By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Lister of Things

Ah, yes. Sweet football is back ... well, sort of. Football was back for rookies and second-stringers, and for at least a few die-hard fans in each city.

At the very least, there were 10 things to be learned over the weekend as this pale imitation of the real thing unfolded, kind of like the over-digitized Star Wars reboot.


These aren't the droids we were looking for.

1. Preseason fantasy leaders aren’t even worthy of your final pick.

Your Week 1 leaders: Stephen McGee, Kahlil Bell and Dwayne Harris. Ever heard of them? Or even know what position they play? Well, McGee and Harris are a QB-WR combo in Dallas, and Kahlil Bell plays running back for (checking, please hold …) the Chicago Bears.

Last year’s preseason leaders were Charlie Whitehurst (Seattle), Anthony Dixon (San Francisco) and Victor Cruz (New York Giants). Cruz didn’t have a catch in the regular season, Dixon finished with a 3.4 YPC average in minimal time, and Whitehurst got two end-of-season starts and finished with a 65.5 rating.

However, prime-time preseason performances do sometimes add up to something. Kevin Kolb had big numbers in 2007 and 2008, and is now rich enough to have disposable gold water cups like Navin Johnson had in “The Jerk.” Pierre Thomas and Ahmad Bradshaw both ranked among the leaders in rushing in 2007, made their teams and went on to become NFL standouts.

So it can happen. But don’t buy that Dallas No. 14 “Harris” jersey just yet.

2. The Colts’ amazing run of preseason failure continues.

It seems impossible for any team to be as bad in August as the Colts have been. The bettors’ rule in preseason is that if a team is catching points, bet on them – because no one’s too good or too bad at this time of year.

And yet, after their decisive 33-10 loss to the Rams this past week, Indianapolis is now 4-18 in exhibition play since 2006.

Their season-by-season records:
  • 2006: 1-3
  • 2007: 1-3
  • 2008: 1-4
  • 2009: 1-3
  • 2010: 0-4
Of course, they haven’t had more than a cameo’s worth of Peyton Manning over that stretch, which goes toward the general theory that Manning might be the single most dominant player in sports since Michael Jordan … but don’t tell anyone in New England that we suggested such a thing.

3. Biggest winner of Faux-Week 1: The New England Patriots.

OK, don’t worry, Patriots fans, we’re getting to you. In addition to running up the biggest blowout of the early preseason (47-12 over Jacksonville), the Patriots also continued to establish themselves as being incredibly rich at the quarterback position.

That Brady guy is pretty good, not that he saw the field Thursday night.

But the Brian Hoyer preseason legend was enriched with another excellent performance. He went 15-of-21 for 171 yards and a touchdown in the first half. It's a fine start to another solid preseason for the third-year quarterback, something he's done since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009. That year, he posted a 98.1 passer rating in the preseason, and a 93.5 last year.

And then rookie third-round pick Ryan Mallett – the guy that Bill Belichick reportedly had above Newton, Gabbard, Locker and the rest on his big board – came in and passed the Patriots to four straight touchdown drives.

The rich get richer.

4. Biggest loser of Faux-Week 2:  Chad Henne.

Maybe Henne might not have minded the lockout lasting a few weeks longer. He was booed in training camp, questioned at every level, forced to endure the Kyle Orton speculation … and then came out and threw two interceptions in his first three drives.

At least it was in Atlanta.

Miami fans have reason not to trust Henne after watching him turn in nearly identical (and poor seasons) with passer ratings of 75.4 in 2010 and 75.2 in 2009. His preseason passer ratings were also right there, 77.2 in 2010 and 73.4 in 2009. So, if you’re looking for consistent sub-mediocrity, he appears to be your man.henn

5. The Lee Evans trade goes pretty conclusively toward the whys and hows of Buffalo being bad and Baltimore being good.

Was Evans going to be a difference-maker for the Bills in 2011? Probably not. But a guy who had 1,000-yard seasons in 2006 and 2008 and still has game-breaking ability had to be worth more than a fourth-round pick, didn’t he? The Bills dumped a seven-year starter for a pick that won’t even be in the top 100, when you’d think a better move would be to wait until the trade deadline when teams were more clearly desperate for help.

As for the Ravens, read pro-football-reference’s Chase Stuart on the subject.  Evans isn’t a lock to be good, and he’s 30, but he’s younger and faster than the departed Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and gives Joe Flacco his first real deep threat.

Advantage: Ravens.

6. If Terrelle Pryor is eligible Wednesday, it’s worth noting the NFL’s history books have been fairly kind to quarterbacks picked in the supplemental draft.

An average of one player is taken per season in the annual supplemental draft (established in 1970), but when that player is a quarterback they tend to go off the board in the first round.

As in, every time.

From 1981 to 1992, five QBs were chosen, and all five were chosen in the first round: Dave Wilson (New Orleans, 1981), Bernie Kosar (Cleveland, 1985), Steve Walsh (Dallas, 1989), Timm Rosenbach (Phoenix, 1990) and Dave Brown (New York Giants, 1992).

It’d be easy to slam that group as a bunch of never-weres, but the fact is that Kosar was a legitimate star and Rosenbach looked to be a rising star before injuries ended his career young. Walsh, Wilson and Brown were all starters over multiple seasons, if not successful ones.

The point? If you can get a guy that could be a franchise QB for the new bargain rates the new NFL CBA allows, go for it. If your range is somewhere between Brown and Kosar, it’s well worth it.

7.  A reminder: Ndamukong Suh is a beast.

There is at least some debate whether Suh is a fully-formed NFL superstar, but there’s no argument that he has a superstar’s flair for the dramatic. In the Lions’ 34-3 demolition of Cincinnati, he forced a turnover on the very first play, hitting Bengals rookie Andy Dalton as he threw an interception. Later, he sacked Dalton, but got a 15-yard penalty for ripping Dalton’s helmet off in the process; the TCU rookie’s face was red as his hair after fleeing the rampaging Suh.

Line of the preseason followed from Detroit preseason TV analyst Rob Rubick: “You can not pick up a quarterback and slam him. This is not the 1950s.”

No, it isn’t, but it’s fun to see a player or two that reminds you of manlier days gone by.

8. The new kickoff rule could be more interesting than people think.

It’s easy for guys like Josh Cribbs and Devin Hester to complain about the move of the kickoff line to the 35, and understandable. Just about every kicker in the league can get it five yards deep, and the wedge rules means returning won’t be as easy.

That said, if the average drive started at the 25 (approximately) last year, moving the kick up five yards suggests that the average will now be at the 20 … but how you get there is up to the team. Will some teams bring it out from five yards deep? Of course they will. Sometimes it’ll lead to amazing tackles inside the 10, sometimes it’ll lead to 107-yard touchdown returns, which are even cooler than 99-yard kickoff returns.

Either way, you can assume that scoring will be down from the record 22.0 PPG it hit last year.

9. The Packers gave new meaning to the concept of spreading the ball around.

This will be short and sweet, but maybe the one thing that jumped out most from the first week of exhibition box scores was seeing 18 different Green Bay players catch passes in the 27-17 loss to Cleveland. That is pretty remarkable even by August standards, especially since the Packers only have 25 eligible pass catchers  on the roster and some of them were out injured. 

10. Even after the relief of the lockout’s end, even after a summer of baseball, golf and women’s soccer, even though the game of football is undeniably great … the preseason still doesn't capture imaginations.

Everything you need to know about what makes sports popular or not was on display this past weekend. Almost every NFL team played to “paid audiences” of  60,000-plus, yet the stands in each city were more likely to see tumbleweeds rolling through than actual fans.

It’s remarkable that the nation’s undisputed champion of leagues can’t even get fans that have already paid for their tickets to bother attending preseason games. While everyone's happy that football is back, and the owners and players both seem to have gotten what they want, nobody wants these preseason games, and it's the fans that have to pay.