This is the week of the NFL preseason schedule that everyone marks on their calendar. Teams are playing their third game, which is the closest we will get to seeing what happens in the regular season in terms of game plans and starters on the field.
As much fun and excitement as there is around Week 3, it's still important to keep things in perspective. Not everything we see will be indicative of what happens when the games really count—after all, this is still the preseason.
That said, if there is one week to make proper judgments about a team prior to the regular season, it is going to be this one. We've got a look at the key stories to watch, as well as a look at the television schedule for every game.
|2014 NFL Preseason Schedule - Week 3|
|Date, Time (ET)||Matchup||TV Schedule|
|August 21, Final||Eagles 31, Steelers 21||NFL Network|
|August 22, 7:30 p.m.||Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots||WCCB (Carolina); WBZ CBS (Boston)|
|August 22, 7:30 p.m.||New York Giants at New York Jets||CBS 2|
|August 22, 7:30 p.m.||Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions||WJXT 4 (Jacksonville); ABC 7 (Detroit)|
|August 22, 8 p.m.||Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers||CBS|
|August 22, 10 p.m.||Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks||NFL Network|
|August 23, 4:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills||NFL Network|
|August 23, 7 p.m.||Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins||CBS 11 (Dallas); CBS 4 (Miami)|
|August 23, 7 p.m.||Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons||WKRN 2 (Tennessee); CW 69 (Atlanta)|
|August 23, 7:30 p.m.||Washington at Baltimore Ravens||NBC 4 (Washington); CW 54 (Baltimore)|
|August 23, 8 p.m.||New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts||CBS|
|August 23, 8 p.m.||St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns||Fox 2 (St. Louis); WKYC (Cleveland)|
|August 23, 8 p.m.||Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs||Fox (Minnesota); KCTV 5 (Kansas City)|
|August 23, 9 p.m.||Houston Texans at Denver Broncos||KTRK (Houston); KTVD (Denver)|
|August 24, 4 p.m.||San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers||Fox|
|August 24, 8 p.m.||Cincinnati Bengals at Arizona Cardinals||NBC|
Top Stories to Watch
Eli Manning Leading Giants Offense
Eli Manning, a quarterback who has two Super Bowl titles under his belt, is under the microscope entering the 2014 season. Since leading the New York Giants to a Super Bowl two years ago, his numbers have been in a steep decline.
|Eli Manning Stats Since 2011|
|Season||Yards||Completion %||TD||INT||Yards Per Attempt|
Recognizing Manning's declining performance, the Giants hired Ben McAdoo as their new offensive coordinator. The transition has thus far been rocky, to say the least. Manning started well, completing six of his seven attempts in the Hall of Fame game, but has gone 1-of-9 and been sacked twice in the last two games.
On top of that, Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News wrote recently that the chemistry between Manning and McAdoo isn't there:
No one expected Manning to look like an All-Pro during the summer while running a new offense for the first time in his pro career. But the sight of him running for his life behind an offensive line that again looks suspect should be alarming — especially since this offense was supposed to be more reliant on quick passes and three-step drops. The sight of his throws sailing high or falling low can’t help but be worrisome after all the off-target passes he threw last year.
The Giants haven't done a good job of rebuilding their offensive line during the offseason, especially coming off a 2013 season when Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times. He's still running all over the place and trying to get in rhythm with the new West Coast style McAdoo employs.
Now, in his last real test of the preseason, Manning will be going up against a New York Jets defense that tied for 13th with 41 sacks last year and had two players reach double digits in that category (Muhammad Wilkerson, Calvin Pace).
The expectations aren't high for the Giants coming off last year and the early preseason returns, but another poor season for Manning could lead to a lot of changes for New York.
San Francisco's First-Team Offense
One of the most overblown stories this preseason concerns the struggles of San Francisco's offense. While the team overall hasn't looked good, being outscored 57-3 against Baltimore and Denver, the first-team offense has been on the field for three series.
In those three series with Colin Kaepernick under center, the 49ers have been able to move the ball. They went 66 yards on seven plays in one series against Baltimore, then started the game against Denver with a solid eight-play drive that nearly resulted in a beautiful touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Brandon Lloyd but was just past the receiver's finger tips.
If you want to point to the turnovers and lack of offense, that's fine, but be fair to the situation. All four of the interceptions the team has thrown have come from backup quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert (two) and McLeod Bethel-Thompson (two).
This week's game against San Diego is important for the 49ers to showcase what their first-team offense can do. Kaepernick said as much, telling Taylor Price of the team's website that finding a rhythm is going to be critical:
Establish a rhythm. I think that’s the biggest thing we need to do right now.
Missed a couple passes here and there...I feel like our offensive line has been doing a great job. Carlos (Hyde) has come in and run well; Frank (Gore) has run well. It’s just a couple plays here and there.
If the 49ers come out of this game—assuming the starters play more than a couple of series—without moving the ball, then we can start to raise questions. Until then, let's not hit the panic button on a team that is expected to be a Super Bowl contender.
Seattle's Physical Defensive Backs vs. Chicago's Big Wide Receivers
One of the ongoing stories this preseason has been the number of penalties called, specifically in the secondary. Pro Football Talk on NBC Sports Network tweeted the difference in illegal contact and defensive holding penalties over the last two years:
No secondary is more physical and in-your-face than Seattle's, which likely helped lead the NFL to adopting a more stringent policy on how much defenders can get away with.
The true test for Seattle's defense, even more than trying to avoid running up penalties, will be doing it against 6'4" Brandon Marshall and 6'3" Alshon Jeffery. Those two combined for 189 catches, 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.
The Seahawks have a violent secondary, led by Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. They thrive on overpowering smaller offensive players, but that won't be the case against Marshall and Jeffery.
This will also be an excellent test for Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who is always a lightning rod. He's always going to be a gunslinger, but if his style can work at CenturyLink Field in a game against Seattle's first-string defense, it will raise the expectations for the Bears entering the season.
Hopefully the referees let both sides play things out instead of throwing the flag whenever there is contact, because this could be one of the better preseason matchups of the week.
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.