Although the third week of the NFL preseason isn't a culmination by any means, most observers view it as the most important week leading up to the regular season by a wide margin.
Generally speaking, the third preseason game is a dress rehearsal with players on both sides of the ball playing at least an entire half. The goal is for everyone to get in sync before allowing them to rest and prepare for the regular season in Week 4 of the preseason.
There are still plenty of intriguing positional battles playing out across the NFL, and many teams are hoping to hit the right notes in order to build some confidence for when the games truly count.
Here is a closer look at some of the preseason games remaining on the Week 3 slate that football fans should be watching intently.
Week 3 Preseason Schedule
|Week 3 NFL Preseason Schedule|
|Date||Time (ET)||Away Team||Home Team||TV|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||4:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Buffalo Bills||NFL Network|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||7 p.m.||Dallas Cowboys||Miami Dolphins||Local|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||7 p.m.||Tennessee Titans||Atlanta Falcons||Local|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||7:30 p.m.||Washington Redskins||Baltimore Ravens||Local|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||8 p.m.||New Orleans Saints||Indianapolis Colts||CBS|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||8 p.m.||St. Louis Rams||Cleveland Browns||Local|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||8 p.m.||Minnesota Vikings||Kansas City Chiefs||Local|
|Saturday, Aug. 23||9 p.m.||Houston Texans||Denver Broncos||Local|
|Sunday, Aug. 24||4 p.m.||San Diego Chargers||San Francisco 49ers||Fox|
|Sunday, Aug. 24||8 p.m.||Cincinnati Bengals||Arizona Cardinals||NBC|
Cleveland Browns vs. St. Louis Rams
No team has made more headlines throughout the preseason than the Cleveland Browns. That is due almost entirely to the quarterback competition between incumbent Brian Hoyer and flashy rookie Johnny Manziel. Following the Browns' second preseason game, head coach Mike Pettine made a decision.
According to SportsCenter, Pettine went with the veteran presence of Hoyer over the unpredictability and explosiveness of Johnny Football:
After making the choice, Pettine pointed toward Hoyer's leadership as the deciding factor, per Vic Carucci of ClevelandBrowns.com.
"He was the clear leader from the beginning," Pettine said. "We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room."
Pettine's comments may be true, but Hoyer certainly hasn't gotten it done on the field during the preseason thus far. In fact, Manziel has clearly outperformed him from a statistical standpoint, as seen in this graphic courtesy of SportsCenter:
Knowing that the third preseason game is a dress rehearsal, there is pressure on Hoyer to have a good showing against the St. Louis Rams. If he doesn't, Tom Pelissero of USA Today believes that Pettine could come under fire for his choice:
Hoyer has a half to get things in gear. Manziel figures to play at least one quarter, and it will be primarily against backups. That gives him a better opportunity to stand out and gain even more fan support than he already has.
Since Hoyer has been put in such a difficult spot, it will be very interesting to see how he handles the pressure against an excellent defensive team like the Rams.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Minnesota Vikings
Like the Browns, the Minnesota Vikings have quite a quarterback quandary on their hands. Head coach Mike Zimmer has yet to make a decision due largely to the fact that both of his candidates have looked fantastic. Veteran Matt Cassel and first-round rookie Teddy Bridgewater have done nothing to eliminate themselves from contention through two games.
Cassel has thrown for 215 yards and a touchdown largely against starters, while Bridgewater has 226 yards and two touchdowns against backups. The third preseason game promises to have a huge bearing on Zimmer's choice, and Cassel is the one who will get the first crack at impressing him as the starter, according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press.
If Cassel falters against the Kansas City Chiefs, then the door may be open for Bridgewater to nudge ahead in the race. Whether he does or not, former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian has been hugely impressed with him, per NFL on ESPN:
The Vikes are a team with the ability to make some noise in the NFC thanks to the presence of superstar running back Adrian Peterson. They made the playoffs with mediocre quarterback play from Christian Ponder two seasons ago, so even adequate play from the position would be an upgrade in 2014.
This positional battle has been game of one-upmanship to this point, but keeping up this level of play may not be easy for either signal-caller with the job potentially on the line.
Denver Broncos vs. Houston Texans
The Denver Broncos boasted the most prolific offense in the NFL last season (and the greatest offense in league history for that matter). They became the first team to eclipse 600 points in a single campaign, and the expectation is that Denver should at least come close to matching that record in 2014.
If the Broncos are going to do that, then quarterback Peyton Manning must play at an MVP level once again. Manning set single-season records for passing yardage (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55) in 2013. Those marks will be tough to repeat, but Manning certainly has the necessary weapons around him.
Despite that, Manning was extremely critical of his offense during a recent practice with the Houston Texans. Following Tuesday's joint practice, No. 18 ripped the offense's inability to execute to his liking, according to Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post.
I thought our offense stunk today. I thought their defense kicked our butt. We will learn from the film, and hopefully we come out tomorrow and do a better job from a players standpoint and execute. ... I kind of call it like I see it. When you have a pretty below-average practice, you have to call it a below-average practice.
Manning may get a little less time in Saturday's game against the Texans than starters for most other teams. He is 38 years old and already has his ticket punched for the Hall of Fame. With that said, even a veteran like Manning wants to be in rhythm when the offense starts.
Knowing how disappointed their quarterback was, the rest of Denver's offense figures to give maximum effort in hopes of rectifying the situation. If the Broncos are banging on all cylinders, then this will be an extremely entertaining game to watch.
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