Watching games in Week 3 of the NFL's preseason schedule is as close as it gets to watching real NFL football.
The first two weeks of preseason games are generally sloppy affairs, as starters gave way to reserves in short order while teams evaluate the bottom half of the 90-man preseason rosters.
Most teams will play their starters through at least the first half this week, however, and many will keep them in through three quarters. With cut dates looming, this is the last chance the starters will have to get significant work done against another team until the regular season begins.
As a result, excited football fans around the globe will be glued to their television sets to watch their favorite players and teams. And, just to sweeten the pot, there are some compelling matchups on the schedule this week.
Speaking of which, here's a look at the entire schedule for Week 3 of the preseason, along with my predictions on which teams will win. A few of the most compelling matchups will be highlighted for more in-depth analysis below.
New England Patriots vs. Detroit Lions
Fans of high-powered offenses won't be disappointed when the Patriots visit the Lions on Thursday.
Tom Brady looks as sharp as ever thus far in 2013. Going 18-of-20 for 172 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first two games, Brady looks scary-good heading into the regular season.
It's quite remarkable, really, when you consider the receivers he's working with right now. Rob Gronkowski is still out while he recovers from back and arm surgeries, and he's "still a ways away" from returning to action, as reported by ESPN's Ed Werder on NFL Insiders (via Rotoworld.com).
In his stead, undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld out of Nevada has become the latest unknown player to benefit from Brady's greatness. He's caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown this preseason and is being touted as a rising fantasy football star by none other than Michael Fabiano of NFL Network:
On the other side, Matthew Stafford plays with as talented a group of skill-position players as anyone in the NFL.
The addition of Reggie Bush will give Detroit's offense an added dimension this year. Though he isn't a dominant runner between the tackles, Bush is one of the most electric players in the NFL in the open field. He's already shown his worth to the Lions as a receiver out of the backfield with five catches for 44 yards in limited action.
Calvin Johnson, who was held out in Week 2 with a bruised knee, is expected to return to action this week, as noted by Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
Both teams struggled to keep teams from scoring through the air last season, ranking No. 19 (Detroit) and No. 21 (New England) in passing touchdowns allowed. Combined with the explosive nature of both offenses, fans should expect to see plenty of scoring drives.
As a result of Detroit's struggles last year, the Lions made a bold move to draft Ziggy Ansah with the No. 5 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft. He's an exciting—albeit raw—player who made an instant impact in his first preseason game, picking off an abomination of a Mark Sanchez pass and returning it for a touchdown.
Ansah, along with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, will give New England's offensive line all it can handle on Thursday night.
Of further interest to many is Tim Tebow.
There's no way to sugar-coat how atrocious he's been for the Patriots so far this preseason. Playing in extensive action, Tebow has completed just five of 19 passes for 54 yards (2.84 yards per attempt) with zero touchdowns and one interception.
There's no guarantee Tebow will even hit the field on Thursday, given how long the starters will likely play. But if he does, he must play better, because he certainly hasn't been one of the best 53 players on New England's roster, as noted by Bleacher Report's Lead NFL Draft writer Matt Miller:
Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers
The Cheeseheads will be looking for revenge on Friday at Lambeau Field when the Seahawks visit the Packers. A rematch of last year's "Fail Mary" game, this contest should feature plenty of fireworks on both sides of the ball.
Without Greg Jennings, Green Bay appears to be getting tight end Jermichael Finley more involved on offense. Playing for most of the first half in Week 2, Finley caught four passes for 78 yards—including a 33-yard reception—to lead his team's aerial attack.
But the thing that has Packers fans excited most is the emergence of rookie Eddie Lacy, who appears to be primed for a breakout season as the team's featured running back. After sitting out the first preseason game, Lacy made the most of his work in Week 2, totaling 51 yards on nine touches (eight carries and one reception).
While Lacy thrives, however, fellow rookie running back Johnathan Franklin is struggling to tread water.
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Franklin is "running nowhere during Packers camp," and the young back hasn't looked explosive in games, rushing for 23 yards on nine carries this preseason:
As it was last season, Green Bay's defense features explosive, game-changing players, but questions persist about the team's ability to stop opposing offenses from getting into the end zone. Sam Bradford and Carson Palmer both found success throwing the ball deep, and with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks coming to town, we could see more of the same on Friday night.
Wilson led his team to a romp over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Week 2 and laid the wood to the San Diego Chargers in Week 1.
Talent just oozes out of this young squad, led by head coach Pete Carroll and highly underrated general manager John Schneider. With depth and skill at every position, the Seahawks have the ability to win games in just about every conceivable way.
Many people wondered how the team would be able to cope with the loss of Percy Harvin, who injured his hip this summer and will be out for most—if not all—of the season.
Not surprisingly, Carroll and his staff identified a solution, and he goes by the name of Jermaine Kearse, as noted by Pro Football Talk:
An undrafted free agent out of Washington, Kearse has worked his way from the practice squad into becoming a key player for the Seahawks. His performance against the Broncos was a revelation, as the unheralded second-year man scored two touchdowns—including a 107-yard kickoff return.
"As if the Seahawks needed any more talent," lamented non-Seahawks fans.
Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers
The final game of Week 3 should be a gem.
Adrian Peterson, who has sat out the first two games of the preseason, is scheduled to play against the 49ers, as noted by Mike Wobschall of Vikings.com:
The Vikings have struggled to move the ball and protect Christian Ponder without Peterson's presence in the starting lineup, and his ability to move the sticks on the ground should be a big boost. However, the 49ers feature one of the most impressive front sevens in the NFL and are annually one of the league's best teams at stopping the run.
Throughout his career, Peterson has struggled against San Francisco's defense, rushing for 174 yards on 58 carries (three yards per attempt) with zero touchdowns.
Thankfully for Peterson and Vikings fans, All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis won't be playing in this upcoming contest as he rehabs from minor surgery on his hand, as noted by ESPN's Mike Sando:
Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has been getting plenty of hype this summer at Vikings camp as a receiver and return man. As a result, the young man has been gaining momentum as a potential fantasy football sleeper this season, as noted by Alex Dunlap of RosterWatch:
San Francisco is widely considered to be one of the most talented teams in the NFL and a heavy favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII. However, the team has question marks in the secondary and at the wide receiver position.
The 49ers made a huge move on Monday, Aug. 19, when the team traded second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins for Jonathan Baldwin of the Kansas City Chiefs, as reported by the team on Twitter:
It's an interesting move, as Baldwin's story is similar to Jenkins'. Both players have failed to live up to first-round expectations, and it'll be fascinating to see which one—if any—can shake the "bust" label on a new team.
There's no doubt the 49ers need someone to step up at the receiver position, regardless. While Michael Crabtree recovers from his Achilles injury, nobody has taken advantage of the opportunity to start opposite Anquan Boldin.
For now, veteran Marlon Moore has been taking first-team reps in practice and in games, but Baldwin will certainly be given a shot to unseat him, as will Kyle Williams, who is coming back from an injury of his own.
Another big battle that has been ongoing for the 49ers is the second-string quarterback position.
Neither Colt McCoy nor Scott Tolzien has done anything to secure the job, and Jim Harbaugh is going to give undrafted rookie B.J. Daniels a chance to earn the spot, as noted by the team's Twitter account:
Daniels was impressive against the Chiefs in Week 2, passing for 72 yards and a touchdown on 6-of-9 passing, leading the 49ers to a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter.
Another rookie to keep your eye on is safety Eric Reid.
He's been relegated to the second string in both the team's preseason games, but his hard-nosed, aggressive play has been noteworthy in both games. Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area believes he'll end up earning the starting job, and another big-time game from him could secure it.
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