NFL Power Rankings: Preseason Week 3

1. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 2)
Things seem to be finally falling into place around Andrew Luck. If the defense can be even average this season, Indy should win a lot of games.

2. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 1)
I mentioned last week that they avoided injuries. That didn’t happen this week as the Pack lost Jordy Nelson for the season. Green Bay has to be very happy it didn’t let Randall Cobb walk during the offseason.

3. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 3)
The offense struggled again failing to score a touchdown against the Chiefs. The defense managed to score though. Seattle probably can’t count on that happening every week though, no matter how good that defense is.

4. New England Patriots (Last week: 6)
Pats fans had to be nervous after the first week of the preseason based on Jimmy Garappalo’s performance. He quieted some of the critics with a much more successful night this week.

5. Denver Broncos (Last week: 5)
Who will Peyton be targeting this season outside of Demarius Thomas. With Wes Welker injured and Julius Thomas in Jacksonville, Denver is going to need someone else to step up in the offense. Cody Latimer is rumored to fill the Welker-like role, but only time will tell.

6. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 4)
We finally got to see Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle in game action. Neither looked amazing but Randle looked a lot better than McFadden. The defense looked good too but that before losing Orlando Scandrick for the whole season. That could really hurt Dallas’ chances at a deep playoff run.

7. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 8)
This team didn’t lose many of the pieces from it’s 12-4 season a year ago. Assuming one of the Arizona quarterbacks can stay healthy, the Cardinals could end up as the team to beat in the NFC.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 7)
Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards a season ago and LeVeon Bell finished second in yards from scrimmage. It will be hard for either of those players to repeat that success with Maurkice Pouncey in a walking boot.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 10)
Alex Smith finally threw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Now let’s see if he can do it when it counts. The Chiefs offense on the whole didn’t look great but the defense held the Seattle offense under 250 total yards.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 11)
It might only be preseason but the Eagles notched their second big win in as many weeks. Sam Bradford took some shots in his first game action and seemed to hold up just fine. Kenjon Barner displayed once again why the Eagles brought him in this offseason with another ridiculous return.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 9)
Andy Dalton finished his preseason appearance against Tampa with two interceptions, including a pick six, and only 46 yards passing. Jeremey Hill lost the ball on one of his four carries. The fact that Bengals can play that poorly, against a team that was the worst in the league a season ago, is terrifying for Cincy fans.

12. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 13)
Another sharp outing for Teddy Bridgewater as he finished 10 for 14 with 89 yards and a touchdown. Charles Johnson had a good night as well with four catches for 40 yards and he was on the receiving end of Bridgewater’s touchdown pass. That could be a good combination for Minnesota this season.

13. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 12)
23 carries for 46 yards against Arizona isn’t exactly confidence instilling. Granted Melvin Gordon did not play but that has to fall somewhat on the offensive line. Not time to panic yet but the Chargers need to run the ball to take all the pressure off Phillip Rivers.

14. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 14)
Mixed result for Miami as Ryan Tannehill looked fantastic while Lamar Miller sputtered. The next step for Miami is getting the offense to click all at once. The revamped defense continued to impress, as the first team only allowed nine points.

15. Detroit Lions (Last week: 15)
I thought Detroit was in trouble when Ndumakong Suh and Nick Fairley left but the first team defense hit Robert Griffin III on six of his eight dropbacks and knocked him out of the game. If that is the kind of pressure Detroit can produce this season, they might not even realize though other guys are gone.

16. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 16)
Cincy showed this week that it can still falter at any time which gives the Ravens hope. However, Joe Flacco looked even worse than Andy Dalton did this week, toss two interceptions on only seven passes. Could be a rough season in Baltimore.

17. Houston Texans (Last week: 20)
Naming Brian Hoyer quarterback is a step in the right direction but it is merely a stop gap solution. Hoyer is already 29 and is not exactly a franchise quarterback. Houston are going to need to find a real long term solution soon.

18. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 18)
Tyrod Taylor faired well in his start against Cleveland. It wasn’t anything eye popping. Rumors are that Rex Ryan wants to start Taylor but the rest of the coaching staff isn’t on board. Should be interesting how that pans out.

19. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 20)
Atlanta might have lost this week but Matt Ryan came out firing and the Falcons first team offense put up 14 points in the first quarter. The Falcons need to find a way to get their defense to hold up though through the whole 60 minutes.

20. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 21)
The Saints ruled the first half of their game with New England, which was all that really mattered. Drew Brees threw two touchdowns and the Saints offensive line didn’t allow a sack the whole game. The defense didn’t generate any sacks though either so that has to count for something.

21. New York Jets (Last week: 22)
The Jets’ offense showed some signs of life. Take it with a grain of salt though as they started slow once again and the Falcons did have the worst statistical defense in football last year. The defense looked good, but is still getting killed by big plays.

22. New York Giants (Last week: 19)
Yet another Giants safety went down with an injury this week in Bennett Jackson. That makes three in two weeks. Even more concerning, Odell Beckham Jr. doesn’t have a reception through two preseason games. Slightly worrying but not cause to panic just yet.

23. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 27)
Another strong outing from Johnny Manziel paired with a really poor one from Josh McCown makes you wonder how much longer Manziel will play with the second team. He is playing decently well with zero talent at the wide receiver position. Go back and watch the game film to see what I’m talking about.

24. St. Louis Rams (Last week: 24)
Nick Foles looked dreadful against Tennessee this week. He completed 3 of 7 passes for 18 yards and threw a pick. Tre Mason carried the ball for six yards on three carries. St. Louis, like Carolina, needs to find their offense.

25. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 23)
Life without Kelvin Benjamin began for Cam Newton and it didn’t look pretty. Newton finished four for ten with an interception against Miami. Carolina needs to find some source of offense to have any hopes of repeating as division champs.

26. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 26)
Jarryd Haynes did it again this week, picking up 138 all-purpose yards. He might be the spark that this San Francisco team needs because otherwise, the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of talent.

27. Chicago Bears (Last week: 27)
Jay Cutler had a good outing against Indy this week. However, the Bears offense still failed to score a touchdown in the first half. Chicago won’t win too many games by just kicking field goals.

28. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 28)
Latavius Murray is primed for a breakout season. This young core of Murray, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper could be a lot of fun to watch this year in Oakland. They might not win a ton of games, but they will definitely compete in more of them.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 30)
Allen Robinson might be the best player on the Jaguars team. Jacksonville needs to find some other players to step up and start moving this team in a positive direction.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 31)
The Bucs defense balled out on Monday night against Cincy. This Tampa group forced 3 turnovers and didn’t allow the Bengals to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. Jameis Winston looked solid as well as he scored his first professional touchdown. Good signs for the Bucs’ future.

31. Washington (Last week: 29)
A concussion for Robert Griffin III likely means the end of his time in Washington. He will be out for a several week most likely and the Redskins will probably just leave in someone else even after he returns. Washington is in for a long season.

32. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 32)
The Titans looked good this week against St. Louis and if any of that success carries over to the regular season, don’t be surprised if Tennessee finally climbs out of the NFL cellar.

Falling stars

Football is a brutal sport. You know that going into it. It is still demoralizing to have your season cut short by injury nonetheless. It is even more so when that injury occurs in a game that counts for absolutely nothing. The season ends before it ever really begins.

Jordy Nelson Already this year, we have seen stars get hit hard by preseason injuries. Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin have both torn their ACL. Robert Griffin III is out with a concussion. And those are just some of the bigger name stars that have gone out due to injury. There are dozens of other players who already have seen their season’s cut short or put on hold.

The problem is that the NFL doesn’t really have a solution to this. You play preseason games as an attempt to develop chemistry or give guys fighting for a roster spot an opportunity to play in a game like setting where the coaches don’t have to worry about the outcome. They are essential to team development and preparation. No one has yet to come up with an alternative to these games. The NFL also isn’t the only one who plays preseason games but that doesn’t make these injuries much easier to stomach for fans.

However, these injuries could provide new opportunities for other players. In Green Bay, Davante Adams showed flashes of his ability particularly in the team’s playoff win against Dallas. Now, he has an opportunity to show what he can do as a main target.

RG3For Washington, this could spell the end of the RG3 era if the concussion is serious. That could be a good thing though for both sides. Griffin probably needs a fresh start away from Washington and the team definitely needs to wipe its hands clean of the franchise altering trade and move on.

Down in Charlotte, Cam Newton might have to showcase his running abilities once again with Benjamin out and this could be a chance for other young receivers like Corey Brown and Devin Fuchness to display their skills in a much bigger role. 

This is an optimistic approach to these terrible situations. It is not easy for teams to rebound from monumental injuries. Very few teams in NFL history are built to. And yes, it sucks that these guys were hurt in completely meaningless games.

Kelvin_BenjaminAt the same time though, they still should be playing. I know it’s easy to just say that starters should play in the preseason but that is just foolish. These few games allow players to work on timing, new plays, cohesion with new players. Without any of that, it is very likely that the first two or three weeks of the regular season would be fairly rough and probably even sloppy. Realistically, as a fan, would you be able to simply look on and say, “Oh, my team’s star player suffered a season ending injury. Well at least it was in a meaningful game,” and actually mean that? No. There is no way you could. Whether these injuries happen in week 3 or the preseason or week 13 of the regular season, they are going to be crushing either way.

My point is that this should not be a cause for every starter to sit out the entire preseason. Maybe there are ways to be more cautious when these players are in but overall, the whole point of preseason is to put players in a game environment and see how they react. This grace period before everything starts to count is vital to the development of players in the league, especially rookies.

Can you imagine if Marcus Mariota had turned the ball over on the first two series of his career in a regular season game? That wouldn’t exactly be a confidence booster. There would be no chances for the coaches to say, “OK, don’t worry about the score, just try to learn from those mistakes.” The NFL is a win now league. Teams always want to win as soon as possible. There is simply no room for complacency.

Preseason helps avoid those situations and gives players a chance to grow. In the end, it makes for much better games to watch once the regular season rolls around because now these guys are warmed up and ready for the long haul. 

NFL Preseason Awards

The NFL season sort of officially kicked off last night with the annual Hall of Fame game between the Vikings and Steelers in Canton, Ohio. The starters only played a handful of minutes but it was good to see players back in uniform playing against another team.

With the start of the season comes thoughts of how it will project. Which teams will make the playoffs, which will be bad and who will make the Super Bowl are among the common questions asked. Right now I am going to look at individual performance though for players who will truly have an impact on the game this year. Some of these are no-brainers. Others are a little bit trickier. Either way, here is my best shot at predicted the end of the season award winners.

MVP: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Runner up: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The popular pick is probably Rodgers with all of the weapons he has at his disposal. Weapons that are nowhere close to as effective with him out of the lineup either. However, Luck has been winning since day 1 in Indianapolis. This team is built around Luck and truly will go as far as he can take them. Adding Andre Johnson and Frank Gore gives the Colts some veteran options to work with and I expect Luck to get the most out of them. Expect another AFC South crown from Indy and this time Luck will be the catalyst to a top spot in the AFC.

Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills
Runner up: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
This seems like an odd pick considering McCoy had a down year last season and is starting with a brand new team. But think for a second what Rex Ryan likes to do more than pretty much anyone in the world. Run the football. McCoy will get more than his fair share of touches in the backfield and will be able to stay fresh with Fred Jackson spelling him whenever he needs. With no reliable quarterback in place either, McCoy will be the main source of offense in Buffalo this season.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Runner up: Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams

This is one of those no-brainers when making these selections. J.J. Watt has simply been superhuman over the past three seasons and I see no reason for that not to continue here. He consistently dominates the competition and with some potential help coming the form of Jadeveon Clowney, Watt could have even more opportunities to be disruptive. Look for another strong showing from the league’s best defensive player.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
Runner up: Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

Amari Cooper might very well be the best player from this draft when all is said and done but for now Melvin Gordon is taking home the honors. Gordon enters a great situation in San Diego. They have a well established offensive line and a team that likes to light things up on offense. You can assume that Gordon will get 15 to 18 touches per game. Which should be more than enough to make his impact felt. He won’t need to be the key source of offense at all times with Phillip Rivers under center but Gordon will still make a major impact.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Leonard Williams, DE, New York Jets
Runner up: Marcus Peters, CB Kansas City Chiefs

When it first happened, the Jets selection of Leonard Williams seemed kind of redundant. Once Sheldon Richardson received his suspension for violating the NFL drug policy and then the ensuing legal run in, Williams seems like he will play a much more important role. He will play alongside Damon Harrison and Mo Wilkerson so there is not much of a chance Williams sees too much of the attention when blocking. He will be a disruptive force in the running game and could wind up with his fair share of sacks with the way Todd Bowles likes to blitz. Williams will have a big year for this defense.

Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Runner up: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals

If it wasn’t for the fact that Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in the NFL then Palmer would have this award locked up. However, Peterson is returning from a year where he played one game before missing the whole season due to legal trouble. With an offense that seems to have a much more solidified passing attack than when he left, Peterson won’t need to carry this team but he will still be the best player on it. That will be good enough to earn Peterson the award.

Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Runner up: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
I think Andy Reid will have a successful year coaching the Chiefs in the wide open West. However, the job that Mike Zimmer has already done with the Vikings should earn him the award. He dealt with the Peterson drama all offseason and now has the Vikings looking like a playoff team. They won’t surpass the Packers for the NFC North title but he will get them into the wildcard. Zimmer will coach this group up to a 10-6 record and get the most out of his guys.

Top ten NFL preseason games to watch

10. Washington vs. Cleveland

This might seem like a game to sleep through but there are some very important things to watch for in this first week matchup. First will be to see how Robert Griffin III looks after another offseason in this new system. He struggled mightily last year and likely won’t play a ton but seeing out on the field for the first time will be something to watch. The focus will also be on this remade Washington defense with Junior Galette and Preston Smith as the pass rushers and Brian Orakpo no longer in the picture. For Cleveland, the biggest takeaway will be who they march out at quarterback to start the game. Mike Pettine has not given much indication as to who will start. This will also be our first chance to get a glimpse of Terrelle Pryor at wide receiver.

9. Denver vs. Houston

Two good teams facing off obviously but with several of things to watch for. Peyton Manning probably won’t take the field, but if he does then it will be interesting to see what kind of shape he is in. There will be some noticeable absences in other parts of the Bronco offense too with Julius Thomas and Manny Ramirez now suiting up for different teams. For Houston, this is another case of who comes out as the starting quarterback. Beyond that, there will be some intrigue as to who excels in the Houston backfield with Arian Foster now expected to miss the beginning of the season due to injury. Plus, it’s probably worth tuning in just in case J.J. Watt does something cool.

8. Buffalo vs. Detroit

Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh left Detroit in free agency so all eyes will be on the Lions defensive line to see who steps up to take the starting job. And while he won’t play much most likely, seeing how Calvin Johnson looks after spending most of last season somewhat banged up will be something to keep an eye on. For Buffalo, this game will likely include a lot of their back ups, including E.J. Manuel. This will probably be his last audition for the Bills to keep him or for him to show enough for another team to sign him in the future. Oh and LeSean McCoy is in a Bills uniform.

7. Chicago vs. Cincinnati

This game features two perennial underachievers in the third week of the preseason. That tends to be the week where the starters play the most. That means we will see if Jay Cutler looks any better throwing to Alshon Jeffrey and Kevin White. It also means we will get to see how many carries Giovanni Bernard will receive in as close to a real game scenario as possible. The game might not count but both of these teams are under intense pressure to perform this season. This will be a chance to see how each team looks in their final dress rehearsal.

6. Kansas City vs. Arizona

Kansas City travels to Arizona during the first week of the preseason and their are a lot of things I want to keep an eye on here. First and foremost is the status of Carson Palmer’s knee. He won’t play much but this will be his first game action since tearing his ACL last November. I also want to see who is getting the majority of the touches in the Arizona backfield as well as how the Cardinal defense is adjusting without Todd Bowles calling the shots. For Kansas City, this will be Jeremy Maclin’s first appearance in a Chiefs uniform which is exciting. It will also be our first glimpse at breakout candidate Travis Kelce this year.

5. Atlanta vs. Miami

The headlines here begin with Ndamukong Suh getting significant playing time in a Dolphins’ jersey. This game is in week three and we will see if Ryan Tannehill really has built on last season. He has better targets this year with DeVante Parker playing alongside Greg Jennings and Jarvis Landry now. Those guys will be going up against a new look Atlanta defense. Former Seahawks coordinator Dan Quinn arrived as the new head coach and has spent a lot of time attempting to remake this defense. This will be a good indicator of whether his work was worth it.

4. Philadelphia vs. Indianapolis

No team underwent more change this offseason than Philadelphia did. LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin are gone. As are Evan Mathis, Nick Foles, Brandon Boykins and a handful of other Eagles starters from a season ago. This will be the first chance to see the new look Eagles in action. The secondary also has a tall task of defending Andrew Luck, which will be a good first sign to see if the group is gelling. For the Colts, Andre Johnson and Frank Gore won’t play much but they will be in Colts’ uniforms for the first time ever which definitely is something to look forward to.

3. Pittsburgh vs. Minnesota

Adrian Peterson returns in the Hall of Fame game. Teddy Bridgewater has a chance to get some game action with his new weapons and the Steelers will begin to adjust to life without LeVeon Bell. The starters won’t play a ton in this one but it will allow us to see Vikings’ receiver Stefon Diggs in action as well, who has been drawing comparisons to Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in training camp. We will also get to see how Trae Waynes and Bud Dupree are adjusting to the NFL for the first time.

2. Green Bay vs. New England

There are a number of reasons to tune into this one. For starters, this could be a Super Bowl preview in the preseason. On top of that, Jimmy Garappolo will likely see a lot of playing time, which is a big deal if he has to start the first four games of this season. The Patriots and every fan on Earth will be eager to see what Garappolo can do as he is about to have to fill in for a future Hall of Famer. For Green Bay, this is mainly the same team but some questions still remain in that secondary. This is the first place they might find answers.

1. New York Jets vs. New York Giants

This is easily my favorite game of the preseason to watch. It is the New York rivalry game. Looking beyond that though the Jets are searching for an answer at quarterback and this will be either Geno Smith’s or Ryan Fitzpatrick’s best chance to prove they deserve to start week one. Not to mention, watching Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie match up across from Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz will be so much to watch. It will also be our first chance to see Cruz in extended game action after, suffering that terrible knee injury a year ago.