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NFL 2021 Power Rankings: Brilliant young QBs – and Tom Brady – rule the top tier

By Emile Avanessian

Published: 9:39, 15 October 2021

We’re through five weeks of the 2021 NFL regular season. Though it may not fully feel like it, ‘early season’ is over, and most teams have shown us, for the most part, who they are.

For many teams, this stage in the NFL season – roughly the one-third mark – is a complicated time. Those that are struggling will be tempted to (and comforted by) lean on mantras from the preceding weeks: ‘it’s still early’ and ‘there’s plenty of time left’. And yes, a dozen games do provide a team with ample opportunity to redefine itself. A number of teams continue to provide us with more questions than answers – namely, ‘are you guys actually good?’

However, at this point, we can assume, with reasonable confidence, that we know what most of these squads are. Everyone entered the season with certain expectations (our previews for the AFC NorthEastSouth and West; and the NFC NorthEastSouth and West)– what true ambitions remain?

So, how do the NFL’s 32 teams stack up after five weeks of action?

1 Buffalo Bills (4-1; won vs. Chiefs, 38-20; Last week: #2). The Bills are a steamroller these days. After a disappointing (and, in hindsight, inexplicable) loss to the Steelers in their opener, they’ve averaged 39 points per game, while their significantly more disruptive defense is allowing just over 10, with two shutouts (against the Dolphins and Texans, but still). And, after a couple of rough outings to start the season, Josh Allen is once again the devastating force that challenged for MVP a year ago.

With the AFC East unlikely to be much of a race, the Bills must look elsewhere for their challenges. Stifling Patrick Mahomes while blowing the doors off of the AFC’s preseason favorite – and the team that kept the Bills from the Super Bowl last season – is as good as it gets in October. If they’re rolling like this in January, it’s tough to imagine anyone hanging with these guys.

2 Arizona Cardinals (5-0; won vs. 49ers, 17-10; LW: #1). I’m generally not a fan of dropping a team that’s just won and remains undefeated. More often than not, even a labored win against a 49ers team giving rookie QB Trey Lance his first NFL start, in which Kyler Murray and the offense struggled (against, admittedly, a very good defense) would be enough to retain the top spot.

That the Cards slip this week has little to do with any newfound concerns about them, and basically everything to do with the Bills’ awesome run. In the long run, there’s still a lot to love here: an MVP candidate at QB, an outstanding receiving corps, a very talented defense, a young head coach who’s seemingly found his stride in the NFL, and head-to-head wins over the teams that figure to pose the stiffest competition in the NFC West. And they’re still undefeated.

3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1; won vs. Dolphins, 45-17; LW: #3). The Bucs’ defense isn’t quite shackling opponents the way we expected they would entering the season. Fortunately, they won’t have to be in dominant form for some time, as the Bucs’ next seven opponents are the Eagles, Bears, Saints, Washington, the Giants, the Colts and the Falcons.

Why the margin for error? Tom Brady.

After a ho-hum 30-of-41, 411-yard, 5 TD, zero interception game against the Dolphins, Brady leads the NFL in passing yards (1,767) and ranks second in touchdown passes (15, behind only Mahomes), against just two interceptions, and ranks in the top-five in passer rating. The man is 44 years-old. This is his 22nd season. Incredible.

4 Dallas Cowboys (4-1; won vs. Giants, 44-20; LW: #5). The Dallas Cowboys have been fantastic this season, in ways that were widely expected, but also in ways that very much were not.

Dak Prescott has been fantastic, as have CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and a rejuvenated Ezekiel Elliott. Also doing excellent work for the ‘Boys on offense are the likes of tight end Dalton Schultz and backup running back Tony Pollard, among others.

Then, of course, there is the matter of the defense. At this point we can agree that the disaster scenario is no longer in play. More likely, in fact, is the possibility that, on the strength of second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs (who now has interceptions in five straight games, and six in total), star rookie Micah Parsons, and new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, this unit is actually good. If that’s the case, the Cowboys are a top-tier Super Bowl. Even with some regression, they’re in the conversation.

5 Los Angeles Chargers (4-1; won vs. Browns, 47-42; LW: #6). There is no substitute for a bona fide superstar at quarterback. And Justin Herbert is exactly that. An afternoon that saw the Chargers give up 531 yards and 42 points to inconsistent Browns ended in victory, thanks largely to the second-year signal-caller, who sparked an incredible 26-point fourth quarter explosion against one of the NFL’s top defenses. 

Herbert completed just over 60% of his 43 pass attempts, but he did so at a clip of nearly ten yards per attempt, with four touchdowns, no interceptions, while adding 29 yards and another TD as a runner. Eight of his passes – for 165 yards and a pair of TDs – went to Mike Williams, who seems to be taking a superstar leap alongside Herbert. Meanwhile, running back Austin Ekeler, receiver of one of those TD passes, contributed 119 total yards and another two touchdowns on the ground.

This was an uncharacteristically poor showing from the Chargers defense, which, despite having played the Cowboys and Chiefs,  had previously not allowed more than 24 points in a game. They’re a safe bet to return to form, though Chargers fans will be delighted to know that, if the D doesn’t have it on a given day, Herbert and his crew of playmakers are up to the task.

6 Los Angeles Rams (4-1; won vs. Seahawks on Thursday night, 26-17; LW: #4). Had Russell Wilson not been forced from Thursday night’s contest, the Rams would likely still have bested the Seahawks. Thus, it’s tough to pinpoint just how much stock to place in a nine-point victory over a team prominently featuring Geno Smith at quarterback. At the same time – as we so often discuss here – you can only play what’s in front of you, and the Rams did what they needed to do against a shorthanded foe.

A big boost for this group going forward was the swift and blinding emergence of wide receiver Robert Woods as a component of the offense. After a combined 15 catches and 172 yards in the season’s first four games, Woods hooked up with Matthew Stafford twelve times (on 14 targets) for a whopping 150 yards. All the while, Cooper Kupp and DeSean Jackson hauled in eight passes for 160 yards, while Darrell Henderson Jr. rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Despite a bad Week 4 loss to the Cardinals, there’s not much cause for concern with the Rams. That they slid this week, as we said about the Cardinals, has more to do with other teams impressing than any glaring shortcomings of their own.

7 Baltimore Ravens (4-1; won vs. Colts on Monday night, 31-25; LW: #8). A week after his second 300-yard passing game as a pro in a comfortable win in Denver, Lamar Jackson found an altogether new level. Against a not-incompetent Colts defense, Jackson turned in one of the most astounding quarterbacking performances we’ve ever seen.

Had he merely completed 86% of his 43 passes for 442 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, while adding another 62 rushing yards, Monday night’s performance would have been one for the ages. That he did all of that in the face of an early 22-3 deficit, and a 16-point gap in the fourth quarter, and powered the Ravens to the game’s last 22 points? When the legend of Lamar Jackson is written, this performance will warrant its own chapter.

The Ravens’ Week 5 showing was reminiscent of that of the Chargers, as their normally reliable defense was carved up by Carson Wentz, and the brilliance of a special quarterback proved the difference.

The road gets tougher from here, as, before heading into their bye week, the Ravens must face the potent Chargers, and then the division-rival Bengals. They’re fortunate that both games will be played in Baltimore, though there is the risk of an emotional letdown in the wake of such an incredible win. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy the exhilarating high of watching Lamar Jackson explore the limits of his talent.

8 Cleveland Browns (3-2; lost vs. Chargers, 42-47; LW: #7). Prior to their matchup with the Chargers, the most pressing question about the Browns was whether an inconsistent offense (namely, the passing game) could provide enough support to a dominant defense.

In Week 5, the offense provided an emphatic response, racking up over 530 yards and putting 42 points on the Chargers’ solid defense. Baker Mayfield completed 72% of his passes, for more than 9.5 yards per attempt and a pair of TDs. He connected on 12 of 13 attempts to David Njoku and Donovan People-Jones, for 219 yards, while the league’s top running back duo dominated. Nick Chubb gained 161 yards (with a TD) on 22 carries, while Kareem Hunt added 61 yards (and 2 TDs) on 12 carries. 

Sadly, the day on which the Browns’ offense fired on every one of its cylinders was the day their defense stumbled, allowing 493 total yards and 47 points – a staggering 26 of them in the fourth quarter. This group will be absolutely fine. We all have rough days at the office. Plus, not every opponent is going to feature a locked-in Justin Herbert.

However, head coach Kevin Stefanski will be hoping that there’s something to the offense’s breakout performance. We certainly need more evidence, but if there is, the Browns will be playing well into January.

9 Green Bay Packers (4-1; won vs. Bengals, 25-22, in overtime; LW: #9).

10 Cincinnati Bengals (3-2; lost vs. Packers, 22-25, in overtime; LW: #15). On the one hand, there’s only so much to be taken from a game in which two professional placekickers succeed on just four of nine attempts, with one, the reliably excellent Mason Crosby, missing three in (real life, not game time) under an hour. And yet…

The Packers outplayed the Bengals in Week 5, and deserved a more comfortable victory than the one the ultimately wound up with. At the same time, there’s a certain similarity to these frequently impressive though sometimes underwhelming teams. Their standout quarterbacks are at decidedly different points in their careers, but there’s a sense that any hope for either team rests exclusively with the signal-caller. Of course, we can say that about most teams – and neither of these two is bereft of talent outside of QB, especially at the skill positions – but this particular sense (an irrational one, perhaps felt only by me) is that any other talent on each roster is functional only the presence of a healthy Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow. 

There’s every chance that reality proves that last sentence to be utter nonsense. However, in light of a game whose (figurative, not literal) margin could not have been tighter, these two remain in close quarters.

11 Kansas City Chiefs (2-3; lost vs. Bills, 20-38; LW: #10). It’s official: The Chiefs’ defense is a genuine liability. There’s no shame in surrendering yardage and points to Josh Allen and the Bills. However, to be comprehensively carved up, as the Chiefs were on Sunday – to the tune of 315 passing yards and three TDs, and 59 yards with another touchdown by Allen – is dispiriting. The Chiefs’ defense, which looked off-balance and unable to stay with Buffalo’s receivers, has proven incapable of securing a vital stop for five consecutive weeks.

As we keep noting, Patrick Mahomes is sufficiently brilliant to paper over a great many cracks. To do so, however, he and the offense must constantly be firing on all cylinders. This season, while both Mahomes and offense have been very good, they’ve not yet been at their very best. Even in the best of times, compensating for a defense that’s this porous is a monumental task. It may be time to start worrying in Kansas City.

12 New Orleans Saints (3-2; won vs. Washington, 33-22; LW: #22). The Saints are apparently determined to frustrate all attempts to accurately assess their quality. They crushed the Packers, only to get blown out by the Panthers, then cruised to victory over the Patriots, then fell to the Giants, before impressively knocking off Washington.

Whether this team is actually good is anyone’s guess. With a bye in Week 6 and a matchup with the Russell Wilson-less Seahawks afterward, 31 October, and the Buccaneers’ visit to the Superdome for some solid information, is our best chance to find out. None the less, 3-2 in a competitive division not a bad place to be through five games.

13 Tennessee Titans (3-2; won vs. Jaguars, 37-19; LW: #21). An easy win over the worst team in the NFL, on the heels of the head coach of said bottom-dweller embroiling himself in controversy and sparking a crisis of confidence among his players, is not much to write home about. On the other hand, for a team that’s struggled mightily with consistency have, the Titans will be happy to have not made difficult work of a mundane chore. 

While we’re here, let us, for a moment, spare a moment to sing the praises of Derrick Henry. That Henry is an all-universe running back is hardly news. What’s noteworthy is that, in a world in which his position is being deemphasized, he’s not only mounting an all-out assault on the single-season records for both rushing attempts (416; Henry is at 142 through five games) and yards (2,105; Henry has 640), but putting together multi-season stretches literally unprecedented in the game’s history

What’s perhaps even more noteworthy is that Henry is likely the last Hall of Fame workhorse back in the NFL some time to come. Respect to the best of a rapdily dwindling breed.

14 Denver Broncos (3-2; lost vs. Steelers, 19-27). Before a concussion knocked him out of a Week 4 game against the Ravens, Teddy Bridgewater was one of the NFL’s pleasant surprises, overseeing a Broncos offense that was efficient, but with big play potential. Bridgewater’s return to the Broncos lineup was solid – 24-of-38, 288 yards 2 TDs – but, in the final moments, Teddy and Broncos came up about three yards short of a shot to force the Steelers into overtime.

With both the Chiefs and the Raiders losing, this loss is not as damaging as it could have been, though the Broncos will likely see it as a missed opportunity.

15 Carolina Panthers (3-2; lost vs. Eagles, 18-21). The Panthers need Christian McCaffrey back – and fast!

After a 3-0 start, Carolina has now dropped two straight. Losing on the road to the Cowboys by single digits is hardly a disaster. However, to follow that up with a sloppy performance at home against an Eagles team of comparable quality, is troublesome. 

After throwing a single interception in the first three weeks, Sam Darnold threw three against the Eagles, and has been picked off five times in the past two weeks. If we’ve learned anything from the early part of the season, it’s that when Darnold is protected and surrounded by talent, he’s capable of avoiding crucial mistakes and making plays. However, in the absence of those things, he will backslide.

16 Philadelphia Eagles (2-3; won vs. Panthers, 21-18). It’s tough to figure out exactly what to make of the Eagles. They blew out the Falcons in Week 1, and capitalized Sam Darnold’s reversion to Jets form. In between, they played three quality opponents, and lost three times.

Jalen Hurts has put up some numbers, and intermittently looked the dual-threat star the franchise is hoping he’ll one day become. He is also inconsistent with both his accuracy and his decision-making. In Week 5, however, despite struggling mightily – just 22-of-37 passing, no touchdowns and an interceptions, and just 30 rushing yards on nine attempts – he led three scoring drives that turned 15-3 deficit into a 21-18 victory. Two of these were capped off by rushing touchdowns from Hurts – the last one came in the final three minutes and secured the win.

We can hopefully avoid making each week a referendum on Hurts’ viability as a long-term NFL starter. Given the nature of this business, that’s a tough ask. At the very least, we can try to highlight incremental progress and encouraging flashes as much as every mistake and perceived shortcoming.

17 Chicago Bears (3-2; won vs. Raiders, 20-9). It must be said the Bears’ defense in 2021 is a more dynamic unit than was expected prior to the season. Provided that holds up – assuming health, at this point there’s little reason to assume that it won’t – the Bears will probably steer clear of the league’s bottom tier.

Also encouraging is the fact that, after debuting with one of the worst QB outings in NFL history, Justin Fields is playing more efficiently, avoiding unnecessary risks and leaning on his running game. That’s great, as you may recall, our mantra for the 2021 is: don’t ruin Justin Fields.

However, we should probably differentiate between relative strength and actual strength. A solid, occasionally excellent showing against Raiders team that, already in regression, was clobbered by the news and the coverage of the retrograde social views of then-coach Jon Gruden, who’s since stepped down as the franchise’s primary decision maker.

That, in this scenario, the Bears did exactly what they need to do is a positive. Assuming even modest progress in Fields’ development, the Bears seem destined to be one of the league’s better bad teams by season’s end, and potentially a thorn in the side of a good team or two. For a team with a soft 3-2 record and an ultra-conservative gameplan aimed solely at protecting an inexperienced quarterback, that’s not a terrible ceiling.

18 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3; won vs. Broncos, 27-19). In and of itself, the Steelers’ offensive performance in Week 5 against the Broncos was quite impressive. Ben Roethlisberger, though not hyper-accurate (15-of-25) was fairly efficient, averaging just over ten yards per pass attempt, with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions. He hooked up with his top two targets, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, seven times on eight targets, for 202 yards and two touchdowns, while rookie running back Najee Harris ran for over 120 yards and another touchdown. Excellent stuff.

The problem is that the very foundation of the roster makes it tough to look at this triumph as much more than a cosmetic solution. The Steelers have the defensive and skill position talent to grind out victories against decent, yet flawed opposition. However, when push comes to shove, in bad weather against elite defenses, it’s tough to see the Steelers making much noise in the absence of strong quarterback play.

19 Las Vegas Raiders (3-2; lost vs. Bears, 9-20). There will be countless pages written, and probably a documentary or two produced, about the 2021 Raiders – rather, about their former head coach, Jon Gruden, who negotiated his way to a 10-year, $100 million contract and ultimate power within the organization, unaware that he’d long since authored his own downfall. The sordid specifics of Gruden’s retrograde opinions, and the slurs with which he expressed them, are a subject for another day.

In three seasons with Gruden helming the franchise, the Raiders showed minimal progress. Modest preseason expectations suggested that 2021 would bring more of the same. However, a 3-0 start, on the back of an impressive offense and a surprisingly competent defense, provided some justification for owner Mark Davis’ outsized faith in Gruden. Of course, the Raiders have since lost twice, in rather convincing fashion, most recently falling meekly to an unremarkable Bears team, and Gruden, under the weight of well-earned scrutiny (but now without political cover within the league), has resigned his position.

This franchise must now move forward and try to right the ship, without the man whose vision defined the entire enterprise in recent years. This is a team comprised of adults and professionals – suffice it to say that they will keep battling. But don’t be surprised if there are some wobbles and potentially an awkward period of adjustment.

20 San Francisco 49ers (2-3, lost vs. Cardinals, 10-17). A 2-0 start and visions of contention have very quickly given way to freefall in San Francisco. The 49ers, now 2-3, are tied with Seattle for last place in the NFC West, a full three games out of first place, and two games out of second.

Given a roster filled with playoff, if not Super Bowl worthy talent, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s decision to start moderately competent veteran Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback over exciting but raw rookie Trey Lance was understandable. However, the Niners’ swoon, combined with Garoppolo’s recent calf injury are clear signals that it’s time to turn the page. In Jimmy G’s absence against the Cardinals, despite looking extremely raw, Lance offered a genuine spark, making some impressive throws, while also racking up 89 rushing yards. Unfortunately, now Lance himself has a sprained knee, which could keep him out of the lineup for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Shanahan seems committed to sticking with Garoppolo (once healthy) as the starter.

The Niners may may find a degree of stability and success in the coming months, but it’s tough to see this season playing out as an unqualified success.

21 Seattle Seahawks (2-3; lost vs. Rams on Thursday night, 17-26). The good news is that Russell Wilson’s nasty sounding finger injury – a ruptured tendon and a dislocation of the middle finger on his throwing hand – might only keep him out for three weeks. And, with the Steelers, Saints, Jaguars and the bye week on deck, the Seahawks could conceivably weather the storm. 

Unfortunately, the Seahawks, like the 49ers, are already two games behind Rams for second place in what might be the league’s toughest division. Nearly a month without their superstar quarterback, in the absence of both a strong defense and another difference-maker capable of carrying the offense, is almost certainly a death blow to the ‘Hawks’ season.

22 Minnesota Vikings (2-3; won vs. Lions, 19-17). Try as I might, it’s getting tough to continue touting the potential of this Vikings team.

We can make the case that, despite starting the season 1-2, the Vikings could easily have been 3-0. And they only fell to 1-3 because they ran into the Cleveland Browns’ defense, which is one of the best in the NFL. And, all the while, their own defense was good enough to keep them within a touchdown, despite the offense managing just seven points. We can say all of these things, in earnest.

At this point, though, it seems as though this team’s identity – particularly on offense – is rooted in never making anything easy for themselves. After a couple of respectable showings to start the season, they’ve scored 26 points over their last two games, the last three of which – a 54-yard field goal as time expired – were the difference between victory and defeat against the Detroit Lions.

And any hope this group might have had for getting its act together in time for a late-season push is largely undone by the schedule. This weekend the Vikes travel t Carolina, where another young, tough, hungry defense awaits. After thatis the bye week, from which this group might contemplate not returning, as, waiting on the other side is a four-game stretch against the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers and Packers.

It’s just not happening this year.

23 New England Patriots (2-3; won vs. Texans, 25-22). With an offensive line missing four starters and a defense that’s struggled establish a strong identity in the season’s opening weeks, the Patriots had a fair bit to overcome in Week 5. 

By and large, the Patriots did not play well enough on Sunday to come away with a win. That the opposition was the Houston Texans certainly helped in that regard. Against just about anyone else, it’s likely the Patriots would have come up short.

On the bright side, in Mac Jones they have the (thus far) most (only?) impressive rookie quarterback from this spring’s large, presumptively impressive rookie QB crop. Jones lead four second half scoring drives, including fourth quarter drives for the game-tying touchdown, and and the game-winning field goal with seconds remaining.

To be in a position where you need a pair of late scores to salvage a narrow win against the Texans is far from ideal. On the flip side, having a rookie quarterback capable, in a pinch, of leading the drives to get those scores is pretty encouraging.

24 Atlanta Falcons (2-3; won vs. Jets, 27-20, in London). Apparently, Matty Ice isn’t quite done yet!

In all seriousness, credit to Matt Ryan. It was nice to see Ryan – who’s been dismissed as a relic from a bygone era of Falcons football (admittedly, by me as we) – turn back the clock, if only for an afternoon. Sunday in London, even in the absence of star wide receiver Calvin Ridley, Ryan was fantastic, completing 73% of his passes, for 342 yards and two touchdowns, introducing future star tight end Kyle Pitts (10 targets, 9 catches, 119 yards) to an NFL end zone for the first time.

No, beating Sunday’s version Jets by seven points on a neutral site isn’t really something for the CV. At the same time, a short-handed win against anyone for a team that started the season as the Falcons did is not to be ignored.

25 Indianapolis Colts (1-4; lost vs. Ravens, 25-31). It’s a brutally tough situation for the Colts.

Behind an awesome performance from Carson Wentz, who was 25-of-35, for 400 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, Indy jumped out to a 22-3 lead in the first half, and held a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Finally, against top opposition, they show up take a big lead, and appear destined for a signature win. Unfortunately, when Lamar Jackson is on the other side, as long as there’s time on the clock, the job is never fully done. Jackson was mesmerizing, the Ravens were victorious, and the Colts are left, heartbroken, having allowed their last shot at salvaging anything from this season to evaporate.

26 Washington Football Team (2-3; lost vs. Saints, 22-33). What’s become of the Washington defense is simultaneously an incredible mystery. Touted, as one of the NFL’s most talented defensive units, with the potential to carry a mediocre offense to meaningful success, this group can really only be described as a monumental disappointment.

There’s a case (a flimsy one, but still) to be made that, play to play, the Washington D wasn’t an outright disaster in Week 5, as they allowed 369 yards and forced a pair of turnovers. Of course, that ignored the fact that the three plays in the first half on which they allowed touchdowns (that’s already pretty bad) went for 72, 23 and – just seconds before halftime – 49 yards. Brutal.

We spoke last week about whether Washington’s narrow come-from-behind win over the Falcons in Week 4 was a sign that this team ‘finds a way to win’ or is simply not that good. We’ve got our answer.

27 Detroit Lions (0-5; lost vs. Vikings, 17-19). Why do the football god hate Dan Campbell?

The man takes over one of the less least talented rosters in the league, preaches hard work, effort and resilience. His players, despite their limitations, receive his message, loud and clear. They proceed to sully San Francisco’s Week 1 blowout a bit, and make Aaron Rodgers sweat in Week 2…

Only to lose, 19-17 – TWICE! – on last-second field goals, one of which was the longest in the history of the league.

It’s tough not to want something good to happen for these guys.

28 Houston Texans (1-4; lost vs. Patriots, 22-25). That the Texans are playing for the 2022 draft is hardly a secret. It never really was a secret. Ever since the departures of DeAndre Hopkins and JJ Watt led to a trade demand by Deshaun Watson, who’s subsequently been relegated to the fringes amid numerous ongoing allegations of sexual misconduct, the Texans have been stripped of all ambition.

That’s not to say that there can’t be bright spots. Just a couple of weeks after an absolute debacle of an NFL debut, and just a week after throwing four interceptions, rookie third-round quarterback Davis Mills took on the New England Patriots and renowned rookie QB killer, Bill Belichick, and proceeded to complete over 70% of his passes (21-of-29), for 312 yards (10.8 per attmept!), with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Texans are now in a moderately enviable position of having a young quarterback who’s some competence, and a low stakes 12-game sample in which to let him learn and make mistakes, and ultimately assess whether he’s a viable solution going forward.

29 New York Giants (1-4; lost vs. Cowboys, 20-44). Big Blue’s only meaningful goal this season was to assess Jones’ viability as a long term solution at QB, and to identify the offensive weapons already on hand that would aid his development. That the Giants suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Cowboys, in Dallas, is hardly a surprise. In fact, any other scenario would likely have been more shocking.

However, that the Giants racked up a body count consisting of their three most important offensive players – Daniel Jones (concussion), Saquon Barkley (ankle) and big-money free agent Kenny Golladay (knee) – is downright disastrous.

Five games, four losses, and neither a QB nor a full complement of skill talent to assess. The Giants’ 2021 season is in a purgatorial state – and the lift is not headed upward.

30 Miami Dolphins (1-4; lost vs. Buccaneers, 17-45). Fortunes can change quickly in the NFL. The Dolphins finished the 2020 season with a bright future. Their 10 wins were not enough to earn a spot in the playoffs, but an excellent defense, an excellent head coach in Brian Flores and a promising second-year quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa returning, and Tua’s former Alabama teammate, first round wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, joining the attack, it was only a matter of time.

They still have an excellent coach and plenty of talented individuals on defense, but in the wake of Tua’s injury (broken ribs) and a brutal start to the season for the defense as a unit, 2021 is a lost cause. The remainder of this season will be spent determining whether Tua, who’s expected back in Week 6, is in fact their quarterback of the future.

31 New York Jets (1-4; lost vs. Falcons, 20-27, in London). Was it really less than a week ago that optimism abounded about the Jets’ Zach Wilson?

What a difference a week makes, huh?

Developmental processes are never perfectly smooth or perfectly linear. There are always going to be bumps in the road. That being said, the adaptability, mobility and confidence that Wilson showed in downing the Titans seems to have immediately abandoned him.

Against the defensively-challenged Falcons, Wilson completed less than 60% of his passes, barely gained six yards per attempt, threw an interception and failed to find the end zone. And, frankly, he didn’t even look that good. 

We never expected this Jets season to be ‘good’. But, with Wilson developing and a good coach (Robert Saleh) at the helm, we’d have been forgiven for thinking that, if they got some momentum, they’d manage to do something with it.

32 Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5; lost vs. Titans, 19-37). When you’re in the doldrums, the threshold for ‘good news’ is not terribly high. 

Case in point: Head coach Urban Meyer will have spent much of the past week bursting with gratitude for the very existence of now-former Raiders coach Jon Gruden. He’ll likely be equally delighted to spend a week out of the crosshairs of the U.S. sporting press. To top things off, when the Jags kick off at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, they’ll do so with a legitimate shot at victory. It’s not great that their opponent, the Dolphins, are nearly as downtrodden as the Jags, but down here, you take what you can get.