Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:57 PM
Thursday's Preseason Essentials
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Pittsburgh (-4/33) at Carolina, 7 p.m. ET: Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes QB Cam Newton will suit up and play in Week 1 but he’s taking no chances with any starters in this contest after playing most for just three brief possessions in last week’s 10-3 loss to the Patriots. Kyle Allen misfired on 13 of his 16 pass attempts against New England, but with Newton’s status uncertain, Carolina’s No. 2 will likely be pulled early in favor of backups Will Grier and Taylor Heinicke. While Mike Tomlin doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on the preseason, he’s won the final meaningless game in eight of 12 and will be taking one last long look at Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs, who have been locked in a race to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. Both have been far more productive than their counterparts with the Panthers.
Minnesota (-3/35) at Buffalo, 7 p.m. ET: Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is now 20-4 in preseason action after cashing for backers all three times his group has taken the field this month. It’s worth knowing that half of his losses have come in this Week 4. Minnesota third-string QB Kyle Sloter has the top QB rating this preseason and has thrown for 10 scores without being intercepted in exhibitions over the past three years. Buffalo is looking to finish 4-0 in the preseason for the first time in franchise history and has seen WR Duke Williams emerge as a playmaker who could wind up being the difference if rookie QB Tyree Jackson is accurate in what should be his most extensive action.
Indianapolis at Cincinnati (-3/33.5), 7 p.m. ET: With Andrew Luck retiring, Jacoby Brissett will skip another game altogether as he prepares to take over, which means we’ll see more of Chad Kelly and Phillip Walker. Kelly was impressive in his start and seems to be ahead of Walker, who would still be the primary backup to Brissett since Kelly is suspended the first few weeks. That could mean a longer run for Kelly. Zac Taylor will need to continue putting his stamp on the Bengals in workouts since A.J. Green, John Ross and Tyler Boyd have each missed time. Undrafted rookie Damion Willis has already been named a Week 1 starter, so depth at the position will be on display for rookie QB Ryan Finley, who looks to wrap up a preseason where he’s completed 73 percent of his passes, throwing for three scores.
Philadelphia at N.Y. Jets (-4/35), 7 p.m. ET, NFLN: 40-year-old Josh McCown basically rolled out of retirement and fit right in with the Eagles, demonstrating enough over a couple of scoring drives that he’s expected to join Carson Wentz in sitting out this annual end-of-preseason get-together with New York. The teams have played every year since 2001 and the last three meetings have failed to produce more than 26 points, so we’ll see how sprinkling Adam Gase into the equation affects results. He joked that the Jets would put the ball in the air 55 times at minimum. Trevor Siemian, Luke Falk and Davis Webb won’t be that busy but should sling it more than New York did in this game with Todd Bowles in charge.
Atlanta at Jacksonville (-4/32), 7 p.m. ET: The Falcons are in danger of finishing their third straight preseason under Mike Quinn winless. Matt Ryan has barely played and the team has been outscored 57-11 in the second half, so there’s nothing to like about backing a team that most wants to identify a starting kicker given how Blair Walsh and Giorgio Tavecchio have struggled. The Jags have been the lowest-scoring team this preseason (6.3 ppg) and should end up giving Alex McGough the majority of the snaps here since rookie Gardner Minshew has run the offense well enough to have cemented the backup role behind Nick Foles. McGough and Foles are the only Jacksonville QBs who have produced touchdown-scoring drives thus far.
Baltimore (-6/33.5) at Washington, 7:30 p.m. ET: The Ravens will try and come up with their 17th consecutive preseason win on the heels of a win that was cut short and therefore resulted in no action at the ticket counter. They dominated another first half and had won every exhibition quarter until losing the third 15-0 against Philadelphia. John Harbaugh is just 6-5 in the final week of the preseason and 30-7 in the other games, so don’t go loading up on Baltimore blindly. Rookie Trace McSorley accounted for three scores but probably won’t see as much action as Joe Callahan. The ‘Skins will start Case Keenum in Week 1 and rookie Dwayne Haskins against the Ravens. Jalan McClendon will likely see the field come second-half.
N.Y. Giants at New England (-2.5/35), 7:30 p.m. ET: While Daniel Jones’ has received more attention this preseason, fellow rookie Jarrett Stidham has been equally as sharp. Bill Belichick has a winning record in every preseason week except the final one, so don’t be fooled by him calling this “Giants week” to open his Monday presser. He knows these games carry little importance. For veteran primary backup Brian Hoyer, it might be one last opportunity to hold off Stidham since he sat out Wednesday’s win. Pat Shurmur has the Giants in position for a perfect preseason and featured Jones ahead of Eli Manning last week, watching his No. 6 pick finish 9-for-11 for 141 yards in closing the first half in Cincinnati. He’ll start before giving way to backups Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney.
Detroit at Cleveland (-5/33.5), 7:30 p.m. ET: While Browns fans won’t see Baker Mayfield, they’ll be thrilled to see what Braxton Miller can do as the former Ohio State QB-turned-wide receiver is expected to be showcased as a target. There seems to be a clear divide between the 53 set to make the roster and the guys finishing out the string and those expected to be gone after this game, but Garrett Gilbert could use it as a showcase since he’s stating his final case to stick as the No. 3 behind Mayfield and Drew Stanton. Rookie David Blough should close things out. Matt Patricia’s Lions got stomped 35-17 in this same matchup to wrap up the preseason in 2018, so he’s just 1-6 in exhibition play. Matthew Stafford will sit, Tom Savage is just working his way back from a concussion and AAF product Luis Perez was just signed, so we could see a lot of well-traveled veteran Josh Johnson as the Lions try to decide on a host of hopefuls for their final receiver spots.
L.A. Chargers at San Francisco (-4.5/33.5), 10 p.m. ET, NFLN: Philip Rivers and Tyrod Taylor will watch impressive rookie Easton Stick look to overcome Cardale Jones for a No. 3 QB spot that may not necessarily be available considering L.A. head coach Anthony Lynn closed with just two last season. Both have had some promising moments despite the Chargers coming in 0-3 and averaging just 15 points per game, so this could be a spot where you’ll want to take the points and bank on a breakthrough from two guys desperate to impress and capable of doing so. The 49ers are perfect through their three games and will keep Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard on their final 53, making them a candidate to trade one of the backups to a team in need of a quality arm. That could mean extended time for rookie Wilton Speight, who isn’t likely to have explosive rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd out there alongside him since both appear to be roster locks.
Oakland at Seattle (-2.5/33.5), 10 p.m. ET: Pete Carroll has always talked about how important winning has been to him regardless of the situation, which is why he’s historically been one of the most effective head coaches to ride in these exhibitions. Jon Gruden may take wanting to prevail to another level considering he’s 8-1 in these meaningless Week 4 games. On the heels of a successful “Hard Knocks” run and with an unbeaten preseason on the line after Nathan Peterman helped the Raiders beat Green Bay in Winnipeg, we should see him and Mike Glennon duel for the No. 2 gig behind Derek Carr here. The Seahawks have to identify receivers capable of making plays given all the attrition they’ve suffered at the position, which could mean a heavy dose of Geno Smith since Paxton Lynch hasn’t played since taking a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit. J.T. Barrett should close.
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