It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for — Week 3 of the NFL preseason. We’ll see more established stars and potential starters than any other week of the preseason. Here’s what to watch for during this week’s preseason games. Source: NFL.com
THURSDAY (all times ET)
FALCONS at DOLPHINS (8 p.m., NBC)
» The Dolphins reportedly will be testing new running back Arian Foster to his limits in prime time. Coach Adam Gase will essentially give him the chance to top the depth chart against a Falconsdefense that has been anything but impressive so far this preseason.
» Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins is about to bow out for four games thanks to a performance-enhancing drug suspension, which means he’ll continue to get a significant amount of reps. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Collins played more than any other defensive player (23 snaps) in a game against the Browns last week. Will he flash improvement before a long break?
» Dolphins fans wondering where tight end Jordan Cameron has gone can take solace: Ryan Tannehill is taking great measures to find him on Thursday against the Falcons. Per the Palm Beach Post, Tannehill has been overly encouraging to the former free-agent prize in an attempt to bring him around before the regular-season opener.
COWBOYS at SEAHAWKS (10 p.m. NFL Network)
» Cowboys first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott could get as many as a dozen touches, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Outside of Jared Goff, this will be the most highly-anticipated debut of the preseason. Elliott has a chance to bring Dallas’ offense back to 2014 levels if he can stay healthy. Will he run like he’s not encased in bubble wrap?
» After a hit-and-miss performance against Minnesota a week ago, the Seahawks will likely shuffle their starting offensive line a few times, position coach Tom Cable told The Seattle Times. Be on the lookout for former starter J’Marcus Webb to make a play for one of the tackle jobs against a defensive line that can be pushed around.
» Seattle’s rookie running back C.J. Prosise has the chance to steal the show from Elliott if he also makes his preseason debut. The former Notre Dame star is eyeing a hybrid role in the team’s offense and will need to show some of his pass-catching skills if the tweaked hamstring allows it.
PATRIOTS at PANTHERS, 7:30 p.m.
» While it is foolish to try and project when and where we will see Tom Brady next, the Patriotsquarterback discussed with reporters this week that he has not been told he won’t be taking snaps against the Panthers. As we’ve said before, this preseason was always about Jimmy Garoppolo, but even the NFL’s best quarterback would like to take some game snaps before a four-week hiatus.
» We have been subjected to a non-stop barrage of Devin Funchess hype this offseason and, according to reporters on the ground in Carolina, the hype is warranted. The Panthers will take that over a Terrelle Pryor preseason that could eventually go nowhere, but Funchess is currently 177th among wide receivers in the preseason with three grabs for 29 yards and a touchdown. Here’s hoping the robust dress rehearsal doubles that total.
» Bill Belichick downplayed the importance of the third preseason game significantly in an interview this week. It will be interesting to see if he decides to handle his starting lineup any differently than the norm this year given his situation at quarterback and offensive line.
BILLS at REDSKINS, 7:30 p.m.
» Seantrel Henderson made his return to practice this week, and according to the Buffalo News, the former 16-game starter made his presence known. Henderson missed nearly a year with Crohn’s Disease, but could find himself in the thick of things soon. Amid a very crowded tackle depth chart in Buffalo, his frame and intensity make him hard to ignore. Hopefully Ryan allows him the chance to suit up this weekend.
» Linebacker Bryson Albright is climbing up the Bills’ depth chart and could be your plucky undrafted free agent to keep an eye on against Washington. As the News noted, that distinction was once handed to Eric Striker, but now Rex Ryan & Co. seem to be favoring the Miami (Ohio) product.
» Robert Kelley is the currently the Redskins‘ en vogue running back now that Matt Jones is out for the rest of the preseason. Keith Marshall struggled again a week ago, leaving the team desperate to find a dependable option at No. 2. This could be the game that convinces Washington whether or not to hit the waiver wire on cut down day.
STEELERS at SAINTS (8 p.m.)
» Saints head coach Sean Payton can sometimes lead us astray with his player hype (which would make him no different than the NFL’s 31 other head coaches) but the fanfare surrounding wide receiver Michael Thomas seems legitimate. The second-round pick was viewed as one of the most pro-ready wide receivers to hit the NFL in this year’s class, and Friday is another chance to prove he belongs in the starting lineup.
» Landry Jones didn’t have as bad of a preseason game as you might have imagined a week ago despite the four picks, but the Steelers backup would still like to put something more stable on tape before coasting into the regular season. Ben Roethlisberger is as sturdy as they come build-wise, but he has missed at least one game in all but three of his NFL seasons.
» We have not heard much from Steelers first-round pick Artie Burns, outside of the fact that he returned to practice a little more than a week ago. With Pittsburgh’s starting corner jobs locked up for the moment, Burns will look to make his case for sub-package duty and an eventual takeover.
BROWNS at BUCCANEERS (8 p.m., CBS)
» This will be the most realistic look at Cleveland’s starting lineup so far. Suspended receiver Josh Gordon is expected to get some time as is rookie first-round pick Corey Coleman. Lining them up alongside preseason sensation Terrelle Pryor presents the most hope a Browns fan has felt for the offense in almost a decade.
» Unfortunately, all eyes will be on struggling rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo. The Bucs made him a second-round pick and, in turn, made him hoist a gigantic magnifying glass over his head during the preseason. Aguayo has already missed a pair of kicks during competition and has been spotty at best in practice during the week. Another poor performance will raise some very serious questions about the position in Tampa.
» This is still the preseason, butJameis Winston is coming off a poor performance against the Jaguars. The former No. 1 overall pick completed just 30 percent of his passes and chucked an interception. The (relatively) long stretches of ineffectiveness could just be a product of the preseason in general, but Cleveland’s porous secondary could be a nice springboard into the regular season.
PACKERS at 49ers (10 p.m., NFL Network)
» Colin Kaepernick started throwing again! He’ll also do some of that against Green Bay in Prime Time this weekend, which merits our attention. There’s little doubt Blaine Gabbert is getting the job at this point, but Kaepernick could set himself up for a replacement role sooner rather than later with a vintage game against the Packers.
» Aaron Rodgers is on pace to make his preseason debut. While this would normally be a ho-hum affair, there have been multiple reports suggesting Rodgers had one of his best practice preseasons ever. The 32-year-old could just be entering the prime of his career, which is scary.
» According to the Sacramento Bee, the team trotted out former star tackle Anthony Davis at guard with the starters opposite first-round pick Josh Garnett — a potentially enticing combination we can hopefully see against the Packers.
CHIEFS at BEARS (1 p.m., NFL Network)
» The Bears have an offensive line problem at the moment. Depending on how long guard Kyle Longis out for, the team could be auditioning reserve center Ted Larsen at guard like they’ve done in practice, according to the Chicago Tribune. Long’s shoulder issue might be nothing, but it might be enough to seriously rattle a team already missing their starting center.
» The Bears are either keeping a secret when it comes to 2015 first-round pick Kevin White, or they’re still figuring out how to properly use him. If they are still being cautious with their playmaker, it’s completely understandable. If they aren’t, two catches and nine yards is something to worry about.
» 2015 third-round pick Chris Conley continues to make a case as a legitimate No. 2 complement toChiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. His Week 2 preseason performance elicited this flamethrower quote from quarterback Alex Smith (via the Kansas City Star): “He did a bunch of stuff,” Smith said. Damn. Look out, Washington.
EAGLES at COLTS (7 p.m.)
» Veteran Stephen Tulloch rolled into town just a few days ago but could already be making his move for the middle linebacker job. A game against the Colts could settle the depth chart for now, but that may be up to Jordan Hicks.
» Dorial Green-Beckham made a surprise appearance for the Eagles last week immediately after a trade from the Titans. Now? He will start. The mammoth receiver could lend the Eagles a hand in the red zone, though Sam Bradford is hoping for a better all-around target to complement Jordan Matthews.
» The Colts may need Antonio Cromartie to start this weekend against the Eagles, never mind Week 1 of the regular season. Amid reports of his demise via hip injury, Cromartie will look to show that he still has some good football left in the tank.
LIONS at RAVENS (7 p.m.)
» Joe Flacco will make his preseason debut, giving Ravens fans their first significant look at the franchise quarterback in a long time. Flacco’s knee still isn’t fully healed, but give the man credit for signing up (and hoping) to take a few shots on Saturday to get him into game shape.
» Resident Lions fan and physicality aficionado Kevin Patra chimes in with this: Rookie first-rounderTaylor Decker improved immensely from Week 1 to Week 2 of the preseason. Another solid week of ascension could put the Lions at ease (if that’s possible) heading into their season opener.
GIANTS at JETS (7:30 p.m.)
» Does the offense bounce back? Facing essentially the same scheme as they did a week ago but with better players, the Giants are hoping to avoid the goose egg on the scoreboard. The team is an odd mix of concerned and understanding at the moment, but a brand-new head coach never wants to roll into the regular season with a general malaise.
» The Giants brought in kicker Randy Bullock after Tom Obarski missed a field goal against the Bills last week. Bullock is essentially auditioning for the Week 1 gig, which should bridge the gap until the team welcomes Josh Brown back from a personal conduct suspension. However, the team has been mum on Brown of late, and a strong performance from Bullock could eventually lead to a long-term gig.
» Earlier this week, Jets head coach Todd Bowles told reporters he had a plan at quarterback but would not reveal it. Geno Smith is still the acting backup for Ryan Fitzpatrickbut with no direct conformation, we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, Bryce Petty is hot on Smith’s trail after a strong performance against the Redskins last week.
TITANS at RAIDERS (8 p.m., CBS)
» How does Marcus Mariota finish out the preseason? Last year’s No. 2 overall pick has been nothing short of fantastic and has only thrown one incomplete pass. The Raiders are no joke on defense, unfortunately, and could look to spoil what has been a fantastic preseason.
» Does Menelik Watson finish off Austin Howard for the right tackle job? The Raiders certainly hope so, and have poured a ton of time and effort into developing their 2013 second-round pick. An Achilles issue last season threw away what seemed to be a ton of progress, but now Watson isn’t looking back.
» Earlier this week we wrote about Andre Johnson refusing to take days off in Nashville, though we still don’t have a completely realistic picture of how the receiver will fit in the offense. Head coach Mike Mularkey would like us to think otherwise, and could prove it this weekend against Oakland.
RAMS at BRONCOS (9 p.m.)
» Trevor Siemian gets the start under less-than-ideal circumstances. The presumed Week 1 starter missed practice this week with shoulder soreness, but has been gifted a golden opportunity to knockMark Sanchez clear out of the competition.
» Speaking of Mark Sanchez, there is still no word if he’ll be next in line behind Siemian, according to ESPN.com. What does this mean? If rookie Paxton Lynch takes the field after the starters come out, we could be waiting to see Sanchez on the cut list come roster trim down. While we would suggest Denver keep all three quarterbacks, the trade for Sanchez was conditional and Denver could get their pick back if they decide not to keep the former Eagles and Jetsquarterback.
» Jared Goff hasn’t driven the coaching staff wild so far in the preseason, to the point where some are wondering if he’s currently beating out Sean Mannion for the No. 2 job. Goff is currently 57th among preseason quarterbacks in yards (120) and is still below 60 percent completion rate. Does it matter? Probably not. The Rams seemed hell bent on making Goff earn this and Case Keenum has played pretty well. This is Goff’s last realistic chance to make a play for the Week 1 job.
CHARGERS at VIKINGS (1 p.m., FOX)
» While this isn’t necessarily an in-game issue, the war of words between the Chargers and Joey Bosa reached a fevered pitch on Wednesday when the team released a deeply detailed statementabout Bosa’s refusal to sign his rookie deal. With a nationally televised game on tap, it will be interesting to see if the team uses the forum to further their public stance on the matter.
» Teddy Bridgewater will return to the field after not playing last weekend because head coach Mike Zimmer said so. This has been an unintentionally odd offseason for Bridgewater, who, at times this summer, flashed some of the playmaking ability that we’ve come to expect on a weekly basis. According to the Star-Tribune, the coaching staff did not see any injury limitations toBridgewater’s workouts this week, though it bears watching.
» Will Adrian Peterson play, or at least make a push to? Peterson never takes the field during the preseason, but oddly left the door open this summer after wishing he played in a warmup game last year. The Vikings would probably prefer he plays it safe, but who can question a veteran who knows his body better than anyone else?
CARDINALS at TEXANS (4 p.m., FOX)
» Jadeveon Clowney was beastly against the Saints a week ago, at times forcing New Orleans offensive linemen to grab him by the shoulder pads and tackle him in lieu of another quarterback take down. This was the monstrous defensive end we were expecting all those years. Will theCardinals let him anywhere near Carson Palmer this weekend?
» A bit esoteric given that it’s the third preseason game, but Texans backup quarterback Tom Savagehas been chucking the football with a sense of urgency this offseason. Savage is among the 10 most productive passers in football this preseason and has a chance to spike the football on Houston’s backup gig with a nice performance against the Cardinals‘ second-string. There were whispers about Savage being a second round-type quarterback the year he came out, and we may finally be seeing why.
» Cardinals first-rounder Robert Nkemdiche is set to make his preseason debut this weekend, giving us a realistic preview of how scary this defensive line might be. We too often associate the Cardinalswith just Arians and his offense, but with Chandler Jones and Nkemdiche in the fold — look out.
BENGALS at JAGUARS (8 p.m., NBC)
» Primetime for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and it is well-deserved. This team has been building their foundation over the past three seasons and is finally good enough to turn some heads. This will be America’s first good look at quarterback Blake Bortles in 2016 — will they agree that he’s one of the most fun to watch in football right now?
» Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon have been quite harmonious this offseason. With the most realistic dress rehearsal coming, we’ll see if Jacksonville is fixing to break up this running back utopia or if they are committed to a 50-50 split as Jacksonville.com predicted.