Ranking the NFL's Top 7 Offenses Heading into 2020
Ten of the last 11 Super Bowl champions possessed offenses that ranked in the top 10 in scoring during the regular season. Eight also ranked in the top 10 in terms of scoring defense, but it's become obvious in this pass-happy era that offense often takes priority over defense.
With that in mind, it's important to get a feel for which offensive units are best aligned to dominate in 2020.
Based on a combination of 2019 productivity, 2020 trajectory and offseason player movement, here's a breakdown of the top seven offenses in the NFL entering the new campaign.
San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco's offense was one of five to average at least 6.0 yards per play last season, and the 49ers were the highest-scoring team in the NFC. But quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's playoff performance was concerning, top receiver Deebo Samuel is out indefinitely with a broken foot, and there's no guarantee rookie Brandon Aiyuk can replace departed veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders. There are a few too many question marks here.
Tennessee Titans: They have to be mentioned because they came out of 2019 with the league's highest-rated passer, as well as its rushing champion. But the loss of offensive tackle Jack Conklin is a factor, as is the real possibility those were aberrational performances from Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, neither of whom were ever Pro Bowlers before exploding last year.
Detroit Lions: Detroit was strongly considered as a surprise inclusion based on quarterback Matthew Stafford's promising play before a back injury abrupted ended his 2019 campaign. Throw in receiver Kenny Golladay's sky-high trajectory, the addition of promising back D'Andre Swift and a strong supporting cast beyond that, and the Lions could easily have a top-10 offense in 2020.
7. Minnesota Vikings
The remarkably balanced Minnesota Vikings offense was one of just four units to average 8.0 yards per pass attempt and 4.5 yards per rush attempt in 2019. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was the league's fourth-highest-rated passer, while Dalvin Cook was one of seven backs to average more than 80 rushing yards per outing.
The offensive line is improved but still far from elite across the board, and there are natural questions about receiving depth with rookie Justin Jefferson trying to fill Stefon Diggs' shoes. But Cousins, Cook and top receiver Adam Thielen are stars, Jefferson, Kyle Rudolph and second-year second-round tight end Irv Smith Jr. all have elite potential, and this offense also deserves credit for how it finished 2019.
After a rocky September, Cousins completed more than 70 percent of his passes, averaged an NFC-best 8.3 yards per attempt, threw 23 touchdown passes to four interceptions and recorded a 112.8 passer rating.
They were the league's sixth-highest-scoring team during that stretch, and they should be in that range again thanks to talent, continuity and an upward trajectory heading into 2020.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gained 20-plus yards on a league-high 85 offensive plays in 2019. And while they might not be quite as explosive with a 43-year-old Tom Brady at quarterback, they should also cut down considerably on their turnovers. They led the NFL with 41 of those last season, but Brady is a lot more careful than Jameis Winston.
The league's third-highest-scoring team from 2019 certainly shouldn't be any worse off with Brady.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were two of four qualified receivers to average more than 85 yards per game last year, running back Ronald Jones II flashed late, and now a strong tight end depth chart has been bolstered by the addition of future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski.
Oh, and don't overlook an underrated offensive line that contains two potential franchise tackles (Donovan Smith and rookie first-round pick Tristan Wirfs), a reliable young left guard (Ali Marpet) and a center (Ryan Jensen) who was named to Pro Football Focus' All-Pro second team in 2019.
With mastermind Bruce Arians overseeing it all, there's a good chance this is a top-five offense even if Brady continues to decline at 43.
5. Seattle Seahawks
Offensively, the Bucs have the Seattle Seahawks beat in almost every way imaginable...except at the sport's most important position.
While Brady averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt and completed fewer than 57 percent of his passes in the second half of his age-42 season, Russell Wilson continued to perform at a super-elite level with a 106.3 passer rating and a 31-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio throughout the year. One of the game's biggest playmakers, he also tied for the league lead in fourth-quarter comebacks (four) and game-winning drives (five).
That wouldn't be enough to get the Seattle offense a spot on this list without a supporting cast. And while Wilson isn't surrounded by as much talent as any of the other top-six teams listed here, a historically bad offensive line at least has a pillar at left tackle in Duane Brown, a shallow receiving corps at least has two shining talents in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, and the backfield is pretty stacked with Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Carlos Hyde.
Now we'll see if Carson and Penny can get healthy, if Metcalf can continue to take off as a sophomore and if the line can gain some more stability. The potential is there, but those ifs keep Seattle out of the top four despite Wilson's presence.
4. Baltimore Ravens
It's natural to wonder if the Baltimore Ravens offense might be due to regress following an outrageously successful season fueled by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson led the NFL with 36 passing touchdowns while ranking sixth in rushing with 1,206 yards on the ground, which explains why that unit ranked first in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders both through the air and on the ground.
That being the case, there's no way this offense can't be viewed as a top-five unit.
But it isn't at the top because the whole league will be plotting to solve Jackson, legendary guard Marshal Yanda has retired, veteran back Mark Ingram II is now 30 and the receiving corps still lacks elite talent (although that could change based on Marquise Brown's trajectory entering Year 2).
What's more, based on Football Outsiders' adjusted games lost formula, Baltimore's offense was healthier in 2019 than every other offensive group in the league. There's a chance it won't be as lucky in 2020, but the talent is still undeniable.
3. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have mastered offense. That Sean Payton-run, Drew Brees-led unit is more efficient than any offense in football. They aren't particularly explosive now that Brees is 41, but in 2019, they become the first offense in NFL history to commit fewer than 10 turnovers in a season.
Amazingly, that was the highest-rated season of Brees' career, and even though he missed five games due to a hand injury, only the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers scored more points than New Orleans.
Michael Thomas is the league's most productive receiver, Alvin Kamara is a perennial Pro Bowler in the backfield, tight end Jared Cook is coming off a nine-touchdown season, and that supporting cast should be stronger with veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders joining the fray. There simply isn't a weak spot, even along an offensive line that ranked first in run blocking and third in pass protection at Football Outsiders in 2019.
The only reason they're not at the top? Brees is the league's second-oldest position player, and that decline can come fast. And while the Saints offense hums with the best of them, 18 other units compiled more 40-plus-yard plays last season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs accumulated an NFL-high 21 plays of 40-plus yards despite the fact quarterback Patrick Mahomes was unhealthy for much of his third season. The 2018 MVP wasn't himself early in the year as a result of an ankle injury before missing time and racing back from a knee injury, but the Chiefs still led the AFC with a yards-per-play average of 6.2 while scoring the fifth-highest point total in football.
That's because the offense, which was stacked beyond Mahomes with stars Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in the pass-catching corps and Mitchell Schwartz highlighting a strong offensive line, rebounded magnificently down the stretch. En route to the franchise's first Super Bowl victory in half a century, it averaged a ridiculous 39.0 points per game in the playoffs.
So why aren't the Chiefs in the top spot? Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and running back Damien Williams were critical cogs during that run, and both have opted out of the 2020 campaign due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if hyped rookie back Clyde Edwards-Helaire delivers, that could be problematic for an offense that will have a target on its back after scrambling to deal with those opt-outs under extreme training-camp limitations.
That said, nobody would fault you for listing Kansas City in the top spot anyway based on Mahomes, Hill, Kelce and Schwartz alone.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott isn't the best quarterback in the NFL, Amari Cooper isn't the best wide receiver in the NFL, and Ezekiel Elliott arguably isn't the best running back in the NFL (that is at least debatable). And following center Travis Frederick's unexpected retirement, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line probably isn't the best in football, either.
But nobody has a three-headed monster like Prescott, Elliott and Cooper, and when you combine that with the fact the line remains stacked thanks to the presence of seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith and four-time first-team All-Pro Zack Martin, you can see how the Cowboys actually have the most evenly spread elite offensive talent in the NFL.
Under seemingly evolved new head coach Mike McCarthy, the Dallas offense could be unstoppable in 2020.
Prescott's 8.2 yards-per-attempt average ranked fifth in the league as he threw 30 touchdowns passes to 11 interceptions in a strong 2019 campaign, while Elliott made his third Pro Bowl with 1,777 scrimmage yards and Cooper put up nearly 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns as another Pro Bowler. Oh, and that line ranked second at Football Outsiders in terms of both run blocking and pass protection.
And we haven't even mentioned promising rookie first-round receiver CeeDee Lamb and complementary pass-catching weapon Michael Gallup, who is also coming off a 1,100-yard season. It's an embarrassment of riches.
They'll miss Frederick, but they're loaded with so many talented players ascending or in their prime that the Cowboys should have the best offense in professional football this fall.