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NFL way-too-early Power Rankings: Chiefs are favored for Super Bowl LVI, but should they be?

·12 min read
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Many people used the word “unstoppable” when it came to the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs.

Then the Super Bowl happened, and their aura of invincibility was shattered.

Behind an offensive line decimated by injuries, Patrick Mahomes ran for his life. Tyreek Hill was a non-factor. Kansas City suddenly couldn’t do anything on offense. They didn’t even get in the end zone, only the third Super Bowl team of 110 to fail to score a touchdown (joining the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI and Rams in Super Bowl LIII).

For that Chiefs offense to join the list was shocking. We had been building up Mahomes as the perfect quarterback and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him struggle like we haven’t seen before (the struggles were not all his fault, of course).

Does that mean anything going forward? Are the Chiefs suddenly vulnerable?

There’s an argument to be made that the Chiefs are and were a little overrated. Kansas City lived off one-score wins in the second half of the season, which isn’t sustainable and not the sign of a dominant team. From Nov. 1 to the AFC championship game on Jan. 24, the Chiefs didn’t win a game by more than 6 points or cover the point spread in any game. The Chiefs were just sixth in Football Outsiders’ final regular-season DVOA rankings. Kansas City was obviously good, but not the unbeatable team that many said it was. And now they have the Super Bowl hangover that seems to affect every losing team.

Still, ultimately there’s no great reason to believe the Chiefs won’t bounce right back and be contenders again.

Kansas City doesn’t have the cap flexibility to do much this offseason, but their core is not showing signs of slowing down, the offensive line won’t be as unlucky with injuries next season and the defense is improving thanks to some smart draft picks. The Chiefs are the favorite to win Super Bowl LVI, and that seems right. If there’s one team to feel confident in, it’s the one that is 44-10 in Mahomes’ starts counting playoffs.

The Chiefs will be back. They’re not unbeatable, mostly because no NFL team is. But one bad day shouldn’t totally derail what was looking like a potential dynasty.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a rough day in Super Bowl LV. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a rough day in Super Bowl LV. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Here are the way-too-early NFL power rankings for the 2021 season, with last year’s record and then their current Super Bowl LVI odds at BetMGM (+2500 odds means that team is 25-to-1, and a $100 bet would result in a $2,500 win). These rankings will change in major ways of course; consider it a first snapshot at your team going into the offseason:

32. Houston Texans (4-12, +8000)

The 2021 Texans with Deshaun Watson will be really, really bad. The 2021 Texans without Deshaun Watson could be one of the worst teams we’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how that franchise is careening off a cliff.

31. Detroit Lions (5-11, +8000)

Dan Campbell’s over-the-top enthusiasm will either be celebrated or the cause of many jokes. A shrewd trade, sending Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff and a bunch of draft picks, should plot the Lions’ course for the next few years. Detroit won’t be good in 2021 but a long-term plan seems to be taking hold.

30. New York Jets (2-14, +8000)

The Jets are one of the few realistic suitors for Deshaun Watson, and landing him would change the entire franchise trajectory. It is already looking up with the coaching change from Adam Gase to the respected Robert Saleh and an anticipated upgrade at quarterback whether it’s Watson or the second pick of the draft.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15, +10000)

Not only is this the offseason the Jaguars get to land Trevor Lawrence, the current salary-cap estimates from Spotrac have Jacksonville with the most cap space in the NFL. The NFL is fickle and fortunes can change in a hurry. The Jaguars can become good very quickly. They will be very interesting to watch before next season.

28. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1, +8000)

Two things matter for the 2021 Bengals, and they are related: Is Joe Burrow healthy after tearing his ACL, and can the Bengals fix their offensive line to protect him better?

27. New York Giants (6-10, +6600)

Saquon Barkley told the AP he’s “doing really well in rehab” after an ACL tear, which should put him on track to be ready for the Giants’ opener. That’s the biggest addition the Giants could possibly make this offseason.

26. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1, +5000)

If the Eagles can get a reasonable return for Carson Wentz, it makes sense to do that and start over with Jalen Hurts, who looked good late last season and is much cheaper. It seems like a team that needs a shakeup beyond the head coach.

25. Washington Football Team (7-9, +6600)

It’s not like winning the 2020 NFC East was the most impressive accomplishment in franchise history, but it was an accomplishment and helps establish Ron Rivera’s new culture. Anyone who says it would have been better to not win the division and get a better draft pick is just wrong. Winning is good. Playoff appearances are good. Washington still has a ton of work to do, but they should feel great about having Rivera to lead the franchise forward.

24. Atlanta Falcons (4-12, +6600)

Arthur Smith, who was the offensive coordinator with the Titans, was an intriguing hire to be Atlanta’s new head coach. The Falcons don’t have a Derrick Henry to carry the play-action heavy offense Smith ran in Tennessee, but there are a lot of pieces to have a great offense.

23. Denver Broncos (5-11, +6600)

George Paton takes over the GM role from John Elway, which means the Broncos’ half-hearted approach of fixing the quarterback situation could change. They should be in on the Deshaun Watson talks, but it’s hard to figure out how they could beat some other teams in that mix. If that doesn’t work, Denver needs to figure out a real solution, not just overpaying for the next Case Keenum or Joe Flacco band-aid.

22. Carolina Panthers (5-11, +5000)

The Panthers’ pursuit of Matthew Stafford was unsuccessful, but it makes Carolina an interesting team in the quarterback carousel. Teddy Bridgewater ended up being an underwhelming starter. The Panthers could go into another season with him, but it will be curious what they do to get a future upgrade.

21. Minnesota Vikings (7-9, +4000)

The draft pick of Justin Jefferson was the highlight of Minnesota’s 2020. To get a superstar that late in the first round is a game-changer. The Vikings still have a long way to go and it’s hard to build around a receiver, but Jefferson will be part of Minnesota’s foundation for a long time.

20. Chicago Bears (8-8, +5000)

Maybe the Bears land Carson Wentz, and that would be a reasonable gamble if the price isn’t too steep. But anyone in trade talks with the Bears must understand that the Ryan Pace-Matt Nagy combo is on the hot seat and it’s not like they have the job security to care about how much it will cost to land a quarterback.

19. New England Patriots (7-9, +3000)

By coincidence or design, Tom Brady got out of New England at the right time. Their talent level just isn’t good enough right now after missing on too many draft picks (New England was also hit harder than any other team by opt-outs). Because Brady went on to win a title it looks like Bill Belichick is the loser in the unnecessary debate over which one was more responsible for the Pats dynasty, but it’s hard to believe even Brady could have done all that much with the 2020 roster.

18. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8, +5000)

The Raiders were in a great position to make the playoffs. They played very well against the tough part of their schedule and should have cruised after that. For a second straight year, they collapsed late. It was a big disappointment and takes away a lot of the momentum Las Vegas should have had this offseason.

17. Arizona Cardinals (8-8, +4000)

Falling flat and failing to make the playoffs was a tough blow. Still, progress was made. The third year for the Kliff Kingsbury era will be telling, with some Cardinals fans already getting antsy about the coach’s mistakes.

16. Dallas Cowboys (6-10, +2500)

Reports say the Cowboys aren’t letting Dak Prescott go, even if it means a second franchise tag at almost $38 million. It’s a big bet that Prescott will be fully healthy, and also continue to progress as a player. Prescott will need to be a top-five quarterback to justify the expected cost. He can be that, but it’s riskier after his injury.

15. Miami Dolphins (10-6, +2500)

If nothing else, we’re going to find out about Tua Tagovailoa’s mental toughness. To hear some of the criticisms of him, it’s already determined he’s not a great quarterback. He wasn’t as good as Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow, but most rookie quarterbacks aren’t. Being mentioned in trade rumors involving Deshaun Watson can’t help his confidence. If Tagovailoa is still the Dolphins’ quarterback, they’ll have to work on building him up.

14. New Orleans Saints (12-4, +1800)

The assumption is that Drew Brees will retire and Jameis Winston will become the starter. And regardless of how that turns out, that will make Saints games must-watch TV.

13. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9, +3000)

The Chargers are in an exciting position thanks to Justin Herbert. They are projected to have the seventh-most cap space in the NFL. They already have many talented players and can add many more, including with the 13th overall pick. Excluding any teams that could be in the quarterback carousel, this could be the team that wins the offseason.

Justin Herbert won the NFL's offensive rookie of the year award. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Justin Herbert won the NFL's offensive rookie of the year award. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

12. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, +2500)

The Colts have managed the salary cap very well and are projected to have the third-most cap space, not too far behind the Jets and Jaguars. The problem might be that they have a ton of cap space and no decent quarterback to spend it on.

11. San Francisco 49ers (6-10, +1400)

The 49ers will be happier than anyone to turn the page on this season. The big offseason question is whether Jimmy Garoppolo comes back at his $24.1 million base salary for 2021, or the 49ers find a better option.

10. Tennessee Titans (11-5, +2500)

Titans first-round pick Isaiah Wilson, through one year, looks like the worst pick of the 2020 draft. He played only four snaps, was charged with DUI in September and was suspended by the team in December. Mike Vrabel couldn’t even comment on Wilson’s future with the team.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, +3000)

It seems like Ben Roethlisberger will be back, on a restructured contract. Roethlisberger will have to play better than he did at times during the Steelers’ slide, and while it’s tough to expect that at age 39, it’s still the Steelers’ best option for 2021.

8. Cleveland Browns (11-5, +2500)

Odell Beckham Jr.’s future will be a big topic this offseason. The Browns really didn’t miss him after his injury. Beckham won’t be in demand like he was when the Giants traded him to Cleveland, especially considering his ACL injury. But if the Browns want to move on, they should be able to find a trade partner.

7. Seattle Seahawks (12-4, +2200)

Former Rams assistant Shane Waldron becomes an integral part of Russell Wilson’s career. Waldron takes over as Seattle’s offensive coordinator. While Pete Carroll will always want to run the ball more, perhaps Waldron can figure out a way to build an offense that makes the most of its Hall of Fame quarterback.

6. Los Angeles Rams (10-6, +1200)

Matthew Stafford is a fine quarterback. But he has never been great. The reaction to the enormous trade with the Lions was that the Rams had a massive upgrade at quarterback, but is that the case? Stafford is better than Jared Goff, but the Rams paid up like Stafford was a top-five option. He never has been that during his career, and the Rams are betting that’s all the Lions’ fault.

5. Baltimore Ravens (11-5, +1200)

Receiver Marquise Brown’s strong finish, after a mostly disappointing 2020, is a good sign. The Ravens still need to get Lamar Jackson at least one more impact receiver, but they should have the cap space to do so.

4. Green Bay Packers (13-3, +1800)

The drafting of A.J. Dillon in the second round would seem to indicate the Packers were planning for life after Aaron Jones. Jones is a talented player, but drafting a back in the second and then signing Jones to a big contract anyway wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

3. Buffalo Bills (13-3, +1200)

Josh Allen becomes eligible to sign a big long-term extension. It’s hard to win a Super Bowl with one player taking up a big chunk of the salary cap, and the Bills are going to have to deal with that challenge now.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5, +1000)

Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David are free agents, but the Buccaneers are in good shape when it comes to the cap. If they can retain those two and maybe others like Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh, there’s no reason to believe Tampa Bay can’t make a run at a second straight title.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2, +550)

Yes, they looked bad in Super Bowl LV. But this is still the safest bet in the NFL.

Super Bowl LV from Yahoo Sports: