With the heat of summer and training camps both in the rearview, the final week of the NFL preseason signals the end of a lengthy wait for real football.
It also represents the final pit stop before the sprint to the finish line for hundreds of players, with the checkered flag being a slot on a seemingly minuscule 53-man roster. For those names on the fringe, this is it.
There are a number of marquee matchups on the preseason Week 4 slate, even if starters do not figure to amass a notable amount of playing time, if any at all. In that same vein, there are some contests that surely exist under the radar at the moment but are worthy of a viewing from fans.
Let's take a look at the full slate and a few of those lesser-known exhibitions.
2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 Schedule
|Date||Matchup||TV Info (ET)||Predicted Winner|
|Thu., August 28||Atlanta at Jacksonville||6 p.m.||Jacksonville|
|Thu., August 28||Detroit at Buffalo||7 p.m.||Detroit|
|Thu., August 28||Indianapolis at Cincinnati||7 p.m.||Cincinnati|
|Thu., August 28||Kansas City at Green Bay||7 p.m.||Green Bay|
|Thu., August 28||St. Louis at Miami||7 p.m.||Miami|
|Thu., August 28||NY Jets at Philadelphia||7 p.m.||NY Jets|
|Thu., August 28||New England at NY Giants||7:30 p.m.||NY Giants|
|Thu., August 28||Carolina at Pittsburgh||7:30 p.m.||Carolina|
|Thu., August 28||Washington at Tampa Bay||7:30 p.m.||Washington|
|Thu., August 28||Chicago at Cleveland||8 p.m.||Chicago|
|Thu., August 28||Denver at Dallas||8 p.m.||Denver|
|Thu., August 28||San Francisco at Houston||8 p.m.||Houston|
|Thu., August 28||Baltimore at New Orleans||8 p.m.||Baltimore|
|Thu., August 28||Minnesota at Tennessee||8 p.m.||Minnesota|
|Thu., August 28||Seattle at Oakland||10 p.m.||Oakland|
|Thu., August 28||Arizona at San Diego||10 p.m.||Arizona|
Each preseason game can be streamed with "NFL Preseason Live."
Underrated Matchups to Watch
St. Louis Rams at Miami Dolphins
Suddenly, a meaningless contest that is an afterthought, even by preseason standards, means the world for the St. Louis Rams.
With the news that quarterback Sam Bradford will miss the season with another ACL issue, the task now falls to 34-year-old journeyman Shaun Hill, who has attempted a total of 16 passes over the course of the past three years.
ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner captured the moment head coach Jeff Fisher had to address the situation:
"This team is going to rally around Shaun [Hill] and we’re going to go play ..." Fisher trailed off. ...
"Shaun has a great feeling for the offense right now and we’re going to move forward with it. We’re not going to change anything. He knows the system. Everybody knows we are going to run the football first, and we’re going to do that and we’re going to do that well and we’re going to do that to start the season and then everything else will come off of that."
It makes sense Fisher is willing to lean on a veteran for the time being rather than overreact and spend valuable picks on a quarterback via trade, especially with cuts coming up so soon.
But this exhibition against Miami? It has a major impact on how the Rams will perform come Week 1 against Minnesota. Hill has always been considered one of the league's best backups—he even led the offense down the field 78 yards for a field goal on his only full drive of work after Bradford's injury—but he's going to need to develop chemistry and timing with the first-team offense in a hurry.
Of course, there are other interesting storylines. After Ryan Tannehill was sacked the most times of any quarterback last season thanks to what was likely one of the worst offensive lines in history, the staff will see its new-look unit get one final trial by fire against a defensive line that touts rookie Aaron Donald and elite ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
Above all else, though, is that perhaps an entire season in jeopardy. It is quite rare for the final week of the preseason to mean so much for a team.
Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans
Fans cannot blame the Minnesota coaching staff for going with the trends, at least.
The staff recently announced that veteran Matt Cassel, not rookie Teddy Bridgewater, will be under center come Week 1 against the Rams. This despite Bridgewater's superb all-around play, game-winning drives and impressive numbers, the latter of which is summed up by Rotoworld's Evan Silva:
#Vikings rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater's preseason stats: 26-of-40 passing (65%) for 266 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) August 24, 2014
To his credit, Cassel has looked great in coordinator Norv Turner's attack, but it will be interesting to see how Bridgewater—who can presumably very much steal the job during the season—will react to the news.
On the flip side, the most interesting storyline coming out of Tennessee is the plight of two rookies, although Jake Locker surely comes in as a close second.
No. 11 overall pick Taylor Lewan figures to be in the mix at offensive tackle but has already set himself back thanks to a fine from the league office for his actions on the field last week, as noted by Tom Leyden of WXYZ-Detroit:
Taylor Lewan fined $8,200 for an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Saints last week. http://t.co/QkxCMLz2Or— Tom Leyden (@TomLeyden) August 21, 2014
Running back Bishop Sankey, the first at his position off the board this year, has yet to take a preseason snap with the first-team offense. Shonn Greene is not exactly a star back, so it speaks volumes as to where the rookie is at right now in his development.
Both Tennessee rookies have a lot of ground to cover in a very short amount of time. Really, both teams do after winning a total of 12 games last season. As far as entertainment value, storylines and actually meaningful Week 4 preseason play go, it does not get much better than this matchup.
Statistics courtesy of NFL.com.