One week of play stands between fans and the start of the regular season, but Week 4 of the NFL preseason is not something to just skip.
More so than any other week of the preseason, jobs are won and lost in the final week. Starters got the lion's share of the work and attention last week, but the slate over the coming days will see hundreds of players lose jobs as front offices cut to just 53 names.
So outside of simply trying to stay healthy, the final week has plenty to offer fans who have the time to invest in exhibitions.
Let's take a look at a couple of can't-miss affairs from the slate.
2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 Schedule
|Date||Matchup||TV Info (ET)|
|Thu., August 28||Atlanta at Jacksonville||6 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Detroit at Buffalo||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Indianapolis at Cincinnati||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Kansas City at Green Bay||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||St. Louis at Miami||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||NY Jets at Philadelphia||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||New England at NY Giants||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Carolina at Pittsburgh||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Washington at Tampa Bay||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Chicago at Cleveland||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Denver at Dallas||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||San Francisco at Houston||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Baltimore at New Orleans||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Minnesota at Tennessee||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Seattle at Oakland||10 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Arizona at San Diego||10 p.m.|
Each preseason game can be streamed with "NFL Preseason Live."
Matchups to Watch
Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns
Any contest that features Johnny Manziel is worth watching at this point. The man is a walking circus who makes no effort to conceal his growing pains.
But this game in particular is even better than usual—coach Mike Pettine has already decided Manziel will hold a clipboard to begin his NFL career.
Manziel went out and completed 10 of 15 passes for 85 yards and rushed for a touchdown against St. Louis last week, but his coach has remained firmly planted in his ways, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
He did (provide a spark), and I just think that just comes with playing. He needs to play, and as I've said a bunch of times, there's no substitute for live game reps at NFL speed. I think that was good work for him. That's why at the end we still took the timeout, just wanted to get as many reps as we could get him in the 2-minute. Then, after he got sacked we just went ahead and let it run out.
So the obvious question is, does Manziel go out against Chicago and do whatever it takes to make Pettine change his mind?
The answer is a mess. Manziel's adversary is a Chicago defense led by a revamped line that features Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. The former ranked as the No. 35 overall 4-3 end last season at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and notched 11.5 sacks, while the latter ranked at No. 13.
The interior of that line is also intimidating and deep, with rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton sure to give Manziel some problems. Things only get more complicated if he has to take the field against Chicago secondary members such as Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
For Chicago, the contest is one last chance to ensure Marc Trestman's offense is in rhythm, especially against a defense that includes corner Joe Haden and a bevy of other underrated names.
When looking to nail down a prediction for a contest that will feature an unknown amount of playing time for starters, that spark Manziel provided a week ago is difficult to ignore. At home, it is hard to pick against the Browns in a matchup that seems to feature two evenly matched depth charts.
Prediction: Browns 17, Bears 14
Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars
Normally a meaningless bout between two teams that totaled eight wins a year ago is not something fans will want to take the time to witness, but the duel between Atlanta and Jacksonville is intriguing on a multitude of levels.
Under the direction of Gus Bradley, the Jaguars are in the midst of an interesting rebuild, especially now that he has decided No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles is unfit for the starting job despite a 28-of-44 line for 435 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions so far.
Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union has the scoop:
Gus - "Blake's doing good things, I can't argue that."— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) August 23, 2014
Gus on his back-up QB: "I like that he takes risks and attacks the situation." #Jaguars— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) August 23, 2014
Despite exceptionally better play, Bortles finds himself in the same boat as Manziel. Jeff Darlington of NFL.com put it best:
If Johnny Manziel was playing even near the level of Blake Bortles, the world would explode.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) August 23, 2014
Bortles holds the keys to the franchise, but how soon seems to not depend on his play. Still, he has yet another chance to impress, this time against a rebuilding Atlanta defense.
The wild card is the defense as the unit continues to become coherent in a new scheme. Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson are intriguing names to have around in the trenches—the latter ranked as the No. 14 overall 3-4 end in the NFL last year at PFF, the former the No. 20 overall at nose tackle.
Both teams have plenty to work on in the final exhibition before things get serious, but one has to think that Ryan and his explosive offense will be able to jump out to an early lead. That, more often than not, is enough when it comes to the preseason.
Prediction: Falcons 24, Jaguars 23
Statistics courtesy of NFL.com.