If you wanted a sliver of hope that the New England Patriots would look vulnerable heading into the season, that might have happened when receiver Julian Edelman was leaving the third preseason game in a cart.
There were a few key injuries this preseason, as always, and the biggest was probably Edelman’s torn ACL. Edelman has become one of the New England Patriots’ key players. He’s a perfect fit for the Patriots’ offense, which is built around the short-to-intermediate passing game. Nobody has better synergy with Tom Brady. Brady can always trust Edelman to read the coverage correctly and be open.
So Edelman’s season-ending injury is a big loss for the Patriots, right? Well, maybe.
New England is well stocked at receiver. Even after losing their most reliable receiver, the Patriots have Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell. Many teams would love to have that receiving corps. Oh, and Rob Gronkowski is back as the most dominant tight end in the game. The Patriots won big without Gronkowski last season; they can win big without Edelman this season.
That’s not to say Edelman isn’t a fantastic player, or his loss won’t be missed. There will be some third downs when Brady would normally go to Edelman, and he’ll have to figure out Plan B. You have to trust that Brady and the Patriots’ coaching staff will be able to do that. Edelman’s loss knocks the Patriots down a bit, but still not behind anyone else in the NFL. It probably just means Hogan becomes a bigger part of the offense, and that’s not a bad thing.
Even though the Patriots suffered perhaps the biggest loss of the preseason (Miami Dolphins fans might argue it was Ryan Tannehill … or maybe not), it’s still the Patriots and everyone else chasing them.
Here are the NFL power rankings as we head into Week 1. Click on any team name below to read the full preview we did this summer for that squad (the “last week” ranking is where each team ranked in our power rankings before the first preseason game):
32. New York Jets (Last week: 32)
I don’t remember a team heading into a season with a gloomier outlook than these Jets. Trading defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was probably smart, but it makes the worst team in football sink even lower heading into the season.
31. Cleveland Browns (LW: 31)
I liked some things this preseason from the Browns, who went 4-0. And it was the right move to turn to rookie DeShone Kizer at quarterback. However, he’s still going to struggle. I don’t see Dak Prescott, The Sequel coming for Kizer this season. But the Browns have to figure out what they have with him. This team will probably move up the rankings during the season, but let’s not forget they have a long way to go after a 1-15 season.
30. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 30)
I’ve always been intrigued by receiver Marquise Goodwin. He was underused at the University of Texas and then underused with the Buffalo Bills. He looked good in the preseason, after the 49ers signed him this offseason. It’s not like the 49ers have a lot of other options in that offense.
29. Buffalo Bills (LW: 24)
It’s wild that “Nate Peterman or Tyrod Taylor?” is becoming a thing in Buffalo already. How many times has it worked out to start a fifth-round pick rookie quarterback? Especially since Taylor is not that bad. We’ll see if Taylor gets yanked out of the job early (assuming he’s out of the concussion protocol and able to start Week 1, which is no sure thing).
28. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 23)
It’s fairly amazing, in this age where we seem to know everything as it happens, that we know practically nothing about Andrew Luck’s health. Will he start by Week 3? Week 6? Does he start before December? It’s an absolute guess at this point.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 27)
I get why the Jaguars considered starting Chad Henne. I also know why they ultimately didn’t: Henne isn’t very good. Blake Bortles gets yet another chance, but I assume he better play well right away. Coach Doug Marrone probably has the hook very close by. And his first game is at Houston and the Texans’ tough defense.
26. Chicago Bears (LW: 29)
Here is the Bears’ rough schedule to start the season: vs. Atlanta, at Tampa Bay, vs. Pittsburgh, at Green Bay, vs. Minnesota, at Baltimore. It just seems like after that Ravens game, Week 7 at home vs. Carolina might be a good bet for Mitchell Trubisky’s first start. If it hasn’t already happened by then.
25. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 28)
The Rams couldn’t ask for a better spot in Week 1, catching the Colts without quarterback Andrew Luck and cornerback Vontae Davis. And it’s a home game for the Rams. If they can’t win that, it’ll be a long season.
24. Detroit Lions (LW: 26)
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah was taken off the PUP list on Sept. 1. It still is asking a lot for him to play to his normal standard early in the season. It might take a while before he can make a real difference, and the Lions’ defense depends heavily on him.
23. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 22)
It’s hard to imagine Joe Flacco being his normal self in Week 1, or maybe even Weeks 2 and 3. And the Ravens offense is not good enough around Flacco to compensate as he knocks off the rust. It will be impressive if they get through the first few weeks with a winning record.
22. Houston Texans (LW: 25)
I’m interested to see what the Texans’ offense can do Week 1. Jacksonville, if nothing else, has a good defense. If Tom Savage and the offense flail around against the Jaguars, it’s hard seeing it improving much in Weeks 2 and 3 at Cincinnati and at New England.
21. Washington Redskins (LW: 18)
That was a bad preseason for the offense. Kirk Cousins struggled. Terrelle Pryor didn’t do much. Even rookie running back Samaje Perine, expected by many to battle for a starting job, wasn’t very good. The offensive woes are not guaranteed to carry over to the regular season, but it’s not a good sign either.
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20. New Orleans Saints (LW: 19)
The Saints often don’t follow any logical plan in the offseason, but you wonder if they have some remorse signing Adrian Peterson after seeing how good rookie Alvin Kamara was during camp and the preseason. The Saints have to find a way to get Kamara on the field this season.
19. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 20)
One of the better matchups of Week 1 is this defense against the Saints. I like the Vikings’ chances of doing fairly well there.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 21)
It was a good sign that Mike Williams is on the active roster for the start of the season. I’m still skeptical he can have a big impact this season considering back injuries don’t often just go away and he hasn’t really practiced with the team since the draft, but at least he’s not on injured reserve.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 17)
LeGarrette Blount this preseason: 13 carries for 36 yards and a 2.8-yard average. Maybe that’s just a veteran saving himself for when games count, but assume the Eagles are keeping a close eye on how he looks in September. A lot of players look worse when they leave the Patriots.
16. Miami Dolphins (LW: 16)
I feel better about The Jay Cutler Experience after he looked fairly sharp in the preseason, but it’s worth repeating: Cutler hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since he was with the Denver Broncos. Cutler was with the Broncos so long ago it doesn’t even seem like it really happened. I have a tough time believing that six months of retirement has turned Cutler into a much better quarterback.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 15)
After watching Joe Mixon this preseason and Jeremy Hill struggle the past two seasons, it’s clear that every snap the Bengals give to Hill over Mixon is a waste. I’m floored when I see that the Bengals are reportedly planning to stick with Hill as their top back (if he’s healthy) at the start of the season.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 14)
It’s not an ideal three-game stretch for the Bucs to be without suspended running back Doug Martin. They play at Miami, vs. Chicago and at Minnesota. The Dolphins and Vikings can rush the quarterback, and it won’t help Tampa Bay if it is one-dimensional on offense.
12. Denver Broncos (LW: 12)
For all the jokes about Brock Osweiler’s return, remember that Osweiler had some success with Denver in 2015 (the Broncos don’t win Super Bowl 50 without Osweiler’s contributions in the regular season) and general manager John Elway tried paying Osweiler about $16 million a year just 18 months ago. Why not bring him back for virtual peanuts?
11. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 13)
The Cardinals will be very interesting to watch early in the season. They’re replacing a ton on defense, and might also be without linebacker Deone Bucannon and defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who are nursing injuries. If they pick up where they left off despite all the turnover, that’s a great sign.
10. Tennessee Titans (LW: 11)
I really liked how they looked in the preseason against the Panthers … then they looked terrible against the Bears. Let’s chalk it up to preseason not mattering and move on. This is still my breakout team this season, though plenty of others are on that bandwagon too.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 8)
Between Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson (all that physical talent finally produced some results in the fourth preseason game, we’ll see if he can carry it over) and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs have a really bright future on offense. Kelce is the senior citizen of that group at 27 years old.
7. New York Giants (LW: 7)
Jason Pierre-Paul looked great this preseason. Based on that and how he was playing last season before suffering a core muscle injury, JPP isn’t the worst pick to win Defensive Player of the Year.
6. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 5)
It’s practically impossible to rank this team until the Ezekiel Elliott situation gets settled (as of Tuesday morning we were still waiting for the decision on his appeal). If we could be sure Elliott would miss six games, I’d probably knock them down three or four spots. But even if the suspension is upheld, a battle in court is likely.
5. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 6)
We can debate about trading a second-round pick and receiver Jermaine Kearse for Sheldon Richardson, but the result is this: In a fairly wide-open NFC, the Seahawks have probably the best defensive line in football. Good luck blocking Frank Clark, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Richardson on passing downs.
4. Green Bay Packers (LW: 4)
Think about this: There will be downs when Aaron Rodgers drops back and has Ty Montgomery, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett as eligible receivers. Hopefully the Packers’ coaching staff will get creative with all that talent.
3. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 3)
Of all the possible breakout players this season, tight end Austin Hooper feels like one of the safer bets. He has the talent and the offense could use a top-end second receiving threat behind Julio Jones.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 2)
T.J. Watt’s two-sack preseason debut should give the Steelers a lot of optimism. If Watt can be a consistent pass rusher, that fills a major need heading into the season. If Pittsburgh’s defense can take a step up, we know the offense will be very good.
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