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PFT preseason power rankings No. 5: Oakland Raiders

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The biggest news of the Raiders offseason had little to do with the team they’ll be putting on the field in September.

That news was, of course, that they’ll be moving to Las Vegas after a long and fruitless attempt to find a stadium deal in Oakland. The fact that they’re on their way out hasn’t done much to damper excitement about what lies ahead for the team in 2017, however.

General Manager Reggie McKenzie’s rebuilding effort was a lengthy one, but it has resulted in a team positioned for a long run of success wherever they are playing their home games. Quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, a talented offensive line and 2016 defensive player of the year Khalil Mack are the foundation of that promise and will be major drivers for the team again this year.

Adding running back Marshawn Lynch was an intriguing move as the prospect of putting Beast Mode behind that line is one that leads to visions of great offensive success. We’ll have to see what’s left in the tank after Lynch sat out last season, however, and the Raiders’ ultimate hopes rest heavily on a defense that remains a work in progress outside of Mack.

Biggest positive change: Carr ended last season on the sideline because of a fractured fibula, which created a painful game of “What if?” for the Raiders after a 27-14 playoff loss to the Texans with Connor Cook at quarterback. Had Carr avoided injury, the Raiders were well positioned to win the division and get a bye that would have allowed them to open the postseason on their home field.

While there’s no way to guarantee that he’ll remain that way, Carr is healthy now and his contract extension further cements him as the biggest reason to believe that the Raiders can fulfill the highest of expectations for the 2017 season.

Biggest negative change: The Raiders didn’t lose any major contributors this offseason and the biggest staff change involved bumping quarterbacks coach Todd Downing up to offensive coordinator. That move seems unlikely to lead to much of a difference for a unit with talent across the board.

As mentioned, the defense doesn’t have the same kind of talent and the Raiders added former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano to Ken Norton’s defensive staff in hopes of maximizing what is on hand. Should the unit fail to improve and friction exist between them, it could put a cap on the team’s upside.

Coaching thermometer: Jack Del Rio took over a team that went 3-13 in 2014 and went 7-9 in his first year on the job before taking the Raiders to their first playoff appearance since 2002. That’s enough to avoid any concerns about a coaching change and the desire to keep building around a strong core of talent should keep it that way unless things go terribly wrong in the near future.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Gabe Jackson. Jackson also got a lucrative extension this offseason, which makes him part of that strong core and another example of how well Oakland’s rebuild has turned out. For these purposes, though, the right guard is the representative of a line that can sometimes get undervalued due to the other star power. We’ll give him the chance to shed some light on a big reason for the Raiders’ success.

How they can prove us wrong: Lynch having nothing in the tank would be a blow, but the biggest obstacle to the Raiders taking a spot at the top of the AFC would almost certainly be another year with a defense that forces the offense to be nearly flawless in order to win games.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 9: New York Giants

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The Giants got back to the playoffs last season and their defensive turnaround was the biggest reason for their return.

They signed defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins and saw those players team with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive player of the year candidate Landon Collins to form their steeliest defense in years.

All of those players are back after Pierre-Paul signed a new deal with the team this offseason and Collins may be poised for another move up the ladder of best safeties in the league, which provides a strong foundation for the Giants’ chances of making it two postseason appearances in a row.

Whether they get there or not will have a lot to do with the other side of the ball.

Biggest positive change: After years of being the best part of the team, the Giants offense slipped behind the defense last season. In order to remedy that, the team released Victor Cruz and signed Brandon Marshall after the veteran was dismissed by the Jets.

Marshall gives Eli Manning a big target across from Odell Beckham, something that’s been missing in recent years and something that should come in handy in the red zone. They also used a first-round pick on tight end Evan Engram, who has the potential to improve another weak spot although it has taken many tight ends more than one year to find their footing at the professional level.

Biggest negative change: The most notable departure from last year’s team was defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who left for the Colts and opens up a spot next to Damon Harrison on the Giants’ defensive line. They’ll need to find the right answer there, but the overall strength of the defense makes it easier to live with Hankins’ exit.

The most negative change, then, was the shift from the urgency the Giants showed in fixing the defense last year to the passive approach that the team took to their offensive line. Prices were high in free agency and the draft was short on sure things, but signing D.J. Fluker feels like an unlikely way to turn one of last year’s biggest weaknesses into a strength.

Coaching thermometer: The Giants have generally been resistant to making coaching changes and, unless they are sticklers for fashion and hairstyle choices, there was little about Ben McAdoo’s first season in the top job suggests that will be changing. He returned the team to the playoffs for the first time since they won the Super Bowl after the 2011 season and his history as an offensive coordinator gives reason to believe he’ll find a way to elicit better results from that unit.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Odell Beckham. Beckham’s been under a microscope for most of the last two seasons thanks to on-field productivity, emotional outbursts, absence from offseason work, upcoming contract extension, boat trips before playoff losses and other things of varying importance. Getting his view on all of that might take more than one beer, so we’ll go ahead and bring a whole case.

How they can prove us wrong: If the Giants rise higher, it will almost certainly be because their patience with the offensive line pays off with improvement across the board on that side of the ball. On the other hand, lack of improvement from that group could stifle any hopes of a rebound in the run game and mitigate any advantages they may have gained by adding Marshall. That would leave the Giants putting the same pressure on their defense while navigating a schedule short on soft patches.

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Dwayne Harris: Cowboys “probably” look better on paper than Giants

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Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said his team will repeat as NFC East champions, which is the sort of comment that might rile up members of a rival team but at least one Giants player is taking a more relaxed look at the state of affairs in the division.

Giants wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who broke into the NFL with the Cowboys, was asked about how the two teams stack up during a Friday appearance on NFL Network. Harris’ answer was complimentary to Prescott’s team while also making sure to drop in a reference to the Giants’ two wins over Dallas last season.

“You know, I let people think what they want to think. They, on paper, they probably look better than us right now,” Harris said. “But we always match up good with them, so we’ll see.”

Opinions will likely vary about how the two teams match up on paper, but the Giants certainly aren’t conceding anything in July. They made the playoffs last year, addressed some offensive shortcomings this offseason and Harris’ teammate Jason Pierre-Paul was willing to call the team a Super Bowl contender.

We’ll begin to find out if that’s the case on September 10 when the Giants and Cowboys open the season with a Sunday night clash on NBC.

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Sean McDermott: You can’t be effective as a one-sided head coach

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Bills head coach Sean McDermott was the defensive coordinator of the Panthers before getting the top job in Buffalo this offseason, so his natural inclination is to hang around the defense when the Bills are practicing at training camp this summer.

McDermott’s new job calls for him to work against that inclination, however, and he says that’s just what he will do during his first training camp with the team. He said that he’ll be in meetings with position groups so that he can be both a learner and an instructor as time goes on.

“You can’t just be a one-sided head coach and be effective,” McDermott said, via the Buffalo News. “I want my influence to be felt in all three phases. Certainly, the defense comes naturally for me, but that said, I’ve had ideas for what I want the offense and special teams to look like as well. I think the tendency for some is when you get into the special-teams periods and things like that to just, ‘Hey, that’s an off period for coaches sometimes.’ And special teams is where you win games. You’re going to win or lose sometimes two or three games a year on special teams or situational football.”

McDermott has spent his entire time in the NFL working for Andy Reid and Ron Rivera and said both men have influenced his approach to building his own approach to running a team. It promises to be different than the one Rex Ryan took and the Bills hope that’s only the start of the differences.

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Friday morning one-liners

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What’s the outlook for Bills RB LeSean McCoy for the 2017 season?

Dolphins C Mike Pouncey will get his hip checked out before training camp.

Musing about the chances of an undefeated season for the Patriots.

Jets WR Quincy Enunwa is stepping into a bigger role.

The Ravens donated $1.5 million to a local high school.

DT Geno Atkins has earned a place among the top Bengals of all time.

Breaking down the Browns linebackers.

Steelers LB Ryan Shazier compared WR Antonio Brown to The Terminator.

Texans S Andre Hal hopes to have a better season than he did in 2016.

Is there reason to be excited about the Colts wide receivers?

Several players are vying for rotation spots on the Jaguars defensive line.

A look at the Titans schedule.

The Broncos website names 15 players to watch at training camp.

More about the guy in the Chiefs tie who was involved in O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing.

Raiders CB Gareon Conley weighed in on a rap feud.

How will things shape up on the Chargers offensive line?

A take on the 10 best Cowboys players during Jerry Jones’ time as owner.

A stab at predicting the Giants’ 53-man roster.

The secondary is a big concern for the Eagles.

DL Joey Mbu is trying to find a role with the Redskins.

Who will start at safety for the Bears?

The Lions will have some competition at guard this summer.

A breakdown of Ty Montgomery and the rest of the Packers running back corps.

The Vikings have high expectations for T Riley Reiff.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan is impressed by the video board at the team’s new stadium.

It didn’t take long for interim G.M. Marty Hurney to announce his first move since returning to the Panthers.

The Saints have an official supermarket.

Said Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, “This isn’t the time of year where you need to give those guys a big pep talk about what we’re going to be. We’re a team that’s building, a team that’s getting better, and we’re trying to chip away at it every day.”

Three questions for the Cardinals defense to answer.

Getting to know some of the Rams rookies.

The 49ers inside linebackers will be battling for playing time during training camp.

Will the Seahawks get more from TE Jimmy Graham this season?

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Chiefs sign Patrick Mahomes

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Quarterback Patrick Mahomes won’t be missing any of his first NFL training camp due to a contract dispute.

Mahomes was one of the few unsigned 2017 draft picks left in the league until the Chiefs announced on Thursday afternoon that he has agreed to a contract with the team. Like all first-round picks, Mahomes’ contract runs four years with a team option for a fifth season.

Mahomes went to Kansas City with the 10th overall pick after the Chiefs made a trade with the Bills to move into the spot. They gave up a third-round pick and next year’s first-round selection for a player who is expected to serve as a backup to Alex Smith for at least one season before taking over as the team’s starter.

With Mahomes under contract, there are six unsigned picks left around the league. Five of them are first-round selections, including three of the top six picks, but things could start to move with Mahomes and second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky agreeing to deals in the last two days.

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Philip Rivers: Keenan Allen looks as good as before ACL tear

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Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams is dealing with a back injury that could leave him unavailable to the team during his rookie season and having a wideout dealing with an injury is something quarterback Philip Rivers has become overly accustomed to over the years.

In 2016, for example, Rivers played 15-plus games without having Keenan Allen in the lineup. Allen tore his ACL in the first game of the season, leaving him with just six catches for 63 yards to show for the year.

Allen, who also missed eight games with a lacerated kidney in 2015, was working on the field with the team during OTAs this spring and Rivers said he doesn’t think anyone will notice a difference in the wideout’s play.

“I really think he looks as good as he did before he got hurt,” Rivers said on The Rich Eisen Show.

A healthy Allen is a vital piece of the Chargers offensive puzzle whether Williams is healthy enough to contribute this year or not, so Rivers’ words are encouraging even if history provides reason to be skeptical that the rookie’s injury is the last one the Chargers will deal with this year.

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Chris Johnson heading back to Cardinals

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The Cardinals have talked about getting running back David Johnson 30 touches a game this season, although there’s some doubt about whether that is a realistic goal.

Whether or not that’s the case, they may be able to get running backs with the last name Johnson 30 touches a game. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Cardinals will sign Chris Johnson to their 90-man roster.

Johnson said recently that he’d like to return to the team after spending the last two years in Arizona. He wasn’t able to complete either of those seasons on the active roster, however. Johnson hurt his leg in 2015, opening the door for the younger back to take over the lead role on offense, and had sports hernia surgery early last season.

Johnson, who ran 25 times for 95 yards before last year’s injury, joins Andre Ellington and rookie T.J. Logan as backup options in Arizona.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 11: Miami Dolphins

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Five weeks into the 2016 season, it looked like the change to Adam Gase at head coach wouldn’t do anything to change the franchise’s fortunes.

They were 1-4 and a competent kicking performance from the Browns in Week Three would have had the Dolphins looking up at the rest of the league with an 0-5 record. The offense was floundering, the defense wasn’t stout enough and there was little joy in South Florida.

The next 11 weeks went a lot better. Jay Ajayi, who was left at home in Week One in a coach’s decision, ran for 204 yards and the defense stifled the Steelers in a 30-15 win that touched off a 9-1 run that lifted the Dolphins into the postseason for the first time since 2008. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury helped ensure the Dolphins’ stay in the playoffs was a short one, but the final result of the year was unquestionably positive.

Tannehill is healthy again, the other key offensive pieces remain in place and there’s reason to believe the defense will be better, all of which adds up to optimism about the direction the Dolphins are headed.

Biggest positive change: The Dolphins were outscored by 17 points overall last season, which didn’t stop coordinator Vance Joseph from landing a head coaching job but made it little surprise that defense was a primary focus this offseason.

They used five of their seven picks on defenders and picked up linebacker Lawrence Timmons, defensive end William Hayes, safety Nate Allen and safety T.J. McDonald as veteran additions. They also get safety Reshad Jones back after last year’s season-ending rotator cuff injury, so there’s reason to hope the results will be better under new coordinator Matt Burke.

Biggest negative change: There’s no one transaction or development to point to as the Dolphins held onto Jones and wide receiver Kenny Stills while left tackle Branden Albert was traded to make room for Laremy Tunsil. That leaves us with the biggest potential negative change and it could be the turn of the calendar.

The Dolphins went 8-2 in one-score games last season and the wins that followed the Week Six win over the Steelers came against many of the weaker teams that the league had to offer in 2016. Teams like the Raiders, Falcons and Chiefs are on this year’s schedule after the Rams and 49ers appeared on last year’s slate, which may set the stage for a regression even if the execution isn’t markedly different.

Coaching thermometer: As cool as a seat can get in the Miami summer. Not only did Gase take the team from 6-10 to 10-6 and into the playoffs, he also saw several moves pay off in a major way. Benching Ajayi at the start of the season looked smart while he was running for 1,272 yards in the next 15 games and his strong show of faith in Tannehill was rewarded with the quarterback’s best season.

Even missteps like shuffling Cameron Wake to a situational role wound up with a positive as Gase was able to admit he was wrong and change directions. That flexibility is important and one of many signs that the Dolphins found the right guy in Gase.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Jarvis Landry. Landry made the boldest statement of the Dolphins offseason when he said they’ll beat the Patriots twice in 2017. We’d like to follow up on that and hear about his desire for a new contract after catching 288 passes in his first three seasons.

How they can prove us wrong: Landry is probably going to have to be right about the results of those games with the Patriots for this ranking to be ridiculously low come the end of the year.

It could look too high if Center Mike Pouncey’s ongoing hip issues lead to more missed time and more shuffling on an offensive line that hasn’t been good enough, Ajayi can’t find the heights of his three games of more than 200 rushing yards and the defensive changes don’t lead to better results with cornerback looming as a potential trouble spot again this year.

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Cowboys bring back Justin Durant

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Former Cardinal Daryl Washington has spent some time lobbying for a job with the Cowboys since being reinstated from suspension and released by Arizona, but the team has opted to go in a different direction at linebacker.

The team has brought back veteran Justin Durant. Cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon has been dropped from the 90-man roster in a corresponding move.

Durant spent three of the last four years with the Cowboys — he played for the Falcons in 2015 — and appeared in 13 games as a reserve for Dallas last season. He had 37 tackles and a sack in those appearances.

The Cowboys may have to play without Damien Wilson for some part of the upcoming season if he’s suspended as a result of his recent arrest and, despite optimism from the team, it remains to be seen how much Jaylon Smith will be able to offer after missing his entire rookie season with a serious knee injury and resulting nerve problems. Durant’s signing gives them an insurance option with experience in their defense should they need to look elsewhere.

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Trai Turner announces an extension with Panthers

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Panthers interim General Manager Marty Hurney said at a Wednesday press conference that he would be making decisions with both short- and long-term impact on the franchise.

He didn’t waste much time proving it. Right guard Trai Turner took to Twitter on Thursday to announce that he has signed a four-year extension with the team. Turner did not provide any of the other terms of the deal.

Turner was a 2014 third-round pick and was headed into the final year of his rookie pact with the team. Turner started the final six regular season games of his rookie season and both of the team’s playoff games before going on to start every game the team has played over the last two seasons.

Left guard Andrew Norwell is also entering the final year of his deal in Carolina while linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen both shared their desire for new deals before Dave Gettleman was relieved of G.M. duties early this week.

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Doug Pederson not ready to give up offensive play calling

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Before Doug Pederson became the head coach of the Eagles, he spent many years as an assistant under Andy Reid and got an up-close look at a head coach who also handled offensive play calling.

Given that, it wasn’t a great surprise that Pederson chose to handle things the same way during his first season in Philadelphia or that he’s planning to keep things working the same way in Year Two. Pederson admitted that there were times in 2016 when he was too focused on offense, but says he learned from that experience and wants to hold onto the extra duty.

“I can tell you this, after going through a year of calling a full season, it’s hard to give that up,” Pederson said, via CSNPhilly.com. “Personally, selfishly, it’s hard to give that up. It’s fun. It’s fun and you’re in control of the game. Being a quarterback and former quarterback, you’re kind of in charge. You are. You’re calling the plays, you’re touching the ball every time. You’re a part of the game, part of the fabric of the game. It’s just hard to give that up.”

Pederson added that he will be delegating more things to offensive coordinator Frank Reich “as far as the planning” so that he can do more to manage the big picture for an Eagles team trying to improve on last year’s 7-9 record.

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Ron Rivera: Last year a humbling experience we’ve learned from

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One of the first things that Marty Hurney did after being named the interim General Manager of the Panthers was hold a meeting with coach Ron Rivera to get up to speed on the roster.

Rivera told Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com that “it was a great exercise” to dig into the players and hear the opinions of an “observer from the outside looking in” on the makeup of the team. It also fit with the overall theme of the offseason, which Rivera said is to evaluate what went wrong last season and not waste the opportunity to use it to make sure that this year is more successful.

“I have a friend who recently had a heart attack, and I called him and said, ‘I’m so sad that this happened to you,'” Rivera said. “And he said, ‘Ron, it’s not really what happened to me, it happened for me,’ basically telling me that he had to change, there are things he had to alter. Well, it’s the same thing for us. The way he put it to me made me realize 2016 didn’t happen to us, it happened for us. It was a humbling experience, and an experience to learn and grow from. And I feel really good that we’ve grown and learned from it.”

One thing that definitely won’t be the same as last season is the start. The Panthers opened in Denver last season in a rematch of Super Bowl 50 that wound up with the same unhappy result for the Panthers. Rivera wasn’t happy about that at the time and told Breer the loss “took a lot of the wind out of our sails.”

Rivera noted that the team could have gotten back on track from there and making sure that any setbacks don’t snowball this time around will be crucial to avoiding the same outcome this time around.

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Roy Miller worked out for Dolphins

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The Dolphins took a look at some veteran help for the defensive line ahead of the start of training camp.

Mike Kaye of First Coast News reports that former Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller worked out for the team this week. Miller was released by the Jaguars in March.

Miller missed the final 10 games of last season after tearing his Achilles, but Miller said recently that he feels healthy and ready to start talking to teams about a job for the 2017 season. He was a starter throughout his four years in Jacksonville and spent four seasons with the Buccaneers to start his career, so signing with Miami would give him the full set of Florida-based teams.

It would also give the Dolphins some experience alongside Ndamukong Suh on the interior of the defensive line. 2015 second-round pick Jordan Phillips, a pair of 2017 selections and converted discus thrower Lawrence Okoye currently round out the group, but, for now, Miller and the Dolphins have not struck a deal.

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Ron Rivera: Marty Hurney is right guy for this situation

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The Panthers shook things up this week by firing General Manager Dave Gettleman, but their choice of a short-term replacement ensured that they won’t be in uncharted water during the 2017 season.

Marty Hurney was introduced as the interim General Manager on Wednesday, which should prove to be an easy enough fit given Hurney’s decade as the team’s G.M. before being fired in 2012. Hurney acquired quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly and others still with the team during that span and he was on the job when coach Ron Rivera was hired, which Rivera thinks will help keep this week’s front office machinations from being “a big distraction.”

“I think right now, this is the right guy for the right time and situation,” Rivera said, via the team’s website. “He understands our culture, he understands most of these players — a lot of these players he has been around. I’m excited about it.”

Another change will come at the end of the season when the Panthers will look for a permanent replacement for Gettleman. The team’s results between now and then will likely determine whether or not that would be of greater concern for Rivera.

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