The NFL preseason (mercifully) came to a close on Thursday night, meaning we can set our sights on Week 1 of the regular season. But not without a quick look back at what we saw for the past four weeks.
How much can be gained from the preseason? From a win-loss perspective, probably not much -- the most famous example of this stance comes from 2008, when the Lions went 4-0 in the preseason ... and 0-16 in the regular season.
The way teams performed when their starters were in, however, can give a glimpse at what to expect this season. And, as always, injuries and other developments made their presence felt. So who excelled and who flopped this preseason?
The wins are nice, sure -- Seattle finished the preseason 4-0 -- but it's how they won that will have the "12th Man" riled up heading into the regular season. Not only did the Seahawks unveil that they may have robbed the NFL blind by taking QB Russell Wilson in Round 3 of the draft, but also they dominated on both sides of the ball. Seattle led the league in scoring in the preseason (30.5 points per game) and in scoring defense (11 ppg), and averaged 178 yards on the ground despite getting just five carries from Marshawn Lynch. If nothing else, confidence should be sky high in Seattle as hype builds that they could challenge the 49ers in the NFC West.
The NFC East
Sure, Michael Vick got hurt early for Philadelphia, and the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins were dealing with key injuries of their own. But, all things considered, the NFC East has the look of a division that will be better than in 2011, when New York won it with a 9-7 mark.
The optimism starts in Washington, where Robert Griffin III consistently showed off why he was the No. 2 pick in the draft. The Eagles, meanwhile, were explosive offensively and may have found a new backup QB in rookie Nick Foles. And the Cowboys and Giants ought to have some key players -- Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, Hakeem Nicks -- ready for Week 1. The division's combined record in the preseason: 12-4.
Cause for concern
Again, preseason records are meaningless, so you can more or less write off Arizona's 1-4 mark (the Cardinals played in the Hall of Fame Game). But other than getting Ryan Williams back from injury, the bright spots were few and far between.
The issues start at quarterback, where Arizona is still deciding a winner in the uninspiring battle between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton (and Ryan Lindley?). The Cardinals might need all three given how terribly their offensive line pass-protected in exhibition play. Arizona also struggled defensively in its middle three games -- the games in which starters played the most -- allowing an average of 28.7 points in those outings.
The AFC East
The division put up a putrid 1-15 record, for starters. That's one win in 16 games. Even when the games don't count, you'd like to see a little better outcome than that. The Jets stole the majority of the national attention, and their issues are well-known -- 31 points in four games; only one touchdown (which came in the preseason finale, thrown by third-string QB Greg McElroy); Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow at QB; rotating door at right tackle.
Maybe the Jets at least can hang some points on the Bills this season. Buffalo allowed 119 points this preseason -- just shy of 30 per game and the same number that Arizona allowed in five outings. Miami opted to go with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, but the Dolphins' problems played out for all to see on Hard Knocks -- Chad Johnson's release and Vontae Davis' trade further depleted already weak areas, and left the rest of the Dolphins' roster unhappy. Even the Patriots stumbled as Tom Brady dealt with a reworked offensive line. Things will get better for this division, but the preseason was a rough go.
All systems go
They finished 1-3 and averaged fewer than 20 points per game, but what Atlanta really wanted to see this preseason was how well its offense -- and Matt Ryan, in particular -- would adjust to a new, up-tempo approach. Suffice it to say, it went very well.
Ryan completed 45 of the 60 preseason passes he threw (a staggering 75-percent completion rate), while Julio Jones appeared ready to take the leap into stardom, making 13 grabs for 240 yards. Michael Turner averaged a mere 2.7 yards per carry on the ground in 18 attempts ... but if Ryan's gunslinging ways translate over to the regular season, Turner should start finding openings.
For as good as Ryan was this preseason, Matt Schaub may have been even better. He did not see the field a whole lot, but he picked apart San Francisco in Week 2 (11 of 14, 128 yards, 1 TD) and New Orleans in Week 3 (15 of 18, 194 yards, 1 TD). A healthy Schaub could make all the difference for the Texans this season, so those stats are certainly encouraging signs.
Still, we know Houston's run game will be fierce. And we know the defense will be aggressive. If Schaub puts up Pro Bowl-type numbers, then this might be one of the NFL's teams to beat.
The Lions entered the preseason with the least proven depth at running back and in the secondary. So, the fact that those two groups were hit hardest by injuries during camp might have Jim Schwartz up at night heading into the regular season.
Kevin Smith should start in the backfield in Week 1, but he again tweaked his troublesome ankle during the preseason and 2010-11 starter Jahvid Best will start the year on the PUP list. In the defensive backfield, the Lions are still unsure when starting safety Louis Delmas will be available, and projected cornerback starters Chris Houston and rookie Bill Bentley both hobbled off in Week 3 against Oakland.
Oh yea, and Matthew Stafford had an injury scare, landing hard on his non-throwing (left) hand. For a team that needs everything to fall right to claim a second straight playoff berth, the preseason was troubling.
The Steelers endured one knee injury after another in the preseason. First it was backup tight end David Johnson, who's gone for the season. On Thursday night, it was rookie linebacker Sean Spence, who suffered a gruesome injury that likely will land him on IR, robbing Pittsburgh of some needed depth. In between, the Steelers watched rookie offensive lineman David DeCastro fall. The team's first-round pick injured his knee at Buffalo and left the O-line without much in the way of a reserve cavalry. Pittsburgh is also still waiting for running back Rashard Mendenhall to get all the way back from the knee injury he suffered last year. Until he does, Pittsburgh will plug-and-play at running back.