10.If the preseason is any indication, Matt Ryan’s going to throw for a million yards in 2012
In three exhibition games, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 45 of 60 passes (75 percent) for 549 yards (183 yards per game) with three touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 112.4. He leads all quarterbacks in total yards, completion percentage and completions of 20 yards or more. With Julio Jones expected to improve greatly in his second season, expect Ryan’s numbers to make a giant leap too. None of it will matter if Atlanta can’t win a playoff game. Ryan’s 0-3 in career playoff games.
The third week of the NFL preseason is considered the 'dress rehearsal' week of the exhibition season. In teams’ third games, starters play at least one half, new offensive and defensive sets are unveiled, and the bottom third of the roster is often crystalized. What’d we learn from 2012’s 'Dress Rehearsal Week?' For starters, we know T.O. (far left) is again unemployed, and Randy Moss may soon join him. Here were my 10 takeaways. —Peter Schrager
1. It’s a young man’s game
After another strong performance this weekend, Russell Wilson—a 2012 third round draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin—was named the opening day starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. Wilson’s played so well this summer that 2011 off-season acquisition and starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson became expendable, ultimately being traded on Sunday night to Buffalo for future draft picks. The naming of Wilson as the starter in Seattle makes him the fifth rookie to be named "QB1" this summer. That’s the most since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Ten of the NFL's 32 opening weekend starting quarterbacks were drafted in 2012 or 2011.
2. Having a big name doesn’t guarantee you a roster spot
One by one, former NFL mega-superstars—guys whose jerseys were bought by the thousands in the 2000s—have been released by teams this off-season. First it was Chad Johnson in Miami, then it was Shawne Merriman in Buffalo, and on Saturday, it was Terrell Owens out in Seattle. Could Randy Moss be next? After a much-publicized off-season signing and a training camp described in glowing terms by both the local and national media, Moss had just three catches for 24 yards in his first preseason action of the season Saturday night against the Broncos. He didn't look particularly fast and he didn't look anything like he did 10 years ago.
3. The Houston Texans should be even better in 2012 than they were in 2011
The Texans not only won their first division title, but also made their first trip to the playoffs and won their first postseason game in franchise history in 2011. They did all that that with third-string quarterback T.J. Yates under center for the final two months of the season. Despite losing Mario Williams in free agency, the defense looks younger, faster and better. Matt Schaub also looks fantastic this summer. He went 15-of-18 for 194 yards and a touchdown in two quarters of action in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Saints.
4. Rod Streater (who?!) is undoubtedly an NFL wide receiver
Two years ago, an undrafted rookie free agent named Victor Cruz led the NFL in preseason receptions and surprisingly went on to make the New York Giants’ 53-man roster. Cruz’s story turned out pretty well, as 18 months later, he was the franchise single-season yardage record holder and a Super Bowl champion. Rod Streater is an undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver out of Temple in Raiders camp this summer. In three preseason games, he has a league-leading 18 receptions. He had five Saturday night vs. the Lions.
5. The Bills defensive line appears to be as strong as advertised
The Bills opened their wallets this off-season, bringing in two big free-agent defensive ends in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Though the final score (38-7) would indicate otherwise, the defensive line looked great Saturday night vs. the Steelers, controlling the line of scrimmage and getting to Ben Roethlisberger. Williams, the highest paid defensive end in the NFL this season, had his first two sacks of the preseason. Teammates Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus — both expected to make a “leap” in 2012 — stuffed the middle.
6. The Jets offense is absolutely terrible. But the D is very, very good
How’s that for a silver lining? The Jets offense may not cross the 50-yard-line this season, but the defense is going to be one of the league’s best. Rookie Quinton Coples had another strong showing Sunday night, reclamation project Aaron Maybin was all over the field and LaRon Landry was laying the wood. The rest of the defense kept Cam Newton contained for the entire first half. The Jets’ quarterback situation will lead to several late-night talk show punch lines this season, but that Gang Green defense will be no joke. So, Jets fans, I guess there’s that.
7. The Bears appear to have a somewhat capable offensive line…for now, at least
All the buzz out of Chicago has been about the cosmic connection between quaterback Jay Cutler and wideout Brandon Marshall, but the offensive line — long the ire of Bears fans everywhere — looks very good this summer. Two years after the Giants sacked Bears quarterbacks 10 times in a Week 4 game, the Bears offensive line kept Cutler and backup Jason Campbell upright throughout Saturday night’s win over New York.
8. Eric Decker could be a no.1 fantasy football wide receiver this season
Peyton Manning’s pretty good. After a week of rumblings around the league that implied Manning was still struggling with passes to his right side, he started Sunday night’s game vs. the 49ers with a 16-yard bullet pass to his right side and directly into the hands of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. He followed that up with two touchdown passes to Decker, a guy who’s quickly rising up fantasy football draft boards everywhere. In just one quarter, Manning went 10-for-12 for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he got up immediately after a punishing Parys Haralson hit.
9. Playing without his top three targets, Tony Romo still looks awfully good
Neither Dez Bryant nor Miles Austin was in the lineup for Saturday night’s exhibition game with the Rams, but it made no difference. Tony Romo was locked in, going 9-for-13, throwing for 198 yards and tossing two touchdowns. Through three games this summer, Romo’s got a quarterback rating of 117.1 and hasn’t tossed an interception. The wide receivers he’s been throwing to this preseason — Dwayne Harris, Kevin Ogletree and Cole Beasley — are relative unknowns. When Bryant, Austin, and tight end Jason Witten return to the lineup, Romo could put up monster numbers in 2012. Whether that translates to December wins is another issue.