For now, Week 3 of the NFL preseason is as good as it gets for fans.
As the final tuneup for starters before the regular season begins, fans will get to see the best the NFL has to offer for what is usually a full half or more in each contest. It can be overwhelming to keep up with, but it does much to act as a warm-up for fans as well with those busy Sundays on the horizon.
As a result of recognizable names seeing meaningful time on the turf, a variety of storylines present themselves. Whether it is a player returning from injury, a serious positional battle or downright seeing how a player fits, Week 3 is chock full of notable elements.
Below, let's identify a few after a look at the full slate.
2014 NFL Week 3 Preseason Schedule
|Date||Matchup||TV Info (ET)||Predicted Winner|
|Thu., August 21||Pittsburgh at Philadelphia||7:30 p.m.||Eagles|
|Fri., August 22||Oakland at Green Bay||8 p.m., CBS||Packers|
|Fri., August 22||Jacksonville at Detroit||7:30 p.m.||Jaguars|
|Fri., August 22||Carolina at New England||7:30 p.m.||Patriots|
|Fri., August 22||NY Giants at NY Jets||7:30 p.m.||Jets|
|Fri., August 22||Chicago at Seattle||10 p.m.||Seahawks|
|Sat., August 23||Tampa Bay at Buffalo||4:30 p.m.||Bills|
|Sat., August 23||Dallas at Miami||7 p.m.||Dolphins|
|Sat., August 23||Tennessee at Atlanta||7 p.m.||Falcons|
|Sat., August 23||Washington at Baltimore||7:30 p.m.||Ravens|
|Sat., August 23||New Orleans at Indianapolis||8 p.m., CBS||Colts|
|Sat., August 23||St. Louis at Cleveland||8 p.m.||Browns|
|Sat., August 23||Minnesota at Kansas City||8 p.m.||Chiefs|
|Sat., August 23||Houston at Denver||9 p.m.||Broncos|
|Sun., August 24||San Diego at San Francisco||4 p.m., Fox||49ers|
|Sun., August 24||Cincinnati at Arizona||8 p.m., NBC||Cardinals|
Each preseason game can be streamed with NFL Preseason Live.
Storylines to Watch
Teddy Bridgewater or Matt Cassel?
For some, it has always been there. Veteran Matt Cassel is a capable starter who in his best season threw for 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions. This preseason, the former USC standout has clearly come along nicely in Norv Turner's offense:
|Bridgewater vs. Cassel Through Two Weeks of Preseason|
Cassel has looked downright outstanding and even ranks as the No. 2 overall quarterback in the NFL so far this preseason, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). As NBC's Cris Collinsworth notes, though, both the veteran and rookie have shined:
The veteran has already been named the starter for the third preseason game, this time against the Kansas City Chiefs. Yet the move is not necessarily the decisive blow to Bridgewater's chances at starting under center come Week 1.
While there is a comfort factor with a veteran under center when things get serious, there is no questioning the thought that Bridgewater has what it takes to win now, not only because of his natural ability, but because he will be protected by talent in the passing game such as Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, not to mention Adrian Peterson behind him.
Another dramatic game-winning drive may make the staff's decision all the more difficult. While against backups, the comeback bid by Bridgewater that Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated details is impossible to ignore:
With a new coach in town who has his franchise quarterback of the future, fan pressure to see one of the most talked-about rookies in recent years and the simple fact that Minnesota can win with him under center, Bridgewater might just go out this weekend and steal the job.
As far as position battles go, it does not get much better.
The Rehabbing Texans
This can be construed in any number of ways.
Houston is a team in rebuild mode, but this more has to do with a number of star players the Texans may finally get back in time for this weekend's slate.
One is running back Arian Foster, who, after missing half the season a year ago with a serious injury, will play perhaps the biggest deciding factor of all in whether or not the team can get back to being relevant. His numbers over the years prove as much:
Foster is not alone in a potential return this week, though. As Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle notes, two other big names may be back just in time to get ready for the season:
Texans coach Bill O’Brien will wait until later in the week to determine whether his star players will take the field Saturday against the Denver Broncos.
But Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing were among those who increased their activity Tuesday, during the first of three joint practices between the Texans and Broncos. Foster often ran with the Texans’ first team and displayed his normal acceleration, while Johnson and Cushing saw some first-team activity.
Andre Johnson is obviously a critical part of the team's plans, but more important is Brian Cushing—he returns just in time to face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Cushing ranked as the No. 16 overall inside linebacker in the NFL a season ago at PFF, but he has played in just 12 games over the course of the past two seasons.
“It’s good to get back out here with my teammates,” Cushing said, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. “I feel good. I’ve still got a ways to go. We’re being careful, and we’re not going to rush it.”
His ability to stay on the field and make a difference will dictate whether Houston fields one of the league's better defenses. Another major role will be helping along rookie and No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who is already littering the highlight reel with his presence:
The Texans certainly have pieces in place to right the ship in a hurry, but a defense that has a few elite pieces will undergo a trial by fire against Manning Saturday.
While not an end-all be-all type situation, the exhibition will speak volumes as to where the Texans are at as of now.
Note: Preseason stats courtesy of NFL.com.