AFC Update: NFL Preseason Is In Full Swing
By Christian S. Kohl
Teams played their first preseason game this week, offering coaches and GM’s their first glimpse of the strengths and weakness of their roster. Here’s the update from all around the AFC:
Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore defeated Tampa handily in their week 1 contest by a score of 44-16. Bernard Pierce performed well, but left the game with what was later diagnosed as a left knee sprain. Pierce is considered day-to-day. The Ravens also signed Brandon Stokley this week for some additional help at WR after losing both Boldin and Pitta.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cincy also won big in their initial preseason contest, defeating Atlanta 34-10. Giovani Bernard looked strong, with 28 yards and a touchdown as well as 16 receiving yards. Andrew Hawkins looks like an unfortunate prospect for short term IR, and may miss a minimum 8 weeks of the season. The Bengals are reportedly pursuing a long-term deal with Geno Atkins, but progress remains slow.
Cleveland Browns: Cleveland snuck past St. Louis Thursday by a score of 27-19. The Browns prominently featured the shotgun look in first team offensive sets. Trent Richardson is working his way back into the lineup, recovering from an injured shin. Richardson may be available as soon as next Thursday.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh fell to the Giants in their initial contest, losing 18-13. An inactive Le’Veon Bell paved the way for solid efforts from La’Rod Stevens-Howling on first team and Johnathan Dwyer on second team. Still, the Steelers’ depth took another hit this week, as Matt Spaeth will be out from a minimum 8 weeks with a foot sprain. Plaxico Burress is also expected to miss the entire season with a torn rotator cuff.
Houston Texans: Houston defeated Minnesota 27-13 Thursday. DeAndre Hopkins excelled in his initial contest, with 4 receptions, 52 yards and a touchdown. Brian Cushing should be set for action come week 1 after recovering from ACL surgery. Arian Foster is also expected to be ready to go in time for or before week 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars: In what is likely the beginning of extended trend this season, the Jaguars lost big on Friday by a margin of 27-3. Neither Gabbert nor Henne impressed in their 2013 debut. Maurice Jones-Drew may not be available for the second preseason contest, but he is expected to be 100% for week 1. The Jaguars desperately need what is arguably their only weapon at full strength.
Indianapolis Colts: Indy expects Colby Fleener to be the player in their system who makes the biggest leap this year. Dwayne Allen is looking for additional medical opinions on the status of his injured foot. Indy lost big in its preseason debut, despite 61 yards and a TD from T.Y. Hilton.
Tennessee Titans: Tennessee lost in their initial contest against the Redskins, losing just 22-21 on Thursday. The Titans reportedly kept things simple with Jake Locker, not unleashing the full potency of their offense. The lynchpin of that offense, Chris Johnson, reportedly looks fantastic and healthy, hopefully able to return to form this season as an elite backfield threat.
Buffalo Bills: The slip on the mat sidelined Kolb for six days, but he is expected to return to practice soon. EJ Manuel now looks to have secured the week 1 starting job. Manuel looked solid in his initial effort, with a 16-21 line, 107 yards and a TD in an easy win over Indy.
Miami Dolphins: Miami bounced back from its initial preseason defeat by waxing Jacksonville on Friday. Dustin Keller performed admirably, with 46 yards and a touchdown. Also, Caleb Sturgis has reportedly won the battle for the starting kicking job. Despite limited use so far, Lamar Miller has clearly established himself as the #1 back in Miami, with Daniel Thomas as a distant second.
New York Jets: Chris Ivory returned to drills on Sunday, possibly rendering him available for the next preseason contest on Saturday. That is a spot of good news amid a woeful performance on Friday. Sanchez opened by immediately throwing an easy pick 6, while Geno Smith limped off the field with an ankle injury. It appears Smith is healthy and will not suffer any long term consequences from the injury.
New England Patriots: The Patriots featured a powerful running game in their preseason opener. Stevan Ridley rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown, while Blount added 102 yards and two TDs of his own. New England may well need to feature a heavier running game with their WR crops decimated. Brandon Bolden now finds his roster spot in jeopardy, while Kenbrell Thompkins continues to emerge as a viable option in the Patriots starting lineup at wideout.
Denver Broncos: Denver won close in an early battle against San Francisco, edging the NFC champs by a score of 10-6. In promising news for Denver, both Ryan Clady and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned to action on the practice field Saturday. Both should be set for action come week 1.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kansas City lost a tight contest to New Orleans, falling by a score of 17-13. Alex Smith looked sharp with the first team, completing 7/8 for 68 yards. Andy Reid reportedly has been eying Alex Smith for some time, going back as far as his tenure with the Eagles. Smith fits well in his system, and this level of accuracy bodes well long term if such success translates to the regular season.
San Diego Chargers: San Diego was decimated by Seattle by a margin of 31-10. Rivers has reportedly looked more accurate in camp, and the Chargers are attempting to get the ball to Ryan Mathews more in the passing game. Both will need to excel for San Diego to have any chance to compete this season.
Oakland Raiders: Oakland nudged past Dallas in their opening contest with a score of 19-17. Rookie Latavius Murray looked healthy, rushing for 29 yards on eight attempts. The Raiders will need far more than an initial preseason win to feel optimistic about their chances in 2013.
With one week of the preseason in the rear-view mirror, fans can look forward to first team offenses seeing progressively more action. Injuries were held to a minimum this week, which allows coaches and GMs to breathe a sigh of relief for the time being.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.