I already hit the team-by-team winners and losers from the second week of the preseason in the NFC. Now it's time for the AFC:
Running back Kenneth Dixon's preseason return was worth the wait. More than a year after he suffered a season-ending knee injury, Dixon displayed why he might still have the most complete skill set in the Ravens' backfield. There is time yet for the third-year pro to work himself into a big role. ... Breshad Perriman, another once-hyped young Raven, has probably done enough the last two weeks to make the team. Just not enough to start. Free-agent pickup John Brown has solidified his standing as the team's top deep option.
It was hard to come up with any Raven who's "losing" after a remarkably healthy month -- until The Athletic reported on Monday that the team was anticipating a multi-week suspension for cornerback Jimmy Smith. Indeed, the league announced Tuesday that Smith has been suspended for four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. At least the Ravens have walked this path before with Smith, and their cornerback position is deep. Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young form a fine trio without Smith.
The injury to AJ McCarron's collarbone, although maybe not as severe as initial reports indicated, should clarify the Bills' quarterback situation. McCarron was due to fall out of the team's rotation anyhow, with 2018 seventh overall pick Josh Allen ahead of schedule and Nathan Peterman steadier in practice. Allen and Peterman will rotate first-team reps this week, but Allen is getting the start in the third preseason game. The rookie is clearly the favorite to start Week 1, in part because his pocket movement and decision making have been better than advertised. He will need to keep up his level of play, though, because Sean McDermott has an obvious appreciation of Peterman. It's only fair to note that Peterman has moved the ball steadily in the preseason, completing 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards with two touchdowns and an interception that bounced off his receiver's chest. This is Allen's job to lose, but the position battle isn't over quite yet.
There have been some concerning signs on the Bills' defense. Trent Murphy was added to beef up the pass rush, but hasn't been able to stay healthy. First-round middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds has looked tentative in the preseason. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams is week-to-week with a knee injury, although the Bills can elevate promising rookie Harrison Phillips.
The ascension of rookie safety Jessie Bates into the starting lineup following the abrupt release of George Iloka makes an incredibly young and promising defense even younger. The Bengals have six guys from the last three draft classes in line for starter snaps: Bates, defensive end Carl Lawson, defensive tackle Andrew Billings, cornerback William Jackson and linebackers Nick Vigil and Jordan Evans. They have other recent picks like pass rusher Jordan Willis as key reserves. This defense has a chance to get a whole lot better together. ... Tyler Eifert has stayed healthy since returning to the practice field, but he hasn't played in a game yet. He's one to watch in the third week of the preseason.
Second-year pro John Ross is in line to get starter snaps in Cincinnati, although it was notable to see him staying on the field to play with the second- and third-team offense over the weekend. Ross needed the game reps and has to translate his strong camp into on-field production, which hasn't happened yet.
Josh Gordon is back in the Browns building, but he's not practicing yet. That makes the summer emergence of wideout Rashard Higgins that much more important. Higgins is in line for starter snaps and could be offensive coordinator Todd Haley's next success story at wide receiver. ... The relative lack of attention on Joel Bitonio's transition to left tackle is a good sign he's picking up his new position well. Going against Myles Garrett every day is a great trial by fire. With second-rounder Austin Corbett improving at left guard, Cleveland's line is rounding into shape.
The running back battle between Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb never quite developed. Hyde is the clear starter, with Chubb a third-teamer who has averaged 2.5 yards per carry on 26 preseason totes. ... Baker Mayfield's impressive month won't get him any extra work with the team's starters in practice or in the team's third preseason game. Hue Jackson says Tyrod Taylor needs all the reps he can get.
Rookie running back Royce Freeman continues to split first-team work with Devontae Booker, a trend that will likely continue into the season. Still, coach Vance Joseph talks up Booker as more of a receiving back, which should leave Freeman more carries. ... I wrote last week that Broncos GM John Elway had already all but given up on Paxton Lynch. Another strong preseason outing by Chad Kelly, however, might prevent the Broncos from bringing in another veteran behind Case Keenum.
Elway guaranteed tackle Menelik Watson's salary in March and is now going to cut him after a pectoral injury. Watson will cost $6.8 million on this year's cap, partly because Elway was typically slow to admit a personnel mistake. Offensive line decisions have haunted Elway's tenure almost as much as his post-Manning quarterback moves. ... Lynch's performance in the preseason nearly guarantees he'll be cut, not traded, at the end of the month.
It has been encouraging to see Deshaun Watson look comfortable and accurate in his two preseason outings, even if they were brief. It's difficult to get a read on his mobility and what the Watson/O'Brien 2.0 offense will look like, but that will have to wait for the regular season. ... August is Bruce Ellington season. It looks like he'll win the team's slot receiver role again, based on his chemistry with Watson.
Jadeveon Clowney was cleared for his first full practice on Monday. That should give him enough time to get ready for the season, but his health is something to watch entering a contract year. ... There has been no sign of running back D'Onta Foreman returning from a torn Achilles injury, which makes him a strong candidate for the PUP/reserve list to start the season.
On a team searching for offensive weapons, tight end Eric Ebron is someone to keep an eye on. A former top-10 pick of the Lions, Ebron has enjoyed a big training camp by all accounts, with the Indianapolis Star writing he's caught more passes than anyone except T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle. ... The injury to Marlon Mack and Robert Turbin's suspension opens the door for rookie runner Jordan Wilkins to start Week 1 -- although his fumble on the goal line Monday night won't help.
I'm not going to freak out because Andrew Luck played 23 uneven snaps Monday. He showed off his arm, moved well in the pocket and took some big hits. The process matters here more than the preseason results. ... The bigger concern is Luck's pass protection, with left tackle Anthony Castonzo hurt. Backup Le'Raven Clark was uninspiring, to put it mildly. Right tackle is wide open, with rookie Braden Smith struggling. ... Rookie running back Nyheim Hines, set for a role because of injuries at the position, has fumbled four times in two games. He also fumbled plenty in college. This will not abide. ... 2017 second-round pick Quincy Wilson, who called himself the Colts' top corner in the offseason, is running no better than fourth on the depth chart.
Football Twitter (ahem) may want Teddy Bridgewater to get traded to the Jags, but NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport indicated it's not an option. Blake Bortles has reportedly had a positive camp and Cody Kessler is locked in as the backup. ... On such a loaded defense, it's a surprise there's room for a late-round rookie to make a quick impact. But seventh-round pick Leon Jacobs will start at strong-side linebacker. That's a role that might only require half the snaps of linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith, but Jacobs could still be an impressive find by the Jags' front office.
The Jaguars guaranteed Donte Moncrief $9.6 million this season, but he's running no better than fourth on Jacksonville's current receiver depth chart. It's a fascinating group, with Marqise Lee and second-year pro Keelan Cole as the current starters, Dede Westbrook No. 3 and rookie second-round pick D.J. Chark the fifth option. This could be a five-man rotation that drives fantasy owners crazy, but gives play caller Nathaniel Hackett a lot of options. ... The Jags have only two totally healthy offensive line starters, which is something to watch in the next few weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs' signing of cornerback Orlando Scandrick after the veteran's quick flame-out with the Redskins shows how shaky K.C.'s cornerback position stands. (This was true even before starter Steven Nelson suffered a concussion Friday.) ... Kansas City was missing four defensive starters in the second preseason game. The injuries to safety Eric Berry (heel) and both inside linebackers Anthony Hitchens (hamstring) and Reggie Ragland (knee swelling) are worth monitoring because they have such critical roles on this wait-and-see defense.
Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers looked so sharp in his first preseason outing that I kept expecting something to ruin the mood. With Mike Williams making good on his first-round potential with a rugged camp, Rivers' wideout group might be the best he's ever played with. ... Geno Smith is ahead of Cardale Jones for the backup quarterback job, setting up the sweet, sweet day where Geno proves everyone wrong. Yep, that means you. ... Safety Derwin James is mixing in with the starters -- finally -- and should be there for good by Week 1 following Jaylen Watkins' torn ACL. ... Another rookie making noise in camp: linebacker Kyzir White, who has earned a role.
General manager Tom Telesco was supposed to make the kicking position a priority this offseason, but it still doesn't look promising. Both Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayohave connected on fewer than 80 percent of their field goals in practice. Sturgis, the favorite for the gig, badly missed a 41-yard attempt in the preseason opener.
The Dolphins appear determined to start rookie Jerome Baker and quasi-rookie Raekwon McMillan (missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL) at linebacker, despite some rocky moments in the preseason. They don't have better veteran options on the bench, so it's best to learn by experience. Linebacker play has been a running issue for Miami. ... Tight end Mike Gesicki hasn't been able to translate his practice highlights to game action yet, but he looks set to start. ... The Dolphins began their second preseason game playing up-tempo, something Adam Gase and Ryan Tannehill hope to do a lot more this season.
Second-year cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, who was impressive as a starter late last year, has fallen to fourth on the depth chart (at best) in camp. Bobby McCain is expected to start opposite Xavien Howard at cornerback. ... Injuries to DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills should only expand Albert Wilson's role in the Dolphins' offense early in the season. ... Ndamukong Suhlaughing at Miami's run defense on Instagram makes for a cute story, but it highlights the real question marks the Dolphins have after cutting their best defensive player.
New England Patriots
The Patriots' No. 3 receiver entering the year could be ... a second-year undrafted tight end? With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season, there is an incredible opportunity for a pass catcher to step up behind Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan. Of everyone else, Jacob Hollister is consistently getting the most snaps, targets and post-practice me time with Tom Brady. ... This is going to be a dramatically different New England team, with a vastly improved front seven needing to make up for an offense destined to be less explosive.
The expectation when cornerback Jason McCourty signed was that he would start opposite Stephon Gilmore. Instead, it looks pretty clear that Eric Rowe will keep that job. ... Kenny Britt is still not back from a hamstring injury. He's at risk of being cut if he doesn't practice soon. Eric Decker is also on the bubble after suffering from drops. ... First-round pick Sony Michel is unlikely to be a factor in Week 1 after missing almost all of August thus far. ... The Patriots drafted Isaiah Wynn to help solve the tackle depth issue they suffered from a year ago, so his Achilles injury feels like deja vu, with right tackle Marcus Cannon also hurt again.
New York Jets
General manager Mike Maccagnan made it clear in comments to WFAN Monday that he wants Sam Darnold to start Week 1 and that Teddy Bridgewater is very available in a trade. Darnold is taking the first-team reps and should start the crucial third preseason game. Add it all up and this preseason has been a best-case scenario for the Jets' quarterback situation. How often can you say that? ... Bilal Powell looks likely to start Week 1 over Isaiah Crowell, possibly because he's a more complete back. ... Nathan Shepherd is transitioning from one of the draft's best stories out of Fort Hays State to one of camp's best stories, now in line for starter snaps at defensive tackle.
Terrelle Pryor has yet to play in the preseason as he returns to full health. He might need to show something over the next two weeks to make the team.
It's going to be tough for Jon Gruden to cut undrafted rookie Chris Warren III because the running back is the embodiment of everything Gruden holds holy. Warren is a walking Gruden Grinder, a symbol of the toughness the coach wants the team to evoke. If Warren makes the squad, DeAndre Washington or Jalen Richard could be the odd man out. ... It would be surprising if the Raiders didn't push hard to sign safety George Iloka considering defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's experience with him in Cincinnati and Oakland's positional need.
2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph is far from a lock to start with the Raiders. He could be as low on the depth chart as the No. 4 safety. 2017 second-round pick Obi Melifonwu looks unlikely to even make the team. ... Receiver Seth Roberts could be another Raider signed by the previous regime to be sent packing. ... Gruden continues to beg for a No. 3 wideout to step up, which is what the team acquired Martavis Bryant for.
Backup running back James Conner has played well enough in the preseason to take a bigger share of the workload during the first few weeks of the real season, when Le'Veon Bell is getting up to speed. Why not try to save Bell somewhat for January? ... Rookie wideout James Washington's ability to catch jump balls is obvious. The Steelers might be forced to find a bigger role for him than expected sooner than later.
After a nice first outing, rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph still looks likely to be the team's No. 3 quarterback behind Landry Jones. ... Sean Davis was a liability last season at strong safety. The team hopes a move to free safety unlocks his potential as a center fielder-type. ... T.J. Watt's absence from practice is a concern for a team thin on the edge.