NFL Power Rankings: Colts Plummet After Andrew Luck's Retirement

NFL StaffContributor IAugust 27, 2019

NFL Power Rankings: Colts Plummet After Andrew Luck's Retirement

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    NFL preseason games matter. The outcomes might mean next to nothing, but what happens during the contests can have a profound effect on an organization's direction. 

    For years, the third week of the preseason has been known as the dress rehearsal because teams play their projected starters the longest. While this typically remains true, certain franchises have started to keep some of their top performers off the field. 

    Some teams didn't emerge from this week's action unscathed.

    The Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans had significant injuries. The Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, needed to deal with the retirement of star quarterback Andrew Luck—the news broke during their latest scrimmage. 

    What happened can affect the entire league. 

    Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski deciphered the latest circumstances and determined where the teams stand with one week of the preseason remaining. All 32 squads are ranked from worst to first. 

32. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)

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    Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

    High: 31

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 32

    First-year head coach Zac Taylor has placed his stamp on the Cincinnati Bengals after announcing some of his starting lineup for the regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 8. 

    Undrafted rookie Damion Willis will start in place of injured star wide receiver A.J. Green, and Trey Hopkins will start at center.

    "Who doesn't love a coach who says what he means?" Sobleski said. "Most coaches say every position is open to competition when the reality of NFL roster construction is far different. But Taylor wasn't beholden to draft status and let the best performers earn starting jobs. Kudos." 

    At the same time, these moves are cause for concern. 

    Last year's first-round center, Billy Price, has already lost his starting job. John Ross, a 2017 first-rounder, doesn't appear to be any closer to realizing his potential. Furthermore, while Willis continues to exceed expectations, his ascension to the top of the depth chart is an indictment of the team's overall roster quality. 

31. Miami Dolphins (2-1)

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    High: 30

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 31

    The Miami Dolphins aren't any closer to making a quarterback decision. The longer head coach Brian Flores waits, the more likely he is to make the wrong decision.

    "This could go either way," Flores said, per the Miami Herald's Adam H. Beasley. "... I think they're both working hard, both have leadership, both have done a lot of good things. This will be a hard decision for the staff."

    The Dolphins have little to nothing to gain from starting Ryan Fitzpatrick. He may have been the better quarterback through training camp but only marginally so. The journeyman hasn't clearly separated himself, nor would his inclusion in the starting lineup make the Dolphins an AFC East contender. 

    Fitzpatrick led the first-team offense against the Jacksonville Jaguars, completed 12 of 18 passes and threw for one score. Even so, Rosen is 15-of-25 with a few big-time throws over the last two preseason contests.

    Only one correct choice exists for Flores, and it's not starting Fitzpatrick.

30. Arizona Cardinals (1-2)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    High: 28

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 30

    The Arizona Cardinals offense reached somewhat of a happy medium Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings. 

    Kyler Murray's performance fell somewhere between the future superstar quarterback seen during the preseason's opening weekend and the absolute disaster that was Week 2's showing. 

    "He looked fine to me," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said of the rookie, per the Arizona Republic's Bob McManaman. "He was in command all day. We were definitely better as an offense today than we were last week, that's for sure. We moved the ball up and down the field."

    Murray can only do so much. 

    No one outside the Cardinals organization knows exactly how head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense will look once the regular season starts, which remains a problem because Arizona's roster already operates at a talent deficiency.

    The scheme can counteract some of his squad's shortcomings, but what Kingsbury has shown so far isn't enough to consider the Cardinals anything more than one of the league's worst teams. 

29. Washington Redskins (1-2)

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    High: 29

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 29

    Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden named Case Keenum the team's starting quarterback Sunday. Let that decision sink in for a moment. 

    But Gruden left the door wide open for rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins to secure the job once he's ready. As he told reporters, ''As it stands right now, we'll start with Case at the opener, and then Dwayne will get himself ready to play, and we'll go from there."

    The decision makes sense. Keenum is a more reliable option at the moment, whereas Haskins ranks 17th overall among rookie quarterbacks with a 53.7 completion percentage this offseason.

    With the job still on the line, Haskins completed 53.8 percent of his passes Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons. His decision-making and pocket navigation must improve.

    Until then, a physically limited journeyman will lead an offense that already features one of the league's worst skill-position groups, especially if tight end Jordan Reed misses any time with a concussion suffered against the Falcons. 

28. Oakland Raiders (3-0)

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    High: 27

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 28

    The drama surrounding the Oakland Raiders finally subsided this past week. 

    Antonio Brown returned to training camp, and the wide receiver lost his second helmet grievance. Those two issues can now be put to bed. Everything else can get back to normal, or whatever "normal" is for the Raiders. 

    Sobleski elaborated: 

    "Brown's eccentricities were only one of Oakland's problems. Yes, head coach Jon Gruden plans to build the offense around the seven-time Pro Bowler's capabilities, but question marks remain around the offensive and defensive lines. Kolton Miller's growth at left tackle remains a major sticking point, while the starting defensive front needs to generate more pressure." 

    The organization's entire focus can now be placed on making the Raiders a better squad and not dealing with whatever dominates the news cycle. 

    Right now, Gruden and Co. are behind. Instead of building around Brown, Keelan Doss has been the offense's top target. This isn't a bad thing, per se. The undrafted receiver seems to have earned a spot with 11 receptions through three preseason contests. But a significant gap exists between those two strategies.

27. New York Giants (3-0)

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    High: 26

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 27

    A strong preseason showing from the New York Giants hasn't fooled any of Bleacher Report's analysts. 

    "Daniel Jones' great play doesn't mean a whole lot since he's not expected to play at all this season," Gagnon said. "Until the Giants move on from Eli Manning or surprise us with him, they're a bottom-10 team." 

    Despite a 3-0 record during scrimmage season, the Giants have a lot to prove. 

    First, Manning must show he deserves to remain the starting quarterback since the rookie continues to play so well. In order for the quarterbacks to thrive, the Giants' shaky wide receivers must show they're capable of separating and creating chunk plays in the regular season against first-team defensive backs. The offensive line and defense remain works in progress, as well. 

    The Giants still appear much closer to the bottom of the NFC East and shouldn't be counted among the division's top squads because so much doubt lingers about the organization's offseason moves. 

26. Detroit Lions (0-3)

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 27

    Last Week: 26

    The Detroit Lions seemingly escaped a disastrous third preseason contest. Both center Frank Ragnow and linebacker Jarrad Davis suffered injuries before being carted into the locker room. 

    According to ESPN's Michael Rothstein, neither injury is thought to be season-ending, though the Lions organization won't reveal the details behind either. A source told Rothstein that Davis underwent an MRI Saturday for his injured right foot, whereas Ragnow suffered a minor ankle sprain, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    "They will be healing day by day," head coach Matt Patricia said. "We are still evaluating where they'll be at. The one great thing about these two guys is that they have tremendous work ethic. We know they are going to be working as hard as they can to get back as soon as possible."

    Both Davis and Ragnow are important cogs since they're responsible for making in-game calls. The Lions are already considered the NFC North's fourth-best team, and Patricia's squad can't afford to miss a pair of on-field leaders for any amount of time. 

25. Tennessee Titans (1-2)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    High: 22

    Low: 25

    Last Week: 23

    The Tennessee Titans won't even try to hide the fact they can't protect whichever quarterback starts the regular season. 

    "We want to make sure that we can protect our quarterbackthat's important," head coach Mike Vrabel said after Sunday's 18-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, per Jim Wyatt of the Titans official site. "It's imperative that we do that as a staff and we do that as an offensive group." 

    Last week, the NFL upheld Taylor Lewan's four-game suspension for a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy after the Pro Bowl left tackle appealed the initial decision. 

    Dennis Kelly struggled against the Steelers defensive front, and life won't get any easier for the 29-year-old swing tackle when he faces the Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett to open the regular season before lining up against the Indianapolis Colts' Justin Houston, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Yannick Ngakoue and the Atlanta Falcons' Vic Beasley. 

    The Titans have a decision to make at quarterback between Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill, but there's no real opportunity to do so because of the offensive line. 

24. Denver Broncos (1-3)

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    High: 21

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 25

    The Denver Broncos are slowly changing under the direction of head coach Vic Fangio. 

    Younger players are being given opportunities, while the organization eschews older veterans. The team released Zach Kerr and Dekoda Watson on Monday because they were outplayed by Mike Purcell, DeMarcus Walker and Malik Reed. 

    Fangio is building the defense according to his vision. 

    But the hangup is rather obvious: How do the Broncos rise above being the third- or fourth-best team in the AFC West with Joe Flacco leading the way? 

    A good defense is a given; consistent quarterback play isn't. Flacco has played in two of the four preseason games so far and attempted 15 passes. The Broncos didn't score a touchdown with the veteran signal-caller leading the way. 

    ''Listen, I feel like I've got a lot left in the tank, and I feel like I can do a lot more than what I've really shown over the course of my 11-year career,'' Flacco said last week, per the Associated Press' Arnie Stapleton

    The Broncos should hope so. 

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    High: 18

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 24

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting offense opened eyes for all the wrong reasons Friday against the Cleveland Browns. 

    The Browns sacked Jameis Winston five times and accumulated 12 quarterback hits in total. Such a poor performance usually reflects on the offensive line, but head coach Bruce Arians didn't place the entire blame on his front five. Winston was part of the problem. 

    "Two of the sacks, maybe three, were Jameis just staying downfield too long and not coming under to his underneath men," Arians said, per the Tampa Bay Times' Eduardo A. Encina. "He would have had first downs twice by just taking the underneath stuff. He hung on to a touchdown pass a little too long, especially on the 3rd-and-5 down in the red zone."

    Arians' comments encapsulate where the entire Buccaneers organization stands this season: Everything rides on Winston's development.

    His prowess as a vertical passer seems to be a perfect fit for Arians system. But he must make the right reads, or everything will fall apart.

22. Buffalo Bills (3-0)

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    High: 19

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 22

    Two steps forward and one step back seems typical of Josh Allen's maturation as a starting quarterback. Obvious growth occurred throughout training camp and into the first two preseason contests. But he made mistakes and reverted to old bad habits Friday against the Detroit Lions. 

    The second-year signal-caller displayed poor decision-making, threw across his body and tried to force balls. 

    "Obviously, I wish I was a little smarter with the football tonight," he told reporters. "There was one play in particular we got bailed out there, but it's something that I just can't do, and I know I can't do that. ... I understood that we wanted to run the ball, and I wanted to take a shot, and I can't go with that mindset."

    The Bills drafted Allen seventh overall last year knowing full well he was a developmental prospect with fantastic natural gifts. Mistakes are going to happen. The fact he recognizes those missteps will help his continued growth. 

    As with any ongoing process, the Bills will be forced to endure more mistakes because their young quarterback is still learning and working at his craft. 

21. Indianapolis Colts (0-3)

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    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    High: 19

    Low: 22

    Last Week: 7

    The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Indianapolis Colts no longer have their franchise quarterback. 

    Andrew Luck's decision to retire before the start of the 2019 regular season shocked everyone outside of a select few within the organization who knew of his intentions. The Colts immediately went from a possible Super Bowl favorite to well outside the division race and playoff picture in these power rankings. 

    "I sort of feel bad moving the Colts so far down, but that's just the reality when you lose your franchise quarterback for whatever reason," Gagnon said. "This Colts team is better equipped to battle without Andrew Luck than the 2017 version, but it's still hard to imagine Indy having a winning season." 

    Indianapolis still features a talented roster.

    Jacoby Brissett was arguably the league's best backup, and the 26-year-old will now receive an opportunity to prove he can be a quality starter. He'll be helped by the league's best offensive line, a talented stable of young running backs, two starting-caliber tight ends, an improved wide receiver corps and a fundamentally sound defense. 

    Don't be surprised if the Colts are better than expected once the shock of Luck's retirement wears off. 

20. New York Jets (1-2)

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 21

    The New York Jets appear to be on track, but they're not quite as far along as they could be. Head coach Adam Gase focused on the team's drive when speaking with reporters last week: 

    "I think where our locker room is right now where guys are really working hard and trying to focus on creating the best team we can possibly be. The unselfishness here is outstanding. Guys just — they work. It’s not about them, it’s about the team and I’ve been very impressed with how our players have gone about their business."

    The potential is obvious. 

    Sam Darnold looks like a future franchise quarterback. Ty Montgomery developed into a nice complementary back this preseason since the Jets chose to be cautious with Le'Veon Bell. The offense has passing-game weapons in Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Quincy Enunwa and Chris Herndon (once the tight end returns from a four-game suspension).

    The defense is loaded with talent thanks to Leonard Williams, Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams. But the team lost linebackers Avery Williamson to a season-ending ACL injury and Brandon Copeland to a four-game suspension. 

    The Jets are improved, but they still have plenty of room to grow as a whole. 

19. San Francisco 49ers (3-0)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    High: 17

    Low: 23

    Last Week: 18

    Apparently, the San Francisco 49ers didn't make a $137 million mistake by signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a contract extension, even though that's the way it felt after his first preseason performance when he completed only one of six passes against the Denver Broncos

    The 27-year-old signal-caller looked far more comfortable coming back from last year's torn ACL during his second preseason action. 

    "Last week wasn't nearly as bad as it looked, but it definitely did look that bad live," head coach Kyle Shanahan said, per ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "And today everyone was on the same page a little bit better, we moved the chains a couple times, and you just get into a rhythm and you start forgetting about things and playing football."

    Garoppolo was sharp against the Kansas City Chiefs. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 188 yards and a 20-yard touchdown pass to running back Matt Breida. 

    "All the hearsay and whatever noise is going to go on, you have to ignore it and just go play football," Garoppolo said. "... So, just get that out of the way. It's another step in the right direction."

18. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    High: 16

    Low: 22

    Last Week: 20

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are slowly climbing their way up the power rankings. The reason is simple: Everyone knows who they are.

    Well, sort of. 

    The Jaguars feature a talented defense, a strong running game and a legit starting quarterback in Nick Foles after years of trying to hide Blake Bortles' deficiencies. They may still have a few offensive question marks, particularly at tight end and wide receiver, but the group crept back into the AFC South picture after this weekend's happenings, as Davenport noted: 

    "The Jaguars have looked...let's go with less than impressive in losing all three of their exhibitions so far. But the Colts are in free-fall after Andrew Luck walked away from the game. The Texans lost two offensive starters Saturday and looked like absolute crap on the offensive line. And the Titans are, well, the Titans. The Jaguars can play defense. They should be able to run the ball effectively. A few days ago, they were an afterthought in the division. Now if I had to pick today, they'd be my choice to win the AFC South. My head hurts."

    It's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but the Jaguars' current position is better than it was a week ago. 

17. Baltimore Ravens (3-0)

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    High: 14

    Low: 25

    Last Week: 19

    A wait-and-see approach is necessary when ranking the Baltimore Ravens because they're expected to unveil a new offense during the regular season. 

    SiriusXM's Adam Caplan spent some time at Ravens training camp trying to discern exactly what Baltimore's offensive scheme will eventually look like. 

    "You're going to see a lot of pistol [formation]. You're going to see a lot of what you saw last season," he said during an interview on the Pro Football Fire podcast. "They do want to expand the passing a little bit with [Lamar] Jackson now that he's in there for a full-time basis. But they're still going to be a run-based offense. ... [John Harbaugh] wants more of a running offense than a passing offense." 

    Harbaugh didn't even play quarterback Lamar Jackson in the third preseason contest. Instead, rookie Trace McSorley ran around and made plays against the Philadelphia Eagles. The coaching staff is in no hurry to reveal anything regarding its supposed revolutionary offensive system. 

16. Seattle Seahawks (2-1)

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 17

    The Seattle Seahawks defense continues to evolve. 

    Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider originally built a Super Bowl-caliber unit around the secondary. Over time, the defensive front became Seattle's calling card. Now, the linebacker corps will define the Seahawks' season. 

    Seattle suffered multiple blows to the defensive front this offseason. It traded Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs. Jarran Reed received a six-game suspension for a violation of the personal conduct policy. This year's first-round pick, L.J. Collier, is dealing with a high ankle sprain. Ziggy Ansah, who the team signed in free agency, continues to recuperate from shoulder surgery. 

    As such, the onus falls on Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks to lead the defense, and they took the field as a complete group for the first time Saturday against the Los Angeles Chargers. 

    "I can't tell you a bunch about it," Carroll said, per ESPN's Brady Henderson, "but just to have those guys out there running the show is something that's really important to us, and I think it's going to be a real strength of our club. That was kind of their debut, and they'll be ready for the opener." 

    Seattle can rely on its linebackers and quarterback Russell Wilson when everything else goes wrong. 

15. Minnesota Vikings (3-0)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    High: 15

    Low: 17

    Last Week: 16

    The Minnesota Vikings are stuck in an identity crisis. 

    Last year, head coach Mike Zimmer fired John DeFilippo over the offensive coordinator's approach. Zimmer wanted to be a more physical team with a greater emphasis on the running game. 

    Enter Kevin Stefanski.

    The current coordinator began to build the scheme with the head coach's vision in mind. The team combined for 190 rushing yards Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals, including Dalvin Cook's 85-yard touchdown scamper. 

    The ground game might look better, but the offense is far from complete, as Davenport stated: 

    "It's important not to overreact too much to anything that happens in the preseason, and Dalvin Cook's long touchdown run was a good sign for a Vikings team that was 30th in rushing a year ago. But outside of one 29-yard pass to Stefon Diggs, Kirk Cousins went 2-of-12 against the Cardinals for six yards. That's not a stat line you expect from a $28 million quarterback, even in a game that doesn't count."

14. Atlanta Falcons (0-4)

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    High: 13

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 15

    Concerns regarding the Atlanta Falcons special teams grow with each passing week. 

    The Falcons committed seven special-teams penalties in their third preseason contest against the New York Jets. Miscues marred Atlanta's fourth contest Thursday against the Washington Redskins. Rookies Marcus Green and Olamide Zaccheaus both lost fumbles inside the Atlanta 20-yard line to give Washington short-field scoring opportunities. 

    Also, kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed his only field-goal attempt. He's now botched three of his last four tries. A source told ESPN's Vaughn McClure a hitch has been found in the kicker's technique.

    "My job now is to discern what I'm supposed to learn from these experiences," Tavecchio told reporters. "... You have to flush kicks in the preseason when there's not as much on the line so that if and when it happens in the regular season, you have those game reps already and how to handle the adversity."

    The Falcons may be biding their time before re-signing long-term kicker Matt Bryant.

13. Carolina Panthers (1-2)

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 17

    Last Week: 14

    Prior to the Andrew Luck news, the NFL world stopped when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton suffered a foot injury during Thursday's contest against the New England Patriots. 

    Fortunately, Newton's injury amounted to a mid-foot sprain, and head coach Ron Rivera expects him back to practice this week, according to ESPN's David Newton. As such, the Panthers' stock didn't plummet. In fact, the opposite happened; Carolina moved up one spot in this week's power rankings. 

    "I'm not moving the Panthers down because it looks like they dodged a bullet with the Cam Newton injury, Gagnon said. "They remain on track for a big bounce-back season. Newton has more support than ever, and he, Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore should form one of the best trios in the league this year."

    A healthy Newton with an improved supporting cast and aggressive defense will keep the Panthers in the NFC South mix. 

12. Houston Texans (1-2)

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 15

    Last Week: 13

    The ripple effects from Luck's retirement start within the AFC South. The Colts were the presumptive favorites despite the Houston Texans winning the division last year. But that's no longer the case. 

    The Texans now leap to the forefront, though they're dealing with adversity as well. As a result, Davenport isn't handing the division to the Texans: 

    "One would think that Luck's sudden retirement would all but hand the AFC South to Houston. But the Texans have problems of their own. Lead tailback Lamar Miller is done for the season after tearing his ACL Saturday night. Guard Zach Fulton was carted off the field as well, leaving his Week 1 status up in the air. And an offensive line that led the NFL in sacks allowed in 2018 may actually be worse. If the Texans play up front in New Orleans in Week 1 the way they did in Dallas, Deshaun Watson won't live to see Week 2."

    While everything stated above is true, each team in the division now has major question marks. The Texans have done the best of overcoming these obstacles in the past with three division titles in the last four seasons.

11. Los Angeles Chargers (0-3)

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    John McCoy/Getty Images

    High: 9

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 11

    The uncertain status of multiple key figures in the Los Angeles Chargers lineup is the reason the team didn't rise this week. 

    First, Melvin Gordon's holdout continues, though Austin Ekeler is a capable replacement. Second, Russell Okung is still unavailable after suffering a pulmonary embolism due to blood clots in June. Los Angeles could overcome both, but Derwin James' broken foot placed a significant damper on the team's overall upside. 

    The Chargers are still quite talented, but the offensive line, in particular, has been a disappointment. Head coach Anthony Lynn placed the first-team offense in a position to convert 4th-and-1 on two different occasions against the Seattle Seahawks; the unit failed both times. 

    "I wasn't excited [the] first three quarters," Lynn said after the contest, per the Los Angeles Times' Jeff Miller. "Especially the 4th-and-1s."

    The Chargers will receive a boost once starting center Mike Pouncey and quarterback Philip Rivers return to the lineup, but Los Angeles isn't a better squad today than the one that finished 12-4 record last season. 

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0)

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    High: 10

    Low: 10

    Last Week: 12

    The Pittsburgh Steelers looked stellar Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and should be counted among the league's best. 

    "The AFC North will be a dogfight this season," Sobleski said. "The Baltimore Ravens are the reigning division champions and the Cleveland Browns look like a much-improved team on paper, but the Pittsburgh Steelers won't lay down for anyone. The Steelers still feature an elite quarterback talent and a strong offensive front, and they've seemed to answer both of their biggest offseason questions."

    Sobleski's final point revolves around potential problem areas at inside linebacker and wide receiver.

    This year's 10th overall draft pick, Devin Bush, has been all over the field during the preseason and presents a similar skill set to that of the injured Ryan Shazier. Antonio Brown's departure will be offset to a degree by James Washington's emergence. Washington caught a 41-yard touchdown pass Sunday. 

    "We talk about all second-year players making significant steps, he’s done that," head coach Mike Tomlin said of Washington, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac. "He's kind of representative of the group."

9. Cleveland Browns (2-1)

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 9

    The Cleveland Browns aren't just a hyped offense with quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. as the team leaders. 

    The Browns defense is ferocious, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers learned Friday. Cleveland sacked the Buccaneers' quarterbacks seven times. Starter Jameis Winston barely had time to throw because he was constantly under duress. 

    Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians summed up his offensive line's performance rather well. 

    "They got their ass kicked," Arians said, per Football Outsiders' Thomas Bassinger

    More than enough star power exists on the Browns defense to dominate opponents.

    Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson lead the charge along the defensive line. Vernon manufactured a pair of sacks in his first preseason action. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert made the Pro Bowl after the 2018 campaign. The secondary, meanwhile, features a Pro Bowl cornerback in Denzel Ward, a ball-hawking safety in Damarious Randall, an experienced strong safety in Morgan Burnett and a talented rookie, who just may take a starting spot, in Greedy Williams. 

8. Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    High: 7

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 10

    The Dallas Cowboys projection has less to do with what's happened this preseason and more to do with off-field concerns. 

    Two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott continues his holdout. The Cowboys are also dealing with potential contract extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper.

    "In terms of off the field, what you want is everybody under contract, and everybody is under contract that makes the squad, lining up against the Giants. That is the goal," owner Jerry Jones said, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer. "... When you don't have everybody under contract playing, then you're dealing with a blowout or you're dealing with a flat tire someplace and you try to get it fixed."

    Tony Pollard is the Cowboys' version of fix-a-flat, while Michael Gallup is the spare tire in the passing game. The two young players will be important parts of the offense and can take the pressure off the Cowboys in negotiations. 

    Pollard led the Cowboys in rushing for the second straight preseason contest, and Gallup caught a 12-yard touchdown pass during Dallas' second drive Saturday against the Houston Texans. 

    But the Cowboys will be even better if/when Elliott returns to the lineup. 

7. Green Bay Packers (1-2)

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    High: 4

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 8

    The Green Bay Packers' third preseason contest didn't go exactly as planned. The Packers and Oakland Raiders played on an 80-yard CFL field because Green Bay's brass raised concerns about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' turf, particularly in the end zone. 

    Head coach Matt LaFleur decided to sit his starters because of the conditions and the Raiders' decision to do the same. 

    "We were going to have all our starters play, and it was just one of those deals," LaFleur told reporters. "We certainly have all played on much worse surfaces in our life, but it was just one of those deals where they weren't playing their starters and so we just decided to sit them."

    How Aaron Rodgers will adjust to LaFleur's new offense remains a mystery, but the two-time NFL MVP isn't concerned. 

    "The best reps I'm going to see all summer are in practice," the quarterback said last week, per Mike Spofford of the team's official site. "If Matt wants us to play, we'll play and go out and compete. If not, I feel pretty good about where we're at."

6. Chicago Bears (1-2)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 6

    The stunning reveal of Luck's retirement occurred during the Colts' contest Saturday against the Chicago Bears, which overshadowed the fact that Chicago is doing nothing with its starters to improve during the preseason. 

    "I'm trying to do what's best for the Chicago Bears," head coach Matt Nagy said after the Bears' second preseason contest, per the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer. "Every team is different and that's OK. Each coach has their own plan with their own team as far as where they're at depth-wise. We love where we're at right now in regard to our starters."

    While a coach usually knows what's best for his team, the Bears still have two major question marks. How will the defense perform without Vic Fangio calling the plays, and how will Chicago's new-look backfield perform? 

    Neither of those questions could have been fully answered during the preseason, but it could have been beneficial to give the starters more run to jell. 

5. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    High: 4

    Low: 7

    Last Week: 5

    The depth found throughout the Philadelphia Eagles roster is staggering. Said depth has been on display during the preseason. 

    Philadelphia is eight-deep at running back. Corey Clement led the way Thursday with seven carries for 25 yards. Clement is the Eagles' third-leading rusher this preseason, and he's ahead of the team's projected starter, Jordan Howard, and this year's initial second-round pick, Miles Sanders. 

    The organization's second pick in the second frame, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, stole the show against the Baltimore Ravens by catching eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. Right now, Arcega-Whiteside is the team's fourth wide receiver behind Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor. 

    As impressive as those two positions are, the offensive line depth is even better. The Eagles field two starting-caliber front fives, which they've needed during the preseason. First-round pick Andre Dillard was spectacular at left tackle before Jason Peters returned to the lineup. Jordan Mailata is supremely talented and doing well as Lane Johnson's preseason replacement. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, meanwhile, looks great at right guard filling in for the recuperating Brandon Brooks. 

4. Los Angeles Rams (1-2)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 4

    The Los Angeles Rams have shown next to nothing this preseason by design. Head coach Sean McVay continued to sit the majority of the team's starters even in the supposed dress rehearsal.

    "You never want to see your main guys that you're counting on get injured, especially in games where it's really just tuneups for the regular season," McVay said, per the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein. "Anytime you see great players like Cam [Newton] or anybody else get injured, you always hate that. That's always the most unfortunate part of the game." 

    So the Rams' ranking is based on more last season and the projected contributions of their offseason acquisitions.

    One example of a preseason standout is rookie nose tackle Greg Gaines, even though Sebastian Joseph-Day is the projected starter. Both performing well is crucial since they're trying to replace Ndamukong Suh.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 3

    The Kansas City Chiefs knew they couldn't compete at a Super Bowl level with an inferior defense. The organization made extreme changes to that side of the ball this offseason, and they appear to be paying dividends. 

    "The Chiefs traded Dee Ford away because he wasn't a complete edge player," Sobleski said. "Kansas City knew it had to bring in difference-makers. Frank Clark certainly fits the bill."

    Clark registered his first sack as a member of the Chiefs on Saturday against the 49ers. Everyone knows what Andy Reid's squad can do offensively, but the defense needed a significant boost after last year's pitiful performance. Clark, who registered 32 sacks over the last three seasons, brings a different level of athleticism and aggressiveness to the team's defensive front. 

    "He's physical, he's fast, he's kind of a complete player," Kansas City right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said, per Kansas.com's Vahe Gregorian. "You've got to be prepared for everything."

    Clark along with the additions of fellow defensive end Alex Okafor, safety Tyrann Mathieu, linebacker Darron Lee and cornerback Bashaud Breeland add punch to a once-listless defense.

2. New Orleans Saints (2-1)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 2

    The New Orleans Saints remain the class of the NFC until further notice. 

    "The Patriots are still my No. 1 team in these rankings, but the Saints showed against the Jets that they aren't far behind," Davenport said. "Drew Brees and the first-team offense took all of about three minutes to drive the field and score a touchdown to open the game, and Cameron Jordan and the defense put the clamps on New York's offense in the first quarter. The NFC South is going to be quite the brouhaha in 2019, but New Orleans is as talented and balanced as any team in the league."

    Davenport's final point is exactly why the Saints rank ahead of other NFC standouts, such as the Rams and Bears. New Orleans' roster is complete. The offense has always been the franchise's calling card, but Dennis Allen's reconstruction of the defense makes the Saints doubly difficult to handle. 

    When projecting for the regular season, the best all-around squads rise to the top.

1. New England Patriots (3-0)

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 1

    Last Week: 1

    So much emphasis has been placed on what the New England Patriots will do on offense after Rob Gronkowski's retirement and Josh Gordon's return that their defense doesn't get enough recognition. 

    "My goodness, the New England defense looks damn good," Gagnon said. "That unit is deep and talented and primed for a huge season, and the Patriots should be favored to win a second consecutive championship." 

    The Panthers offense managed 99 total yards Thursday. 

    Bleacher Report's analysts adhere to the adage, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." The Patriots have been "the man" for the last 18 seasons, and there doesn't appear to be any let-up among the current cast of characters after another Super Bowl victory. 

    Even if the offense isn't as dynamic without its future Hall of Fame tight end (and no one knows exactly what to expect from Gordon), Bill Belichick and Co. appear ready to revert to their old way of winning by playing fundamentally sound defense and ball-control offense.