What to Watch: NFL preseason Week 4
If you've never been to an NFL training camp and want to get some idea what it is like, then the fourth week of the preseason gives you a little taste. With Week 1 of the regular season rapidly approaching -- the Giants host the Cowboys next Wednesday -- teams enter their final preseason games with two goals: Keep their starters healthy and figure out who's making the roster.
So instead of superstar vs. superstar matchups all over the field, you're left with a bunch of action between players who fall somewhere between the 50th and 75th spots on the roster.
This is football for the die-hard fan. The rest? Well, the real show begins soon.
Here's what to keep an eye on as the preseason wraps up:
Tampa Bay at Washington: After watching Gerald McCoy hobble off the field last week, the Buccaneers would love to see some solid work from their depth guys on the defensive line -- and the Redskins' run game should provide a nice test. And speaking of that run game, has sixth-round pick Alfred Morris claimed the starting gig? He'll get one more chance to prove himself Wednesday. Random fact: Kickoff for this one was moved up a half-hour so it didn't overlap Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
New England at New York Giants: The stakes are a little lower here than the last time these teams met, and the players you'll see on the field will prove that -- both teams figure to keep most of their starters on the pine. One who is expected to see action, though: Hakeem Nicks. He's missed the entire preseason schedule so far while rehabbing a foot injury and plans to make his debut against the Patriots.
Miami at Dallas: Unlike most teams, Miami will trot out its first unit on offense, in hopes of getting Ryan Tannehill a few extra reps before the regular season. Dallas, meanwhile, will be flush with those aforementioned roster decisions, including at quarterback (Stephen McGee or Rudy Carpenter?) and wide receiver (is fifth-rounder Danny Coale the odd man out?)
Atlanta at Jacksonville: The Falcons have a new backup quarterback in Luke McCown, who's replacing the released Chris Redman. McCown should get plenty of reps against the Jags. Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey, meanwhile, plans to play his starters for at least a dozen plays -- meaning one more look at the Blaine Gabbert-Rashad Jennings duo in the backfield.
New York Jets at Philadelphia: No Mark Sanchez. No Tim Tebow. No Michael Vick. The Jets may trot out newly-acquired right tackle Jason Smith to see where he's at. The Eagles' most intriguing roster battle? Maybe at running back, where Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are fighting for the No. 3 gig.
Kansas City at Green Bay: First-round pick Dontari Poe will make his first start up front for the Chiefs, and he could use a strong showing after a so-so preseason. Green Bay still has to settle on a starting secondary, so Mike McCarthy may run his starters out there for a bit. Also, Graham Harrell gets another chance to show the Packers that they don't need to go hunting for a backup QB.
Buffalo at Detroit: Tyler Thigpen will take most of the snaps for Buffalo before giving way to Tarvaris Jackson, who just came over in a trade this week. Bills fans are anxious to see what they have in Jackson -- his arrival pushed Vince Young off the roster. Detroit also will take its first glance at a new arrival: cornerback Kevin Barnes. The Lions acquired him from Washington on Tuesday, and with Chris Houston and Bill Bentley ailing, Barnes might see extended minutes.
Minnesota at Houston: Minnesota has major questions (still) in its secondary, which are not being helped by a rash of injuries. The Vikings are trying to decide exactly how many corners and safeties to carry into the regular season. Houston looks fairly set at a lot of positions. One wild card is Trindon Holliday, who has repeatedly flashed his ability in the return game but is part of a crowded WR picture. Can he win the coaches over one last time?
Baltimore at St. Louis: Jeff Fisher is going against the norm this week, as he said he plans to play his starters for upwards of a half. Baltimore will commit instead to its numerous roster battles. It remains to be seen what the Ravens will do on the O-line -- with several different guys capable of playing both inside and out, Baltimore may opt to carry less O-linemen and more elsewhere.
Carolina at Pittsburgh: Mike Wallace is back with the Steelers, but he won't see the field in this one. Nor will most of Pittsburgh's starters, especially since a lot of said starters are nursing injuries as it is. The Panthers' biggest mystery might come in the form of Jimmy Clausen, who should get a decent number of reps. Does Carolina see anything in Clausen to keep him around as a No. 3 quarterback for another year?
New Orleans at Tennessee: The Saints' minds might be elsewhere after they had to leave town early to avoid Hurricane Isaac's wrath. They'll have to deal with Jake Locker for at least a little while in this one, as the Titans try to get him ready for Week 1. Locker will not have WR Kenny Britt as his disposal, despite Britt coming off the PUP list this week.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis: The Colts sold this one out, so the buzz definitely is growing around Andrew Luck. He'll play just a few snaps against Cincinnati. And the Colts should already have one eye on the waiver wire -- by virtue of finishing last in the NFL in 2011, Indianapolis will get first crack at Friday's roster cuts. Cincinnati will give undrafted Trevor Robinson some much-needed work at center. He's holding down the fort until Jeff Faine, signed Wednesday, can get up to speed.
Chicago at Cleveland: Consider this a showcase game for Colt McCoy, who will start at QB for the Browns. He's penciled in as Cleveland's backup right now, but, ideally, McCoy would be dealt to a QB-needy team. The Bears are strictly in cut mode, and this could be the end of the line for veterans like Dane Sanzenbacher, who has yet to really prove himself this preseason at WR.
Oakland at Seattle: Carson Palmer will start for Oakland, and he really needs to find a rhythm with someone -- anyone -- at wide receiver. Marshawn Lynch won't play for Seattle because of a back injury, and Matt Flynn's status is in doubt too as he deals with elbow soreness. We're all just livin' in Russell Wilson's world now anyway.
San Diego at San Francisco: It's not just Ryan Mathews that the Chargers are missing. OT Jared Gaither continues to sit out with a back injury, so fill-in Mike Harris will try again to keep San Diego from looking outside the organization for help. San Francisco has some tough decisions to make on offense: Can Josh Johnson hold off Scott Tolzein at QB? Will Anthony Dixon hold onto a spot at RB? We'll know by Friday. Denver at Arizona: Denver's starting QB, Peyton Manning, will sit this one out, leaving Brock Osweiler to start. Osweiler played his college ball at Arizona State, so he should have some fans in the crowd. Arizona's QB situation, on the other hand, continues to be a mess. The John Skelton-Kevin Kolb race gets its final preseason billing.