- As we head into the preseason's second week of action, the Carolina Panthers rule our power rankings after showcasing their potent offense.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.