Report Card Grades for Every NFL Team's Preseason
Mike Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Report cards for summer school? Why not? So here we will take some time and evaluate what the NFL’s 65 preseason contests inevitably taught us about all 32 teams.
While reading too much into preseason statistics and a team’s win-loss record is ill-advised, those numbers will be somewhat taken into account here.
Yes, we know the story of the 2008 Detroit Lions, who finished the summer at 4-0. They didn’t win a regular-season game in 16 tries.
Still, it is worth noting that only one time in 47 years has a club gone winless in the preseason and gone on to win the Super Bowl that same season. That would be the 1982 Washington Redskins, a team that captured a title with a victory in Super Bowl XVII.
A little food for thought for both the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers, both which finished this preseason 0-4 this summer.
Arizona Cardinals (3-1): A-
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It will be a different Arizona Cardinals offense that takes the field this season.
But it will also be one now minus first-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper, placed on injured reserve after breaking his leg on August 24 versus the San Diego Chargers.
New head coach Bruce Arians was determined to keep his quarterbacks out of harm’s way this summer.
And that didn’t figure to be an easy task for an Arizona team that had allowed a combined 162 sacks over the last three seasons.
During the preseason, quarterback Carson Palmer dropped back 45 times and was sacked just once. Ryan Lindley totaled 47 pass plays and was sacked only once. All told, six of the eight sacks allowed by the Cards this summer were at the expense of quarterback Drew Stanton.
As for the league’s worst-ranked running attack of a year ago, Arians’ team totaled 260 plays from scrimmage in four games—115 rushing plays and 145 passing plays.
Atlanta Falcons (0-4): C
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Never mind the winless record this summer. Did the Atlanta Falcons find the solutions to a few of their biggest issues?
Can the team run the football when it needs to and most notably in the red zone?
Will defensive end Osi Umenyiora make enough of a difference when it comes to the pass rush?
And can defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s unit get off the field and stop the run?
Mike Smith’s club ran for 136.0 yards per game, but gave up 144.0 yards per contest on the ground. The Falcons produced only seven sacks, but two did come from starting defensive end Kroy Biermann.
The numbers are what they are. And when it comes to the three question marks, we may not be sure yet if the defensive problems have been solved.
Baltimore Ravens (2-2): B-
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For those who were expecting the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens to curl up in a ball and roll over in 2013 were probably the same people who didn’t think they could win Super Bowl XLVII.
Linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and free safety Ed Reed are amongst those who won’t be around to defend the team’s NFL title.
But newcomers such as linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty will. General manager Ozzie Newsome did his usual stellar job replenishing the roster and those veterans will stem the tide while draft choices such as safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown continue to develop.
Preseason or not, one thing that couldn’t have made head coach John Harbaugh happy was 11 turnovers in four games, including four interceptions by quarterback Joe Flacco.
Buffalo Bills (2-2): C+
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All appeared well for new head coach Doug Marrone and the Buffalo Bills, as the team looked to end its long drought when it came to reaching the postseason.
That may still happen, but it doesn’t figure to be easy, given the state of quarterback with the club. Veteran Kevin Kolb’s concussion issues have placed him on injured reserve. Rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel had minor knee surgery this summer and rookie free agent Jeff Tuel could wind up the opening-day starter versus the New England Patriots.
However, there’s something intriguing about defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit. Look for defensive end Mario Williams and company to be a little more aggressive this season. Rookie inside linebacker Kiko Alonso is a player to watch.
Carolina Panthers (3-1): B+
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There’s little doubt that head coach Ron Rivera has to be excited about his team’s defense as well as his special teams. Both units could go a long way in making the Carolina Panthers a playoff team for the first time since 2008.
But the third-year head coach may also have to be a bit concerned that those two groups scored more touchdowns this preseason (five) than his offensive unit (four).
And will Carolina be better when it comes to running the ball this season? A year ago, Cam Newton was the only quarterback in the league to lead his team in rushing yards.
Still, that defense could be something to watch this year, led by productive middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
Chicago Bears (2-2): B-
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Some things change, and some things stay the same.
Last season, the Chicago Bears led the NFL with 44 takeaways. This preseason, Marc Trestman’s club forced a league-high 14 turnovers.
Still, the onus this offseason was protecting the quarterback, and it is obvious there’s still some work to be done. Tackle J’Marcus Webb was released on Friday, according to Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune, which means that center Roberto Garza is currently the lone starter on the offensive line that was with the team in 2012.
Chicago allowed 13 sacks in four preseason games this summer. Free agency brought left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson and new right tackle Eben Britton. April’s draft brought rookie right guard Kyle Long.
Now we’ll see if the Bears brought quarterback Jay Cutler some piece of mind.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-1): A-
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There is a different look and feel to this year’s Cincinnati Bengals. And more of it comes from the team’s strong finish a year ago rather than its 3-1 preseason record.
Marvin Lewis’ team added offensive weapons in the draft in tight end Tyler Eifert and exciting running back Giovani Bernard. The defense, once again, figures to be one of the best in the league. And third-year quarterback Andy Dalton appears to be a more confident player. The young signal-caller saw limited action in the preseason, but did complete 65.8 percent of his throws this summer.
In a division which the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have reached the Super Bowl a combined three of the last five seasons, the Bengals may be the most talented team in the AFC North these days. That can mean very little. But Lewis’ club may be on the verge of something big.
Cleveland Browns (3-1): B
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You can tell that the Cleveland Browns have certainly made some strides. Now we’ll see if it finally carries over into the regular season.
Despite a shaky third preseason game versus the Indianapolis Colts, second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden still completed 60.0 of his passes and was not sacked in 50 attempts.
Second-year wide receiver Josh Gordon lit up secondaries for 200 yards on just nine catches, but won’t be around for the first two games of the season.
We only saw a smidge of running back Trent Richardson and the ground game this summer. But that figures to change in a big way come September.
Dallas Cowboys (2-3): B+
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The league’s most talked about team on a yearly basis hopes to do very little of it themselves in 2013.
But when it comes to this latest edition of the Dallas Cowboys, there are certainly a few noteworthy items.
The rapport between quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant has never looked better, and you can look for the duo to pick up where they left off the second half of last season.
Dallas’ defense looks like it is adapting to Monte Kiffin’s designs. And it will be interesting to see how this unit looks once defensive end Anthony Spencer is available.
And offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has kept the team balanced.
Now let’s see all of this happen in the regular season and especially down the stretch.
Denver Broncos (2-2): C
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In January, the Denver Broncos 2012 season came to an abrupt and surprising end.
Things haven’t gotten much better since.
While one preseason game doesn’t make a season, there was something about the club’s 40-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that was a bit unsettling.
Even more interesting will be watching the Denver defense the first six games of the season minus Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller and his 30.5 sacks in his 31 contests.
Still, if quarterback Peyton Manning can get enough from his running game, that defense won’t be on the field that often. And that may be a good thing early in the season.
Detroit Lions (3-1): A-
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It’s probably not going out on a limb to say that Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz could be feeling a little heat if things don’t go well in 2013.
Given the fact that the team enters the regular season with an eight-game losing streak and was a combined 0-6 versus divisional rivals in 2012, three wins in four preseason games feels pretty good.
The Lions scored a combined 75 points in the final two contests, wins over the New England Patriots (40-9) and Buffalo Bills (35-13). Could the team carry that kind of scoring momentum into the regular-season opener versus the Minnesota Vikings?
A win would be a nice way to kill two losing streaks with one stone.
Green Bay Packers (1-3): C
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Most assume that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have another huge year in 2013.
After throwing 170 touchdown passes compared to only 45 interceptions the last five seasons, it’s hard to argue that claim.
But will the talented signal-caller get any help this season from his running game and offensive front? The latter will be missing left tackle Bryan Bulaga and starting rookie Davis Bakhtiari will take his place. As far as the ground attack, rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin will be counted on even more, now that running back DuJuan Harris has been lost for the season.
On defense, the Packers rolled up 13 sacks and picked off six passes in four games this summer.
Houston Texans (3-1): A-
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The two-time defending AFC South champion Houston Texans made very few moves this offseason.
And it is easy to see why. This is a talented club looking to make amends for last year’s late collapse.
Wade Phillips’ defensive unit amassed 18 sacks and allowed only 75.5 yards per game rushing in four preseason games.
And it didn’t matter who ran the football, as Gary Kubiak’s club rolled up 144.0 yards per game on the ground.
All told, the Texans already look like a team in midseason form. Then again, midseason hasn’t been the problem for this club.
Indianapolis Colts (2-2): B+
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If Chuck Pagano’s club is to unseat the Houston Texans in the AFC South, the Indianapolis Colts will have to play better defense this season.
And after a rocky start this preseason, the numbers suggested that the team did. After giving up a total of 44 points and three offensive touchdowns in a 24-point loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Colts allowed a combined 45 points and three offensive touchdowns in their final three games.
Rookie outside linebacker Caesar Rayford has opened a few eyes, totaling five of the team’s 13 sacks this preseason, but he’s hardly new to the pro game.
Elsewhere, we’ll see if new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has come up with enough of a running game to support second-year quarterback Andrew Luck.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3): C+
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Off a franchise-worst 2-14 season, there figures to be nowhere to go but up for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And while quarterback Blaine Gabbert continues to make strides and running back Maurice Jones-Drew is healthy again, there are still a lot of concerns on the other side of the ball.
The pass rush, which generated a league-low 20 sacks in 2012, hasn’t looked that much better. And head coach Gus Bradley has watched his club allow 157.5 yards per game on the ground while giving up 10 offensive touchdowns in four games.
Escaping the AFC South basement this season will be difficult enough. Not showing any significant improvement on defense will make it impossible.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-2): B+
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In some people’s eyes, there are some high expectations attached to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
Forget the team’s 2-14 finish from a year ago. This is a talented team that now has head coach Andy Reid at the controls.
The Chiefs traded for quarterback Alex Smith, who learned to take care of the football his last two seasons in San Francisco. Smith played turnover-free football during his brief preseason stint. Reid’s new team committed only four turnovers this summer, good news for a Kansas City club that coughed up the ball 37 times in 2012.
The Chiefs defensive unit also gave up only five touchdowns in four games.
Safe to say, there are a lot of positives for one of the league’s underachieving clubs of a season ago.
Miami Dolphins (2-3): C
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Like the Dallas Cowboys, the Miami Dolphins had an extra preseason game this summer to hone their skills.
But did Joe Philbin’s team get the job done?
The Miami running game still needs some work. So does pass protection as Dolphins quarterbacks were sacked 19 times in five contests.
Of course, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the team suffered a big loss when tight end Dustin Keller went down for the year with a severe knee injury suffered in the third game.
Tannehill completed 60.7 of his throws for 377 yards and three scores without an interception. Certainly, that’s something to build on.
And the Dolphins will need all the help they can get if they are to dethrone the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
Minnesota Vikings (1-3): C+
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Last season, we all saw what running back Adrian Peterson could do.
This preseason, we are still waiting to see what quarterback Christian Ponder can do.
This summer, the former first-round quarterback completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 184 yards and a pair of scores. But Ponder was also sacked three times, fumbled twice and threw a pair of interceptions.
Rookie wideout Cordarrelle Patterson was also a focal point this summer.
Defensively, we didn’t see perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, hence one reason the team only totaled five sacks in four games.
We will soon find out if last year’s 10-6 finish and playoff appearance was a sign of things to come or were the Vikings a one-hit wonder in 2012?
New England Patriots (3-1): A-
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This offseason, the New England Patriots went looking for new pass-catching targets for quarterback Tom Brady.
As it turned out, free-agent additions like Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins didn’t last long on the team. Rather, the team got a good look at rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins and obviously liked what they saw.
Although some of the final numbers won’t indicate it, this was a better-looking defensive unit this summer, the team totaling 13 sacks in four games. And the ground game rolled up 142.8 yards per game rushing.
There may be a few things different about the Patriots this season. But we all figure one important aspect (as in winning) won’t change.
New Orleans Saints (3-1): A+
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When you give up the most yards in one season in NFL history, any signs of progress are duly noted.
In the case of the New Orleans Saints this summer, allowing less than 300 total yards per game and only six offensive touchdowns in four games is certainly progress.
One year after setting that dubious record, the Saints appear back on track, thanks to the addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the return of head coach Sean Payton. Last season, the latter was suspended while the New Orleans defense played like it was in suspended animation.
Hence a new season and a chance for the Saints to put last year’s fiasco behind them.
New York Giants (1-3): C-
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We all know that quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants usually save their best when they need it the most. That wasn’t the case in 2012 as the then-defending Super Bowl champion never did catch fire down the stretch.
This preseason, Tom Coughlin’s club is apparently going through the motions and just biding time until the season-opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
But how do you explain four offensive touchdowns in as many games for the G-Men? And while Manning was only sacked twice this summer, his three backups were dropped a combined 17 times.
Still, the defense could be better after a season in which it couldn’t be much worse. And second-year running back David Wilson figures to be a very busy man in 2013.
New York Jets (3-1): C+
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That grade of a "C-plus" could mean a lot of things when it comes to the New York Jets and the 2013 preseason.
Comedy? Calamity? Confusion?
It’s actually a shame, because the recent events surrounding rookie quarterback Geno Smith’s three-interception outings versus the New York Giants and the subsequent decision to put Mark Sanchez in the game in the fourth quarter have derailed any progress the team was making.
Case in point is the fact that the Jets defensive unit allowed only five touchdowns in four games.
But the sloppy Jets saw their four quarterbacks combine for just as many touchdown passes as interceptions (five) while Smith, Sanchez, Matt Simms and Greg McElroy were sacked a combined 14 times.
Rex Ryan’s team also committed 11 turnovers this summer. And who will be the starting quarterback when the team faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1?
And the hits just keep on coming!
Oakland Raiders (1-3): D
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The two NFL teams in the Bay Area have somewhat similarities these days.
San Francisco is home of the 49ers. Oakland is home of the Raiders, who are a combined 49-111 the last 10 seasons.
Head coach Dennis Allen makes his bones on defense. But we didn’t see a lot of that during the preseason as the Silver and Black did little to impress.
In four summer outings, the Raiders were outscored a combined 76-22 in the first half.
As for the other side of the ball, stability at quarterback is, once again, a concern as Terrelle Pryor suddenly found himself in the mix for the job. But did the young signal-caller do enough versus the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night?
Philadelphia Eagles (2-2): C
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With all of the drama and speculation that the Philadelphia Eagles offense and quarterback situation received this offseason, one thing was certain this summer.
Chip Kelly’s defense was one busy unit.
The Birds faced 288 offensive plays this preseason, an average of 72 per game. While the Eagles totalled 18 sacks, they also allowed 163.5 yards per game rushing. And even if you take out the 248 yards the New England Patriots rolled up, Billy Davis’ defensive unit allowed 135.3 yards per game on the ground.
Scoring points doesn’t figure to be an issue for quarterback Michael Vick and company in 2013. Being on the field to get that opportunity might be a season-long issue.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4): C-
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The very consistent Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off an 8-8 campaign and rarely put together back-to-back subpar seasons.
Well, that is if Mike Tomlin’s team is to erase the memory of last year’s 2-5 finish following a 6-3 start.
As for the positives, rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones looks like the real deal and hopes to solve the defense’s recent issues when it comes to forcing turnovers. And when healthy, second-round pick Le’Veon Bell has impressed out of the backfield.
But it all comes back to that offensive line. And if that unit doesn’t solve its pass-blocking issues, all of Tomlin’s men won’t be able to put Ben Roethlisberger back together again.
St. Louis Rams (1-3): C+
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It was a less-than-scintillating summer for the St. Louis Rams.
Still, the team went out on somewhat of a high note by besting the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night for their only win of the preseason.
So what did we learn about Jeff Fisher’s club the last four weeks? Wide receiver Chris Givens is certainly Sam Bradford’s favorite downfield target. And while rookie Tavon Austin still has some strides to make as a wideout, his value on punt returns will make for a shorter field for Bradford and company.
Defensively, the team’s potent front four will be saving its best for the regular season. But it is worth noting that Fisher’s team did force nine turnovers in four preseason contests.
Are the Rams ready to push the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks for supremacy in the NFC West? It could be more interesting than expected.
San Diego Chargers (1-3): D
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Save for a 24-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals a week ago, there wasn’t much to get excited about when it came to the San Diego Chargers this preseason.
More times than not, new head coach Mike McCoy saw his team overmatched by the likes of the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. The Bolts were outscored a combined 105-44 in those losses.
San Diego’s offense scored seven touchdowns over the summer, four of those in the loss to the Bears.
As for quarterback Philip Rivers, he was guilty of three of the team’s 11 turnovers this preseason. The Chargers also gave up 13 sacks in four outings.
It was a sloppy summer for the Bolts. And one can only hope that their play was a mirage instead of glimpse of the immediate future.
San Francisco 49ers (3-1): A
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It’s been a competitive offseason between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
And while the Seahawks won the battle in terms of wins and losses during the preseason, the two-time NFC West champions weren’t far behind when it came to being impressive this summer.
The Niners gave up 14 points or less in all four of their preseason tilt and allowed a total of 43 points. Jim Harbaugh’s club gave up two offensive touchdowns, both through the air, and pounded opposing quarterback to the tune of 17 sacks.
Despite the question marks at wide receiver, the defending NFC champions remain formidable. And contrary to some opinions, they are still the team to beat in their own division.
Seattle Seahawks (4-0): A+
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Well, so much for the team dwelling on the indefinite loss of wide receiver Percy Harvin to injury.
Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks looked like a well-oiled machine this summer, winning their four games by a combined score of 110-36. The team allowed only three touchdowns in four preseason contests.
More importantly, the Seahawks found some additional help for the passing game in one-time Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Stephen Williams and second-year pro Jermaine Kearse. The latter could also fill the void left by Harvin’s absence.
In any case, this is a fast and powerful team primed for a title run. And we haven’t even mentioned quarterback Russell Wilson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3): D+
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Last season, head coach Greg Schiano’s first year at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had its ups and downs.
More specifically, the team went into a five-game tailspin after a 6-4 start, landing the Bucs in the NFC South basement for the second straight year.
This season, there could be concerns when it comes to the club on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The team’s pass-rushing problems have yet to be solved, especially when you total only five sacks in four preseason tilts.
Elsewhere, Tampa Bay quarterbacks were sacked 13 times this summer, nine of those at the expense of starter Josh Freeman.
For the Buccaneers’ sake, let’s hope that the start of 2013 doesn’t resemble the finish of 2012.
Tennessee Titans (1-3): C
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A season ago, the Tennessee Titans gave up a league-high 471 points, the most ever by the team in its 53-year history.
Head coach Mike Munchak and the organization looked to make amends by stressing physical football on both sides of the field.
But save for a 27-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons in both team’s third preseason tilt, the Titans haven’t looked that much different from last season’s club. Munchak and company apparently still have some questions to answer on defense.
Running back Chris Johnson could be primed for a big year. But is third-year quarterback Jake Locker ready to take the next step forward? It’s obviously still very hard to tell.
Washington Redskins (4-0): A
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Mike Shanahan’s club finished the summer with a perfect record, but the biggest question still remains unanswered.
Will quarterback Robert Griffin III open the season against the Philadelphia Eagles? Although he’s been cleared to play, there's still discussions surrounding where or not there are concerns about the young quarterback, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post.
Elsewhere, there appears to be few worries as Mike Shanahan continues to stress the run while defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s unit looks to make amends after a rough and injury-plagued 2012.
So far, so good for Shanahan’s club.