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Preseason Notes - NFC

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AFC Preseason Notebook

Week 1 of the NFL preseason is in the books and if you rode the home teams last weekend, then you fared well at the betting counter as the hosts posted a 14-2 record.

Against the number, bettors watched the favorites go 12-4 straight up and 10-3-1 against the spread while the ‘under’ produced a 12-4 mark.

Looking ahead to the season week of the preseason, oddsmakers have listed the home team as favorites in all 16 games. Despite a flurry of ‘under’ winners last week, most totals are hovering above 40 points and the Eagles-Patriots matchup on Friday has a number hovering around 47.

Including the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3 that saw the Giants defeat the Bills 17-13 from Canton, the NFC owns a slight 7-6 advantage over the AFC in this year’s preseason.

In case you missed any of this year’s preseason, here are my notes for all 16 teams in the NFC.

Dallas: Despite a goal line stand when they forced a fumble from Ryan Mathews, the Cowboys defense looked horrendous. The Chargers moved the ball seemingly at will and beat Dallas on short runs, deep balls and everything in between, taking full advantage of a painfully obvious lack of depth. While Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten seeing their first action against Baltimore will get the headlines, Dallas' defensive improvement is what matters most for a unit that has already struggled with attrition. With Morris Claiborne nursing a sore knee, the team got bad news on Monday night when Jerry Jones revealed CB Orlando Skandrick will miss the regular season's first four games due to a substance abuse violation.

N.Y. Giants: Installing a new offense has been made tougher by David Wilson's retirement and Peyton Hillis' absence,  though rookie Andre Williams has taken to an increased role extremely well. The reigning Doak Walker Award winner is averaging six rushing yards per carry, but still needs to prove he can help protect Eli Manning and Curtis Painter,  elevated to a primary backup role ahead of Ryan Nassib.  Look for him to get extensive action with the ones and twos against Indianapolis in what is likely to be an extensive test to see whether he can truly handle an extensive load.

Philadelphia: Nick Foles was pressured heavily by Chicago's front seven and didn't handle it well, throwing a pair of ugly interceptions. He had his timing thrown off in a timing-based offense, which combined with new backup Mark Sanchez's strong debut, has everyone but Eagles coaches overreacting. Chip Kelly will stick with him and seems to have no fear of a third-year decline, but that doesn't mean panic won't become the overwhelming narrative if he plays poorly at New England. Joint practices with the Patriots may mean more than the actual game, especially with Darrelle Revis on a quest for redemption,  but Foles should do himself a favor and avoid turnovers to keep the Philly press from overreacting. 
 
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Washington:
Since Robert Griffin III looks like he's moving around like old times,  interest in Kirk Cousins is sure to ramp up again. That makes his next game against Cleveland a huge audition, taking place in a Monday nighter everyone will be watching because of Johnny Manziel. Given all the quarterbacks involved,  it sure would open eyes if he can be the most productive on the field. Look for Jay Gruden to be aggressive,  especially with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon suiting up for the first time.

Atlanta: Julio Jones wasn't even in uniform against Miami, and while his workload will increase,  it's highly doubtful that he'll play Friday night in Houston. That means the team can take a longer look at roster hopefuls beyond locks Roddy White and Harry Douglas. Rookies Geraldo Boldewijn, Bernard Reedy and Freddie Martino will all get their shot, but have to get more accurate QB play from backups T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree, who were a combined 13-for-31 against the Dolphins. 

Carolina: With Cam Newton, D'Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart scheduled to debut on Sunday night against the Chiefs, the Panthers will look to see how some of their pieces fit. Remember,  they had a pair of key offensive linemen retire and saw top receivers Steve Smith and Ted Ginn depart, so the opening game was really one you can discard outside of first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin's only reception going for 29 yards and six points. They managed 75 first-half yards. It will be interesting to see how long they participate,  but the first meaningful action of the season is set to come after Carrie Underwood's theme song plays on NBC.

New Orleans: Drew Brees says he might have the fastest weapons around him that he's ever worked with, surprising because jitterbug Darren Sproles is now playing for the Eagles. Rookie Brandin Cooks' first-round selection raised some eyebrows given the team's other needs, but suddenly looks like an absolute steal since the Rams had no prayer of staying in front of him. He'll debut in front of the home crowd at the Superdome against Tennessee on Saturday and should expect to be on the Titans radar. He managed to remain an NFL secret for about two minutes. 

Tampa Bay: Vincent Jackson only got one grab in the 16-10 loss in Jacksonville, so it's not a huge deal that No. 7 pick Mike Evans goes into the preseason home opener against Miami without a reception. He was targeted only twice, so expect to see a concerted effort to get him on the same page with QBs Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, even if it requires force-feeding him. The Buccaneers did see a productive debut from rookie Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, a tight end taken in the second round who could make the offense dynamic alongside new acquisition Brandon Myers. Expect new offensive coordinator Jeff Telford to seek out bigger plays in his second test drive with this bunch.

Chicago: The Bears should've had a far easier time with Philadelphia, but left points on the board after turnovers and were really sloppy on special teams. Josh Huff took a kickoff 102 yards inside of the first half's two- minute warning, a horrid look for long-time special teams coordinator Joe DeCamilis. His unit muffed a punt and had a field goal blocked, so you can probably count on a cleaner effort in Thursday's nationally televised home game against the Jaguars.  Head coach Marc Trestman has already stated plans to move people around, which means there will be an increased sense of urgency and attention to detail from guys looking to impress in an area that often plays tiebreaker when deciding who makes the team.

Detroit: Rookie tight end Eric Ebron went from being unlikely to play to being extremely active in his first stint of action against Cleveland. The Lions declined to disclose the nature of the injury, but felt comfortable enough with his mobility to target him four times, getting him a reception in a game situation as they look to feed his confidence following a drop-filled start to training camp. The 10th pick in this past NFL Draft figures to feature heavily in the next few exhibitions, and between center Travis Swanson, the second-string offense will have two potential game-changing rookies in the mix at Oakland, which bodes well for them against an opponent that was held scoreless for more than three quarters in Minnesota. Swanson will have to clean up his snap game, however, since he had a key turnover against the Browns that nearly sealed a loss before Kellen Moore rescued the result with some clutch late throws.

Green Bay: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was instructed by head coach Mike McCarthy to keep coverages simple and not give anything away since the Packers will visit Seattle on the opening Thursday night. Still, they left the first team defense on the field following a turnover in Tennessee to see whether they would hold up. A second straight road date against the Rams should call for another vanilla approach, especially on turf, but it's worth pointing out that Green Day's only preseason win in 2013 was a 19-7 result in St. Louis in Week 2.

Minnesota: The Vikings sound ready to really test expected starter Matt Cassel, who only got 10 snaps in the opener, looking sharp in completing 5-of-6. The Cardinals defense is down a few men, but should offer a great look with their ability to generate pressure. Rookie second-rounder Teddy Bridgewater will see the bulk of time after Cassel, leaving mop-up duty for Cristian Ponder. That could create a potentially beneficial situation to have a former starter against third-string defense that gave up the only points against the Raiders, especially if raw project Logan Thomas sees late action for Arizona and the game is close. The Vikings drew over 50,000 for the preseason opener.

Arizona: The Cardinals aren't hiding their excitement over third-rounder John Brown, a Pittsburg State product from South Florida viewed as an immediate difference-maker. He caught five passes for 87 yards in a 32-0 rout of Houston,  working well with backup Drew Stanton after catching a 25-yard strike from Carson Palmer in his only series co-exist in with the starting QB and top receiver Larry Fitzgerald.  He's a potential x-factor worth monitoring closely as he takes the field at Minnesota,  and the fact his alma mater's teams are nicknamed the Gorillas makes it al, the easier to root for him. 

San Francisco: Although rookie Carlos Hyde looked like the load he was expected to be running the football, the rest of the 49ers offensive reserves left much to be desired in the 23-3 loss in Baltimore.  The 49ers are hoping to get a boost from ex-Bills star Stevie Johnson, but he didn't get much help from Colin Kaepernick backups Blaine Gabbert, Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who went a combined 12-for-26 for 109 yards and two interceptions. Kaepernick should throw more than a single pass in Saturdays afternoon home date with Denver, but the lack of production beyond him is alarming and could put them at a disadvantage against the Brock Osweiler-led Broncos second-string that got so many quality reps in turning away the Seahawks last week.

Seattle: The Seahawks saw their nine-game preseason win streak snapped when Terrelle Pryor was intercepted at the goal line, but he did a real nice job marching down the field,  showing off better accuracy in addition to his usual speed and elusiveness. It wouldn't be surprising to see Pryor push Tarvaris Jackson for the top backup spot behind Russell Wilson, and he should have plenty of reps since Pete Carroll isn't likely to expose Wilson much due to the multiple absences along the offensive line. Starters Russell Okung, Max Unger and James Carpenter all missed the Denver game, but are back at practice,  slowly working their way back from nagging injuries. San Diego could take advantage,  but the Seahawks have lost only one home game -- preseason, regular season or playoffs -- in their last 22 outings, a string that began Aug. 11, 2012. 

St. Louis:  Rookie running back Tre Mason showed terrific burst and drew praise from Rams legend Marshall Faulk on the St. Louis broadcast.  The Hall of Famer believes Mason is a grinder who can be a 25-30 carry guy in spite of his small stature. Even though though Zac Stacy looks like the starter and Mason opened with the fourth-string, he ended up with 51 yards on 15 carries despite seeing a few big runs called back against New Orleans.  If he continues to excel, he'll be a weapon throughout the preseason in winnable games against Green Bay, Cleveland and Miami. 


  
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