NFL News & Analysis

Final 2021 NFL Power Rankings: Kansas City Chiefs reign supreme, San Francisco 49ers breach the top 10

Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) attempts a pass in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We've come to the end of the 2021 NFL regular season. The playoff picture is set, the NFL draft order is three-quarters of the way finalized and the NFL head-coaching search is well underway, so let's take one last look at the PFF Power Rankings to see where all 32 NFL teams stand.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers finish as the top-ranked teams in PFF's NFL power rankings, while there is nowhere to go but up for the 32nd-ranked Jacksonville Jaguars

The rankings are based on PFF ELO Ratings. We have also featured PFF's AWS-powered simulations and PFF player grades, along with some analysis on their 2021 season and 2022 outlook from the perspective of the betting market.

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1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Super Bowl win probability: 12.1%
Highest-graded player: C Creed Humphrey (91.4)

The Chiefs entered the year as the favorite and finished it second to Green Bay in terms of Super Bowl odds. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a down year by his lofty standards and finished the regular season with about as many big-time throws (23) as turnover-worthy plays (22) as defenses adjusted to his explosiveness with more two-high looks

2. GREEN BAY PACKERS

Super Bowl win probability: 20.3%
Highest-graded player: WR Davante Adams (92.7)

The Packers enter the NFC playoffs with a bye for the third straight year, and they will get there with the benefit of home-field advantage for the second consecutive year. Their biggest weakness is that they lack downstream targets in the passing game after superstar wide receiver Davante Adams, who is tied for first at the wide receiver position in PFF WAR at 0.78.

3. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Super Bowl win probability: 14.1%
Highest-graded player: QB Tom Brady (92.0)

The Bucs limped to the end of the regular season without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at wide receiver, earning the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Quarterback Tom Brady led the NFL with almost 5.0 wins above replacement during the regular season, and the Bucs were the first team in NFL history to win over 70% of their regular-season games while throwing passes on more than 65% of their downs.

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4. BUFFALO BILLS

Super Bowl win probability: 9.3%
Highest-graded player: QB Josh Allen (86.5)

While the demise of the Bills’ rushing attack was overblown, the offense was less efficient in 2021 than in 2020. Some of this was weather-induced, but they also played one of the easiest schedules in all of football. Josh Allen’s PFF passing grade fell by 10 points, his completion percentage fell by six points, his yards per attempt average fell by one yard and his passer rating dropped 15 points. He’ll have to be 2020 Josh Allen for the Bills to make their first Super Bowl since 1993.

5. LOS ANGELES RAMS

Super Bowl win probability: 5.7%
Highest-graded player: DI Aaron Donald (93.6)

The Rams are one of the most enigmatic teams in the league, as their “stars and scrubs” approach has largely worked. In all, they fielded three of the six most valuable non-quarterbacks in football in Aaron Donald (first), Cooper Kupp (tied second) and Jalen Ramsey (sixth). After a white-hot start, quarterback Matthew Stafford ended up tied for the league lead in interceptions with 17 and will have to be on his best behavior in the playoffs to earn his first career postseason win.

6. DALLAS COWBOYS 

Super Bowl win probability: 5.4%
Highest-graded player: G Zack Martin (94.2)

Micah Parsons, the Cowboys' first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, made up for sitting out his entire final year at Penn State by becoming the most valuable linebacker in the NFL, his 0.52 WAR finishing second to only Mac Jones among rookies. The fact that a mostly off-the-ball linebacker could earn this distinction shows how much of an outlier he is, and he’ll have to continue to be such if the Cowboys want to make their first NFC championship game since 1995.

7. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 

Super Bowl win probability: 4.0%
Highest-graded player: RB Damien Harris (87.5)

Mac Jones, the last quarterback taken in the 2021 first round, was easily the most valuable rookie passer and made full use of the Pats' spendy offseason. After spending some time atop the AFC during the latter parts of the season, losses to the Colts, Bills and Dolphins revealed warts that have people less bullish on them than many AFC teams coming into mid-January. Still, as 3.5-point underdogs to the Bills this week, they are getting betting-market support, with punters not willing to fade Bill Belichick at this time of year.

8. TENNESSEE TITANS 

Super Bowl win probability: 12.0%
Highest-graded player: S Kevin Byard (90.5)

The Titans earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC by virtue of defeating teams like Buffalo and Kansas City early in the season and upsetting the 49ers on Thursday Night Football after falling behind 10-0 at halftime. The bye week will mean a lot to this team, as they will be able to rest A.J. Brown and Julio Jones and get Derrick Henry back to help Ryan Tannehill, who has graded better than his 89.6 NFL passer rating this year.

Miami Dolphins running back Duke Johnson (28) gets caught by Tennessee Titans free safety Kevin Byard (31) during the first quarter at Nissan Stadium. Credit: Imagn

9. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 

Super Bowl win probability: 4.3%
Highest-graded player: T Trent Williams (98.3)

The 49ers have the most unique offensive scheme in the entire NFL, and this makes them difficult to deal with for any team in the NFL. Elijah Mitchell, a sixth-round pick out of Louisiana, was sixth in the NFL this year in terms of generating yards on perfectly blocked run plays, averaging 7.7 yards per rush on such plays.

10. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Highest-graded player: RB Jonathan Taylor (87.1)

Carson Wentz, who will now cost the Colts a first and a third-round pick, also cost his team a playoff spot Sunday against the Jaguars by throwing for just 185 yards in a 26-11 loss. Over the last five games of the year, Wentz eclipsed 200 yards and a 70.0-plus PFF passing grade just once. They will go into the offseason as one of the best non-playoff teams in football. Can they do what it takes to get over the hump?

11. CINCINNATI BENGALS

Super Bowl win probability: 5.3%
Highest-graded player: QB Joe Burrow (91.7)

The future is now for a Cincinnati Bengals squad that arrived well ahead of betting market expectation. No team outperformed their preseason win total as much as the Bengals, as they paid off on a +2500 division future bet. PFF’s recent simulation is now on market for the Bengals to win the AFC (+700) and the Lombardi Trophy (+1600, with a preseason bet at one time netting +10000). Backing the Bengals feels like buying at the top, but there might not be any other option for the foreseeable future.

12. ARIZONA CARDINALS

Super Bowl win probability: 2.6%
Highest-graded player: QB Kyler Murray (84.0)

Arizona saw some things in 2021. Since QB Kyler Murray’s return to the lineup, the Cardinals beat the Bears, lost to the Rams, got run out of the building by Dan Campbell, lost to the Colts and somehow beat the Cowboys before backing into the playoffs on Russell Wilson’s last stand. They seem undervalued by the betting market, with the +4 spread close to value based on PFF’s Betting model. A signature playoff win boosts their long-term outlook, but we give that a 36.7% chance of happening based on pre-game win probability.

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13. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Super Bowl win probability: 1.6%
Highest-graded player: TE Dallas Goedert (88.8)

The best-case scenario for Philadelphia happened in 2021, with Jalen Hurts once again exceeding expectations and showcasing why he is worth building around on his rookie contract. The Eagles appear ahead of schedule and still have quite a bit of draft capital to utilize this April. Hitting on another wide receiver for this offense could allow them to challenge Dallas for the NFC East division in 2022. 

14. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Highest-graded player: Edge Marcus Davenport (89.3)

The post-Drew Brees era in New Orleans was a forgetful disaster that featured four different starting quarterbacks. Jameis Winston showcased the ability to guide this offense but is now a pending free agent rehabbing an ACL tear. He looks capable of allowing the Saints to compete for a playoff spot if injury luck finally turns in their direction. The lingering status of Michael Thomas is the big offseason question, with playmakers at wide receiver the one pressing need for a team drafting in prime position for one this April. 

15. CLEVELAND BROWNS

Highest-graded player: G Joel Bitonio (93.6)

Cleveland finds itself on the outside of the playoffs for the same reason the teams below them are — the quarterback position. No team has a more talented roster outside of the quarterback position, yet Cleveland failed to break into the playoffs in 2021. The answer to the Baker Mayfield question is finally clear, but how do the Browns improve at the game's most important position?

They should be commonly linked to any possible veteran quarterback but have some difficult decisions based on their pending cap situation. The championship window may close quickly, which makes this an even more pressing win-now situation. 

16. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Super Bowl win probability: 2.5%
Highest-graded player: Edge Maxx Crosby (91.5)

Despite the inconsistency at the wide receiver position, the key to Las Vegas’ success has been Derek Carr’s downfield passing. Maxx Crosby also played at a level that has him in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year and allowed the Raiders to force pressure without needing to blitz, a key ingredient in their defensive success. They have a viable path to staying in the AFC playoff picture. The long-term fit at head coach will go a long way in determining if this is a season Las Vegas successfully builds off.


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17. MIAMI DOLPHINS

Highest-graded player: S Jevon Holland (84.6)

Miami’s brutal start to the season led to one of the most dramatic split-season records during the PFF era. Unfortunately, the eight-game winning streak over the final nine weeks wasn’t enough to save Brian Flores, with Miami’s ownership and general manager seemingly set on a worthy replacement

Tua Tagovailoa ranked 26th among signal-callers in PFF passing grade and did nothing to reassure Miami that he is the long-term solution at the position. Miami has key questions that are still to be answered, and who they hire as head coach will go a long way in telling how they evaluate the current state of this roster.

18. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Super Bowl win probability:1.0%
Highest-graded player: DI Cameron Heyward (91.0)

The Steelers backdoored their way into the playoffs and continue as 12.5-point road underdogs in their wild-card matchup in Arrowhead. Ben Roethlisberger will ride his defense and skill position unit as far as they can take him, but his final curtain call may end quickly in Kansas City. Once they inevitably lose in the playoffs, the question about what to do at the quarterback position will dominate the offseason headlines. This is clearly a team built to win now, and it will hope to land someone who can provide above-average quarterback play. If that happens, it will be an upgrade over what Ben Roethlisberger has provided in his twilight years.

19. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Highest-graded player: QB Justin Herbert (90.1)

The Chargers were a couple of kneel-downs (by either team) away from Justin Herbert‘s first-ever playoff berth. The “spirit of the game” kept them out of the promised land, but this is still an offense with a top-five quarterback going forward. Herbert excelled despite the difficult situation and posted the sixth-best PFF passing grade of the 2021 season. If the Chargers ever find themselves on the right side of variance, they appear to have the pieces in place to challenge any team in the AFC for a spot in the Super Bowl. What happens once they get there will also likely be determined by variance. 

20. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Highest-graded player: TE Mark Andrews (91.5)

A banged-up Baltimore team almost willed its way into the playoffs but fell painfully short in overtime in the last week of the regular season. John Harbaugh may deserve Coach of the Year consideration for navigating the Ravens' misfortune. This still looks like a team set up for sustainable success in the AFC. 

Jan 2, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) gains yardage after a catch in the fourth quarter against Los Angeles Rams. Credit: Imagn

21. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Highest-graded player: WR Justin Jefferson (90.1)

Minnesota cleaned house after another underwhelming season in the Kirk Cousins era. The quarterback is now stuck in limbo with $45 million in expected salary hitting next season and a new coaching staff and front office set to take the helm. The question becomes, do the Vikings have to completely start over or are the core tenets in place to successfully navigate the quarterback position? How they answer this question will be the only determining factor in whether they move up or down these rankings next season.

22. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Highest-graded player: WR Tyler Lockett (81.0)

Seattle’s potential last dance was a disaster from the start, with offseason rumors surrounding Russell Wilson expected to intensify. Offensively, the Seahawks still seem positioned to compete for a championship if they hang onto Wilson, but the trade for Jamal Adams has torpedoed their defense. Free agency appears to be the only way to improve, but the lingering question is whether Wilson and Pete Carroll can make amends. It’s time for one more chance or a quick usher into a new build with a different coach and quarterback at the helm.

23. CHICAGO BEARS

Highest-graded player: T Jason Peters (77.9)

It took longer than needed, but the Bears finally parted ways with head coach Matt Nagy. This is an overwhelming positive for a team with talent at the most important positions in the game. A head coaching candidate focused on Justin Fields' development is the long-term approach that will allow Chicago to compete sooner rather than later in the NFC North. 

24. DENVER BRONCOS

Highest-graded player: RB Melvin Gordon III (77.8)

The three-game win streak to start the season provided some hope for an organization that missed out on their top quarterback targets in the offseason. However, their record collapsed once they actually played worthwhile competition, with only two quality wins all season.

Denver was given inflated preseason betting market expectations because of the lingering rumors that they'd be able to land a big-name quarterback via trade or free agency. A similar theme is expected for 2022, with the Broncos containing the ability to compete outside of that key position.

Playing in what looks like the second-most difficult division in the NFL, a rebuild could take way longer if that’s the route they eventually go. Denver turns into a team to fade next season if they don't land a top-five quarterback. 

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III (25) runs the ball against Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Tershawn Wharton (98) and outside linebacker Nick Bolton (54). Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

25. WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Highest-graded player: DI Jonathan Allen (84.9)

The lofty preseason expectations didn’t materialize for the Football Team. Free-agent acquisition Ryan Fitzpatrick was limited to just 16 total snaps, and while backup QB Taylor Heinicke played gritty football for stretches, this was a team that never looked capable of challenging their 8.5-win total.

The need is obvious for a team that appears close to set in the trenches, with the quarterback, coverage and wide receiver unit needing a boost to come close to contending. Fitzpatrick would need to hit his ceiling for this team to get into the playoffs next season, so a younger backup plan at the position is needed, given the lateral direction that 2021 went. 

26. ATLANTA FALCONS

Highest-graded player: G Chris Lindstrom (84.1)

A complete rebuild appears necessary for a Falcons team that finally performed well above Pythagorean win expectation. Atlanta finally had luck go in their direction in 2021, yet everything seemed to fall apart outside of their in-game situation. Matt Ryan was an above-average quarterback but simply doesn’t have the weapons available to come close to his early-career performances. With holes scattered throughout the roster, this looks like the perfect time to move on from Ryan in the hopes of growing a quarterback into this roster. 

27. CAROLINA PANTHERS

Highest-graded player: T Taylor Moton (77.8)

Carolina was all-in on the 2021 season at one point before a tailspin resulted in the worst against-the-spread record in football. Matt Rhule clearly made the wrong decision in choosing Sam Darnold over Teddy Bridgewater, as Darnold posted the lowest PFF passing grade among quarterbacks in 2021. Bridgewater finished 19th overall and offered even more from an EPA perspective. The midseason divorce with Joe Brady is an added red flag to a situation that already looks to be on the brink of disaster. 

28. NEW YORK GIANTS

Highest-graded player: T Andrew Thomas (78.4)

Many projected the Giants to take a significant step forward in challenging for the NFC East crown, but that dream quickly died upon starting the 2021 season. Daniel Jones failed to build off his sophomore leap and finished with the 20th-ranked PFF passing grade this season. Late-season injuries limited him to 11 games, but the Giants should be all but certain that Jones isn’t the solution at quarterback. Their free-agent acquisitions also didn’t contribute close to expectation, so David Gettleman took the easy way out and meandered into the good night of retirement. 

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29. HOUSTON TEXANS

Highest-graded player: CB Tavierre Thomas (77.6)

The David Culley-led Houston Texans were the bottom-dwelling team that almost exceeded the preseason betting market expectation and finished one game shy of a .500 record against the spread. Houston kept David Culley in limbo and still hasn’t decided on whether he will get a chance to continue this rebuild. Despite exceeding preseason expectations, the Texans don’t seem any closer to being a legit contender and will be widely regarded as the worst team in the NFL heading into 2022.

Everything is still so up in the air for Houston, and there doesn’t seem to be a path forward without a resolution to the Deshaun Watson situation. 

30. NEW YORK JETS

Highest-graded player: Edge John Franklin-Myers (80.3)

New York suffered the most from rookie quarterback struggles, with Zach Wilson finishing second-to-last in PFF passing grade. There were only a few brief moments of hope for a team that ended with the fourth-worst against-the-spread record and fell 2.5 games short of their preseason win total. A top-four selection, along with their three additional picks in the first two rounds, should help solidify Robert Saleh’s defense. If Zach Wilson takes a dramatic step forward, the rest of the Jets roster looks poised to take full advantage, making them an enticing futures option in 2022. 

31. DETROIT LIONS

Highest-graded player: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (79.9)

Detroit showcased stretches of inspiring football in 2021 and finished with the third-best against-the-spread record in the NFL. The quality covers didn’t result in them coming anywhere close to their five-game win total, but this appears to be a team heading in the right direction outside of the quarterback position. Their top-graded player was rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who already looks like a hit from the fourth round. The offensive line is also their strongest unit from a facet-grade perspective, playing into the narrative that Dan Campbell is building a winner his way. This offseason is key to their rebuild, as they can only play the scrappy underdog role for so long.

32. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Highest-graded player: Edge Josh Allen (78.6)

The Jaguars went into 2021 with low expectations and somehow still didn’t fulfill them. Urban Meyer was fired for cause after 13 NFL games, with the one lingering hope being that he didn’t cause irreversible damage to Trevor Lawrence’s career.

Lawrence’s draft status took a hit as he finished with the second-lowest PFF passing grade among rookie signal-callers. Jacksonville never came close to threatening their 6.5-game season-long win total and finished with an uninspiring 5-12 record against the spread.

The rebuild marches on for one more season, with the slate essentially wiped clean after Lawrence’s rookie season and the Jaguars atop the draft order for the second straight year.

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