The NFL playoffs are upon us so it’s time to offer up our final Manopause Power Rankings for the 2020 season. And what better time to look ahead?
We’ll still be picking the playoffs each round and you can see my selections for Super Wildcard Weekend by clicking here.
The power rankings are my snapshot of where each team stood at the end of the regular season and a quick analysis of what they’ll try to address before heading to camp in 2021 – mostly through the NFL Draft. Some teams are better than their record and some teams may not be as strong as their record shows.
For the 18 teams that did not make the playoffs, that offseason work is already underway. But even the teams in the postseason have holes to fill because, as all NFL fans know, the league never stands still.
The Top 5
- Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) – What do you get the team that has Mr. Everything in Patrick Mahomes? Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers will win the league’s MVP award this season, but Mahomes, barring injury, will be among the elite quarterbacks for the next 10 years. The Chiefs won last year’s Super Bowl and are the rare favorite to repeat. So who do they draft? Either an elite offensive lineman to protect Mahomes or a top pass rusher.
- New Orleans Saints (12-4) – If Drew Brees is retiring at the end of this season, the Saints have to make a decision for quarterback: If they give the keys to the offense to Taysom Hill, can he run the high-powered passing game or is he just a runner who sometimes throws? And does the team keep a more traditional passer on the roster, such as Jameis Winston, in case Hill is too one-dimensional? Hill is a talent, no doubt, but when it comes to passing, he’s not close to Brees.
- Green Bay Packers (13-3) – A spectacular 2020 has leaned more on Rodgers than the Pack expected – he finished the regular season with 48 touchdown passes, 18 of them to Davante Adams, who is among the most dangerous weapons in the playoffs. Amazingly, Rodgers threw only five interceptions. The Packers don’t run the ball well and their offensive line is spotty. Defense is adequate but not great. They will be looking for help on the lines, where injuries and age have taken a toll.
- Buffalo Bills (13-3) – A well-built team that should contend for the next 3-5 years, provided Josh Allen stays healthy. For 2021, with no glaring weaknesses and picking 30th in the first round, it’s highly likely the Bills will go for the best available offensive lineman. It’s a position where injuries are common and depth always pays off.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) – It’s all about win now for the Bucs, with Tom Brady saying he wants to play until he’s 45. He’s 43 now, so 2021 may or may not be his final season, depending on how it goes. Brady still has enough left to be effective, but there’s little doubt he’s not quite what he was. Looking at Tampa’s roster, it makes sense the Bucs will try to bring in their next quarterback, even if he has to sit a year or two, just in case.
The Middle 10
- Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – If this was the setback year, the Ravens are in darn good shape. Viewed as underachievers most of the season, they always had talent, so it was not a surprise to see Baltimore surge into the playoffs. Lamar Jackson is one of the most difficult QBs to stop in the NFL. My guess is Baltimore will look to add defense and simply get ready for what is hopefully a pandemic-free 2021.
- Seattle Seahawks (12-4) – It would be remarkable that this team won 12 games with its very shaky defense, except Russell Wilson seems to lead Seattle to double-digit wins every year. He’s one of the best and Pete Carroll has a way of shaping up the Seahawk defense as the season goes along. But there are plenty of needs – in the secondary, defensive front and at receiver – and Seattle does not have a first-round pick (traded to the Jets). Look for trades and cap-space relieving cuts to free up money to bring in both new and experienced talent.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – When you think of the Steelers, you think of defense and a physical run game to set up the pass. But the 2020 Steelers could hardly run at all, a combination of a so-so offensive line and no playmaker at running back. Look for Mike Tomlin to try to solve that in the offseason. Some believe Clemson running back Travis Etienne will be on the board when the Steelers pick at No. 28, and he’s a great choice.
- Tennessee Titans (11-5) – They win with a ball-control offense led by Derrick Henry’s running as a way to keep the Titans suspect defense as fresh as possible. Their need is pretty clear: A pass-rushing defensive lineman and more athletic linebackers.
- Cleveland Browns (11-5) – It’s great to see the Browns back in the playoffs, and somewhat amazing given their injury and covid-19 problems this season. But no one has done a better job than coach Kevin Stefanski of keeping his team focused on the task at hand. The guess here is Cleveland likes its running backs (Nick Chubb is a star), quarterback Baker Mayfield and they’ve even found a star in the making at receiver in Donovan Peoples-Jones. They’ll look to solidify the defense, starting with the linebackers.
- Los Angeles Rams (10-6) – The Rams don’t pick until the second round with the 57th overall selection because they traded their 2021 first and fourth-round picks to Jacksonville in 2019 for defensive back Jalen Ramsey. LA gave up quite a lot to land Ramsey and now will need to work free agency and the later rounds to fill some holes. The defensive is excellent and I would expect LA will look for the best available offensive line talent to protect either Jared Goff or backup John Wolford, who may not be big but appears to have the skills to play well in the NFL.
- Indianapolis Colts (11-5) – It looked like Philip Rivers was a one-year move to give the Colts time to find their next quarterback, but then he went out and had one of his best seasons. At 39, Rivers likely has a few seasons left and it would be surprising if the Colts did not re-sign him. What the Colts could use is more explosiveness at wide receiver and the 2021 draft is loaded with them.
- Miami Dolphins (10-6) – Dolphins fans won’t like this, but my opinion is Miami does not have a full-time starting quarterback ready to play in 2021. Sure, Tua Tagovaila looks like he could be something special – I’m not sold he’s an NFL passer — but he has a ways to go and is not necessarily a strength on a team ready to win now. The Dolphins will most likely go with him next year, but if I were them and Houston dangled 25-year-old DeShaun Watson in a trade, I’d ship Tua in a heartbeat because Watson is better than Tua.
- Chicago Bears (8-8) – The good news: They slipped into the playoffs at 8-8 and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky played better when he got a second chance at the starting job. The bad news: We still don’t know whether Trubisky is the Bears’ man. I would expect Trubisky is back and Nick Foles is not, and the Bears will spend the offseason looking to improve their offensive line.
- Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) – A hard one to read because we don’t know if Jon Gruden will stick with Derek Carr or if he’s just been supporting him publicly until he finds someone better. Regardless, there’s no doubt 2021 will either be the season Carr gets it done or gets gone. He’s not the only problem, though, and Gruden also will be looking to add more speed to the Raiders defense.
Hope Springs Eternal
- Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – Kyler Murray took a lot of shots this season and it showed – he was limping around a lot in the Cards’ stretch run. They will look to protect him better via the draft and free agency because you have to in the tough NFC West, especially with strong pass rushing competitors in the Rams and 49ers.
- Washington Football Team (7-9) – What do you do to improve a team that wins its division with a losing record? Just about anything. As much we I admire Alex Smith’s comeback – and let’s be clear, he really can play – it’s difficult to pencil him in as a starter who can make it through a full season. And now the team has a second quarterback who suffered a gruesome leg injury in Kyle Allen. Determining the health of those two will guide Washington in the offseason. If they draft an offensive lineman, that means Ron Rivera is feeling pretty good about the health of his quarterbacks.
- San Francisco (6-10) – Takes the award for best 6-10 team in the league, a record made more deceptive by simply awful play from any quarterback other than Jimmy Garoppolo, a talented player who is being hit with the “injury prone” label. Garroppolo will be back, but he may be the only 49ers quarterback who returns. San Fran has a high pick in the draft – No. 12 overall – and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson most likely will be available. I don’t see the 49ers passing him up if he’s there.
- Atlanta Falcons (4-12) – This is a team that almost won 10 games – but didn’t. The Falcons had teams like the Chiefs, Saints and Bucs on the ropes, but were only reliable in blowing fourth-quarter leads. Matt Ryan’s contract is huge and they need defensive help more than anything, but they are picking fourth overall in the draft and there will be elite talent available at many positions. It’s a huge offseason for the Falcons – with a few savvy moves, they could contend for the NFC South next year.
- New England Patriots (7-9) – They took a chance on Cam Newton and it didn’t work, a combination of a depleted roster and the mileage on Newton’s body. Bill Belichick doesn’t usually draft quarterbacks early, but this year could be an exception if the Pats don’t make a trade. Problem is, it’s hard to pencil in a rookie quarterback as the starter, but if the Patriots with their 15th overall pick can grab North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Alabama’s Mac Jones, they probably will.
- Minnesota Vikings (7-9) – The Vikings defense was its strength in 2019, but the salary cap and underperforming players with huge contracts caused Minnesota to unload a lot of defensive backs last year. Really, then went too far. This team needs cornerbacks. They’ll stick with Kirk Cousins at QB, probably ended up with the best rookie wide receiver in Justin Jefferson and have the NFL’s running back in Dalvin Cook. Defense anyone?
- Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Here’s a team that easily could come roaring back and win the NFC East next season. On paper, Dallas will have the most talent and they’ll have Dak Prescott back. The Cowboys do lose a lot of players in a secondary that was the strength of a porous defense so they will either pick a top cornerback or fill another gaping hole on that side of the ball. Most likely to be one of the NFL’s most-improved teams as Super Bowl-winning coach Mike McCarthy enters his second year with his new team.
- Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) – Justin Herbert has been a revelation as quarterback. He’s got star potential and showed it in numerous games. The Chargers will also have a new coach, which you knew was coming given this team’s habit of seeming to lose every close game it was in. They really need help on the offensive line, but the truly elite tackles will be gone by the 13th pick, but if one drops the Chargers will grab him.
- New York Giants (6-10) – Finished only one game out of the playoffs in the league’s worst division, so it is tempting to think the Giants are close. But are they? Yes, Saquon Barkley is tremendous at running back, but where would Daniel Jones rank among the NFL’s starting quarterbacks? In the lower half, for sure. That means the defense had better be good and the Giants will look to strengthen their pass rush. A lot of experts have defensive tackle Kwity Paye of Michigan going to New York with the 11th overall pick.
- Carolina Panthers (5-11) – Teddy Bridgewater didn’t firmly establish himself as the quarterback first-year coach Matt Rhule will stick with, but he had some pretty good games and I expect he’ll get another year as the Panthers starter. With so many injuries and star running back Christian McCaffrey out for much of the season, we will don’t know what the Panthers can do. There is no doubt they’ll try to add more weapons to the offense.
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) – Carson Wentz, Jalen Hurts – or neither? The Eagles quarterback situation is a mess and it seems as if Wentz is damaged goods, at least in Philly, and may be better off with a fresh start. But does that mean Hurts is the answer? That’s a reach. This will be the endless obsession of Eagles fans in the offseason and it will be surprising if both quarterbacks on the Philly roster next year.
- Houston Texans (4-12) – DeShaun Watson is a top five quarterback and the stats bear it out over multiple seasons. Does he want to stick around for the rebuild in Houston? Already there are rumors Watson might request a trade, which could land a bushel of draft picks for the Texans. Yes, Watson has a big contract, but he’s only 25, and if he went to a contender he could be the piece that puts that team over the top. Without a doubt the most interesting move or non-move to watch this offseason.
- Denver Broncos (5-11) – What Drew Lock has going for him is he is the quarterback John Elway wanted and said could be the guy for Denver. What Lock has working against him is whether Elway has seen enough to become concerned Lock is no lock. I’d say they’re concerned but not giving up and Lock gets another season, hopefully playing behind a bolstered offensive line.
- Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) – So many questions for the Bengals after Joe Burrow went down with a serious knee injury requiring major surgery. Burrow will be back but he may not be 100 percent to start the season. Meanwhile, the Bengals need to get him some help. They’ll target a top receiver and should get one with the fifth pick, but it won’t be Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith of Alabama, who could go as high as No. 2.
- Detroit Lions (5-11) – There are needs and there is disarray and the Lions are the latter. Somehow won five games but are probably WORSE than their awful record. Matthew Stafford may have wasted his career with 12 seasons in Detroit, but his contract is too large to move him and he eats up a lot of cap space this team really could use. It’s a major overhaul for whoever is the new general manager and new coach, but we seem to say that every year about this franchise.
- New York Jets (2-14) – So, do they take the second-best quarterback in Justin Fields of Ohio State, an all-world receiver Devonta Smith or grab a chance to select an elite offensive tackle who could play 10-plus years? It all depends on who the new coach is and how he feels about Sam Darnold. Remember, Darnold was viewed as a phenom just a few years ago. I say the Jets don’t take a QB.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) – It happens a lot. A team gets the No. 1 overall pick and feels compelled to take a quarterback even though that was not the position that performed the worst on a horrible team. So yes, Gardner Minshew probably deserves better, but there’s no way the Jags pass up the chance to take Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who is being billed as a once-a-decade QB prospect.
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