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Ranking Every 2021 NFL Offense

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The start of the regular season is almost here! I decided to rank every offense as part of a larger project, and not wanting to put good content to waste, I decided to publish the list with my commentary. I initially went in wanting to rank the teams based on where I thought they would end the season in points per game, but Allijah, my co-host on the 25 Yards Later Fantasy Football Podcast, pointed out that some of the offenses that I think will be better than others might not need to score as much due to the strength of their defense. So instead, the list became how confident I was that an offense would end up being good. While offensive line strength played a part, I mostly focused on QBs and skill players, since that’s the lifeblood of fantasy football. An uncertain quarterback situation was a death knell in the rankings—no team with an uncertain quarterback situation was placed in the top half of the league, no matter how much I liked their supporting cast. Without further ado, let’s get to ranking every NFL offense!

1. Kansas City Chiefs

Was there really any doubt? In the Patrick Mahomes era, the Chiefs have finished 1st, 5th, and 6th in points per game. They have the near-unquestioned best quarterback in football, a potential breakout running back in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, one of the most explosive receiving corps in the league, including maybe the most explosive receiver in Tyreek Hill, and the best tight end in the league. Their only weakness last year was the offensive line that was exposed in the Super Bowl against the Buccaneers, but even that is up to PFF’s 7th-ranked unit following multiple additions.

2. Green Bay Packers

As a longtime “He’s Staying” believer, the Packers ranking was penciled in before Rodgers officially reported to the Packers. The team returns a very motivated reigning MVP in apparent “Last Dance” mode, the best receiver in football, capable running backs and tight ends, and an underrated, if inconsistent, supporting receiving corps. The offensive line is a slight question, but the pieces are all there for last year’s top offense to repeat its lofty finish.

3. Buffalo Bills

Josh Allen’s strides last year are among the most drastic and unprecedented that we’ve seen. Is it dangerous to expect that the Bills offense repeats such a magical season? Perhaps, but the Bills certainly have the talent to stay close to the top. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Stefon Diggs is the most impactful WR addition in almost 15 years, and the rest of the Bills receiving corps is very deep, with promising second-year player Gabe Davis potentially getting relegated to their WR4 following the addition of Emmanuel Sanders. At running back, I’m projecting Zack Moss to lead the committee with Devin Singletary. The offensive line is middle of the pack in PFF’s rankings, but they were only barely in the top-10 last year (10th), so 14th is workable. Barring massive regression from Allen, the offense is in line to continue to click in 2021.

4. Dallas Cowboys

This is the first pick that feels risky to me, but assuming a healthy Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have the personnel to have the top offense in the league. Obviously, they were on pace to record historic numbers before Dak’s catastrophic injury last year. It’s possible that star running back Ezekiel Elliott is approaching the downside of his career, but he’s still only 26. If Zeke fails to rebound from his down 2020, Tony Pollard flashed in relief last year and is expected to step out of his long-held handcuff role to take on more opportunities. The receiving corps is essentially unparalleled in the league, with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup all expected to challenge for 1000 receiving yards. They are even solid at tight end following Dalton Schultz’s solid year and Blake Jarwin’s return from an ACL injury. Throw in PFF’s 6th-rated offensive line, and the Cowboys could have a magical season that outperforms this ranking if injuries go their way.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

This is admittedly an ambitious ranking for the Chargers’ offense, but I once again think that the personnel warrants it. Justin Herbert took the league by storm last year while setting the rookie record for passing touchdowns. Many of the main skill players—Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler—return, with many hoping for Williams to finally take a major step forward. Behind them are promising 3rd-round rookie Josh Palmer and the massive young tight end Donald Parham (6’8”). Parham likely won’t get the initial start behind the newly acquired Jared Cook, who just keeps showing that he has enough left in the tank to be productive. The #5 slot is maybe at their ceiling, but with Herbert at QB, the ceiling is the roof.

6. Tennessee Titans

There’s a real argument to be made that the Titans could be a top-5 unit following the addition of Julio Jones. Ryan Tannehill has been on fire since coming over to Tennessee, Derrick Henry is a monster, A.J. Brown is one of the best wide receivers in the league, and Julio was on a near 1400 yard pace before his injury last year. Josh Reynolds works much better as a WR3, and I expect him to be productive in that role. It is only injury and depth concerns that keep the Titans out of the top-5, even if barely. Julio isn’t actually my biggest concern, although his injury concerns are certainly tangible; instead, my biggest question is how well Derrick Henry will hold up after a massive workload last year. The 370 carry threshold has only been reached 30 times, including Henry’s season last year; of those seasons, only one player (Ricky Williams) had more carries the following year, only 8 played 16 games the following year, and players lost on average 130 carries (this number doesn’t even include Williams’ 100% lost carries due to retirement).

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The reigning Super Bowl champions clock in at a very respectable 7th in these rankings. Featuring PFF’s 5th-ranked offensive line, a top-flight receiving corps, Tom Brady, and the solid running back tandem of Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, the Bucs are in an enviable position. Brady theoretically has to take a step back at some point, and even if there’s only a 10% chance of that happening this season (the Panthers fan in me desperately wants it to be more and will point to how similar his numbers last year were to Peyton Manning’s penultimate year), it’s enough to cap their upside for this article a little bit.

8. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens were as high as #4 in early drafts, but I decided to tick them down. Let’s start with the obvious positives: an above-average offensive line leading the way for the best rushing attack in the league, spearheaded by a former MVP quarterback in Lamar Jackson, a rising star in J.K. Dobbins, and the ever-solid Gus Edwards. They also have one of the better receiving tight ends in the league in Mark Andrews. The reason I ticked them down is the passing game’s incredibly limited ceiling. Baltimore’s receivers leave a lot to be desired, and that was before Marquise Brown was slated to miss time with a hamstring injury. As of this writing, there is no timetable for Brown’s return, so missed regular season games could be on the table. I was projecting Brown as the Ravens’ WR3, but the players ahead of him are Sammy Watkins (who I refuse to believe is one of the best receivers in the league, despite what Greg Roman believes) and rookie Rashod Bateman, who could certainly take time to develop. I think that the Ravens’ running game will make #8 their floor, but I have a hard time seeing them any higher than this without the passing game taking a big step forward.

9. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks very well could be the team that makes me look really foolish for putting them this low…or this high. Almost any team in the league would kill to have a group as good as Russell Wilson, D.K. Metcalf, Chris Carson, and Tyler Lockett, but shoddy line play (PFF’s 19th best line) and coaching philosophy could very easily land the Seahawks outside of the top 10 in 2021’s final points per game rankings. Last year, following their torrid start to the season in which they averaged 34.25 PPG, the Seahawks fell to just 22.8 PPG from Week 10 on, including their Wild Card loss to the Rams. Projected over the whole season, that 22.8 PPG would have put them at 23rd in the league between the Bears and Panthers. Pete Carroll wants to run the ball more, and while I like Chris Carson as much as the next guy, I don’t like taking the ball out of the hands of much more dynamic players.

10. Cleveland Browns

Where the Seahawks would be taking the ball out of the hands of their most dynamic players by running more, the Browns would be doing the exact opposite. Cleveland really has a chance to do some really fun things this year. Their offensive line graded out to PFF’s #1 unit, and that line will be blocking for the best running back tandem in the league with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The running backs should be able to take the pressure off and give us the best version of Baker Mayfield. Jarvis Landry and a presumably healthy Odell Beckham (assuming you don’t believe the Browns’ offense is better without him) should give the Browns enough firepower to contend for the AFC North crown. And don’t forget about Austin Hooper, who was largely forgotten last year, but has shown in the past that he can be an above-average receiving TE. The strength of the offense is in the O-line and running backs, though, and I’m excited to see what they can do this year.

11. Los Angeles Rams

After years of modest success in Detroit, Matthew Stafford comes to LA and Sean McVay’s offense. Even with Cam Akers’ devastating, season-ending Achilles’ injury, Stafford is surrounded by more talent than he may have ever had in his career, certainly more than at any time since Calvin Johnson retired. In Akers’ place will be Daryl Henderson, who has generally looked good in his limited opportunities, even if he isn’t built to be a workhorse back. It’s hard to find a more solid, and potentially underrated, receiving tandem as Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, who incredibly have zero Pro Bowl appearances between them. If offseason addition DeSean Jackson has anything left (dubious), the offense could be very explosive. If nothing else, Stafford will be throwing behind PFF’s 8th-ranked offensive line. #11 is probably their floor.

12. Arizona Cardinals

I don’t think that I’ve vacillated on any team’s ranking more than the Cardinals offense. I think that they should be higher, but I also have a hard time justifying putting them above any of the teams ahead of them. #12 is probably approaching their floor. I think that at this point, any failure this season would have to be put on coaching, because the personnel is largely there. They have a star young quarterback, one of the best receivers in the league, (mostly) capable supporting receivers, and PFF’s 11th-rated offensive line. The only offensive weakness may be at running back, where the shell of James Conner is competing with the “bulked up and slimmed down” Chase Edmonds. Also, their receiver depth is a little troubling (hence the “mostly”), especially if A.J. Green doesn’t have anything left. As I said, they probably should be higher, but I don’t have as much faith in them as might be warranted.

13. Minnesota Vikings

Justin Jefferson suffered a sprained AC joint in practice, but avoided a major injury that would have sent the Vikings ranking plummeting. Many of the pieces are there for a good offense—the Vikings have stars in Dalvin Cook and the young Jefferson, an above-average quarterback, tight end, and WR2. That said, they have the worst line according to PFF of any team in the top half of these rankings (even the Bengals are higher). Their ceiling is also somewhat capped by Cook’s injury history and Kirk Cousins’ low ceiling.

14. Cincinnati Bengals

This is almost certainly my most optimistic ranking, and it feels so risky. Reports of quarterback Joe Burrow struggling at training camp don’t make me feel much better about it, even if my podcast partner and resident Bengal fan Allijah said that he wasn’t worried in our most recent episode. Meanwhile, the Joe Burrow Struggling discourse is about the only thing that could supplant the Joe Mixon discourse on Twitter. It’s my belief that Mixon is a capable RB1, and when combined with a deep receiving unit featuring Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Auden Tate. I may have offhandedly dismissed tight end Drew Sample as “the TE25” in that same podcast episode, but…I’m sure he’s a nice person! There’s still plenty of things to be worried about—including the worrisome offensive line, coaching, and injuries—but I think that the Bengals don’t even need everything to go right to reach this ranking in real life.

15. Atlanta Falcons

My initial thought was that 15 was too low for a team featuring Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and the underrated Russell Gage. The running game is a big question mark. Presumptive starter Mike Davis is solid and hard-nosed, but also underwhelming (as a Panther fan, I can acknowledge that he did several cool things for us last year while also pointing out that he did it at 3.9 ypc). He’s also, once again, running behind an inferior offensive line. And while it obviously occurred under a different coaching staff, the Falcons have actually lived in this range in PPG since leading the league in scoring in 2016, posting 15th, 10th, 13th, and 16th finishes.

16. Washington Football Team

Numbers 14 through 18 is the range for ambitious rankings, I guess. After fielding absolutely disastrous offenses for the past three years, I really think that the WFT offense is capable of this ranking. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the best QB they’ve had since Kirk Cousins, and he has an equally fascinating team around him: WR1 Terry McLaurin, free agent gadget player Curtis Samuel, rising star Antonio Gibson, backup J.D. McKissic, and converted QB Logan Thomas at tight end. It’s a strange mishmash of players that I actually expect will work. The only worry is a meltdown from Fitzpatrick, but the WFT has the talent to exceed this ranking.

17. Miami Dolphins

My fantasy teams are a little too invested in the Dolphins offense for my own comfort, but if QB Tua Tagovailoa can take a step forward, and they’ve certainly given him the skill players to do so, I think they could have an offense that exceeds this ranking. Surprisingly, they were actually higher than this position in PPG last season, finishing 15th in the league, albeit with Ryan Fitzpatrick splitting time and occasionally coming in for comeback attempts. Additions like Will Fuller and Jalen Waddle should help to open up the offense downfield, and complement returning starters Myles Gaskin, Mike Gesicki, and Devante Parker nicely. There are certainly concerns, though. Injuries to the receiving corps have already been a problem in training camp, they have PFF’s 29th-ranked offensive line, or Tua could fail to improve on last year. The offense also may just be too conservative anyway, as Tua wasn’t quite as hesitant to throw the ball downfield as people believe (he actually had a much higher percentage of throws go 20+ yards downfield than Fitzpatrick last year). This will be a very telling year for the Dolphins, Tua, and their offense.

18. Las Vegas Raiders

Believe it or not, the Raiders were 10th in PPG last year. There are certainly a few things that are driving down their rating this year, although 18th is still respectable. The Raiders had to score as much as they did to be competitive because of their 30th-ranked defense. Any defensive improvement will mean that an offense that tends to be more conservative would be able to embrace that tendency. Also, while Darren Waller is the de facto WR1, their actual wide receivers leave something to be desired. A lot is expected of Henry Ruggs III this year after he only targeted 43 times last year for 26 receptions.

Meanwhile, the addition of Kenyan Drake to the running back room muddied the waters in what should have been Josh Jacobs’ backfield. Maybe Drake’s addition allows them to run the ball more efficiently, but we’ve seen that Jacobs is a volume-based back. Looking at the data, surprisingly, Jacobs is more efficient with a smaller workload (averaging 4.55 ypc in games that he had fewer than 20 carries compared to 4.12 when he had more than 20), but he averaged a whopping 40 more rushing yards (102 to 61) in games that he had more than 20 carries. The Raiders also had more success as a team, going 9-3 in games where he had more than 20 carries versus 4-12 otherwise. Obviously, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but I would think that you would want to get the ball into Jacobs’ hands more, rather than investing in competition for those carries. It would have been especially nice if they would have invested in an offensive line that PFF ranks in the bottom quarter of the league (26th).

19. San Francisco 49ers

This ranking feels admittedly low for a Kyle Shannahan offense. With that said, it’s actually the highest ranking of any team that drafted a first-round QB this year. Reports about Trey Lance have been glowing so far, and I think (and as a dynasty superflex manager with him, hope) that he starts sooner rather than later. The 49ers have an elite system for running backs and PFF’s 9th-ranked offensive line that they will be able to lean on, so I believe that they might actually run the ball 500 times this year (a number that was only reached by the Ravens, Titans, and Patriots last year, although the Browns and Saints were very close). The 49ers also have a solid receiving corps led by TE George Kittle and breakout candidate WR Brandon Aiyuk. If this historically snake-bitten team can keep healthy, the only thing keeping their rating down is the quarterback uncertainty.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars

Naturally, the success of the Jaguars’ offense almost entirely hinges on Trevor Lawrence. The team has a talented receiving corps and two capable running backs, and while the offensive line is somewhat suspect (23rd), Lawrence might only have to be a league-average starter this year for the Jags to outperform this ranking. My only other concern is how Urban Meyer will do in the NFL, although at least he has (checks notes, sighs) veteran coordinator Darrell Bevell calling the plays.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers

I think this is probably one of my most contentious ranking, at least between Allijah and myself, but I think the Steelers’ ranking is rightfully low. The Steelers finished last year 12th in PPG, but they averaged just 22.1 PPG over their last 7 games, including a playoff loss to the Browns where they scored 37 points. That’s a nearly half-season sample size that would have put them at 23rd in PPG, again, including a massive outlier game. The Steelers failed to reach 20 points four times just in that seven game stretch. I largely think that Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have much left, and probably would have been better off retiring this offseason. Throw in the PFF’s 31st ranked offensive line, and I just don’t think the Steelers have enough to take advantage of a stellar skill position group.

22. New Orleans Saints

Michael Thomas’ injury has left the Saints with what Mina Kimes called the worst receiver corps in the league. With Thomas expected to miss up to 2 months of the regular season, 22nd may be optimistic. Oddly, I think that Thomas’ injury actually opens up the door for Taysom Hill to “win” the quarterback battle over Jameis Winston, as Hill would be able to do more with the limited options than Winston. Outside of RB Alvin Kamara, I just don’t think there’s enough from the skill players to rank much higher than this, and if Hill wins the job, their ceiling is severely capped.

23. Denver Broncos

We are very much in the part of the rankings where nothing will save you if your quarterback situation is a question mark. The Broncos have a nice set of skill players, but neither of the quarterback options are inspiring. I’ve long thought that Teddy Bridgewater would win the competition, but with reports that Drew Lock is having a good camp and that the competition is even, it’s really anyone’s guess at this point. If Bridgewater wins the job, we basically know what to expect: solid ball movement but low touchdown numbers for the skill players. If Lock wins the job…?

24. Chicago Bears

I had the Bears down at 27 until I had almost all of the writeups completed, before bumping them up to 24. While their quarterback situation is uncertain, I think that presumptive sacrificial lamb Week 1 starter Andy Dalton is capable enough to lead a competent offense while he is at the helm. The pieces around him are solid, featuring former Pro Bowler Allen Robinson, breakout candidate Darnell Mooney, running back David Montgomery, TE Cole Kmet, and even possible contributions from veteran receiver Marquise Goodwin. The offensive line could be a liability, but the biggest question, obviously, is when Justin Fields will start, and what will he be when he does? If he struggles, the previous 27th ranking will be justified.

25. Carolina Panthers

As a Panthers fan, this ranking hurts, but I honestly can’t justify putting them any higher. The skill players are above average, and in Christian McCaffrey’s case, elite, but everything hinges on whether or not Sam Darnold can play. I think that the Panthers made a huge mistake by not considering Justin Fields with the 8th pick in the draft, as their backup plans are apparently Will Grier and P.J. Walker, both of whom would struggle to make most other rosters. I do think we could get a nice year from Dan Arnold, who listeners of the 25 Yards Later Fantasy Football Podcast know that I’m higher on than most (and by most, I mean everyone).

26. New York Giants

I had the Giants a tad higher in earlier drafts of this list, I think peaking at 20, but just keep ticking them down. Like most of the teams in this range, it all comes down to the quarterback position. I was higher than most on Daniel Jones as a fantasy sleeper earlier in the offseason, and really not a lot has changed other than my enthusiasm waning. The Giants surrounded Jones with talent in hopes that he will take a Josh Allen-esque step forward. Like Darnold, I don’t think that Jones is irreparably terrible, and he’s shown flashes, like when he had the longest active streak of passes without an interception in the league, or when he had an 18-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio to close out his rookie year. If Saquon Barkley is able to return at full strength, there’s certainly room for the Giants offense to outperform this ranking. Kenny Golladay’s hamstring injury, although apparently not significant, doesn’t help.

27. Philadelphia Eagles

Jalen Hurts is going to be an awesome fantasy quarterback this year. As far as a real-life quarterback, that’s very much up in the air. There are some nice pieces that make this feel more like a floor pick: a talented young receiving corps, a talented young running back, one of the better TEs in the league, and PFF’s 13th-ranked line. If Hurts can take a step forward à la Lamar Jackson in his second year (heck, even Lamar Jackson in his down third year), the Eagles will vastly outperform this ranking.

28. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts’ offense was ranked around 20 before Carson Wentz’s injury, which could very easily wipe out two months of his season. Whoever ends up replacing him, whether Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger, or (my pick) the newly signed Brett Hundley, will be throwing to a fairly lackluster receiving corps. I like T.Y. Hilton as much as the next guy, but he’s clearly on the downside of his career. If Michael Pittman Jr. breaks out like many people expect, the receiving group will look a lot better, but as things stand now, it isn’t a whole lot for [Insert QB Name Here] to work with. Expect a lot of Jonathan Taylor in Wentz’s absence, although his talent and the stout offensive line (PFF’s #2 unit) will likely be countered by the absence of a threat in the passing game.

29. New York Jets

Rookie Zach Wilson seems like the forgotten man in the 2021 QB class, despite being the #2 overall pick. This can partially be because there isn’t really a mystery about when he will start. That said, there is a significant mystery about whether he’s ready to start, reports of him struggling in a simulated game are less than encouraging. I’m loath to link to the NY Post, but headlines like “Jets fans only can hope Zach Wilson will be better than this,” when the headline isn’t really all that out of line with other headlines coming out of the game, are again, less than encouraging. The Jets are putting a lot on their rookies, with running back Michel Carter and receiver Elijah Moore expected to be major contributors to the offense. Even with the addition of veteran receiver Corey Davis, it’s a young offense that I expect will be towards the bottom of the league this year.

30. New England Patriots

This is slight sacrilege, and probably the most controversial ranking on this list (behind the Jets, no less!), but I have very low expectations for the Patriots offense. I feel like Panthers fans never really appreciated just how special Cam Newton was at his peak, and it pains me to say this, but I really don’t think he has a whole lot left. There were points late last year where he looked like he did days before getting shoulder surgery, except that he wasn’t injured this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if rookie Mac Jones wins the starting job outright, which is not necessarily the best thing either if he isn’t ready. Despite several high-priced free agent signings, the skill players are not really tangibly better than last year. Hunter Henry is fine (when healthy), as is Jonnu Smith, but are either good enough to be the primary receiver for an offense? Even after having a solid season last year, WR Nelson Agholor isn’t worth anywhere near the contract that he got from the Pats. Another signing, WR Kendrick Bourne, is fine, but was often not even the second option in San Francisco. So while I think that this ranking will catch some eyes, think back to last year’s putrid offense and ask yourself, is this year’s personnel really that much better?

31. Detroit Lions

To be honest, the Lions’ ranking feels a little unfair. The Lions have a quarterback that has led top-5 offenses in the past, a breakout candidate running back, a top-10 tight end, and PFF’s 10th-ranked offensive line. What lands them in the penultimate spot is the putrid receiving corp, presumably led by journeyman receiver Tyrell Williams. Williams had a 1000 yard season in 2016, but hasn’t eclipsed 730 yards in any other season. While I like TE T.J. Hockenson, I don’t think he’s as good as the TEs that serve as the de facto primary receivers on teams with bad receiving corps—Mark Andrews on the Ravens and Darren Waller on the Raiders come to mind. So while I think that they have some pieces, including breakout candidate D’Andre Swift, the receiving corp really brings their ranking down to this spot for me.

32. Houston Texans

Oof. Largely expected to be without QB Deshaun Watson, likely by suspension (although additional holdouts and trade demands are certainly possible), the Texans are expected to turn to Tyrod Taylor, a quarterback so bland that both of his last two teams went on to have record setting seasons just by starting someone else over him. The strength, if you can call it that, is an offensive line that PFF only ranked 20th in the league. Brandin Cooks will probably have 1000 yards and 5 touchdowns, but I’m not really expecting much out of anyone else, as their receiving corps is mostly populated by washouts from other teams and unproven youngsters. The running backs are even worse. I expect Phillip Lindsay to overtake David Johnson, Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead, Dontrell Hilliard, et al. It’s certainly possible that DJ still has something in the tank, but I think that Lindsay is by far the best player in this group in 2021. It would have been a killer unit circa 2016, though.

Written by Nick Luciano

Nick Luciano received a Master’s in Music Theory from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. He is a film editor at 25YL and cohosts the 25 Yards Later fantasy football podcast for SportsObsessive.

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