Week 3 of the NFL preseason is always jam-packed with excitement, as each team's starters take center stage for at least a game's first half in what's widely heralded as the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Though coaches are still employing vanilla schemes at this point, games still provide fans with a glimpse of the potential of their favorite squads for the upcoming season.
On Sunday, we're in for a treat, as three playoff teams—and one that nearly missed postseason action—take the field in what should be two highly competitive matchups.
The surprising San Diego Chargers take on the powerful San Francisco 49ers in the day's first contest. That's followed by the reigning AFC North champion, Cincinnati Bengals, against an Arizona Cardinals team that should be playing with a big chip on its shoulder after narrowly missing out on the playoffs last year.
Let's take a look at Sunday's schedule and viewing information, followed by a preview for each contest.
|2014 NFL Preseason: Sunday's Week 3 Schedule|
|Date||Home||Away||Time (ET)||TV Info|
|Sun., Aug. 24||San Francisco 49ers||San Diego Chargers||4 p.m.||Fox|
|Sun., Aug. 24||Arizona Cardinals||Cincinnati Bengals||8 p.m.||NBC|
San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are a team looking to get on track this preseason. After two blowout losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, San Francisco has now been outscored 57-3 this year. Considering division rival Seattle Seahawks' bludgeoning of the Chicago Bears in Week 3, the 49ers should have extra motivation in this one.
Offensively, this team has been out of sync and has looked lethargic. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has only attempted 10 passes so far in the preseason, and head coach Jim Harbaugh should look to get his quarterback more work before the team's regular-season opener.
Defensively, the 49ers haven't exactly been aggressive. The secondary has allowed plenty of room for opposing quarterbacks to maneuver, and that was relevant in Week 2 against a Broncos team that saw all three of its quarterbacks achieve passer ratings of over 116.
Harbaugh addressed his team's struggles, via a tweet from NFL Around the League:
Yes, it's the preseason. Starters haven't played much and schemes are rather vanilla. But a little bit of momentum from the first-team units could go a long way for a team looking to go deep into the postseason once again.
The Chargers offense took off in a big way last season under new head coach Mike McCoy. Philip Rivers found his groove and rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen was a revelation. The team will be looking reach the playoffs once again this year due to its continued offensive success.
While San Diego's offense is alive and kicking, its defense has been its Achilles' heel. Last season, the Chargers ranked 23rd in the league in yards allowed—mostly due to its poor pass defense.
In Week 2 of the preseason, San Diego faced Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense with tragic results. Wilson completed 11 of his 13 passing attempts for 121 yards and a 105.4 passer rating. That was accompanied by three first-half rushing touchdowns as well.
Ian Rapoport tweeted one player who will be interesting to watch on Sunday:
If the Chargers are to continue to move up the ranks and become one of the NFL's top teams, their first order of business should be clamping down on defense against what has been a struggling 49ers offense so far this preseason.
Cincinnati Bengals at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals surprised many NFL enthusiasts last season, going 10-6 in a very difficult NFC West division and just barely missing out on the playoffs. This has quickly become a very well-rounded team, and more of the same is expected this season.
Things got off to a flawless start in the preseason, as Arizona routed the Houston Texans 32-0 thanks to stellar quarterback play and a relentless defense. Solid quarterback play continued in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings, though the team's running game was lackluster for the second consecutive week.
Starting ball-carrier Andre Ellington only carried twice in each contest, but the Cardinals only averaged 2.2 yards per carry as a team in both games. In an effort to keep the offense balance, they'll want to see increased production on the ground in Week 3. However, it won't be easy against a Bengals run defense that ranked fifth in the league one season ago.
Improving on the ground is a must for Arizona—especially taking recent comments from Palmer into consideration, via AP NFL:
On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona will look to contain Cincinnati's offense after faltering against the Vikings in Week 2. Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel combined for 322 yards through the air, and Minnesota averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the ground without Adrian Peterson on the field.
The Bengals may have suffered two losses in their first two preseason games, but quarterback Andy Dalton has proved worthy of his contract extension so far. After completing three of his five passing attempts for 71 yards in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, he rattled off a perfect 158.3 passer rating against the New York Jets by completing all eight of his attempts for 144 yards and one touchdown.
The NFL's Twitter account noted Dalton's recent prowess:
Rest assured, Cincinnati will want to see more of the same from the fourth-year signal-caller in Week 3.
Due to the absence of Marvin Jones, the Bengals will be looking for another strong showing from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Against the Jets in Week 2, Sanu caught two passes for 56 yards and a score, looking every bit the part of a legitimate No. 2 receiver. Continuing that trend in Week 3 will be a great confidence boost going forward.
Cincinnati's first-team defense has been sound through two games. The Bengals have only allowed a total of six points of offense in the first quarter this preseason. With the starters expected to play much longer in Week 3, the Bengals will be looking to keep up that trend for a longer duration on Sunday.