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Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
The first week of the NFL preseason is in the books, and while you can’t count on the first slate of exhibition contests to create seismic shake-ups, that doesn’t mean nothing changed—even if most of the changes happened on (or off) the practice field.
The starters who did play didn’t see much time. Thankfully, there were no major injuries to the ones who did step onto the field. As such, this week’s power rankings look a lot like last week’s.
But there was a trade or two. We’re a week longer into holdouts by a couple of the league’s top tailbacks and an injury that continues to dog a potential MVP candidate.
And things in Oakland, as they often do, just got weird.
As will be the case each and every week throughout the preseason and regular season, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport have gathered to slot the teams from worst to first.
This time, the emphasis is on the developments that might actually matter.
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Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Last Week: 32
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals fielded the worst defense, allowing 413.6 yards per game.
If Saturday’s preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs was any indication, not much has changed.
Granted, plenty of teams had trouble slowing down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense in 2018. But the Bengals couldn’t stop anyone—whether it was Mahomes and the first team or fourth-quarter scrubs. They surrendered 38 points and 400 yards in a blowout loss.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Quarterback Andy Dalton led the starters on a touchdown drive on the first series. But that was about the only thing to like in a game in which the Bengals put up only 274 yards of offense and turned over the ball four times.
It’s going to be long season. And given that the team appears to be on a collision course with a high draft pick, it’s fair to wonder whether Dalton is heading into his last year as the starter in Cincinnati.
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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
Last Week: 31
The big story from the Miami Dolphins’ preseason opener Thursday was undoubtedly the play of young quarterback Josh Rosen. As he has throughout camp, Rosen played with the second team against the Atlanta Falcons, completing 13 of 20 attempts for 191 yards with a pick.
That effort has led for calls for Rosen to get first-team practice reps, but per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, head coach Brian Flores said he doesn’t need to see Rosen with the ones to determine whether he should start Week 1.
“If he can fire the ball into split safety coverage into the turkey hole versus the ones or the twos, we can see about making those decisions then,” Flores said. “If you’re watching, you get a good evaluation of a guy. That’s how I see the game at the quarterback position. I guess other people see it differently, but that’s how I see it.”
Unless Ryan Fitzpatrick falls apart over the next few weeks, it’s going to be the 36-year-old veteran under center when the Dolphins face the Baltimore Ravens at Hard Rock Stadium to open their regular season Sept. 8.
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Last Week: 30
The future is now in New York!
After Daniel Jones’ sterling debut against the New York Jets on Thursday, some think he should clearly be the Week 1 starter—and that the sixth overall pick might be the best quarterback in franchise history.
On the other hand, while Jones did go 5-of-5 for 67 yards with a touchdown pass, it was during one series of a game that doesn’t count.
As Jared Dubin reported for CBS Sports, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur was the first to tell everyone not to read too much into the situation:
“I think, ‘Slow your roll.’ This is just his first go around. I think he did a good job. As I mentioned, all along he has done nothing to disappoint us, and certainly when you take the team down the field and score a touchdown, that’s a good start. It’s something good to build on. We have a lot of time left before we start playing games. Nothing at this point has changed.:
If nothing else, at least fans have something to feel enthusiastic about—provided they remember how to do that.
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David Richard/Associated Press
Last Week: 28
The dominant storyline surrounding the Washington Redskins is the battle at quarterback between rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins and veterans Case Keenum and Colt McCoy.
But given how the Washington O-line looked in a 20-point loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, that battle may not have a winner—only losers.
Granted, all of Haskins’ struggles in an uneven (at best) debut can’t be blamed on poor pass protection. But his protection was poor throughout, and the Redskins were unable to get much of anything going.
There doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of this tunnel. According to JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington, Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams is dead set against playing another down for the team.
“He’s not coming back. Period,” one source who had spoken to Williams said.
Haskins is an accurate, strong-armed passer (70 percent completion rate at Ohio State in 2018), but fleet of foot he ain’t. Without good line play in front of him, he (and Keenum and McCoy for that matter) is going to struggle.
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D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press
Last Week: 26
The Oakland Raiders kicked off the preseason with their 2019 debut on Hard Knocks and ended it with a win over the Los Angeles Rams.
But what happened in between stole all the headlines.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Antonio Brown filed a grievance against the league and threatened to retire if he’s not allowed to wear his old helmet, which is not longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment.
This came after he reportedly suffered frostbite on his feet after not wearing the proper protection in a cryotherapy chamber, per Chris Simms of Pro Football Talk.
As talented as he is, Brown has seemed to be a distraction dating back to last year’s late-season theatrics in Pittsburgh. Head coach Jon Gruden defended Brown while speaking with reporters, though:
“The helmet thing is a personal matter to him. He has a strong feeling about what he’s worn on his head and we’re supporting him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot. And we hope Antonio is back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. I’m excited. I got some plays for him, I hope we can start calling them.”
If Brown gets back on the field and starts catching passes, this and the cryotherapy kerfuffle will be forgotten soon enough.
But the last thing the Raiders need is for this saga to drag on.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Last Week: 29
Kyler Murray debuted with the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday, and after completing six of seven passes for 44 yards in limited action against the Los Angeles Chargers, he set off a rash of giddiness-induced hyperventilations across the Valley of the Sun.
Murray told Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals’ official website that he was glad to get his first game action out of the way.
“It’s natural as a rookie to have expectations, how is it going to be, overthink it,” Murray said. “For me, I was just going out there being myself, like always. Trust in my abilities, trust in what Coach calls, and just trying to go out there and execute what he calls. It was fun.”
Reading too much into limited action against a vanilla defense isn’t wise, but you can’t blame fans for being excited about the future, especially given what the recent past looked like.
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Leon Halip/Getty Images
Last Week: 25
It’s important not to read too much into the results of a preseason game—especially the first one.
That’s a good thing for the Detroit Lions. Because if these rankings were based strictly on what happened Thursday against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, then they would be ranked 35th. Out of 32 teams.
New England outgained the Lions by a ratio of nearly 5-1 on the way to a 31-3 victory. Detroit managed just 21 yards passing—largely due to the 81 yards lost on the nine sacks surrendered.
Per Justin Rogers of the Detroit News, head coach Matt Patricia did his best to find a silver lining.
“Obviously the score wasn’t where you want it to be and all that, but if you look at some of the things from an evaluation standpoint, some of the guys out on the field, definitely thought there was some improvement with some of those players out there,” he said.
Tell yourself whatever you need to, Coach.
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Michael Owens/Associated Press
Last Week: 27
The first week of the preseason for the New York Jets was an exercise in losing a game but winning the day.
The co-tenants of MetLife Stadium defeated them 31-22, but second-year quarterback Sam Darnold was sharp in his limited action against the Giants, completing four of five passes for 68 yards and a score.
Per Brian Costello of the New York Post, Darnold said getting some game reps with new head coach Adam Gase as the play-caller was important:
“It was huge. I think we just continue to make strides. These preseason games, I think that’s what that’s for, is just communication, continuing to be on the same page and it didn’t really change from practice very much, the only thing that changed was that I was able to get hit. I think just my communication with the O-line and the receivers and the running back, the tight end, I thought was pretty good. We can clean things up, but I thought for the most part, we did a pretty good job.”
If Darnold and Gase can keep this chemistry going in games that count, the Jets just might surprise some people.
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Last Week: 24
The Denver Broncos lost their second preseason contest to the Seattle Seahawks, but there were some positives for the team to hang its hat on.
Drew Lock’s performance improved relative to a shoddy outing in the Hall of Fame Game, with the second-round rookie passing for 180 yards and a score with an interception. Tailback Royce Freeman looked good as well, peeling off a 50-yard run.
The Broncos aren’t the best in the AFC West by any stretch. But they’re also not a bad football team. If they catch a few breaks, they could be a surprise playoff contender.
At least, that’s what Will Brinson of CBS Sports thinks. He predicted that a strong defense, an improved offensive line and a solid season from veteran quarterback Joe Flacco will get the Broncos into the postseason after two straight 10-plus loss campaigns.
Our analysts are just a tad more skeptical.
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Don Wright/Associated Press
Last Week: 23
There was good news and bad news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Most of the good news came on the offensive side. Starting quarterback Jameis Winston looked sharp, completing all but one of his passing attempts while leading the Bucs to a touchdown on his lone series of the game. Tailbacks Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones combined to average over five yards a carry.
The bad news came on defense, where the Buccaneers were a sieve. Much of Pittsburgh’s scoring admittedly came late, but a less than stellar cadre of reserve quarterbacks regularly carved up the Tampa pass defense.
In other words, the 2019 Buccaneers looked a lot like the 2018 Buccaneers—a prolific offensive team done in by a leaky defense.
A year ago, that led to a 5-11 season and a last-place finish in the NFC South.
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Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Last Week: 22
If you’re a glass half-full type, then you can look at the Tennessee Tians’ first preseason game and say that quarterback Marcus Mariota showed good chemistry with free agent-addition Adam Humphries. The wide receiver caught four passes in his Titans debut, drawing praise from his quarterback.
“He makes it easy,” Mariota said, per Jim Wyatt of Titans Online. “He finds soft zones, is a tough matchup for teams. He makes it easy on us. I thought we did a fairly good job early on. We converted some third downs. We have something to build off of and got a good amount of plays in, and I’m looking forward to next week.”
However, Mariota misfired on his other four pass attempts and was outplayed by Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pair of touchdowns and posted a passer rating of 138.
If that continues, the quarterback controversy everyone swears doesn’t exist in Nashville is going to.
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Adrian Kraus/Associated Press
Last Week: 21
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen had a very Josh Allen game in his team’s exhibition win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Allen showed off the mobility that helped the Bills go 4-3 over their last seven games last year, picking up eight yards on his lone scramble. But the accuracy issues that have dogged him dating back to his collegiate days at Wyoming were evident as he completed just six of 11 attempts.
Buffalo has talent on both sides of the ball, whether it’s a loaded backfield or young impact defenders like linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, 21, and safety Jordan Poyer, 28.
But so long as Allen’s completion rate remains well under 60 percent, the offense is going to be hit-and-miss—and the AFC East squad is going to be hard-pressed to remain a consistent contender for a wild-card spot.
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Gail Burton/Associated Press
Last Week: 20
The Jacksonville Jaguars were trounced by the Baltimore Ravens in a preseason game that doesn’t carry a ton of weight given that over 30 players (including 20 starters) sat out. Despite so many important players taking the night off, quarterback Nick Foles told John Reid of the Florida Times-Union that the road trip to Baltimore had value.
“This team has really been bonding every single day,” Foles said. “We’re getting closer and closer, and anytime you can go away from your city on a trip, and you’re practicing, you’re playing a preseason game, it just brings you closer together.”
However, the fact they were shut out and managed just 112 total yards of offense is a reminder that the Jaguars remain one big question mark on that side of the ball.
It’s a safe bet the Jacksonville defense will be stout in 2019. But unless Foles and that offense take a major step forward this year, it will be difficult to challenge the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.
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Gail Burton/Associated Press
Last Week: 19
Unlike the Jaguars, the Ravens trotted out starting signal-caller Lamar Jackson for a short time Thursday evening. Jackson made the most of his short stint, connecting on four of his six attempts for 59 yards and a score in Baltimore’s blowout beatdown of Jacksonville.
Jackson told Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports he feels much more comfortable as a passer in his second season.
“I know I said it a million times last year, just coming in a rookie, it is a lot different,” he said. “If you are like me, you’ve waited your whole life for this. But, this year was like I already did it, so I just have to perform and come out and win.”
Limited action against a JV defense isn’t a guarantee Jackson is ready to take a big step throwing the football. But if he does, this lopsided score will have been a reminder that the Ravens could be a dangerous team in 2019.
And one we’re underrating here.
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Last Week: 18
In news that should surprise exactly no one, Russell Wilson sat out Seattle’s first preseason game. But there was something of a surprise under center in Seattle’s eight-point win over the Denver Broncos.
Maybe it was because he was playing against his old team, but Paxton Lynch looked about as good as he ever has on an NFL field, passing for 109 yards and a score and adding another 38 yards and a second touchdown on four scrambles. Lynch was vastly better than journeyman veteran Geno Smith, who hit on just three of nine passes and will miss at least a week after undergoing a procedure on his knee.
Tailback Rashaad Penny, on the other hand, did not enjoy similar success as he tries to carve out a bigger offensive role in his second season. Gaining just 2.5 yards a pop on six totes is not the sort of performance that’s going to eat into Chris Carson’s workload.
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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
Last Week: 17
As the Minnesota Vikings try to wash off the stink of a massively disappointing 2018 season and re-establish themselves, they showed encouraging signs during their exhibition victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was sharp in his brief stint, completing all four throws he attempted for 65 yards and a score. Wide receiver Adam Thielen caught his only target of the game for 34 yards. Rookie tailback Alexander Mattison scored his first professional touchdown. And the first-team defense looked relatively sharp, albeit against a Saints team without Drew Brees.
That the Vikings have talent on both offense and defense isn’t up for debate. The question was whether they could be more unpredictable and consistent in a new offensive scheme.
Limited action against a defense not exactly pulling out all the stops isn’t the truest of indicators in that regard, but early returns are positive. Like the Ravens, this is another team that could surge up this list in the weeks to come.
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John Hefti/Associated Press
Last Week: 16
Every exhibition season, a handful of players emerge as preseason stars. Some use it as a springboard to a successful year. Many others fade back into obscurity once games begin to count.
It remains to be seen which category rookie wideout Jalen Hurd will eventually fit into. But after the first full week of the preseason, the youngster from Baylor is one of the most talked-about rookies in the game.
With Jimmy Garoppolo taking the night off, Hurd and fellow first-year wideout Deebo Samuel were the offensive stars for the Niners. Samuel racked up 75 yards on three touches, including a 45-yard grab. Hurd scored both of San Francisco’s touchdowns, showing the speed, athleticism and ability to gain yardage after the catch one would expect from a converted tailback.
Watching those first-year players shine likely had Garoppolo champing at the bit to get on the field with his improved array of passing-game talent.
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Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Last Week: 15
It’s neither entirely accurate nor fair to use the 34 points and 361 yards the Falcons allowed in a loss to the Miami Dolphins as an indictment of the defense as a whole. After all, it was a game in which many starters played sparingly or not at all.
But it also can’t be denied that it was a spotty showing against a team that’s not exactly an offensive dynamo. It’s also a reminder that Atlanta’s hopes of making it back to the postseason in 2019 depend largely on marked improvement from a defense that ranked 28th in the league a year ago.
The return of a healthy Keanu Neal will help, as will (hopefully) getting 16 games from middle linebacker Deion Jones. But both the pass rush and secondary remain potential problem areas.
And since the Falcons allowed 265 yards through the air to the Dolphins and managed just two sacks, neither area fared especially well in the loss.
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Mark Black/Associated Press
Last Week: 14
Like their division rivals in Atlanta, the Carolina Panthers are a team that needs improvement rushing the passer. What was once of the most feared pass rushes in the game free-fell to 27th in the NFL in sacks during the 2018 season.
In an effort to bolster that pass rush, the Panthers spent their first pick of the 2019 draft on Florida State edge-rusher Brian Burns. It’s still too early to offer final judgment on the wisdom of that pick, but so far, so good.
All Burns did in his Panthers debut was record a pair of sacks against the Chicago Bears, showing the burst off the edge that got him drafted in Round 1 while drawing the praise of head coach Ron Rivera.
“I thought Burns was explosive,” Rivera said, via Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. “He was exactly who we thought he was.”
It was about as good a first game as you could have, and Burns didn’t try to hide his excitement.
“To have that success in my first game, it’s amazing,” Burns said.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
Last Week: 13
In some respects, Houston’s first exhibition week was more about what happened before the loss in Green Bay than anything that happened during the game.
The Texans shipped a conditional 2020 draft pick (likely a third-rounder) to the Cleveland Browns for tailback Duke Johnson Jr. in a move that gives them both depth behind Lamar Miller and another offensive weapon on passing downs.
It was a relatively expensive move given the market for running backs in trades, but the argument can be made it was also a smart move by a Texans team without an official general manager.
However, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is still there. While the Packers only had two sacks and four quarterback hits, they were consistently able to generate pressure against a Texans front that gave up a league-leading 62 sacks in 2018.
If that line continues to struggle, Houston’s chances of repeating as division champions could be in trouble.
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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Last Week: 12
In 2018, one of the biggest areas of weakness for the Pittsburgh Steelers was a lack of athleticism and coverage skill at inside linebacker. Both are necessities in today’s NFL, which features spread offenses and pass-heavy game scripts.
Pittsburgh traded up in this year’s draft to procure a potential remedy for that problem in Michigan’s Devin Bush.
In his first action as a pro, Bush made quite the impression. During the first half of Friday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he racked up 10 tackles (including seven solos), showing just the kind of sideline-to-sideline range the Steelers defense lacked in 2018.
“I was less concerned with his productivity and more concerned about his demeanor,” Tomlin said. “And I really liked his demeanor. He was present. It wasn’t too big for him. He handled the communication responsibilities associated with his job. He was alert, and those were good signs”
Tomlin wasn’t alone in being impressed.
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Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Last Week: 11
For the Dallas Cowboys, preseason reports have been and will continue to be about one thing: Zeke Watch 2019.
Ezekiel Elliott is still in Mexico holding out in hopes of a new contract, but team owner Jerry Jones told the Cowboys’ website he’s confident rookie Tony Pollard, who had four carries for 16 yards against the 49ers Saturday, is capable of filling in for the reigning NFL rushing king if it comes to that.
“I certainly thought he had a good account of himself,” Jones said. “He looks confident out there, we know he’s inordinately understanding of what he does and can do. We’ve seen him do it, we know he’s capable of, if he really needs to, carrying the whole load.”
If you believe that, there’s some oceanfront property near Topeka on which I’ll give you a sweet deal.
It’s too early to drop the Cowboys in these rankings, as it’s still more likely than not that Elliott will be in the backfield when the Cowboys host the New York Giants in Week 1.
But Jones’ assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, this is not the same team without Elliott in the backfield.
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Ron Schwane/Associated Press
Last Week: 10
The Cleveland Browns were the most hyped team in the NFL during the offseason. That hype isn’t going to die down one bit after the preseason opener against the Washington Redskins.
Yes, it was a meaningless game. But that meaningless game went about as well as Freddie Kitchens dared hope in his debut as Cleveland’s head coach.
Despite being without its top two wide receivers, Baker Mayfield and the first-team offense were brutally efficient in their lone possession, driving 89 yards for a touchdown. Myles Garrett and the defensive line overpowered Washington’s front all night long. Rookie defenders Mack Wilson and Greedy Williams both nabbed three interceptions, including two (and a pick-six) from Wilson.
The highlight of the evening? Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, the undrafted free agent who bluffed his way into a tryout with the team, scored on an 86-yard punt return while wearing Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats because he lost his own.
You cannot make this stuff up.
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Mike Roemer/Associated Press
Last Week: 9
Neither Aaron Rodgers nor Deshaun Watson played in last week’s exhibition tilt between the Packers and Texans. And if the Green Bay quarterback had his way, the two teams wouldn’t have practiced together, either.
Still, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur allowed that Rodgers had a point regarding the benefit of joint practices but said last week’s workouts still helped the team:
“From his perspective, I can understand where he’s coming from in some regard because it’s not like they’re playing, they run about four different coverages, so it’s not overly complicated. It’s not like [Packers defensive coordinator Mike] Pettine throwing everything at you. So, I get it from his perspective. But at the same time, there’s 10 other guys on the field with him on each play, and it was great for us, especially when you talk about our run game getting some different looks to go against. I always respect his opinion, just like I do all our players. But I still think it was beneficial for us.”
It wouldn’t be an NFL preseason without Aaron Rodgers complaining about, you know, the preseason.
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Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images
Last Week: 8
Last week’s game between the Bears and Panthers didn’t feature a ton of offense, as neither team eclipsed 300 total yards. That was partly due to both offenses sitting several starters. But the two defenses also played well, and the Bears picked up right where they left off a year ago by forcing a pair of first-half turnovers.
However, the star of Chicago’s loss was a player the Bears will be counting on for big things in 2019. Rookie tailback David Montgomery shined in his NFL debut, picking up over five yards per carry and totaling 46 yards and a touchdown on six touches.
However, as Dan Wiederer reported for the Chicago Tribune, Bears head coach Matt Nagy did his best to downplay Montgomery’s seven-yard scoring scamper.
“It was OK,” Nagy said with a smile. “You guys were blowing it up like it was some great run. It was just average. It was good. I mean, jeez.”
What a killjoy.
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Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Last Week: 7
In each of the past two seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles have finished the year with their backup quarterback in the starting lineup.
In 2019, the Eagles will start the year without their backup. After throwing for 177 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Tennessee Titans, backup Nate Sudfeld will miss at least six weeks after breaking his non-throwing wrist late in the first half.
It’s not a killer injury—or at least it doesn’t feel like one until you consider that Carson Wentz has struggled to stay on the field the past two years.
Of course, the cold, hard truth is that the Eagles would be cooked anyway if Wentz were to miss substantial time again in 2019. There’s no Nick Foles to ride in and save the day this year. And while Sudfeld’s stats were decent, the Eagles were handled last week by a Titans team most would call mediocre.
It’s not the best look for the highest-ranked team in the NFC East, according to our panel.
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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Last Week: 6
The anemic showing by the Los Angeles Rams in a loss to the Oakland Raiders isn’t cause for panic. The Rams trotted out a trio of underwhelming options at quarterback, highlighted by Blake “He’s Still in the NFL?” Bortles.
But after the Rams offense scuffled down the stretch and fell apart in Super Bowl LIII, managing just 190 yards against an Oakland defense that ranked 26th in the NFL a year ago is at least a little disconcerting. So was the pro debut of rookie running back Darrell Henderson, who gained 13 total yards on six carries.
It may well be that once Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the Rams’ other offensive stars are on the field, they’ll start clicking again and churning out yards and points.
But it’s reaching a point where it can no longer be considered a foregone conclusion that will happen.
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Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Last Week: 7
The Kansas City Chiefs appeared to be in regular-season form in thrashing the hapless Cincinnati Bengals during their preseason opener—for better and for worse.
In his lone series of the game, Patrick Mahomes was perfect, hitting on all four of his passes and guiding the Chiefs to a touchdown. A pair of rookies (tailback Darwin Thompson and wide receiver Mecole Hardman) made real contributions in their first professional game.
But the problem is the Kansas City offense was never the problem.
It’s just one series in one meaningless game. But if the Chiefs’ beleaguered defense is significantly better in 2019, it didn’t show against the Bengals. Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati starters had about as much difficulty driving the field as the Chiefs did.
Again, the second week of August is a touch early on the calendar to be hitting any big red buttons. But nothing we saw against the Bengals indicated these Chiefs won’t be playing in a lot of shootouts throughout 2019, just as they did a year ago.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Last Week: 4
Whereas the depth chart behind Ezekiel Elliott at running back in Dallas is unsettled, the Los Angeles Chargers are in better shape behind holdout starter Melvin Gordon III with reserves Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson, who have previously shown the ability to perform in live action.
In fact, Ekeler put on a show against the Arizona Cardinals, which should offer at least a measure of peace to those concerned Gordon’s contract impasse could tank L.A.’s Super Bowl hopes.
Against the Redbirds, Ekeler was highly effective as a runner, averaging eight yards per carry on five totes. He also showed his receiving chops with three catches for 29 yards on three targets.
This isn’t to say the Chargers aren’t better offensively with Gordon on the field. But if he’s as dug in as he appears to be and this holdout drags into the regular season, Ekeler’s presence on the roster may well wind up a season-saver.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Last Week: 3
As Zak Keefer reported for The Athletic, while the Colts continue to insist Andrew Luck‘s status for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers isn’t in jeopardy, head coach Frank Reich recently divulged this hackle-raising tidbit of information.
“There is still a degree of pain he is not comfortable with,” the coach said.
Mind you, this is a calf strain that happened all the way back in May. A calf strain that the team has insisted for months was no big deal—much like the shoulder injury that wound up wiping out Luck’s 2017 season.
Does that mean Luck is in danger of missing the season? No. But it does mean we’ve officially reached concern regarding his early-season availability. After touring scenic downtown Concern, we’re about two off-ramps from the village of Freaking Out.
That’s especially true after backup Jacoby Brissett generated a whopping 33 yards of total offense on three drives in the Colts’ exhibition loss to the Bills.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Last Week: 1
In fairness, the Saints didn’t exactly “do” anything that cost them the top spot in these Power Rankings. Yes, New Orleans dropped its preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, but the Saints were short a rather important player or six in that game, including Drew Brees.
In that loss, the Saints showed they may be better equipped to weather a short absence from their (future) Hall of Fame quarterback than any team in the league. Teddy Bridgewater was sharp in the first half, going 14-of-19 for 134 yards and a score. Swiss Army knife offensive threat Taysom Hill also got in on the act, posting 125 yards of total offense in the second stanza.
This isn’t to say losing Brees for an extended period wouldn’t be a season-killer. That goes without saying. But the Saints are talented and balanced. This is a club that could likely endure a short stretch with Bridgewater running the offense.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Last Week: 1
That the New England Patriots flattened the Detroit Lions 31-3 really doesn’t matter all that much at the end of the day. But there were a couple of developments that could matter, much to the chagrin of all the other AFC teams trying to knock Darth Hoodie and the Golden Boy off their perch atop the conference.
For starters, New England’s pass rush piled up a staggering nine sacks, including two from young edge-rusher Derek Rivers, 1.5 from rookie Chase Winovich in his NFL debut and another from linebacker Jamie Collins in his return to the team after two-plus years in Cleveland.
A better defense? “Great,” said everyone sarcastically.
There was also the performance of wideout Jakobi Meyers, who has been continually talked up since arriving at Pats camp. Meyers caught six passes for 69 yards and two scores, and it’s looking more and more like he’ll be the latest undrafted free-agent to crack the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
More passing-game weaponry for Brady? “Even better,” said everyone before barfing in a dumpster.