The NFL regular season begins a week from Thursday when the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants host division rival Washington.
The 32 NFL teams have one free roll remaining before the games start to count. This weekend marks the final round of preseason games and teams hope the fate that befell the Giants this past weekend does not wreak havoc on their plans for a successful season.
The three most feared words during training camp are "season ending injury."
The Giants were dealt a severe blow in their preseason game against the Jets on Saturday when one of the best defensive linemen in the league, Osi Umenyiora was lost for the season.
Coupled with the retirement of Michael Strahan the Giants’ pass rush (responsible for so much of their success last season) is now a weakness that opponents shall devise game plans to exploit.
There is a strong likelihood that the Giants are in discussions with Strahan, dangling dollar signs to coax him out of the television booth and back onto the field. And it’s not as if Strahan could not get back up to speed quickly as he held out during training camp last season.
But that’s why we see starters play sparingly during the preseason and why many are held out of games entirely. It’s no coincidence that those teams that make the playoffs each season are usually the ones that suffer the fewest key injuries. Although injuries are never welcome, it’s better to lose a player during games that count rather than the glorified scrimmages that are passed off on the public as "preseason games."
Most teams will take a very cautious and conservative approach to this weekend, giving much of the playing time to backups as coaching staffs have to make their final cuts to trim their rosters.
Injuries during the season will mean that many of the players who survive the final cuts will see playing time at some point during the season. So these final cuts are extremely important and coaches want to make sure they make the best possible decisions as the start of the "real" season is just a week away.
Extreme caution is urged if you are to bet the games this weekend as execution is more important that winning and losing. The winning and losing is of paramount importance next week.
Here’s a brief look at the final weekend of "exhibition" games.
Thursday, Aug. 28
Jets +2½ at Eagles (35½): Jets’ QB Brett Favre may see some added playing time as he continues to get comfortable with his new team. That means the starters on the offensive unit may see more playing time usual for a final preseason game. The Eagles are pretty set and are more likely to give their backups a lot of action. JETS.
Lions +2 at Bills (35): Both teams are off of solid efforts in their Game 3 dress rehearsals. Each figures to take a conservative approach with more time on run blocking. UNDER.
Patriots +3 at Giants (34): Patriots QB Tom Brady may see limited time. No matter. This Super Bowl "rematch" won’t have any of the intensity of their last meeting. With backups seeing most of the playing time, the score may be higher than the 31 tallied last February. OVER.
Falcons +3 at Ravens (34): Atlanta has named rookie Matt Ryan as starting QB as yet another season of rebuilding takes place. Baltimore has a more veteran roster but also has issues at the QB position where both Kyle Boller and Troy Smith are likely to see action. RAVENS.
Jaguars +3 at Redskins (34): Jacksonville is pretty much set and likely to exercise caution after RB Jones-Drew was banged up last week against Tampa. The Redskins are still learning how to execute coach Jim Zorn’s new offense. The starters may see added playing time. REDSKINS.
Bengals +3½ at Colts (35): The Bengals have many more concerns than the Colts, though there is the uncertain status of QB Peyton Manning for the season opener. Still, under coach Tony Dungy the Colts have never placed great emphasis on winning in the preseason. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis is on the hot seat. BENGALS.
Panthers +3½ at Steelers (36): Carolina’s offense was impressive in last week’s rout of Washington so expect the starters to see limited time. The Steelers have been conservative most of the preseason and don’t figure to change. UNDER.
Bears PK at Browns (38½): Chicago has issues on offense, while Cleveland’s defense has been woeful. This could actually be a very entertaining game as Chicago works on its offense. OVER.
Vikings +2½ at Cowboys (36½): Both teams are set with their most pressing concerns being filling out the roster. Minnesota coach Brad Childress might like to see more points on the board, having just 50 in three games. VIKINGS.
Bucs +2½ at Texans (36½):Both teams are set at most positions. Houston has been mentioned as a fashionable longshot for playoff contention and may be more likely to want momentum heading into the games that count. TEXANS.
Rams +4 at Chiefs (36½): The Rams finally got RB Steven Jackson in camp after a long holdout and might want to give him some game contact. Kansas City has been woeful on offense and in greater need of establishing some optimism. OVER.
Dolphins +3 at Saints (35): Both teams are off shutout wins. New Orleans is more set to start the season, whereas Miami would like to be sure new QB Chad Pennington is prepared for Week 1 against his former team, the Jets. DOLPHINS.
Titans +2½ at Packers (37): Both teams are likely to use this game to evaluate backups and work on run-blocking for offense and pass rushing on defense. UNDER.
Friday, Aug. 29
Chargers NL at 49ers (NT):The Chargers had a short week to prepare after playing on Monday night and might look at this game as a practice session. The 49ers have offensive concerns and in a greater sense of urgency. 49ERS.
Raiders NL at Seahawks (NT): Seattle is also off a short week of practice. The Raiders might be apt to open up the offense. The Seahawks would like to give QBs Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace some playing time. OVER.
Broncos +3 at Cards (38): Arizona named Kurt Warner its starting QB over struggling Matt Leinart. Denver coach Mike Shanahan is not overly concerned with results. His team is pretty much set. CARDS.