Then some teams experienced some dramatic changes. The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings lost their quarterbacks to injury. The Philadelphia Eagles traded their quarterback. The quarterback the Los Angeles Rams gave up so much to draft isn’t in the top two of the depth chart.
Mark Sanchez started the preseason as the Denver Broncos’ presumptive starter at quarterback, and is now on the Dallas Cowboys. Blaine Gabbert beat Colin Kaepernick for the San Francisco 49ers’ starting job, but we talked about Kaepernick all preseason anyway for other reasons.
It wasn’t just quarterback news. San Diego Chargers rookie defensive end Joey Bosa missed all of preseason with a holdout. Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles’ recovery from ACL surgery seems to be going a bit slow. Teams like the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears took on some key injuries or suspensions. J.J. Watt returned to the Houston Texans’ roster for Week 1 despite back surgery in July.
If your team got through the preseason with no major damage, congratulations. The news around the league has caused some changes in our “Week 0” power rankings (the links on each team name will bring you to our summer previews on that team … and for these power rankings, “last week” means the Aug. 7 version):
32. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 32)
I liked what Robert Griffin III did on the field in the preseason. What’s reportedly happening off the field is a bit stranger. But if we’re talking football, it appears that Hue Jackson has a plan to turn RG3 around. Here’s Greg Cosell’s breakdown of his play.
31. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 31)
I’m feeling a big season for tight end Vance McDonald. I don’t trust any of the 49ers’ wideouts to get a ton of catches. Blaine Gabbert isn’t the kind of quarterback who will push the ball downfield. They’ll probably play faster than they should under Chip Kelly. And they’ll probably pass a lot more than they want because they’ll be trailing often.
30. San Diego Chargers (LW: 29)
A 44-yard touchdown catch and a 39-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon this preseason were good signs. He’ll be a lot better this year. But he set the bar so low with his bad rookie season, “a lot better” still might not be that great. He’s a player everyone will be tracking early on.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 27)
I love the Sam Bradford trade for the Eagles. They got rid of a quarterback who hasn’t been great and they didn’t need anymore once they drafted Carson Wentz. And they ended up taking advantage of the Vikings’ desperation to get a first- and fourth-round pick for mediocre Bradford. Well done. That said, I don’t know how Wentz is ready to start after missing three quarters of the preseason due to injury.
28. Tennessee Titans (LW: 30)
Derrick Henry looked fantastic and DeMarco Murray appears to still has something left. But I’m still a bit confused. Last year the Titans drafted a franchise quarterback, which some teams chase for decades, and seem to want to hide him in the offense. I’m interested to see how many pass attempts Marcus Mariota has this season. It would be weird to turn him into a game manager.
27. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 26)
Outside linebacker Vic Beasley had a rough preseason, though a shoulder injury didn’t help. The 2015 first-round pick hasn’t shown much in the NFL yet, and while there’s still time to change that, the Falcons need something soon.
26. New Orleans Saints (LW: 28)
Here’s a quote about rookie receiver Michael Thomas: “I don’t follow fantasy football, but, shoot, I’d try to have him. I think he’s going to do well.” Who said it? Saints coach Sean Payton. He’s the one calling the plays. Pretty good source. And with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the team’s first-round pick, going to injured reserve (he’ll probably be activated for the second half of the season) a bad defense takes another hit. The offense will probably be in a ton of shootouts.
25. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 24)
Maybe Jared Goff sitting will end up being OK. I think the notion that quarterbacks should sit and learn is outdated, especially when we’re talking about a top pick. But maybe Goff needs time, and that’s fine. But don’t try spinning this as a positive or something inevitable. It’s bad that he’s third on the depth chart. It doesn’t mean he’s a bust. He could end up being a great quarterback. But it is not good that he couldn’t at least beat out Sean Mannion for the backup job.
24. Miami Dolphins (LW: 25)
Among the headlines you don’t want to see about your 2015 first-round pick: “Dolphins trying to get DeVante Parker to be a professional.” OK then! The Dolphins are frustrated that Parker isn’t eating right or hydrating, and that might have led to hamstring issues.
23. Chicago Bears (LW: 23)
The Bears had to put outside linebacker Pernell McPhee on the physically unable to perform list. The good news is it seems guard Kyle Long and cornerback Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter will be available Week 1 after dealing with injuries. But we’ll see how close to 100 percent they are.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 22)
Rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves had two interceptions in the team’s second preseason game, a good sign. He’s not guaranteed a starting spot yet, but he’ll be a big part of what the Bucs do this season. He’s going to be really good right away.
21. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 20)
The Colts dealt with a lot of cornerback injuries, most notably an ankle injury to Vontae Davis that could knock him out the first few weeks of the season. Guard Jack Mewhort will likely miss the first couple weeks with a knee injury. It’s not the way you want to go into a season.
20. Buffalo Bills (LW: 17)
At one point this offseason, the Bills had penciled in linebackers Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland and Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus for prominent roles in the defense. None of them will be available to start the season. Ragland will likely miss the whole season and Lawson was cut. Rex Ryan better be sharp this season.
19. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 11)
The Cowboys’ best-case scenario with Dak Prescott is that he’s Russell Wilson of 2012. But even Wilson posted ratings of 62.5, 45.8 and 38.7 in the first half of his rookie season. The Seahawks had a wonderful defense, making sure Wilson didn’t have to do too much. Prescott doesn’t have that luxury. There will be struggles. The running game is enormous for the Cowboys early on.
18. Detroit Lions (LW: 21)
Left tackle Taylor Decker, the team’s first-round pick, had a rough start to the preseason and was a big topic of conversation in Detroit. He seemed to settle in a bit as the preseason wound down, but he’s a player to watch early in the season.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 19)
Myles Jack really flashed in the preseason finale. The Jaguars are pretty good at linebacker, but Jack is going to carve out a big role. He’s going to be a good one. I still think it was foolish for so many teams to pass on him in the draft.
16. Washington Redskins (LW: 18)
The Redskins’ running back situation worries me a bit. Matt Jones is the starter, but he didn’t play well as a rookie last season. Rob Kelley, an undrafted rookie this year, is the projected backup. Alfred Morris’ cap hit with the Cowboys this year is $1.3 million, and I’m not sure why he’s not still with Washington at that price.
15. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 16)
Joe Flacco played in the third preseason game and went 11 of 16 for 94 yards, which was good to see as he comes off ACL surgery. The Ravens are sneaky deep at the skill positions this year. There’s a lot for Flacco to work with.
14. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 10)
I hate the Sam Bradford trade for the Vikings, in the big picture. But if we’re just focusing on this season, he is a better option than Shaun Hill. The problem is, Bradford still isn’t a good option. But the supporting cast is strong. The Vikings shouldn’t tumble too far without Teddy Bridgewater.
13. New York Jets (LW: 14)
I don’t think anyone knows quite yet how rookie linebacker Darron Lee will be used early in the season, but I assume he’ll play a lot. He looked pretty good in the preseason. He’ll be a playmaker for the defense right away.
12. Oakland Raiders (LW: 15)
We talked in the Raiders’ space in last month’s power rankings how good it was to have defensive end Mario Edwards back. Then Edwards suffered a hip injury and landed on injured reserve. He’ll probably be designated to return and play the second half of the season, but it’s a tough blow.
11. New York Giants (LW: 13)
For all the money the Giants spent this offseason, they are still thin at linebacker. The team cut Jasper Brinkley, giving Kelvin Sheppard the starting middle linebacker job. Sheppard was signed for $760,000 this offseason. Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson could be the sub-package linebackers, NJ.com said. It looks like a weakness on an expensive defense.
10. Denver Broncos (LW: 8)
Up until the moment(s) Mark Sanchez turned the ball over in the preseason, I was unconvinced that Trevor Siemian was actually going to win the quarterback job. But here we are. It’s a fascinating story. Two years ago, Siemian was throwing for seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions on a mediocre Northwestern team. Now he’s starting for the defending champions. We’ll see how this turns out. There has never been an NFL story quite like this, when you factor in where the Broncos stand.
9. Houston Texans (LW: 12)
Now that I’ve seen Brock Osweiler have a positive game in the third preseason week and J.J. Watt looks on track to play Week 1, I can feel good again about moving the Texans up a bit. I like their potential.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 9)
The news that Jamaal Charles is still recovering from ACL surgery is a bit troubling. Spencer Ware is a good fall-back option, but now I’m wondering when we’ll see vintage Charles this season, or if we will at all this season.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 7)
With Tyler Eifert likely being out the first month or so, there’s a lot of pressure on Andy Dalton. They have a good running game to help him out, but who is Dalton throwing to? Tyler Boyd is talented, but he’s a rookie, and we all know who Brandon LaFell is at this point. A.J. Green is going to get a ton of defensive attention.
6. Green Bay Packers (LW: 6)
I’m sure there were reasons the Packers cut guard Josh Sitton, but I’m also sure it didn’t make them a better football team. And if it’s over saving money, I’m not sure what good that does a Super Bowl contender in the first week of September.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 5)
Sammie Coates didn’t have the type of preseason that anyone hoped after a good camp, and now Eli Rogers is expected to be the third receiver in Pittsburgh. There’s still time for Coates. Someone other than Antonio Brown has to catch the ball for the Steelers.
4. New England Patriots (LW: 4)
The Patriots will be without quarterback Tom Brady, running back Dion Lewis, defensive end Rob Ninkovich and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer for the first part of the season. No matter how deep the Patriots are, that’s a lot to lose.
3. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 3)
Jimmy Graham is still working back slowly. The good news it seemed like Graham was barely on the roster when he was healthy last season, so it doesn’t seem like much of a loss.
2. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 2)
Receiver John Brown suffered a concussion on July 31, and about a month later he was still feeling the effects. The Cardinals are deep at receiver, but Brown’s health is key for them being a special team.
1. Carolina Panthers (LW: 1)
I’m still keeping them in the top spot, because I think they’ve earned it and they’re strong on paper. But in our predictions that will come out Thursday, I have another team winning the Super Bowl.
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