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NFL's top 10 offenses in 2024? 49ers, Chiefs headline my prediction; don't sleep on Packers, Texans, Colts

What is the best way to rank offenses?

The traditional measure of total offense (yards gained) is flawed in its shortsightedness. Meanwhile, advanced statistics like DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) and EPA/play (expected points added per play) provide more nuance, but they're still not entirely intuitive to the larger football-watching public.

Let's keep it simple here: Who scores the most points? After all, that's the basic goal of nearly every team sport, right? And by the metric of OFFENSIVE points per game -- in which defensive and/or return touchdowns do not count -- these were the top-10 units from the 2023 regular season:

1) San Francisco 49ers: 28.4 ppg
T-2) Baltimore Ravens: 27.5 ppg
T-2) Miami Dolphins: 27.5 ppg
4) Dallas Cowboys: 27.0 ppg
5) Detroit Lions: 26.6 ppg
6) Buffalo Bills: 25.3 ppg
7) Philadelphia Eagles: 24.1 ppg
8) Los Angeles Rams: 23.5 ppg
9) New Orleans Saints: 22.4 ppg
10) Cleveland Browns: 22.1 ppg

So, which offenses will fill those slots at the end of the 2024 regular season? My forecast is below, along with each unit's signature strength and worrying weakness. (Yes, I like the cheap thrill of alliteration.) Plus, five offenses that just missed the cut.

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: Kyle Shanahan鈥檚 scheme. The 49ers鈥 head man has established himself as one of the best offensive minds in football by running a balanced system that鈥檚 not just the envy of tape munchers but also many NFL coaches. Shanahan鈥檚 concepts -- which consistently put defenses in a run/pass bind through creative deployment and savvy play sequencing -- have spread throughout the league as the branches of his coaching tree have grown. So, how has he kept his own version of the attack fresh? Constant evolution. As before this past February鈥檚 Super Bowl, the play-action passes that used to be the hallmark of Shanahan鈥檚 offense aren鈥檛 nearly as common these days. That said, the coach still leans on wide-zone runs, condensed formations and versatile personnel packages. Speaking of personnel, Shanahan has all-star talent at running back (Christian McCaffrey), fullback (Kyle Juszczyk), wide receiver (Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel Sr.) and tight end (George Kittle), along with a quarterback (Brock Purdy) who executes his system with aplomb. While the offensive line beyond first-team All-Pro LT Trent Williams still leaves something to be desired, Shanahan routinely schemes around it. This is a well-oiled machine with premium parts and a deft designer.


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Kyle Shanahan鈥檚 scheme when trailing. One consistent knock on Shanahan: He can鈥檛 lead a comeback. The basic thinking goes that his offensive system runs great when San Francisco鈥檚 in control of the game, but when the 49ers fall behind and are forced out of their comfort zone, the attack stalls. Now, seeing how the Niners just overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to beat the Lions in January鈥檚 NFC Championship Game, this narrative isn鈥檛 exactly airtight. Though this pesky statistic lives on: Under Shanahan, San Francisco is 0-38 when trailing by eight-plus points in the fourth quarter. That鈥檚 admittedly a little convoluted, but it鈥檚 not nothing.

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: The best player in football. Fortune favors the bold, and Kansas City hit the jackpot with an audacious trade for Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft. K.C. gave up a third-round pick and a future first-rounder to jump up from No. 27 to No. 10 and take the Texas Tech gunslinger. Obviously, that deal turned out to be highway robbery for the Chiefs. In hindsight, the monetary value of that move -- for the Chiefs and the city of Kansas City -- is something akin to the gross domestic product of a small nation. It was a legitimate league-changer. In the six seasons since Mahomes took the starting reins, the Chiefs have gone to six AFC Championship Games and four Super Bowls, winning three Lombardi Trophies in the process. Unsurprisingly, Kansas City has also led the NFL in offensive scoring by nearly two whole points during this span (27.1 ppg, with Dallas ranking second at 25.3). Following an uneven 2023 regular season that saw Mahomes finish outside the top five in passing yards and passing touchdowns -- and inherently had the Chiefs rank 14th at 21.0 offensive ppg -- I have a feeling Andy Reid will come out firing in 2024.


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Chemistry questions at wide receiver. Dealing with multiple injuries -- and potentially just the effects of aging -- Travis Kelce fell short of 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since 2015. Without the tight end playing at an All-Pro level, the burden fell on Kansas City鈥檚 receivers to produce. Most failed to answer the bell. The lone bright spot was rookie Rashee Rice, who really came on in the back half of the year, seemingly setting himself up for a full breakout in 2024. But now Rice鈥檚 status is up in the air following a car-racing crash in April that could result in a suspension under the NFL's personal conduct policy. On the plus side, the Chiefs added a pair of explosive receivers this offseason: free-agent signee Marquise Brown and first-round pick Xavier Worthy. Though both are small, Brown and Worthy possess the kind of blazing speed that can stretch a defense beyond its limits, which is something the back-to-back Super Bowl champs have struggled to do since trading Tyreek Hill. How quickly can the two newbies gain a rapport with Mahomes? How much could a suspension impact Rice鈥檚 sophomore campaign?

Rank
3
Detroit Lions

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: The offensive line. This unit is the soul of Dan Campbell鈥檚 Lions -- and might be the best offensive line in football, with a trio of established studs leading the way. Still only 23 years old, right tackle Penei Sewell just earned first-team All-Pro honors and became the highest-paid offensive lineman in football. Frank Ragnow got a second-team All-Pro nod last season and could be the league鈥檚 best center following first-teamer Jason Kelce鈥檚 retirement. And despite having never received All-Pro or Pro Bowl recognition, Taylor Decker is old faithful at left tackle -- the longest-tenured Lion on the entire roster. At guard, Detroit to a lucrative free-agent market at the position, but the Lions should be just fine after re-upping Graham Glasgow and adding steady veteran Kevin Zeitler. For an offense that relies on consistently pounding the rock and keeping Jared Goff comfy in the pocket, this line is the lifeblood.


WORRYING WEAKNESS: The wide receivers not named Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Lions have a certified WR1 in St. Brown, who ranked top four last season in catches (119), yards (1,515), touchdowns (10) and yards after catch (668), effectively putting the 鈥渟lot-only鈥 narrative to bed by cooking corners inside and outside. But beyond the Sun God, Detroit鈥檚 receiver room lacks proven production. Obviously, this is somewhat mitigated by Sam LaPorta immediately emerging as one of the NFL鈥檚 best receiving tight ends, but the Lions still need a secondary threat at WR. Josh Reynolds, who had a surprising number of big catches (as well as a few critical drops) over the last two seasons, is now in Denver. Kalif Raymond is an undersized playmaker but not a consistent contributor, while Donovan Peoples-Jones seems to top out as quality depth. So, yes, all Honolulu Blue backers know exactly where this is going: Jameson Williams could be the hinge player for the 2024 Lions. The speed merchant whom Brad Holmes aggressively targeted in the first round of the 2022 draft heads into Year 3 as a lightning-rod figure in the Motor City. His rookie campaign was mostly a wash due to a college knee injury and then he missed the first month of last season due to a gambling suspension. When on the field, Williams has mixed stunning drops with sensational home runs. If Jamo can even out his play, consistently providing Detroit with a dangerous deep threat, Ben Johnson will force opponents to defend every blade of grass. And in that scenario, this lofty ranking might be too low.

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: An elite coach-quarterback combo. The marriage between Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford immediately produced . But the Lombardi luster didn鈥檛 last long, as the Rams suffered an epic Super Bowl hangover in 2022, going 5-12 with Stafford missing eight games due to injury. Nobody gave Los Angeles much of a chance to compete entering last season, and when the Rams hit their Week 10 bye at 3-6, it did indeed appear to be another clunker campaign. Then Los Angeles ran off six wins in its next seven games to clinch a playoff berth, with Stafford quarterbacking at an extremely high level and second-year back Kyren Williams bursting on the scene as a perfect complement to balance out the offense. L.A. lost a nail-biter in Detroit on Super Wild Card Weekend, but don鈥檛 blame Stafford, who flamb茅ed his former team for 367 yards and two touchdowns. This offseason, GM Les Snead beefed up the offensive line and then drafted RB Blake Corum, obviously looking to further support his 36-year-old quarterback with a more potent ground game. Smart thinking. In 15 NFL seasons, Stafford has only been supported by a top-20 rushing offense twice: the 2013 Lions ranked 17th and last year鈥檚 Rams finished 11th. Can you imagine what McVay and Stafford could accomplish with top-10 ground support? I can, which is why the Rams earned a top-five spot on this list.


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Is Cooper Kupp still elite? Puka Nacua was a revelation last season -- the last pick of the fifth round set rookie receiving records for catches (105) and yards (1,486). But the Rams鈥 previous pass-catching dynamo suffered a second consecutive injury-abbreviated year. Kupp wasn鈥檛 bad, eclipsing 100 yards in four of his 12 games, but the game-to-game showing was a far cry from his 2021 Offensive Player of the Year campaign, when he achieved the rare receiving triple crown. With Kupp having just turned 31, we鈥檙e left to wonder if he鈥檚 in decline. Nacua鈥檚 rugged playing style leaves him susceptible to injury. Although he started all 18 games for Los Angeles last season, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder missed time in college and the pre-draft process due to various ailments, partially explaining why he lasted until Pick No. 177. If the Rams鈥 new WR1 goes down, will their old WR1 be ready to spearhead the passing attack once again?

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: Joe Burrow鈥檚 mind. Burrow has improved his arm strength since entering the NFL, but he doesn鈥檛 have a cannon. His mobility鈥檚 solid, but the man isn鈥檛 a true dual-threat. So, what makes him one of the very best quarterbacks in the game today? Extraordinary processing speed. OK, the pinpoint accuracy to all levels of the field -- whether stationary or on the move -- helps, too. But Burrow鈥檚 ability to swiftly crack the code on today鈥檚 labyrinthine defenses is his superpower. And it鈥檚 something that will be increasingly put to the test in the wake of Brian Callahan鈥檚 departure to Tennessee. Sure, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has always been Burrow鈥檚 primary play-caller in Cincinnati, but Callahan was the only NFL offensive coordinator he knew. Having former quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher assume the role helps continuity, but Burrow鈥檚 beautiful mind faces heightened responsibility.


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Joe Burrow鈥檚 body. Four years into his pro career, Burrow has suffered a litany of health issues, including two of the season-ending variety. And as he continues to rehab the wrist injury that sent him to injured reserve last November, Burrow admits that the setbacks have affected him. "Whenever the injuries start to stack up, your football mortality kind of comes into the back of your mind," Burrow said earlier this month. "So that's definitely something I've thought about and something I have had to fight through." The Bengals keep surrounding their quarterback with gargantuan human beings -- after signing 6-foot-8, 345-pound OT Orlando Brown Jr. in free agency last year, Cincy went right back to the towering-tackle well this offseason for veteran Trent Brown (6-8, 380) and first-round pick Amarius Mims (6-8, 340) -- with the obvious intention of protecting their most valuable asset. No word on whether they鈥檝e procured injury bug spray.

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: Dizzying speed. No surprise 鈥渟trength鈥 here. Miami just drafted a running back who blazed a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Jaylen Wright, and he鈥檚 probably not fast enough to make a Dolphins 4x100 relay team. Shoot, I assume he鈥檚 not even the fastest Jaylen on the roster. With Tua Tagovailoa distributing the ball to a quartet of world-class speedsters (receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle; running backs Raheem Mostert and De'Von Achane), Miami led the NFL in yards per game (401.3) and posted a league-high 20 plays of 40-plus yards. This is a symphony of speed with Mike McDaniel as the maestro, always looking for new ways to get his playmakers the ball in space. Last season, he unveiled a short pre-snap motion that essentially gave his receiver a running start, inspiring copycats across the football world. What鈥檚 Mikey cooking up for 2024? Stay tuned!


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Dubious blocking. McDaniel and Co. admirably overcame a spate of injuries on the offensive line for most of last season, keeping defenses at bay through creative scheming and Tua鈥檚 quick release. But Miami lost two of its better blockers to free agency -- Robert Hunt and Connor Williams -- giving the unit continuity concerns before the season even kicks off. Yes, Terron Armstead held off retirement for another year, but the Pro Bowl left tackle has dealt with injuries throughout his entire 11-year career, never playing a full season while logging 14-plus games just three times. Armstead鈥檚 projected partner on the left side, Isaiah Wynn, has suffered a laundry list of injuries, too. McDaniel鈥檚 offensive innovation is heady stuff, but are the Dolphins overestimating its ability to trivialize the basics of blocking?

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: Youth that grows together. Over the past three drafts, Green Bay has showered intriguing talent across the offense, highlighted by five wide receivers (Jayden Reed, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks and Bo Melton), three linemen (Zach Tom, Rasheed Walker and Jordan Morgan), two tight ends (Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft) and a running back (MarShawn Lloyd). With the high-level quarterbacking Jordan Love showcased in the second half of his debut season as the starter, it鈥檚 easy to get intoxicated with this young offense鈥檚 immense upside.


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Youth that experiences growing pains together. Love feels like such a made man today that it鈥檚 easy to forget we鈥檙e less than eight months removed from the Packers sitting at 2-5, with GM Brian Gutekunst being asked if it鈥檇 take more than the 2023 campaign to figure out whether the quarterback has staying power. The beginning of Gutekunst鈥檚 answer to that question -- 鈥淚 hope not. I think we got 10 games left. 鈥 -- created headlines aplenty. To be fair, Gutekunst also reiterated his faith in Love during that same Nov. 1 presser, stressing that he wasn鈥檛 the only offensive player to blame for the slow start: "I think that unit as a whole has a lot of work to do, but at the same time, I think they're committed to the process. I expect better results coming." That last comment turned out to be quite prescient, as the Packers proceeded to completely turn their season around and log a rousing playoff win against Dallas, establishing themselves as an exciting team on the rise. But revisiting that hinge point serves as a reminder of the ebbs and flows of youth. Not all growth is linear.

Rank
8
Buffalo Bills

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: Josh Allen. Allen entered the NFL as a raw talent out of the University of Wyoming, and his first couple seasons were a roller-coaster ride. But he took an enormous leap forward in Year 3, giving Buffalo its first division title in a quarter century and guiding the Bills to the AFC Championship Game. Over the past four years, including that breakout 2020 campaign, Allen comfortably leads the league with 174 total touchdowns (throwing/running/receiving) -- 23 more than the next-most prolific scorer, Patrick Mahomes. A rocket-armed, fleet-footed freak at 6-5 and 237 pounds, Allen has been Pro Football Focus鈥 highest-graded quarterback in each of the past two regular seasons.


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Over-reliance on Josh Allen. Allen鈥檚 2020 star turn didn鈥檛 happen in a vacuum. In March of that year, Buffalo traded for Stefon Diggs. A month later, the team spent a fourth-round pick on Gabe Davis. Diggs led Bills receivers in catches, yards and touchdowns during each of the past four seasons, with Davis serving as a pretty steady source of splash plays. But both WRs departed Buffalo this offseason. Can third-year pro Khalil Shakir, free-agent signee Curtis Samuel and second-round pick Keon Coleman fill the void in the receiver room? Buffalo ran the ball more effectively down the stretch last season after Joe Brady took the offensive reins following Ken Dorsey鈥檚 midseason firing, and you have to believe Brady will continue to feature RB James Cook in 2024. Meanwhile, tight end Dalton Kincaid showed plenty of promise in a solid rookie season (73 catches for 673 yards and two scores), so it鈥檇 behoove Brady to keep watering that plant. Allen鈥檚 such a rare physical talent that he can befuddle defenses as a one-man army, but that鈥檚 just not a winning formula in an increasingly loaded AFC.

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: C.J. Stroud, certified wunderkind. Fresh off one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever by an NFL quarterback, Stroud has the world on a string. His offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach both interviewed for promotions elsewhere, but ultimately stayed put in Houston. His receiving corps got a fresh influx of Pro Bowl talent. He鈥檚 become on and an international adventurer . Suffice to say, the 22-year-old鈥檚 had a nice offseason. And the expectations are sky high for Year 2, especially considering everything he overcame in his dynamic debut. Stroud joined a last-place team mired in the fallout of Deshaun Watson鈥檚 fall from grace. He had a rookie head coach and a rookie play-caller. To top it off, his offensive line was immediately and unrelentingly ravaged by injury. And yet, he led the NFL in passing yards per game. It鈥檚 safe to assume Houston will have better injury luck up front -- and now that unit has some battle-tested depth -- so I might be understating the Texans鈥 offensive prowess with this ranking. 


WORRYING WEAKNESS: The ground game. Dameon Pierce was one of the most pleasant surprises in the 2022 rookie class, but he just seemed to be persona non grata with the new coaching regime, so Devin Singletary led a sluggish Texans rushing offense in 2023. This offseason, Houston traded for Joe Mixon and let Singletary walk in free agency. That鈥檚 a name-brand bump, but is it really a substantial real-life upgrade at this point in Mixon鈥檚 career, with the one-time Pro Bowler turning 28 in July? He鈥檚 eclipsed 100 yards rushing three times in his last 43 games.

SIGNATURE STRENGTH: Anthony Richardson鈥檚 superheroic upside under Shane Steichen. Yep, I鈥檓 bringing some spice at No. 10. Or am I? Steichen鈥檚 offense scored the 13th-most points in the league during his debut season with the Colts -- and that was with backup QB Gardner Minshew taking 85 percent of the snaps! Now his hand-picked signal-caller is back in the fold. Given the immense growth Jalen Hurts experienced with Steichen as his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, it鈥檚 impossible not to get swept up by Richardson鈥檚 potential under the cunning coach. And it鈥檚 not simply because the 6-4, 244-pounder offers video game traits via his arm and legs. By all accounts, Richardson was a quick -- and passionate -- study in his first year under Steichen. Anyone assuming this is a raw athlete lacking mental acuity or feel for the position is grossly mistaken. I can鈥檛 wait to see what we get from a full year of Anthony Richardson. Well, if we get a full year of Anthony Richardson 鈥


WORRYING WEAKNESS: Anthony Richardson actually thinking he鈥檚 a superhero. There鈥檚 no question Richarson is one of the most impressive physical specimens we鈥檝e ever seen at the quarterback position, but I kind of wish AR himself didn鈥檛 know that. He plays with such reckless abandon at times, and it takes a real toll on his body. That鈥檚 why his rookie season lasted a grand total of 173 snaps before he landed on IR, with injuries sidelining him during three of the four games he played and a concussion causing him to entirely miss a fifth contest. Unfortunately, this isn鈥檛 anything new: Richardson missed significant chunks of time due to injuries in college and high school. Can he break the cycle? For the good of entertainment, let鈥檚 hope so.

JUST MISSED:

Allow me to rationalize five notable omissions with five obnoxiously snappy explanations.

  • Baltimore Ravens: The reigning MVP will probably make me look stupid, but how much O-line uncertainty is too much?
  • Dallas Cowboys: Beyond CeeDee Lamb, whom do I fear as a playmaker in this offense?
  • Philadelphia Eagles: Offensive execution takes time, and Jalen Hurts just said 95 percent of the offense is new under Kellen Moore.
  • Los Angeles Chargers: While we're on the subject of extreme offensive makeovers, did you know Justin Herbert has the of passing attempts per game at 39.1? Something tells me that's going to change under Jim Harbaugh.
  • New York Jets: Can OC Nathaniel Hackett really keep all the aging/distracting plates spinning?

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