SI.com's Don Banks tackles three issues from around the league:
1. Which team is wrapping up the league's best preseason?
Answer: If the preseason is all about getting questions answered and needs addressed, it's hard to argue that anyone has covered more ground than New England, which also has the added bonus of being one of the NFL's five preseason unbeatens.
When the Patriots acquired veteran nose tackle Ted Washington from the Bears last week in exchange for a 2004 fourth-round pick, it completed in grand fashion the defensive makeover that New England began this off-season. Much of what happens in August is hard to quantify, but here's a statistic that has some meaning: New England has shut out all three of its opponents in the opening quarter thus far, building leads of 10-0, 13-0 and 10-0 when it was No. 1's against No. 1's. The Patriots much-improved D has forced five turnovers in those three quarters.
With Big Ted clogging up the middle of Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense, the Patriots defensive line is dramatically better against the run, as well as both versatile and deep. Richard Seymour, first-round pick Ty Warren, Willie McGinest, Bobby Hamilton and even fourth-rounder Dan Klecko all will have roles that vary from down to down and package to package in Belichick's unconventional system.
At linebacker, Rosevelt Colvin is the new centerpiece and his addition takes a quality group and makes it outstanding. But the biggest surprise has been in the secondary, where rookie cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson have quickly emerged as reliable play-makers. Samuel's coverage skills made veteran Otis Smith expendable, and Wilson also has shown the knack for consistently being around the ball.
Some remain worried that veteran safety Rodney Harrison, another new face, will be exposed in coverage, but Harrison seems motivated by his departure from San Diego and intent on proving he's more than just a good run defender and hard hitter. In the Patriots' cover-two scheme, both Harrison and fellow safety Lawyer Milloy will think coverage first.
On offense, the Patriots' running game still has some issues, as Kevin Faulk, providing he can get his fumbling under control, looks ready to take over the lead-back duties from the indecisive Antowain Smith.
But the passing game has been in sync, and quarterback Tom Brady has had an excellent tune-up, completing 26-of-46, for 318 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.2 quarterback rating in three games.
Tennessee is the other AFC team that has every right to feel good about itself this preseason, as do Tampa Bay and Carolina in the NFC. But nobody looks more primed for the regular season than the Patriots, who spent the past six months deftly filling in holes left over from their disappointing 2002.
2. Who gets the nod as the most overrated offseason acquisition?
Answer: To be sure, it's a tough call, because from this vantage point there are a number of legitimate candidates. Is it Jacksonville's Hugh Douglas, who reported to camp a little heavy and has yet to make much impact? How about Dre' Bly, who'll have his hands full earning that No. 1 cornerback money in Detroit? Some would say Denver quarterback Jake Plummer put himself in the running with a very Brian Griese-like performance in the Broncos' Monday-night preseason home opener.
But in my mind none of them have yet edged out Miami linebacker Junior Seau, who is wearing Dolphins colors after 13 mostly stellar seasons in San Diego. It's no so much that Seau isn't delivering everything he has at this point in his career, because the early indications are that he has been a good fit with the Dolphins and has had his moments on the field.
It's just that I have trouble with the premise that Seau's veteran leadership will be a difference-making addition in Miami. For one, I don't believe leadership automatically transfers from locker room to locker room in the NFL, especially when that persona has taken 13 years to build in San Diego, compared to less than six months of development in Miami. Secondly, leadership is only real in the NFL when it's backed up by on-field results, and Seau by all accounts hasn't been a dominating player for the past two or three years.
It'll help that the Dolphins seem intent on using him wisely, letting him do what he does best. Look for Seau to create pressure with the blitz and get up field in aggressive pursuit of the ball. Miami will try to minimize the instances where he sits back and waits for the play to develop, and his coverage skills, never the best, have seriously declined.
The Dolphins certainly know that Seau is not what he was, but they think no matter what he'll be an upgrade over the departed Derrick Rodgers, who wasn't instinctive enough for Miami's taste. And in the locker room, Seau is being counted on to add mental toughness when the inevitable Dolphins' fast start begins giving way to the challenges of the season's second half.
Maybe, but leadership often gets over-valued in these types of situations, and something tells me that's the case here. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas may look to Seau when things get tense in South Florida, but unless Seau is still an integral part of helping the Dolphins win, that moral authority could fade pretty quickly among the other 50 or so players who make up Miami's roster.
Ray Lewis is a great leader because he's a great player. Once the same could be said of Seau. But not any time recently.
3. Who deserves credit for the best personnel call of the preseason?
Answer: Cleveland third-year head coach Butch Davis, but once he hears my reasoning, I have a feeling he may not care for the distinction.
Davis did absolutely the right thing when he went with his "gut decision'' to name career journeyman Kelly Holcomb his starting quarterback, rather than former No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch. And it wasn't solely about Holcomb out-performing his competition, which he clearly did.
Talk to a few Browns players for a while and it's apparent that Davis has something of a credibility gap in his locker room. Suffice to say not everyone trusts his every word. Unprecedented for a head coach? Hardly. Coaches have to make tough decisions, and players' feelings can often get hurt.
But that lack of trust can be unhealthy and lead to bigger problems if it is allowed to fester too long. Especially once a team isn't having enough success to keep everyone going along with the program.
Davis is something of a control freak and has done a great job of consolidating his power in Cleveland the past two years. He's also a quality coach who never stops working to gain an advantage. But by going with Holcomb, he sent his skeptical players a powerful message. Namely that his opinion isn't the only one that matters in Cleveland, and that his locker room's unstated but clear preference for Holcomb was a significant part of his decision.
If even the once-celebrated Couch can be demoted in favor of Holcomb, then the Browns players learned they can trust this much about their head coach: He wants to win. First, foremost, and now.