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September 07, 2021

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Week 1

Eagles NFL
090721JalenHurts3 Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

For those of you who are new here, we do a "Hierarchy/Obituary" post every week during the season, in which we kill off teams that have reached the point where they have almost no chance to make the playoffs. We then write their obituary and never speak of them in the Hierarchy again. 

Anyway, it's my hackneyed sell-out spin on the more traditional "power rankings." Got it? Cool. It's back for another season.


16) Lions (5-11 in 2020): The Lions have the youngest team in the NFC, and not a lot of talent on their roster. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, they have a 14.5 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, with a 52.4 percent chance of landing in the top 5. In case you're curious about the likelihood of other teams to land the No. 1 overall pick according to ESPN, here you go:

 TeamNo. 1 overall pick Top 5 pick 
 Texans24.0% 66.3% 
 Lions14.5% 52.4% 
 Jets9.7% 41.4% 
 Jaguars8.4% 37.0% 
 *Eagles7.4% 35.6% 
 Bengals5.2% 28.4% 
 Raiders3.7% 23.2% 
 *Giants4.4% 26.9% 
 Falcons3.8% 23.6% 

*The Eagles' and Giants' percentages are boosted because they own other teams' first-round picks.

Anyway, whatever. There's no pressure in Detroit. They last won a playoff game in 1991, and for some reason, we still have to watch them on Thanksgiving every year. At least they have a quotable coach.


15) Panthers (5-11 in 2020): The Panthers made one of the weirdest moves of the 2021 offseason when they traded three picks — a 2021 sixth-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick, and a 2022 fourth-round pick — for Jets bust Sam Darnold. 

In addition to the draft pick compensation they doled out for Darnold, they're also on the hook for $23,189,685 in Darnold's guaranteed salary over the next two seasons. Oh, and Teddy Bridgewater is counting on their cap for $17,062,500 in dead money this season. 

All for a team that is going nowhere in 2021. Why?


14) Falcons (4-12 in 2020): The Falcons' offensive DVOA rankings since 2016:

Year Offensive DVOA ranking 
2019 15 
2020 21 

Matt Ryan is now 36 years old, Julio Jones is gone, the interior of this offensive line is a mess, and their starting running back is (hmm, I don't even know... hang on), oh, Mike Davis. Expect that DVOA ranking to come down again in 2021. 

Meanwhile, their defense always sucks, and will once again.


13) Giants (6-10 in 2020): The Giants' offensive line is just going to be so, so bad. The starting five will probably look like this:

• LT: Andrew Thomas (22)
• LG: Shane Lemieux (24)
• C: Nick Gates (25)
• RG: Will Hernandez (25)
• RT: Matt Peart (24)

It will be one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL, if not the youngest, with an average age of 24.0 years old. For a rebuilding team, being young up front is nice, but only if the players are, you know, good. And they're not good.

The Giants desperately need Thomas to be a stud, seeing as he was the fourth overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. Thomas had a disappointing rookie season, and he has had a preseason to forget:

It's worth noting that when the team shed RG Kevin Zeitler's contract, they lost their best offensive lineman, and their lone tried-and-true veteran starter. Hernandez is moving from LG to RG, with Lemieux filling in at LG, likely weakening both positions.

If indeed the Giants' offensive line performs badly this season, they're going to have a difficult time evaluating whether Daniel Jones is their quarterback of the future or not.


12) Eagles (4-11-1 in 2020): It feels like whenever someone makes an argument that the Eagles will achieve some modest accomplishment in 2021, it is always accompanied by a bunch of major "ifs." Like, "If the offensive line stays healthy, and if Jalen Hurts makes huge strides forward, and if the receivers finally resemble players who belong in the NFL, etc., then the Eagles can win the NFC East! Woohoo!

The reality is that they have an unproven quarterback, an unproven coaching staff, an old-ish, injury-prone roster, and the owner already admitted that this will be a "retooling" year. So probably best to keep your expectations in check.


11) Bears (8-8 in 2020): Fun fact: The Bears made the playoffs last year. It's true! They were 8-8, with a +2 point differential, and they got in as the NFC's first ever 7 seed. I bet you don't remember their playoff game at all. If not, they were easily dispatched of by the Saints, 21-9, in a boring 4:40 p.m. Sunday wildcard round game that served as little more than a four-hour chunk of time in between other watchable games. So that's what we get with the NFL expanding the playoffs. 🎉

The debate in Chicago this offseason has been Andy Dalton vs. Justin Fields. Unlike every NFL fan ever, Matt Nagy hasn't seen any of Dalton's 142 career starts: 

In the preseason games, Fields outplayed Dalton, and very, verrrrry clearly offers more in terms of overall skill set. Fields is better, and everyone in Chicago — from the fans to the players to coaches to probably Fields and Dalton themselves — can see that Fields is better, but Dalton will start because Nagy promised him a starting job when he signed? Seriously?


10) Saints (12-4 in 2020): Hey, speaking of quarterback battles, Jameis Winston won his over Taysom Hill, who, let's be honest, isn't an NFL quarterback. Remember the last time Winston was a starter?

That was six minutes long. So many pick-sixes.

The Saints are a little like the Patriots of the NFC in that their long-time starting Hall of Fame quarterback has moved on, and their much-heralded head coach will have to try to win without him.

WASTEAM logo 2020.gif

9) Football Team (7-9 in 2020): Mike Sando of The Athletic polled a panel of "seven general managers, five head coaches, 11 coordinators, 15 executives, seven quarterbacks coaches and five others working in front offices or in other coaching capacities" on NFL quarterbacks, placing them in tiers from 1-5. 

Their final top 12 rankings were as follows: 

Rank Player 
T-1 Aaron Rodgers, Packers 
T-1 Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs 
Tom Brady, Buccaneers 
Russell Wilson, Seahawks 
Deshaun Watson, Texans 
Josh Allen, Bills 
T-7 Lamar Jackson, Ravens 
T-7 Matthew Stafford, Rams 
T-9 Dak Prescott, Cowboys 
T-9 Justin Herbert, Chargers 
11 Matt Ryan, Falcons 
12 Kyler Murray, Cardinals 

Based on that list, assuming those guys stay healthy, Washington will face the top four quarterbacks in the NFL (top 5 if you don't count Deshaun Watson), and eight of them overall. (I bolded them above.)


8) Cardinals (8-8 in 2020): If the Cardinals played in the NFC East, some would consider them favorites to win the division. Unfortunately for them, they're the worst team in the NFC West. 


7) Vikings (7-9 in 2020): Kirk Cousins recently suggested surrounding himself with plexiglass in the quarterbacks room, as an alternative to getting vaccinated.

Let's check in on that.



6) Cowboys (6-10 in 2020): Each year, when we publish our "Dumpster Fire" series, a revealing part of that exercise for me is how difficult it is to come up with 10 reasons why each team will be bad. In 2017, for example, the Eagles were maybe thought of as a potential up and comer, but nobody had them winning the Super Bowl. I found it very difficult to come up with 10 reasons they were going to be bad that season. 

This year, despite being the odds on favorite to in the NFC East, it was very easy to come up with 10 negative things to say about the Cowboys, which isn't a great sign for them, but at the same time, they do have a lot going for them, most notably their excellent trio of receivers to go along with Dak Prescott.

In that sense, it's just like any other year in Dallas. They have enough sizzle to get your attention and maybe win a bad division, but not enough meat and potatoes to seriously contend for a Super Bowl.


5) 49ers (6-10 in 2020): It would appear that bottom third of the NFL caliber starter Jimmy Garoppolo will start Week 1 for the 49ers.

Unless Trey Lance simply can't go because of a chipped bone in his finger, I don't get that even a little bit. To begin, Kyle Shanahan once coached an athletic rookie quarterback who went off in a Week 1 debut.

But also, the Niners' first two games are against the Lions and Eagles, a pair of teams that had a combined record of 9-22-1 last season. Lance can beat those teams with a loaded roster surrounding him, and that game experience would be invaluable for a player who is almost certainly going to take over as the starter at some point this season anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.


4) Seahawks (12-4 in 2020): If rookie second-round pick D'Wayne Eskridge turns out to be good, the Seahawks' offense is going to be scary with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett already in place.

The Seahawks have gotten great rookie-year returns in the past from Lockett (51-664-6 in 2015) and Metcalf (58-900-7 in 2019), and Eskridge could be next. The selection of Eskridge is one that I think has sort of flown under the radar this offseason in terms of immediate impact.


3) Rams (10-6 in 2020): The Rams finished No. 1 in points allowed and yards allowed in 2020. The strength of that team, obviously, was the defense. Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL, and Jalen Ramsey is arguably the best cornerback. Still, some regression is to be expected. I mean, it's hard to repeat as the No. 1 defense in the league.

Remember back in 2018 when the Bears had the best defense in the NFL, and then their defensive coordinator became a head coach for someone else, and the defense has just been good (not great) since? Well, that could be coming soon to the Rams.

That said, that likely defensive dropoff will be offset by the upgrade from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford.


2) Packers (13-3 in 2020): During the spring, when it looked like Aaron Rodgers wouldn't be back in Green Bay, we had the Packers 11th in the hierarchy. Now that Rodgers has returned to the team, they'll be good again, for one more year.


1) Buccaneers (11-5 in 2020): If you were rooting for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl and were disappointed that Tom Brady won yet another ring, you can at least take some solace in that Bill Belichick is the far more nefarious figure, and Brady's success with the Bucs tarnishes Belichick's legacy to some degree.

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