasp on the hierarchy of the league.

That is … at least until next week. 

8. NFC North

This division going into the year was carried by the Green Bay Packers, the conference runner-up in consecutive seasons. In Week 1,  Aaron Rodgers had the fourth-worst game of his career in terms of passer rating (36.8) as Green Bay could only muster up three points in a 38-3 blowout loss to New Orleans Saints. Not a banner day for the heavyweights of the division.

The Chicago Bears were embarrassed by the Los Angeles Rams on “Sunday Night Football,” and continue to use Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback. The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that has won just six games over the last two seasons. 

The Detroit Lions arguably had the division’s best performance, rallying in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers before falling 41-33 — and having an opportunity to tie the game with under two minutes remaining. Still, Detroit trailed 41-17 with 9:53 left in the game before the 49ers took their foot off the gas pedal. 

Every team in the division gave up at least 27 points and Detroit was the only team to score more than 24. The division was outscored 130-70. The NFC North is the first division to finish 0-4 in Week 1 since the AFC North in 2013. For Week 1, they are the worst division in football. 

7. AFC South

Let’s give a round of applause to the Houston Texans for sitting alone atop of this division after Week 1. Unfortunately, that’s not a good indicator of how this division fared as a whole. The Jaguars have lost 16 consecutive games, including Sunday’s defeat to a Houston team that may have the worst roster in the NFL. Jacksonville has given up 24 points or more in 16 consecutive games –the longest streak in NFL history — and gave up 37 to Tyrod Taylor and Houston. 

The Indianapolis Colts may have had a worse day than the Jaguars, getting blown out by the Seattle Seahawks at home. Carson Wentz had another fumble in the loss (his 20 giveaways since the start of the 2020 season are the most in the NFL) and the defense could only get Russell Wilson to throw five incompletions. 

Tennessee was run out of the building by the Arizona Cardinals — at home. They only had 248 yards of offense and committed three turnovers, while the offensive line allowed six sacks (five to Chandler Jones). Every team in the division allowed 28 points or more except for the Texans — and they played the Jaguars.

If it wasn’t for the Texans, this division would have had an embarrassing Week 1 across the board. 

6. NFC East

Thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, this division isn’t the worst in football. The Cowboys did lose to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Dak Prescott threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns and the defensive forced four turnovers. Dallas probably shouldn’t have lost this game, as the Cowboys were the first team since the 1996 St. Louis Rams to put up 450 yards of offense and four turnovers on the road — and lose. 

The Eagles were the lone winner in the division, blowing out the Atlanta Falcons by 26 points. Philadelphia’s defense held Atlanta to 113 yards on its final nine possessions, allowing just 3.05 yards per play. Jalen Hurts was excellent and the Eagles rushed for 173 yards behind a healthy offensive line. 

Washington lost Ryan Fitzpatrick to injury, but still put up a valiant effort against the Los Angeles Chargers in a 20-16 loss — despite Rashawn Slater dominating the Football Team’s ferocious pass rush. The Giants looked like the worst team in the division, as Daniel Jones had another crucial fumble and the defense allowed Teddy Bridgewater and the Denver Broncos to amass 420 yards of offense. 

The NFC East is improved from last year, but still has trouble beating teams from outside the division. 

5. AFC East

The Miami Dolphins sit atop of this division, earning a huge road win in Foxborough against the New England Patriots. Two crucial New England fumbles cost the Patriots in the opener, the final one by Damien Harris at the Dolphins 9 yard line trailing by a point with 3:31 to play. Mac Jones had a good debut, throwing for 281 yards and a touchdown — and the Patriots did hold the Dolphins to 259 yards of offense. 

The Dolphins arguably have the best defense in the division, forcing two Patriots’ fumbles and holding New England to just 1 of 4 in the red zone. Tua Tagovailoa and the run game needs to improve, but that’s a hard task against New England anyway. The Dolphins still earned a crucial road win against the team that owned the AFC East since the divisions realigned in 2002. 

There’s no need to panic over the Bills losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home, but Josh Allen throwing the ball 51 times isn’t ideal. Buffalo only scored 16 points and finished 1 of 4 in the red zone. Regardless, the Bills are still one of the top teams in the AFC. 

The Jets are rebuilding, and they weren’t expected to beat the Carolina Panthers. Zach Wilson had a solid game in spite of a nonexistent rushing attack and an offensive line that lost Mekhi Becton for 4-6 weeks. 

The AFC East has a lot of talented young quarterbacks and they are going to beat each other up over the course of the year. The Bills beating the Steelers would have them higher in the rankings. 

4. NFC South

 

All of a sudden this division looks much better than it did a week ago, thanks to the New Orleans Saints. Jameis Winston threw for five touchdowns as the Saints dominated the Green Bay Packers at a temporary home in Jacksonville. The victory was a statement for New Orleans, who allowed just three points and 229 yards to the reigning league MVP and one of the NFL’s top offenses. The Saints may be challenging the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for division supremacy after all. 

The Buccaneers still have Tom Brady and all 22 starters back from their Super Bowl championship team. Dallas gave Tampa Bay its best shot, but Brady rallied the Buccaneers to victory. The Carolina Panthers are a much better team with Christian McCaffrey back, and earned a tough victory over a young Jets team. Whether they can compete in the division remains to be seen. 

The Atlanta Falcons had a disastrous performance against the Eagles, scoring just six points as Matt Ryan was hit nine times. Arthur Smith had an embarrassing debut as Atlanta might be one of the worst teams in the NFL. 

Tampa Bay and New Orleans can carry this division, but Carolina and Atlanta need to be better. 

3. AFC North

An impressive performance for this division in Week 1. The Cleveland Browns had the judge’s decision heading into the 12th round of the heavyweight fight against the Kansas City Chiefs, but a botched punt and a Baker Mayfield interception on a poor decision with under two minutes to play took away Cleveland’s chances at pulling off the upset. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers had an impressive win in Buffalo, forcing plenty of mistakes by the Bills and holding one of the league’s best offenses to 16 points. Special teams were also impressive in the win, as a Ulysses Gilbert blocked punt led to the deciding score. Cleveland and Pittsburgh appear to be the favorites in this talented division.

Cincinnati earned a huge overtime win over Minnesota, as Joe Burrow’s return sparked the Bengals offense. The Bengals could play spoiler in the division if Burrow stays healthy all 17 games. Injuries have hurt the Baltimore Ravens, but their defense blew an opportunity to put away the Las Vegas Raiders, allowing a game-tying field goal and the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Lamar Jackson’s two fumbles were costly, but Baltimore should still be a factor in the division race. 

If the Ravens had beaten the Raiders, this division moves up a spot. 

2. AFC West

The AFC West doesn’t need to be carried by the Kansas City Chiefs, the five-time defending division champions. Kansas City is the best team in the division, earning an excellent comeback victory over a very good Browns team. The Chiefs are 9-2 in their last 11 games which they trailed by double digits, all quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes. 

The Los Angeles Chargers earned a huge road victory over Washington, led by 424 yards of offense against a talented WFT defense. Los Angeles went 14 of 19 on third down against the defending NFC East champions, as the Chargers won their fifth game in a row. The Denver Broncos also picked on an NFC East team, embarrassing the New York Giants defense by rushing for 165 yards and 5.9 yards per carry. Denver also held New York to 314 yards, 64 of which came on the final possession, when the game was out of hand. 

Vegas earned an excellent comeback victory over Baltimore, a game in which the Raiders looked they were going to get blown out in the first half. David Carr brought the Raiders back twice in the fourth quarter and overtime, giving the AFC West a perfect record in Week 1. 

We’ll see how next week plays out, but the Chiefs may have a challenge for the division this year. Top to bottom, the AFC West is one of the deepest divisions in the NFL. 

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1. NFC West

Talk about a division that flexed its muscle in Week 1. Every team in the NFC West won and the division outscored its opposition 141-76. Three of the four games were won by double digits — and in the fourth game, the San Francisco 49ers were up 24 points in the fourth quarter before the Lions mounted a furious comeback. 

The Arizona Cardinals got four pass touchdowns and a rush touchdown from Kyler Murray in a runaway victory over Tennessee. The team projected to finish last in the division destroyed the defending AFC South champions. The Seattle Seahawks did the same to the other AFC South contender, as Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns in a beatdown of Indianapolis. 

The Los Angeles Rams unleashed Matthew Stafford and their offense against the Bears. Stafford’s 156.1 passer rating is the highest (minimum 20 attempts) by any player in NFL history in their debut with a new team. Los Angeles held Chicago to just 14 points and 0 for 4 on fourth down. 

San Francisco dominated Detroit, despite losing Raheem Mostert for the year and not even featuring Brandon Aiyuk due to a hamstring injury. The 49ers’ cornerback situation is a problem with Jason Verrett suffering a torn ACL, but the offensive line allowed the fewest pressures in Week 1 and the defensive line generated the most pressures. 

After one week of football, we still don’t know who the team to beat is in the NFC West. The puzzle may have gotten a lot tougher after this week of games, which demonstrates the NFC West’s strength.





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