NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Preseason Week 2?
From La-La Land to Buffalo, football season is underway...kind of. Last week, every team in the NFL had their first warm-up of the year.
For some of the NFL's best franchises, it was business as usual. The Arizona Cardinals looked to be in midseason form on offense. Ditto for the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who pitched a 22-0 shutout against the Chicago Bears.
For others, there were stumbles. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, making his NFL debut behind the second-team offensive line for the Philadelphia Eagles, is now sidelined indefinitely after fracturing a rib against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Welcome to the NFL, kid.
One week ago, the NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report—Brent Sobleski, Brad Gagnon, Sean Tomlinson and myself—gathered to take an early look at the league's pecking order for 2016. Using a scoring system that assigns 32 points to a No. 1 ranking and one point to a No. 32 ranking, they slotted all 32 teams, from the Cardinals at No. 1 to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 32.
Let's see how much one week of the preseason has altered their observations.
32. San Francisco 49ers (0-1)
High Ranking: 32 (4 rankers)
Low Ranking: 32 (4 rankers)
Ranking Points: 4
Last Week: 32 (4 points)
Well, one thing hasn't changed in this second iteration of the NFL power rankings for 2016. The San Francisco 49ers are the unanimous pick of our panel as the NFL's tomato can.
Not much happened during the Niners' 24-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday to change that perception. Yes, Blaine Gabbert threw a touchdown pass, but he also managed to complete only 40 percent of his passes.
As Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News wrote, Gabbert's showing didn't exactly inspire a ringing endorsement from new head coach Chip Kelly: "It was up and down, both Blaine and our first-team offense. I think that first drive, a couple balls he probably wants back, trying to get us on track. But I think once they settled down, got into a rhythm, I thought they did a really nice job of executing."
Despite the fact that Gabbert didn't play especially well (43 of his 63 passing yards came on that touchdown toss to Vance McDonald), if anything he strengthened his hold on the starting job.
It's kind of hard for Colin Kaepernick to compete when he didn't even suit up for the game, as he's suffering from a "dead arm," per ESPN's Adam Schefter. That's an ominous way of saying his shoulder is sore.
However, Kelly insisted Kaepernick will be given an opportunity to wrest back the starting job he lost last season, per Kawakami:
We're just going to judge them on the opportunities to get in there and go. So if Colin gets in there and does a great job when he's in, I'm not going to say, 'Well, he didn't get as many snaps as Blaine.' They're going to be judged on who moves our offensive football team the best, who protects the football the best, gives us an opportunity to win games.
Frankly, given the 49ers' lack of receiving talent, it may not matter who's under center.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's going to be a long year in San Francisco.
31. Cleveland Browns (0-1)
High Ranking: 29 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 31 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 12
Last Week: 31 (12 points)
It had been more than a year since Robert Griffin III saw live game action in the NFL. In that preseason game for the Washington Redskins against the Detroit Lions, Griffin was sacked three times, fumbled twice (losing one) and picked up both a concussion and a stinger.
Other than that, though, he played OK.
Griffin's Browns debut went a bit better, at least to start. But after opening the game with a 49-yard completion to Terrelle Pryor, Griffin took several shots and threw an interception to Green Bay's Micah Hyde.
For the game, Griffin completed four of eight passes for 67 yards and that pick, a performance that netted him a passer rating of 39.1. As Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com wrote, it also earned Griffin a lukewarm review from Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson:
There were some things that he did good. Obviously we can't have a fumbled snap the second play of the game and you never want to see the turnover. But I thought he stood in the pocket and looked real relaxed, kept his poise and tried to make some throws downfield. Obviously the first play was a great way to start, and that's something to build on. But I thought for a guy that hadn't played in a while, I thought there were some positives there.
For Griffin it no doubt felt good to take the field again for a game. But if the Browns' revamped line (one that lost Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack to free agency) doesn't do a better job protecting him, it isn't going to feel that way for long.
30. Tennessee Titans (1-0)
High Ranking: 28 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 31 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 13
Last Week: 30 (12 points)
With 2014 NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the backfield, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to theorize the Tennessee Titans will run the ball a lot in 2016.
If they are able to repeat the success they had in that regard against the San Diego Chargers on Saturday, then this ranking is far too low.
First it was Murray's turn. His first carry off the left end went for 15 yards. On his sixth tote Murray again went off the left side, found daylight and gashed the Bolts for a 71-yard score.
Murray told the Dallas Morning News his big run was just one step toward putting a disappointing 2015 behind him: "At the end of the day, you go through ups and downs in your life and career. It's all about how you bounce back and how you have perseverance through things that don't go your way. I've been blessed and lucky to be here as a Titan."
The amazing part? As well as Murray played, Henry was better.
Yes, the majority of Henry's 74 yards on 10 carries came against San Diego's second-team defense. But it wasn't the yardage itself. Or the power that everyone knew Henry had. His surprising agility for a 245-pound back was the real surprise.
As John Glennon of the Tennessean reported, Henry's debut impressed head coach Mike Mularkey, although Mularkey made sure to pass the credit around:
He made a lot of those — a lot of those runs. It was nice to see he had the ability to jump-cut and make things happen outside and really outrun defenders.
A lot of those plays were not just the backs making plays, but also people up front sustaining blocks and staying on guys, and receivers blocking at the second level. I think that had a lot to do with plays that are designed to hit somewhere and go somewhere else. If they go somewhere else, we need people blocking there and that was the case.
The Titans had a top-15 defense in 2015. With that unit, if the team can run the ball consistently and effectively, it will stay close in a lot of games.
The rest will be up to quarterback Marcus Mariota and the huge enigma that is the Tennessee passing game.
29. Los Angeles Rams (1-0)
High Ranking: 27 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 31 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 15
Last Week: 29 (19 points)
When it comes to the preseason return of the NFL to Los Angeles, one storyline dominated all others.
Rookie quarterback Jared Goff's debut.
Goff looked like a rookie, completing four of nine passes for 38 yards with an interception. He also gave fans something of a scare when he was pulled at halftime with a sore shoulder after taking a beating playing behind the Rams' second-team line.
As Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times reported, head coach Jeff Fisher indicated that Goff is OK. “He’ll be fine,” Fisher said. “We have no concerns whatsoever. He’s just a little banged up and sore.”
In fact, it's Fisher who has become one of the central storylines of Rams camp. Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, both Fisher and general manager Les Snead are about to receive contract extensions.
Which brings up a fair question...why? Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith writes:
What have Fisher and Snead done to earn a contract extension? In their four years running the team together, Fisher and Snead have gone 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10 and 7-9. That’s usually a record that would lead to a firing, not a contract extension.
The answer may simply be that Rams owner Stan Kroenke doesn’t want to make any major changes while he’s new in Los Angeles. Kroenke wants to be able to focus on building his new stadium and other off-field issues, and continue to delegate all the football issues to Fisher and Snead.
So, it appears that instead of just one more 7-9 or 9-7 season, Rams fans can look forward to several.
The Los Angeles Rams: Commitment to Mediocrity.
Start printing the T-shirts.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)
High Ranking: 23 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 30 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 21
Last Week: 27 (26 points)
The Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz eras did not get off to the best beginning for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wentz isn't expected to start for the Eagles this year, so it's understandable that he didn't get reps with the first team. However, by also rolling out Chase Daniel ahead of Wentz, Pederson put his rookie signal-caller on the field behind the back end of his blocker depth.
And it showed. Painfully.
As Kevin Patra of NFL.com wrote, Wentz is sidelined indefinitely after fracturing a rib in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Pederson downplayed the severity of the injury, per Patra:
Carson felt some discomfort and soreness as we began this morning's practice. We decided to limit him throughout the remainder of practice and, as a precaution, sent him for a CT scan after practice. The scan revealed a hairline fracture in his ribs. We do not know an exact timetable for his return, but we hope to have him back before the end of the preseason.
Like his coach, Wentz said he hopes to get back on the field this preseason, per Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It's not the end of the world since Sam Bradford's going to start anyway. But it is going to cost Wentz valuable preseason reps and slow his development.
Of course, given how that reserve line played against Tampa, maybe the sideline is the best place for Wentz after all.
27. San Diego Chargers (0-1)
High Ranking: 24 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 29 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 24
Last Week: 28 (24 points)
The Chargers had a shaky preseason opener, getting gashed on the ground by the Tennessee Titans en route to a 27-10 loss.
As Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, quarterback Philip Rivers said with camp winding down and the "dress rehearsal" not far off, this week leading up to the second preseason contest is important to the team's growth:
I think it’s a big week to continue to build our personality, our identity, toughness. Tuesday and Wednesday are going to be tough. Then Friday, and then ... camp will break (Saturday), and we’ll get into that regular-season mode a little bit as we go into the third one, which is the most that I’ll play, I imagine. …
To me, this next week, from Week 1 to Week 2, how much do you improve? We’re really going to get the opportunity. It’s like playing a game Tuesday, playing a game Wednesday, playing a game Friday.
The problem as the Chargers continue to build toward the season opener is dysfunction is hanging over the team like a dark cloud. And that cloud has a name.
San Diego's first-round pick—the young pass-rusher around whom the Chargers were going to build their defense—still hasn't reported to camp. And with the Chargers refusing to compromise in any regard on the offset language or signing bonus structure on his contract, per Andrew Brandt of TheMMQB.com, there's no telling how long this impasse will drag on.
As Jeffrey Siniard of SB Nation pointed out, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Of the 28 first-round picks the Bolts have had since the Spanos family assumed control of the team, 17 missed training camp time due to contract disputes.
At least the Chargers have the sort of history of consistent playoff success that justifies that strategy. Otherwise they would just look shortsighted and petty.
26. Miami Dolphins (1-0)
High Ranking: 25 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 26 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 30
Last Week: 26 (26 points)
The Miami Dolphins were impressive in their preseason opener, or at least as impressive as a team can be in a game that doesn't count. And in downing the New York Giants 27-10, Miami had more than a few positives to build on.
The first-team offensive line's play wasn't one of those things. But as new head coach Adam Gase told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, it's hard to get a feel when the unit is on the field for less than 10 snaps:
I know everybody is really itching to fire everybody and bench everybody. We ran seven plays. I understand everybody’s concern about every little thing. [I know] certain people have history with guys that have been here in the past, but I said this right when we started this thing – everybody has a fresh start with this crew.
Our job is to evaluate what we see. Anything that happened in the past is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter to me. It does not matter. Every guy is going to get a true evaluation and we’ll make our final decision [for] the first game of the season. That’s what we are going to do. This is going to be the process that we go through.
Since quarterback Ryan Tannehill entered the NFL in 2012, he's been sacked an eye-popping 184 times. No signal-caller in the NFL has hit the turf more times than that over that span.
There are big changes afoot in that regard. The Dolphins have moved tackle Laremy Tunsil to left guard. Jermon Bushrod is changing positions and sides of the line.
He admitted to Salguero that the transition has been difficult:
It’s completely one of the most awkward things I’ve ever done. You know, once you get past that awkward stage, then you have to change your movement pattern. I’ve been a left-sided person for the last 14-15 years if you want to date back to college.
So it’s not easy. It’s trying to get your whole body pattern to move a whole different way. So I have to think about the way I move now. On the left side, I’d just go out there and know where I would be because it’s just natural to me.
It's simple. Tannehill could be an All-Pro quarterback with great receivers all around and a bulldozer at running back behind him and it won't matter if he has no protection.
If that line gets better, so will the Dolphins.
25. Detroit Lions (1-0)
High Ranking: 24 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 28 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 32
Last Week: 25 (32 points)
As Mike O'Hara of the Lions website reported, there have been grumblings for weeks that offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter (I love that name. Love it.) would be making the no-huddle offense a prominent feature of the team's attack in 2016.
If Detroit's 30-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was any indication, that's more than just camp smoke. Head coach Jim Caldwell confirmed that it's something we could see more of once the games are for real, per O'Hara:
It does give you an opportunity, number one, to kind of control the pace of the game. Number two, I think more often than not, you may be able to help just control a few things. You can’t control many from a defensive standpoint. You just force them not to substitute as much maybe, in some cases.
Overall, it’s more of what we want to do. It’s more of what we think our guys are suited for. I think they’re beginning to get a good sense of how it should operate.
You won't hear any complaints from quarterback Matthew Stafford, per O'Hara: "It’s different, but we’ve been practicing all training camp, so we’re able to change pace kind of however we want to. We wanted to get some work on the road, trying not to huddle as much as we could. It was an OK night."
Granted, NFL teams often fiddle with concepts in the preseason that wind up on the cutting-room floor by Week 1. But the no-huddle plays to both the strengths of Stafford and a Lions receiving corps that has some depth but no true No. 1 receiver.
Cooter may be onto something.
I'll bet Boss Hogg is mad.
24. Baltimore Ravens (1-0)
High Ranking: 20 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 27 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 41
Last Week: 24 (41 points)
It didn't happen in time for the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers, but the Ravens got some good news Monday about one of the injured stars whose loss crippled the team in 2015.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs made his return to the practice field for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon on the first weekend of the regular season last year.
As Garrett Downing of the team's website wrote, Suggs was all smiles as he got back to work.
Suggs said: "Darth Sizzle is back. It felt great to be back on the field with the team; there is nothing like it. Didn't get to do too much today as I am working my way back. I will speak with the media when I am fully back practicing."
Now, Suggs' return is certainly a boost for the team. But he's a 33-year-old player returning from a serious injury. Steve Smith, 37, is older still with a torn Achilles of his own (suffered later to boot). Quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Justin Forsett sat out the Panthers game as they attempt to return from their own season-ending injuries.
ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley pointed out that Flacco's absence from the game shouldn't be viewed as anything but precautionary: "Flacco is having a strong training camp, and he hasn't missed any reps with the starting offense. Like Flacco said late last month, his goal is to be ready for the start of the regular season, not the preseason."
The Ravens have more than a few question marks circling the team like, well, Ravens. But if their veteran core starts the season healthy, this ranking is going to be shown to be much too low.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)
High Ranking: 17 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 27 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 44
Last Week: 22 (46 points)
The Dirk Koetter era didn't get off to the best start in a sloppy loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. As Jenna Laine of ESPN.com reported, Koetter was the first to admit it:
Before you start winning games, you’ve got to stop losing them. And in two of the three phases last night, we beat ourselves. And that’s taking nothing away from Philly. They did what they did. I’m coaching this team, not that team. Defensively, [we] played good enough to win. [The] other two phases, we beat ourselves.
It starts off with turnovers -- five turnovers, four on offense, one on special teams -- and penalties and lack of execution, lack of precision and detail more than anything else on offense. And I know we have it in us because I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it in practice. We had a little flash of it in that third drive, but that’s pretty much it.
It's hard to argue with him. The new-look defense consistently generated pressure, racking up four sacks and numerous hits. The offense, however, was erratic at best. And a pair of early turnovers put the Buccaneers in an early hole from which they never recovered.
Essentially, the game was the 2016 Buccaneers in a nutshell. In quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receiver Mike Evans, tailback Doug Martin, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, the Buccaneers have talent on both sides of the ball. The sort of talent that should keep them in most games this season.
Unless, that is, the team shoots itself in the foot with turnovers. There isn't much margin for error in Tampa this year, and self-inflicted errors could be the difference between 10-6 and the playoffs or 6-10 and another season of missed opportunities.
22. New Orleans Saints (0-1)
High Ranking: 19 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 24 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 45
Last Week: 23 (44 points)
There's one thing NFL teams desperately want to avoid during training camp and in the preseason—injuries.
For a Saints defense that ranked 31st in the NFL in 2015, avoiding a major injury on that side of the ball was even more paramount.
So much for that idea.
On Monday, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the Saints' first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, was carted from the practice field, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com. Luckily for the team, it wasn't a season-ending ACL tear or Achilles tendon.
Unluckily, it also wasn't nothing. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Rankins will go under the knife to repair a broken fibula.
Per Sessler, head coach Sean Payton is still hopeful Rankins won't miss a significant part of the regular season.
"We'll get an update and we'll keep you posted, but we're trying to get the reps in and obviously you never want to see a player go down," Payton said, per Sessler. "Hopefully the news is good."
It doesn't look good, though. Indications, per Schefter, are that Rankins will miss at least six weeks, which would make him a candidate for at least the PUP list if not injured reserve/designated for return.
And that's a big blow to a defense that couldn't afford one.
21. Chicago Bears (0-1)
High Ranking: 16 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 27 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 46
Last Week: 21 (49 points)
There wasn't a team in the NFL that performed worse in Week 1 of the preseason than Da Bears, who got Der butts kicked by Da Broncos, 22-0.
It wasn't just the zero points. Or the 130 yards of total offense. The Chicago offensive line was an absolute sieve, allowing seven sacks. Two of those sacks came on the first few third downs of the game, with Jay Cutler and the Bears starters on the field.
As John Mullin of CSN Chicago wrote, head coach John Fox didn't try to hide his disappointment: "Obviously I was disappointed and our team was disappointed. We were expecting more. I don’t know that we executed as well as any of us expected. It is preseason, you don’t game-plan, it’s pretty basic, but there’s plenty room for improvement."
Guard Kyle Long didn't argue with Fox's assessment, per Mullin: "Obviously as a competitor you don’t want to look up and see a 22-0 score in the fourth [quarter]. I know this group of guys. We’ve been in some fights with this group beyond the field. I know what they’re made of. We’ve got to be better. We understand that and we know what it’s going to take."
Now, it's one preseason game, and Chicken Little-ing isn't going to make the Bears a better football team. There was at least one bright spot with the return to action of young receiver Kevin White after he missed his entire rookie season.
But the Bears have work to do if they want to avoid the NFC North cellar in 2016.
20. Atlanta Falcons (1-0)
High Ranking: 18 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 23 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 52
Last Week: 20 (51 points)
It wasn't that long ago that Atlanta's Matt Ryan was considered one of the NFL's young stars at the game's most important position. In 2012 he and the Falcons came one game from the Super Bowl.
However, since that game both player and team have trended in the wrong direction. And after a 2015 in which Ryan had a propensity for poorly timed turnovers, there were more than a few grumbles in regard to the 31-year-old.
Maybe Matty Ice wasn't the answer for the Falcons. Maybe he'd taken the team as far as he could.
Ryan told ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure he does his best to block out the noise: "I think a lot of times, maybe it affects some of the people around you more than it affects you, and that part of it isn't fun. Obviously, when your wife is pissed off about something, that part of it isn't fun."
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, on the other hand, said he has no doubt that Ryan has what it takes to lead the Falcons deep into the postseason, per McClure: "I believe Matt is an elite quarterback. Matt was the third pick in the draft [in 2008]. He's played a lot of good football. But being an elite quarterback also has to do with the people around you. Nobody is elite on their own."
One preseason win over the Washington Redskins isn't going to settle the argument as to whether Ryan and the Falcons are ready again for prime time.
But seeing the defensive starters play well against Washington might have been an even better sign for the team than a big game from its highest-paid player.
Ryan can't do it all himself. Neither can Julio Jones. Or Devonta Freeman.
The Falcons will score points this year. It's their ability to get stops that will determine how far they get in the NFC South.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)
High Ranking: 18 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 20 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 56
Last Week: 19 (55 points)
The Jacksonville Jaguars lost their first preseason game.
It's the only game they will lose this year. Book it.
OK, so that might be a little hyperbolic (slightly). But the Jaguars did nothing in that loss to the New York Jets to decrease the growing hype around them as a dark-horse playoff contender.
Quarterback Blake Bortles and wide receiver Allen Robinson picked up right where they left off in 2015. For Bortles, it was six completions in seven attempts for 105 yards. Robinson reeled in three of those passes for 80 yards. New tailback Chris Ivory found the end zone.
Head coach Gus Bradley told George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel he's been impressed with Bortles' continued growth coming off a huge 2015 season: "You know I am feeling a guy who is more poised, more confident. He has always been pretty confident, but just how he is handling it and you know you are seeing him talk to the offensive line, the receivers and that is what we hoped we would see."
The Jaguars' young defense also played relatively well against the Jets' first-teamers, outside a couple of busted coverages that led to long gains.
I'm not going to call the Jaguars a Super Bowl contender. At this ranking they wouldn't even be a playoff team. But if the first preseason game was any indication, the days of opponents seeing the Jaguars on their schedule and smiling might be done.
18. Buffalo Bills (0-1)
High Ranking: 15 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 21 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 62
Last Week: 17 (62 points)
Tyrod Taylor is a happy man. Signing a $90 million contract will do that.
The thing is, Taylor's new megadeal isn't really one. As Tom Pelissero of USA Today reported, the Buffalo quarterback's new five-year deal is essentially a one-year pact at $9.5 million with one lulu of a team option tacked on the end. To see that money, Taylor will not only have to play well again in 2016 but also likely get the Bills into the playoffs.
Still, given that the afterthought contract Taylor originally signed in Buffalo would have earned him just $2 million in 2016, a bump of $7.5 million isn't dog food. And after the Bills lost to the Indianapolis Colts, Taylor told reporters (via the Buffalo News) he's glad it's time to focus on football:
Is it a relief? I guess you could say that it’s a good thing. I’m definitely grateful and thankful for god and all that he’s done. God has blessed me with a terrific journey and I thank him for that. Thank you to the Pegulas and the Bills organization and coach Rex Ryan for giving me the opportunity to compete last year and off the field conditioning this year, so I’m definitely thankful for that to happen, but my focus now, now that we are playing preseason games and coming up on the regular season I got to figure out what I got to do to win games.
There's no denying that Taylor was something of a revelation for the Bills in 2015. And $9.5 million is a steal for even an average starting quarterback in the NFL.
But a Buffalo defense that underperformed last year has already been hit hard by injuries, and it's tough to get past the perception that the Bills are the third-best team in the AFC East.
That's going to make the playoffs a tall order. And without that postseason trip, Rex Ryan and Taylor are both apt to be looking for work next spring.
17. Dallas Cowboys (0-1)
High Ranking: 11 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 25 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 68
Last Week: 18 (56 points)
They jumped only one spot in the rankings, but no team in the NFL picked up more ranking points than the Dallas Cowboys. Were it not for one curmudgeon (who doesn't trust the defense even a little bit...now get off my lawn), America's Team would be ranked several spots higher.
There can be only one explanation for this leap upward.
The greatness that is Dak Prescott.
After going 10-of-12 for 139 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Cowboys on three scoring drives against the Rams, there isn't a Day 3 rookie pick generating more hype than the former Mississippi State star. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com was impressed:
The fourth-round pick showed exceptional poise and composure directing the Cowboys' offense to 17 points on three scoring drives while completing 10 of 12 passes for 139 yards. Prescott not only delivered "dimes" to receivers on the perimeter, but he showed terrific anticipation, accuracy and ball placement on a pair of back-shoulder throws to Dez Bryant along the boundary. With Prescott also demonstrating outstanding passing skills on the move, the Cowboys' young QB showed team officials that he could be a solid option as a QB2 behind Tony Romo.
To be fair, the kid looked good. I liked the Prescott pick for the Cowboys. Not only is he an underrated passer who played in college football's toughest conference, but at times he put the Bulldogs on his back and carried them.
He has..."it." That nebulous quality that differentiates potentially good quarterbacks from potentially great ones. But with that said, it was one preseason game. Any calls for Prescott to start ahead of Tony Romo would be unfounded.
Two weeks ago the Cowboys were turning over rocks and thinking about trading for Josh McCown after Kellen Moore broke his ankle.
Fans should just take a breath and be thankful that the backup situation appears to be better than originally believed.
16. Houston Texans (1-0)
High Ranking: 12 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 18 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 70
Last Week: 14 (72 points)
The Houston Texans got their first in-game glimpse of quarterback Brock Osweiler, he of the four-year, $72 million contract.
And after that glimpse, the team is probably checking the return policy.
Osweiler was unimpressive in his Texans debut, passing for only 27 yards, missing open receivers and leading a pair of drives that went nowhere.
As John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported, Osweiler admitted it wasn't the debut he was hoping for: "Was it completely what I wanted? Absolutely not. It's difficult to see exactly what happened until you watch the film. We did some really good things offensively. We have some things to learn from. I'm very confident we'll be better next week (against New Orleans at NRG Stadium)."
This is one of those situations where the best reaction is no reaction. If Osweiler plays better against the Saints, this performance will be relegated to the dustbin of preseason history.
But if he doesn't look good again, the rumbles will get louder. People will try to remember when it was last year that Osweiler looked good in Denver.
Somewhere, John Elway nods solemnly.
15. Washington Redskins (0-1)
High Ranking: 13 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 17 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 72
Last Week: 15 (71 points)
The Washington Redskins were one of the NFL's first teams to put a lid on training camp. As of Monday afternoon, it's officially go time in the nation's capital.
It's the beginning of a (pre)season filled with questions and expectations. Entering 2015, the Redskins were looked at by most as the worst team in the NFC East. They enter 2016 the reigning division champions. And make no mistake, signing Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman to a massive free-agent deal sent a message.
The message that the Redskins have aspirations to travel to Texas next February.
However, it doesn't take long for the questions to start popping up. Washington is led by a young quarterback in Kirk Cousins playing under the franchise tag after a white-hot second half of last season.
As Mike Jones of the Washington Post wrote, it doesn't look like the 27-year-old Cousins will get much help from the ground game:
Washington remains in need of balance on offense, however. The run game remains deficient. Matt Jones has the ability, but still must hone his feel for the pro game, and coaches must settle on the right complementary back – whether it’s Chris Thompson, seventh-round pick Keith Marshall, undrafted rookie Robert Kelley, 2015 practice squad member Mack Brown, or a veteran still not on the team.
Against the Falcons last week, Marshall, Jones and Thompson gained zero yards on eight carries.
Just as Washington may struggle to run the ball, stopping the run could be an issue. With the addition of Norman, the Redskins have the makings of a solid secondary. But the front seven is one unknown after another.
Could the Redskins win the NFC East? Sure. But if the Dallas Cowboys can stay healthy and the New York Giants' new-look defense plays as advertised, the Redskins could just as easily finish third.
14. New York Jets (1-0)
High Ranking: 13 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 18 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 72
Last Week: 16 (68 points)
Given his long layoff and the fact that he only recently rejoined the New York Jets, it would be understandable if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick showed some rust in his preseason debut against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Or at least it would be if Fitzpatrick's glorious beard didn't afford him superpowers.
Fitzpatrick was in regular-season form during his one drive leading the Jets offense, completing three of four passes for 72 yards and leading the team to a score.
As head coach Todd Bowles gushed to Ben Shpigel of the New York Times: "He was efficient. He was fine.”
OK, so maybe that wasn't gushing.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey wasn't surprised that Fitzpatrick was ready to play. “I evaluate him on the curve that he left at,” Gailey said, per Shpigel, “not on the curve assuming that he missed some things.”
Wideout Quincy Enunwa, who had two long catches in the game, said familiarity helped get Fitzpatrick back up to speed quickly.
“A lot of the things that you have to do with a new quarterback you kind of just don’t have to worry about,” Enunwa said, per Shpigel. “A lot of the ideas that we had already built upon last year, all we have to do now is kind of refine them.”
They might not be doing it outwardly, but rest assured Bowles, Gailey, Enunwa, Brandon Marshall and Vinnie the nacho vendor are all doing cartwheels to see Fitzpatrick pick up where he left off in 2015.
Because if the Jets are going to make the playoffs, Fitz will be driving the bus.
13. Indianapolis Colts (1-0)
High Ranking: 12 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 20 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 72
Last Week: 13 (74 points)
Preseason cat fight!
After the team missed out on a chance to play in the Hall of Fame Game, it looked like Colts fans would finally get to see quarterback Andrew Luck back on the field against the Buffalo Bills. However, a few hours before the game, Indy owner Jim Irsay tweeted that Luck wouldn't play, adding cryptically that "there is some truth on this dark, rainy night; that my good friend Rex...has never heard of the word...preseason!"
To the surprise of no one, this didn't sit well with Ryan, who fired back, per ESPN.com: "Take a look at the tapes, and see how many times we blitzed. I can tell you one thing, [Colts coach] Chuck Pagano's a good friend of mine, a legitimate, good friend of mine. I have way more respect for him than I do others."
Ryan and Irsay will settle their differences live in WWE Rage in the Cage...check with your local pay-per-view provider.
That last part may be made up.
The levelheaded Pagano did what he could to diffuse the situation. "It's one of the benefits that you get when you're the head coach," Pagano said with a smile, per ESPN.com. "You get to decide who plays and who doesn't play."
What does any of this have to do with the Colts' chances of winning in 2016?
Absolutely nothing. Welcome to the preseason.
At least it's entertaining.
12. New York Giants (0-1)
High Ranking: 10 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 22 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 73
Last Week: 12 (74 points)
There's good news and bad news where the Giants' 27-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins is concerned.
The good news is that a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL a year ago played well. The first-teamers didn't allow a first down, the Giants got consistent pressure from ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul and linebacker Jonathan Casillas chipped in a takeaway.
As Casillas told Bill Pennington of the New York Times: "It was a good showing for the first team. They really didn’t get anything against us.”
Rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who has stood out in camp, also had a nice game, reeling in a 24-yard grab that set up New York's lone touchdown.
That pass was about as good as things got for quarterback Ryan Nassib, who saw extensive action in place of Eli Manning.
To say Nassib was awful is an affront to awfulness. Nassib completed seven of 15 passes for 75 yards.
OK, he completed two more passes—to Miami defenders.
But wait, there's more! Nassib, who was effectively auditioning for other teams as he enters a contract year, also fumbled three times (losing one) and took four sacks.
Apparently Nassib was also auditioning to be the next "Captain Obvious," telling Pennington after the game, "Those turnovers are unacceptable.”
Manning should demand a raise. After watching Nassib play, the Giants will give it to him out of sheer terror.
11. Oakland Raiders (1-0)
High Ranking: 9 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 14 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 86
Last Week: 11 (86 points)
I would be remiss if I didn't list at least one preseason All-Pro—a no-name player suddenly hearing his name on SportsCenter after a huge game.
The star of Friday's nightcap blowout by the Raiders was young tailback George Atkinson, who did all right for himself—if you consider five carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns "all right."
After scoring from 53 and 35 yards out, Atkinson has been the talk of Week 1 of the preseason. But as the undrafted free agent from Notre Dame told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com, he knows a couple of runs don't guarantee him a spot on the 53-man roster:
"You want to have confidence. But you also need to work on things that didn't go right and to continue to get better and, I'm still trying to make the team. ... The coaching staff put me and the O-line in great position to make big plays."
Atkinson opened some eyes with his big game. While Latavius Murray might not be in danger of losing his job, consider this: Last year, the only people who knew who Detroit running back Zach Zenner was were South Dakota State fans (I assume they exist) and Zenner's mom.
Then Zenner spent the preseason running his way into a roster spot.
They're the kind of stories that almost make a month of football games that don't count bearable.
10. Minnesota Vikings (1-0)
High Ranking: 4 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 11 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 96
Last Week: 10 (94 points)
Who says Teddy Bridgewater can't throw deep?
The Vikings' third-year quarterback thumbed his nose at that notion against the Cincinnati Bengals, connecting with wide receiver Charles Johnson on a pretty 49-yard score in a one-point win.
Yes, it was against the Bengals' second-team defense on a busted coverage, but head coach Mike Zimmer pointed to the throw as proof that his quarterback doesn't get his due where his arm is concerned.
"Yes, he can chuck it around," Zimmer told Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com. "The year before we didn't have Adrian. We changed the style of play from first to second. But he's nimble, can make the throws and he can get out of trouble when he needs to do so."
For his part, Bridgewater isn't hearing the naysayers and isn't interested in discussing the past, per Prisco: "I really don't want to talk about last year, I want to talk about this year. Different team, different season. ... I play the position that is the most scrutinized position in football. It comes with the territory. I am not surprised."
Sadly, Bridgewater probably also wasn't surprised by the lack of consistent pass protection he received. Line play was a big problem for the Vikings last year, and on the first drive of the game, Bridgewater was dropped by Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on second down and whacked by end Carlos Dunlap on third down.
It's not easy to challenge defenses vertically when you're looking out of your ear hole.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)
High Ranking: 7 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 10 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 98
Last Week: 8 (100 points)
The Cincinnati Bengals have been consistent the past several years, for better and for worse. Despite changes at the coordinator spots, the Bengals have made the playoffs five years running. Then they were quickly bounced in each season.
According to Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com, there's one question above all others that looms over the team this year—how the Bengals will address Hue Jackson moving up Interstate 71 to take the head coaching job in Cleveland:
There’s a lot of pressure on first-time offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, who is replacing the top OC in football last year, Hue Jackson. So much of Cincinnati’s success stemmed from Jackson’s crafty use of formations, presnap motioning and shifting, and how he diversified where receivers and tight ends lined up. It was an academic approach to football that played to Andy Dalton’s strengths as a chess master type quarterback. Jackson is known for his confidence; Zampese is known for his humility. It will be interesting to see how much of Jackson’s tactics Zampese keeps and which of his own he installs.
We didn't see anything in their first preseason game (a 17-16 loss to the Vikings) to indicate huge differences between Zampese's offense and Jackson's. And we're not going to. The preseason isn't a time coaches show their cards.
The Bengals are going to be good. They have the same strengths (both lines) and weaknesses (secondary receiving targets) this week that they had last week.
And it's doubtful we'll see anything over the next few weeks, barring a major injury, that will change that outlook.
The Bengals really are who we thought they were.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (0-1)
High Ranking: 5 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 10 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 100
Last Week: 9 (99 points)
The Chiefs' preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks is a perfect example of winning even though the the scoreboard shows a loss.
Yes, the Chiefs blew a 10-point lead. Or more appropriately, a bunch of guys as likely to be in the Arena Football League in six months as not blew a 10-point lead.
But players who will be hanging around generated that lead against a perennial playoff contender.
Starting quarterback Alex Smith came out and promptly drove the Chiefs the length of the field before giving way to Nick Foles five minutes into the game.
As Smith told Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star, things went about as well as the Chiefs could have hoped: "It’s almost like the incentive for the first group, if you can go out on score on the opening drive. The biggest thing you want is to move the chains a few times, get in a rhythm, extend the drive. So to go down and finish the drive the way we did is nice."
Head coach Andy Reid agreed, per Paylor: “I was happy with what our veterans did—our ones and twos. I thought they were efficient.”
Just as you can't freak out too much about a poor showing, just because the Chiefs looked good in one preseason game doesn't mean fans should start making travel plans to Houston.
But as starts go, it was a good one—one that jumped the Chiefs a spot on our board.
7. Denver Broncos (1-0)
High Ranking: 5 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 8 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 105
Last Week: 7 (101 points)
Last week's preseason opener was the first post-Peyton Manning game for the Broncos since his retirement. It's the first step toward determining whether Mark Sanchez or 24-year-old Trevor Siemian will start under center for the defending champions.
Both quarterbacks had their moments in a 22-0 win over the Chicago Bears, but according to Nick Groke of the Denver Post, it was the starter, Sanchez, who had the better game:
Young Trevor looked his best Thursday at Soldier Field when he was on the run. The Bears chased him out of the pocket in the second quarter, but on the move to his right, he whipped a 22-yard pass to Jordan Taylor. It gave the Broncos a first down and stopped the clock for a late field-goal attempt. But numbers don’t lie. Sanchez was better: 10-of-13 for 99 yards to Siemian’s 7-of-12 for 88.
Yes, Sanchez threw an interception that was vintage Sanchez—an ill-advised throw into triple coverage that never, ever should have left his hand.
But lost in all the hubbub about the quarterback situation in Denver is the real message from the game. The thing that fans and pundits alike seem to have lost sight of.
The Denver defense is really, really, really, really, really, really, really good.
Whether it was the starters or the scrubs, the Bears could do nothing offensively, managing 130 total yards for the game.
If the defense rolls into the regular season playing at that level, the Broncos can absorb the occasional butt fumble.
And that's why they got a bump from me this week into the top five.
6. Green Bay Packers (1-0)
High Ranking: 4 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 9 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 106
Last Week: 6 (107 points)
OK, it isn't easy to glean a lot from a preseason game in which many of the team's stars didn't play against the NFL's equivalent of a JV squad.
Lacy told The Sports Xchange (via UPI.com) he was pleased with his first action after a disappointing 2015 campaign.
"Got pretty good production on all of them," Lacy said. "It was definitely a great start for us, just need to continue to build off of that."
In all, 17 Packers were spectators in the game, but head coach Mike McCarthy indicated Rodgers could make his debut Thursday night.
"I don't have a set plan," McCarthy said, per The Sports Xchange. "But, I think history will tell you he'll play (this) week. We'll see what happens in practice Sunday and Monday. That's the most important part."
The Packers will probably have one of the NFL's most boring preseasons.
But this time of year, boring is good, especially for a contender. No news is good news and all that.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)
High Ranking: 5 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 7 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 108
Last Week: 5 (114 points)
For much of the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been talking up 23-year-old wideout Sammie Coates. With Martavis Bryant suspended for at least the 2016 season, Coates has been pegged for a much larger role in the Pittsburgh offense.
If Friday's preseason opener against the Lions was any indication, Coates still has some growing to do.
With Antonio Brown taking the evening off, Coates drew the start, making three catches for 18 yards. That relatively modest stat line wasn't the problem. Coates' two fumbles in limited action were.
The second-year pro didn't make any excuses while speaking with Mike Prisuta of the team's website: "I just gotta bounce back, I was careless with the ball. I just have to put the ball away. To be a guy to run with the ball you have to be able to protect it. I have to do a better job protecting the ball. I just got excited out there, being careless and trying to do too much."
The Steelers also struggled to get off the field defensively in the first half, allowing the Lions to convert on eight of 12 third downs.
That issue dogged the Steelers in 2015 as well, and it's one that could prove to be a problem if it continues into the regular season.
It's hardly time to panic after one preseason game in which Brown, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and tailback Le'Veon Bell didn't play.
But it does serve as a bit of cold water—a reminder that for all their star power on offense, the Steelers aren't without their flaws.
4. Seattle Seahawks (1-0)
High Ranking: 3 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 7 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 115
Last Week: 4 (115 points)
While everyone wants to talk about the starters in the preseason, the fact is this is a time of year that's all about reserves—players fighting for roster spots.
Of course, as the Seattle Seahawks have shown repeatedly (including with Russell Wilson), if you play your cards right in the preseason you can go from fighting for a spot to a starting role.
It's premature to say Christine Michael has done that. But the fourth-year pro has been the talk of camp in Seattle, and Michael carried that over to the preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
As Danny O'Neil of ESPN Radio in Seattle reported, Michael gained 44 yards on seven carries, drawing a rave review from head coach Pete Carroll: "I really liked what he did. ... He’s an explosive, dynamic athlete, and so we’re just going to keep growing with him. And when Thomas (Rawls) gets out there, those two guys give you a little one-two punch that we’re kind of excited about."
Mind you, this the same Christine Michael the Seahawks traded last year. The same Christine Michael who re-upped with the Seahawks for the veteran minimum. The same Christine Michael who appeared to be the odd man out after Seattle added three more backs in the 2016 NFL draft.
Now, with Rawls (ankle) and rookie C.J. Prosise (hamstring) rehabbing injuries and newcomer Alex Collins failing to impress, Michael is the lead back for a Super Bowl contender that likes to run the ball.
And he's playing like he doesn't plan to give up that title anytime soon.
3. New England Patriots (1-0)
High Ranking: 1 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 4 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 118
Last Week: 3 (118 points)
There's no shortage of anxiety in Beantown this summer. With Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, the task of leading the Patriots against the Arizona Cardinals in the first Sunday night affair of the year will fall to Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo got plenty of work for the Pats in their preseason opener, completing 11 of 18 passes for 168 yards in a half of work that came with a large caveat since wide receiver Julian Edelman, tailback Dion Lewis and tight end Rob Gronkowski all sat the game out.
As Tyler Dragon of NFL.com reports, at least one Patriots player isn't the least bit concerned about Garoppolo taking the reins for a month.
He works his tail off to prepare and I know he has the respect of everybody. That's what you try to do, you try to come out here and prepare, earn the respect of your teammates and your coaches, and you've got to put the work in. You've got to show that you're willing to show up every day and do whatever it takes to get the job done. ...
It's been fun to see his development. We got off to a good start the other night and hopefully we keep it going. We have three days of practice coming up against the Bears that will be good preparation for our team. We've got to use them really well and hopefully we can come out of Thursday night, after these practices and the game, a stronger team than we are now.
We'll no doubt see plenty more of Garoppolo over the next couple of weeks, but so far it appears he'll at least tread water. If the Patriots can come out of their Brady-less stretch at 2-2, they will be just fine.
It won't be easy, though. Of the Patriots' first four opponents, only the Miami Dolphins had a losing record in 2015.
2. Carolina Panthers (0-1)
High Ranking: 2 (3 Rankers)
Low Ranking: 3 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 123
Last Week: 2 (122 points)
Given that the first team played relatively well in its preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, one would think the Carolina Panthers would be in a good mood.
One would be wrong.
As David Newton of ESPN.com wrote, the Panthers had one of their patented camp dustups Sunday. Defensive backs chirped about getting chip-blocked. Quarterback Cam Newton mocked them. After backup quarterback Derek Anderson threw a touchdown pass, cornerback Bene Benwikere had a meltdown that got him an earful from both veteran linebacker Thomas Davis and head coach Ron Rivera.
Rivera said, via David Newton, that while he values intensity, the players need to keep it under control, especially when it comes to their own teammates:
It boiled over more than you really want. The thing we all have to understand is that at the end of the day, the Panthers don’t play the Panthers. We’re not on our own schedule, and that’s the thing we lost sight of today.
The competitive nature got carried away, got more physical than it should have been. The thing we’ve got to understand is we’re in pads, but it doesn’t give us the liberty to do some of the things that happen like that.
This all came after Newton and Davis jawed at one another after Luke Kuechly picked off the quarterback.
For some teams, this might be viewed as a potential distraction.
But as they showed last year when Newton and Josh Norman went at it, this is just how the Panthers roll.
Just be glad Steve Smith isn't on the team anymore.
He'll just mess you up.
1. Arizona Cardinals (0-1)
High Ranking: 1 (3 rankers)
Low Ranking: 2 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 127
Last Week: 1 (127 points)
When you're a preseason Super Bowl contender, the script for exhibition No. 1 is simple—get the starters in there briefly, let them knock off the rust and get 'em off the field.
That's just what the Redbirds did against the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Carson Palmer looked in midseason form, hitting Michael Floyd for a long gain. Tailback David Johnson averaged 10.3 yards a carry. The Cardinals drove the field, kicked a field goal and most of the first team called it a night.
The game marked the first professional start for tackle D.J. Humphries, who is slated for a starting role in 2016 after essentially "redshirting" as a rookie.
Head coach Bruce Arians told Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic he thought the youngster fared well.
“I thought D.J. played extremely well, from what I watched,” Arians said. “He was really into it. I know we ran the ball pretty well on his side a couple times.”
Humphries, however, offered a harsher assessment, per Somers:
Not up to my standards, personally. I was too hyped to start the game. Too excited, too amped up. That’s part of my game I got to work on, just coming out, begin calm from the start. ...
I was going out and ‘oversetting’ and trying to get on (Khalil Mack) fast, instead of just playing my game. I was over-aggressive and realized it wasn’t working for me. I had to calm down and do my thing.
Humphries had his share of problems with Mack, but that isn't news. Everyone struggles with blocking him.
The Raiders won the game on the scoreboard, 31-10, but from the perspective of getting ready to face the New England Patriots in Week 1 and avoiding any major injuries, Bleacher Report's top team in the NFL did what it needed to do.