The final week of preseason offers the last look at all 32 teams before the beginning of the regular season. That also means it’s the final opportunity for players vying for larger roles or roster spots to make an impression in game action before final cuts trim rosters down to 53 players. Here are the storylines to monitor for each team in the third and final week of preseason games.
Steelers at Falcons (Thursday, Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. EDT)
Steelers: Is the hype Warren-ted?
Second-year running back Jaylen Warren has mixed in with the starters throughout the preseason, and he took his only carry last week to the house from 62 yards out. Warren should get one more opportunity to showcase his skills and prove that he can be more than just Najee Harris’s backup.
Falcons: Heinicke on tap
Desmond Ridder will open the regular season as Atlanta’s starting quarterback, but the 2022 third-round pick hasn’t earned much job security. Meanwhile, Taylor Heinicke is one of the league’s highest-paid backups after signing a two-year, $14 million deal with the Falcons in the offseason. Heinicke threw for 162 yards without a touchdown or interception last week, but he could put more pressure on Ridder with another strong showing in the preseason finale.
Colts at Eagles (Thursday, Aug. 24 at 8:00 p.m. EDT)
Colts: Finding clarity in a murky running back room
Jonathan Taylor (ankle) still hasn’t gained medical clearance to play, and it’s unclear if he even wants to suit up for the Colts come the regular season — the team recently gave him permission to seek a trade. Zack Moss (arm) also may not be available for the start of the season, so Evan Hull, Deon Jackson and Kenyan Drake should each get another opportunity to prove themselves worthy of starting in the regular season. None of the three healthy running backs have impressed much through two preseason games.
Eagles: Who will make the team at wide receiver?
The Eagles are likely to keep at least one more wide receiver behind A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins (hamstring) and Olamide Zaccheaus (shoulder). Tyrie Cleveland made a strong push for the fifth spot in the preseason opener, but he has subsequently been placed on IR after sustaining a neck injury and concussion in the second preseason game. Will one or more of Devon Allen, Greg Ward (lower body), or Britain Covey (hamstring) lay claim to a roster spot with a big game, or will a surprise contender emerge from deep down the depth chart?
Lions at Panthers (Friday, Aug. 25 at 8:00 p.m. EDT)
Lions: Campbell super
Selected 18th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, linebacker Jack Campbell’s expected to be a key contributor from the get-go in Detroit. He has 11 tackles (six solo) through two preseason games and will have one more chance to rack up experience before the games start to count.
Panthers: Protect the Young
Through two preseason games, the Panthers’ porous offensive line hasn’t given rookie first overall pick Bryce Young much of a chance to prove himself. The lack of protection presents a stark contrast to what Young grew accustomed to while playing at Alabama, but the big boys up front still have a chance to change the narrative before the regular season begins.
Patriots at Titans (Friday, Aug. 25 at 8:15 p.m. EDT)
Patriots: How Boutte that?
After generating buzz in camp, rookie wideout Kayshon Boutte scored a 42-yard TD in the Patriots’ second preseason game. The sixth-round pick has the inside track on a roster spot and could help his case to make the team with another strong showing.
Titans: Willis he or won’t-is he?
Malik Willis was leading the Titans’ backup quarterback competition against Will Levis even before Levis missed the team’s second preseason game with a lower-body injury. The 2022 third-round pick played that entire game but threw for only 85 yards. Willis should see most or all the action under center again, and he could let Levis back into the competition with another poor passing performance.
Chargers at 49ers (Friday, Aug. 25 at 10:00 p.m. EDT)
Chargers: Who’s after Ekeler?
Isaiah Spiller (27 yards on five carries) marginally outplayed Joshua Kelley (nine yards on four carries) last week, though it was Kelley who got the start. Either could still secure the top backup running back spot behind Austin Ekeler.
49ers: Who backs up Brock?
Not only are Trey Lance and Sam Darnold competing for the top backup spot behind Brock Purdy in 2023, but both former third overall picks are looking to add to their tape for potential future suitors looking to take a chance on their upside.
Bills at Bears (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 1:00 p.m. EDT)
Bills: Don’t sell him short
Rookie pass catcher Justin Shorter stood out in Buffalo’s second preseason game, leading the team in catches (five), targets (six) and receiving yards (47), while capping the game with a 17-yard TD in the final minute. The fifth-round pick out of Florida will likely get another chance to shine as he tries to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
Bears: Rush on, Roschon
Roschon Johnson topped 40 scrimmage yards in each of Chicago’s first two preseason games, as the Bears have given the rookie fourth-round pick plenty of opportunities. Another strong outing could help Johnson permanently crack the backfield rotation that’s also expected to feature Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman in the regular season.
Seahawks at Packers (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 1:00 p.m. EDT)
Seahawks: The kids are alright
Rookie skill-position players Jaxon Smith-Njigba (wrist), Zach Charbonnet and Jake Bobo have all looked good during the preseason. JSN and Charbonnet impressing makes sense since they were drafted in Rounds 1 and 2, but the undrafted Bobo (98 yards and a TD through two games) has been one of the preseason’s biggest surprises.
Packers: Getting a Reed on WR3
Green Bay’s starters are expected to play Saturday, though they likely won’t spend too much time in the game. Jayden Reed may stick around after the other starters sub out to hone his craft a bit longer; the rookie second-round pick needs the reps, considering he’s expected to open the season as Green Bay’s third receiver. Reed caught a 19-yard TD from starting quarterback Jordan Love his last time out.
Cardinals at Vikings (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 1:00 p.m. EDT)
Cardinals: Ingram impressing
Second-year back Keaontay Ingram is running away with the backup spot behind James Conner. After sitting out the preseason opener, Ingram turned nine touches into 48 scrimmage yards and a TD last week. He’ll look to replicate that success in the preseason finale.
Vikings: Play that funky Muse-ic
Second-year tight end Nick Muse has shown some impressive receiving ability this preseason, as he found the end zone in the preseason opener before leading the team with 46 receiving yards in the second exhibition contest. After being limited almost exclusively to special teams as a rookie, Muse is making a push for a role on offense in a tight end room that’s still waiting for T.J. Hockenson to recover from an ear infection.
Browns at Chiefs (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 1:00 p.m. EDT)
Chiefs: Rice, Rice baby
Rookie Rashee Rice looked impressive in KC’s second preseason game, leading the team with eight catches for 96 yards on nine targets. A similar performance here would likely earn the second-round pick a prominent role out of the gate in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes-led passing game.
Browns: The Watkins diet
Austin Watkins has led the Browns in receiving yards in each of their three preseason games. After racking up seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown last week, the 25-year-old wideout has put himself in contention for a roster spot, but the preseason star can’t afford to take his foot off the gas now.
Jets at Giants (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 6:00 p.m. EDT)
Jets: Rodgers and in
The moment Jets fans have been waiting for has arrived. According to coach Robert Saleh, Aaron Rodgers will start Saturday and don a Jets jersey in a game for the first time.
Giants: Touch of Gray
Eric Gray had a nine-yard scamper into the end zone in last week’s game, and the rookie fifth-round pick should get a chance to showcase his skills on offense again here. Gray is expected to contribute in the return game on special teams, but he could still challenge Matt Breida for the top backup RB spot behind Saquon Barkley as well.
Bengals at Commanders (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 6:05 p.m. EDT)
Bengals: Browning the Backup
Jake Browning has outplayed Trevor Siemian in the preseason, but he’ll likely need to put forth one more solid showing to secure the No. 2 quarterback role behind Joe Burrow (calf), whose Week 1 availability has yet to be confirmed.
Commanders: Howell will the finale go?
Sam Howell has thrown three TDs through Washington’s first two preseason games. The third preseason game will provide some additional much-needed experience for Washington’s second-year signal caller, who has just one regular season start under his belt.
Ravens at Buccaneers (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7:00 p.m. EDT)
Ravens: Time for a new streak?
How will the Baltimore organization react to having its 24-game preseason winning streak snapped by the Commanders last week? An individual player to watch will be Justice Hill, who has made a strong case for the No. 2 spot on the running back depth chart with 86 scrimmage yards on six touches this preseason.
Buccaneers: Trask’s tall task
The Buccaneers have finally resolved their quarterback situation, with the expected outcome now official: Baker Mayfield will begin the season as the starter. However, Trask had a decent game as the starter Saturday against the Jets and could put immediate pressure on Mayfield to perform.
Dolphins at Jaguars (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7:00 p.m. EDT)
Dolphins: More RBs in the mix?
With Jeff Wilson (undisclosed) and De’Von Achane (shoulder) both recovering from injuries, there could be room for at least one of Myles Gaskin or Savon Ahmed on the 53-man roster behind Raheem Mostert. Ahmed had 131 scrimmage yards and a TD last week after Gaskin opened the preseason with 77 scrimmage yards on nine touches. Outplaying the other Saturday could be each depth back’s key to making the team.
Jaguars: Long arm of the Lawrence
Trevor Lawrence and the starting offense are expected to play the entire first half Saturday, providing an extended look at what’s expected to be one of the league’s top offenses in 2023. In addition to Lawrence’s connections with Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk, it will be worth monitoring how Jacksonville splits up touches between running backs Travis Etienne and Tank Bigsby.
Raiders at Cowboys (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 8:00 p.m. EDT)
Raiders: Jostling for Jacobs’ touches
Josh Jacobs is expected to report before the start of the regular season, but even if that happens, the Raiders will likely ease their workhorse back in early after he held out for all of training camp. There should be some early season touches available out of the backfield, and the likes of Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden are competing to earn the bulk of those opportunities.
Cowboys: Another Vaughn
Deuce Vaughn has found the end zone in each of his first two NFL appearances. The rookie sixth-round pick will look to make it 3-for-3 this preseason as he jostles with Rico Dowdle and Malik Davis for regular-season touches behind Tony Pollard on the running back depth chart.
Rams at Broncos (Saturday, Aug. 26 at 9:00 p.m. EDT)
Rams: Another start for Stetson
Stetson Bennett came off the bench in his NFL debut behind Brett Rypien, then started and played the majority of the second preseason game. Coach Sean McVay doesn’t like to play key starters in the preseason, so Matthew Stafford will likely sit out again, leaving Bennett likely to start as he tries to earn the backup role over Rypien.
Broncos: Don’t sleep on Stidham
It’s noteworthy that backup signal caller Jarrett Stidham got reps with Denver’s other starters in the previous preseason game, as Russell Wilson was removed ahead of the other starters. Wilson’s hefty contract ensures that he’ll start the season as the starter, but there’s a non-zero possibility of Wilson being pulled for poor performance based on how he looked last season. A strong showing from Stidham here could shorten Wilson’s leash in coach Sean Payton’s eyes.
Texans at Saints (Sunday, Aug. 27 at 8:00 p.m. EDT)
Texans: Can Stroud Produce a TD Drive?
Between two drives in the first preseason game and an entire half in the second, rookie second overall pick C.J. Stroud has led Houston’s offense to only three points during his time in games. Engineering a TD drive Sunday would give him some much-needed confidence heading into the regular season.
Saints: Oh, there you are, Perry
Rookie sixth-round pick A.T. Perry has caught nine of 11 targets for 92 yards and a touchdown through two preseason games. He has likely already done enough to secure a roster spot, but another strong showing certainly wouldn’t hurt his chances and could even set Perry up as a potential contributor come the regular season.
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