Week 1 is history. Your tidy offseason narratives are busted into a million pieces, but you’re still here. That’s what’s important.
The season’s first slate of games brought blowouts in unexpected places, which led to some soul-searching in the latest edition of the Power Rankings. Hold on tight in the next few bumpy weeks. A football season is like moving into a new house; it takes time for things to settle.
Let’s get to it.
Don’t forget to watch the NFL Power Rankings show with Dan and Matt “Money” Smith every Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET on NFL Network.
NOTE: Up/down arrows reflect movement from the Week 1 Power Rankings.
Previous rank: No. 1
The Bucs committed four turnovers and surrendered 451 total yards against the Cowboys, but they found a way thanks to that little bit of magic Tom Brady seems to bring to every team he plays for. The ageless G.O.A.T. picked apart the Dallas secondary with surgical precision and got fountain of youth-level performances from Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, who accounted for more than 200 yards and three TDs. Brown looks primed for an All-Pro season, while Gronk was rampaging around the field like he was 27 again. Brady’s talented group of pass catchers run so deep that a perennial Pro Bowl talent like Mike Evans can disappear from the game plan and the unit doesn’t miss a beat. Scary stuff.
Previous rank: No. 2
Patrick Mahomes is a football genius. How else can you explain that impossible downfield heave that resulted in Tyreek Hill‘s 75-yard touchdown in Sunday’s comeback win over the Browns? Mahomes is a relentless force, and his greatness covered up for the sins of a defense that couldn’t get the Cleveland attack off the field all day (the Browns punted once all game). Here’s an all-time crazy stat: In his career in September, Mahomes is 11-0 with 35 touchdowns and zero interceptions. That’s playing-Madden-on-“easy”-level dominance against the greatest football players in the world. We are all witnesses.
Previous rank: No. 6
Pretty much a perfect opener for the Rams, who executed on both sides of the ball in a blowout win over the Bears under the lights at SoFi Stadium. The breathless offseason hype around the new Sean McVay-Matthew Stafford partnership counts as one summer narrative that was worth all the honking. Stafford looked extremely comfortable running the Rams’ offense, throwing three touchdown passes while returning the deep-strike element that went M.I.A. from McVay’s scheme in the final years of the Jared Goff era. Late in the fourth quarter, with the game well in hand, NBC cameras caught a beaming Stafford working his way down the Rams’ sideline. The man had a glow. This is a career rebirth with championship-level upside.
Previous rank: No. 7
Russell Wilson didn’t get to throw the ball much on Sunday, but he still left a huge imprint on the 28-16 win over the Colts. His best moment came late in the first half: Following a sack, Seattle faced second-and-20 with less than a minute to play. Wilson dropped back and unfurled a beautiful deep ball right into the waiting arms of Tyler Lockett, who’d toasted the Colts secondary. The 69-yard score put the Seahawks in command, and Indy never seriously threatened after that. The game was a fever dream come to life for Pete Carroll, whose team was able to run more than pass while his defense smothered the enemy. It was like 2013 all over again.
Previous rank: No. 10
All your summer Steelers takes are junk. Mike Tomlin’s team went up to Western New York and delivered a team performance that blasted away six months of narratives about the state of Pittsburgh professional football. Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt spearheaded a stingy defense that eliminated the big-strike Bills attack that flummoxed the NFL a season ago, and Ben Roethlisberger and the offense found their footing in the second half with scores on four consecutive possessions. It was both a victory and a reminder: This Steelers team ain’t dead yet. Said Big Ben: “Guys understand what just happened.”
Previous rank: No. 3
The Bills had a defined game plan on Sunday: Spread out their wide receivers and let their superstar quarterback pick apart a suspect Pittsburgh secondary. The strategy made plenty of sense when Brian Daboll drew it up, but the execution was woeful in a disappointing 23-16 home loss to begin the season. Josh Allen looked much more like the QB he was in his first two seasons, while Stefon Diggs and the rest of the Buffalo playmakers struggled to gain separation and deliver the splash plays that were a signature in 2020. It’s not all on the QB and wideouts, though: The Bills’ offensive line was bullied by a Pittsburgh pass rush that got home repeatedly with four-man fronts. Another tough D awaits for Week 2’s trip to the Dolphins.
Previous rank: No. 5
For Baltimore, Monday night was history — the bad kind. Since John Harbaugh’s first season with the Ravens in 2008, the team had been 81-0 in games in which Baltimore led by at least 14 points. But Harbaugh’s bunch couldn’t hold that lead against the Raiders in a Monday nighter marred by pass-protection issues and Lamar Jackson‘s inability to protect the football in key situations. Jackson’s fumble on a sack in overtime set up Derek Carr‘s game-winning, 31-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones, dooming the Ravens to their first season-opening loss since 2015. The long plane ride back to Baltimore couldn’t have been any easier knowing that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are on tap Sunday night.
Previous rank: No. 8
There’s a version of Hell where the Browns are forced to play the Chiefs in Arrowhead for all of eternity. Cleveland now has two painful losses to Kansas City in the space of nine months, both games sprinkled with moments of great optimism but ending with the cruel amputation of hope. The Browns have shown they are not intimidated by the defending AFC champions; the next step is proving they know how to close out the conference kings when they have the chance. The second-half turnovers by Nick Chubb and Baker Mayfield can’t happen when Patrick Mahomes is running plays on the other side.
Previous rank: No. 9
San Francisco had a 41-17 advantage over Detroit when cornerback Jason Verrett limped to the sideline with what was later diagnosed as a season-ending ACL injury. It’s not a coincidence that the Lions began to eat into that lead as soon as the top cover man exited the picture. The 49ers survived Detroit’s furious comeback attempt, and now they’ll have to find a way to survive without an indispensable figure in their secondary. We know this team is capable of scoring points, but a healthy and effective defense will be necessary to fulfill those Super Bowl expectations. With Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray looming on the schedule, San Francisco must adapt in a hurry.
Previous rank: No. 15
Jameis Winston has experienced an odd NFL career, so consider it fitting his debut as the Saints’ QB1 featured one of the stranger final lines you’ll ever see: 14 for 20, 148 passing yards, five touchdowns. Yep, New Orleans did pretty much anything it wanted to the Packers, bullying the defending NFC North champs on both sides of the ball and sending Aaron Rodgers to the bench for good with 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. This outcome tells you so much about the health of the organization: Playing at “home” in Jacksonville in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, the Saints would’ve gotten a pass if they’d laid an egg against an elite Packers team. Instead, they trounced them, radically recalibrating 2021 expectations as a result.
Previous rank: No. 12
Justin Herbert was an absolute savage from the pocket when the Chargers needed him most on Sunday. The second-year QB delivered laser strikes for first-down completions of 17, 19, 20 and 9 yards — all of them on pivotal third-down plays — to seal a hard-fought 20-16 win over the Washington Football Team. Herbert wasn’t perfect, committing two turnovers with L.A. in scoring range, but his incredible arm talent, combined with a gutsy self-belief in the opportunities that golden right arm gives him, separates him from so many of his peers. The Chargers, at long last, have a closer.
Previous rank: No. 4
The Packers were throttled in stunning fashion on Sunday, destroyed on both sides of the ball in a 38-3 loss to the Saints that counted as the most lopsided defeat of Aaron Rodgers‘ career. The reigning MVP struggled to get anything going at the Saints’ temporary home in Jacksonville, throwing for just 133 yards with two interceptions before being lifted for Jordan Love early in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense made Jameis Winston look like, well, Aaron Rodgers, surrendering five touchdown passes on just 20 attempts. It was the textbook definition of a Bury The Ball Game. “Absolutely embarrassed,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “It’s humbling, to say the least.”
Previous rank: No. 14
Xavien Howard proved once again why he might be the most valuable player on the Dolphins. The star cornerback jarred the ball out of the hands of Pats running back Damien Harris late in the fourth quarter, the game-deciding turnover in a 17-16 win. While Howard thrived, Tua Tagovailoa had his ups and downs in a game that’s unlikely to change any perceptions of the second-year passer. It wasn’t a perfect effort by the Dolphins, but victory at Foxborough is always a big deal. After one week, Miami is the only team in the AFC East in the win column.
Previous rank: No. 18
Maybe the Cardinals heard all the talk this summer about how they were the only NFC West team we shouldn’t expect to make a deep playoff run. Arizona came out on Sunday and played like one of the best teams in football, embarrassing the Titans in a 38-13 road victory that recalibrates expectations of what this team can be. Kyler Murray (five total TDs) looked like a QB ready for a run at MVP, while Chandler Jones delivered one of the best defensive performances in franchise history: five sacks and two forced fumbles, both of which led to Arizona touchdowns. Said wideout Christian Kirk: “I haven’t seen this team with such a big chip on their shoulder before in years past of my three seasons of being here so far.”
Previous rank: No. 13
Bill Belichick is notoriously fickle with his running backs, so you can only imagine the sleepless nights Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson suffered after each lost fumbles in a one-point loss to the Dolphins. Harris’ fumble, which occurred late in the fourth quarter with the Pats in field-goal range, is the type of miscue that could cost him his hard-earned bell-cow role. The biggest positive came at quarterback, where Mac Jones looked fully capable of leading Josh McDaniels’ offense going forward. The first-round pick settled into a nice groove as the game progressed and showed off impressive touch and accuracy on several throws. It will be a long week of practice for Pats players, but this team has significant potential for improvement.
Previous rank: No. 22
The Teddy Bridgewater era is off to an extremely promising start. The veteran quarterback looked confident and comfortable in his Denver debut, leading the Broncos to a 27-13 win over the Giants at the Meadowlands. Bridgewater led the Broncos on four consecutive scoring drives across the second and third quarters, three of those possessions ending with touchdowns. Sunday delivered optimism for the offense but also uncertainty after second-year wideout Jerry Jeudy went down with a high-ankle sprain that will reportedly cost him 4-to-6 weeks. With Courtland Sutton still working his way back from knee surgery, other Denver pass catchers must step up.
Previous rank: No. 25
Have we all been sleeping on the Eagles? Nick Sirianni’s debut went off like gangbusters, as Philly took it to the host Falcons on both sides of the ball in a 32-6 laugher. Jalen Hurts looked very much like a starter the Eagles can put their faith in, throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns while adding 62 yards on the ground. DeVonta Smith caught a touchdown in his NFL debut, and the defense limited the Falcons to just 4.1 yards per play. A greater challenge lies ahead against the 49ers in Week 2, but the Eagles look like a confident team ready for the fight.
Previous rank: No. 23
The entire night was so on brand for the Raiders, but those final moments in overtime were especially on point: Jon Gruden’s absurd decision to trot out his kicker for a ludicrously premature field-goal attempt, only to be bailed out by a penalty when the field-goal team couldn’t get set up in time, which set up the utter humiliation of having to send your offense back on the field, which led to — naturally — Derek Carr‘s 31-yard touchdown pass to an uncovered Zay Jones that sent the Silver and Black faithful into joyful hysterics. I have no idea what to take from that game, or whether this changes my feelings about the Raiders (or the Ravens), but it’s nice to know the inherent madness of Jon Gruden football is alive and well.
Previous rank: No. 19
Moral victories only go so far in the NFL, but I’m guessing the Cowboys privately feel pretty good about themselves after nearly knocking off the defending-champion Bucs in the Thursday night opener. The defense created four turnovers while the offense has a legit MVP contender leading the charge at quarterback. Dak Prescott was a machine in his first game since fracturing his ankle last October, throwing for 403 yards and three scores on a ridiculous 58 attempts. Prescott was sacked just once, and he carved up a great Tampa Bay defense with the help of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, who just might be seen as the best 1-2 wideout combo in football by season’s end.
Previous rank: No. 11
The Titans joined the Packers as the contenders that scared you the most by their Week 1 no-shows, shellacked in their own building by the Cardinals, who dominated on both sides of the ball in a 38-13 blowout. Tennessee, with its vaunted collection of playmakers, didn’t manage a first down until well into the second quarter. Midway through the third quarter, Derrick Henry had logged 9 yards on 10 carries. The defense wasn’t much better, looking completely lost at sea as Kyler Murray piled up five touchdowns. Five is also the number of sacks surrendered to Chandler Jones, who had Taylor Lewan spilling his feelings on Twitter. Said Mike Vrabel after the massacre: “We’ll find out what our culture looks like this week.”
Previous rank: No. 16
“If you’re a Colts fan, no need to worry, no need to fret, you’ll be fine.” That’s how CBS analyst Jonathan Vilma summed up Indy’s 28-16 loss to the Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium, and I must say, I do not entirely agree. The Colts’ defense allowed an average of 11 yards on 23 Russell Wilson attempts, and the offensive line struggled mightily in both pass protection and short-yardage situations. Carson Wentz was the biggest bright spot: Despite constant pressure, Wentz moved well and avoided the killer mistakes that marked the end of his Eagles tenure. Still, Wentz took too many hits in this game. Catastrophe awaits if the Colts can’t make the necessary adjustments up front.
Previous rank: No. 20
The news on Ryan Fitzpatrick is not good. The veteran passer was moved to injured reserve on Monday after suffering a hip subluxation in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers, and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the possibility of Fitzpatrick missing the rest of the year is “on the table.” Obviously, this is a crushing setback for both Fitzmagic and the Washington Football Team, which simply cannot find stability behind center. Taylor Heinicke had some moments against Los Angeles, but you have to wonder if Ron Rivera is truly serious about not bringing another veteran into the building. The fact that Cam Newton isn’t already on a plane to D.C. makes you wonder about how Rivera really feels about his former MVP.
Previous rank: No. 30
After a summer dotted with foreboding news on multiple fronts, the Bengals opened their season with a feel-good home win over the Vikings that restores hope in Western Ohio. Joe Burrow played extremely well in his return from reconstructive knee surgery, while first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase reminded us that a thousand critical notebook ledes in July can evaporate with one productive afternoon in September. Then there’s coach Zac Taylor, whose bold fourth-and-inches call in overtime led to the 32-yard C.J. Uzomah reception that set up the win. “Ballsy,” Uzomah said of his coach’s decision. “I have to say, that’s some big cojones there by him.” These Bengals could be fun!
Previous rank: No. 17
Let’s start here: I’m not sure how game officials and the replay crew in New York stuck with the ruling of that Dalvin Cook fumble in overtime, a questionable call that effectively swung the outcome of the game. But Minnesota also put itself in that vulnerable position with an afternoon of sloppy play against a supposedly inferior opponent. Four of the Vikings’ five offensive linemen were charged with holding penalties, and the one who wasn’t — Brian O’Neill — had a false start. The rebuilt secondary struggled to contain Joe Burrow, who averaged close to 10 yards per attempt. The Vikings fashion themselves an NFC contender, but they didn’t look the part on Sunday.
Previous rank: No. 27
Sam Darnold got his Revenge Game, but the most exciting development to come out of a 19-14 win over the Jets was a Carolina defensive front seven that used speed and athleticism to completely outclass its opponent. Brian Burns and Shaq Thompson led a swarming Panthers defense that had rookie Zach Wilson running for his life from the first series. Darnold overcame some early miscues to deliver a strong performance in his Panthers debut, while Christian McCaffrey — who offered up a ho-hum 187 total yards — was back to looking like the best running back in football. These Panthers could be frisky.
Previous rank: No. 21
All summer, the huddled masses begged Chicago not to put Andy Dalton on Sunday Night Football. The Bears didn’t listen, but it wasn’t Dalton’s fault Chicago was blown out by the Rams. Only one offense in the league ran fewer plays than Los Angeles in Week 1, but the Rams still tallied 34 points and more than 350 total yards against a backpedaling Chicago D that’s regressed considerably in recent years. The Bears need Justin Fields to do more than just serve as an upgrade over Dalton in the starting lineup. They need their first-round pick to give the team something that it’s lost in recent years: an identity.
Previous rank: No. 24
Daniel Jones keeps doing it. The third-year quarterback has struggled with inconsistency throughout his short NFL tenure, and we saw more of the same in Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Broncos. Jones moved the Giants well at times, connecting on a handful of downfield strikes against a Denver secondary that’s notoriously stingy when it comes to surrendering chunk plays. But the game turned late in the third quarter, when Jones scrambled inside the Denver 15 and lost the football as he went to the ground. The resulting turnover short-circuited a promising drive and pretty much sealed Big Blue’s fate. Jones is good until he’s not … and that’s the problem.
Previous rank: No. 26
The Falcons entered Week 1 with sky-high expectations for their offense. Julio Jones was gone, sure, but the arrival of No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts and a gifted play-caller in new head coach Arthur Smith seemed to be a recipe for fireworks. On Sunday, Atlanta fired off a bunch of duds. The Falcons managed just two field goals and didn’t have a play from scrimmage that went beyond 18 yards in a 32-6 loss to the Eagles. Struggles on defense are expected in Atlanta this season, but Sunday’s putrid performance by the offense needs to be an aberration … or else. “I feel awful for our fans and everybody who showed up today,” Smith said. “We’ll do a better job. That game is not going to define us.”
Previous rank: No. 32
The Texans were viewed, almost universally, as the worst team in football on Sunday morning. They certainly didn’t play like that in an impressive 37-21 win over a Jaguars team that looked overmatched and unprepared by comparison. Houston was led by Tyrod Taylor, who finished with 331 total yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. It was a great start to the season and a welcome change of conversation after a summer of Deshaun Watson uneasiness. Said Taylor of the performance: “It means everything to me and I know it means a lot to the guys in the locker room.”
Previous rank: No. 28
Zach Wilson showed toughness, resiliency and plenty of talent in the second half of the Jets’ 19-14 loss to the Panthers, but the heralded rookie won’t make it through the season if New York can’t get its offensive line to play at a competitive level. The unit struggled mightily against the Panthers, allowing six sacks and 10 hits on Wilson, who was scrambling for his life for most of the afternoon. The news got worse in the third quarter, when left tackle Mekhi Becton went out with a knee injury. Becton might have dodged a season-ending setback, but an already-beleaguered front five will be without its most essential piece for at least a month, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
Previous rank: No. 31
The Lions deserve credit for clawing their way back against a superior 49ers team — no small feat considering Detroit trailed by as many as 28 points in the second half. But the Lions were also overmatched enough to fall behind by four touchdowns in their own building, as sure a sign as any that this will be the developmental year in Detroit that we all anticipated. That trust-the-process outlook took an ugly hit in the fourth quarter, when cornerback Jeff Okudah suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Okudah, the third overall pick in the 2020 draft, never got his feet under him as a rookie, and now sees his second season wiped away before it ever really began. Trying times in the Motor City.
Previous rank: No. 29
Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer are not accustomed to losing. That might be about to change after what we witnessed on Sunday in Houston. The 2021 Jags looked a lot like the 2020 version that ended the season on a 15-game losing streak. Turnovers, penalties, mental lapses — it all added up to a 37-21 loss to a Texans team that figures to be one of the worst squads in football. And if that’s the case, where does that leave Jacksonville after Week 1? The Jaguars can only go up from here.