NFL uniform power rankings 2021: List gets refresh as Cincinnati Bengals reveal updated look

Nate Davis

A full quarter of the NFL's teams heavily modified or at least tweaked their uniforms in 2020.

This year, not so much, though the Cincinnati Bengals unveiled a much-needed streamlining Monday. Their helmet (thankfully) remains unaltered, but gone are the shoulder swatches and side panels that had besmirched their look since 2004, when quarterback Carson Palmer took his first regular-season snaps. The tiger stripes on the shoulders and running down the pants also look less busy, which is to say better.

Though NFL fashionistas – me? Paul Lukas? – haven't had much to write about this year, the Bengals provide reason enough to compile freshly mulled uniform power rankings, so here you go (last year's rank in parentheses):

1. Los Angeles Chargers (1): Last year's refresh couldn't have gone much better ... though as a child who grew up in the 1980s, I remain partial to both their "Midnight Lightning" and royal blue alternate options. But nothing beats their helmet bolts, whether they're navy or "Sunshine Gold."

2. Las Vegas Raiders (2): The pirate logo, color scheme and elegantly simple uniform – just pristine. One request: Mix in black pants with a silver stripe as an alternate home scheme – call it the Las Vegas Luxor look.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (3): Clean. The black and gold are perfectly complementary and scream Pittsburgh. And they feature a signature twist, the trio of hypocycloids in the logo – a callback to the Steelmark symbol used by the American Iron and Steel Institute – featured only on the helmet's right side. Also, their all-black alternates just drip.

4. New Orleans Saints (5): "Old Gold" and black look nearly as great as "Silver and Black," and the fleur-de-lis logo truly integrates this team with its community. Fun fact: The Saints wore gold pants just once in 2020.

5. Seattle Seahawks (4): Not everyone will agree, but I think it's Nike's best NFL collaboration in terms of a bona fide facelift. The color palette represents Seattle just as well as black and gold evoke Pittsburgh. The hawk logo seamlessly ties into Pacific Northwest totems. And the matte helmet with tapering feathers and "12" elements to honor the fan base, including 12 feathers along each side of the pants and neckline, are sweet nuances unique to this franchise. Beautiful.

6. Indianapolis Colts (6): From Unitas to Manning to Luck to Wentz, these outfits mark a wonderful through line of NFL history.

7. Dallas Cowboys (7): Iconic. Simple. Beloved. American, even ... though can we get more of the Dez Bryant combo (navy jersey, white pants) and less of the alternates with the shoulder stars?

8. Minnesota Vikings (8): Nicely done Norse subtlety on the shoulders and always a primo helmet. Underrated.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10): Thanks for turning back those alarm clocks, champs. There's no way Tom Brady signs here or the franchise wins its second Super Bowl without ditching its ill-conceived digitized numbers on the jerseys from 2014-19. The pewter-on-pewter alternates turned out better than expected, too.

10. San Francisco 49ers (12): Solidly in the fairway. If they were to make one adjustment, maybe remove the black outline from the helmet logo on the primary home and road uniforms. Otherwise, pretty glorious.

11. Green Bay Packers (13): Another classic that thankfully hasn't endured much tinkering since Vince Lombardi and Co. made it famous in the 1960s. But I've long maintained that mixing in green pants occasionally would freshen things up just enough.

12. Chicago Bears (14): A classic football throwback without technically being one. However when they want to spice it up, better to use the old white "C" logo or retro unis with the helmet similar to the University of Michigan's. Those orange jerseys should be mothballed.

13. Buffalo Bills (15): They've been on solid ground for a decade after several years in the wilderness. Wouldn't mind seeing the grazing buffalo on the helmet a bit more often.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (11): It's long been a tidy look, especially the arrowhead logo stamped with the interlocking "K" and "C" ... though, at some point, you wonder if they'll be compelled to rebrand as Washington's NFL team, Edmonton's CFL team and Major League Baseball's Cleveland team have.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (9): I'm probably – I am – getting old. But as time goes by, the more nostalgic I (and many Iggles fans) become for the Kelly green jerseys and helmets plus silver pants of yore. The helmet wings will always be a winner, but maybe it's time to go back to the classics for a franchise that unexpectedly finds itself in the midst of a full-tilt rebuild.

16. New York Giants (17): The blue and white home duds are fine, though the gray and white road threads are meh. What would I like to see? Home jersey and pants with the '80s helmet logo.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (20): The helmet has been a refreshing original since it debuted in 1981. Adding founder Paul Brown's signature inside the collar is a nifty new touch. However the rest of their appearance has been problematic since 1997, when the team first started monkeying with the stripe patterns on the shoulders and legs. Monday's step toward a reversion helps, but it will be hard to get legitimately excited until the day when they're able to sport a white-striped helmet topping their monochrome all-white alternate look.

18. Detroit Lions (22): Their most interesting aspect is probably the branding synergy with Ford Motor Company, the only reason to feature "Honolulu Blue" in Motown. The silver-on-silver alternates ain't cutting it, though.

19. Atlanta Falcons (24): Last year's reboot has them moving – retrograding – in the right direction, though the beauty of the 1960s throwback jerseys (merged with the 1990s helmet) is negated by an unsightly gradient alternate. 

20. Houston Texans (19): They're basic and basically unchanged heading into the franchise's 20th season. However, given recent events, that Texas flag steer head logo now seems to be offering a knowing wink as new GM Nick Caserio repeatedly claims to be "excited" about the upcoming campaign. Sure you are, Nick.

21. Miami Dolphins (23): I've never gravitated toward their look, though have come to appreciate aqua and orange as quintessential South Florida. Still, at least bring back the former Dolphin logo – still used as an alternate – permanently.

22. New England Patriots (18): Boring is better than garish, but they've just gotten stale after last year's "update." (The Pats wore navy pants in every game last year.) Post-Brady is the perfect time to bring Pat the Patriot back.

23. New York Jets (21): They've gone 9-23 with their, uh, bold revamp, running off Sam Darnold, Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams in the process. But now that the green helmets are finally back – and that "Gotham Green" is a nice shade – it remains possible to fix this ensemble by simply reintroducing the slick block "JETS" logo from the 1980s.

Former Jets WR Keyshawn Johnson (19) rocks the team's old uniform.

24. Denver Broncos (26): They look awesome in the orange-on-orange alternates with the Elway-era "D" logo on the navy helmets. Unfortunately, we only saw that once in 2020. Most of the time, the Broncs appear stylistically stuck in 1998 – but at least that's a callback to their best-ever team.

25. Los Angeles Rams (16): I resented last year's break with tradition as they reimagined their look to coincide with their move to SoFi Stadium. I got used to the new helmet horns and appreciate the distinctive "Bone" roadies. But the gradient numbers and stripes have to go, and the overall presentation will never match the original.

26. Tennessee Titans (27): Their recent redesign incorporates some interesting elements from a Roman centurion. But at some point, having nine different uniform combinations makes it hard to establish an identity. My suggestion: more navy, less "Titans Blue."

27. Baltimore Ravens (25): It has some nice aspects, including the incorporation of Maryland's state flag on the shoulder logo. But simply put, purple and black just don't complement each other all that well.

28. Cleveland Browns (28): It's a hideous color scheme which their fans rock with admirable pride. And the more retro the Browns have gone, as they did in 2020, the more palatable it is for the rest of us. And, at this point – much as I hated it as a kid – here's hoping they never slap a logo on those orange helmets.

29. Washington Football Team (32): Good to see them on a proper path even if it shouldn't have required the tragedies of 2020 to compel them to drop their previous nickname and logo. The interim display goes into the "whatever" category, though it's interesting that some maintain the franchise should still change its color scheme in order to fully move beyond the former brand. Two things are certain, however: Washington isn't worthy of its current Alabama-esque look – even if the organization loves Crimson Tide players – and we're looking forward to the next chapter, whenever it arrives.

30. Carolina Panthers (29): Black, silver and "Panther Blue" (read: teal), complete with an oversized logo, probably looked great to a focus group circa 1995. Please stop pounding us with it now.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (30): Another team stuck in the late 20th century, you'll be simply thrilled to know they're reverting to a predominantly teal look in 2021.

32. Arizona Cardinals (31): QB Kyler Murray and, apparently, an overwhelming faction of the fan base want an overhaul. They're right, it's long overdue. Piping + panels = putrid. What was wrong with the Pat Tillman era, featuring Arizona's state flag on simpler white jerseys anyway?


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.