Friday August 12th, 2011

Andy Dalton gets his first taste of life as the Bengals' starting quarterback when he faces the Lions Friday night. (AP)

Another day, and another five-pack of NFL preseason games to whet your pigskin whistle.

Just as we saw during Thursday night's games, it's probably fair to expect less-than-crisp performances across the board and plenty of playing time for backups and rookies. But, hey, it's still football, right?

Here's a rundown of what to watch (at least before the benches clear) in Friday night's action:

Bengals at Lions: Are you ready for Andy Dalton's Cincinnati Bengals? The No. 35 overall pick out of TCU gets the starting nod Friday in his first NFL game, just weeks after long-time Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer told the team he'd retire if not traded.

Dalton's debut could be a rough one, if Detroit's defense is as sturdy as it appears on paper. The Lions' front four, even without injured rookie Nick Fairley, is beastly, and new linebackers Stephen Tulloch (Tennessee) and Justin Durant (Jacksonville) will make their first Motor City appearances.

Oh yea, and Matthew Stafford will start at quarterback for Detroit, his first action since Week 9 last season.

Dolphins at Falcons: Before we bail on the topic of rookie debuts, No. 6 overall draft pick Julio Jones will trot onto the field as a Falcon for the first time. Jones has been impressive thus far in camp and could be the catalyst for Atlanta to turn into a top-10 passing attack.

Miami ... well, let's just say the Dolphins probably won't be a top-10 passing attack in 2011. The fans have already thrown in the towel on starting QB Chad Henne, calling for Kyle Orton. Miami's other in-house options are Matt Moore and Kevin O'Connell. Not great.

Maybe Reggie Bush's Dolphins debut will soothe what ails Miami fans for a couple of days.

Steelers at Redskins: Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Tony Romo ... Rex Grossman? It's not a pretty picture for Washington when you stack its QB options up against the elite signal-callers in the NFC East.

Grossman's leading the Redskins competition right now as John Beck deals with a groin injury. But the two could flip-flop a few hundred times before the season ends, with third-stringer Kellen Clemens lurking in case both falter.

Washington's offense has questions beyond the QB spot, namely on the offensive line, which enters Year Two of Mike Shanahan's scheme. Helping the line's cause should be new running back Tim Hightower, who joins Ryan Torain and Roy Helu in an underrated backfield.

Don't expect to see much from Pittsburgh -- guys like Troy Polamalu and James Harrison are already nicked, so the Steelers could dip into the backups early.

49ers at Saints: Jim Harbaugh leads San Francisco into battle for the first time, though this might not be a particularly fun spot to start.

While Alex Smith will get the start, rookie QB Colin Kaepernick is the guy 49ers fans want to see. He's currently San Francisco's backup and has started strong in camp. Neither quarterback will get to throw to injured receiver Michael Crabtree, but new 49er Braylon Edwards should see some time.

The Saints, meanwhile, had one of the more impressive offseasons and look primed for another Super Bowl run. The offense is loaded once again, especially with the addition of Darren Sproles, who will take over Bush's role. And New Orleans' defense beefed up in a big way too, adding Aubrayo Franklin (San Francisco), Tuck McBride (Detroit) and Shaun Rogers (Cleveland).

Buccaneers at Chiefs: Tampa Bay used its first two draft picks on defensive ends -- Adrian Clayborn from Iowa at No. 20; DaQuan Bowers from Clemson at No. 51 -- then let Stylez G. White walk. Getting some pressure on the QB in the opening preseason game doesn't guarantee a playoff berth, but the Bucs would like to see some immediate payoff from those decisions.

Out in Kansas City is ex-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, replaced by Bill Muir and new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, who inherits Matt Cassell off a 27-TD, 7-INT season. Cassell has a couple of intriguing new weapons on offense: rookie Jonathan Baldwin out of Pittsburgh, and free agent addition Steve Breaston.

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