NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Preseason Week 4?
Well, we've gotten the best look at each NFL team we're going to get before Week 1.
Last week's "dress rehearsals" featured the most extensive playing time starters will see this preseason.
There were storylines galore. The Dallas Cowboys said hello to the Ezekiel Elliott era and bid goodbye (perhaps) to another. Quarterback controversies in Denver and San Francisco were resolved. And superstar quarterbacks in Green Bay and Pittsburgh demonstrated quite clearly that they're ready for opening day.
One last time in the preseason, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Gary Davenport (nothing like referring to yourself in the third person), Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Sean Tomlinson gathered to offer their takes on the NFL's pecking order as we near the games that count.
Using a scoring system that assigns 32 points to a No. 1 ranking and one point to a No. 32 ranking, here's how they see the league's best (and worst) as the preseason draws to a close.
32. San Francisco 49ers (1-2)
High Ranking: 31 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 32 (3 rankers)
Ranking Points: 5
Last Week: 32 (5 points)
Here's a news flash. Blaine Gabbert is not an especially good NFL quarterback.
I know. You're stunned by this revelation.
Through three preseason games, Gabbert has completed 12 of 22 passes for 146 yards with a touchdown. Those are hardly world-beating numbers, but he has also avoided mistakes and turnovers, posting a passer rating of 90.3.
Most importantly, the 49ers have scored three touchdowns in eight series with Gabbert at the controls. He told Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com he's relatively pleased with how he and the team have performed:
We’ve scored points when I’ve been in there. It’s just one of those deals. It’s the preseason. So, you’re not going to play the entire game and you just try to make the most of the opportunity and the plays when you’re in there. But, for the most part, the ball’s been delivered on time. We’ve been inconsistent at times, but we’ve kind of gotten a little picture of what we can do when we’re in a rhythm. Just trying to get better from here on out.
Colin Kaepernick's sore shoulder prevented him from playing until last week's tilt against the Denver Broncos, and once he did get on the field, Kaepernick managed only two completions in six attempts.
Will Gabbert start the entire season for the Niners? Who knows?
But it's a safe bet at this point he'll be under center when the Los Angeles Rams visit on the first Monday night of the regular season.
Even if fans aren't exactly jubilant about it.
31. Los Angeles Rams (2-1)
High Ranking: 27 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 32 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 12
Last Week: 31 (12 points)
When the Los Angeles Rams traded up in the 2016 draft and selected Cal quarterback Jared Goff at No. 1 overall, the prevailing wisdom was that Goff would learn by doing—that he would start from Day 1.
No one thinks that anymore.
As has been the case throughout the preseason, Goff struggled last week against the Denver Broncos, misfiring on eight of his 12 passing attempts. His completion percentage for the preseason is under 50.
Journeyman Case Keenum, on the other hand, has gone 18-of-24 for 188 yards and a score, guiding the Rams to a pair of field goals in four drives against Denver.
Head coach Jeff Fisher insisted to Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com that everything has gone according to plan. "Case was going to be our starter since before the draft," Fisher said. "I think he's had a great preseason. He really has a great feel for what we're doing. You can see it in practice, too, day after day consistently making good decisions for us."
Goff, for his part, downplayed his struggles in exhibition games:
Every week just trying to get better, really. And I think I am. I don’t think I’ve taken a step back. I think I’ve progressed ever since OTAs all the way till now. I feel like every week, every day at practice, every game, I feel so much more comfortable. And that’s all I can ask for. Just continue to get better, continue to feel comfortable.
The fact is Goff just isn't ready. He isn't especially close to being ready.
Given that, it's wise not to throw him to the wolves, even if the Rams are all but punting on the 2016 campaign by starting Keenum.
It's not like the Rams were going anywhere in a top-heavy NFC West anyway.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0)
High Ranking: 26 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 31 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 15
Last Week: 30 (14 points)
The Philadelphia Eagles just might surprise some folks.
Yes, it was only a preseason game, but last week's 33-23 win over the Indianapolis Colts was filled with positives for the Eagles.
Quarterback Sam Bradford completed 85 percent of his throws and tossed two touchdown passes. Tailback Ryan Mathews was effective in the run game. The Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
And as Reuben Frank of CSN Philadelphia wrote, Philly's new four-man defensive front was absolutely dominant:
That group, with everybody rotating in, generated tremendous pressure on Andrew Luck, didn’t allow anything against the run and really controlled the football game. Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and of course Fletcher Cox all played at a high level...This group is the strength of the football team, and judging by the way they played Saturday night, it is quite a strength. They were tremendous.
One stout preseason performance does not make a playoff contender. But it's worth pointing out that the number of people who thought the Washington Redskins were going to make any noise in the NFC East last year numbered exactly zero.
The New York Giants offensive line has looked horrible, and the Dallas Cowboys have been rocked by injuries. The door's open for the Eagles to contend in arguably the NFL's weakest division.
Now it's just a matter of walking through it.
29. Cleveland Browns (0-3)
High Ranking: 25 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 31 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 17
Last Week: 29 (15 points)
There wasn't a lot of good news for the Cleveland Browns in their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The pass defense was bad. The offensive line was worse.
But there was at least one bright spot. For the first time since 2014, wide receiver Josh Gordon saw game action. And he did relatively OK.
That is, if you consider two catches for 87 yards and a touchdown "OK."
Gordon told the Associated Press (via USA Today) that it felt good to be back on the playing field. "It feels great," he said. "I feel really good to be out there with my teammates, my brothers. It was uplifting."
Quarterback Robert Griffin, who played with Gordon at Baylor, echoed those sentiments. "I played with Josh before. It's just good to see him out there making plays, getting an opportunity to get back in the league," he said. "We're looking forward to him making the most of that. I'm really excited for him."
Make no mistake. The Browns are not a good team. Jameis Winston moved the ball at will against Cleveland, and Griffin spent most of the night either flat on his back or headed in that direction.
However, with Gordon (who will miss the first four games of the season), rookie Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor, the Browns appear to have a trio of receivers who are all capable of doing big-time damage in the vertical passing game.
So at least it will be entertaining to watch them lose.
28. Miami Dolphins (2-1)
High Ranking: 26 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 29 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 21
Last Week: 28 (23 points)
The Miami Dolphins have turned mediocrity into an art form. As Chris Perkins of the Sun-Sentinel pointed out, the Dolphins have posted between six and eight wins in each of the past seven seasons—the longest such stretch in NFL history.
A large part of the Dolphins' struggles in recent years can be laid at the feet of an offensive line that has struggled mightily in pass protection. Against the Atlanta Falcons last week, that line was much better, keeping quarterback Ryan Tannehill upright on all 29 of his dropbacks.
Tannehill told Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post not running for his life was a pleasant change of pace.
“It was nice,” Tannehill said. “The guys did a really nice job of giving me a pocket, giving me room to throw. We’re getting the ball out fast. And getting it in our playmakers hands. And giving them an opportunity to work. So it was fun. It was fun to be able to get in that rhythm, to move the ball down the field.”
If that line holds up into the regular season, and if veteran tailback Arian Foster can stay healthy, and if the re-retooled defense plays up to its potential in 2016, the Dolphins have the talent to be a dark-horse playoff contender.
But that's an awful lot of "ifs" in an AFC East that might be the league's deepest division.
27. Detroit Lions (1-2)
High Ranking: 24 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 29 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 27
Last Week: 26 (29 points)
Little is expected of the Detroit Lions in 2016. After all, this is a team that lost seven of its first eight games last season.
But after Jim Bob Cooter was elevated to offensive coordinator, Detroit turned things around in a big way. The second half of the season was as good as the first was bad. The Lions won six of eight to close the year.
This year, the Lions appear set to ratchet up the tempo on offense. Per Kyle Meinke of MLive, the Lions ran no-huddle on less than 10 percent of their offensive plays in 2015. In the 2016 preseason, that number has skyrocketed to over 60 percent.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford told Meinke he's loving the new fast-paced scheme.
"The faster you can push the tempo, when you want to, really, it just makes it more stressful on the defense," Stafford said. "If you feel like you're playing at a normal speed, and they think you're playing really fast, it feels a whole lot better for us."
Cooter said it's all about keeping the team's options open:
I think if you do it right -- if you do it well in general -- it's a more efficient way to go about your business. Now does that mean we're always playing extremely fast? Absolutely not. But it also doesn't mean we never do that. We like to have all the options at our disposal. Sometimes we play fast, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we're in the huddle, out of the huddle.
The Lions aren't a team without problems. The offensive line and secondary are both huge question marks. On paper, they are the third-best team in the NFC North.
But it still feels like we're low-balling them in this spot.
26. San Diego Chargers (1-2)
High Ranking: 25 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 27 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 28
Last Week: 27 (29 points)
The San Diego Chargers are a bunch of short-sighted cheapskates.
Yes. I said it.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman went one step further, calling them, and I quote, the "dumbass Chargers."
The team's mishandling of the Joey Bosa contract situation has made the team a laughingstock. As one NFC general manager told Freeman, "If Joey Bosa ended his dispute tomorrow, he would barely get something from his rookie year. But it won't end tomorrow. It could be weeks. So effectively, the Chargers threw away the rookie year of their own high draft pick."
It's not enough that the Bolts managed to find the one way in the new collective bargaining agreement to continue the franchise's long history of nickel-and-diming high draft picks. There's a reason Eli Manning wanted no part of the Chargers back in 2004.
Then the Chargers went into full-on tantrum mode, pulling their "best offer" to Bosa and blasting the player publicly. A player they thought enough of to make him the first non-quarterback selected in the 2016 draft.
All over offset language and the manner in which a bonus that has to be paid anyway gets doled out.
As Freeman wrote, "I cannot stress this enough. Every team I speak to thinks the Chargers are ruining Bosa. They are laughing at the Chargers. Laughing at them."
Fans shouldn't be laughing, though. Because while the way San Diego has mishandled this mess is a joke, it's one that wasn't even a little bit funny.
At least it's over. As Ricky Henne of the team's website wrote, Bosa signed a four-year deal and reported to the team Monday.
But at this point the damage is done.
25. Chicago Bears (0-3)
High Ranking: 16 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 27 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 37
Last Week: 21 (45 points)
There isn't a team in the National Football League that will be happier to put the preseason behind them than the Chicago Bears.
From the 22-0 shellacking at the hands of the Denver Broncos to open the exhibition campaign to a "dress rehearsal" loss to Kansas City in which the Bears were outclassed in every facet of the game, the Bears have been, what's the word I'm looking for....
To say that the Bears' performance against the Chiefs failed to impress Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com is an understatement:
The Bears' starting offense was atrocious. So much for a positive carryover from last week in New England. A wide-open Alshon Jeffery dropped Cutler’s best throw of the day. The pass protection stunk. And the team gained a grand total of 20 net yards in the first half. The defense did not fare much better, allowing the Chiefs to score 13 points, convert 6-of-10 on third down, and register 239 net yards -- all in the opening 30 minutes. Uninspired is an understatement.
There are those who will say it doesn't matter. Preseason games mean nothing. The month of August is all about working through these kinds of problems.
But if you've watched the Bears over the last three weeks, something has become evident.
They aren't a good team.
24. New Orleans Saints (0-3)
High Ranking: 18 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 27 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 39
Last Week: 23 (42 points)
Last year the New Orleans Saints were terrible on defense. Only the New York Giants were more porous.
Through two preseason games, it looked like the Saints had improved in that regard. Unfortunately for the team, there was a third preseason game.
The Saints were carved to pieces by Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was no push up front, the coverage was terrible...if it could go wrong, it did.
The defense isn't the team's only problem, either. As Ralph Malbrough of WWL-TV reported, the offense has been inconsistent, largely due to shaky line play:
While we focus on the offensive line play in relation to keeping Drew Brees healthy, it's about more than that. The Saints won't be able to function like the offense they've been for the past decade with line play like we are seeing. They can't protect Brees and can't run the ball. Right now, they have serious issues at both guard spots and right tackle.
It's the same exact story as last week. In fact, I had to go back and reread my Texans game column, to make sure I wasn't plagiarizing myself. There are only so many ways to say the offensive line is terrible and Drew Brees might die.
Through three preseason games, the Saints rank 30th in the NFL in pass blocking at Pro Football Focus. The run blocking has been even worse.
If that keeps up, it's going to be a long season in the Big Easy.
23. Tennessee Titans (2-1)
High Ranking: 20 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 28 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 39
Last Week: 25 (30 points)
There hasn't been a team that's made more headway in our rankings as the preseason has progressed than the Tennessee Titans, who have moved up seven spots in the past few weeks.
There's good reason for that upward trend. The Titans have consistently moved the ball on the ground in the preseason. DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry have looked the part of arguably the NFL's best one-two punch at tailback.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota has also stood out. After guiding Tennessee to four scores on their first four possessions Saturday against the Oakland Raiders, Mariota has completed 23 of 31 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating is a robust 104.1.
As ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky wrote, the second-year signal-caller's play has impressed head coach Mike Mularkey.
"Really, some of the throws on third down, staying in the pocket—he was getting some pressure from the outside, stepping up and making some of the throws," Mularkey said. "And with his feet he's a dangerous weapon for us, and it showed here."
In rookie Tajae Sharpe, Mariota appears to have found a go-to receiver. The offensive line and defense have both played well. The games may not have counted, but Mularkey has to like what he's seen from his young squad.
There's been a lot of talk surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars as a sleeper playoff team in 2016.
Maybe we picked the wrong AFC South club.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)
High Ranking: 16 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 28 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 43
Last Week: 24 (44 points)
Mariota wasn't the only second-year quarterback who played well in "dress rehearsal" week.
Tampa's Jameis Winston had his way with the Cleveland Browns on Friday, passing for 259 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Not surprisingly, head coach Dirk Koetter told Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report he was quite pleased with Winston's night at the office.
“We went no-huddle the whole first half and it worked,” Koetter said. “Jameis came out on fire and made some beautiful plays. We have a lot of confidence in our no-huddle. We work on it a lot. We have a lot of different packages.”
The game may come with an asterisk of sorts (the Browns, um, stink), but on that night at least, the Buccaneers looked like a playoff team.
The offense was a buzz saw. A deep Tampa defensive line was constantly in the Cleveland backfield. And Winston was essentially flawless.
Now it's just a matter of turning rehearsal into a real thing.
21. Baltimore Ravens (3-0)
High Ranking: 19 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 25 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 45
Last Week: 22 (44 points)
In 2015, the Baltimore Ravens were positively ravaged by injuries on offense. Quarterback Joe Flacco, tailback Justin Forsett and wide receiver Steve Smith all suffered season-ending injuries.
Here we go again.
As Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com reports, free-agent acquisition Ben Watson will miss the entire 2016 season after the veteran tight end tore his Achilles tendon on the first play of the game against the Lions.
The injury led head coach John Harbaugh to grouse about the preseason:
It's not the '70s anymore. These guys playing in these games -- it's tough -- and they're not meaningful games. They are important to get better, and they improve us. But we football coaches can find ways to get our guys ready and get our players evaluated without the kind of risk that a game necessarily entails.
I'm really hopeful that the union and the league can get together and do something that's good for everybody -- especially what's good for the players and for the fans.
It isn't a back-breaking injury, but it's one that underscores the Ravens' biggest concern.
Baltimore has a talented roster. But they are old at the skill positions.
20. Atlanta Falcons (2-1)
High Ranking: 20 (3 rankers)
Low Ranking: 21 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 51
Last Week: 20 (50 points)
The Atlanta Falcons started the 2015 season 5-0, only to then go 3-8 the rest of the way and miss the playoffs. There were a number of reasons for the swoon, from defensive lapses to ill-timed turnovers.
Many of those turnovers came from the right arm of quarterback Matt Ryan—a problem that reared its head again in last week's loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Still, despite Ryan's bad decision and red-zone pick against the Dolphins, head coach Dan Quinn told Alec McQuade of WXIA-TV he isn't concerned about his star quarterback.
"I wouldn't say it was his best game," Quinn said. "He's on point. I think Matt's had about 10 practices in a row where the defense hasn't even sniffed the ball."
In fact, Quinn said he's glad things didn't go according to plan against Miami.
"I'm pumped that we had some adversity come our way and not play at our best," he said. "I'd much rather have this conversation now, where I can get on them in the meeting room today and expect to see the results change this week in practice."
Coachspeak aside, the sloppy performance was all too reminiscent of the second half of last season. It gives the Falcons plenty to work on in the last week of practice before the regular season gets underway.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)
High Ranking: 17 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 22 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 57
Last Week: 19 (56 points)
There's been no shortage of hype surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. Real, legitimate hype. With a talent-laden offense and an improving young defense, people aren't looking at the Jaguars with derision anymore.
As a matter of fact, more than a few pundits believe the Jaguars have the potential to be a playoff team this year.
After touring training camps from coast to coast, you can count Peter King of The MMQB among the believers:
This defense is finally looking like a playoff unit. Dante Fowler and Malik Jackson will be beasts, and the secondary, other than Jonathan Cyprien, is almost all new. Then there’s Year Three of Blake Bortles, who threw 35 touchdown passes last season, then spent lots of chemistry time with Allen Robinson (1,400 yards, 14 TDs last year) in the offseason. The Jags should be in contention for the AFC South title into late December.
It's going to be interesting to see how Bortles and his team deal with these increased expectations. And with the Jaguars hosting the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, it isn't going to take long to find out just how good Jacksonville is.
The Jaguars may not make the playoffs, but at the very least, they've become a team opponents can't chuckle at and mark down as an easy "W."
18. Buffalo Bills (1-2)
High Ranking: 14 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 22 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 63
Last Week: 18 (63 points)
As he often does, Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan bucked conventional wisdom in last week's loss to the Washington Redskins. Rather than risk any more injuries to key players, Ryan treated the third preseason game much like the first. Many starters didn't play at all, and those who did weren't in there long.
"I'm doing what's best for our team," Ryan said on the team's television broadcast at halftime (via ESPN.com's Mike Rodak). "We want to show up at the starting game of the regular season."
Even that conservative philosophy almost backfired. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor took a couple of hard shots during his short stint under center, leading Ryan to quip, "Looks like a stupid decision to play him because I never expected him to get hit."
It doesn't show in their 1-2 record, but Ryan has to be happy with how his defense has performed after a wildly disappointing 2015. When the first team has been out there, Buffalo has clamped down on opponents, stuffing the run and collapsing the pocket.
It was that underperforming defense that cost the Bills a shot at ending the NFL's longest active postseason drought in 2015. If the Bills do have things straightened out on that side of the ball, look out.
The Bills just might be playing some January football for the first time in a long time.
17. New York Giants (1-2)
High Ranking: 13 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 21 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 69
Last Week: 17 (67 points)
Throughout his 12 seasons in the NFL, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been remarkably durable. He hasn't missed a start since taking over as the Giants quarterback midway into his rookie season.
According to Steve Politi of NJ.com, that durability is about to be put to the test by an offensive line that has been shaky so far.
"This is not meant to be alarmist," he said. "Manning has played behind suspect offensive lines and taken some vicious hits in the past, and for 183 games (and counting), he has trotted out the next week as the Giants starting quarterback. But GM Jerry Reese has tempted fate with this offensive line."
It hasn't been pretty to watch. Through three preseason games, the Giants have graded out dead last in the NFL offensively at Pro Football Focus. That's partly because the lack of any sort of push up front has made it impossible to establish any offensive continuity.
It's also been in part due to the positively abysmal play of backup quarterback Ryan Nassib, which makes Manning taking shot after shot all the more worrisome.
Last year the Giants fielded a top-10 offense, but they couldn't stop anyone, ranking 32nd in the league defensively. After spending a fortune in free agency, that side of the ball looks much improved.
So of course the offense can't get on track now.
16. New York Jets (1-2)
High Ranking: 13 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 18 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 69
Last Week: 16 (69 points)
Most of the New York Jets' offseason storylines centered on the contract saga of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. But if Saturday's loss to the New York Giants is any indication, Gang Green will go as far as the defense takes them.
The Jets defense was the story of the night, winning at the line of scrimmage, making Eli Manning miserable and consistently forcing three-and-outs.
Star cornerback Darrelle Revis told Brian Costello of the New York Post he's happy with the showing his defensive teammates put forth.
“I think right now we’re satisfied with where we’re at,” Revis said. “The third preseason game is when we play the most, and I think getting three-and-outs consistently and repeatedly. … I think we’re in a good place. I think if it went the other way we would have been playing in the third quarter.”
Teammate Buster Skrine agreed: “I think we definitely ended that preseason in a good way as a starting group. I think we’re definitely ready, and we’re just going to carry it over to Cincinnati.”
As Skrine mentioned, the Jets won't have to wait long to find out if they're the real deal. The team opens the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, then travels to Buffalo and Kansas City.
That's a measuring stick, right there.
15. Houston Texans (3-0)
High Ranking: 12 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 18 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 72
Last Week: 15 (72 points)
As dress rehearsals go, you couldn't ask for a better one than the Houston Texans had Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Houston's starters dominated the game on both sides of the ball. The Texans defense intercepted Arizona's Carson Palmer twice in the first half, and signal-caller Brock Osweiler was nearly flawless, missing on only two of 14 passes.
Head coach Bill O'Brien told Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle before the game that Osweiler's playing time would hinge on what kind of rhythm he was able to get into.
"A lot of it depends on how it's going, you know?" O'Brien said. "If it's something where we feel like we want to get Brock some more snaps, let's just say in the first half, then we'll continue to play him."
Given the groove he settled into, it was no surprise that Osweiler was watching from the sidelines before the game even got to halftime.
It comes with the usual preseason caveats, but any way you slice it, the Texans were impressive against a team many consider the favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI. Houston scored on four of their first five drives and blew the game open by intermission.
It looks like the Texans aren't relinquishing their spot atop the AFC South without a fight.
Especially once they get reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt back.
14. Dallas Cowboys (1-2)
High Ranking: 11 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 23 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 75
Last Week: 12 (78 points)
The sky has fallen.
If there's one thing NFL teams dread in the preseason, it's an injury to a star player. Like, say, a Pro Bowl quarterback.
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer reported, the Dallas Cowboys have been rocked by news that Tony Romo will be out at least six weeks after fracturing a vertebra in his back against the Seattle Seahawks.
Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones tried to put a positive spin on Romo's second straight injury-marred season:
He's driven for this not to be like last year. He's certainly not deterred, and he really feels like it's going to be different, but he can get through this, and he also feels very confident that our team can win football games without him while he's not here. He's driven to help Dak (Prescott) win football games for us so that when he gets back we have a great chance to have a great season, get in the tournament and contend for a championship. Nothing's changed.
With all due respect, Jones is full of it. Everything has changed.
Yes, Prescott has been the darling of the preseason after a pair of scintillating performances and a decent showing against Seattle.
But he's a fourth-round rookie whose next NFL start will be his first. It's not coming against scrubs playing vanilla schemes, either.
Romo is a top-10 quarterback. Without him, the Cowboys completely fell apart in 2015.
Prescott may well be an improvement over the revolving door of backups the Cowboys had last year, but he's not Romo. Preseason hype and regular-season success aren't the same thing.
And the Cowboys' chances of making the playoffs just took a huge hit.
13. Indianapolis Colts (1-2)
High Ranking: 10 (Gagnon)
Low Ranking: 21 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 74
Last Week: 13 (77 points)
The New York Giants aren't the only team concerned that their star quarterback is in danger behind a suspect offensive line.
As Josh Wilson of SB Nation reported, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano admitted the O-line's struggles against the Eagles were part of the reason Andrew Luck's night ended early:
We didn’t play well. We didn’t open any run lanes for our guys. The pressure – Schwartzy [Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz] and that defense did a nice job, a bunch of zero pressures and came from everywhere with everybody they had. They did a nice job and we didn’t. We didn’t do a good job protecting. We gave up three sacks and a bunch of hits.
Luck's a mobile quarterback who can extend plays with his legs, but the notion of the NFL's highest-paid player repeatedly scraping himself off the turf does not inspire the warm and fuzzies.
Also, for all the skill position talent the Colts possess, it's hard to envision a deep playoff run by a team that struggles at the point of attack on both sides of the ball.
Throw in a badly sprained ankle for top cornerback Vontae Davis, and the concerns are piling up for the Colts before the season even begins.
12. Washington Redskins (2-1)
High Ranking: 11 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 16 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 75
Last Week: 14 (73 points)
According to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was looking forward to shaking the rust off during the team's dress rehearsal against the Bills last week:
As a starting quarterback, I think you want to be really sharp, but . . . in training camp you’re not trying to necessarily be ready to go for the first preseason game, you’re trying to be ready to go for Week 1. So you’re trying to build everything towards Week 1 a little bit more than when you’re fighting for that backup spot.
In the first quarter, rusty was a kind way to describe Cousins. He was 3-of-9 passing for 17 yards and an interception, inspiring a rather blunt critique from head coach Jay Gruden.
“Obviously we didn’t come out the way we wanted to,” Gruden said. “Wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked to have seen it.”
However, the second quarter was another story. Cousins was 9-of-14 for 171 yards and three touchdowns to three separate receivers—numbers that would make any coach smile.
The Redskins may well need them, too. With tailback Matt Jones on the shelf, the Redskins rode a deep receiving corps against the Bills. Nine of the team's first 11 plays were dropbacks by Cousins.
Grip it and rip it.
11. Oakland Raiders (1-2)
High Ranking: 10 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 14 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 85
Last Week: 11 (85 points)
There are a lot of expectations in the Bay Area this year, and for once those expectations center on the Oakland Raiders.
However, heading into Saturday's tilt with the Titans, an Oakland offense rife with young talent had yet to put it all together.
It came in a 27-14 loss, but quarterback Derek Carr told Jimmy Durkin of the Mercury News he feels the Raiders accomplished that goal.
"It was good to move the ball and show what we've been working on just a little bit, but we're going to be playing them here again in a few weeks so we can't show too much," Carr said. "We kept it pretty basic, but it was good to go out there and get some points and just execute."
Given that the first-team offense had yet to find the end zone, it's hard to argue with Carr or wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who reeled in a long pass from the second-year signal-caller.
"Yeah, it was [important]," Crabtree said. "We came out here to compete. Usually the third preseason game you play a little more. I feel like we did a good job of competing. We've got to see these guys Week 3. You've got to have your mind right."
If nothing else, the Raiders can take solace in the fact that they should have little problem putting points on the board in Week 1.
They travel to New Orleans to face a lousy Saints defense.
10. Denver Broncos (2-1)
High Ranking: 8 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 12 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 91
Last Week: 9 (95 points)
The battle to start at quarterback in Denver appears to be over. And so begins the Siemian era.
Given that Mark Sanchez not only didn't start but also didn't play Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams, it doesn't take a genius to posit that Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak would start second-year pro Trevor Siemian in Week 1.
However, Kubiak insisted to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com that while he has the information necessary to decide on a starter, that decision had yet to be made.
"I've got a lot invested and a lot of work that I can make some decisions off of now," Kubiak said. "I'll do that. Does that mean I'm going to do it [Sunday] or Monday? I don't know. I've got enough going on that I can make a decision."
So much for that idea. On Monday, Legwold reported Kubiak named Siemian the starter for the September 8 season opener against the Carolina Panthers.
"I'm impressed -- I think he's very calm," Kubiak said. "I can tell by the way he handles the team in the huddle, he's got control of what's going on. Gets a bad break on the 'go' ball and comes right back and goes down the field. I think what I see is a guy getting better."
Still, we're talking about a quarterback who has never started an NFL game that counts. A player who was the last quarterback selected in the 2015 NFL draft.
And a young signal-caller who will probably be on a short leash.
9. Minnesota Vikings (3-0)
High Ranking: 4 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 10 (Gagnon)
Ranking Points: 100
Last Week: 10 (95 points)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: These rankings were compiled and published prior to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffering a leg injury in practice Tuesday. Given that devastating news, the Vikings would all but certainly drop several spots on our analyst's boards. Shaun Hill is a capable veteran backup. But he isn't Teddy Bridgewater, and Minnesota's Super Bowl aspirations appear to be toast.
There are some things Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson just doesn't do. All Day doesn't post seasons with less than 1,000 rushing yards. Rarely gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
And in recent years, he doesn't do the preseason.
As Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press wrote, back in May, Peterson indicated this year would be different. But by the time May gave way to August, he had a change of heart:
I just really thought about it and didn’t feel like it was the best thing in my interest, knowing that I can be ready for the first week against Tennessee, like I’ve done a thousand times in the past (when not playing in the preseason). That’s pretty much what it came down to.’
It was my decision. If I would have said, ‘Hey, I want to play,’ I’m sure he would have open to it.
Given that Peterson hasn't had a carry in the preseason since 2011, it's hardly surprising, and it certainly hasn't hindered him in the regular season.
And that's when the Vikings need the heart and soul of their offense—the regular season and (hopefully) playoffs.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)
High Ranking: 6 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 8 (2 rankers)
Ranking Points: 103
Last Week: 8 (103 points)
As the Kansas City Chiefs get ready to open the season against the Chargers, the team received a bit of good news over the weekend.
As Nunzio Ingrassia of Fox Sports reported, reigning NFL Comeback Player of the Year Eric Berry has ended his contract holdout, signed his franchise tender and joined the team.
Head coach Andy Reid said he was happy to have his starting strong safety back in the fold. "He's in great shape, it's great to have him here," Reid said, indicating that Berry will likely play a bit in the preseason finale.
It's welcome news for a Chiefs defense that's already going to open the season without injured pass-rusher Justin Houston, but it's also how this scenario was always going to play out.
Berry wasn't happy he didn't get a long-term deal, but he wasn't going to leave almost $11 million on the table. What he was going to do was skip the grind of training camp.
The peaceful resolution of the dispute is the polar opposite of how Kansas City's Week 1 opponent handled the Joey Bosa affair, but team chairman Clark Hunt told ESPN.com's Adam Teicher that's none of his business:
I don’t really want to speak about the Chargers’ business. Every [team] makes those decisions individually. Certainly we have a way we operate here in Kansas City. I found that over time it’s not positive to publicly discuss contract negotiations, whether it’s a coach or player or front office executive. It’s just not something we do here with the Chiefs.
It's called being a professional.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)
High Ranking: 5 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 10 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 103
Last Week: 7 (103 points)
There may not be a team in the NFL that's looked more consistently sharp on both sides of the football in the preseason than the Cincinnati Bengals.
That sharpness carried over into the Bengals' Sunday night contest with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The first-team offense marched the length of the field on two of its first three drives, with tailbacks Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill each scoring touchdowns.
Bernard told Laurel Pfahler of the Dayton Daily News this season is all about unfinished business for the Bengals. “I think the biggest thing is that we still have a lot to do. I’m just happy to be here to be part of that. I think as an organization, there are things we want to accomplish and I’ll be there for that. I just kept my head down and kept working and that’s how it’s going to continue to be."
It's been said before in this article, and it's worth saying again: It's important not to read too much into the preseason.
But the Bengals have been impressive in almost every single facet of the game on both offense and defense. They have as much talent and depth as any team in football.
And frankly, this ranking feels too low for them based on what we've seen the last few weeks.
6. Green Bay Packers (3-0)
High Ranking: 4 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 8 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 106
Last Week: 6 (105 points)
We had an Aaron Rodgers sighting against the 49ers.
He didn't play much, but as one would expect, when he was in the game, a Green Bay offense that had stalled much of the preseason quickly came to life.
On Green Bay's second possession, the Packers drove 87 yards in 14 plays before Rodgers found Randall Cobb for the score. The drive consumed almost eight minutes.
As Mike Spofford of the team's website wrote, the drive also brought a smile to the face of head coach Mike McCarthy.
“The second drive was exactly what you’re looking for,” McCarthy said. “The communication was excellent. We were able to stay in favorable down-and-distance. That was a good drive.”
It also had Rodgers in a jovial mood, as he poked fun at Cobb's offseason bulk-up. “I was teasing him that he wouldn’t have scored that touchdown at 190 [pounds],” Rodgers said of the receiver. “But he’s 196 now. It was good to see him finish off that drive the right way.”
It's all but surely the first, last and only time we'll see Rodgers in the preseason, and Cobb and tailback Eddie Lacy are probably done as well.
With Jordy Nelson back on the practice field, the Packers are on track to be at 100 percent offensively when the regular season opens.
That's great news for them, and awful news for the rest of the NFC North.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)
High Ranking: 5 (Tomlinson)
Low Ranking: 7 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 108
Last Week: 5 (108 points)
Just as with Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers made his first appearance of the preseason in Week 3.
And just like Rodgers, Roethlisberger had success. In fact, he had a lot of it.
In a pair of touchdown drives to open the game, he quickly threw for 148 yards and two touchdowns, including a long score to favorite target Antonio Brown.
The Steelers ran a fast-paced, no-huddle attack with great success against the Saints, and Roethlisberger told ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler it's something the team plans to utilize frequently in 2016.
"I think our base offense is going to be uptempo," Roethlisberger said.
Tailback Le'Veon Bell also stood out, picking up 58 total yards on just eight touches. Bell told Fowler it was good to hit the field and get dirty.
"Get hit, get tackled, go to the ground a couple of times, shake the rust off a little bit—it felt good," Bell said. "I definitely still felt a little rusty."
That rust may settle back in with Bell serving a three-game suspension to open the season, but with DeAngelo Williams also in the backfield, the Steelers offense probably won't miss a beat.
And it's an offense that's going to score a ton of points in 2016.
4. Seattle Seahawks (2-1)
High Ranking: 2 (Davenport)
Low Ranking: 5 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 118
Last Week: 4 (116 points)
Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril isn't an especially popular man in Texas at the moment.
It was Avril who bent Tony Romo awkwardly on a sack in Thursday's preseason game, a move that broke a vertebra in Romo's back and the hearts of Cowboys fans everywhere.
As Gregg Bell of the News Tribune wrote, Avril was taken aback by the vitriol he's received on social media.
I’m definitely surprised. The Cowboys fans have been sending a lot of hate mail -- well, not ‘hate mail’ -- but a lot of crazy tweets. But I don’t pay too much attention to it.
It’s kind of interesting to see how you just think you are making a play on the football field, and so many people think a certain way about it. But it is what it is. I don’t really care. I’m reaching out to Romo, so it is what it is.
Seahawks fans, of course, will likely shrug their shoulders and say that it's part of the game—that in no way was Avril intentionally trying to injure anyone.
And they are right, of course.
But it just goes to show how fickle the football fates can be. How quickly a team's fortunes can drastically change. If a similar injury befell Russell Wilson, the Seahawks would go from Super Bowl contenders to also-rans in an instant.
So cut the Dallas fans a little slack. They're in mourning.
3. New England Patriots (3-0)
High Ranking: 1 (Sobleski)
Low Ranking: 6 (Tomlinson)
Ranking Points: 118
Last Week: 3 (118 points)
There isn't a team in the NFL better at handling adversity than the New England Patriots. Some teams crumble under its weight. The Pats seemingly thrive on it.
That's going to be put to the test in 2016. The team will open the season without quarterback Tom Brady (suspension), tailback Dion Lewis (knee surgery) and defensive end Rob Ninkovich (torn triceps)
Jimmy Garoppolo will start under center while Brady's out, and while he scuffled a bit against the Carolina Panthers last week, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports expects the team to be just fine with Garoppolo running the offense for four weeks.
Garoppolo has grown immensely from the player we saw in the 2014 season playing in three games. He is confident. He understands the passing game and he's improved getting off his first and second reads. For too many young passers, it's one read and run. That can bring problems. You have to get through the progressions, and he's improved in a big way in that area.
Garoppolo told the Sports Xchange (via United Press International) that despite the uneven outing against the Panthers, he's confident he'll be ready to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.
"Just little things here and there that we need to get corrected," he said. "We'll take care of it. We'll do our best to get there. We've got two weeks 'til [the opener]. We'll work our tails off to get to that point. We'll get there."
If the Patriots start slow, there will be those who will Chicken Little, but I'm not buying what they are selling.
The Patriots could start 0-4 and the smart money would still be on them to win the AFC East.
2. Arizona Cardinals (0-3)
High Ranking: 1 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 3 (Davenport)
Ranking Points: 124
Last Week: 1 (126 points)
The Arizona Cardinals have occupied the top spot in every iteration of this article to date, but after back-to-back flat performances, the Redbirds have fallen from the No. 1 ranking.
Actually, calling Carson Palmer's performance against the Texans flat is being kind.
For the second straight game, he struggled with turnovers, throwing a pair of first-half interceptions—one of which was returned for a touchdown. It was his second straight game with a pick-six, and as Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus wrote, it's fair to wonder if Palmer may be set to regress this season:
Carson Palmer’s 2015 season was otherworldly. Given the deep-passing offense Bruce Arians runs in the desert, with Palmer leading the league in average depth of target (11.3 yards down field), he shouldn’t have been able to be as efficient and careful with the football as he was prior to injuring his finger late last year. That season was so far removed from his career baseline (in terms of PFF grades) that you have to wonder just how far he will regress this season.
Is it too early to panic? Yes. But the last game Palmer played in last season was a nightmare.
And it's been quite a while since he had what can honestly be called a good outing.
1. Carolina Panthers (1-2)
High Ranking: 1 (2 rankers)
Low Ranking: 3 (Sobleski)
Ranking Points: 125
Last Week: 2 (124 points)
There's a new king of the NFL mountain here at Bleacher Report—the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
It might seem like a curious choice at first glance, given that quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers are coming off their shakiest outing of the preseason against the Patriots.
However, as ESPN.com's David Newton wrote, the biggest takeaway from that game may not be what happened between the lines or the final score. It's the maturity the MVP quarterback showed while explaining what went wrong against New England:
The first couple of passes was a great example of taking what the defense gives me. Benji [Kelvin Benjamin] comes in on a dig route and there’s a player right there in the hole. Forcing things when you have superior athletes like a Benji or Ted [Ginn Jr.] or [Devin] Funchess, you get away with certain things.
I’m going to try to give those guys chances, but at the end of the day I’m going to have to be smarter and understand to just keep the production of the offense going forward and everything else will take care of itself.
The Panthers were the NFL's highest-scoring team last year, in no small part because of Newton's phenomenal season.
If he somehow improves as a passer and fully avails himself of his new passing-game weapons in a healthy Benjamin and an emerging Funchess...
Well, that just ain't fair.