Real games? ... Check.
Real football? ... Check.
NFL.com Power Rankings? ... Check.
See how your team stacks up -- for now -- in these Week 1 rankings, which are always the trickiest to do. Consider that we're rolling together everything that's occurred since mid-May and laying it out on the great platter of opinions below. So much happened in the past three-plus months, but what does it all mean? How much can we factor in the fact that Josh McCown had a sparkling completion percentage in August?
The jumbled mess of data we have is just that, and it's up to us to decipher what among it is diddly-poo (thank you, Jim Mora) and what is important, times two (Eli Manning's torrid, er, horrid start). Take a gander below ... then provide us with your take on our take -- @HarrisonNFL is the dropbox. Should be fun.
Now, let's get to it!
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from the most recent Power Rankings.)
PREVIOUS RANKINGS: Post-draft | Post-free agency
Still the best team in football. It was true in early February, it was true after the draft and it's true now. One interesting note pertains to the wideouts: As disparaged as that group is, consider that Percy Harvin is healthy entering the season, Doug Baldwin is very reliable and Jermaine Kearse's physical style of play shone brightly in wins over two great teams in 2013, the Panthers and Broncos.
Denver remains the top challenger coming out of the AFC, also known as the American Football Conference. (Ever wonder how many people don't know that?) As high as the ceiling is for these Broncos, even the most ardent Elway disciple -- the guy who also has an Olandis Gary fathead in his basement -- has to admit the anointing of Montee Ball as the next Terrell Davis (or even the next Edgerrin James) is a bit premature. Peyton Manning is good for running backs, but he can't run through people for them.
New Orleans has every opportunity to be scary in 2014, especially if rookie receiver Brandin Cooks works out the way many of our NFL.com analysts think he will. That said, I'm looking at the safety combo here -- Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd -- and wondering if there's any limit as to how effective coordinator Rob Ryan's defense can be. I saw an interview with Ryan lookalike Sammy Hagar, and all I could think about was a Saints jacket hanging on for dear life.
Not sold on the Packers here, but I'm not sold on anyone else in this spot at the moment, either. Ultimately, this judgment is more about upside. Looking at the rest of the NFC North ... The Lions still haven't figured it out, the Vikings are starting Matt Cassel, and the Bears can't punt or cover a punt or do anything consistently well on special teams. The concern for Green Bay is the state of both the offensive and defensive lines -- and whether or not this club can control the line of scrimmage.
Little drop for the
Patriots, but I remain bullish on
this team's Super potential. Still, as I am typing this sentence (on a Southwest flight with no peanuts, too many kids and a bunch of Fishbone fans), at least one stud is not, shall we say,
Week 1: traded-away lineman
Logan Mankins, who will no doubt be hoping
the No. 22 he's blocking for in the
Buccaneers' running attack holds on to the rock a tinge more tightly than
the deuce-deuce he blocked for in New England.
Good to hear Rob Gronkowski saying he's "ready to go" for Sunday, though.
After a shaky preseason opener, Philly has looked strong on offense. But how will the defense fare? Although that unit was bagged on hard by pundits in 2013, it did rank 17th in points allowed -- not bad. Maybe the Eagles can get some players on that side of the ball when they swing backup quarterback Mark Sanchez to the Rams in some kind of Ricky Williams-type deal. Or, you know, a fifth-round pick would be nice.
Drop time for the 49ers, who haven't experienced many positive vibes of late. The Jim Harbaugh situation was a small distraction. Most of the preseason was a disaster. Maybe my wording is a bit strong, but watching San Francisco play in the first three weeks of the preseason, my feeling about the team fell somewhere between "dwindling confidence" and "oh-my-gosh-are-the-Niners-going-7-9?". Let's try not to panic. Try.
Enough of the
Trent Richardson talk. He'll be fine. ...
... Yeah, I was wondering how I was going to follow that sentence up, too. Sometimes, the writer becomes the reader. Sometimes, the 35-year-old Hall-of-Very-Gooder becomes the Comeback Player of the Year and a likely Hall of Famer. Go Reggie Wayne.
It's hard not to like these Chargers. Philip Rivers looked reeeaaal nice in the preseason. As Cousin Eddie would say, it might have been best just to let him finish ... the games, that is. Of course, we don't get to see the No. 1s for very long in August football, so we're still waiting to learn how running back Ryan Mathews will fare. Oh, by the way, coordinator John Pagano's defense looks improved.
With all the Chatty Cathys droning on about Andy Dalton's past playoff failures, it kinda feels like the Bengals quarterback is 50 years old and preparing for his 29th NFL season -- rather than his fourth. Either way, to me, he seems to play better -- with an edge, even -- when he's sporting a goatee. I still remember the first time I saw David Caruso with a goatee. Fierce stuff.
While doing the highlights of a Panthers preseason game for NFL Now (you should check out the app, by the way), I saw a veteran quarterback who sure didn't seem afraid to lock in on his rookie receiver. First-round pick Kelvin Benjamin will post 800 yards and six-to-eight touchdowns this year. Unfortunately, I also saw a Cam Newton who was not running like himself.
There are reasons to be positive about the Arizona Cardinals in 2014, given the potential of young running back Andre Ellington and receiver Michael Floyd on offense, as well as the weakening of the 49ers and Rams -- which includes the delightful promise of teeing it up against Shaun Hill twice -- in the NFC West. But then there's the losses of linebacker Daryl Washington (suspension) and defensive end Darnell Dockett (torn ACL). Hmmm.
You might not remember this, but 20 years (and an extra "XL") ago, Andy Reid -- wearing a prettier redheaded crew-cut than Andy Dalton could ever dream of -- coached Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers offensive line. Considering all the struggles Reid's current O-line in Kansas City is facing, with Donald Stephenson beginning a four-game suspension and Eric Fisher presumably out to lunch, you wonder if Reid will get his hands dirty and coach up that unit, a la Bill Belichick coaching the linebackers during the Patriots' undefeated campaign in 2007. Why not?
Despite being 10 spots lower in our pecking order, Chicago is not that far behind Green Bay. The real discrepancy between the two clubs is that more uncertainties surround
Marc Trestman's bunch:
1) Who is Jay Cutler at this point in his career, and will he play 16 games?
2) Can the middle of the defense stop anybody?
3) Just how bad will the special teams coverage be?
4) Here's a new term for the post- Devin Hester era: returner-by-committee.
5) How will the safeties perform this season?
Can this squad run the football? Logic says no.
Ray Rice's suspension says no. Every defense -- other than the
Dallas Cowboys' horrid outfit -- will likely say no.
Baltimore had better figure this out, or the relatively immobile Joe Flacco will be in trouble again. He played effectively in Week 3 of the preseason, but one wonders how he'd fare against a defense playing nickel and dime most of the time.
Calling it right now: Dri Archer returns the opening kick of the regular season for a touchdown ... and then the Steelers score 10 points the rest of the game. While I expect them to be OK, something seems off with Ben Roethlisberger and the the first-team offense. Sure would help if receiver Markus Wheaton were to turn it up a notch in Year 2. We're still waiting on that -- and on an apology from Emmanuel Sanders, too.
Call this ranking a vote of confidence for Rex Ryan. With that out of the way, we have to ask, who is going to cover for him ... literally? Cornerback Dee Milliner has been dinged up. Who knows where corner Dimitri Patterson -- who has since been released -- went when he was AWOL this preseason? (I'm going with Hurricane Harbor. It was one of the last weekends of summer, after all.) The safeties are so-so at best. We're used to the defense holding down the fort for the Jets, but that will be much tougher for this unit to do now.
Mixed reviews for the Dolphins at this stage of the game. Thus, they're standing pat in our Power Rankings. The offensive line looks improved, while veteran running back Knowshon Moreno came back like Gage in "Pet Sematary" after being buried in the early stages of the preseason. And yet, all in all, this still appears to be a .500 team. Now let's send it back to Dick, Bob and Nat for more exciting preseason action. Yep, Dick Stockton is still doing his thing, God bless him.
Julio Jones appears to be in line for a monster campaign -- especially if that
Falcons defense struggles, as it did last year and early this preseason, and the team finds itself in track meets for most of 2014. Thank goodness I got Jones in my
"Fantasy Live" draft.
(OK, truth be told, I missed said draft. I was on autopick, and Jones fell to me. But I digress.)
This team has to figure out a) whether rookie Devonta Freeman is ready to be the bell-cow back and b) what they have in second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman on defense. If both players grow up fast, the 4-12 mark of 2013 will seem like a distant memory.
"Difficult it is to lay out how the preseason translates for the Bucs." -- Yoda.
Ah, what to make of the impressive performance in Buffalo and quarterback Josh McCown's highly efficient preseason (74.1 percent completion rate). This team, in theory, could finish 9-7 if all goes well -- and yet, there are questions that August football simply can't fully answer.
Still, Scott Smith over at buccaneers.com wrote a solid piece listing some stats from the past few weeks that the team can hang its hat on.
There is plenty to like about this squad, so much so that you almost get excited -- before recalling that they're the
Detroit Lions. So bringing aboard new coach
Jim Caldwell didn't exactly whet the appetite of many fans. On the surface, that doesn't seem fair, given that he
did take the
Colts to the
Super Bowl. He's just one of those guys, I guess. Of course, so was
Tom Coughlin ... and Tom Flores ... and George Seifert -- and that group accounts for six
Super Bowl rings. So give the man a chance to put his stamp on this team, even if he wasn't the sexiest offseason hire.
Side note: Thinking running back Joique Bell makes a big contribution this year.
Ironic that all those NFL analysts who disparaged
Tony Romo over the past several years are now the same ones yapping about how he's the only thing that will keep the
Cowboys from finishing 3-13. Truth is, Romo has been the best player on the team for a couple of seasons now.
The player who held that title three years ago -- defensive end DeMarcus Ware -- is, of course, in Denver after being released by Dallas this offseason. That's OK, though; the Cowboys didn't need him, anyway, as the defense looks awesome. Wait ...
Is it possible we're all underestimating Shaun Hill? His teams have gone 13-13 in the games he's started, and he does have a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 41:23. Those are hardly bad numbers. Sure, losing Sam Bradford for the year to yet another knee injury sucked. But give his replacement a shot.
Giants fans have to be darn concerned. Eli Manning had a perfectly crappy preseason -- and that was before he went 1-for-4 for zero yards in the finale. Now he says the process of getting new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense down will be a "season-long situation." Great. Enjoy those 15-for-29-for-177-yards games, everyone.
Bishop Sankey to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year in our
2014 season predictions on NFL.com. I think he can put up 900 rushing yards and notch 40-to-50 catches. So I pretty much sentenced his rookie season to death. Way to go, me.
Jake Locker looks good, though. ( Stay healthy, stay healthy, stay healthy ...)
Let's see what
Matt Cassel can do. This might be the USC product's last chance to be a true starter in the NFL. It should be interesting to see how he responds, as well as what kind of help the veteran quarterback receives from the young talent around him, namely receiver
Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end
So what do Vikings fans make of the team's perfect preseason? I'd love to know. ( @HarrisonNFL).
Robert Griffin III has not looked effective. His mechanics are being questioned, which is something I started to do last year before being swamped with explanations from people that his struggles were related to his injury. Now, though, there's no Mike Shanahan or balky knee to point to, with
Jay Gruden taking the reins in Washington and
RGIII's surgery having taken place 20 months ago.
This team must lean on running back Alfred Morris -- and I think he's up to the challenge. Give him 1,400 yards.
Much talk about free-agent addition Toby Gerhart this preseason, but I'm not sure he's the 1,000-yard feature back everyone is hoping he'll be. All he needs to do is provide balance for Blake Bortles -- whenever he becomes the starting quarterback (which is, hopefully, at some point this season). Speaking of the No. 3 overall pick, Bortles averaged 10.2 yards per attempt in the preseason -- a ridiculously solid figure.
Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins is supposed to be OK for Week 1 after injuring his ribs in the preseason finale. That's super news for Buffalo, because the Bills' passing game mostly stunk in August -- even when the No. 4 overall pick was on the field. Honestly, even if linebacker Kiko Alonso hadn't torn his ACL, this team would be bound to finish below .500 with its offense performing like this.
So the defense looks nice. Regarding this whole quarterback thing, though, can someone tell the wideouts and tight ends that it's OK for them to contribute, too? At times during the preseason, it seemed as if they weren't going to make a play unless Brian Hoyer yelled to tell them that he was throwing the ball, then delivered a perfect throw.
For all the chatter about the quarterback position and No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, what about Arian Foster? His well-being could be key for this team. He was limited to just eight games last year ... in which he picked up 4.5 yards per carry. Eager to see what style of offense new coach Bill O'Brien uses with a healthy Foster.
So the Raiders finally gave the quarterback job to rookie Derek Carr. He certainly did enough to warrant playing over veteran Matt Schaub. Given the Raiders' prospects -- or lack thereof -- in the tough AFC West, why not provide the kid an opportunity? Sure, he might struggle early, but then again, Schaub has struggled already, so what's the difference?
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.