As the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks prepare for their final game of the 2013 NFL preseason, these two squads' philosophies and outlooks could not be more different.
Generally speaking, the final preseason game means the least. With just a week until the games on Sundays actually begin counting, coaches drastically reduce or even cut entirely the workload of their top players. The contest is left to be handled by second-teamers and guys who are trying desperately to make final cuts. Rosters had to be trimmed down to 75 this week, so those players remaining can see both the light at the end of the tunnel and a dream-ending cut staring them in the face.
In that sense, the Seahawks are standard. Head coach Pete Carroll noted that a few players—most notably linebacker Bruce Irvin—would see "a ton" of playing time Thursday night, per Tony Drovetto of the team's official website. But more likely is that you will see the Seahawks coach follow the script he used for the first preseason contest, where Russell Wilson and the first-team offense played a couple series and got the hell out of Dodge.
It's a philosophy indicative of Seattle's standing. Many have pegged the Seahawks as Super Bowl favorites, and keeping starters in just one play too long can have grave effects. (Right, Rex?)
On the other side, though, the Raiders are merely crawling to find some level of consistency from their roster. Terrelle Pryor will get his first start of the preseason, replacing the injured Matt Flynn.
For Flynn, who lost his job to Wilson a season ago, this has to feel familiar. Pryor will be handed the keys to the offense and be given every opportunity to win the starting job. That means Oakland's first-team offense should see a good amount of time on the field, which isn't exactly a bad thing if you have been paying attention this preseason.
But time is running out, so head coach Dennis Allen is going to have to make some tough decisions. We'll probably get a good idea of what those will be Thursday night. With that in mind, here is a quick look at the biggest storyline and a prediction for the action in Seattle.
When: Thursday, Aug. 29 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field in Seattle
TV: KTVU/KICU (Oakland), Q13 Fox (Seattle)
Live Stream: NFL Preseason Live (paid service)
Betting Line: Seattle -7 (Vegas Insider)
Can Terrelle Pryor Seal Up Oakland's QB Job?
An overwhelming majority (if not every) decision in Seattle has been made. Carroll's bunch came into the preseason with nearly every starting position locked in, with only backups and the nickel corner spot giving anyone worry. The preseason hasn't done much to change things, though losing Percy Harvin doesn't exactly help anyone.
Oakland, like it has for about the past decade, has more questions than answers. In particular, Pryor's quest to win the starting quarterback job carries the most weight of any storyline heading into Thursday night.
The door flung wide open last week for Pryor to steal a job that seemed so obviously Flynn's throughout camp. Facing the Chicago Bears in a critical opportunity—remember, Week 3 is widely regarded as the most important preseason contest—Flynn went 3-of-6 passing for 19 yards, tossing only one more pass to his teammates than the Chicago defense. He lasted five series, which was probably enough for the Raiders brass to start longing for the Bills' quarterback situation.
The only reprieve came when Pryor finally spelled the 28-year-old Flynn, whose biggest claim to fame remains a 480-yard performance against the Detroit Lions in a meaningless Week 17 win two years ago. Pryor completed seven of his nine passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, adding another 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The question is whether Pryor can do enough to continue that momentum Thursday. Scott Bair of CSN California first reported the Raiders would hand over the staring reins to Pryor against Seattle, sitting Flynn with the same elbow tendonitis that helped Wilson usurp him a year ago.
Flynn has been the far more accurate passer this preseason, completing 70.4 percent of his throws while working almost entirely against first-team defenses. Pryor is sitting at only 58.3 percent versus a mixed bag of opposing players, but he has been far more dynamic. He's averaged 7.9 yards per attempt to Flynn's 6.7 and has rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown.
The former Ohio State standout's mobility may well be the deciding factor. There's no question that Flynn is the more developed passer between the two. But Oakland's offensive line is a turnstile, and Flynn has struggled to sense pressure in the pocket. The quarterback version of Wally Pipp took seven sacks in three games, more than the combined totals of Pryor, Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson.
Say what you will about Pryor's development as a passer; it's mostly fair. I openly wonder whether he'd even complete 50 percent of his passes over a full regular season. But he's a dynamic runner who surprisingly does a nice job of both keeping his throwing lanes open and being a threat to run.
He shouldn't be without opportunities to tuck it down against Seattle. The Seahawks likely won't be sending many complex blitz packages in the preseason's final week, but they have arguably the best array of pass-rushing talent in all of football. It seemed at one point in the offseason that Carroll's plan was to assemble a 53-man roster of quarterback killers.
With few other questions for the Seahawks, only one really remains: Can they perform well enough to prevent their former quarterback from getting benched two straight seasons?
We all know that making strong preseason predictions is inherently silly. There's no real rhyme or reason to how these games play out, save for perhaps the third week when teams actually play their starters a majority of the time. Overall depth and talent tend to win out a majority of the time—just take a look at the not-so-crazy preseason standings as evidence—but we still have teams like the Falcons and Packers sitting below the .500 mark.
So when judging these games, I usually use a simple criterion: Which team will play their starters longer? It's inexact and flawed, but I mean, at least it's something.
The obvious answer here is Oakland. These Raiders will probably be bungling for Bridgewater this coming season regardless of who is taking snaps, but they're at least doing their diligence this preseason and trying to figure things out. Allen, likely knowing the history of coaches in Oakland, is preparing this season's team for victory because no one knows whether he'll be around for the next.
So Oakland should win. Except the teams are playing in Seattle. It's just the preseason, but I learned the hard way in 2012 to never discount the Seahawks playing before the NFL's best crowd. Seattle wins; it just doesn't cover.
Score: Seahawks 27, Raiders 21
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