The 2014 NFL preseason is set to kick off its penultimate week of action Thursday night with an in-state battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
With just two weeks remaining before the regular season gets underway, time is running out for players to solidify a spot on their team's roster.
Here's a full schedule of all this week's preseason contests, as well as the top games to pay attention to:
|Date, Time (ET)||Matchup||TV Info|
|Aug. 21, 7:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles||NFL Network|
|Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.||Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions||WTEV 47 (Away); WJBK 2 (Home|
|Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.||New York Giants at New York Jets||WNYW 5 (Away); WCBS 2 (Home)|
|Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.||Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots||WJZY 46 (Away); WBZ 4 (Home)|
|Aug. 22, 8 p.m.||Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers||CBS|
|Aug. 22, 10 p.m.||Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks||NFL Network|
|Aug. 23, 4:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills||NFL Network|
|Aug. 23, 7 p.m.||Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins||KDFW 4 (Away); WFOR 4 (Home)|
|Aug. 23, 7 p.m.||Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons||WTVF 5 (Away); WAGA 5 (Home)|
|Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.||Washington Redskins at Baltimore Ravens||WTTG 5 (Away); WJZ 13 (Home)|
|Aug. 23, 8 p.m.||New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts||CBS|
|Aug. 23, 8 p.m.||Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs||KMSP 9 (Away); KCTV 5 (Home)|
|Aug. 23, 8 p.m.||St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns||KTVI 2 (Away); WOIO 19 (Home)|
|Aug. 23, 9 p.m.||Houston Texans at Denver Broncos||KHOU 11 (Away); KCNC 4 (Home)|
|Aug. 24, 4 p.m.||San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers||FOX|
|Aug. 24, 8 p.m.||Arizona Cardinals at Cincinnati Bengals||NBC|
*Note: All preseason games can be streamed online using NFL.com's Preseason Live.
Games to Watch
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
This preseason tilt in the City of Brotherly Love offers plenty of storylines to follow.
For starters, it's the debut of Philadelphia's revitalized Lincoln Financial Field, featuring the addition of new video and ribbon boards, 1,600 new seats and bridges that connect the upper concourse (per LincolnFinancialField.com):
Tonight's game also marks the first time this preseason that Philadelphia will have three of its key cogs on offense playing together, per Chris McPherson of the Eagles' official website:
The Eagles are expected to have starting wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper on the field together for the first time this preseason. Cooper missed the first two games with a foot injury, while Maclin was sidelined vs. New England with an ailing hamstring. How will quarterback Nick Foles' timing and chemistry look in this "dress rehearsal" for the regular season?
Foles only managed 44 yards and was picked off twice in Week 1 of the preseason before completing eight of 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in last week's loss to the New England Patriots.
With Maclin and Cooper expected back, Foles has a chance to have another efficient game in Week 3 to establish a sense of consistency as the regular season nears.
It's on the defensive side of the ball, however, where Philly still has work to do.
In its first two preseason games, Philly conceded an average of 38 points to the Chicago Bears and Patriots. The team surrendered an average of 326 yards and four touchdowns through the air, as well as 171 yards and a touchdown to each of those opponents on the ground.
With starters likely to rest for most of the final week of preseason action, this week's matchup with Pittsburgh could be the last chance for the first-team defense to build confidence and momentum before the regular season. A quarterback of Ben Roethlisberger's caliber should be a good test.
As for the Steelers, ESPN's Ed Werder indicated that running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount would play tonight, just a day after being arrested for possession of marijuana, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith:
Source tells me it will be business as usual for the Steelers, meaning RBs LeVeon Bell and LaGarrette Blount expected to play vs Eagles— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) August 21, 2014
ESPN's SportsCenter account confirmed the news:
THIS JUST IN: Steelers' RBs Bell & Blount will play tonight. Both facing marijuana charges after Wednesday traffic stop. (via @Edwerderespn)— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 21, 2014
How much playing time either of them sees is something to keep an eye on. Should they be charged and suspended, the Steelers will surely want to get their other tailbacks as many touches as possible before the regular season arrives.
Considering their third-string running back is rookie Dri Archer, per the official roster at Steelers.com, the importance of those in-game reps in these final two preseason games is magnified.
His numbers as a receiver out of the backfield should provide Pittsburgh with some solace, though. His four catches have netted the Steelers 94 yards, with two of those going for 40 or more.
Even if he struggles to start the season on the ground, at least he could act as another target for Roethlisberger.
Nevertheless, getting him more game action and ready for the regular season should be a high priority. Bell and Blount may suit up tonight, but the team may be forced to use them in a limited capacity.
Defensively, the team has only given up an average of 18 points per game, but there is still room for improvement, with the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills having accumulated 320 and 364 yards against Pittsburgh.
With the Eagles' high-octane first-team offense expected to start for the first few possessions, Pittsburgh could use some of their vintage Steeltown shutdown defense.
St. Louis Rams vs. Cleveland Browns
This game may seem like a dud between two teams that are 0-2 so far this preseason, but make no mistake, there's plenty to look forward to in this one.
If you're looking for close contests, this game is a prime candidate. The teams have combined for four losses to start the 2014 preseason, but three of those games were decided by two points or less.
Then there's the Johnny Manziel saga.
This represents the rookie's first game since the Cleveland Browns took to Twitter to announce that Brian Hoyer would be their starting quarterback when the regular season gets underway:
Hoyer's experience and familiarity with the team's playbook ultimately won out, as Manziel actually has a slight edge in preseason stats:
NFL.com box scores
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport also provided a few reasons for why Hoyer was handed the reigns to the offense:
Browns soon found how much of a learning curve a college spread QB like Manziel has. Play calls were tough. Snaps under center. Protections.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 20, 2014
#Browns playbook was 1st Manziel used. A&M didn't use one. Battle was "Me vs the playbook." Players knew when he struggled to call the play— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 20, 2014
Keep a close eye on St. Louis' high-profile rookie, too.
Following his first sack in last week's preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers, Michael Sam will try to keep the good play coming in an effort to lock down a roster spot.
Sam has tallied three tackles and one sack to this point, per NFL.com box scores. Another two impressive performances from the seventh-round draftee would go a long way in helping him land that coveted roster position.
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