It’s not uncommon for NFL fans to write off the preseason as meaningless. To be fair, it’s a great time to score cheap NFL tickets to see your favorite team play, but as far as scoping out how good each team is likely to be in the upcoming season, it doesn’t always offer much real insight.
But if you look closely enough, you’ll find a few clues to help you predict how the regular season will play out. Here are a few tidbits – and predictions – we’ve picked up from NFL preseason thus far.
A Long Season in Detroit
It might have been just a meaningless exhibition game, but the Lions were obliterated by the Super Bowl champion Patriots. If losing 31-3 wasn’t bad enough, the Lions were out-gained 459-93. They also allowed nine sacks while facing most of New England’s backups. Even for a preseason game, that’s as ugly as it gets. If the Lions can’t iron out their issues along the offensive line, they’re not going to have much of a chance of competing in the NFC North – a division in which most are already picking them to finish last.
No Chance in Miami
The Miami Dolphins are also dealing with offensive line issues early in the preseason that could keep them from being competitive in 2019. Second-year quarterback Josh Rosen played well in Miami’s 34-27 win over the Falcons, completing 13 of 20 passes for nearly 200 yards. But head coach Brian Flores complained that Rosen took too many chances – he also threw an interception, which can partially be blamed on a lack of time in the pocket. If that doesn’t change, it won’t matter if Rosen or Ryan Fitzpatrick starts for the Dolphins – neither will be put in a position to succeed.
The Browns Built on Defense
Good news for Browns fans: for once, they’re actually expected to be competitive heading into a season. All eyes have been on the team’s offense, led by young quarterback Baker Mayfield and new wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. But it might end up being the Cleveland defense that propels the team to the playoffs this season. The Browns forced four turnovers in their preseason opener against Washington and have a nice blend of young and veteran talent on that side of the ball. Cleveland added plenty of depth on defense in this year’s draft – a fair indication that they could be a great sleeper pick in the AFC this season.
The Chiefs as the Team to Beat
Sure, it may have just been one preseason game, but the Chiefs look like obvious favorites to reach the Super Bowl in the AFC. Patrick Mahomes attempted just four passes in the preseason opener against the Bengals, but he completed all of them for 66 yards. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s receivers have an unreal amount of speed, and we’re not just talking about Tyreek Hill – Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hardman are also deep threats. At the same time, there’s the threat of tight end Travis Kelce on short and medium routes, helping to make the Kansas City offense just as dangerous as they were a year ago.
Top Pick Not Ready
Everybody who bought the hype on top pick Kyler Murray after a solid first preseason game may want to reconsider. He led four drives in Arizona’s second exhibition game, which ended with three punts and safety on a sack Murray took in the end zone. The Cardinals also gained just 12 total yards on those four drives and only got a first down because of an Oakland penalty. In fairness, not everything can be blamed on Murray; if the players around him aren’t helping out, he’s not going to have much success. Arizona’s entire season with Murray at the helm is essentially a grand experiment, and anyone who was thinking about betting on that experiment working out in Year 1 might want to think again before hitching their wagon to Murray and the Cardinals.