Last call: NFL football check weaker teams

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It’s “Last Call” time for the NFL teams as the regular season begins Sept. 8.

As the college season gets underway this Thursday, 30 of the pro 32 teams get their final chance to make personnel decisions based on performance under game conditions in their final preseason games. Two teams, Oakland and Seattle, wind up the “exhibition” season on Friday.

Historically most teams give their starters virtually no playing time in the final tune up for the regular season. While that largely should be true again may see more coaches give starters a couple of series or perhaps a quarter of action before turning the game over to the reserves.

It will be most interesting to see how coaches of the weaker teams, the ones likely to view 2011 season as a rebuilding season, approach the final game.

Two teams that immediately come to mind are Carolina and Cincinnati, both of which are expected to rely on rookie quarterbacks this season. Now, whereas the prospects for the Panthers and Bengals to have successful seasons are not very high, all teams do start 0-0.

The athletic mentality is almost always positive, believing in the “yes we can” rather than the “no we can’t.”

Often new coaches, especially of teams looking to start over, may want to enter the regular season on a high note, building confidence. Other coaches will continue to place no emphasis on winning or losing this final tuneup, but rather take advantage of this final chance to evaluate depth and final few roster spots.

THURSDAY

Lions at Bills: Detroit continues to build momentum and even though it was preseason its “exhibition” against New England last weekend was impressive. Buffalo has many more questions to answer in getting ready for the season and might be in more of a position to play with a sense of urgency. BILLS.

Colts at Bengals: Both teams have QB issues with the Colts’ Peyton Manning uncertain to start the season and the Bengals set to rely on rookie Andy Dalton. Indy signed the “retired” Kerry Collins and should need to give him more work than normal. Dalton simply needs more reps with the starting unit. We could see an emphasis on execution of offensive plays. OVER.

Chiefs at Packers: Kansas City continues to place no emphasis on winning in the preseason under third season coach Todd Haley. Green Bay seems pretty well set. With only a week before hosting New Orleans next Thursday in a game that counts, the Pack figures to be very conservative and try to shorten the game. UNDER.

Eagles at Jets: Hurricane Irene caused alterations in the plans for both teams. Each is set in most positions and may well treat this game as nothing more than a controlled scrimmage, perhaps even by “gentlemen’s agreement.” UNDER.

Bucs at Redskins: Both are 2-1 in preseason play. The Redskins still have some decisions to make at QB with both John Beck and Rex Grossman vying for the starting job. Josh Freeman is entrenched as the Tampa starting QB. With more at stake in the Redskins’ huddle, the edges are with the hosts. REDSKINS.

Ravens at Falcons: Both teams are set to start the season. This game should be about evaluating depth and avoiding injuries. The starters may see very limited action and when they are playing expect a heavy dose of running the football and short passes. UNDER.

Rams at Jaguars: St. Louis is unbeaten this preseason and has looked very sharp on both sides of the football. Jacksonville has had some issues with the offense and especially with the defense. There is a greater sense of urgency in preparing to start the regular season. JAGUARS.

Cowboys at Dolphins: Both teams are 2-1. Miami’s starting QB will be Chad Henne and he looked very sharp in last Saturday’s loss at Tampa Bay. Dallas seems pretty set and figures to work on depth, especially along the offensive line. DOLPHINS.

Giants at Patriots: The Giants have very little time to prepare after playing the Jets on Monday night as a result of Irene. New England was also affected. The Pats were not pleased with the spanking suffered in Detroit, giving coach Bill Belichick reason to bring a higher degree of urgency. PATRIOTS.

Steelers at Panthers: Pittsburgh has little reason to play the starters for more than a series or two. The Panthers should need to give rookie QB Cam Newton as many reps as possible. New coach Ron Rivera places a great emphasis on his specialty, defense. UNDER.

Texans at Vikings: Houston is one of three unbeaten teams in the preseason and has looked sharp on both sides of the football. They should just go through the motions in this game. Minnesota is much more in need of a confidence building performance and aggressiveness. VIKINGS.

Browns at Bears: Both teams are 1-2 in preseason although the Browns have been sharp on offense. The Bears have struggled with their starters to put up points. They have done a better job the past two games in protecting QB Jay Cutler and should again place emphasis on work along the offensive line. UNDER.

Titans at Saints: New Orleans looked sharp in Sunday’s game at Oakland and is set to start the season. Coach Sean Payton is likely to be more concerned with backups than with his starters. Tennessee has more issues to address with the offense and could be interested in forcing the pace. OVER.

Broncos at Cards: Denver has made nice progress. The decision to not trade QB Kyle Orton and keep him as starter could have them as one of the more improved teams. He figures to see very limited action here. Arizona may want new QB Kevin Kolb to have one final tune up with the huge dropoff at QB. CARDS.

49ers at Chargers: The 49ers have struggled all preseason on offense, twice scoring single digits. San Diego is pretty set to start the season and will likely not play the starters much. New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has been trying to instill a tougher mental attitude and might place a higher emphasis on a strong performance on both sides of the football. 49ERS.

FRIDAY

Raiders at Seahawks: The preseason concludes with a pair of teams that have many issues to resolve. Oakland is winless and has not looked sharp on either side of the football. Seattle is still integrating a new QB and WR combination. We might see both coaches show a willingness to go beyond the normal plain vanilla efforts to answer many questions. OVER.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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