NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Preseason Week 4?
Week 3 of the NFL preseason is a dress rehearsal for the regular season, which means it's the most important week before the games start to matter. Which teams stood out—good and bad—this week?
As always, preseason power rankings are based purely on the expectations of the team heading into the regular season. Teams are then moved up or down each week based on new information—such as injuries, suspensions, rising stars on the field or players failing to live up to expectations. Teams are not moved in the preseason based on wins and losses.
With all those disclaimers out of the way, it's time to take a look at where each NFL team ranks heading into the final week of the preseason.
32. Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have had three preseason games to prove they deserve to move up the rankings. They have not.
Quarterback Matt Schaub—leader of the "old faces, new places" Raiders—has not looked sharp orchestrating an offense that is made up of many new parts along the offensive line, at running back and with James Jones coming in at receiver.
The defense is also full of new players, but many came to Oakland as castoffs from other teams. LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck must produce to protect a young linebacking corps and leaky secondary.
31. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have found a potential star in Jadeveon Clowney, and lining him up alongside J.J. Watt is unfair to other NFL teams. But on offense, the team has major question marks at the game's most important position—quarterback.
The Texans are a quarterback and consistent secondary play away from being a winning team, but the lack of those two areas is holding the team back greatly. Unless Ryan Fitzpatrick is the next Kurt Warner (he's not) or Tom Savage is the next Carson Palmer (he's not), the team will struggle to compete offensively on a weekly basis.
30. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have a young team and a new head coach, so much of their potential remains unknown. A hot start to the season could mean a quick jump up in the rankings, but heading into the season, the unknowns are too big.
Quarterback Jake Locker could stand to benefit greatly from Ken Whisenhunt coming to town as the new head coach. Or he could remain an inconsistent thrower with less than ideal accuracy and decision-making. It's now or never for Locker as he enters his third season as a starter, though, and the Titans will only go as far as he can carry them.
Until the quarterback mysteries are solved, the Titans cannot move up in the rankings.
If you're a fan of the team and feel good about the offense after three weeks, you are alone. Or you've been enjoying too many Miller Lites during the game.
New head coach Jay Gruden's system on offense has not been an easy transition for Robert Griffin III, and the third-year quarterback's struggles have been notable. For all the talent at receiver, running back and on the edge of the defense, Washington cannot win without reliable quarterback play.
Griffin is caught somewhere between trying to be a playmaker and trying to be a pocket passer, and until he can learn how to do both, it's tough to bet on Washington to win ballgames.
28. Cleveland Browns
There is no quarterback controversy in Cleveland—not after head coach Mike Pettine reinforced that Brian Hoyer would be the starter. While the competition seems closed, neither Hoyer nor Johnny Manziel has looked particularly good in the preseason.
Hoyer's struggles to move the ball and find a rhythm is concerning, especially when you consider he's been on the field with Josh Gordon. Gordon is awaiting word on a suspension appeal from the NFL, but his original suspension was for a full calendar year. If Hoyer and Manziel are struggling with Gordon, imagine how they'll look without one of the NFL's best receivers.
The defense in Cleveland will be good, but the offense could be the league's worst.
27. Buffalo Bills
Former Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix hired Doug Marrone, drafted EJ Manuel as the first quarterback taken in the 2013 draft (No. 16 overall) and then stepped down, handing the team to Doug Whaley. So far, those moves have not looked good.
Marrone's adjustment to the NFL has been better than Manuel's to date, as the former Florida State quarterback struggles to catch up to the speed of the pros. Too often Manuel is late on his delivery, slow to recognize coverage and hesitant to move his eyes off his primary target.
With a potentially great defense on the field and a strong run game, the Bills will be a tough team to play. But the lack of certainty at quarterback is making the team a tough bet in the preseason.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
If you're a regular reader, you know I'm a big fan of what head coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell are building in Jacksonville. It just so happens that the young building blocks are starting to pay dividends much sooner than expected.
Quarterback Blake Bortles looks like a Week 1 starter after being the team's first-round pick (No. 3 overall) and could be the galvanizing force the team needs at the position. With young studs on the offensive line (Luke Joeckel) and at wide receiver (Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson), the Jaguars have a group that could surprise folks.
Whether it's in 2014 or 2015, it's easy to see the Jaguars building for success. But until some of the young guns on both sides of the ball live up to their lofty potential, the team looks more like a six- or seven-win group.
25. St. Louis Rams
The loss of Sam Bradford to a torn ACL (as first reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen) will be a tough obstacle to overcome for the St. Louis Rams. Couple the loss of the former No. 1 overall draft pick with a super-tough NFC West schedule, and the Rams are quickly sliding down the rankings.
The Rams have an incredible front four on defense (Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn) but a young secondary and a now unproven offense. Shaun Hill is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL, but this wasn't a game-changing offense to begin with.
The recipe for Jeff Fisher's team will be a heavy run game and the hope of a shutdown defense.
24. Atlanta Falcons
It's hard to remember that the Atlanta Falcons were hosting an NFC Championship Game just two seasons ago, but injuries and a lack of depth and development have taken their toll. Now the Falcons must overcome yet another injury (this time to left tackle Sam Baker) while trying to develop players on defense who can rush the quarterback.
On offense the team will be fine if Matt Ryan is protected, and first-round pick Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) is more than capable of becoming a 10-year-starter at left tackle. The rest of the offensive line is a question mark, though, and the Falcons need a strong run game to get the offense rolling.
On defense, a good secondary must carry the team without a proven pass rush and with their best front-seven player (Sean Weatherspoon) also out due to injury. With the rest of the NFC South improving, the Falcons are on the outside looking in.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs faced an offseason that saw three offensive-line starters (Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz) all leave via free agency. Now they've lost a player with starting experience, Donald Stephenson, to a four-game performance-enhancing drug (PED) suspension.
The offense in Kansas City was questionable before suspensions to Stephenson and a one-game penalty for Dwayne Bowe, but now the pressure is on running back Jamaal Charles more than ever. Head coach Andy Reid has to hope tight end Travis Kelce's strong preseason carries over to the regular season.
The defense will be stout in the front seven, but the secondary is terrifyingly young and raw. The Cinderella turnaround from the Chiefs in 2013 could be quickly forgotten in a tough AFC West.
22. Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have the talent to lead the NFL in scoring this year, but they could also allow the most points of any team in the game—ever.
The offense will be just fine with Tony Romo, Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray and up-and-coming tight end James Hanna. What worries me about the Cowboys has nothing to do with offense, but rather being able to outscore the opposition.
The defense is bad, and the preseason has shown nothing to indicate defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will be able to scheme his way out of a lack of talent.
21. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have undergone several massive rebuilds in the past few seasons—the secondary, the linebacker corps and the offensive line this year. It looks as though the aggressive adding and subtracting may be paying off, especially if new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor works his magic.
Lazor spent last season with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia and is installing a system that preaches getting the ball out of quarterback Ryan Tannehill's hand fast and into space, where the playmakers can take over. The team has showed progress each week, and it looks ready to run.
The defense has to prove it can hang with higher-octane offenses at every level, but the pass rush will be very good, and the cornerbacks are strong enough to make plays. The Dolphins are targeted as a team that could quickly rise up the rankings.
20. New York Giants
The New York Giants simply have not looked sharp on offense, but this is the first time Eli Manning has changed offensive coordinators since 2007. Now Manning will work with Ben McAdoo, who brings a West Coast offense with him from Green Bay.
The scheme will be good for Manning and the Giants once they learn it, but to date that hasn't been the case. The transition on offense will not be helped by guard Geoff Schwartz going down with a dislocated big toe either. As of this writing Schwartz's timetable for returning is unknown, but losing him on an already unstable offensive line would be crushing.
The Giants' starters didn't quiet any critics in the first three preseason games and head into the regular season with major doubts hanging over their heads.
19. New York Jets
The hopes and dreams of the 2014 New York Jets rest on the right arm of Geno Smith, and the second-year quarterback has been impressive throughout the preseason.
Smith has been more decisive, more accurate and is in better shape this year too. That's resulted in a more agile, more elusive Smith in and out of the pocket. If Smith is protected, and the offensive line looks improved, he has weapons to work with. The Jets offense is one to watch as a sleeper.
The defense will be good, as per usual when Rex Ryan is the coach, but it's safe to be concerned about the cornerbacks and edge-rushers at this point in time. Dee Milliner must make a huge step forward in his second season and become the No. 1 cornerback the team drafted him to be with pick No. 9 overall last year.
18. Minnesota Vikings
Four weeks ago the Minnesota Vikings had a three-headed quarterback competition. That contest has been whittled down to two, and both Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater look capable of carrying the team. That improvement from the position is a big reason why the Vikings move up this week.
Bridgewater has been especially poised for a rookie—but that was his M.O. at Louisville too. Bridgewater may not be ready to take the job from the veteran Cassel just yet in Norv Turner's offense, but no matter who is taking the ball in Week 1, the quarterbacks have been impressive.
A young, hungry defense has been unleashed by new head coach Mike Zimmer, and it looks sharp. Rookie Anthony Barr is a star in waiting as a triple threat in the versatile defense.
The NFC North is loaded, but don't be surprised if the Vikings make a move up the rankings.
17. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers started the rankings lower than many expected, but concerns along the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the secondary are legitimate. With those concerns being quieted, thanks to young players like left tackle Byron Bell, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and cornerback Josh Norman, the Panthers get a nice bump this week.
As long as Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are on the field, the Panthers will be very competitive. The question was (and is) how well they'll match up against tougher teams such as New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle with the existing holes.
Relying on young players can be exciting, but also frustrating, and until the offense grows up some around Newton, the Panthers still look like they'll be on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
16. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions are a tough team to grade before the real games start. Reason being, they have all the tools on paper to be a playoff team, but as we've seen in the past, they can also unravel very fast once the season starts.
Matthew Stafford and Co. on offense are exceptional, and now that Calvin Johnson has legitimate targets (Golden Tate, Eric Ebron) opposite him, the entire unit could be much more dangerous. Throw in an underrated offensive line and a good run game, and the Lions offense could be the league's best in terms of points scored and yardage.
The defense needs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to play their tails off in contract seasons, but the most important players may be at linebacker, where DeAndre Levy and Kyle Van Noy are the type of athlete defensive coordinator Teryl Austin can win with.
A tough division makes it difficult to put the Lions inside the top 12, but they're a serious playoff contender.
15. Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals have questions heading into Week 4 of the preseason, but this is the type of team that will look bad when the games don't matter and turn it up once they count.
Getting safety/nickelback Tyrann Mathieu back healthy way ahead of schedule offsets the team's struggles in the passing game against the Cincinnati Bengals, so there is no movement this week. But the Cardinals remain a team very much on the ledge, capable of moving up or down the rankings early in the season.
With offensive stars and playmakers in the secondary, this team just needs consistency in the passing game and pass rush to be very good.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have all the ingredients of a winning team in 2014. The quarterback is exceptional, the defense can get to the quarterback and the run game is strong (when not being arrested for possession and a DUI).
With Ben Roethlisberger running the offense and a strong pass rush coming from Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier, the Steelers could be back to their old-school ways of winning with tough yards and hard-hitting defense.
The AFC North is wide-open this season, and if the Steelers can find a cohesive front five and pull one more season out of their veterans in the secondary, the playoffs are not a stretch.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
Three straight years of making the playoffs under head coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton is a tough trend to bet against, even in a tough AFC North.
The Cincinnati Bengals have all the talent to win the division for a second straight season and finally get that elusive playoff victory that has been haunting Dalton. The only concern here is if Dalton can perform well enough in pressure situations to get the victory. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will rely more on the run game than his predecessor, which is good news for all.
Offensively and defensively, the Bengals are capable of making noise in the division and the conference, but they must prove they are tough enough to hang with the top of the AFC.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There's a two-spot move down for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, and it's all about the offense.
Quarterback Josh McCown has not looked comfortable in his new home after coming down from Chicago in free agency. Of course, the offensive line in front of him has not been particularly sharp either. The guard position is in flux, and McCown hasn't found his rhythm yet, but help could be coming via a trade or free-agent pickup.
Head coach Lovie Smith will coach the heck out of this team, though, and it has the speed on the edges on both offense and defense to make noise in the NFC South. And if McCown can't get it done, second-year quarterback Mike Glennon has been impressive in the preseason and has starting experience from last season.
11. San Diego Chargers
It's a move up the rankings this week for the San Diego Chargers after another impressive preseason showing, this one against the San Francisco 49ers.
Philip Rivers and the offense look to be in regular-season form, and incredible depth at running back and tight end gives offensive coordinator Frank Reich plenty of toys to work with. Now that the offensive line is working to keep Rivers upright and the run game is going, the passing attack could be even more explosive than what we saw in 2013.
The defense does have some holes, but the addition of Brandon Flowers at cornerback and a healthy Dwight Freeney will help there. Also, defensive end Corey Liuget looked like an All-Pro in manhandling 49ers guard Mike Iupati. If he can do that against one of the league's best guards, the Chargers are in for a massive season from the former Illinois defender.
10. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are not a trendy pick to win the AFC North right now, but having looked at every roster and evaluated the schemes, talent and depth, they do look like the best of the bunch heading into Week 4.
The biggest question in Baltimore will be the run game. With Ray Rice suspended two games to start the season and Bernard Pierce suffering an injury in Week 3, the team may be left with little depth there. The Ravens did draft Lorenzo Taliaferro from Coastal Carolina, and he has the north-south running style the team loves, but he's inexperienced.
The defense looks ready to attack, and young linebacker C.J. Mosley has emerged in his rookie season as a potential stud. With good outside pressure, smart cornerbacks and a very good coaching staff, the Ravens will be in better shape on defense in 2014.
The AFC North is not an easy division to win, but the Ravens have the talent and experience to get it done.
9. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears move one spot down the rankings this week, largely due to the Green Bay Packers' climb.
The Bears have had a quiet preseason, which is good in many ways. They've stayed out of the headlines, nursed injuries on the right side of the offensive line and worked on acclimating rookies such as Kyle Fuller into key roles. Now they're ready to take on the NFC North.
The Bears will have their hands full in the NFC North, but this is a double-digit-win team. Jay Cutler is poised to play the best football we've ever seen from him, and general manager Phil Emery has given him the best wide receiver duo in the game with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
The many new faces on defense must step up, but it would be a major disappointment if the Bears don't push the Packers for the NFC North title.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Year two of the Chip Kelly regime in Philadelphia has many—including me—expecting big things. And the team looks like a legitimate top-10 club heading into the season. The Eagles only move down this week due to the Green Bay Packers moving up the rankings.
Some are afraid that Nick Foles will come back down to Earth in his second season and struggle, and it's fair to say that Foles' numbers won't match his insane 27 touchdowns and two interceptions last season. But Foles can improve as a quarterback and see his numbers fall off, and the Eagles can be a better team overall too.
The offense has no shortage of playmakers, and the defense looks to be catching up to its counterparts in the second season under coordinator Bill Davis. Nothing short of an NFC East title is acceptable here.
7. Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts also fall prey to the big move by the Green Bay Packers in this week's rankings, so they're down one spot. But that has nothing to do with performance or expectations. The Colts are still a projected 12-win team and the clear-cut AFC South favorites.
Andrew Luck is quickly reaching "don't bet against him" status around the league, and now that the talent around him has improved and shaken off injuries, the Colts offense could be scary good. Of course, the Colts need a strong running game to help keep defenses honest, and Trent Richardson has to step up this year.
The defense will be tougher this year with D'Qwell Jackson and Arthur Jones joining the team, but the secondary has to be rock-solid opposite Vontae Davis if the Colts are to make more of a run in the postseason.
6. Green Bay Packers
There was never any doubt that the Green Bay Packers were one of the top teams in the NFL, but after fully evaluating the roster and seeing what a healthy Packers defense looks like, they've earned a move up the rankings.
Put Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on the field together and beautiful things are happening. With the threat of Rodgers' arm and Lacy's legs, the Packers automatically put defenses in a massive catch-22. Do you load up the box with a safety to stop Lacy or keep the safety deep to help over the top against Nelson and Cobb? Good luck.
The weak link in Green Bay has been the defense, but a leaner, meaner Julius Peppers and the improved play of Mike Daniels will be life-changing for head coach Mike McCarthy. Don't sleep on Green Bay as one of the few teams good enough to challenge the Seattle Seahawks on their home turf.
5. San Francisco 49ers
Is it time to officially worry in San Francisco?
After three straight weeks of poor play from the offense, head coach Jim Harbaugh has to be wondering what the heck is wrong with his team. The first-team offense is missing right guard Alex Boone due to a holdout, but the rest of the group remains intact. Boone's influence is huge, but the entire unit looks off. With the Dallas Cowboys on the schedule for Week 1, the 49ers need to get the offense in gear in a hurry.
The defense looks good, even without NaVorro Bowman on the field, and should be fine as long as young players such as Corey Lemonier and Aaron Lynch can step in for Aldon Smith once he's suspended—but it's anyone's guess when that ruling will be handed down.
Without Bowman and Smith, the 49ers will struggle, so they cannot afford a slowdown on offense. The 49ers are never dominant in the preseason, but there's room for concern starting with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and trickling down to the offensive line.
4. New Orleans Saints
The San Francisco 49ers' struggles means a move up the rankings for the New Orleans Saints, but Sean Payton's team has earned this move too.
The offense looks as good as ever, and running back Mark Ingram may finally live up to that first-round pick the team spent on him. Ingram, who is in a contract year, is running with the authority last seen at Alabama. Give Drew Brees a power running game and he'll tear the field apart—especially once he gets Brandin Cooks involved as an offensive chess piece.
The defense is noticeably improved this season, and you can point to the healthy return of Kenny Vaccaro and the improved play of Keenan Lewis as a big reason why. Lewis, Vaccaro and the rest of the secondary will set the tone for a hard-hitting, in-your-face squad.
The NFC South is theirs to win, but the Saints are also talented enough to take home another Lombardi Trophy.
3. Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos sit firmly in the NFL's top tier of teams heading into the conclusion of the preseason. And that should surprise no one.
Peyton Manning returns to avenge an embarrassing Super Bowl loss, and if his play in the preseason means anything, The Sheriff is as good as ever. Manning may lack Kaepernick's arm strength, but his touch, vision, anticipation and pre-snap identification are off-the-charts good. And now Manning has arguably the best supporting cast around him since Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
Team president John Elway pieced together monster improvements on defense this year, and we've yet to see if they will pay off. DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward will be tested early this season, but each has been a premier player at his position over the last few seasons. Add in Von Miller, Chris Harris and Terrance Knighton, and the Broncos could be the NFL's best team on paper.
2. New England Patriots
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are back for another run at a Super Bowl, and like most seasons, the New England Patriots are expected to make a serious run at it.
What puts New England over Denver in the rankings? Above all, continuity on defense. Where the Broncos are putting new faces together, the Patriots will have 10 players on the field in Week 1 who started for them last season. The Broncos may look like a Pro Bowl team on defense, but chemistry can't be bought.
On offense, it's more of the same. Brady is back, and his targets are entering the season healthy. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola may not be the best group Brady has ever worked with, but they'll get the job done in front of a strong run game.
Coaching also plays in here. Whether you like Belichick or not, there is no denying he's among the best to ever draw X's and O's up on the whiteboard.
1. Seattle Seahawks
To be the best, you have to beat the best—and beat them at home, preferably.
The Seattle Seahawks have been on fire this preseason, riding the high of a Super Bowl win while maintaining the chips on their shoulders. Richard Sherman is fighting to prove he's the best cornerback in the NFL, even after an insane 2013 season. Russell Wilson is still called a game manager by many. The Seahawks carry the underdog role well, and it's working for them.
Head coach Pete Carroll knows how to motivate a team, and if anything, his 2014 team is faster, more athletic and more dynamic than the 2013 Super Bowl champions.