Tuesday August 16th, 2016

The college football season kicks off Aug. 26, when California and Hawaii meet in Australia (for some reason). The wait for meaningful NFL games is a great deal longer, with two and a half weeks still separating us from the Panthers-Broncos opener on Sept. 8.

The preseason offers us but a glimpse at the finished product for all 32 teams, but there are takeaways nonetheless. So, there was some movement in our Power Rankings, including right at the top.

The updated list:

  • 1
    1Carolina Panthers
    last week: 2
    At risk of getting sucked into the preseason overreaction vortex (it’s a packed house already), Carolina grabs the No. 1 spot this time around because seeing its offense in action again was a reminder of what it took—a remarkable Denver D—to stop said offense. To wit: Devin Funchess, a 6' 5" threat who averaged 15.3 yards per catch, isn’t even part of the base offense. Ted Ginn Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin hold those roles. This team can hurt you in an abundance of ways.

  • 2
    2Arizona Cardinals
    last week: 1
    Pick any team in the league and there is a potentially fatal flaw to be found. In Arizona’s case the No. 2 CB spot is on the list. Rookie Brandon Williams, the expected starter there, was in Oakland’s crosshairs throughout the preseason opener, just as he figures to be for much of the regular season. He’ll have plenty of help in the secondary, but he also will have to grow up in a hurry.

  • 3
    3Denver Broncos
    last week: 4
    The Broncos’ defense apparently is not going to be satisfied until every quarterback in the league is pulverized into smithereens. Denver held the Bears to 130 yards of offense over the weekend, pushing its own QB discussion away from “Which guy will be it be?”, and closer to “Does it matter? Just punt on first down and force a turnover.”

  • 4
    4Pittsburgh Steelers
    last week: 3
    The Steelers have not won a preseason opener since 2010. And that might sound weird for a franchise that has been so successful during the regular season, except the Steelers are about as cautious as they come until September. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton were among those who sat Friday. But, hey, full price tickets!

  • 5
    5New England Patriots
    last week: 4
    Jimmy Garoppolo did not exactly ease a lot of minds in the preseason opener. To be fair, though, his receiving targets late in the first half consisted of RB James White, WR Aaron Dobson and what I think was a kid standing on another kid’s shoulders, wearing a Troy Brown jersey.

  • 6
    6Cincinnati Bengals
    last week: 6
    Geno Atkins was in for three snaps Friday. He recorded a sack of Teddy Bridgewater and nearly had a second. Obviously, that’s a pace he will not be able to maintain over the course of a full game. Or ... you know what, if anyone can do it ...

  • 7
    7Minnesota Vikings
    last week: 7
    Were this the regular season, there no doubt would be an outcry from Power Rankings readers that the Vikings are behind the team they just beat. (Oh, we’re going to do that in the preseason, too? Good to know.) But Minnesota will be moving up once the regular season hits if the much-discussed Teddy Bridgewater Deep Ball keeps showing up, as it did on a bomb to Charles Johnson vs. Cincinnati.

  • 8
    8Kansas City Chiefs
    last week: 8
    Normally, we wouldn’t talk much about backup quarterbacks, but it’s the preseason so the rules are different. And with an OK-on-limited-practice outing, Nick Foles has ascended the Chiefs’s depth chart to grab the No. 2 job behind Alex Smith. If that doesn’t sound like much, keep in mind that Smith is a 32-year-old QB with a contract that becomes expendable after this season.

  • 9
    9Seattle Seahawks
    last week: 10
    Christine Michael is more myth than man at this point in his career. He has a solid game and the collective Football Twitter unleashes a Night King “Come at me, bro” on the world. That said, 6.3 yards per carry is worth taking notice of, even in a preseason outing.

  • 10
    10Green Bay Packers
    last week: 9
    A guy named Joe Callahan started for the Packers vs. Cleveland, in what I can only assume was some sort of fantasy camp promotion held by the franchise. As such, the offense’s night was a bit of a wash. The defense’s performance—Cleveland scored nine points on offense (plus two on a safety) and mustered just 172 total yards—is one the Packers hope translates over into the regular season.

  • 11
    11Oakland Raiders
    last week: 11
    There tend to be two types of teams that fare well in the preseason: those that have to extend their first- and second-teamers because they have a ton of starting jobs to settle, and those that win the battle of backups because they are deep. For the first time in a very long time, the Raiders are the latter.

  • 12
    12New York Jets
    last week: 12
    The Jets enjoyed an 84-yard Jalin Marshall kick return against the Jaguars, and a 51-yarder from Jeremy Ross. Special teams can be a little rough in the preseason, because of the lack of live reps during camp, but those are significant moments. Antonio Cromartie, the Jets’s main kick returner a year ago, ranked 42nd in yards per attempt (25.1 yards).

  • 13
    13Dallas Cowboys
    last week: 13
    Hard to look any more impressive than Dak Prescott did in his Cowboys debut on Saturday night. He fired a pair of touchdown passes and finished 10 of 12 for 139 yards. Given where the Dallas backup QB situation was last season, having anyone who can complete a forward pass stands as a marked improvement.

  • 14
    14Houston Texans
    last week: 15
    Lamar Miller broke off a 14-yard gain on Houston’s first play vs. San Francisco. On the second, Brock Osweiler faked a handoff to Miller and bootlegged back to his right before scrambling for three yards. It was the Bill O’Brien game plan in a nutshell, and it is impossible to discount the type of impact Miller could have on what O’Brien wants to do.

  • 15
    15New York Giants
    last week: 18
    How dangerous can this team be if it can run the football on a consistent basis? The Giants ranked 24th on the ground last season, paced by Rashad Jennings’s 863 yards. Jennings has his work cut out for him just to hold the starting job, with rookie Paul Perkins (seven carries, 36 yards) and Andre Williams (nine carries, 41 yards) both off to hot starts.

  • 16
    16Indianapolis Colts
    last week: 14
    Every team can play the wait-and-see card to some extent in the preseason. None has more claim to it than the Colts, who held out Andrew Luck in their opening win over Buffalo. No offense to backup Scott Tolzein, but if he winds up taking extended snaps in the regular season, the Colts may as well consider tanking for the 2017 draft.

  • 17
    17Washington Redskins
    last week: 17
    Sure, Kirk Cousins threw just five passes before sitting in Washington’s preseason opener. But if a 100% completion rate can’t get us one tongue-in-cheek “You like that?!” outburst, then what was the point?

  • 18
    18Baltimore Ravens
    last week: 20
    Terrance West scored a pair of touchdowns vs. Carolina, further staking his claim to a heavy workload come the regular season. The only explanation I can figure for West’s rapid progression from his time in Cleveland and Tennessee to now is that he was bitten by a radioactive spider en route to Baltimore.

  • 19
    19Buffalo Bills
    last week: 19
    Tight end Chris Gragg is now a frontrunner for the Preseason All-Pro team, which should totally be a thing. (Note to self: Write a Preseason All-Pro team post.) He blocked a punt to open the scoring vs. Indianapolis, then scored the Bills’s first touchdown by breaking open past Darius Butler for an easy reception. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t scored a regular-season TD since Week 5 of 2014.

  • 20
    20Chicago Bears
    last week: 16
    When Adam Gase arrived in Chicago last season, both he and quarterback Jay Cutler cautioned that Gase’s scheme would take a while to produce results on the field. That shouldn’t be the case for Dowell Loggains this year—the 2015 QBs coach was promoted to Gase’s old spot when Gase left for Miami. Maybe it will get better when the opponent is someone other than Denver.

  • 21
    21Detroit Lions
    last week: 22
    As has been foretold throughout training camp, the Lions’ defensive line played Friday like a unit that could be outstanding once the real games begin. In the same vein, the offensive line again stood out as a potential Achilles heel. Matthew Stafford takes more hits than is reasonable to ask a QB to take, especially in August.

  • 22
    22Jacksonville Jaguars
    last week: 21
    Even if a defense decided to drop an 11-man box around WR Allen Robinson, it would be worth it for Blake Bortles to take a shot Robinson’s way on occasion. The third-year receiver has emerged as one of the NFL’s best, and he was an absolute wizard on a couple of his catches vs. the Jets.

  • 23
    23New Orleans Saints
    last week: 25
    Really could have dropped the Saints a few spots on the Sheldon Rankins injury alone. New Orleans cannot catch a break on that side of the ball, no matter how hard it tries to rebuild. From Jairus Byrd in 2014 to Hau’oli Kikaha and Rankins this off-season, it seems like every key addition winds up hobbled.

  • 24
    24Miami Dolphins
    last week: 23
    Miami’s leading rusher in New York, Isaiah Pead, finished with 50 yards—a mere 28 fewer than he has for his entire NFL career in the regular season. If this run game is gonna go, it’s going to be with Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster, not Pead, Damien Williams and Daniel Thomas.

  • 25
    25Atlanta Falcons
    last week: 27
    Dan Quinn is making rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell earn their way up the depth chart—veterans Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon and Phillip Wheeler have to be moved out. It won’t take much longer for Jones and Campbell to reach the apex. Each is far more athletic and rangier than any incumbent Atlanta had. Together, they could be dynamic.

  • 26
    26Philadelphia Eagles
    last week: 26
    With five minutes left in their preseason opener, the Eagles left Tampa Bay’s Micah Awe unblocked on a blitz. Awe clobbered Carson Wentz, a hit that resulted in a hairline fracture to Wentz’s ribs. You had one job, blockers.

  • 27
    27Los Angeles Rams
    last week: 24
    Apologies to the good people of St. Louis, but it was cool to see the NFL back under the L.A. sunshine. (Although, I do wonder if the audible roar of visiting Cowboys fans will be the norm or if Rams fans will pack the Coliseum.) There was a nice come-from-behind win, too. Now, about Case Keenum outplaying Jared Goff ...

  • 28
    28Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    last week: 29
    Charles Sims and Doug Martin combined for 84 receptions last season. The RBs could be even more productive as pass catchers this season if Mike James can stay in the mix. He had a 26-yard grab in the Bucs’s 17-9 loss to Philadephia—a small sample size, true, but he is another dangerous threat in space for an offense that can pull defenders off the line of scrimmage with physical, downfield receivers.

  • 29
    29San Diego Chargers
    last week: 28
    The 44-yard receiving touchdown for Melvin Gordon had to be a breath of fresh air to San Diego. Gordon had no explosion last season, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and posting a top catch of 18 yards. The Gordon who took off vs. Tennessee was much more reminiscent of Melvin Gordon, circa Wisconsin.

  • 30
    30Cleveland Browns
    last week: 30
    Robert Griffin III’s first pass against Green Bay was a 49-yarder to Terrelle Pryor, which opened the door for several observations: 1) That Pryor sure looks the part as an outside wide receiver; 2) That Griffin still has the physical tools to stretch the field as an NFL quarterback; or 3) That Griffin stayed down for an extra beat after taking a hit on the pass, a gentle reminder that his entire season will have to be watched with bated breath.

  • 31
    31Tennessee Titans
    last week: 32
    DeMarco Murray was outstanding: 93 yards on six carries, highlighted by a long 71-yard TD run. Rookie Derrick Henry, if possible, was even better, running like a man possessed between the tackles on his way to 74 yards and a TD on 10 attempts. Maybe the Titans will find the going tougher come the regular season, but now is the time to dream that they’re on to something.

  • 32
    32San Francisco 49ers
    last week: 31
    The offense sparked a handful of times in Chip Kelly’s debut, the obvious example coming on Blaine Gabbert’s 43-yard TD pass to Vance McDonald, who juked his way past a safety into the end zone. Game one also made quite clear that Kelly has a ton of ground to cover before this 49ers team can compete in the NFC West.

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