The Ravens entered last offseason chasing the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. This offseason, they’re still chasing the Chiefs — and a few other teams, too.
After an uneven season in Baltimore ended with a second straight AFC divisional-round exit, the Ravens have some catching up to do. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the NFL’s new champions. Kansas City is the early betting favorite for the 2021 season. And the Buffalo Bills might now be the Chiefs’ top competition in the AFC.
Here’s a way-too-early look at where the Ravens and the NFL’s 31 other teams stack up next season. For teams in the top 10 and the AFC North, regular-season unit rankings (as rated by Football Outsiders) and notable pending unrestricted free agents are included.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
How 2020 ended: 15-1, Super Bowl loss
Unit rankings: No. 2 offense, No. 22 defense
Pending free agents: CB Bashaud Breeland, S Daniel Sorensen, WR Sammy Watkins, OLB Damien Wilson, C Austin Reiter, RB Le’Veon Bell
Preview: The Chiefs still have the NFL’s most talented quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) and most creative offensive mind (Andy Reid). They still have a three-time All-Pro at both tight end (Travis Kelce) and wide receiver (Tyreek Hill). They still have enough talent on defense to get by. And it won’t take much work to put together an offensive line better than the one they fielded Sunday. Kansas City will face some tough decisions this offseason as it tries to squeeze underneath the salary cap, but who’s going to bet against what’s coming back?
2. Green Bay Packers
How 2020 ended: 13-3, NFC championship game loss
Unit rankings: No. 1 offense, No. 17 defense
Pending free agents: RB Aaron Jones, C Corey Linsley, CB Kevin King, G Lane Taylor, RB Jamaal Williams
Preview: A botched 2020 draft probably kept the Packers from their first Super Bowl appearance in a decade. But Aaron Rodgers, all things considered, has a pretty nice setup in Green Bay. Jones would be a big loss, but the Packers have drafted his likely replacement in A.J. Dillon. Linsley’s likely departure stings, but an offensive line with a healthy David Bakhtiari would again be one of the NFL’s best. Davante Adams is a superstar. So is Jaire Alexander. If Green Bay can give them more help out wide, it should be another fun season for Cheeseheads.
3. Buffalo Bills
How 2020 ended: 13-3, AFC championship game loss
Unit rankings: No. 5 offense, No. 12 defense
Pending free agents: OT Daryl Williams, LB Matt Milano, G Jon Feliciano, CB Josh Norman, G Brian Winters, WR Isaiah McKenzie
Preview: Entering the postseason, no one in the AFC was playing better than the Bills. Their offense was on par with Kansas City’s, their defense and special teams were superior, and they were healthy. Then the Chiefs’ buzzsaw ripped Buffalo to shreds in the conference championship game. No worries: The Bills should be favored to get back there. Josh Allen has improved every year in the NFL, and a second season with Stefon Diggs ought to terrify opponents. The defense should be solid once again. Their biggest hurdle could be the constant drumbeat of Super Bowl-or-bust expectations.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How 2020 ended: 11-5, Super Bowl champions
Unit rankings: No. 3 offense, No. 5 defense
Pending free agents: WR Chris Godwin, EDGE Shaquil Barrett, LB Lavonte David, WR Antonio Brown, TE Rob Gronkowski, DT Ndamukong Suh, RB Leonard Fournette
Preview: The Buccaneers knew where Tom Brady might take them when he left New England last offseason. Now they know how they can help him. Tampa Bay has the cap space to keep some important pieces in place — Godwin, Barrett and David would all be highly coveted free agents — or find talented replacements. The Buccaneers have already built one of the NFL’s top offensive lines, and their defense is teeming with young stars like Devin White. Brady turns 44 in August, but the team’s Super Bowl window is open for as long as he’s healthy.
How 2020 ended: 11-5, AFC divisional-round loss
Unit rankings: No. 11 offense, No. 9 defense
Pending free agents: OLB Matthew Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, WR Willie Snead IV, DE Derek Wolfe, OLB Tyus Bowser, C Matt Skura, OLB Pernell McPhee, OT D.J. Fluker, WR Dez Bryant
Preview: The Ravens have built their offense to run over opponents, so it’s a good thing they’re getting Ronnie Stanley and Nick Boyle back. They’ve built their defense to blanket dynamic passing attacks, and having Tavon Young healthy makes the secondary even scarier. But the Ravens will need a more complete team if they’re to make a Super Bowl run. They still lack proven wide receivers, and free agency could deplete their edge rusher depth. No matter how good Lamar Jackson is, it’s tough to win an NFL title without playmakers at those positions.
6. Los Angeles Rams
How 2020 ended: 10-6, NFC divisional-round loss
Unit rankings: No. 10 offense, No. 4 defense
Pending free agents: S John Johnson III, EDGE Leonard Floyd, CB Troy Hill, TE Gerald Everett, C Austin Blythe, WR Josh Reynolds, RB Malcolm Brown
Preview: If the Rams are indeed a better team with Matthew Stafford, they’re also a less flexible one. Trading away Jared Goff and cutting Todd Gurley last year leaves the Rams with over $30 million in dead money this offseason. They also don’t have a first-round draft pick — again. Still, it’s not hard to see this team challenging for NFC supremacy. Stafford should have an elite offensive line and dangerous weapons around him. On defense, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are game-wreckers. But the loss of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and a difficult salary cap situation could knock the Rams down a peg.
7. San Francisco 49ers
How 2020 ended: 6-10
Unit rankings: No. 20 offense, No. 6 defense
Pending free agents: OT Trent Williams, CB Richard Sherman, CB K’Waun Williams, FB Kyle Juszczyk, S Jaquiski Tartt, WR Kendrick Bourne, CB Jason Verrett, DT D.J. Jones, EDGE Kerry Hyder Jr.
Preview: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Dee Ford, Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel, Sherman and Tartt all missed significant time last season with injuries — and still the 49ers finished with a higher efficiency rating on Football Outsiders than the Tennessee Titans. San Francisco can’t keep all of its talented pending free agents, but if it spends wisely this offseason, 2021 should be a bounce-back year. Garoppolo is the big question mark here. If he can’t find a way to make a Kyle Shanahan-designed offense respectable, the 49ers will have to look elsewhere.
8. Seattle Seahawks
How 2020 ended: 12-4, NFC wild-card-round loss
Unit rankings: No. 6 offense, No. 16 defense
Pending free agents: CB Shaquill Griffin, CB Quinton Dunbar, RB Chris Carson, LB K.J. Wright, TE Jacob Hollister, DE Benson Mayowa, G Mike Iupati, EDGE Bruce Irvin, C Ethan Pocic
Preview: The Seahawks had one of the NFL’s best offenses over the season’s first half and one of the NFL’s best defenses over the season’s second half. The trouble was stringing together one complete game after another — and there’s only so much room for growth this offseason. Seattle’s offensive line finally gave Russell Wilson the time he needed to find D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett downfield, but Pete Carroll would rather not let Russ cook. The defense needs reinforcements at edge rusher and cornerback, but the Seahawks have only one pick in the top three rounds. Life in the NFC West won’t be easy.
9. Cleveland Browns
How 2020 ended: 11-5, AFC divisional-round loss
Unit rankings: No. 9 offense, No. 25 defense
Pending free agents: EDGE Olivier Vernon, CB Terrance Mitchell, DT Larry Ogunjobi, WR Rashard Higgins, S Karl Joseph, S Andrew Sendejo, LB B.J. Goodson, CB Kevin Johnson
Preview: The Browns might have finally turned the corner. Cleveland was good enough last season to win its first playoff game since 1994, and it could be just plain good next season. Baker Mayfield was a top-10 quarterback in 2020, according to ESPN’s QBR, partly because he played behind Pro Football Focus’ top-rated offensive line. A healthy Odell Beckham Jr. could lift the offense even higher — or fetch a decent return in a trade. The defense played most of last season without cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit. They’ll help Myles Garrett and a porous secondary.
10. New Orleans Saints
How 2020 ended: 12-4, NFC divisional-round loss
Unit rankings: No. 7 offense, No. 2 defense
Pending free agents: DE Trey Hendrickson, QB Jameis Winston, TE Jared Cook, S Marcus Williams, LB Alex Anzalone, DT Sheldon Rankins, OL James Hurst
Preview: Drew Brees is expected to announce his 2021 plans soon, but his 20th season with the Saints was likely his last. Retiring would help New Orleans’ financial picture. It wouldn’t get them out of salary cap hell, though. Even with a $180 million salary cap, the Saints would need to cut payroll, restructure contracts and pass on a few homegrown free agents. They’d also need to settle on a replacement for Brees — Taysom Hill? Winston? A first-round pick? Whomever it is, New Orleans’ offensive line and skill position players should help ease the transition. On defense, Cameron Jordan and Marcus Lattimore are cornerstone players, but keeping Williams might be just as important.
11. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
How 2020 ended: 12-4, AFC wild-card-round loss
Unit rankings: No. 22 offense, No. 1 defense
Pending free agents: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, EDGE Bud Dupree, CB Mike Hilton, OT Alejandro Villanueva, CB Cameron Sutton, DL Tyson Alualu, RB James Conner, OL Matt Feiler
Preview: The Steelers were the last undefeated team of the 2020 season, winning their first 11 games. Then they lost five of their next six games, including a no-show first half in a playoff loss to the Browns. Pittsburgh probably won’t be rattling off double-digit winning streaks in 2021, but it shouldn’t be a pushover, either. Ben Roethlisberger’s best days as a passer are behind him, so the Steelers will have to rely on their defense again. Pittsburgh’s running game can only improve, but the front office has a salary cap headache.
13. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
14. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
15. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
16. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
17. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
18. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
19. New England Patriots (7-9)
20. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
21. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
22. Washington Football Team (7-9)
23. New York Giants (6-10)
24. Carolina Panthers (5-11)
25. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
26. Chicago Bears (8-8)
27. Cincinnati Bengals
How 2020 ended: 4-11-1
Unit rankings: No. 29 offense, No 27. Defense
Pending free agents: CB William Jackson III, EDGE Carl Lawson, WR A.J. Green, CB Mackensie Alexander, LB Josh Bynes, WR John Ross, G Alex Redmond, CB LeShaun Sims, DT Mike Daniels
Preview: The Bengals have their franchise quarterback. Now they need a lot more. Joe Burrow’s season-ending knee injury was the lowlight of another forgettable season, but Cincinnati had won only twice entering that Week 11 game. The Bengals have the cap space to retain a productive young defender like Jackson or Lawson (or perhaps both) and another top draft pick to boost the offense. With the No. 5 overall pick, Cincinnati could add another star receiver, draft a foundational offensive tackle or trade down and acquire more assets. The Bengals need a lot of help, especially in the trenches.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)
29. Denver Broncos (5-11)
30. New York Jets (2-14)
31. Detroit Lions (5-11)
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32. Houston Texans (4-12)