Titans rookie Mariota looks for first touchdown drive

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Here’s how the schedule unfolds for dress-rehearsal week in the NFL:

Friday, Aug. 28

New England at Carolina: Whether or not there is any headway made on Tom Brady’s appeal, expect him to see his longest action this preseason against a sturdy Panthers defense. Cam Newton has gotten off to a rough start and began 0-for-4 with a pick against Miami in his first drive minus No. 1 WR Kelvin Benjamin, another victim of the preseason injury monster.

Tennessee at Kansas City: Alex Smith has looked dreadful thus far, turning the ball over with sloppy passes. He did finally complete a TD pass to a wideout last week, hitting new top target Jeremy Maclin. Establishing chemistry will be key here, while rookie Marcus Mariota will look to lead his first touchdown drive after being denied thus far.

Detroit at Jacksonville: Matthew Stafford has impressively marched the Lions offense down the field in his limited action despite top target Calvin Johnson sitting both games out as a healthy scratch. He’ll get some run against the Jaguars, who will see projected rookie starter T.J. Yeldon finally debut at tailback.

Saturday, Aug. 29

Pittsburgh at Buffalo: Losing center Maurkice Pouncey is a massive blow since centers of his caliber are hard to come by. Getting new starter Cody Wallace up to speed at such a key position will now be the main focus of the offense between now and the season opener. Fortunately, he does have experience. Bills head coach Rex Ryan hasn’t announced a starting QB for this one, which is setting up as the final battle before Matt Cassel or Tyrod Taylor is handed the reins.

N.Y. Jets at N.Y. Giants: Snoopy Bowl 2015 features a pair of 1-1 teams that have each seen their share of struggles thus far. Injuries have played a large role in the shaky starts for both MetLife Stadium tenants, so it will be fun to see how they respond in a game that always seems to be competitive since both teams typically want the back page spoils.

Atlanta at Miami: The Falcons haven’t had running backs Davonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman in either preseason game and are hoping those guys can each gain some seasoning in South Florida. QB Ryan Tannehill’s improvement has the Dolphins excited. He’s led the Fins to touchdowns in three of his four drives.

Minnesota at Dallas: Tony Romo made a cameo in San Francisco on Sunday and will undoubtedly get his longest in-game workload of the preseason here. Adrian Peterson will sit out another game, but the Vikings have averaged 23 points per game without him as the passing game has looked sharp.

Cleveland at Tampa Bay: Ex-Bucs starter Josh McCown is nursing an injured ring finger and backup Johnny Manziel had to cut Sunday’s practice short due to a sore elbow, so this could wind up being a difficult trip for the winless Browns. Rookie starting QB Jameis Winston should get plenty of varied defensive looks to work against, which can only aid his development.

Washington at Baltimore: Remember when we all doubted Joe Flacco? It wasn’t that long ago, so you should. There are still people who think it’s funny to debate whether the Super Bowl XLVII MVP is an elite quarterback. He plays like one, is paid like one and comes off posting career-highs in passing yards (3,986) and TD throws (27), so the answer is yes. On the other end of the spectrum is Robert Griffin III, who is both polarizing and currently mediocre despite all the hype. Sadly, new Ravens backup Matt Schaub is more accomplished than either or RG III or Kirk Cousins, which has to haunt owner Dan Snyder at night.

Chicago at Cincinnati: After playing at Tampa on Monday night, the Bengals turn around and host the Bears, so it will be interesting to see how head coach Marvin Lewis treats this game. The Bears’ depth has been impressive so far this preseason, as they’ve outscored opponents 38-0 in the second half of games thanks to the play of their backups. With Jay Cutler scheduled to play into the second half, Chicago is looking for him to lead the team to its first touchdown after coming up empty in the first two games.

Philadelphia at Green Bay: The Packers are reeling from the loss of Jordy Nelson and have probably seen enough out of Rodgers that they won’t see the value in exposing him here. Backup Scott Tolzien was also banged up in Pittsburgh, suffering a concussion, so this may not be a customary dress rehearsal for Green Bay. Chip Kelly’s desire to see Sam Bradford take more live-action snaps may be dwarfed by the need to keep him healthy and confident, so be sure to monitor this situation.

Indianapolis at St. Louis: Both of these teams have looked dreadful so far, but there’s no panic setting. The Colts will be looking to see how their o-line holds up against the Rams’ primary strength. St. Louis will be looking to get Nick Foles on track after a dreadful start thus far.

Seattle at San Diego: This one is slated for a national broadcast and should be entertaining. The Seahawks have predictably not looked like themselves given the rebuilt offensive line and the absence of Legion of Boom members in the secondary, so 0-2 isn’t a big deal. Pete Carroll will want to see improvement against a Chargers squad that will allow Philip Rivers to participate for the first time since he went 2-for-2 on the opening drive of the team’s preseason.

San Francisco at Denver: Peyton Manning wasn’t able to get a rhythm in his debut, coming up empty on four drives while racking up just 67 yards on 19 plays in Houston. Count on him playing into the second half here as he seeks to gain his footing in Gary Kubiak’s new offense. Colin Kaepernick is 4-for-8 for 27 yards in limited action, so the 49ers are looking forward to seeing how he fares with a heavier workload.

Sunday, Aug. 30

Houston at New Orleans: Losing Jimmy Graham to Seattle is a major blow, but there was justifiable criticism that Drew Brees was targeting him too much at the expense of some of the other targets on the roster. With an abundance of talented receivers to spread the ball to, Brees has looked like his old self. It should be a blast to see how quickly he can get rid of it against the Texans stout front seven. J.J. Watt should be rested and ready to go after sitting out Saturday’s game against the Broncos. The QB battle between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer surges on for Houston.

Arizona at Oakland: Despite the presence of elite rookie WR Amari Cooper to ease his burden, Derek Carr has only produced field goals and has largely misfired. The Cardinals secondary presents a great test for him. Carson Palmer has participated in both preseason games thus far, flashing a great deep ball and confidence in the pocket. If Palmer is kept upright, Arizona should stay in contention.

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. Contact Tony at [email protected].

About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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