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7 winners and 4 losers of the 2018 NFL preseason

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Teddy Bridgewater has a new home, the Browns should always be on “Hard Knocks”, and four teams went 0-4 this preseason.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone, give yourselves a pat on the back. You made it. I made it. We made it.

The preseason is officially in the books, and it’s been an eventful one. The 2018 preseason gave us a bit of everything — talented rookies hitting the stage for the first time, players trying to rebuild what they had in the past, and a boatload of highlight plays.

Before we look ahead to the first week of the regular season, let’s recap the big winners and losers of the 2018 preseason:

Winners: Sam Darnold gets the Jets job and Teddy Bridgewater finds a new team

It’s not often that a trade after the third week of the preseason results in a win for the player, but that’s what happened when the Jets shipped Teddy Bridgewater off to the New Orleans Saints.

Bridgewater’s play in the preseason made the Saints comfortable enough to trade a 2019 third-round pick for him (remember, the Saints already traded their 2019 first-round pick to get Marcus Davenport). While Bridgewater won’t be usurping Drew Brees for the starting job, it’s still encouraging to see a team invest a Day 2 pick in him.

It’s also a high enough investment to show that the Saints are interested in him potentially being the quarterback of the future.

That trade opened the door for Sam Darnold to comfortably take the reins as the New York Jets starting quarterback, possibly the only rookie passer who will start in Week 1. Darnold has had a conservative approach to throwing the ball, but he’s still shown off his signature playmaking ability that made him exciting to watch as a USC Trojan.

Darnold and Bridgewater are both in positions to be future starters and escaped the preseason without injury. That’s a win-win.

Loser: Nick Foles was all over the place

There’s no denying that Nick Foles’ peaks as a passer can take teams to great places. Consistency has been the biggest issue in his career, and he appears to be in a bit of a rut right now.

In two preseason games, Nick Foles went 16 of 26 for 171 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was also sacked six times and lost two fumbles. That’s a far cry from the quarterback who eviscerated the Vikings and the Patriots on the way to Super Bowl MVP.

After Foles’ three-turnover game against the Cleveland Browns, head coach Doug Pederson said he was “very disappointed” in Foles’ performance. There’s no telling which Foles the Eagles are going to get, but that uncertainty has to be a little troubling with the Atlanta Falcons coming to town next week to start the season.

Philadelphia hasn’t announced if it’ll start the season with Foles or Carson Wentz, who’s coming off a late-season ACL tear. Wentz hasn’t been cleared yet, but it’s still possible the Eagles could play him in their season opener if he’s ready.

The Eagles are certainly capable of winning in spite of Foles — no teams have the combined offensive line and defensive line talent that the Eagles do. Still, strong quarterback play makes everything easier and Foles didn’t delivering this preseason.

Winner: The Patrick Mahomes/Tyreek Hill connection looks as good as advertised

The idea of pairing a howitzer-armed quarterback with a speed demon at wide receiver is always tantalizing, and it appears the Chiefs have a duo that will produce the exciting plays the we’ve come to love.

Mahomes and Hill already have one of the best plays of the preseason under their belt. In their Week 2 game against the Atlanta Falcons, Mahomes launched a ball almost 70 yards in the air to Hill, who got behind three Falcons’ defenders for a touchdown.

For the preseason, Mahomes went a perfect 14 of 14 for 182 yards and a touchdown when targeting Hill. Mahomes still has some bumps to work out with the rest of his game, but he’s clearly on the same page with his best wideout. With the Chiefs’ defense looking porous in the exhibition games, Mahomes and Hill might need to rely on their big-play ability to get wins in the regular season.

Winner: Alfred Morris is right back at home

Alfred Morris was born to play for Kyle Shanahan. Morris had the best season of his career as a rookie playing for Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in Washington, rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns.

After spending 2015 and 2016 in Dallas as a backup running back, Morris recently signed with the 49ers to reunite with Shanahan. His patience, vision, and strength make him a perfect fit for Shanahan’s zone-based running scheme.

In the 49ers’ third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, Morris ran for 84 yards on 17 carries and showed flashes that he could be the same player from 2012.

Morris made a living running off the tackle on outside zone plays throughout his tenure in Washington. He looked right at home running Shanahan’s plays again versus the Colts.

Morris got the start in the 49ers’ final preseason game, though his appearance was brief. He carried the ball just two times for five yards.

Given the contract that Jerick McKinnon signed this offseason, Morris won’t be stealing the starting spot from him during the regular season. However, Morris does have the playbook familiarity and skill to beat out Matt Breida and see a good amount of playing time this season.

Loser: The Lions if Matthew Stafford gets even slightly hurt

Detroit brought in Matt Cassel to push Jake Rudock for the backup job behind Stafford, giving the club a veteran-youngster dichotomy to compete for a job. The good news is the two performed similarly this preseason. The bad news is they were both terrible.

Rudock completed 68 percent of his passes ... for a whopping 5.0 yards per attempt. Cassel has been just as bad and even threw an ugly pick-six in the Lions’ Week 4 preseason game against the Browns. Neither man has shown any kind of proficiency beyond screen passes and quick outs. Third-and-long situations without Stafford have been hopeless. It’s so bad Pride of Detroit is ranking potential cutdown day casualties to come in and salvage the situation.

Winner: Chad Kelly stunted on Paxton Lynch for the Broncos’ backup job

When the Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million it was a pretty good sign that they weren’t optimistic Paxton Lynch would ever live up to his first-round draft status.

He had been awful enough to earn boos from Denver fans, with 14 completions on 29 passes for 102 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception through his first three preseason games. Then in the Broncos’ final preseason game, Lynch played the game of his life, completing 14 of 15 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

But it could have been too little, too late. John Elway gave Chad Kelly a vote of confidence before the game, saying he had done enough to earn the backup job.

Mr. Irrelevant 2017 didn’t have his best performance against the Cardinals, but he looked better as the game went on. Kelly also looked much better than Lynch earlier this preseason. In four games, he completed 40 of his 60 passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Denver may be interested in adding a veteran to help shore up the depth chart, but the team has reason to be really pleased with Kelly’s development.

Loser: Andrew Luck’s chances of playing a 16-game season

Luck missed all of the 2017 season due to a shoulder injury. The good news is he’s finally healthy for the 2018 season. The bad news is the Colts’ blocking might send him right back to injured reserve.

Indianapolis’ offensive line depth chart sports no fewer than three former first-round picks and is rounded out by a couple of Day 2 selections, but that group has looked disjointed throughout the preseason. The Colts needed a major improvement after allowing Jacoby Brissett to be sacked on a league-worst 10 percent of his dropbacks last year, but a combination of chemistry and awful timing have limited the unit to slow progress, if any.

Luck was sacked four times in just 36 dropbacks in the preseason, a rate worse than Brissett’s 2017. Former starting guard Jack Mewhort was forced to retire at 27 years old due to health concerns. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has battled a hamstring injury during the preseason.

Add it all up, and you’re going to have a whole bunch of awkwardly complimented pass rushers in the AFC South this fall.

Winner: the Browns’ Hard Knocks experiment

In 2017, the Browns were losers. After allowing HBO to follow their team through training camp and the preseason, they’re now lovable losers.

Bob Wylie hates stretching, which is probably a bad thing for an offensive line coach to believe, but at least he’s hilarious and nonsensical with his explanations. Devon Cajuste made himself a fan favorite by explaining how much he loves rocks, and he might turn that newfound support into a roster spot if Seth DeValve’s injury concerns linger. Todd Haley did Todd Haley things —that is, acting like a total dick. Brad Paisley showed up, for some reason! That’s probably not something that happens without HBO being there.

On the flip side the show did, however, confirm the mounting suspicions Hue Jackson may not be very good at his job.

We kinda wish the Browns could be on every season of Hard Knocks.

Winner: The legend of Michael Dickson

It’s not that rare for a punter to get drafted. In the past decade, an average of two punters have been selected each draft. It’s not that often a team trades up to get one, though — especially a team that already has a solid punter who holds many of the franchise records.

But the Seahawks did just that this April, trading up in the fifth round to take Texas punter Michael Dickson. The 22-year-old Aussie with a background in Australian Rules Football was a star with the Longhorns; he even won MVP honors in their bowl game and then declared early for the draft.

So it wasn’t terribly surprising that his monster leg translated to the NFL — or that Seahawks veteran punter Jon Ryan asked for his release this preseason. What might be a surprise is just how his complete his skills are, from hang time to ball placement to tackling even, the one time he outkicked his coverage.

After the third week of the preseason, Peter King took a look at Dickson’s ability to put just the right spin on his punts to get them to bounce perfectly out of bounds:

And Seahawks fans LOVE HIM, as they should:

Here at SB Nation, we’re big fans of good f***ing punts anyway. Having Dickson in the league will only give us something else to celebrate. As for the Seahawks, they have a player who can help win the field position battle, which could come in handy for a team that pretty much blew up its roster outside of Russell Wilson.

Loser: The Super Bowl hopes for the Falcons, Cowboys, Titans, and Seahawks

OK, so that’s a little dramatic. Yes, the Falcons, Cowboys, Titans, and Seahawks finished the month 0-4, but preseason doesn’t really matter. After all, the only two teams to go 0-16 in the regular season (2008 Lions, 2017 Browns) also went 4-0 in the preseason.

Last season, four teams were perfect in the preseason: the Browns, Ravens, Seahawks, and Broncos. All four missed the playoffs.

HOWEVER, in the 16-game season era, no team has gone winless in the preseason and then won the Super Bowl that same year. Washington did it in 1982, although the regular season was only nine games due to a players’ strike.

The Falcons and Cowboys have at least been here before — though they both came up short of a Super Bowl. The Falcons were 0-4 in the preseason last year and made it to the NFC Divisional Round. Same thing for the Cowboys in 2014. So while preseason performance is not necessarily an indicator of regular season success, it’s also not the greatest omen for these four teams.

On that note, congratulations to the defending Super Bowl champs. The Eagles eked out an extremely preseason 10-9 win over the Jets in their final warmup to avoid the same 0-4 fate.