NFL Power Rankings: Chris Simms' Rankings Heading into Preseason Week 3
We're halfway through the NFL preseason. While much of what we've seen still isn't NFL reality, we're finally starting to get a good idea of what teams might look like once the regular season arrives.
This is when players first start getting excited about being on the football field. They've made it through the meat-and-potatoes of training camp and are finally getting back to a regular football schedule. Some of the veterans are even looking ahead to roster cuts. I know I would get sick of having 90 guys crowding my locker room.
Coaching staffs are closer to getting their teams in regular-season form, too. Heading into Week 3, most have 50 of their 53 roster spots mentally filled out. We're beginning to get a clear idea of which guys the coaches value.
All of this means that while we're not seeing finished products, we are starting to see the formation of teams. This is why this week's power rankings are going to look a bit different than after Week 1 of the preseason, when many actual starters and lineups weren't even on the field.
32. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week's Ranking: 26
It's appearing less and less likely that quarterback Andrew Luck will be back by Week 1. With that being the case, I have to start evaluating the Indianapolis Colts as the team that's been on the field the past two weeks.
At this point, I'm pretty concerned. Last week's performance was underwhelming, and I'm not sure this week's wasn't even worse. The Dallas Cowboys offensive and defensive lines really pushed the team around, and Indy consistently failed to make big plays.
My big thing with the Colts is that there are no difference-makers on the defense. There's no one I look at and believe the team can depend on to make a big play in a big situation. Yes, Indianapolis added some defenders during the offseason, but the defensive performances so far have resembled those of the 2016 Colts.
The offensive line is better, but I don't think the team is overly gifted at the running back position. Frank Gore is a good running back, but he's no longer a home run threat. Who's going to make the big plays on offense other than T.Y. Hilton? With Luck out, Hilton isn't even that much of a threat.
This is a totally different team with a totally different aura when it doesn't have Luck on the field.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week's Ranking: 27
I hate to say I told you so.
Who am I kidding? No, I don't.
When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Blake Bortles third overall, I told you it was one of the worst third picks in the history of the NFL. Jacksonville is now on the verge of ruining its chance to advance its football team this year unless general manager Dave Caldwell lets go of his ego and gives up on Bortles. If the Jaguars insist on making Bortles work, this season is going to be very difficult.
There's no question about who should be the starting quarterback this season. It's Chad Henne. End of conversation. Some of Bortles' throws are inexcusable at this point in his career. Henne may not be an elite passer, but he can make the throws Bortles has been missing.
There are some bright spots on the offense, though. Allen Robinson is a playmaker, and Dede Westbrook is a guy I would definitely watch out for in the future. The tandem of Chris Ivory and Leonard Fournette could be very, very good.
Defensively, there are some pieces there as well. I just think we've all been overrating the Jacksonville roster a little too much. The Jags have accumulated plenty of high draft picks, but that means little when I'm sitting there watching Dante Fowler Jr. and Myles Jack have little impact on a game.
There is potential here, but potential is all the Jaguars have right now—and they don't even have that at the quarterback position.
30. Cleveland Browns
Last Week's Ranking: 30
Heading into the third game of the preseason, it's rough that the Cleveland Browns don't seem close to settling their quarterback situation. Brock Osweiler has done nothing to convince me he deserves a starting job. He finished 6-of-8 for 25 yards and an interception.
Rookie DeShone Kizer, on the other hand, is capable of making some big plays, but I don't think he's ready to be a consistent quarterback at this point in his young career.
With that said, there are a couple things I am pumped about with the Browns. Starters Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio didn't play on Monday, but this is still an offensive line that could be one of the best in the league. Conversely, the more I see from Cleveland's defensive front seven, the more I like it.
Rookie Jabrill Peppers is looking like he can be a special punt returner too.
My big question—other than the obvious one at quarterback—is who will be the playmakers for the offense? Who's going to get the ball on a handoff or a catch and take it 50 yards to the house? I'm entirely unsure.
29. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week's Ranking: 28
Like most of the teams at the bottom of these power rankings, quarterback is a question mark for the San Francisco 49ers. Brian Hoyer isn't terrible, but he isn't anything special, either.
Hoyer got things going against the Denver Broncos on the second drive, but he then somehow fumbled a throw for a turnover. He later threw the ball behind a receiver, which allowed cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris to wrestle it away. He also failed to lead the team on any scoring drives.
The San Francisco offense doesn't have the overall talent head coach Kyle Shanahan would like, but there are some building blocks in place. Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson look like they could be big parts of the offense this year.
This is a team in transition. Players like George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk can be future contributors. Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard has shown some good things, too. While he may not be the long-term answer, he can be a solid backup for the next several seasons. Young defenders like Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas join veterans like NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks to form a strong core.
While the 49ers are still looking for players to fit in the Shanahan system, there may be more pieces in place defensively than I gave the team credit for before the season.
28. Buffalo Bills
Last Week's Ranking: 25
First of all, let's stop talking about the prospect of benching Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. I know Nathan Peterman had some nice throws against the Philadelphia Eagles. I know Taylor had a couple of interceptions. Those interceptions, though, weren't entirely Taylor's fault.
On the first one, LeSean McCoy really needed to block the blitzer who tipped the ball for the interception. The second one came on an all-out blitz, where offensive coordinator Rick Dennison should have called a different play. There was no change, no hot route. It was just "sit there and try to throw to somebody open right before you get hit." It wasn't the only time it happened, either.
That second pick was on Dennison as much as it was Taylor. This offense needs to start having some better plans in place.
So I don't really worry about Taylor. What I do worry about is where Buffalo is going to find playmakers. Sammy Watkins is gone, as is Anquan Boldin. Zay Jones is a good player, but he isn't a difference-maker.
I'm not sure where the defensive playmakers are, either. Marcell Dareus is supposed to be the leader of the defense, or so says his contract. He needs make more plays. It's good to see Shaq Lawson on the field, but he doesn't jump off the screen to me. This should be a well-coached defense, but I'm not sure how talented it really is.
If no one other than Taylor and McCoy can put the ball into the end zone, though, it isn't going to matter how well-coached the defense is.
27. New York Jets
Last Week's Ranking: 32
I know you're probably thinking, "Wait, you moved the New York Jets up?"
Look, I know expectations for the Jets aren't high, but I'm not willing to give up on them. What I am willing to give up on is the idea of Christian Hackenberg as New York's starter. I've seen enough. He isn't an NFL starter, and he's probably not a backup either. End of story.
So why move the Jets up? First of all, the Jets defense is for real. That unit should be one of the best in football, certainly in the top 10. After watching it operate over the weekend, I feel confident in saying that. Statistics may not reflect this—especially if a poor offense keeps the defense on the field all game long—but this is going to be a tough unit to handle.
Based on the defensive talent the team possesses, I'm willing to move the Jets up a few spots. That defensive line is dominant. Darron Lee is looking impressive inside with Demario Davis. The two young safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, have tons of potential.
I'm also evaluating this team with Josh McCown at quarterback. He didn't play this past week, but his performance in Week 1—he went 3-for-4 for 72 yards and a touchdown—was encouraging. McCown is a veteran with a strong arm who knows how to read defenses. He should have some young weapons in ArDarius Stewart, Charone Peake and Jordan Leggett. As long as he can stay healthy, I think the offense can be better than people expect.
With that defense leading the way, the Jets could pull off some upsets this season.
26. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week's Ranking: 31
If the Los Angeles Rams had Aaron Donald out there right now, I'd be saying they're a team to watch out for this year. I'm not saying the Rams are playoff-caliber, but they could go 6-10 or 7-9 and upset some teams along the way.
New head coach Sean McVay has to be excited with what he's seen through two exhibition games, especially on the offensive side of the ball. He has transformed the way Jared Goff looks under center.
It's a good thing the Rams didn't listen to Eric Dickerson and make Sean Mannion the starter. With weapons like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett and Sammy Watkins now around him, Goff is playing like an NFL quarterback. He looks poised and confident, and he's starting to make the throws he needs to make. I look at the offense and believe there's something there.
I really don't have a whole lot of questions about the L.A. defense. The Rams have a stout defensive front and some quality defensive backs like Trumaine Johnson, who had a big interception over the weekend. The biggest thing is that they need Donald back. He's a difference-maker and maybe the most disruptive defender in the league in general.
When Donald returns, the Rams should be ready to make some noise.
25. Chicago Bears
Last Week's Ranking: 29
The Chicago Bears wanted to start Mike Glennon this season because he's the veteran and he's expected to take care of the football. But in his first two preseason starts, he hasn't done that. That's concerning.
Against the Cardinals on Saturday, the Bears headed toward a score when Glennon threw a pick to Tyrann Mathieu. The following drive, he almost threw another bad interception into coverage. Rookie Mitchell Trubisky wasn't as impressive as he was in his Week 1 debut, but he did close the gap a little bit more on Glennon.
Trubisky did go against the third-teamers, but he's an excellent thrower of the football and he appears completely unflappable. That's what I respect about him.
In addition to Trubisky, Bears fans should be excited about the offensive line and the running game. The line is one of the 10 best in football. We know Jordan Howard is good, but Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Ka'Deem Carey have impressed this preseason.
It was also good to see Kevin White back out there catching passes.
Defensively, the Bears could be better than folks realize. They have a strong front seven with guys like Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard and Jaye Howard. Kyle Fuller is starting to look like a player at the back end, and I really like Eddie Jackson at safety. He's a good tackler and has the length to match up with tight ends like Martellus Bennett and Eric Ebron.
I think the Bears are a team to watch out for.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week's Ranking: 24
Between Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and Tra Carson, the Cincinnati Bengals have quite the stable of running backs. In fact, I actually wonder if one of them ends up on the trading block before the end of the preseason. That's one thing to keep an eye on if you're a Bengals fan.
Andy Dalton looked sharp against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday. Tight end Tyler Boyd did as well, and it was good to see him joining the mix. Dalton could use another target, especially with first-round pick John Ross having missed time with a shoulder injury.
Cincinnati's offensive line seems to be heading in the right direction after losing Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth during the offseason. That's big.
Defensively, it was good to see young guys like William Jackson III and Andrew Billings out there playing and moving well. It was also interesting to see how a slimmed-down Vontaze Burfict moved with quickness and fluidity on the field.
It's unfortunate that safety Shawn Williams suffered an elbow injury, but I think the Bengals can survive it.
My big concern with the Cincinnati defense is its lack of a pass rush. This team needs to generate pressure to succeed against the likes of Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC North. I'm just not sure they have enough difference-makers on the defensive line. There's a lot of good, but not a lot of great.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week's Ranking: 23
Quarterback Carson Wentz again looked impressive for the Philadelphia Eagles this past week. My biggest question with the offense is who can make plays with the ball in their hands other than him? Philly doesn't seem to have many guys who can catch a five-yard pass and break it for a big play.
Still, Nelson Agholor is looking better, Alshon Jeffery looked good and I think people are a little too worried about LeGarrette Blount. He excels in pass protection, and once paired with Darren Sproles, I think Blount will be able to find running room. He can be a bell-cow back once the Eagles get to the regular season.
The trade for cornerback Ronald Darby has paid immediate dividends for the defense. He had one interception against the Bills and almost came away with another. He's the type of cornerback Jim Schwartz can trust on an island, which opens up a ton of options in the rest of the secondary.
Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett and Mychal Kendricks were also impressive on defense. I'm hoping Kendricks has finally found his way out of Schwartz's doghouse. To me, he seems to be playing really disciplined football, which was an issue last year. His athleticism and speed are undeniable, and Kendricks is all over the field right now.
22. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week's Ranking: 22
The Arizona Cardinals are maybe the hardest team to judge in football right now. I could seriously put them anywhere from No. 12 to No. 22 and not question myself too much about it.
Quarterback Carson Palmer looked good against the Bears on Saturday. The ball really popped out of his hand, and he made accurate throws. However, we still haven't seen this offense at full strength because John Brown remains sidelined. I still have concerns about the offensive line, too. I'm just not sure how dominant it can be.
It's hard to get a read on this team in general without its best player, David Johnson.
I'll also say this about the offense—I think Blaine Gabbert should be the backup. I believe he has surpassed Drew Stanton.
There was some good and some bad with the defense over the weekend. The way Chicago pushed Arizona's defensive line around in the running game was concerning. Having said that, Robert Nkemdiche had a solid game, which is encouraging. Linebacker Scooby Wright III had another strong showing as well.
The athleticism of first-round pick Jarrad Davis was apparent against Chicago, but he still looks a little bit lost. Mathieu didn't look at all lost, and his knee appears to be 100 percent.
21. Carolina Panthers
Last Week's Ranking: 20
It's hard to get a feel for the Carolina Panthers offense without seeing Cam Newton on the field. The Panthers made it doubly hard against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday because of how they started off.
On Carolina's first offensive play, wide receiver Devin Funchess lost a fumble after an eight-yard reception. The next drive was a three-and-out. The drive after that started with a Derek Anderson interception.
The way Carolina's running game functioned was encouraging, though. The offensive line opened holes for Christian McCaffrey, who was exciting to watch. He's not only a weapon in the passing game; he's a legit between-the-tackles runner, too. He also might have a little bit more home run ability than I gave him credit for coming out of Stanford.
The defense was put in some tough positions to start the game, but it did some good things overall. I just still don't know what they're going to be on the defensive side of the ball.
All of the talent on Carolina's defense is on the interior. If you were to ask me who the five best defenders on the Panthers roster were, I'm going to tell you Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Vernon Butler, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Everybody else—the edge-defenders and the secondary—is somewhat of a question mark.
I'm interested to see where the season takes Carolina, because this is a team with some high-end players but also a lot of other guys I really question.
20. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week's Ranking: 19
Look, I have to be honest: It's been difficult to accurately judge the Los Angeles Chargers through two preseason games. They haven't had good showings, but they also haven't had Philip Rivers, a healthy and complete offensive line or starting cornerback Jason Verrett.
In addition, the defense is still making the transition from a hybrid 3-4 to Gus Bradley's Seattle-style 4-3 base system.
What we've seen so far isn't the Chargers we're likely to see in the regular season.
Melvin Gordon has looked good. That's a positive. We know the Chargers have a strong receiving corps, even without Mike Williams. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should thrive as true hand-in-the-dirt defensive ends in the new system.
We simply haven't seen the best this team has to offer, though I expect to see more of that in the third week of the preseason.
19. New Orleans Saints
Last Week's Ranking: 21
Take my word for it: Alvin Kamara is the best running back on the New Orleans Saints. I'm saying it now, and everyone is going to believe it by the end of the season. For my money, Kamara was a better prospect than Joe Mixon. He's physical, strong, quick and catches the ball well out of the backfield.
I was also impressed with what I saw from rookie offensive tackle Ryan Ramcyzk. Was he perfect? No. Did he get pushed around a bit in pass protection? Certainly. There are things to work on, but I also saw him and Andrus Peat open up a damn big hole for Kamara to run through. That's an encouraging thing.
Oh, and the Saints are still going to be able to throw the ball on almost anyone. I don't care that they don't have Brandin Cooks. They still have Michael Thomas and Willie Snead, and they're good.
I'm really excited about the way this defense is coming together. Manti Te'o came in and dominated his former team from the middle linebacker spot. Sheldon Rankins and Alex Okafor both popped as well.
I think the Saints secondary is going to be much improved, too. It's deep, young and talented. I love the way Marshon Lattimore looks. He didn't play much, but I think he's simply an elite player. It was a strong defensive showing for the Saints overall, and there's a lot to build on there.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week's Ranking: 18
I have a feeling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense is going to be extremely dangerous this season. Jameis Winston was impressive this past week, and we finally got a glimpse of the offense with DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and O.J. Howard. That's going to be a tough group to defend. However, Winston still has a tendency to make dumb decisions.
Running back Doug Martin is my big question mark with the offense. He looked good against the Jaguars, but he doesn't blow me away the way he did a couple years ago when he racked up over 1,400 rushing yards. I just don't see the same explosiveness out of him.
I do wonder what the Buccaneers do with Martin moving forward. He's due to make a lot of money, and he's looking at a three-game suspension to start the season. Because of that, I view him as a possible under-the-radar cap casualty before the regular season starts.
The offensive line seems to be improving for Tampa, which is great, and Donovan Smith is looking comfortable at left tackle.
I can't say enough about cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. He was impressive, as was Gerald McCoy. The kid who really impressed me, though, was former LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith. He brings a little more physicality and size to the middle linebacker spot.
Overall, both the offense and defense should be improved this season.
17. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week's Ranking: 17
Once again, Dalvin Cook impressed for the Minnesota Vikings. I think this team has found its next franchise running back and biggest offensive playmaker. Stefon Diggs looked like the same receiver he was last year, and quarterback Sam Bradford also played well.
The Vikings offense, especially on its field-goal drive, actually pushed the Seattle Seahawks around a little bit. Bradford made some nice throws from the pocket. In all, I think this is an offense that will be remarkably better than it was last year.
The Vikings defense didn't have the greatest night against the Seahawks, but I don't have a lot of questions about the group.
If I'm a Vikings fan, I'm pumped about the combo of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. I think those two have the potential to be one of the best defensive end duos in all of football.
The continued development of Mackensie Alexander also gives the secondary the potential to be one of the NFL's best. Sandwich him at nickel between Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes, with Anthony Barr at linebacker and Harrison Smith at safety, and the Vikings have a secondary that's going to be tough to get open against.
The big thing for Minnesota is that the team needs to continue finding ways to make big plays on offense. It's not realistic for every drive to be a 13-play, 80-yard affair.
16. Houston Texans
Last Week's Ranking: 16
The second game of the preseason showed Deshaun Watson might not yet be ready to be the Houston Texans' starting quarterback. He didn't do a bad job, but he certainly didn't wow. The New England Patriots exposed his immaturity as a pocket passer to a degree, which is why he finished 3-of-10.
Yes, Watson produced 102 yards with those three completions, but 96 yards came on two short passes that the receivers turned into big plays. Bruce Ellington took a short pass 33 yards, while D'Onta Foreman busted one for 63 yards.
For now, I think Tom Savage should be the Texans' starter. I've always liked the way he throws from the pocket, but I really liked the way he moved around against New England and bought time with his legs. That's a must for every quarterback in this day and age.
I'm also excited about the running back trio of Lamar Miller, Foreman and Alfred Blue.
The Houston defense is special. It wasn't easy for Tom Brady to move the ball on the defense in chunks. The one issue is a lack of pass-coverage linebackers. The New England Patriots were able to move the ball with passes to running backs.
Overall, though, the Texans are stout on defense and appear to be improving on offense. I'm enthusiastic about what this team can be this year.
15. Denver Broncos
Last Week's Ranking: 15
There's no denying Paxton Lynch's athletic ability. We saw plenty of it on his runs against San Francisco on Saturday. However, there shouldn't be any doubt that Trevor Siemian deserves to be the Denver Broncos' starter. I've definitely seen enough to say that.
Siemian is quicker in the pocket, he's a quicker decision-maker and he gets the football out faster. If the Broncos want to give themselves a shot at being a contender and possibly returning to the Super Bowl, Siemian is the guy to do it behind.
I was also really impressed with Stevan Ridley. He seems to have overcome the knee injury he suffered a few years ago and looks like the back he was before it. He should add a new dimension to the offense.
Denver didn't play a ton of their starters on defense against the 49ers, but they still managed to make some big plays. The interception by Lewis-Harris stands out among them. This is a dominant and deep defense. This is the second week in a row we've seen the group cause some havoc and force turnovers.
14. Miami Dolphins
Last Week's Ranking: 13
The encouraging takeaway for the Miami Dolphins is that Jay Cutler looked really good. I wasn't expecting him to look the way he did, but it was impressive. Cutler is obviously still one of the better throwers of the football in the NFL.
Miami's offensive line is a little beat up, so we didn't get a good look at the true O-line. They certainly weren't as dominant in the run game as they were last year when Jay Ajayi was racking up rushing yards.
I wouldn't be too concerned about the team losing 31-7 against the Baltimore Ravens, though. The first-team offense looked good, and Adam Gase seemed to play the game close to the vest. As a former player, it looked to me like he just wanted to get his guys some reps and get them out of the game. There was a lot of simple, max-protect packages on offense, likely to ensure Culter and even Matt Moore stayed healthy.
I think DeVante Parker is a true breakout candidate this season. Cutler, who recently called him a "faster Alson Jeffery," probably agrees.
The defensive side of the ball is where I expect some big improvement this season. There are some nice new pieces there. Fans should keep an eye on rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. He's got a good-looking body for an interior lineman, and he really stood out to me.
Rookie corner Cordrea Tankersley and second-year corner Xavien Howard are also guys I'm going to be watching. Howard seems to have transformed his body and looks like a legit NFL corner. Tankersley snagged an interception. Miami will need those guys with Tony Lippett out for the season with a torn Achilles.
13. Washington Redskins
Last Week's Ranking: 10
You know, maybe we've undervalued how the Washington Redskins lost two of the game's best play-callers in Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay over the past few years. One thing I've failed to take into account as an evaluator is that Jay Gruden is calling the plays now. That means there's a different offensive dynamic in Washington.
So far, the passing game has failed to fire on all cylinders. What really worries me, though, is that the offensive line has been pushed around physically through the first two weeks of the preseason.
The Washington defense, to me, is definitely one of the bright spots with this team. It didn't look great to start the game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday, but the group did have Aaron Rodgers to deal with—and I'm not sure Washington expected him to start. I like the unit overall.
I like Washington's front seven a lot more than I have in years past. I like the physicality of the group, and the secondary should be better as well. Kendall Fuller is starting to look like a playmaker, and I was really encouraged to see Fabian Moreau out there. He's a guy who has a chance to be not only a contributor in year one, but a superstar corner.
I do worry about Washington's ability to get sacks from someone other than Ryan Kerrigan.
12. Green Bay Packers
Last Week's Ranking: 14
I'm beginning to get a little nervous about predicting the Green Bay Packers will miss the playoffs this year.
The defense for this team is really encouraging. Young guys like cornerbacks Kevin King and Josh Hawkins got the chance to get valuable reps. I'm going to keep my eye on them moving forward. I'm also going to be watching the three guys in the middle of the defense—Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan. If those guys can take a positive step and the secondary can improve, this could be a solid defense.
I don't have many questions about the Packers passing game.
Guess what, Aaron Rodgers looked like Aaron Rodgers on offense. It was nice to see him get some additional preseason work, though. He played just one game last preseason and then came out a little rusty in the regular season. We also got a little glimpse of the Rodgers-Martellus Bennett connection with a touchdown pass.
I do have questions about the running game. Jamaal Williams got the start at running back with Ty Montgomery sidelined. He's pretty good, but I don't think he's anything special. Green Bay needs to find an answer there to help take some of the pressure off Rodgers. That's my only real offensive concern.
11. Tennessee Titans.
Last Week's Ranking: 12
The most inspiring thing about the Tennessee Titans' preseason so far is the fact Marcus Mariota's leg appears to be back to 100 percent. He looks good running, and I think he actually looks more fluid throwing the football this year. He looked more mechanical to me during his first two years, as if he had to think about what he was doing. Now, he's just letting it go.
Titans fans also have to like what they saw from Derrick Henry and Tre McBride, too. Both should be solid contributors this season. We haven't seen the offense at full strength yet because there hasn't been a Corey Davis sighting. Once he's out there, however, this could be one of the most dangerous offenses in football.
I loved what I've seen from rookie corner Adoree' Jackson. He has the look of a future shutdown corner, and he could already be one of the more dynamic returners in the NFL.
With a more balanced offense, a solid defense, a strong rushing attack and now perhaps a deadly return game, the Titans pose a legitimate threat in the AFC South.
10. Detroit Lions
Last Week's Ranking: 11
Matthew Stafford was great for the Detroit Lions in Week 2. I expect to see another MVP-type season out of him. Running back Ameer Abdullah was good, but I still have serious questions about his pass protection. This is an area in which he really needs to improve.
We also had the first Marvin Jones sighting of the preseason. He looked great along Golden Tate. Then the Lions have this Kenny Golladay kid, who looks like he's going to be a legitimate No. 3 receiver. This is shaping up to be the most well-rounded offense the Lions have had during the Stafford era.
The Detroit defense was dominant through the game against the Jets. It did a lot of really good things, but I was most impressed by the play of the defensive interior. The play of both Akeem Spence and A'Shawn Robinson was great.
We should mention, though, that Hackenberg never really challenged the Detroit secondary, so I'm still not quite sure of what the Lions have there.
I would like to see the defense with Ezekiel Ansah back in the lineup. The Lions are going to need him now that Kerry Hyder is lost for the season with a torn Achilles.
9. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week's Ranking: 9
If I'm an NFL team, I'm scared of the Baltimore Ravens right now. I love everything about this team except for the health of Joe Flacco. That does worry me, because Ryan Mallett isn't a quarterback I want to depend on in the regular season.
Mallett isn't the most accurate quarterback and, much like Paxton Lynch, he has a tall, long delivery that takes a while to come out.
Other than my Mallett concern, I'm thrilled with everything I've seen in Baltimore. I can't say enough about this team's front seven. With guys like Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson now in the mix, I like the secondary almost as much.
The guys who have really jumped out at me on defense are Jefferson and No. 96, Brent Urban. Urban has really popped off the screen, and Jefferson just changes the look of Baltimore's secondary in general. He's a blur on the field at times in both the run and the pass game, and he makes the secondary so much faster.
It was good to see rookie corner Marlon Humphrey out there, too. He didn't look great and he fell a few times, but the condition of the Dolphins' field was laughable.
Until I hear for certain that Flacco won't be ready for Week 1, I can't drop this team out of playoff range.
8. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week's Ranking: 8
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott looked good in Week 2 of the preseason. I know he was going against an underwhelming Colts defense, but he's still easing concerns that his awesome rookie campaign was a fluke. He seems to be taking on a bigger leadership role this season, which is encouraging. His back-shoulder throw to Dez Bryant was marvelous.
Guess what, the Cowboys offensive line looked good as well. Shocker. It allowed Darren McFadden to rush for 59 yards on nine carries, which is impressive. I'll say this, though: Ezekiel Elliott would have broken a couple of those carries for much longer gains.
I still worry about Dallas being without Elliott for the first six weeks of the season.
I'd also like to reemphasize that I believe the Cowboys are taking a tremendous risk by having Kellen Moore as their backup quarterback. Moore has no business being a quarterback in the NFL. That's just the way it is, nothing personal. He doesn't have a strong arm, he's undersized, he has a slow release and he's probably one of the least athletic quarterbacks in all of football.
On the defensive side of the ball, a lot of young guys contributed against Indianapolis. The guy who stood out to me was Byron Jones, a first-round pick out of Connecticut two years ago. He looks like he is going to make a huge jump this year.
I wasn't as impressed with Jaylon Smith. Look, I'm probably happier than anyone to see him back on the football field, but let's pump the brakes on how great he looked. I can't say he's the same guy I believed was a top-five pick before the knee injury. I need to see a little bit more.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week's Ranking: 7
It's heartbreaking that the Seattle Seahawks lost offensive tackle George Fant for the season to a torn ACL. He looked like a player poised to make a big jump this season. Even with the loss of Fant, though, I've been encouraged with what I've seen from Seattle's offensive line as a whole.
The Seahawks should get back to being a top-five rushing team.
Russell Wilson seems ready to take another step forward, which is scary. The trimming of his body has allowed him to be even more fluid in the backfield and quicker as a scrambler. I think we're going to continue to see some great improvisation from Wilson as both a runner and a passer. In fact, we're likely to see a Wilson that looks a lot like Aaron Rodgers this year.
The Seahawks may have found Wilson another quality target in Kasen Williams, who racked up 28 yards and a score a week after producing 119 yards receiving. He's a big-bodied target who can create mismatches.
I'll be keeping my eye on cornerback Shaquill Griffin through the rest of the preseason to see whether he can be a legitimate contributor on this defense.
6. Oakland Raiders
Last Week's Ranking: 6
I was impressed with how Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch fared in his debut. I know he only logged two carries, but he looked and moved a lot better than I thought he would after a year away from the game.
I was even more encouraged by how quarterback Derek Carr moved and played after a broken leg cut his 2016 season short. The offense as a whole looked good. Michael Crabtree played well, Amari Cooper made a nice grab down the sideline and Carr made a terrific throw to Lee Smith for Oakland's first touchdown of the game.
While I'm still anxious about Donald Penn's holdout—which reportedly could end as early as Tuesday, per Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, but has not as of yet—the line played well without him. Marshall Newhouse and rookie David Sharpe both looked capable of holding down the left tackle spot if need be.
We also got our first look at tight end Jared Cook, who should be a nice addition to the offense. The Raiders should now be able to run three-TE sets with Cook, Smith and Clive Walford and pound the ball as well as spread out defenses with them.
Khalil Mack was dominant in his limited time. I was really impressed with how Justin Ellis performed at defensive tackle as well. He seems to have lost some weight and seems quicker and more explosive off the ball.
I was also impressed with the two rookie linebackers. No. 55, Marquel Lee, is a rookie out of Wake Forest who started the game and looked like he belonged. His discipline and physical ability stood out. No. 35, Nicholas Morrow, looks like another guy who can contribute to the defense this year.
I also like how defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. played. Hopefully he can help add something to the Oakland pass rush.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week's Ranking: 5
The Atlanta Falcons was extremely effective on Sunday—and that was without Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman in the lineup. I've repeatedly questioned this offense's ability to pick up where it left off without Kyle Shanahan, but so far, so good.
Atlanta produced a 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive on its first possession. It's hard to argue with those results.
So far this year, though, it's the Atlanta defense I've been really eager to watch. The depth and speed on that front seven is awesome. There are a lot of versatile defensive linemen in the group who can play end or tackle depending on the matchup. As far as talent goes, Atlanta is truly becoming a complete team.
The biggest challenge the Falcons have right now is continuing to grow the Steve Sarkisian-Matt Ryan relationship. I can tell you firsthand that the quarterback-coordinator partnership is extremely important. These two really need to get to know what each other likes as far as play calls and their thought processes that go with certain situations.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week's Ranking: 4
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was really sharp in his few series against the Bengals defense. If he can continue to pull the trigger on some of the downfield throws like the one he threw to Travis Kelce, this offense is going to be one of the more dangerous ones in the NFL all season.
We already know the Chiefs have a stacked backfield. Much like the Bengals, they almost have too many backs, and I wonder if one ends up on the trade block before the regular season. Spencer Ware, C.J. Spiller and rookie Kareem Hunt all looked terrific. I actually thought Charcandrick West was the least impressive back of the group, and he had seven carries for 113 yards.
We know the Chiefs have a great defense in general. Derrick Johnson has looked good in the middle so far while coming off an Achilles injury. Ramik Wilson has looked good, too, and the inside linebacker positions were what I questioned.
Dee Ford and Justin Houston really popped as well. I know they didn't have any sacks, but they appear poised to be one of the league's better pass-rushing duos in the regular season.
I also liked what I saw from some of the young defensive backs such as Eric Murray, who snagged an interception. This just speaks to the depth the Chiefs have in their defensive backfield.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week's Ranking: 3
Once again, many of the Pittsburgh Steelers upper-tier players didn't play. There was no Big Ben, no Antonio Brown, no Ryan Shazier and no Bud Dupree. On the plus side, though, Martavis Bryant was back on the field. It's never easy to come back from such a long layoff.
I'm still worried about how the Steelers can replace Le'Veon Bell if his holdout continues into the season. Rookie James Conner looked good with 98 yards on 20 carries, but the offense isn't the same without Bell.
Some key members of the defensive front—Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu—got meaningful reps in the game. What I saw from Matty Ice and the Falcons offense early reinforced what scares me about the Pittsburgh defense.
I'm not convinced they've strengthened the pass defense enough to be able to contain high-octane offenses. If Bell doesn't reenter the picture, it might also become hard for the Steelers to keep pace like they often have in the past.
2. New York Giants
Last Week's Ranking: 2
Wideout Odell Beckham Jr. suffered an ankle injury on Monday night against Cleveland, the team announced. I've said from the get-go that the New York Giants star shouldn't play a down until he got the contract extension he deserves. This is exactly why.
Aside from the Beckham injury, I'm still concerned we aren't seeing more out the Giants offense. New York added weapons like Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram in the offseason. While the offensive line played well against Cleveland, the Giants only mustered three points in the first half.
It would help if New York could find a consistent running back. As a team, the Giants produced just 29 yards rushing against Cleveland's starting defense in the first half.
Defensively, the Giants are tip-top. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon coming off the edge and Damon Harrison in the middle, that defensive line is stacked. Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie form a stellar cornerback duo, and Landon Collins is developing into one of the best safeties in the entire NFL.
Overall, the Giants defense is one of the most exciting units in the league.
1. New England Patriots
Last Week's Ranking: 1
Tom Brady was sharp in his preseason debut for the Patriots. Aside from an early throw that was nearly intercepted, he made few mistakes. He finished 6-of-9 for 67 yards and a touchdown.
We also saw the capabilities Rex Burkhead has as the new toy in the Josh McDaniels offense. Not only did he run well between the tackles, but he worked well as a receiver out of the backfield. He finished with three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown. He can be New England's new version of LeGarrette Blount and, quite honestly, I believe he's better than Blount.
On defense, I was super impressed with the play of rookie linebacker Harvey Langi and new defensive end Lawrence Guy. They should help flesh out a defensive front that is really a lot bigger than I think people realize. David Harris looked good at the middle linebacker spot as well.
There aren't many questions on this team overall. My only question is the depth at outside linebacker. With Rob Ninkovich retired and rookie Derek Rivers out with a torn ACL, that position is a little thin.