One week of exhibitions is all that stands between the NFL and its lengthy regular season.
The prior three weeks have shown fans plenty in regards to how teams around the league stack up—in terms of depth, at the very least.
Look, the preseason has been a lot of fun for fans as they finally get to see new faces don their respective team's uniforms and go at it. Every team's a winner, win-loss records are meaningless.
But we can somewhat glean how teams will fare next season, especially in the aftermath of Week 3, otherwise horribly named as the "dress rehearsal." Based a tad on what we have seen so far and mostly projections, let's take a look at how the league shapes up one week out from the promised land.
32. Oakland Raiders
For just a second, there was hope the Silver and Black were back to form.
After all, the combination of Sio Moore and Khalil Mack was supposed to be explosive. Maurice Jones-Drew was in town to pair with Darren McFadden. Matt Schaub would rediscover what it means to throw to his own team rather than the opposition.
Schaub is 24-of-47 for 218 yards and a pick. His arrival was a false hope of the worst kind.
31. Houston Texans
For a team that many would agree looks a quarterback away from playoff contention, Bill O'Brien and Co. did little about the issue.
No, Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't count, and no, he sure as heck isn't Kurt Warner (Kurt's old team needs that miracle now).
Jadeveon Clowney-J.J. Watt is downright unfair, but also not enough to compensate for offensive ineptitude of the worst kind.
30. Buffalo Bills
It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Buffalo can have an explosive offense.
Sammy Watkins is a special talent, but so is C.J. Spiller. Doug Marrone continues to waste his star back's prime years by running him between the tackles. Until something changes from a coaching standpoint, the Bills aren't going anywhere.
29. Tennessee Titans
Credit where it's due—the Tennessee Titans have looked competent this preseason and won two games (again, not that it matters, but fans will surely take it).
The best news of all is that Jake Locker looks sharp, but the problem is he also did last preseason before missing nine games. He has never appeared in more than 11 games in a season so far, and the running game behind him is a question mark.
For now, it simply does not make sense to have Tennessee any higher.
28. St. Louis Rams
Just like that, St. Louis is done. ESPN's Chris Mortensen has the report:
Shaun Hill, 34, is one of the league's best backups, but he's just that and has very little live-game experience in recent years.
Running back Zac Stacy is a stud who thrived in such a scenario last year when asked, but it's not enough to put a dent in such a brutal division.
27. Cleveland Browns
With Johnny Manziel holding a clipboard, Cleveland is doing next to nothing offensively.
ESPNCleveland.com's Tony Grossi put it best:
While the defense has the look of a strong unit, there is simply a lack of talent on the offensive side of the football and Manziel is at least a year out from being effective.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
Kudos to coach Gus Bradley for doing things his way and sitting rookie quarterback Blake Bortles despite an impressive preseason.
Chad Henne is a game manager who can certainly win for his team, but overall the offense is too young in Jacksonville to post enough points in order to be competitive. The defense remains a jumbled, rebuilding mess as well.
Robert Griffin III looks so uncomfortable in new coach Jay Gruden's offense that whispers of a quarterback controversy have surfaced as of late.
“He is further along than it appears he is,” Gruden said, per John Keim of ESPN.com.
Or not. Either way, the offense appears to be a mess at this juncture and that defense is not stopping a ton of units without help. It only further hurts when one recalls that Andy Dalton in Cincinnati looks so much better without Gruden, for now at least.
24. New York Jets
The New York Jets are a sleeper to take a rather lengthy jump up the standings by season's end.
So far this preseason, Geno Smith has looked great, as NBC's Cris Collinsworth muses:
As long as Rex Ryan can control his silly urge to swap out quarterbacks for no other reason than to do so, the offense, especially thanks to Chris Johnson on the ground, will do much better than most would have guessed just a month ago.
23. Dallas Cowboys
As long as Tony Romo can stay healthy, the Dallas Cowboys will be able to put enough points on the board to compete in each week of the season.
The problem once again rests on the defensive side of the ball, a unit that has already been hit with a rash of injuries yet again, including one to star linebacker Sean Lee. Unless the unit can miraculously turn things around in the health department, it's going to be a long season.
22. New York Giants
With David Wilson out of the picture, things turn to Rashad Jennings, which is not as bad as it sounds—sans his shaky injury history.
The real problem in New York remains one Eli Manning. At 33 years old, he's just 19-of-37 for 188 yards and a touchdown through three preseason contests and the unit around him is not exactly brimming with health or talent.
21. Miami Dolphins
All of the hope in Miami rests on the shoulders or a retooled offensive line after Ryan Tannehill was the most-sacked quarterback in the league last season behind what had to be one of the worst units in history.
The good news is that Miami has a pair of talented backs in Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno. The former is one of this year's top breakout candidates, while the latter looked somewhat surprisingly like his Denver self with 10 carries for 64 yards last week. Of course, it came against that aforementioned Dallas defense.
Again, though, it all hinges on the fresh slab of beef up front.
20. Atlanta Falcons
It seems the Atlanta Falcons are stuck in neutral while the rest of the NFC South partakes in an arms race.
Matt Ryan is borderline elite and gets Julio Jones back, but outside of first-round pick Jake Matthews, the line in front of him is a complete mess, especially after the loss of Sam Baker. That also goes for a defense that touts no significant pass rush nor the coverage abilities to compensate.
As we saw last year, Ryan can only will the team to so many wins.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A tweet from NFL Network's Jeff Darlington says all that needs to be said about Tampa Bay this year:
Josh McCown has been wildly efficient this preseason, so to chalk up last year's successes as a result of working with the quarterback whisperer himself, Marc Trestman, seems a horrible mistake to make at this juncture.
Really, this should have been easy to see coming. Lovie Smith is going to get the most out of that defense and the duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans give McCown huge targets no matter the situation.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to bounce back using their brand of football.
It has been said all offseason that Ben Roethlisberger is going to get more of what he wants, which means more no-huddle looks. The defense has a wealth of pass-rushers that include, but is certainly not limited to, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward.
As long as Big Ben can stay healthy, the Steelers are a threat in an unpredictable division.
17. Minnesota Vikings
Matt Cassel is the Week 1 starter for the Minnesota Vikings, and as much as fans surely want to see rookie Teddy Bridgewater, that's not such a bad thing.
Cassel looks ridiculously sharp in Norv Turner's offense to this point, going 26-of-40 for 266 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He's surrounded by a wealth of weapons as well, so if the rookie can sit and learn while the Vikings flirt with the postseason, so be it.
If Cassel implodes and the season is lost, Bridgewater gets some hands-on training. It's a win-win situation.
16. Baltimore Ravens
The rich get richer certainly applies to the Baltimore Ravens and rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has been a flat-out stud.
In theory, the offense should be better as well now that Joe Flacco also has veteran wideout Steve Smith to work with. But the backs behind Flacco must stay healthy and the line in front needs to play at a high level or another ho-hum season will be the result.
15. Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid and his Kansas City Chiefs are trending in the wrong direction after losing three starters on the offensive line this past offseason and doing much of nothing in the draft.
Reid himself understands the issues, as captured by Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star:
The pressure is on Jamaal Charles more than ever, even if he is complemented by what should be a pretty good defense. But Alex Smith is not the type of quarterback who will routinely put the team on his shoulders, so Reid better work a little magic.
14. Arizona Cardinals
The loss of Darnell Dockett does not cripple Arizona, which speaks volumes to the sound job the front office has done in the roster-building department over the years.
An offense led by Carson Palmer would not normally strike fear into the hearts of defenses, but it should with Bruce Arians in charge and weapons such as Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Ellington at its disposal.
If Tyrann Mathieu can return to form and match his play from last season, the Cardinals are going to make some serious noise in 2014.
13. Indianapolis Colts
But much of the offense's ability to move the ball through the air hinges on Trent Richardson, who is bumbling his way through the preseason with a 2.55 per-carry average on 20 totes. The expectations have been plain as day all offseason, as Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar colorfully illustrates:
With the defense still seemingly in a rebuild, the main pressure point remains on Luck.
12. Detroit Lions
One of the NFL's most pass-happy attacks got better this offseason thanks to the arrival of the sure-handed Golden Tate and rookie tight end Eric Ebron.
Seriously though, Tate is a big deal. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he ranked as the No. 18 overall wideout in the NFL last year and racked up 7.9 yards after the catch on average to come in at No. 2 overall. He dropped just three passes.
That sort of consistency will finally do wonders for Calvin Johnson and other members of the attack, but don't forget about an elite pass rush on the defensive side of things.
11. San Diego Chargers
Led by Comeback Player of the Year Philip Rivers, who is instructed by quarterback guru Mike McCoy, the San Diego Chargers seem ready for another postseason berth, if not another win in the process.
The good news is, even the first-team defense has looked good this preseason, which is what tends to happen when front offices add players such as Dwight Freeney and Brandon Flowers in recent years.
For San Diego, anything less than being in the hunt for the division crown is a major disappointment.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
There is still a certain bit of mystique around Chip Kelly's offense, and especially quarterback Nick Foles.
Foles has been up-and-down all offseason, but through three weeks has 304 yards and two touchdowns on 48 pass attempts. The good news is that LeSean McCoy is still around, and while the loss of DeSean Jackson stings on paper, it just means Kelly can use tight ends such as Zach Ertz even more.
As long as Jeremy Maclin can remain healthy, the offense will be able to continue to compensate for what is an improving defense.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
A strange thing is happening in Cincinnati—Dalton looks better off under new coordinator Hue Jackson.
The Bengals still figure to be a run-first team thanks to Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill, but Dalton has been downright on fire and poised in the pocket this preseason. In fact, Dalton has only misfired on 10 attempts and has 372 yards and a touchdown to show for it.
The key for the Bengals most of all, though, will be health. Key names such as Geno Atkins must stay on the field this year in order to finally get over the hump.
8. Chicago Bears
Let's not go as far as to say Jay Cutler will go on to win MVP this year, but he is set to do something special if he can actually stay on the field.
ESPN's Kevin Seifert puts things into perspective after the addition of wideout Santonio Holmes:
Even better, the defense should see an uptick in quality of play this season thanks to line additions such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston.
7. Green Bay Packers
Green Bay is a title contender as long as Aaron Rodgers is on the field.
The defense that has usually been the weak link? Now there is a guy named Julius Peppers on board and Mike Daniels very quietly ranked as the sixth-best 3-4 end in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus.
6. Carolina Panthers
Thanks to a defense led by Luke Kuechly, the Carolina Panthers will remain in the postseason hunt, even if much of the offense's production hinges on the ability of a retooled wideout corps.
While plagued by drop issues in college, Kelvin Benjamin has been pretty spectacular for the Panthers so far this preseason with eight receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Surrounded by strong veteran presences such as Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, the passing game might quietly be a strength in Carolina next season.
5. San Francisco 49ers
The beat goes on for the NFL's deepest rosters.
While the offense has been a bit mediocre so far this preseason, one has to think things will take a turn for the better soon, especially with Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin in the passing game and Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde on the ground.
What is particularly impressive about San Francisco is the defense, which does not appear to have skipped a beat despite the absence of NaVorro Bowman.
4. New England Patriots
Guess what? Tom Brady looks as great as ever and continues to squeeze the most out of names such as Julian Edelman. Even better, Rob Gronkowski will be back soon to help diversify the offense, not that it needs it with Brady under center.
What does not get enough credit in Foxborough is the defense, which misses only Brandon Spikes from a season ago. The unit even gets Vince Wilfork back, so the Patriots are quietly one of the most complete teams in the league.
3. New Orleans Saints
As are the New Orleans Saints.
Look, just because some of the names in New Orleans are not of the household variety does not mean they are not elite players. Get to know names such as Cameron Jordan, Kenny Vaccaro and Junior Galette.
In tandem with elite defensive mind Rob Ryan, the Saints will field one of the better defenses in 2014.
That does not even mention an offense that got a major new weapon in versatile rookie Brandin Cooks.
2. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have spent the preseason getting to know one another.
It sounds silly, but Montee Ball is suddenly the feature back with Moreno gone. New faces pepper the defense. Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and more bring a new level of talent to a unit that just needs to build chemistry.
While it may not always be pretty right out of the gate, the Broncos will once again be one of the league's best by season's end.
1. Seattle Seahawks
It has been business as usual for the Seattle Seahawks when the starters are in the game, with Russell Wilson most recently going for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Until something drastic happens, if ever, the Seahawks are not getting knocked from this perch.
What's scary for the rest of the league is that the team might actually be at full strength this year if Percy Harvin can actually stay on the field. Until a team wins in Seattle, there is no reason to even raise a debate over the No. 1 slot.
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