After the tease of the Hall of Fame Game a week ago, NFL fans and fantasy players enjoyed a huge slate of 12 games as Week One of the preseason kicked off Thursday night. Among the dozen contests, the most anticipated was clearly the Browns matching up with the Giants, pitting the top two picks of the NFL Draft against one another. Browns QB Baker Mayfield and Giants RB Saquon Barkley were both impressive. Here are some quick takeaways from that game and the other 11 we witnessed Thursday evening.
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Browns 20, Giants 10
After Browns starting QB Tyrod Taylor got off to a hot start, connecting on all five of his pass attempts for 99 yards and a touchdown pass to second-year TE David Njoku, rookie and top overall draft pick Mayfield came in, playing two quarters. He was just as impressive, and we might have ourselves a QB battle brewing.
Mayfield led a pair of scoring drives, including another passing score to Njoku in the first-half. Mayfield saw second-half action as well and hit fellow rookie, WR Antonio Callaway over the top for a 54-yard catch and run touchdown. This was not the first good news for the day for the receiver after an earlier report suggested the team believed his story that the drugs he was cited for over the weekend did not belong to him.
While both quarterbacks were slinging it, the Browns running game struggled. The team gave rookie RB Nick Chubb 15 carries, but he managed only 11 yards with a long run of four yards. His counterpart for the Giants, RB Saquon Barkley, began the game and his NFL career by taking a handoff from QB Eli Manning and juking, then outrunning the Browns defense for a 39-yard gain.
Buccaneers 26, Dolphins 24
QB Ryan Tannehill returned to the field after an injury kept him out for the entire 2017 season. He looked crisp to begin the game, connecting on four of six pass attempts in his only drive. We saw a pair of interesting rookie backs in this game. Miami’s Kalen Ballage, expected to play behind co-starters Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore, racked up 60 total yards, but also caused his own fumble when his leg knocked the ball from his hands. Things weren’t much better for Tampa’s Ronald Jones, who gained just nine yards on eight carries, but did find the end zone. Jones has reportedly had issues in the passing game. He saw one target in this game, but failed to haul it in. Veteran Peyton Barber drew the start and saw most of the work with the first team offense.
Saints 24, Jaguars 20
This game was relatively uneventful, which is the hope of preseason action, in some ways. Both teams started strong with scoring drives in the first-quarter, but what drew my attention was the Saints’ RB usage. Veteran Mark Ingram saw action with New Orleans second-team offense, scoring a touchdown and totaling 23 rushing yards. According to camp reports, Jonathan Williams has been outplaying Terrance West and that carried over to this game. Williams posted a 4/26/1 line, while West gained just ten yards on five carries. Williams could ultimately be a real factor during the early-season games when Ingram is serving his suspension.
Steelers 31, Eagles 14
Many starters for both Pennsylvania teams sat out this preseason opener, but Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster picked up where he left off a year ago, catching a 71-yard touchdown strike as Pittsburgh rolled. The other situation to watch in this one centered around the Eagles backfield, but we gained little clarity as Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams all saw similar opportunity, and each were successful. Clement and Adams each gained 30 yards on the ground to lead the team. Eagles star TE Zach Ertz has been dealing with an injury and rookie TE Dallas Goedert showed he could be a factor if asked to fill in, catching four balls for 66 yards and a score.
Colts 19, Seahawks 17
For the Colts, this game was all about the return of QB Andrew Luck. To be honest, this is a day some were beginning to think would never happen, but the franchise quarterback looked strong in limited action. Luck played just over a quarter and led a pair of drives ending in field goals. He completed six of nine passes for 64 yards and gave optimism to a large number of Colts fans and fantasy players. Unfortunately, a pair of young playmakers for the Colts suffered injuries. Potential starting RB Marlon Mack left with a hamstring injury while promising rookie WR Deon Cain was forced from the game with a bad knee. These are both stories worth following as another pair of rookies, RBs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, could step in and see increased playing time in the backfield.
Texans 17, Chiefs 10
Another uneventful game, but one that marked the return of a star QB, Houston’s Deshaun Watson, returning from an ACL tear that ended his promising rookie season. Watson played very little and only attempted one pass, but like Luck, simply his presence on the field brought excitement for the season to come. On the other side, we saw the starting debut of new Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes, who was handed the job after the trade that sent veteran Alex Smith to Washington. Mahomes completed five of seven passes before giving way to the backups.
Packers 31, Titans 17
If we are to base much on one preseason game, and that wouldn’t be wise, we might assume the Packers receiver depth chart is once again the strength of the team. With starting WR Randall Cobb out and star WR Devante Adams seeing limited time, the young wideouts for Green Bay shined. A trio of young receivers led the way as Marquez Valdes-Scantling (5/101/1), Jake Kumerow (3/76/1) and Equanimeous St. Brown (4/61) put up nice numbers against the Titans backup defenders. For now, these are only options in deep dynasty leagues, not seasonal leagues, but if Cobb’s injury issues continue, that could change. Also noteworthy is the Packers backup QB battle. QB Brett Hundley, who took over for an injured Aaron Rodgers last year, drew the start and found Adams deep for a big gain before hitting RB Jamaal Williams for the touchdown. It was former Browns starter DeShone Kizer who came in next, making an impact through and air and on the ground, which is what made fantasy players love him during his rookie season.
Ravens 33, Rams 7
Playing their second game in eight days, the Ravens cruised to a win over the Rams, who were missing QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley, among others. Rookie QB Lamar Jackson looked better than his debut game, showing more control and pocket poise. He scored on the ground from nine yards out after taking over for starter Joe Flacco. Jackson, who finished with a 7/18 line, still has some plenty of room to grow as a passer. Ravens WR Breshad Perriman also played much better than the previous week, leading the team with 71 yards and a touchdown on three receptions.
Patriots 26, Redskins 17
Once again, many key starters sat this game out, including QBs Tom Brady and Alex Smith and TE Rob Gronkowski. The Redskins might be wishing they sat their rookie RB Derrius Guice, who suffered a knee injury after gaining 19 yards on six carries. Guice is scheduled for an MRI later today and any missed time would be a huge blow to the Redskins, who could be without RB Chris Thompson to begin the season.
For the Patriots, it appears there may be only one roster spot for backup RBs Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee and Hill took the lead in that competition in this game, rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Gillislee was also solid, posting a 14/43 line.
49ers 24, Cowboys 21
This was a game of ups and downs for the 49ers, who couldn’t get anything going with their first-team offense and then suffered multiple key injuries during the first quarter of the game. Injuries to starting TE George Kittle (shoulder) and DL Solomon Thomas are the biggest headline as both were forced from the game, but RB Matt Breida and LB Malcolm Smith are also banged up following the game.
The Cowboys started out hot as QB Dak Prescott found rookie WR Michael Gallup for a 30-yard score, but San Francisco scored on a last-minute touchdown catch by rookie WR Richie James to take the lead.
Panthers 28, Bills 23
A war of words between former teammates QB Cam Newton and WR Kelvin Benjamin drew the headlines, but more important from this game is the three-man battle for the Bills starting QB job. Nathan Peterman got the first shot, relieved by former Bengal A.J. McCarron. Finally, rookie Josh Allen played in the second-half, throwing a touchdown to fellow rookie WR Ray-Ray McCloud. There are no real answers coming from this game, so the competition will continue into next week.
Bengals 30, Bears 27
The Bengals dumped veteran WR Brandon LaFell and now must decide who is the best option to replace the 100+ targets he’s averaged the past two seasons. Fortunately, they have multiple options, though all are unproven. Second-year WR John Ross is the favorite, but he caught just one of five targets and essentially caused an interception. His competition fared better, including WR Josh Malone (3/41), rookie WR Auden Tate (1/33/1) and WR Tyler Boyd (1/3/1).
Free agent WR Dez Bryant tweeted that he would be visiting the Cleveland Browns next week. … Bears rookie LB Roquan Smith continues to hold out and Chicago beat writers suggest “it’s difficult to say” when he will report. … ESPN’s Dan Graziano cleared up any confusion, saying RB Jerick McKinnon would not be a bell cow back. … The Chargers reportedly want to get RB Melvin Gordon, who set career high with 58 receptions in 2017, even more involved in the passing game. This is obviously good news for those of us in PPR leagues…Ravens RB Kenneth Dixon is reportedly on the roster bubble. … Browns GM John Dorsey reiterated again that there is no timetable for the return of WR Josh Gordon.
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