The preseason doesn't mean much, especially to the New England Patriots.
Still, it's not like the panic over their offense is entirely misplaced. In the preseason finale, after a few weeks of alarmist stories about how bad the offense looked in training camp, the Patriots' starting offense struggled against the Las Vegas Raiders. That's bad. What's worse is it came against the Raiders' backup defense.
The Patriots' starting offense played four series. Two of those possessions ended with punts after three-and-outs. There was also a horrid interception by quarterback Mac Jones, and a field goal. The offensive line, which was a focus of all those worrisome stories out of camp, didn't look good. Everyone has had their say about the odd offensive coordinator combination of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, and after the preseason it seemed like maybe New England should have gone a more traditional route in replacing Josh McDaniels.
It's not like New England hasn't been through this before. Most of the past decade-plus has been spent trying to bury the Patriots, and most times it just looks foolish by the end of the season. While the NFL world wonders if the Patriots offense will be a disaster, the Patriots themselves seem pretty calm.
“I say all the time, the NFL is a league of extremes" Judge said, via Boston.com. "It’s one week, what’s the storyline. We’ve got a week in between the games, in this instance we have two weeks in between the games. So it’s what’s the storyline that’s going to run? You can’t chase that. You can’t chase the narratives. You’ve got to show up every day.”
Jones was one of the Patriots who had a rough preseason. He isn't worried either.
"It's not about rah-rah speeches and things like that," Jones said, according to NBC Sports. "It's about pure execution. We're gonna work on it, we're gonna grind through it. I think it’s kinda good to be where we are. Learn from everything and have good conversations. That's the important part. Don’t just sit there and say that it was bad. It is what it is."
How much should the preseason matter to our perceptions of teams? The 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns, the two 0-16 teams in NFL history, were both 4-0 in the preseason. Plenty of teams and players have looked great or terrible in August, and it doesn't resemble anything we see once the regular season starts. Teams don't generally show enough, schematically and with lineups, in preseason to get a reasonable read on what they'll be during the regular season.
Yet, it matters a little. The Patriots weren't trying to be bad in the preseason and especially during camp. They're introducing new schemes with the coordinator change. They weren't sharp. That does matter. Maybe it will cause a slow start to the regular season for New England.
Bill Belichick usually figures things out, though. Sometimes it takes a few weeks into the season, but the Patriots end up fixing their issues as the season goes on. Patriots fans better hope so, or it might be a long season watching this offense.
Here are the power rankings before Week 1 of the NFL season. Click on any of the team names below for an in-depth season preview on that team from our summer countdown series; the "last week" ranking is from our pre-preseason rankings.
32. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 31)
The Falcons looked fine in the preseason but that doesn't mean much. If Arthur Smith can get this roster to six, seven wins or more, it'll say a lot about his coaching ability.
31. Houston Texans (LW: 32)
The Texans might be improved. Rookie running back Dameon Pierce was great in the preseason. Receiver Nico Collins and tight end Brevin Jordan could have breakouts. Not great, but better than their previous ranking.
30. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 26)
Geno Smith won the Seahawks' QB competition, mostly because Drew Lock didn't do much to win it. We don't know whether rookie running back Kenneth Walker III, a second-round pick, will play in the opener after having hernia surgery. You would have liked some more positive news from Seattle in August, but there wasn't much of it.
29. Chicago Bears (LW: 28)
Tight end Cole Kmet had a nice preseason. It would help the Bears offense immensely if he had a breakout season. They need someone other than Darnell Mooney to catch the ball.
28. New York Giants (LW: 30)
Here's Giants general manager Joe Schoen on the Giants' expectations this season, via Fox Sports: “We’re just trying to get through today.
"The situation we’re in is the situation," Schoen said. "It’s the hand we were dealt. We’re going to do the best we can.”
How's that for some preseason excitement?
27. New York Jets (LW: 27)
We're still waiting for word on Zach Wilson's availability, but it seems his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery is going well. The Jets won't rush him and risk setting him back for what is a crucial second season.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 29)
Jaguars-Commanders in Week 1 is an interesting game. If the Jaguars do have a shot to be a breakout team this season, as many believe, this is a game they should win.
25. Carolina Panthers (LW: 24)
The Panthers wasted a lot of time before naming Baker Mayfield their starting quarterback. Mayfield should be an upgrade for the passing game, and as long as the Panthers are healthy they should be a tough out. A Week 1 game against Cleveland will be telling.
24. Detroit Lions (LW: 25)
The Lions gave us a good "Hard Knocks" show. What is clear already is Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick of the draft, has a chance to be really good. This should be a fun season in Detroit.
23. Washington Commanders (LW: 23)
Thankfully Brian Robinson Jr. is doing OK after being shot in a robbery attempt. The rookie running back looked good before that. Another rookie who could be a surprise is Jahan Dotson, who hasn't gotten as much buzz as you'd expect from a receiver taken No. 16 overall.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 22)
Mike Tomlin was drawing out announcing a starting quarterback, though it would be a surprise if it's not Mitchell Trubisky. But Kenny Pickett looked good in the preseason. He should play pretty soon this season.
21. Miami Dolphins (LW: 20)
Tua Tagovailoa had a good preseason finale, offering some positive vibes heading into a huge season for him. His connection with Tyreek Hill will be one of the NFL's most-watched storylines in September.
20. Tennessee Titans (LW: 16)
The loss of pass rusher Harold Landry to a torn ACL in practice is brutal for the Titans. If Mike Vrabel can get this team back to the playoffs, it will stamp him as a top-five coach in the NFL.
19. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 21)
Kirk Cousins is set up well for a big season under new coach Kevin O'Connell. But it's funny: No matter how good Cousins is, your opinion on him won't change unless Minnesota somehow wins a Super Bowl.
18. New Orleans Saints (LW: 19)
The Saints' trade of versatile defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the Eagles was surprising. Gardner-Johnson could become a free agent next offseason, but he could have helped this season and the Saints didn't get much back (a 2023 fifth-round pick, the lowest of the Eagles' two 2024 sixth-rounders and a 2025 seventh-round pick). Gardner-Johnson wanted a new deal but it's not like he'd sit out all season. An odd move.
17. Cleveland Browns (LW: 15)
The problem with evaluating the Browns is that the assumption is Deshaun Watson will look like his normal self when he returns from an 11-game suspension. Watson didn't play at all last season, got just a handful of preseason snaps this year, and will be joining a brand new team and offensive scheme about two-thirds of the way into the season. Watson is a talented quarterback but assuming he'll be great right away is asking a lot.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (LW: 18)
Cutting offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood a year after he was drafted in the first round brought a lot of attention to how bad the Raiders' drafts were with Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden running the show. Imagine how good the Raiders might be right now if they hadn't whiffed on so many picks. The blown drafts will set them back for the next couple years, too.
15. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 17)
The Cardinals will be tested right out of the gate with a home game against the Chiefs. We'll find out if Arizona's cornerbacks are good enough by facing Patrick Mahomes.
14. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 14)
I don't buy the notion that Nyheim Hines is going to get much more run this season. Jonathan Taylor is still either the best running back in the NFL or on a very short list. The Colts missed the playoffs last season and aren't going to be taking their best offensive weapon off the field that often.
13. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 12)
Maybe there will be no problem with Jimmy Garoppolo being back on the roster, and Trey Lance will take off anyway. I just wonder how Lance will react to it all. I still like Lance to have a breakout season, but a little less than I did before Garoppolo restructured his contract.
12. New England Patriots (LW: 9)
The Patriots open the season at the Dolphins. It's a big Week 1 game, and it's very possible that after it we're talking not about the Patriots' offense, but how Bill Belichick's defense forced Tua Tagovailoa into plenty of mistakes.
11. Denver Broncos (LW: 11)
The Broncos didn't play any starters in the preseason and had some rough moments, which caused a freakout with some of the fanbase. The Broncos will be fine. But if Denver starts slow in its opener at Seattle, new coach Nathaniel Hackett will be answering a lot of questions about his preseason strategy.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 10)
There hasn't been much talk about Joe Burrow's appendectomy. He returned to practice fairly soon after the procedure and seems good to go. Apparently, there won't be any issues going forward, which is good news for one of the NFL's young stars.
9. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 5)
The Tyron Smith injury is a brutal one for the Cowboys. I'd hesitated moving Dallas too far down over the offseason, because the Cowboys were better last season than anyone seems to remember. But the holes are tough to ignore.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 13)
General manager Howie Roseman has had a tremendous offseason. The trade for defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson gives the Eagles an answer to one of the few questions on the roster. The more you look at the Eagles, the more you see a team that could be a surprise NFC champion.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 8)
The Chargers have been trying to find a backup for running back Austin Ekeler. Maybe free-agent addition Sony Michel, cut by the Dolphins at the end of the preseason, will be the answer. Michel had some good moments with the Rams last season.
6. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 7)
It's not ideal for the Ravens to be starting the season with a lot of questions at running back. Gus Edwards will start the season on PUP. They've been coy about J.K. Dobbins' health and availability heading into Week 1. The Ravens did sign Kenyan Drake, and maybe that saves them early in the season as Dobbins and Edwards get back to full health.
5. Green Bay Packers (LW: 6)
Rookie receiver Romeo Doubs is one of the more interesting players to watch this September. He had a good camp and flashed in the preseason. Will a fourth-round rookie really be one of Aaron Rodgers' most important targets this season? That's a lot of pressure, but if Doubs hits big it could transform the Packers.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 3)
The Buccaneers have dealt with offensive line injuries and Tom Brady's unusual training camp vacation. They don't know when Chris Godwin will be 100 percent this season. Rob Gronkowski has retired. Are the Buccaneers much more vulnerable than we expect?
3. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 4)
A key player to watch early is rookie receiver Skyy Moore. It didn't seem through the preseason like he'll be a big part of the offense early on, but his versatility could be a nice asset through the season. Perhaps coach Andy Reid has an early-season plan for the rookie too.
2. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 2)
Matthew Stafford's sore elbow got a lot of attention in August, but there doesn't seem to be much concern heading into the season. It's worth watching if he's not quite 100 percent early, but as of now it appears Stafford should be fine.
1. Buffalo Bills (LW: 1)
If the Bills go to Los Angeles and beat the Rams on Thursday, the hype for them will be massive. They're the Super Bowl favorites for a reason. This could be a special season in Buffalo.