Before closing the book on the 2023 preseason and looking ahead to the games counting in September, below are my takeaways from the past few days of action.
Steelers 24, Falcons 0
Pittsburgh is more than ready for Week 1 if the preseason has been any indication, and Mike Tomlin had a tremendous quote about valuing the preseason, saying “I just think it’s difficult to box without sparring.” The Falcons are one of many teams that mostly declined to spar this month, so we’ll see how things play out around the league to begin the regular season.
Colts 27, Eagles 13
Trey Sermon was given a chance to be featured last week with Philadelphia either wanting to boost his value for a possible trade or simply allowing him to showcase himself for other teams (similar to Will Grier in Dallas), but you could sense the running back’s frustration with limited holes created by the backup offensive line. It would have been nice to see Sermon get a shot with the starting group, so we’ll see if a surprise shake up leads to him making the team.
Lions 26, Panthers 17
Adam Thielen (4/48/1) was the top target for Bryce Young last Friday night, and the coaching staff might want that to remain the case for the regular season. However, I loved what we saw from Jonathan Mingo by creating easy separation on his lone reception (a 14-yard slant), and he could be the No. 1 wideout at some point in 2023.
Titans 23, Patriots 7
New England’s backups had an extremely quiet night offensively with 79 total yards and six sacks allowed, so the team better hope Mac Jones and the starting offense has more success starting in the opener against Philly’s feared pass rush. If the offensive line doesn’t hold up, it will likely be a disappointing season in the loaded AFC East.
Chargers 23, 49ers 12
Limited playing time has been enough to see how in command Brock Purdy continues to be for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and the group should again be among the best in the league this year. For the Chargers, Joshua Kelley broke a 75-yard touchdown to solidify himself as the No. 2 back for an offense that could be much more of a committee than many are anticipating.
Packers 19, Seahawks 15
I said last week that Jake Bobo could lock up a roster spot (if he hadn’t already) with another strong performance, and the undrafted rookie again showed he has more than enough speed to beat NFL competition. The former UCLA standout might even be the No. 3 wideout to open the year with Jaxon Smith-Njigba (wrist) on the mend.
Cardinals 18, Vikings 17
If you look at the totality of the Arizona trades from the past week, they essentially acquired Joshua Dobbs and two seventh-round picks for Isaiah Simmons and a fifth-round pick—so it’s fair to question the moves. Just focusing on the quarterbacks with Kyler Murray (knee) out, Clayton Tune being drafted in the fifth round means the new regime has spent two fifth-rounders at the position ahead of next year’s loaded class.
Chiefs 33, Browns 32
Rashee Rice is someone I was high on coming out of SMU, but having a few drops in the preseason won’t help him get on the field with Patrick Mahomes. It’s looking like Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore will be the starters to begin 2023, and Justin Watson and Richie James Jr. seem like safe bets to make the roster, too.
Bills 24, Bears 21
First-round tight end Dalton Kincaid was a key part of Buffalo’s starting offense this month, and second-rounder O’Cyrus Torrence started for the third game in a row at right guard before praise from Josh Allen for his communication. This is not an overreaction to exhibitions because I thought it when they were drafted, but Kincaid and Torrence was the kind of draft that could help vault Buffalo to multiple championships.
Jets 32, Giants 24
Hard Knocks could be interesting this week with Aaron Rodgers making his game debut for New York and the Giants bringing a bunch of pressure defensively, but a touchdown strike to Garrett Wilson was an ideal start (and finish) for Rodgers. Also, Mekhi Becton played well at right tackle and was announced as the starter after the game—a move that should maximize the potential of the offensive line.
Commanders 21, Bengals 19
Jake Fromm followed up a great showing last Monday night by completing 13-of-18 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Cincinnati, and the poise and accuracy shown over the past two games should have earned him a roster spot. If not, teams should be lining up to sign Fromm this week.
Buccaneers 26, Ravens 20
All three of Laquon Treadwell, James Proche II, and Tylan Wallace made an impact in the preseason finale, but Baltimore will have some difficult decisions to make behind the starters at wide receiver. Based on how important the position is expected to be in a new scheme, keeping seven—so two of Treadwell, Proche, and Wallace—wouldn’t be a shock.
Jaguars 31, Dolphins 18
Rookie Tank Bigsby saw work with Trevor Lawrence and the starters, but Travis Etienne Jr. is different when he has the ball in his hands with top-tier acceleration and speed. Considering how good Calvin Ridley looks, the Jags should be deadly on offense this fall.
Cowboys 31, Raiders 16
Dak Prescott calling plays on Saturday night and having Will Grier completely go off with 358 total yards and four total touchdowns was cool, and it shows the level of football mind that Prescott has. A big part of the offense was rookie Hunter Leupke—who got the start at running back (despite being a fullback at North Dakota State) and totaled 118 yards and a score on 20 touches.
Broncos 41, Rams 0
The way Denver was flying around the field in the preseason finale had to be encouraging if you’re a fan, and they really made Stetson Bennett IV struggle with 14 passing yards and two interceptions on nine attempts. The Broncos notably get home games versus Las Vegas and Washington to begin the season.
Texans 17, Saints 13
It’s clear that Dameon Pierce will be a huge part of the Houston offense in C.J. Stroud’s first season, and the offensive line will be key for DeMeco Ryans’ squad to beat expectations in Year 1. Interestingly, 2022 first-rounder Kenyon Green didn’t start at left guard in the preseason finale, so the acquisition of offensive tackle Josh Jones from Arizona might create some shuffling up front for the Texans.