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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
The NFL preseason is halfway complete, but the finish line is actually nearer than that. Few starters play in the fourth week of the exhibition season, and all 16 games that week take place next Thursday.
We’re about to hit preseason crunch time, and soon after that, we’ll be on the brink of the real thing.
How do the league’s 32 teams stack up entering the pinnacle of the preseason schedule? As always, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gathered to slot the teams from worst to first.
Taking preseason play, practice performances, injuries and wacky Antonio Brown-like developments into consideration, here’s how our correspondents set the table for Week 3.
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Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Last Week: 32
The Cincinnati Bengals defense might have bounced back a tad from an atrocious preseason opener in a “victory” Thursday over the Washington Redskins, but the first-team offense struggled mightily, and quarterback Andy Dalton performed terribly.
As a result, all three analysts continue to list Cincinnati dead last in their respective power rankings.
Off the field, the seemingly snakebitten Bengals lost yet another potential starting offensive lineman to a sudden retirement when guard Christian Westerman reportedly decided to walk away late last week. That came just a month after longtime starting guard Clint Boling did the same.
The silver lining as the preseason reaches its midway point is that rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Finley continues to show promise at quarterback. The North Carolina State product was nearly perfect against Redskins backups, and he now has a 102.4 passer rating in two exhibition outings.
Unfortunately, that probably won’t help the Bengals anytime soon.
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Jason Behnken/Associated Press
Last Week: 31
Few expect the Miami Dolphins to come close to competing this season, and nothing that has transpired in the first two weeks of the preseason has changed that in the eyes of our experts.
There was some excitement when Miami at least turned to sophomore top-10 pick Josh Rosen as its starting quarterback in Week 2 of the preseason, but Rosen completed just 10 of 18 passes for 102 yards and took three sacks in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It wasn’t a disastrous performance, but it wasn’t pretty and it would have been a lot worse if a Bucs defender hadn’t dropped an easy potential pick-six in the second half.
“The Dolphins made the absolute right move by starting Rosen,” Sobleski said. “The team must know whether he can be its franchise quarterback moving forward. But in playing the second-year quarterback, the team’s lack of talent elsewhere became glaringly obvious.”
Indeed, Rosen’s supporting cast didn’t provide much support. Several catchable balls were dropped and his pass protection was lacking.
It’s going to be a long year in South Florida.
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Ralph Freso/Associated Press
Last Week: 27
The hell was that?
One week after a promising preseason debut for Kliff Kingsbury’s new Arizona Cardinals offense, the excrement hit an industrial-sized fan as the Cards were embarrassed Thursday by—of all teams—the Oakland Raiders.
“After one preseason game, Kyler Murray was being fitted for a gold jacket and a bust in Canton,” Davenport said. “Now he’s apparently a bum and a lost cause after struggling mightily against the Raiders. Oakland had a lot of success blitzing the rookie signal-caller, and you can bet that other teams will be doing the same once the regular season starts.”
Murray might still be a clear-cut Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite, but his 3-of-8, 12-yard, two-sack performance at home against a low-quality opponent provided a reminder that this is all a work in progress as both he and Kingsbury make unexpected leaps to the NFL. Murray started just one season in college, and he’s surrounded by a lot of unproven players in Arizona.
Hope you didn’t buy Cardinals stock based on one preseason game. This rebuild is far from complete, especially after veteran cornerback Robert Alford suffered a significant leg injury in practice last week.
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Susan Walsh/Associated Press
Last Week: 29
The Washington Redskins have scored 23 total points in two preseason games, and both veteran Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins have struggled at quarterback. Alex Smith isn’t about to rescue that offense, and Colt McCoy and Derrius Guice remain out of action.
Throw in that there’s no end in sight to Trent Williams’ holdout, and it’s fair to wonder if the Washington offense will be a dumpster fire for much if not all of the 2019 season. They’ve gained just 20 first downs on 25 drives this month.
Haskins did make some progress with an improved performance that included a wonderful deep touchdown pass Thursday against Cincinnati, but he still has a ways to go as a one-year college starter. The Redskins have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but they might be doomed this year regardless of who wins the starting job under center.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Last Week: 28
The Oakland Raiders do at least continue to win this preseason, for what that’s worth. Quarterback Derek Carr has thrown just two passes this month, but it’s not a bad sign that oft-maligned backup Nathan Peterman has played stunningly well. Plus, young defenders Arden Key and Trayvon Mullen are off to promising starts.
But the poor Raiders have failed to move up in these rankings in back-to-back weeks, which has something to do with the teams around them but is also undoubtedly linked to the chaos that surrounds Antonio Brown.
The veteran wide receiver is dealing with frostbitten feet and an acute case of crybabyitis regarding his helmet. While it appears the four-time All-Pro is getting closer to a return, he’s yet to get in much work with Carr and Co. and is now riddled with red flags.
“It’s just so hard to trust the Raiders,” Gagnon said. “You have to wonder what Brown has in store for us next. It certainly doesn’t feel as though he’s suddenly going to become content and provide no more distractions. Something else is on the horizon, and it’s not like the Raiders have the talent to compensate for that.”
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Last Week: 30
Preseason results might not mean much, but it’s not a bad thing that the New York Giants have outscored their opponents 63-35 in two victories this month. Most critically, quarterbacks Eli Manning and Daniel Jones have been nearly perfect, albeit within a five-pass sample for Manning and, especially in Jones’ case, against weak opposition.
Jones completed 11 of 14 passes Friday against the Chicago Bears, but he also fumbled twice, and the fact is he is likely to remain a backup to start the regular season. And because our writers have lost faith in the 38-year-old Manning, it’s hard to rank the Giants far beyond the bottom five regardless of promising summer developments.
This team looks to be in better shape than a handful of others right now, and it’s nice that it isn’t currently tasked with putting out fires like the Redskins and Raiders. But this is a rebuild. The Giants still severely lack talent at key spots like wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback and on the defensive edge.
They might not actually be a bottom-five team, and they might not even be the worst team in their division, but they’re still a bad one.
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Leon Halip/Getty Images
Last Week: 26
One week after being humiliated by the New England Patriots in their preseason opener, the Detroit Lions put together a solid performance that contained several promising individual developments in their second exhibition game Saturday against the Houston Texans.
But Detroit still lost, and our analysts didn’t see enough to move the Lions out of the No. 26 spot.
Potential key defenders Will Harris, Romeo Okwara and Jalen Reeves-Maybin all put together strong performances in Houston, but quarterback Matthew Stafford sat out again, and the offense was held to just three points until deep into the third quarter. We’re yet to see much from rookie top-10 pick T.J. Hockenson at tight end, and nobody else has made a major impact on that side of the ball.
The Lions have a lot of work to do to prove they aren’t the worst team in the NFC North, and they’ll need a strong showing in the crucial third preseason game to move out of the bottom tier in these rankings.
The good news is Stafford should play, Hockenson at least made his first preseason catch Saturday and both Trey Flowers and Damon Harrison are getting healthier on defense. There’s plenty of room for improvement in Detroit.
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Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
Last Week: 24
The Denver Broncos remained in the bottom quarter of these rankings, but another strong defensive performance in Week 3 of the preseason could force our analysts to give Vic Fangio’s team more props.
Denver performed well defensively against the Atlanta Falcons in the Hall of Fame Game and against the Seattle Seahawks one week later, but the 15-snap run Fangio got from his starters Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers was a masterpiece.
As ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold noted, “they surrendered 32 yards in their 15 snaps of work with an interception, a near interception, two batted passes at the line of scrimmage, a sack and a forced fumble.”
Our crew expects good things from that D. It’s not as convinced Joe Flacco is the answer at quarterback, and the Broncos have yet to inspire much confidence on offense. At least they have receiver Emmanuel Sanders back from injury, and there’s been a lot of hype surrounding second-year back Royce Freeman (even though he struggled against the Niners).
If the defense keeps this up, the Broncos will be a respectable team. If the offense takes off, they could be a great one. But a lot has to fall into place, and we aren’t ready to get behind Denver yet.
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Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
Last Week: 23
Maybe fifth-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is primed to explode under the tutelage of offensive genius Bruce Arians, but we’ve yet to see enough of Winston to draw any conclusions about his progress.
The 25-year-old has thrown just 10 passes this preseason, completing seven. He hasn’t turned the ball over, but he’s played just two series, and he’s yet to complete a deep pass.
So Winston remains a question mark. That uncertainty combined with the knee injury recently suffered by emerging young defensive tackle Vita Vea explains why the Buccaneers remain among the bottom 10 teams in these rankings.
It’s nice that the revamped, Todd Bowles-led defense has been strong early in the first two preseason games, but the Bucs have a lot to prove if anyone is going to confidently predict them to compete in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.
Friday’s third preseason game against the Cleveland Browns looms large, especially for Winston.
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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
Last Week: 22
Don’t read too deeply into the Tennessee Titans’ drop this week. Their slide was tied to the fact that our analysts became even more bullish on the New York Jets.
Tennessee did indeed make progress despite losing to the Patriots in its second preseason outing Saturday, as quarterback Marcus Mariota looked a lot smoother than he did in the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The best sign of the night might have been veteran tight end Delanie Walker’s return from a significant ankle injury. The 35-year-old caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mariota and looked unencumbered in limited action, even though he hadn’t played since Week 1 of last season.
And for the second straight week, the Tennessee defense allowed zero points on the first two possessions of the game. The underrated unit ranked third in points allowed last season, and it’s off to a good start defensively this August.
Another strong showing next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers should spring the Titans out of the bottom 10.
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Brian Blanco/Associated Press
Last Week: 21
Again, wins might not carry much weight in August, but the Buffalo Bills have to be happy that they’ve outscored their first two preseason opponents by a 38-9 margin in the first half. That, of course, is when starters and key reserves are on the field, and Buffalo has gotten nice performances this offseason out of important young players like Devin Singletary, Shaq Lawson, Harrison Phillips and Ed Oliver.
Most critically, second-year franchise quarterback Josh Allen put together a tremendous performance in the team’s second preseason game Friday against the Carolina Panthers. The 23-year-old completed nine of 11 passes for 102 yards, leading the Bills to 10 points on consecutive first-quarter scoring drives.
“Allen’s maturation makes the Bills an intriguing squad,” Sobleski said. “His continued development includes throwing passes with better pace and touch so far this year compared to last. The second-year quarterback already found his favorite target in slot receiver Cole Beasley. The Bills defense ranks among the league’s best. If Allen and the offense come together, Buffalo will skyrocket up the power rankings.”
The problem is the next team on this list has leapfrogged Buffalo, and that team happens to share a division with the Bills.
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Last Week: 25
That team is the New York Jets, who looked extremely crisp on both sides of the ball in their second preseason game Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Le’Veon Bell again didn’t play, but Ty Montgomery performed well in the backfield. Robby Anderson looked like a No. 1 receiver on the verge of a breakout season, safety Jamal Adams was all over the place ahead of what should be a big third campaign, and sophomore franchise quarterback Sam Darnold shined on a game-opening touchdown drive.
“The Jets might just be a better football team than most expected in 2019,” Davenport said. “Darnold looks like a young quarterback poised to make a second-year leap forward behind an improved offensive line and with better passing-game weapons at his disposal, and third overall pick Quinnen Williams hasn’t disappointed to date. Losing inside linebacker Avery Williamson was a blow, but I’m still willing to move Gang Green past Buffalo and into the No. 2 spot in the AFC East—for all the good it’ll do them.”
The offensive line is in bad shape at the moment, but that should change as veterans Brandon Shell, Brian Winters, Kelechi Osemele and Ryan Kalil ease in. Williams has yet to stand out, but it’s probably only a matter of time for him too.
They’ll miss injured linebacker Avery Williamson, but if everything comes together, the Jets could continue to climb these rankings between now and January.
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Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press
Last Week: 20
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a former Super Bowl MVP at quarterback, but that quarterback has yet to play this preseason. And Nick Foles isn’t the only key Jaguars player who’s been kept in his original packaging thus far this summer.
No Marqise Lee, no Dede Westbrook, no Chris Conley, no Cam Robinson, no Jawaan Taylor, no Brandon Linder, no Yannick Ngakoue, no Calais Campbell, no Myles Jack, no Jalen Ramsey, no A.J. Bouye. Highly-touted rookie pass-rusher Josh Allen has played fewer than a couple dozen snaps.
We’ve yet to get a good read on the new-look Jags. A team that ranked 20th entering the preseason and 20th after the first week once again lands in the No. 20 spot this week.
Some of those aforementioned key players are either hurt or coming back from injuries, which is certainly concerning. But it’s too early to draw conclusions about the 2019 Jaguars. As a result, a team that went 5-11 last season remains in the bottom portion of these rankings.
Hopefully we get more clarity when the Jags take on the Dolphins on Thursday night.
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Gail Burton/Associated Press
Last Week: 19
The Baltimore Ravens have outscored their opponents 55-13 in two lopsided preseason games, and quarterback Lamar Jackson has completed 10 of 16 passes without committing a turnover. So why is a 2018 playoff team ranked below the middle of the pack at the midway point of the exhibition season?
Gagnon has the Ravens ranked in the bottom quarter of the league, mainly because he still doesn’t trust Jackson, but also because he doesn’t like what happened to Baltimore this offseason.
“Sixteen preseason passes in two games isn’t enough to convince me that Jackson is ready to become a passer who can carry his team,” he said. “I was somewhat impressed by his performance against a lot of Green Bay Packers first-teamers, but the Jaguars played nobody in their matchup. It’s not enough to get me to move the Ravens up. It’s going to be damn hard to overcome the losses of C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs and John Brown, even with Earl Thomas, Marquise Brown and Justice Hill coming on board.”
Throw in that the Ravens just lost nickel cornerback Tavon Young to a serious neck injury, and it’s fair to hold your horses on this team. Still, with the tantalizingly talented Jackson under center, the ceiling is a lot higher than this.
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Last Week: 16
The San Francisco 49ers’ preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys was filled with promise. Rookie wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd stood out right, and the defense surrendered zero touchdowns and just nine points.
But that was mainly backups versus backups. One week later, the 49ers played more of their starters, as did their opponent, the Broncos.
It did not go well, particularly for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. In his first game action since he tore his ACL in September, the highly paid 27-year-old completed just one of six passes, threw a pick, posted a 0.0 passer rating and actually managed to perform worse than those numbers indicate.
Throw in that Samuel and Hurd disappeared as well, and it’s hard to see the glass half full despite another solid defensive showing.
Garoppolo will have an opportunity to right the ship in just a few days when the 49ers play the Kansas City Chiefs, so our analysts aren’t piling on yet. This was ugly, but it was probably a terrifying experience, and it came sans star tight end George Kittle.
Still, it won’t be long before Garoppolo and the rest of this team loses the benefit of the doubt.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
Last Week: 18
In his first preseason action this summer, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson looked crisp and benefited from strong pass protection Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. That latter point is critical as the ever-evolving Seahawks offensive line looks to build on a promising 2018 season. That unit needs to make sure last year wasn’t an aberration.
Wilson and top receiver Tyler Lockett picked up where they left off, though, and it helped that Wilson had time to throw.
The defense has also performed well despite missing several key players this preseason, but Seattle will still have a lot to prove on that side of the ball once real football arrives.
Not many questions can be answered this month, but for the Seahawks to rise above the middle of the pack, we might need to see something from high-profile rookie receiver DK Metcalf and/or first-round rookie pass-rusher L.J. Collier against live competition.
Unfortunately, both have been held back by injuries.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Last Week: 17
It’s a small sample, but in two preseason performances against half-decent competition this preseason, frequently maligned, highly paid Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been locked in.
The 31-year-old is trying to atone for an inconsistent, anti-clutch maiden season in Minnesota, and thus far this month he’s completed 10 of 12 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. Four of those completions have been to veteran Pro Bowler Adam Thielen, who has hauled in two deep balls beyond 30 yards.
That battery could be at its best this year, as Thielen looks primed for a huge age-29 season.
The Vikings still have to prove that the pass protection will be better this season, and their expensive defense can’t afford to underachieve again. But they’re pretty healthy and off to a solid start to the preseason, which is why they’re creeping up these rankings.
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John Amis/Associated Press
Last Week: 15
The Atlanta Falcons have yet to win in three “tries” this preseason, but Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Devonta Freeman, Keanu Neal and Deion Jones have barely seen the field. Atlanta is a veteran team with a former MVP quarterback that is focused on being ready for Week 1.
The key is that, even with little support, Matt Ryan played well when he saw his first preseason action last week against the Jets. The defense, meanwhile, has surrendered just 26 first-half points in three exhibition outings, even though Neal and Deion Jones are taking it easy.
Both Julio Jones and Ridley are still getting healthy, but they look to be on the right track while Freeman, Deion Jones and Neal should be ready after injuries marred their 2018 campaigns.
The Falcons might not shoot up or down these rankings until we see what their new offense and their revamped offensive line look like in Week 1 of the regular season, but there’s little reason to be concerned at the moment.
Our analysts are in wait-and-see mode.
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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Last Week: 14
While Cam Newton has yet to play this preseason, the most important development surrounding the Carolina Panthers this month is the return of the quarterback’s deep ball.
Fully recovered from January shoulder surgery, the 2015 MVP has by all indications reestablished his ability to connect on deep passes. That could be a game-changer for a Carolina team that saw its season go off the rails when a clearly injured Newton lost the ability to throw deep down the stretch in 2018.
As for preseason action, Carolina’s first-team defense struggled mightily in its first appearance last week against the Bills, but that came without Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson in the lineup. It’s probably too early to be concerned there, even if that unit struggled immensely with Kuechly and Thompson active in November and December last season.
With Newton seemingly back on track and youngsters like Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore primed to play huge roles in 2019, there’s a lot to be excited about in Carolina. That’s why a team that lost seven of its last eight games last year is ranked in the top 15.
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Tim Warner/Getty Images
Last Week: 13
Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins have been on the field together for just one series this preseason. But man, did they ever make it look easy on that possession. Watson smoothly completed five of seven passes (two to Hopkins) for 60 yards on a scoring drive that culminated in a Hopkins touchdown Saturday night against the Lions.
That duo looks primed for a big 2019 campaign, and the Texans at least have plenty of options and competition along the offensive line. If pass protection isn’t a liability again, a team with plenty of talent on defense might finally have a chance to get over the divisional-round hump in the playoffs.
That defense has yet to face strong competition from first-teamers, but it has started strong in both preseason outings, forcing punts on the first three possessions against both Green Bay and Detroit.
It would be nice if franchise-tag recipient Jadeveon Clowney would return to said unit, though, and we’ll have to wait to see how much better the offensive line can actually be. So for now, the Texans remain within reaching distance of the middle of the pack.
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Barry Reeger/Associated Press
Last Week: 12
A tremendous preseason debut performance from Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Devin Bush wasn’t enough to move the Steelers out of the No. 12 spot last week, even though Pittsburgh put up 30 points on offense against the Bucs. The rest of the defense struggled that week, and we didn’t see many key players on offense.
One week later, Bush didn’t play against the Kansas City Chiefs. The rest of the defense was actually much better against one of the league’s most explosive offenses, while we still didn’t see many offensive starters.
And so the Steelers stay put.
The good news is they’re relatively healthy, they’re likely snickering at the Antonio Brown drama in Oakland and second-year wideout James Washington has stood out in the lead-up to a crucial season for him. The Steelers are in solid shape entering a low-pressure campaign in which they’re no longer the talk of the AFC North.
But until we see more of this new-look squad, they remain just outside the top 10.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Last Week: 4
Rarely do you see a team plummet seven spots following a two-point loss to a high-quality opponent, but the fall of the Los Angeles Chargers has little to do with the team’s performance Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
It has almost everything to do with the fact that the Bolts again appear to be covered in snake bites.
“The Chargers remain a talented team more than capable of contending for a playoff spot,” Davenport said. “But they are also having a very Chargers offseason. First, tailback Melvin Gordon held out. Now safety Derwin James will miss three months with a stress fracture in his foot. Next thing you know, quarterback Philip Rivers will be eaten by a crocodile, and defensive end Joey Bosa will announce his retirement so he can pursue his love of Romanian folk dancing.”
It does seem as though every time hype builds for this talented Chargers team, the football gods smite them. James was expected to be a game-changing defensive player after an All-Pro rookie season in which he intercepted three passes, recorded 3.5 sacks and accumulated 105 tackles. He’s not replaceable, and there’s little margin for error when you’re going toe-to-toe with the Chiefs in the AFC West.
On top of that, No. 1 wide receiver Keenan Allen is still dealing with an ankle injury while Gordon’s holdout continues. Too many storm clouds in Carson right now.
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Alika Jenner/Getty Images
Last Week: 11
That tongue-in-cheek response from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to a question about holdout running back Ezekiel Elliott explains why America’s Team has moved into the top 10. Jones, the Cowboys and their fans undoubtedly would love to have Elliott back, but it’s a damn good sign that rookie fourth-round back Tony Pollard rushed five times for 42 yards in his second preseason game.
The Memphis product is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this preseason, and he also caught a nine-yard pass Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams.
“I really think Pollard can be this year’s James Conner,” Gagnon said. “It probably won’t come to that, but his strong play this preseason could still benefit the Cowboys by taking away leverage from Elliott. Regardless, the Cowboys are in tremendous shape. Dak Prescott has completed all nine of his passes this month, Michael Gallup is making waves and there’s no indication DeMarcus Lawrence has had any setbacks in his recovery from shoulder surgery.”
Zeke or no Zeke, the Cowboys are a top-10 team.
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AJ Mast/Associated Press
Last Week: 10
When you really think about it, the Cleveland Browns have had a quiet offseason outside of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. That’s a good thing, because great teams often have boring offseasons while bad teams experience interesting ones.
Just look at Cleveland’s preseason. Franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield has thrown just six passes, we’re yet to see Beckham, Jarvis Landry or Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett have played about a dozen snaps combined.
Cleveland is taking it easy and staying fresh, which is a luxury Browns fans aren’t familiar with.
“None of the Browns’ star players took the field against the Colts on Saturday after a week of joint practices,” noted Sobleski. “However, some questionable areas began to clarify. Eric Kush started for the second straight week at right guard. The veteran blocker is a reliable option unless rookie Drew Forbes continues to surprise and overtakes him. The first-team offense—led by backup Garrett Gilbert—still moved the ball with ease. The kicking competition remains a concern, but if special teams is a franchise’s biggest issue, things are going well.”
Beckham and Garrett are both dealing with seemingly minor injuries worth monitoring, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Browns are a top-10 team entering the second half of the 2019 preseason.
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Mike Roemer/Associated Press
Last Week: 9
Is it too early to begin to worry about the sore back that kept Aaron Rodgers out of the Green Bay Packers’ second preseason game and has cost the two-time MVP quarterback several practices? The team doesn’t appear to be concerned, chalking his absence up to a precaution, and our analysts aren’t ready to dock the Packers power ranking points based on the 35-year-old’s injury.
The first-team offense looked decent even without Rodgers and top back Aaron Jones on Thursday in Baltimore. While the defense committed too many mistakes and surrendered several long drives early against the Ravens, that revamped unit is expected to need some time to mesh.
“Of course I have my concerns about all the newness in Green Bay,” Gagnon said, “especially because we’ve seen so little on both sides of the ball thus far. But it’s a process, and I’m totally behind practically everything general manager Brian Gutekunst did this offseason. On paper, this team should be excellent, and I’m not dropping them in my rankings unless or until these perceived problems linger into September.”
If Rodgers can return and the Packers can put together a strong preseason Week 3 dress rehearsal against the Raiders, there’s a good chance they’ll actually climb here.
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AJ Mast/Associated Press
Last Week: 3
The majority of our analysts are less willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the Indianapolis Colts, who slid four spots out of the top three after a weird week in which quarterback Andrew Luck‘s injured calf/ankle seemingly became a more significant concern.
“The 2019 season is starting to look a lot like the 2017 season for the Colts—and that is most assuredly not a good thing,” Davenport said. “Luck’s calf injury that is totally not a big deal is now Luck’s calf injury and high ankle issue that is totally not a big deal. The Colts can downplay it all they want, but the notion of Jacoby Brissett starting multiple games for the team in 2019 is most assuredly a big deal.”
It’s worth noting that Brissett is considered a high-quality backup, he’s got plenty of starting experience and he performed well Saturday against Cleveland. But without Luck for an extended stretch, the Colts would undoubtedly be DOA. And as Davenport implied, it’s become hard to trust the organization in regard to injury information on Luck.
The Colts remain a top-10 team because Gagnon and Sobleski are less pessimistic than Davenport about Luck’s status, but as this injury lingers, Indy will continue to drop.
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Last Week: 8
The rise of the Chicago Bears has more to do with the decline of the Chargers and Colts because Chicago did little to generate hype for 2019 in a 32-13 Week 2 preseason loss to the Giants. But the Bears sat pretty much every player with a pulse, which is an indication they’re comfortable entering Year 2 of the Matt Nagy era.
Mitchell Trubisky is prepping for what should be a fruitful third season, rookie David Montgomery looks impressive at running back, and the Bears are fairly healthy aside from injuries to pass-catchers Trey Burton and Anthony Miller.
Barring a significant injury or major development, there isn’t much the Bears can do between now and the start of the regular season to substantially alter their power ranking position.
At least it appears they’ve finally found their damn kicker.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Last Week: 7
It’s not ideal that the Philadelphia Eagles were forced to pull 84-year-old Josh McCown out of retirement after losing both of quarterback Carson Wentz’s top two backups to preseason injuries. But our analysts have to rank and evaluate Philadelphia under the assumption that—as we said last week—the Eagles would be cooked anyway if Wentz were to miss substantial time again in 2019.
The reality is Philadelphia has the talent and experience to merit a higher ranking. The team would probably place in the top three if not for the fact that Wentz has failed to complete each of his last two seasons because of injury.
Still, Wentz is healthy now, and it looks like he might have a pair of exciting new offensive weapons in rookies Miles Sanders and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, both of whom have fared well this month. The first-team defense has yet to surrender a point in admittedly limited action this preseason, and the Eagles remain the favorite in the NFC East.
It’s worth monitoring injuries to those backup quarterbacks as well as veterans Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson and Dallas Goedert on offense, but the health situation in Philly isn’t cause for major concern just yet.
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Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images
Last Week: 6
A Sean McVay-led Los Angeles Rams preseason feels a lot like the sequels to The Hangover. You know they’re phoning it in, but you watch anyway because the original product is damn good. Only two potential Rams starters—sophomore defenders Sebastian Joseph-Day and Micah Kiser—have even played a snap this month, and Kiser suffered what could be a season-ending pectoral injury last week against Dallas.
We know who the Rams are, which is why they rank in the top five following a Super Bowl season, regardless of their conservative approach to the exhibition season.
That said, there are still injury concerns regarding superstar running back Todd Gurley, and rookie third-round back Darrell Henderson has struggled in preseason action. We don’t know how quarterback Jared Goff will react to a rough Super Bowl showing, and we don’t know how the Rams will respond as a team to the loss of veterans Ndamukong Suh, Lamarcus Joyner and Rodger Saffold.
It’d be nice to get a better feel for this edition of the Rams before the regular season arrives, but we won’t get our hopes up.
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Justin Berl/Getty Images
Last Week: 5
The Kansas City Chiefs were the unofficial champions from Week 1 of the preseason. While their Week 2 performance against the Steelers wasn’t close to as strong as their jaw-dropping Week 1 victory over the Bengals, the Chiefs still benefited from slides suffered by the Colts and Chargers.
They move into the top three and are virtually tied with the Saints for the runner-up spot, which feels deserved because there were still some positive signs against the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s offense managed just two first downs and was held scoreless on its first four possessions. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed just two of five passes in his sole series, but that’s hardly cause for concern.
Arguably more importantly on that side of the ball, rookie sixth-round running back Darwin Thompson put together a second consecutive buzzworthy performance, rushing for 30 yards on four carries. Rookie receiver Mecole Hardman caught a touchdown pass for the second week in a row.
The Chiefs offense looks more stacked than ever, and the oft-criticized D hasn’t fared badly this month. It might finally be Kansas City’s turn.
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Last Week: 2
If the New Orleans Saints have learned anything this preseason, it might be that they’ve got two high-quality insurance policies for 40-year-old quarterback Drew Brees.
One week after projected No. 2 signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater completed 14 of 19 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in a preseason tilt with the Vikings, dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill was 11-of-15 for 136 yards and two touchdowns with 53 rushing yards in leading a comeback victory over the Chargers.
Few teams have a quarterback group with as much talent as the one in New Orleans, and they look ready for the season. There aren’t many questions about that stacked offense, especially since new tight end Jared Cook is already making a clear impact. And the defense followed up a poor showing against Minnesota with a strong one in Los Angeles.
They’re healthy with the exception of Sheldon Rankins, and they should probably be viewed as the favorites in the NFC at the midway point of the preseason.
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Last Week: 1
As Sobleski said, “the rich got richer” in the NFL last week. If there was any doubt about the New England Patriots’ claim to the top spot in these rankings, it was likely quashed with all the good news delivered to New England.
“The Patriots received a boost to the lineup with two significant additions this past week,” Sobleski said. “Josh Gordon’s reinstatement gives the reigning Super Bowl champs a significant mismatch in the passing game (if he can stay on the field). The less-publicized return of Isaiah Wynn from a torn Achilles tendon should solidify the offensive front as last year’s first-round pick takes over left tackle.”
Wynn looked solid as a pass-blocker in limited action Saturday against the Titans, and he wasn’t the only New England youngster to perform well. Rookies Damien Harris, Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich, Byron Cowart and Jakobi Meyers all look as though they could play significant roles right away.
It hardly seems fair. The Patriots might be old in some key spots, but they aren’t tired, and in many ways they’ve replenished. It’s going to be tough to stop them from becoming the first NFL team this decade to win back-to-back championships.