It's the last week of the preseason, and you know what that means. Teams have to make some hard decisions to get down to the 53-man limit before the regular season starts.
Some cuts are easier than others, however, so in this post I'll highlight the position on each team where the front offices will have to make the most difficult choices.
Starters Sam Acho, Daryl Washington, Paris Lenon and O'Brien Schofield are all locks to make the team. Stewart Bradley, Clark Haggans and Reggie Walker are all likely safe as well. That likely leaves one roster spot open if the Cardinals keep six linebackers.
Williams likely has the inside track, but Groves has a similar skill set.
Parker will likely only make the roster if the Cardinals feel they need another inside linebacker.
Starters Ray Edwards, Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux, John Abraham and backups Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury are roster locks for the Falcons. Vance Walker's spot on the roster isn't as much of a given, but his name should be penciled in as well.
The uncertainty comes in at defensive tackle because Corey Peters was moved to the non-football-injury PUP list earlier this week. That means the earliest he can take the field for the Falcons is after the sixth game of the year.
The Falcons have to decide whether to carry eight defensive lineman on the active roster (plus Peters) or go with nine active players like they normally would.
So far there isn't much separation between the two, but Regis is higher on the depth chart. This last preseason game will likely determine which, if either, of them stays on the team.
Both Thompson and Streeter are speedsters. Thompson is excelling as a return man while Streeter is finally making some plays as a receiver.
Unless injuries hit the starters, neither guy is expected to play a lot on offense, so Thompson likely has the edge because of his potential on special teams.
If the Bills go for youth, then Scott's out.
If the competition at backup middle linebacker is the determining factor, then Carder's draft status will probably give him a leg up.
DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are locks to make the team. If they were all healthy, the Panthers might go with just those three because quarterback Cam Newton adds so much to the running game as well.
Stewart hurt his ankle and Tolbert bruised his quad muscle in the last preseason game against the New York Jets, however, which leaves open the possibility of keeping at least one more running back.
Poole has been suffering from the after-effects of a concussion, however. Brockel would only get a shot if Tolbert couldn't go, because he is a true fullback.
That leaves Smith as the top contender to take the final spot if it's open.
Starters Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea are all locks to make the team, as are this year's first-round pick Shea McClellin and 2010 fourth-round pick Corey Wootton. Matt Toeaina has played well and should also make the final roster. If the Bears keep nine defensive linemen, that leaves two roster spots open.
Brian Price, Nate Collins and Cheta Ozougwu are fighting for those last two spots. Ozougwu has certainly outplayed Price. However, Price was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even though the Bears only gave up a seventh-round draft pick for him, they may be willing to give him more time to see if they can get him playing at a higher level.
If that's the case, then Collins or Ozougwu would have to go. Collins would be the logical choice because he is already facing a one-game suspension for a substance abuse policy violation.
I do wonder how the players would feel if the team kept Price and let one of the other two guys go. They all watch film, after all.
Jones still has some punt return skills, which might help him stick in that situation. That would leave Allen and Newman competing for one spot.
If not, he will make the team over Thaddeus Lewis.
I'm not sure the Browns want to keep McCoy around, however. They probably don't want Weeden looking over his shoulder.
Every year, it seems the Dallas Cowboys have tried to replace former first-round pick Marcus Spears as the starter at defensive end. This season, it appears they have succeeded, as Spears is now a backup behind Jason Hatcher.
Kenyon Coleman is now starting at the other defensive end spot, and the fact that Sean Lissemore is playing well all along the defensive line could make Spears expendable. Tyrone Crawford is the Cowboys' third-round pick from this year, and he is backing up Coleman, so it's unlikely that he won't make the team.
As it stands, if the Cowboys keep seven defensive linemen, Spears will have to beat out second-year defensive end Clifton Geathers.
Unfortunately for Spears, he is at the point in his career where, when you aren't a starter, teams tend to choose youth over experience.
Willis McGahee, Chris Gronkowski and rookie third-round pick Ronnie Hillman are locks to make the team. That likely leaves one spot up for grabs between Lance Ball and former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno.
After a relatively strong start to his career, Moreno fell off last season. Going into his fourth year, it's still a little early to give up on a first-round pick, but Ball has played well this preseason.
Another option might be to trade Moreno if the Broncos get a good offer.
If they don't, he looks to be the odd man out, with Ball remaining on the final roster.
I wouldn't bet on it.
With Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates firmly entrenched as starter and backup, respectively the race for the No. 3 quarterback spot is up for grabs. John Beck and rookie Case Keenum will have to battle it out in the last preseason game to see who gets to hold the clipboard all season.
That's if the Texans even carry three quarterbacks.
Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Kavell Conner are starters and are definitely going to make the team. Pat Angerer is the other normal starter, and though he is out right now with a fractured foot, he will be on the team. Jerrell Freeman has replaced him for now as the starter, so he's not likely to go anywhere either. Former first-round pick Jerry Hughes is having a strong camp and is also a lock to make the team.
If the Colts keep nine linebackers, that leaves three positions open.
Mario Harvey, Mario Addison, Greg Lloyd, Moise Fokou and Tim Fugger will all be vying for those last three spots. At one point, it looked like Fugger would definitely make the team, but injuries have put a damper on that earlier momentum.
Fokou looks to benefit greatly from Angerer's absence as the primary backup to Freeman.
Harvey, on the other hand, will likely be the guy to get cut because of it.
Robiskie has likely shown enough to make the team. But the Jaguars may want to go with youth, and Thomas and Elliot have shown that well this preseason.
It also could come down to special teams play since none of these three guys will be counted on in the offense. That means how they play in the final preseason game will be huge.
Legedu Naanee and Davone Bess are the only locks I see at this position. I would think that Brian Hartline has done enough in the past for the Dolphins to keep him, especially with no one else separating themselves so far. He has been hurt all preseason, however, and that can be a no-no with a new coaching staff.
There really is no telling who stays behind Naanee and Bess. Even those guys who survive the initial cuts may be out of the job later if the Dolphins can find a better replacement on the waiver wire.
One reason this will come down to the wire is the Vikings moved Everson Griffen back to defensive line from linebacker. He was likely going to make the team regardless, so that opened up another spot at linebacker for someone to take advantage of.
Tyrone McKenzie, Audie Cole and Larry Dean are likely vying for those last two spots. Cole looks to be in the strongest position after a strong outing against the Buffalo Bills. He and McKenzie are both middle linebackers, so it could work out where one of them stays with Dean.
There is also the outside chance that the Vikings could keep both McKenzie and Cole based on special teams performance, with Dean being the odd man out. In that event, one of them would just have to move to outside linebacker to back up Greenway, which isn't out of the realm of possibility.
The last game could be the tiebreaker that ultimately decides who stays and who goes.
Starters Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder and Ryan Wendell are locks to make the team. Marcus Cannon and Donald Thomas will probably also make the team. If the Patriots keep eight offensive linemen, that would leave one spot open.
Here is where it gets uncertain.
Then there is Nick McDonald, who could assume the backup role if Koppen gets cut. McDonald was injured in the third preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, and may not be ready for the start of the season.
The wild card is Brian Waters who hasn't been in camp but still may report next week for the start of the season.
It's going to take some time for all this to shake out, possibly even after the final cuts.
I don't know.
And if they only keep five, who do you keep out of the two? Ivory is the better pure running back in my opinion, but Cadet has shown a more versatile skill set. The truth is, at least two of the three guys in front of them would have to be hurt for either guy to see much or any playing time anyway. With Will Smith suspended for the first six games, I just don't know how they can afford the luxury of six running backs on the roster.
I could be wrong, but it bears watching to see how it plays out.
Mathias Kiwanuka, Chase Blackburn, Michael Boley and Mark Herzlich are all locks to make the team. Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams are also likely in. That likely leaves one roster spot open for this position.
Paysinger and Jones actually helped the Giants win the title last season. With the Giants signing Rivers this offseason and his having a strong preseason, though, there doesn't seem to be room enough for both of them.
Heading into the final preseason game against the Patriots, Paysinger probably has the edge. Jones would need an impressive showing to leapfrog him at this point.
This is just one more example of why the final preseason games likely mean a lot more to the players than the fans watching them.
The question for the Jets defensive line is, how many will they keep? Muhammad Wilkerson, Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito, Kenrick Ellis and this year's first-round pick, Quinton Coples, are all written in ink on the final roster. If they keep seven defensive linemen, then both Marcus Dixon and Jay Richardson will probably also make the team.
But what if they only keep six?
Then, they will likely choose Dixon over Richardson. Dixon is younger and has more position versatility. Both guys are quality players however, and if either one is cut, they won't be out of work for long.
If it were up to me, I would find a way to squeeze seven defensive linemen onto the roster, since it appears the defense will once again carry the team. It's hard to know how the Jets are thinking though, so I'm sure Richardson and Dixon feel like they are on the bubble at the moment.
Injuries at the wide receiver position make it hard to project how the Raiders will handle the cuts there. Darrius Heyward-Bey is the only healthy guy out of their top three wide receivers. Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford are still out with a hamstring injury and a foot injury, respectively, but they are locks to make the team..
If the Raiders plan on keeping six wide receivers, then a few days ago it would have appeared that Eddie McGee would take that spot. That was before the Raiders signed kick returner/wide receiver Roscoe Parrish after he was released from the San Diego Chargers, however.
Interestingly enough, Parrish was signed at least in part because Ford and Moore are the Raiders' primary punt returners, and with both of them hurt, they needed help. Does that mean if Ford and Moore are healthy enough to play that McGee would make the team and they would let Parrish go? On the other hand, if they aren't ready to return for the season opener, does that mean McGee will have to turn in his playbook?
Or will they just say, "Screw it," and keep both guys just in case?
I don't know the answer to any of those questions, and I'm not sure that the Raiders do either.
Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri are locks to make the team. The names of this year's first-round pick, Fletcher Cox, and second-round pick, Vinny Curry, can also be written in ink. If the Eagles keep nine defensive linemen, that means the last three spots are up for grabs.
Former first-round pick Brandon Graham has been major disappointment so far, but he's having a strong preseason. Darryl Tapp is heading into his seventh year, and because he isn't a starter, his age may be a factor. Antonio Dixon has a shot to make the team as a true defensive tackle, but with so many of the other guys in this group being able to play both inside and outside, it also could work against him.
Phillip Hunt has kind of come out of nowhere with a strong showing as a defensive end this preseason. Two years ago, he led the CFL in sacks, and after signing with the Eagles in 2011 he had a relatively quiet year statistically. With injuries to Cole and Babin in training camp, he has been able to show some of that pass-rush ability from his CFL days. Having said that, he doesn't have position versatility either, so only being able to play defensive end may work against him.
That's four guys for three spots, so someone is going to be the odd man out. One thing is for sure: Whomever it is likely won't be unemployed for long.
With Mike Wallace finally reporting to camp, the Steelers are now at full strength at this position. He, along with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, is a lock to make the team. If all things were equal, Derrick Williams and David Gilreath would likely stick as well.
Unfortunately for them, everything isn't equal this year.
With starting running back Rashard Mendenhall still not ready to play, the Steelers are likely to keep an extra running back on the roster until he is ready to go.
That extra running back will be taking a roster spot that would normally go to a different position. The Steelers could look somewhere other than wide receiver to even things out, but I don't think they will.
If they only carry five wide receivers, that means Williams and Gilreath are fighting over one spot. Gilreath was impressive in the second preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, while Williams was impressive in the third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
That makes it almost impossible to predict which one the Steelers would choose for the last spot. I imagine it may come down to special teams and how they play in the last preseason game, so both guys had better put their best foot forward.
Ryan Mathews and Le'Ron McClain are locks to make the team. Jacob Hester may also be a lock to make the team since Mathews broke his clavicle in the first preseason game. His availability for the start of the regular season is still in doubt, so McClain may have to pull some double duty at tailback as well as opening up the fullback spot again for Hester to fill in.
Brown and Brinkley have the inside track because Battle is still working back from a foot injury he sustained at the end of last season. He says he is getting better, however, and if he shows enough in the last preseason game, he may jump back in the mix.
Of course, if Mathews is ready to go, then the numbers could shift again. If Hester is deemed expendable, Brown, Brinkley and Battle could all possibly make the team.
For his backups, there is a lot riding on whether Mathews is healthy to start the season.
Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are entrenched as the starter and backup, respectively. Behind them, head coach Jim Harbaugh has already said Brandon Jacobs, though injured, has done enough to make the team. LaMichael James is a rookie second-round pick, so it's safe to assume he will make the roster as well.
Dixon has the ability to do both, however, which may be a factor if the 49ers only keep five running backs. If they keep six, then it's likely to come down to Dixon or Cartwright. Dixon is the better offensive player, while Cartwright is known for his standout play on special teams.
It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.
Leroy Hill, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the starters and locks to make the roster. Malcolm Smith is a safe bet to make the team also. With Barrett Ruud traded away to the New Orleans Saints, Heath Farwell looks looks to be safe as well.
Toomer's draft status is likely to give him the inside track. Morgan has consistently been listed higher on the depth chart, however.
Of course, if the Seahawks think the competition is too close, they could always keep them both.
Then they would have to find another position where they can make a cut instead.
Cole likely has the inside track for one of the spots, while the Browns will have to fight it out for the other.
Preston Parker should make the roster, but he has muffed two punts in preseason games. Arrelious Benn has been hurt all training camp and didn't play in any preseason games but is still listed as second string.
Sammie Stroughter has been good but hasn't separated himself from the pack at all. Tiquan Underwood looked like a big-play receiver, but his production tailed off at the end of camp. Jordan Shipley was picked up off waivers just a little more than a week ago and hadn't played in the preseason prior to that.
If the Buccaneers keep six receivers, then one of those players will be the odd man out. Because none of them have separated themselves from each other, it's hard to say who that will be.
In fact, no matter who makes the final cut, I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were them, because I have a feeling the Bucs will go shopping on the waiver wire for upgrades.
How many running backs will they keep?
Will they keep a true fullback?
If the Titans aren't keeping a true fullback, then Reynaud and Harper are both likely safe, but Johnson is out the door.
Reynaud has shown enough both on special teams and at running back to make the team regardless.
That means it could come down to how much the Titans value Harper's and Johnson's positions rather than whether they did enough to stick on the final roster.
I'm not sure what to make of it, but the only guy that is a lock for the roster is fullback Darrel Young.
Rookie sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris has been the most impressive running back by far in the preseason. Impressive enough that head coach Mike Shanahan confirmed he is in the mix to be the starting running back.
If Morris somehow pulls that, off then someone else is likely to be shown the door.
Hightower is a guy Shanahan really likes, so he should be relatively safe.
Helu and Royster, on the other hand, might have good reason to be nervous right now.