No way to sugar coat this – the NFL’s final preseason week isn’t even a necessary evil.
The only saving grace is that starters aren’t likely to get hurt since most won’t be out there. With the dress rehearsal in the books for every team, this last game is simply about playing out the string.
Here are a few angles to be aware of if you can’t resist the lure of pro football this week, although there’s no question the most impactful event will come in a court room when Tom Brady’s fate is decided, not on the football field.
Here’s a look at the 10 most compelling matchups.
Pro Football – Thursday, Sept. 3
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts: The Bengals will ride A.J. McCarron, who has had a solid preseason and got in there earlier than expected against the Bears after Andy Dalton came out with a strained neck. After missing all of last season, McCarron’s emergence thus far has been a welcome sight considering the lack of experience behind Dalton at the position.
The Colts backups scored the final 11 points in Saturday night’s win over St. Louis, but with Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck firmly entrenched, rookie Bryan Bennett will get the bulk of the snaps before likely landing on the practice squad.
Philadelphia Eagles at N.Y. Jets: The Eagles are averaging 38.3 points per game this preseason after Saturday’s 39-26 at Green Bay, but didn’t score after halftime. They took out the Jets 37-7 in last year’s preseason finale and have seen enough from Sam Bradford that they’ll likely not expose him here following a 10-for-10 performance with three touchdowns.
Tim Tebow and Matt Barkley will get one final chance to state their case for inclusion on the final roster, although word is Barkley is already being shopped. The Jets won the Snoopy Bowl over the Giants but got their best piece of news when rookie Leonard Williams was deemed to have just a muscle strain behind one of his knees, not ligament damage.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins: The Bucs had a disappointing dress rehearsal against Cleveland, losing 31-7 and struggling to protect top pick Jameis Winston, who has had an up-and-down preseason.
It will be interesting to see whether Lovie Smith gives him more reps to try and bounce back from an awful outing (6-for-15, 90 yards), but odds are he’ll be watching backups Mike Glennon and Seth Lobato work behind a porous offensive line to make sure he’s healthy for his regular-season debut.
New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers: Randall Cobb was the latest Packers standout to be injured this preseason, but fortunately, what was feared to be a broken collarbone is nothing more than a sprained shoulder.
Cobb won’t play nor will Aaron Rodgers or anyone else of significance, which is to be expected given Green Bay’s terrible luck this preseason.
Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions: The Bills have named Tyrod Taylor their starter, but there will still be opportunities for Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel to show off their attributes in this one. The Lions rallied to beat Jacksonville as RB Zach Zenner carried defenders into the end zone on a physical run late Friday.
The QB situation behind starter Matthew Stafford is still murky, so expect this contest to be more competitive and compelling than most games this week.
Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys: Brian Hoyer won the QB competition with Ryan Mallett, while Tom Savage has been one of the most prolific third-stringers this preseason, so the Texans actually have some depth at a position that appeared littered with question marks.
The Cowboys have lost all three of their games by double-digits, but aren’t worried considering they haven’t exposed Tony Romo much and he did lead them to a 14-13 lead after a half against Minnesota. Jameill Showers and Dustin Vaughan should handle the bulk of mop-up duty here, putting the Cowboys at a disadvantage as they’re likely to go 0-4.
Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears: Johnny Manziel didn’t play in Week 3 and might be shut down the rest of the way due to nagging elbow trouble and arm soreness.
With Josh McCown looking sharp in having nailed down the job, expect a heavy dose of Thad Lewis and Pat Devlin against the Bears. Chicago lost for the first time under new coach John Fox in Cincinnati, struggling offensively.
Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos: The Broncos defense has looked impressive in helping the team open 3-0 despite Peyton Manning barely participating, so Gary Kubiak’s first preseason has been a great success. The Cardinals backups looked impressive in stealing a 30-23 result over Oakland despite managing just three points with their starters out there.
The Cardinals have been understandably cautious with QBs Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton both coming back off ACL tears and the offensive line play appearing shoddy. Palmer threw a pair of picks and was under constant duress, so don’t expect him to even make a cameo in this one.
San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers: The Chargers certainly didn’t appreciate Frank Clark punching Philip Rivers, who hurt a finger on a helmet smack and didn’t return. We won’t see him here. The 49ers haven’t exposed Colin Kaepernick much and aren’t letting their QBs audible, so it’s hard to gather much from their sputtering offense.
Kaepernick was sacked twice and taken down for a safety, so the offensive line certainly didn’t impress in a loss to Denver filled with mental miscues. Rookie QB Dylan Thompson should play the bulk of this one.
Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks won their first game after a pair of tight losses on Steven Hauschka’s 60-yard field goal and Pete Carroll felt his team did their best work and is where it needs to be to try and defend their NFC crown. Rookie returner Tyler Lockett continues to flash Devin Hester-like potential.
The Raiders lost a tight one to Arizona on Sunday night but could be the smart play here. They won last year’s preseason finale over Seattle 41-31 and Jack Del Rio has a lot of young players capable of breakout efforts. They also have to find a capable replacement for starting tackle Menelik Watson, who ruptured his Achilles tendon.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Email: [email protected]