Winners and Losers from NFL Preseason Week 3

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2014

Winners and Losers from NFL Preseason Week 3

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    Week 3 of an NFL preseason is supposed to be a relatively polished "dress rehearsal" where the starters and stars see significant playing time that typically goes into the second half of the game.

    For most starters, this is the last opportunity to fine-tune their games before the regular season starts. With that said, this week carries a bit more weight to it in terms of team execution.

    For those looking to forecast a team's success based on its preseason performance, this is by far the best week to do so.

    So this is obviously a good week to be mentioned in the "Winners" category of this slideshow. As for those less fortunate souls still struggling, the season is long, and there is still plenty of time to turn things around.

Winner: Michael Sam

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    Admittedly, after Michael Sam's performance at the combine and studying tape of him at Missouri, I didn't think Sam had much of a future in the NFL. My initial thought was that Sam lacked the strength, speed, athleticism and size to make much of an impact as a defensive end and would not be much of an open-field tackler on special teams.

    His measurables ranked among the worst at the combine regardless of position. A deficiency that large rarely translates into anything positive in the NFL.

    Despite all of this, Sam has played much better than anticipated.

    With three preseason games in the books, Sam has thrived on the defensive side of the ball, making several big plays in the backfield and chasing after quarterbacks.

    In Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns, Sam had perhaps his most impressive play to date, one that might have put him over the edge in the battle for a roster spot.

    Fellow Bleacher Report writer Cian Fahey appears to agree. Following Sam's Week 3 performance, Fahey tweeted, "Based exclusively on his play on the field, Michael Sam deserves the chance to get past the first round of cuts and compete in Week 4."

    Without hesitation, the rookie DE executed a clean move around the edge to beat the right tackle, which he finished with a nice rip move, freeing his path to one of the more slippery QBs in the NFL. After Sam finished his sack on Johnny Manziel, he displayed a little showmanship by throwing up Manziel's signature money sign.

    This was exactly the type of play Sam needed in order to continue the positive momentum as we head toward the end of the exhibition phase.

Loser: Broncos Receiving Depth

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    Wes Welker has a history of concussions heading into the 2014 season. He accepts the risks of playing the game as part of his job. This mindset has contributed to an attitude that has made him one of only three receivers in NFL history to amass five seasons of 100 catches or more.

    The Broncos receiver didn't consider hanging up the cleats after sustaining two concussions in 2013, but he may need to rethink his priorities after sustaining another concussion Saturday night.

    Welker, 33, took a hit to the head from Texans defensive back D.J. Swearinger. Concern grew from the moment Swearinger knocked Welker to the turf, a hit that drew a 15-yard penalty as a personal foul.

    Peyton Manning and Welker certainly had a good thing going in terms of chemistry, so the depth of the Broncos' receiving corps has certainly taken a hit. Rookie Cody Latimer and newly signed Emmanuel Sanders will have to try to make up for the lost production and toughness of Welker.

    Considering Welker's age and history with head injuries, we now have to wonder how much longer the undersized receiver has left on his clock. Should this most recent head injury end his career, this preseason game would become a much bigger loss for the Broncos as a whole and Welker, the individual.

Winner: Emmanuel Sanders

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    The receiving depth for the Broncos might have suffered a major blow last week, but one individual certainly had a winning performance.

    Unfortunately, football is a ruthless sport. As such, opportunity is often one of the most important elements to a player's overall success.

    When Wes Welker went down with a concussion in Denver's Week 3 contest against the Texans, opportunity for a bigger role in the offense came knocking on the door for Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders is a talented free-agent acquisition from Pittsburgh who Denver brought in to make up for the loss of Eric Decker.

    Without knowing when, or if, Welker will return this season, Sanders will have to contribute even more in this offense than initially thought.

    Sanders led all receivers in yards against the Texans with 128 yards on five catches, including two touchdowns.

    If his Week 3 performance is any indication of what's to come, we can expect to see a career year for this talented receiver.

Loser: Rams Offense

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    Not only was preseason Week 3 a major loss for Sam Bradford, who is now out for the season, the entire Rams offense has suffered a huge setback with the loss of their franchise quarterback.

    With Bradford suffering his second ACL tear in as many years, his career is now in jeopardy. One thing seems likely at this point: His tenure with the Rams will probably not continue after he receives a clear bill of health.

    This outcome does not bode well for the Rams' offensive potential as they look to move up in the league's toughest division.

    Bradford hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his career and has failed to live up to his draft status as a top overall pick.

    From the looks of it, he has never put on the muscle mass needed to better support himself on an NFL football team after all of these years.

    Scheduled to make over $17 million in 2014 with two seasons left on his contract, Bradford will now be replaced by 34-year-old veteran Shaun Hill.

    Can this offense still be productive with Hill?

    Hill has proven to be a reliable backup, and the drop-off between what Bradford has shown in the past and what Hill has shown isn't severe. However, the potential for an offense led by the new and improved Bradford will just have to remain speculation.

Winner: Tahir Whitehead

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    There's a good chance most of you have not heard of Tahir Whitehead, the former Temple linebacker now battling for a starting spot with the Detroit Lions.

    Heading into Week 3, Whitehead had earned a spot working with the first-team defense. Per Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, head coach Jim Caldwell suggested that Whitehead was in the starting lineup after a solid preseason, beating out incumbent starter Ashlee Palmer for first-team reps in Week 3:

    I think I noted the last time I was in front of you all...that he had practiced and played extremely well the last two games and we thought he was deserving of an opportunity because he played like he was one of our top three linebackers.

    Whitehead certainly made the most of his opportunity against the Jacksonville Jaguars by recording 10 solo tackles to go along with an incredible three sacks.

    That type of defensive performance undoubtedly was one of the most impressive of the entire preseason.

    With rookie LB Kyle Van Noy out with an abdominal injury, Whitehead might have earned himself the starting strong-side linebacker position.

    The Lions named Whitehead their special teams MVP last year, but he has yet to play a down on defense.

Loser: Le'Veon Bell

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    For Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell, you would think after being arrested for a DUI and possession of marijuana on the same day of a preseason game, per NFL Network's Albert Breer, he would try to put up the performance of a lifetime.

    This was not the case at all.

    The game against the Philadelphia Eagles started out with an ominous sign when Bell was blasted on a pass up the middle. Luckily, he was able to continue playing, though he didn't play that well.

    On the night Bell had nine carries for 23 yards, which equates to just 2.6 yards per carry. After the game, he apologized for being a distraction to his team.

    Now Bell waits to find out what repercussions will come from his irresponsible behavior.

    In a postgame interview with head coach Mike Tomlin, he called the actions of Bell and fellow running back LeGarrette Blount "conduct [that is] detrimental to our efforts. They'll be dealt with appropriately."

Winner: Eagles Offense

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    There have been a lot of interesting details revealed about the methods and progressive nature of head coach Chip Kelly. In short, it's a great time to be an Eagles fan.

    All game last Thursday, the Eagles picked apart Dick LeBeau's zone blitz defense—one of the more difficult defenses to play against.

    After three preseason games the Eagles offense has looked extremely sharp, to a point where it may be too much for NFL defenses to handle.

    Chip Kelly has his team averaging 31 points per game in exhibition play. One of the most impressive aspects of the Eagles' success this preseason has been the way the third- and fourth-team units have been able to still methodically move the ball down the field.

    Clearly the NFL is still playing catch-up with the unique way this offense creates its advantages.

    It seems safe to assume that the success of this offense will continue into the regular season with some regularity.

Loser: Cowboys Rush Defense

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    At this point, nobody is surprised to hear about the Dallas Cowboys defense being a glaring weakness for the team. Between injuries, salary-cap issues and scheme changes, this team is primed to be the worst defense in the league—unless this coaching staff is able to pull off one of the greatest coaching jobs in recent history.

    In Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins—a team that has struggled to establish a running game—the Cowboys showed more holes in their running defense than a Michael Bay screenplay.

    On the night, the team gave up 200 net yards rushing. Even an undrafted rookie running back named Orleans Darkwa was able to excel, running six times for 70 yards.

    The Dallas Morning News' Rainer Sabin recently reported that promising inside linebacker DeVonte Holloman will retire from football after doctors revealed he suffered damage to his spine. This is just the latest blow to a team that has already seen a number of tough losses.

    Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys have a losing record this season.

    Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.