NFL wannabes have one final chance to impress coaches as the exhibition season comes to an end this weekend. Then a week from Thursday the real season begins as defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh hosts the team that had the best record in football last season, Tennessee.
Most teams used last week’s games as their truest test run for the regular season and figure to give their starters very limited playing time this week. The exception could be the teams relying on new quarterbacks as starters as this is a final opportunity to work on timing against live competition.
Next week’s column will have previews and Playoff projections for the 2009 season following the final roster cuts and announcements of opening day starters for teams still trying to resolve those issues. Hopefully the final week of preseason play will be relatively injury free. Injuries are often the major factor in determining which teams make or miss the Playoffs in a league where parity exists among the vast majority of teams. Few teams, as talented as they may be, are able to overcome the loss of a key player or two.
In looking at the final week of games it is helpful to follow the local news heading up to game day. Coaches may often look to stress one or two things in tweaking their team and getting set for the regular season. This is their final chance to tinker and adjust before the games count and sometimes these tidbits of information provide enough of an edge to tilt the betting scales in one direction. It’s often a case of how such information is interpreted by the betting public that will influence line moves throughout the preseason and especially in this final week of preseason play.
Here’s a look at the games that conclude the 2009 dress rehearsals.
Detroit at Buffalo: Detroit appears to have made some strides in preparing for the real season while Buffalo still has some kinks to straighten out in their new offensive schemes. The Bills may use this game to fine tune that offense. Preference is for BUFFALO.
Philadelphia at N Y Jets: The Eagles get one more chance to integrate QB Michael Vick into the offense before he must sit out up to a month and a half of the regular season. The Jets may give projected rookie starting QB Mark Sanchez extra playing time with the first unit. Preference is for the OVER.
N. Y. Giants at New England: Both teams are pretty much set for the regular season to begin and the focus will be on staying healthy. Thus we should see little in the way of innovative play calling and a heavy dose of running to keep this game as short as possible. Preference is for the UNDER.
Washington at Jacksonville: Washington’s offense has come along slowly this preseason and there may be more of a reliance on developing backup QB depth more than for many teams. Jacksonville also has some concerns at QB so we may see both teams place added emphasis on the passing game. Preference is for the OVER.
Baltimore at Atlanta: Both teams rode rookie quarterbacks and head coaches to the Playoffs last season and both seem very much set for 2009. Atlanta’s backups may be more capable of sustaining offensive drives even against a tough Baltimore defense. Preference is for ATLANTA.
Indianapolis at Cincinnati: Indianapolis is set for the regular season to begin and backups should see most of the action. Cincy starting QB Carson Palmer has been limited this pre-season due to injury and might play deeper into this game than most starters. And if not, the backup QB situation is precarious enough to suggest the Bengals will be the more aggressive offense. Preference is for CINCINNATI.
Pittsburgh at Carolina: Pittsburgh is set for the season to begin and should be mostly concerned with deciding on personnel at the back end of the roster. The Panthers have concerns at WR as starter Steve Smith is not 100 percent healthy. Preference is for CAROLINA.
Cleveland at Chicago: Chicago is off a shorter week after playing in Denver Sunday night. Cleveland gets a final chance to decide between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson at QB. The veteran Bears are likely to sit this one out while the Browns should be more creative on offense. Preference is for CLEVELAND.
Miami at New Orleans: New Orleans is off of one of the most impressive pre-season efforts in recent memory last week and are all set for the regular season to begin. Miami has also been sharp in winning all three of their games, playing well defensively. Preference is for the UNDER.
Green Bay at Tennessee: Both teams have played well in gearing up for the start of the season. The Titans have less time to prepare for the start of the season as they play next Thursday and may be inclined to give their starters minimal playing time. Preference is for GREEN BAY.
Kansas City at St Louis: Both teams have new coaches beginning yet another rebuilding process. Each team has given their fans reason for encouragement with their August play. Both teams are legitimately interested in building confidence for the start of the season which portends an entertaining contest. Preference is for the OVER.
Arizona at Denver: Things are a mess in Denver where starting QB Kyle Orten was banged up against the Bears, creating a greater sense of urgency at the position. Arizona is set for the season to start and is more apt to just go through the motions and hope to avoid injuries. Preference is for DENVER.
Oakland at Seattle: Things are also a mess in Oakland where the Raiders were blown out last week 45-7 on this field. Seattle is unbeaten in preseason play and appears more set for the season to begin. If ever there was a need for a strong preseason finish this would appear to be it. Preference is for OAKLAND.
Houston at Tampa Bay: Houston is off a short week of practice after playing Monday night. Tampa Bay still has issues at QB and has more decisions to make following this contest. Preference is for TAMPA BAY.
Dallas at Minnesota: Minnesota played on the road Monday night. Both teams are set at most positions with decent depth. The focus for both teams should be in filling out roster spots which often results in sloppy play featuring a lack of continuity on offense. Preference is for the UNDER.
San Francisco at San Diego: This game features a contrast in coaches with San Diego’s laid back Norv Turner opposing the 49ers’ intense Mike Singletary. The Chargers are loaded and, based on talent, are the team to beat this season. San Francisco may be more interested in using this as a test to gauge their progress in getting ready for the real season to begin. Preference is for SAN FRANCISCO.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe