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2017 NFL Power Rankings: What do we know through eight weeks?

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2017 NFL Power Rankings: What do we know through eight weeks?

By Ryan Wormeli

Each team in the NFL has played either seven or eight games so far, marking the end of Week 8 as roughly the halfway point of the 2017 season. That makes it as good a time as any to look back on the first half and try to gauge what we actually know about the NFL.

Check out these takeaways and then head on over to see how Week 8 affected the 2017 power rankings by clicking any of the links below.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

1. Rookie(s) of the Year

It's impossible to discuss this season without mentioning the league's newcomers. Kareem Hunt set the world on fire on the first night of the season and has continued to find success in every subsequent game. Dalvin Cook (pre-injury) and Leonard Fournette were highly productive runners from the get-go. Deshaun Watson somehow entered the season as the backup, but took over halfway through Week 1 and has been a superstar ever since. Evan Engram might already be the best pass-catcher in New York (Non-Odell Division). And Redskins fans know Jonathan Allen was making a nice impact before he got hurt. 

With guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting older every year, the NFL needed a nice influx of young talent, and the 2017 draft gave us just that.

2. Philly Flying High

Brace yourself for this 'Skins fans, but the Eagles are legitimately good, and probably will be for a while. At 7-1, they have the best record in the NFL, a young quarterback breaking out in his 2nd season, and a really talented defense (when the secondary is healthy). There's a case to be made for Philadelphia as Super Bowl favorites, and with Wentz around for the foreseeable future, they aren't going away anytime soon. It looks like he and Prescott will be battling it out for NFC East supremacy over the next few years, putting even more emphasis on the Kirk Cousins question for the Redskins.

3. "Offensive" Line Play

Grading offensive lines can be difficult, even with the most advanced statistics available. Sack rate, yards per carry and other metrics that can highlight quality line play are also heavily influenced by skill position players. Still, it's fair to say O-lines around the NFL have taken a step back this season, with teams struggling more than ever to keep their quarterbacks upright and open holes for their running backs. Even the Cowboys, who had an all-time great offensive line in 2016, have fallen off greatly this season.

Head coaches are surely hoping the league sees more talent at the OT and G positions soon, as almost no teams are exempt from the current struggling state of the big uglies.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

4. Hue-ge Mistake? (Or, the Cleveland Browns are really, really bad at evaluating quarterbacks)

The Browns have long struggled to find their next (first) franchise quarterback since returning to the NFL in 1999, starting a whopping 26 different QB's in that span. Despite a gaping hole at their most important position, head coach Hue Jackson passed on drafting Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in consecutive years, opting to take a flier on DeShone Kizer instead. Stunningly, it appears the Browns have made a poor decision, as Wentz and Watson are likely two of the five biggest favorites for this season's MVP, despite being so new to the league. Kizer, meanwhile, is completing just 52.1% of his passes and sporting an unsightly 3:11 TD to INT ratio.  

As noted above, Wentz has led the Eagles to the league's best record, and Watson has revitalized the Texans offense since taking over the starting job midway through his first game. Fans in Philadelphia and Houston are not only excited for the future, but are already cheering for winners in the present. Browns fans, as has been the case for so many years, are stuck imagining what it would be like to have a star under center. For that matter, they're still imagining what it would be like to see their team win a game this season.

5. Primed for Parity?

Coming into the season, some folks thought the Patriots could go 16-0. Instead, they're lucky to be 6-2. The Chiefs started out a dominant 5-0, and then lost back to back games. The Cowboys cruised to a 13-3 record last season, but stand at just 4-3 through seven games, and may be without Ezekiel Elliott for 6 games. The Packers are perennial playoff threats, but lost all-world QB Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone.

The point is, we really don't know who the Super Bowl favorites are. The Eagles have the league's best record, but you could make a strong case for any number of teams to make it to Super Bowl Sunday. The NFL prides itself on parity, and outside of a few terrible teams at the bottom, just about every team rightfully sees itself as a potential playoff squad. It makes for an exciting season, but also means it's hard for us to lock in on the best teams. The truth is we really don't know that much about this year's NFL, which makes it just like any other year. And that's why the second half will be such a fun ride.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

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10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

The Redskins had to improve the defensive line this offseason. The defense ranked dead last against the run in 2017, and without improvement up front defensively, the playoffs would again be out of reach in 2018. 

And for the second straight season, Washington tried. 

The team selected Daron Payne out of Alabama with their first-round pick and Tim Settle out of Virginia Tech in the fifth round. The front office also waived under-performing Terrell McClain in the offseason and moved on from veteran A.J. Francis.

Perhaps most important, the team should have 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Allen completely healthy this fall. He and Matt Ioannidis looked like a strong front in 2017 before a foot injury shut down Allen for the year in Week 5. Add in Anthony Lanier, who flashed big-time sack potential, and the Redskins have a strong, young nucleus.  

But how does it all work?

In the base 3-4 scheme, Payne might have the strength to play nose tackle. Settle definitely has the size for the nose. Both are rookies, however, and will need to learn a lot, and fast, to start Week 1. Veteran Stacy McGee, coming off groin surgery, might be able to hold off the rookies if he is fully healthy. When a nose is on the field, expect Allen and Ioannidis to line up at the defensive tackle spots. If he's not playing nose, Payne will rotate in at tackle as well. Another veteran, Ziggy Hood, will provide depth at tackle, if he makes the team. 

In the nickel package, which the team deploys more than half of their snaps, expect to see a healthy rotation of Allen, Payne, Ioannidis and Lanier. Keeping those players fresh should allow interior pocket pressure, and that could be great news for Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith

With Payne and Allen the headliners, and Ioannidis and Lanier valuable, and Settle capable at the nose, the Redskins have five D-line roster spots about locked down. 

Last year, the team kept six defensive linemen coming out of camp. If McGee is healthy, that spot will be his. If he's not, Hood likely hangs on. It's also possible the team keeps seven D-linemen, particularly as they monitor McGee's groin injury. 

The good news is last year, due to injuries and the talent on the roster, a number of players were forced into spots they didn't truly belong. Hood doesn't have the true size to play nose, but he was forced into the position. Lanier is best served as an interior pass rusher, but was forced to be a run stuffer. 

With more investments on the line, and better luck in the training room, the 2018 Redskins D-line should have more people playing where they belong. And that could go a long way. 

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Need to Know: The best running backs the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best running backs the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, July 18, eight days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best running backs the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the running backs are up. They are roughly ranked 2017 rushing yards, although I did some juggling based on offseason moves and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teamsreceivers, and quarterbacks

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys—He actually finished 10thin the league in rushing yards behind two backs who will face the Redskins. Elliott gets boosted up the list because he was suspended for six games last year. He averaged 98 yards per game played, and had he been able to play in 16 games, he would have led the league in rushing yards with over 300 yards to spare. In three games against the Redskins, he has averaged 110 yards per game and he has five touchdowns. The Redskins’ revamped rushing defense will be tested twice.

Mark Ingram, Saints—He will be coming off of a four-game suspension for Redskins vs. Saints in Week 5. Will he be rested or rusty? If he’s in any kind of form, the Redskins defense will have to be on its game. Last year against Washington in the Superdome, Ingram rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. 

Leonard Fournette, Jaguars—The rookie did surpass the thousand-yard mark, posting 1,040. Some pointed out that it wasn’t a consistent effort as he gained 310 yards, almost 30 percent of his total, in two back-to-back games in Weeks 5 and 6. That’s fine but he still is a difficult opponent with his combination of size and speed. I look for him to have a big breakout this year. 

Dion Lewis/Derrick Henry, Titans—Lewis averaged 5.0 yards per carry with the Patriots last year and Henry gained 744 yards while sharing time with the now-retired DeMarco Murray. Lewis will play a lot of third downs and will spell Henry sometimes early in games. That will leave the 6-3, 247-pound Henry fresh to grind up the clock if the Titans have a late lead. 

Jay Ajayi, Eagles—Nobody has quite figured out why the Dolphins dealt him to the Eagles in midseason, but Philly was more than happy to add him to the offense. Ajayi became a workhorse in the postseason with 42 rushing attempts and six receptions in three games. 

I do need to mention Giants rookie Saquan Barkley here. I have to think that the second overall pick of the draft will rank somewhere on this list, but without seeing him in an NFL uniform yet it’s hard to rank him. He will be dangerous, no doubt. 

David Johnson of the Cardinals also will be tough to handle. After he missed all of last year with a hand injury it's difficult to rank him, too. If he is in his 2016 form in Week 1 the Redskins will face a tough task. 

Best of the rest: Lamar Miller, Texans, Alvin Kamara, Saints, Ronald Jones, Bucs

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins offensive tackle Geroge Starke, one of the original Hogs, was born on this date in 1948.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 8
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 22
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 45

The Redskins last played a game 199 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 53 days. 

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