Week 4 in the NFL's preseason schedule means the regular season is right around the corner.
Many teams won't risk playing starters much—if at all—this week, to guard against freak injuries to key players. Instead, devoted fans will see a heavy dose of players on the roster bubble, as every team will be making significant cuts before the regular season begins.
The first cuts are set for Tuesday, Aug. 27, as teams have until 4 p.m. ET to trim their rosters from 90 to 75 active players. Some teams got an early jump on these cuts, and the big ones are yet to come.
The next cuts are set for Saturday, Aug. 31—just two days after the final preseason games. Teams have until 6 p.m. ET to cut the remaining 22 players down to the 53-man regular-season roster.
Needless to say, there will be some significant battles playing out on all 32 rosters.
Unheralded free agents, former first-round picks, undrafted free agents and players of all shapes and sizes will be fighting for their NFL careers.
As a result, the games played this week will likely turn into sloppily played affairs, and many casual fans are bound to turn off their television sets in favor of some other activity. But for die-hard football enthusiasts, Week 4 of the NFL's preseason is a chance to witness football at its most primal level.
Will versus will, force versus force and skill versus skill. Some players will rise to the occasion and earn a coveted roster spot while others will wither away and perhaps never be heard from again at the professional level.
With the regular season beginning on Sept. 5, all 16 games this week will be held on Thursday, and only two of them will be televised nationally.
Here's a look at the entire schedule this week, along with a prediction for each game. A few games will be highlighted for additional analysis below.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets
Jets head coach Rex Ryan has fostered a circus environment in New York. His decision to put Mark Sanchez into the game in the fourth quarter of the team's third preseason game was a fireable offense, and he's lucky the team's starting quarterback wasn't more seriously injured.
As it stands, Sanchez won't play in the team's final game against the Eagles this week. He's recovering from a bruised right shoulder, as noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter:
The Jets started Smith in Game 3, and he played through the third quarter and into the fourth before matching Dan Orlovsky's infamous accomplishment by stepping out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
He got off to a smashing start in the first quarter, leading the Jets to a first-quarter scoring drive with a nice 22-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu.
Unfortunately, the good times didn't last long.
Smith threw behind Ryan Spadola late in the first quarter and was consequently intercepted by Prince Amukamara—his first of three interceptions, each of which was uglier than the one before it.
By starting Smith in Week 3, the Jets essentially offered him the starting job on a platter. All he had to do in order to secure the position was not look like Sanchez, who has a history of horrible turnovers.
Instead, Smith played even worse than your typical Sanchez performance, proving that Sanchez does, in fact, give the Jets the best chance to win (as a legion of Jets fans cringe simultaneously).
But now, thanks to Ryan's head-scratching decision to keep the competition facade in place by playing Sanchez against scrubs while being protected by scrubs, Smith might be forced into action in Week 1 of the regular season.
Should Smith put together another performance against the Eagles like he did last week against the Giants, one can only imagine the media frenzy surrounding this team as Week 1 approaches if Sanchez can't play.
Conversely, if Smith puts together a scoring drive or two without turning the ball over, there will be no end to the circus surrounding the two quarterbacks as the season kicks into high gear.
It's hard to envision a scenario in which the Jets come out of this smelling like roses.
If anything, this team is headed down a dark, twisted road this season—hopefully, for the sake of Jets fans everywhere, Ryan's last.
The Eagles are a fascinating team to keep an eye on this year, too.
Chip Kelly's fast-tempo offenses will be a double-edged sword. Either the team will overwhelm opponents on offense or the team's defense will suffer miserably due to excessive time spent on the field.
Either way, the Eagles will be interesting to watch from week to week. In this matchup, though, all eyes will be on the New York circus.
New York Giants at New England Patriots
The Giants will be hard-pressed to rebound from a mediocre 2012 campaign, as injuries to key players could be too difficult to overcome.
Starting safety Stevie Brown, who was second in the NFL with eight interceptions a year ago, is out for the season with a torn ACL, as noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter and ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk:
Of further concern is the team's offensive line, which has also been hit with injuries. Starting center David Baas and starting right tackle David Diehl are both out with injuries, and rookie Justin Pugh will be forced into duty earlier, perhaps, than the team wanted, as noted by Bill Pennington of the New York Times:
It's not all doom and gloom, however, for the Giants. Jason Pierre-Paul is finally off the team's PUP list, as noted by the team's official Twitter account:
If Pierre-Paul can get back to his 2011 form (16.5 sacks), then the Giants will be much more formidable on defense this year than they were in 2012.
On the other side, while there are plenty of young players trying to earn a roster spot, the only player most of America seems to care about is Tim Tebow.
Based on his first two performances this preseason, there's no way Tebow's spot on the team's 53-man roster is safe. Accuracy and vision have always been weak areas of Tebow's game, but he's doing bad on a whole other level these days.
Completing just 5-of-19 passes for 54 yards with zero touchdowns, one interception and three sacks, Tebow has looked completely lost during his two preseason appearances.
With final cuts looming, it'll be interesting to see how much time Tebow gets in Game 4. From an outsider's perspective, Tebow needs to pull off a legendary turnaround in order to lock down a roster spot.
Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks
Normally, there would be no reason to highlight this matchup.
As one of the NFL's deepest and most talented teams, the Seattle Seahawks are Super Bowl contenders. The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, appear to be front-runners for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
However, there is a development brewing in Oakland that could spark some life into the beleaguered franchise, and it's one worth watching this Thursday night.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor will get his chance to lay claim to the starting job, as noted by Schefter:
Matt Flynn, who was leapfrogged last season on Seattle's depth chart by then-rookie Russell Wilson, appears to be headed toward the same fate this season. He won't even play in Week 4, as he's resting his "sore arm," as noted by Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Given the way Flynn was battered in the first three games behind Oakland's piecemeal offensive line (seven sacks and countless hits), it's not surprising that he's sore. That said, if you believe he's being benched this week because of a "sore arm," then I've got some beachfront property in Nebraska to sell you.
Pryor isn't a polished NFL signal-caller. He's raw and struggles to play with discipline.
But this is a young man who can make game-changing plays both as a passer and as a runner. Provided he doesn't pull a Geno Smith on Thursday, naming Pryor the starter to begin the 2013 season should be a no-brainer for general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen.
Flynn doesn't possess a strong arm and is a sitting duck in the pocket. With him, Oakland's offense won't scare anyone.
With Pryor, however, the Raiders can feature an offense capable of scoring on any given play. Not only will he foster an exciting brand of football for Raiders fans, but he'll also put much more pressure on opposing defenses than Flynn.
As a fan of offensive fireworks, I'm rooting for Pryor to seize the starting job. It won't be easy, though, considering he'll be playing against the indomitable defense of the Seahawks. With talent and depth oozing out of this roster, the Seahawks' second-string defense will be a formidable challenge.
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