Final preseason games, few starters to see action
What to look for in Thursday's final preseason games (all times EDT)
GIANTS AT PATRIOTS, 7:30 p.m.
Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gets his last and probably best chance in the preseason to prepare to be the opening night starter if Tom Brady's suspension holds.
Brady often sits out the entirety of the fourth exhibition game, and there's even more reason for him to hold a clipboard Thursday night. Garoppolo threw only 27 passes last year, most of it in garbage time. So any snaps he can get will be helpful if he's needed to fill in for the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
The NFL found that Brady was ''at least generally aware'' of a scheme to illegally deflate footballs used in the AFC title game in January against Indianapolis. Appeals inside the league failed, so the quarterback went to federal court for help.
Meanwhile, someone needs to take the field on Sept. 10 for the opener against Pittsburgh. If the Patriots can't be sure of the player who has been a steady presence for 13 of the past 14 seasons, they'll need Garoppolo to do it. The second-year second-rounder is expected to be the quarterback of the future. Patriots fans could get a sneak peak at that future against the Giants.
The Giants haven't played well in the preseason and Tom Coughlin plans to use his starters for only a series or two. Victor Cruz, trying to return from a second knee surgery in as many years, is out with a calf injury. He has not played in a preseason game.
Coughlin said this is a game to determine the last few roster spots, especially with the fringe players getting extra playing time.
''It's spelled opportunity,'' Coughlin said.
CHARGERS AT 49ERS, 10 p.m.
Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' first-team offense have yet to score a touchdown in eight series, so more time together in the final preseason game could be the plan for first-year coach Jim Tomsula. Especially considering the inexperience on the right side of the line with newcomers Jordan Devey at right guard and Erik Pears at right tackle and the need to protect Kaepernick, sacked 52 times last season - second most in the NFL.
Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and the majority of Chargers starters aren't expected to play.
The Chargers lost in the preseason at Levi's Stadium a year ago hours after an overnight 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck in the Northern California wine country near Napa. The quake affected some public transportation options to the new $1.3 billion stadium.
RAIDERS AT SEAHAWKS, 10 p.m.
Even with the Seahawks' offense being less than impressive in the preseason, Pete Carroll won't deviate from his plan against Oakland. Don't expect to see Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham for very long. And don't expect to see Marshawn Lynch at all.
One area to watch will be wide receiver, where Chris Matthews (shoulder) is expected to play after missing the past two games, and the trio of B.J. Daniels, Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams appear to be competing for the final spot with the Seattle likely keeping six receivers.
A year ago, Derek Carr won the starting QB job in Oakland with his preseason performance against Seattle. No such drama this year, with the main positional watch right tackle. Austin Howard starts for injured Menelik Watson.
Oakland defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and linebacker Malcolm Smith will see some old faces. Norton was Seattle's linebackers coach and Smith a key reserve for the Seahawks until this past offseason.
EAGLES AT JETS, 7 p.m.
It'll be Tebow Time again at MetLife Stadium.
Quarterback Tim Tebow is expected to get lots of playing time for the Eagles. Tebow was with the Jets for one miserable season in 2012, never started a game and was relegated to a wildcat role and punt protector. He hasn't played a regular-season game since, and is competing with Matt Barkley, who's expected to start, for the third-string role behind Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. In limited action, Tebow is 10 of 19 for 97 yards and has run 10 times for 50 yards, with three first downs and a touchdown.
Matt Flynn and Josh Johnson are competing for third-string QB in New York. With Ryan Fitzpatrick starting and Geno Smith sidelined at least the first few games of the regular season, coach Todd Bowles wants to get extended looks at Flynn and Johnson - neither of whom has played yet for the Jets this preseason.
Rookie Bryce Petty, the team's fourth-round pick, might not play after seeing lots of playing time in the first three games.
BUCCANEERS AT DOLPHINS, 7 p.m.
Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has been coy about how much, if any, No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston will play. The rookie quarterback sprained his right ankle in the second preseason game, but hasn't missed any practices and played into the third quarter of last weekend's 31-7 loss to Cleveland.
Backup Mike Glennon will take most of snaps in the finale. The most interesting battles may be for jobs on special teams.
Dolphins starters are expected to see little or no action, but jobs remain up for grabs at a handful of spots, and the contenders will receive close scrutiny. Fourth-round draft pick Jamil Douglas is challenging second-year pro Billy Turner at right guard; cornerback opposite Brent Grimes is still unsettled; and rookie place-kicker Andrew Franks is bidding to replace Caleb Sturgis.
Matt Moore's hold on the backup quarterback job seems secure, but he has struggled during the exhibition season and may see extensive action.
RAVENS AT FALCONS, 7 p.m.
Rex Grossman is expected to make his preseason debut in his bid to win the job as backup to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Grossman, 35, hasn't thrown a pass in a game since 2011, but he knows new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's system. Grossman played under Shanahan in Houston and Washington.
A.J. Yates' struggles likely contributed to the team's decision to sign Grossman last week. Continued shuffling on the offensive line has made it difficult to judge any quarterback.
The Ravens' spotlight is on wide receiver behind Steve Smith. Top draft pick Breshad Perriman's knee injury has cleared the way for Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro and Jeremy Butler.
Another Baltimore backup to watch is running back Buck Allen, who had a fumble into the end zone last week. Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) is expected to miss at least the first few weeks, creating uncertainty behind starter Justin Forsett.
SAINTS AT PACKERS, 7 p.m.
With Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb already hurt, the Packers would love to get through without losing another receiver. The likelihood of Davante Adams and rookie Ty Montgomery seeing any extensive playing time - if at all - seems remote. That means more chances for young receivers Myles White, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien, who missed practice last week with a concussion, should get valuable snaps as he ascends to the top backup role behind NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
The Saints have decisions to make at wideout after Marquis Colston, Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman, with Seantavius Jones, Willie Snead, Josh Morgan and Joe Morgan among the contenders. Coach Sean Payton is also trying to get young defensive players ready quickly for meaningful action because of injuries to key veterans.
PANTHERS AT STEELERS, 7:30 p.m.
The Steelers are doing their best to put a positive spin on an otherwise lackluster preseason. They lost All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey (left ankle) for at least two months and rising wide receiver Martavis Bryant for four games after he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy. Oh, and the first-team defense under first-year coordinator Keith Butler hasn't exactly been lights-out.
Coach Mike Tomlin is quick to praise his team's conditioning even while allowing his players looked like ''the walking dead'' at times during a lethargic loss to Buffalo. New kicker Josh Scobee will get a chance to work in Heinz Field for the first time since the team acquired him from Jacksonville on Monday.
The Panthers have had their own issues during camp, including alarming attrition at wide receiver. Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill tore ACLs and are out for the year. Carolina grabbed second-year receiver Kevin Norwood in a trade with Seattle on Monday. Norwood will be in uniform trying to play catch-up. He caught nine passes during his rookie year with the Seahawks in 2014.
CARDINALS AT BRONCOS, 10 p.m.
This could be Montee Ball's last game in a Broncos uniform. The former Wisconsin star who set an NCAA record with 83 touchdowns, has slipped from Denver's No. 1 running back a year ago and C.J. Anderson's backup just two weeks ago to No. 4. Both Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson have leapfrogged him. Coach Gary Kubiak said Ball and Kapri Bibbs will split snaps, and it's either Ball's chance to make this team or showcase his skills for another.
Cardinals running back Chris Johnson (hamstring) is expected to play. Coach Bruce Arians said inside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, sidelined virtually all of the preseason with a hamstring injury, will play. The Cardinals' third quarterback spot is up for grabs with Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims coming off strong performances that followed an inconsistent training camp.
BILLS AT DETROIT, 7:30 p.m.
Rookie running back Zach Zenner is looking for at least one more chance to show the Lions what he can do. The undrafted free agent leads the NFL with 162 yards rushing this preseason. Receivers Jeremy Ross, Lance Moore, Greg Salas and TJ Jones will have something at stake, likely competing for two jobs.
Bills coach Rex Ryan plans to keep his starters out. Fourth-string quarterback Matt Simms is expected to play the entire game even though Ryan has acknowledged Simms probably will not end up on the team.
Reserve running back Boobie Dixon (calf) could make his preseason debut. WRs Marcus Thigpen, Deonte Thompson, Andre Davis, Dezmin Lewis and Tobias Palmer are vying for a spot on the roster.
CHIEFS AT RAMS, 8 p.m.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided his starters didn't need any work in the preseason after they looked crisp and efficient in a half of action last Friday night against Tennessee. They were also good the week before in a win over Seattle and in the opener against Arizona.
The offensive line is a bit of a question mark only because left tackle Eric Fisher (sprained ankle) and right guard Jeff Allen (knee) have been out much of preseason.
Case Keenum has the Rams' backup quarterback job secured and third-round pick Sean Mannion appears set, too, leaving Austin Davis the odd man out. Guard Rodger Saffold (shoulder) is questionable for the finale but coach Jeff Fisher said he's in good position to start the opener. Barrett Jones and Tim Barnes are likely finalists for the center spot.
JAGUARS AT REDSKINS, 7:30
Colt McCoy is expected to play the entire game at quarterback for the Redskins, who are poised to complete their second unbeaten preseason in three years. Coach Jay Gruden wants to protect Kirk Cousins, who's starting the opener against Miami, and Robert Griffin III (concussion) is out.
Washington's defense has yielded only 146 yards rushing, an NFL-leading 48.7 yards per game.
Jacksonville will play few, if any, starters. It's a significant change from recent years, when the young, rebuilding team needed all the preseason repetitions it could muster. Quarterback Blake Bortles will get the night off after three fairly productive preseason games. Chad Henne will start.
BROWNS AT BEARS, 8 p.m.
With Jay Cutler expected to play little if at all for Chicago and Jimmy Clausen recovering from a concussion, David Fales figures to get a long look at quarterback. Zac Dysert could see some snaps after being claimed off waivers from Denver this week. The starting offense has managed just five field goals without a touchdown, and the Bears have been hit hard by injuries, particularly at receiver. Alshon Jeffery (left calf) is sidelined and rookie Kevin White (shin) is possibly out for the season.
The Browns, off an impressive win at Tampa Bay, will rest most of their starters. That includes quarterback Josh McCown, who threw two touchdown passes against the Buccaneers, but was also reckless in the pocket and took several big hits. They could get their first live-game look at Terrelle Pryor, the former Oakland QB trying to catch on with Cleveland as a wide receiver. Pryor has been slowed by a hamstring injury.
VIKINGS AT TITANS, 8 p.m.
Adrian Peterson will not make his preseason debut in this final exhibition, and he could have a lot of company. Neither QBs Teddy Bridgewater nor Titans rookie Marcus Mariota may play.
Undrafted rookie Taylor Heinicke is expected to play a majority of the game for Minnesota, while Titans backup Zach Mettenberger can use all the playing time he can get. Minnesota has cruised through the preseason with four wins, unlike the Titans (1-2) who need to show they've at least cleaned up a defense that allowed Matt Ryan and Alex Smith to look almost flawless. Whisenhunt estimated sloppy tackling cost them 96 yards in a loss at Kansas City.
BENGALS At COLTS, 7 p.m.
Forget about the Battle of the Andrews: Luck and Dalton aren't likely to even take a snap.
The traditional preseason finale between the I-74 rivals will be driven almost entirely by backups, most of who are trying to make the roster.
Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron played well last weekend, and the 39-year-old Matt Hasselbeck put together his best August performance in Indy's win at St. Louis. Both will see significant action.
The most compelling story lines, as usual, will be those on the bubble, which could lead to heavy workloads for Cincinnati RBs Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead, and Indianapolis' Zurlon Tipton and Tyler Varga. Indy must decide whether to keep Vincent Brown, Duron Carter or Griff Whalen at receiver, while the Bengals are looking at perhaps keeping 10 defensive linemen.
TEXANS AT COWBOYS, 8 p.m.
The No. 3 quarterback position will be one of the few issues of consequence beyond the last-minute chase for roster spots. Tom Savage is expected to go for Houston after Brian Hoyer was chosen over Ryan Mallett as the starter. Dallas backup Brandon Weeden could play, but the focus will be on Dustin Vaughan and Jameill Showers as the Cowboys decide who to keep as a third option - if they keep one.
Dallas running back Darren McFadden hinted he would sit along with Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar, the primary options to replace NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray.
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