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(Straight Up & Against the Spread Records)
Washington at Buffalo
Even though he's a rookie, Robert Griffin III won't be handled any differently in his debut, Mike Shanahan has assured D.C. media. In fact, expect fellow draftee Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) to play more, taking the field with third-stringers in the second half. RG III will play the first 15-20 plays, while Rex Grossman will finish the half and play with the second-string. The Bills aren't going to make it easy on Buffalo, as DC Dave Wannstedt is eager to see how much his revamped defense has grasped from the early part of camp.
The Bills have their own QB curiosity, having taken up the Vince Young cause in the offseason. He'll follow up Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is set to see about the same amount of action as Griffin. Considering how much of a timing-based offense Buffalo's passing game is, don't expect a lot of continuity. Tyler Thigpen should finish out the second half.
Although all eyes will be on the quarterbacks, the Redskins are desperate to set a foundation that leads to a stronger running game than had last year. Evan Royster will get first crack, but Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and rookies Alfred Morris and Lennon Creer are all hoping to make a dent.
Shanahan (47-29 SU, 42-32-2 ATS) is noted for his success in preseason games, as the discipline he instills starts from the moment players report. We'll see if that success continues with two rookie quarterbacks to bring along. Shanahan is also a noted for higher-scoring games in August (48-28 O/U). Meanwhile, Chan Gailey has been a disaster (4-14 SU, 5-13-1 ATS) with his teams, placing little importance in results of games.
New Orleans at New England
The Saints will be playing their second preseason game before most teams play their first. They also scrimmaged with the Patriots on Tuesday and Wednesday, so this game might feel a little anti-climactic come Thursday night. According to reports from both the Boston Globe and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints got the better of the Patriots in Tuesday's competition, taking advantage up front.
New England's major concerns are on that offensive line, since Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer remain 'out' and there are multiple reserve tackles already ruled 'out' for this contest. Considering how strong the Saints pass rush looked against Arizona, Tom Brady will likely be doing plenty of handing off before giving way to capable backups Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
For what it's worth, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were the two standouts in Tuesday's practice, so they'll certainly aid the passing game for however long they participate. The Saints' Jimmy Graham adds to the embarrassment of riches at tight end in this matchup, though after coming up with his back hurting on Wednesday, may not participate. New Orleans' primary red zone threat was held without a catch in limited action against Arizona.
Running back Mark Ingram scored the first touchdown of the NFL preseason but New Orleans is exercising caution as he comes back from knee and toe injuries, so look for limited participation from the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner. Chris Ivory ran hard and will get the bulk of the carries after Pierre Thomas. Rookies Travaris Cadet and Joe Banyard had nice moments on Sunday night and will be counted on heavily in the second half. New England's best back in camp thus far has been rookie Brandon Bolden of Ole Miss, so expect him to factor in substantially.
Bill Belichick and Saints interim coach Joe Vitt both attended the funeral of Reid's son, Garrett, as owner Tom Benson flew a contingent on a private plane on Tuesday afternoon, so it's been a weird week given the circumstances, both in terms of fraternization and New Orleans participating in its second live game in five days. Belichick (38-31 SU, 35-28 ATS) has seen his teams be a prolific 'over' team in preseason action, surpassing the posted total in 43 of 68 games (63 pct.). Vitt is (1-0 SU/ATS, O-1, O/U).
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia
Unfortunately, the tragic death of Andy Reid's eldest son, Garrett, plays a huge role in this first preseason contest. The team took it hard, as he'd been around many of the veterans for so long and everyone feels for their head coach. Reid surprised many by returning to practice on Wednesday and taking questions, hoping to put the matter behind him, in part, because "I know my son wouldn't want it any other way." This has the makings of an emotional game for Philadelphia, a polar opposite of what's normal for a first preseason game. Michael Vick has already stated "our entire season will be dedicated to Garrett." Vick will start and likely lead multiple drives.
Ben Roethlisberger has been dealing with an ankle injury, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin plans on starting him and giving him a drive or two so he and new coordinator to have some film to review. Usual suspects Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich have shown what they can do, so the plan is to see what former Texas A&M standout Jarrod Johnson can bring to the table.
With a replacement for Rashard Mendenahll sought, Pittsburgh is interested in getting a feel for its stable of running backs. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are known commodities, so the key is to look at Baron Batch and super-fast rookie Chris Rainey out of Florida. Batch tore an ACL around this time last year and missed the season. All Pittsburgh backs will be working behind an offensive line starting rookie draft picks Mike Adams and David DeCastro.
Due in part to his longevity, Reid (21-31 SU, 22-28 ATS) is even with Belichick for most preseason losses among active coaches. Tomlin (16-5 SU, 13-8 ATS) has the second-highest winning percentage (76.2) of any active NFL coach.
Baltimore at Atlanta
Falcons season ticket-holders are going to have to wait an week to see a lot of their team's goodies. It sounds like Mike Smith's plan is to give both first-team units a shorter stint than usual, subscribing to the theory that he wants to see the younger guys out of the gate.
The Ravens appear willing to let their players participate a little longer, as John Harbaugh has told reporters he'll likely even allow the younger starters to play into the second quarter. Still, proceed with caution, since multiple top offensive linemen could miss the contest and QB Joe Flacco has already demonstrated enough growth in camp that he won't be risked. Baltimore will follow up his appearance with top backup Tyrod Taylor, followed by newcomers Curtis Painter and rookie Chester Stewart (Temple). Atlanta will follow up Matt Ryan with incumbent backups Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson, likely followed by the prolifically inconsistent Dominique Davis, who is hoping to open eyes...
Baltimore has had a host of bodies at multiple positions miss large portions of camp, so don't be fooled by the fact many finally started shaking off some rust this week. Their lack of preparation likely means Harbaugh is set to ride with guys who have virtually no chance of making the roster in the final 30 minutes.
Harbaugh (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS) has had a lot of success in the preseason thus far in his young career, while Mike Smith (6-10 SU, 7-7-1 ATS) hasn't had as much luck. Both of them have seen the 'under' come in more often than not, a combined 21 of 32 times (66%).
Green Bay at San Diego
Aaron Rodgers against Philip Rivers on ESPN! Can't wait to see how little they actually play, but odds are decent neither get more than a series. Rodgers is a gamer, but with tackles Derek Sherrod and Marshall Newhouse 'out' and Andrew Datko playing human turnstile early, it's hard to imagine Mike McCarthy gambling with the franchise. Rivers has seen his offensive line restructured after all of last year's attrition, but haven't had Brandyn Dombrowski or rookie Johnnie Troutman all camp, have seen LT Jared Gaither miss significant time with back spasms and already see saw Rivers come up lame with a groin injury on Monday. Expect to see a heavy dose of Graham Harrell vs. rookie Jarrett Lee out of LSU, since top backup Charlie Whitehurst is out with a sore MCL and longshot Kevin O'Connell was a late arrival.
The fourth quarter is expected to be closed out by Green Bay rookie B.J. Coleman, a seventh-round pick out of Chattanooga hoping to stick as the No. 3. It's definitely a big night for him, since a subpar performance could lead to the Packers seeking a veteran alternative.
Greg Jennings and Tory Gurley are receivers who have also been ruled 'out,' which means that return weapons Randall Cobb and Shaky Smithson will get to showcase their hands with Green Bay's backups. The Chargers have seen their receiving corps overhauled, adding Robert Meachem, Roscoe Parrish and Eddie Royal, so they'll get a crack at making Lee's job easier in his first game significant action in 10 months. Since starting the regular-season win against Alabama and being demoted in favor of Jordan Jefferson, Lee played sparingly, standing on the sideline as LSU was blanked by the Tide in the National Championship game.
Can't get more .500 than what San Diego's Norv Turner (28-28 SU, 24-26 ATS) and Green Bay's McCarthy (12-12 SU, 12-11 ATS) have accomplished in their preseason careers. They'll look to keep their All-Pro quarterbacks healthy above all else.
Denver at Chicago
All eyes are going to be on Peyton Manning, but it's worth stating the obvious that you better not blink or you may miss him, especially since projected right tackle Orlando Franklin has sat early with concussion issues and Ryan Harris won't play. When Manning is out there (10-12 plays, reports the Denver Post), word is that his cohesion with former Colts Brandon Stokley and Jacob Tamme is further ahead of everyone else. There's hope Demariyus Thomas can be the big-play threat, so don't be surprised if that's who they take a shot with.
Behind Manning, John Fox and OC Mike McCoy have to pick a backup from Adam Weber and newcomers Caleb Hanie and rookie Brock Osweiler. Hanie, formerly with Chicago, gets first crack. Hanie is likely to see the bulk of the first-half option, so be aware that the Bears are quite capable of playing against his tendencies. The Broncos are sure to feature the tight end as much as anyone this season, so even though Manning won't play much, Tamme and new acquisition Joel Dreesen could be showcased. There isn't much depth beyond them...
Running back Knowshon Moreno is now a fourth-stringer and fighting for a job, so if you're looking to hinge your wagon to someone who could be motivated, that's your guy. He'll be essential to Denver's cause late, especially since promising rookie Ronnie Hillman (San Diego State) has been dealing with a hamstring issue the team is sure to be careful with.
John Fox is a defensive mastermind and now collaborating with Jack Del Rio, so look for the Broncos to be a force on that side of the ball. It may not happen right out of the gate, as numerous would-be regulars have already missed time, preventing much continuity. Projected starters Justin Bannan and Quinton Carter won't play, while newcomers Keith Brooking and Jim Leonhard are also 'out.'
The headlines on Chicago's end lie in the reunion between QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall, especially with Champ Bailey on the other side of the ball. That will provide short-term fun. Rookie Alshon Jeffery is also set for a big debut with Devin Hester, Eric Weems and Earl Bennett having been so limited thus far. Dane Zanzenbacher has impressed and is also a WR to watch. Like Matt Forte and potentially Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher is likely to play sparingly, if at all.
Lovie Smith (16-17 SU, 15-17 ATS) and Fox (21-19 SU, 18-21 ATS) are veterans who are looking primarily at their third and fourth-stringers here, unlikely to be consumed by the curiosity of playing with some their fancier toys, especially given the lack of preparation.