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.