NFL Preseason Week 3 Preview: Biggest Question Facing Each Team
Full-fledged NFL football is almost back.
The closest the league comes to playing real games outside of the regular season occurs during Week 3 of the preseason. The majority of teams play their starters beyond halftime because it's an opportunity to set the lineup and make final adjustments before contests really count.
This stage provides final opportunities for numerous training camp battles to conclude since coaching staffs generally don't believe in playing their starters during the fourth preseason game. Instead, the franchises start to concentrate on their Week 1 opponents.
A team's 53-man roster is settled for the most part. Significant questions remain among every roster, though, and those deserve attention before Week 3 begins.
Miami Dolphins vs. Philadelphia Eagles
7:00 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia (NFL Network)
How does quarterback Jay Cutler continue to incorporate himself into the Miami Dolphins offense?
For better or worse, Cutler is the Dolphins' starting quarterback for the 2017 campaign. He looked rusty during his first preseason action and completed 3-of-6 passes for 24 yards. His continued progression and growing comfort level within Adam Gase's scheme—one with which he's already familiar—should start to become evident after a couple weeks of practice and more game reps.
Will the Philadelphia Eagles' running back rotation clarify?
The Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount during free agency to be the team's lead back. The signing was sound in theory, yet there's an outside chance the veteran may not even make the roster. The Eagles' crowded backfield also features Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and rookies Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement. None of these backs are guaranteed anything, and a strong performance in Week 3 could help sway the organization's final roster decisions.
Carolina Panthers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
7:30 p.m. Thursday at EverBank Field, Jacksonville
Will Curtis Samuel make his debut for the Carolina Panthers?
Everyone already saw what this year's first-round pick Christian McCaffrey can do in the Panthers offense. But he's only part of the unit's revamped approach. The organization selected Curtis Samuel in the second round to provide even more versatility. He's been sidelined by a hamstring injury, though. The Panthers offense will continue to evolve this weekend because he's expected to return to the lineup.
Who will develop into the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting quarterback?
Blake Bortles continues to devolve as an NFL quarterback. His poor play Thursday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prompted head coach Doug Marrone to proclaim, per John Oehser of the Jaguars official site, "[The QB position] is right up there for grabs, and either person can take it."
Veteran Chad Henne is now a legitimate starting option. The front office is no longer tied to Bortles, and the better quarterback needs to play for a talented team to become a competitive one.
New England Patriots vs. Detroit Lions
7:00 p.m. Friday at Ford Field, Detroit
How will the New England Patriots address concerns at defensive end?
The hits kept coming this past week for the Patriots. Defensive end is now viewed as a legitimate weakness, with rookie Derek Rivers expected to miss the entire season with a torn ACL and sprained LCL in his left knee, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss and Field Yates. The team already lost Rob Ninkovich to retirement prior to the start of training camp. Kony Ealy's usage could drastically change, since he was expected to be an interior pass-rusher in sub-packages.
Can Greg Robinson solidify left tackle for the Detroit Lions?
The Patriots pass rush may not be the league's most potent, which makes it perfect for the Lions to build confidence among their offensive front. Taylor Decker's labrum tear cast a major shadow over the organization. Greg Robinson can put an end to the competition with a strong performance, since Corey Robinson is still not available, Cornelius Lucas isn't practicing and undrafted rookie Storm Norton doesn't appear ready for a bigger role.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Seattle Seahawks
8:00 p.m. Friday at CenturyLink Field, Seattle (CBS)
Can Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith continue to hold off rookie Patrick Mahomes?
The Chiefs quarterbacks have been absolutely outstanding through the first two preseason contests. This is unexpected for two reasons. First, Alex Smith has been efficient and aggressive with only three incompletions. Second, Patrick Mahomes has the look of a franchise quarterback. It's only preseason and Smith remains entrenched as the starter, but Mahomes' impressive play can't be dismissed.
Who takes over as the Seattle Seahawks' left tackle?
Head coach Pete Carroll named George Fant the Seahawks' starting left tackle prior to team's second preseason contest. Unfortunately, Fant suffered a season-ending ACL injury against the Minnesota Vikings, per ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia. Where do the Seahawks go from here? Clearly, the team wasn't comfortable with Luke Joeckel at left tackle and moved him to guard. Rees Odhiambo has been a disappointment during training camp, too. As a result, the organization traded for Matt Tobin on Monday, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Atlanta Falcons
7:00 p.m. Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Can the Arizona Cardinals' young linebackers improve upon last week's poor performance?
The middle of the Cardinals defense is soft. Rookie first-round pick Haason Reddick and Scooby Wright didn't hold up against the Chicago Bears. This is more of a concern with Reddick since expectations are heaped upon a top draft selection, especially one transitioning from linebacker. The position needs depth since Deone Bucannon, Karlos Dansby, Philip Wheeler and Josh Bynes are all dealing with injuries.
"I hope to hell they get healthy," head coach Bruce Arians said, per AZ Central's Kent Somers. "I'd be concerned if we're playing with the group we had [Saturday]."
How does Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley build upon his debut?
For the most part, the Falcons lineup is set as the team prepares to rebound after its disappointing Super Bowl LI performance. However, Atlanta needs to develop more of a pass rush beyond Vic Beasley. First-round pick Takkarist McKinley required time to recuperate from offseason shoulder surgery, yet he provided a boost to the team's pressure packages in his first professional action. McKinley can expect more reps and responsibilities during his second appearance.
Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens
7:00 p.m. Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
Do the Buffalo Bills have enough at wide receiver?
The Bills traded their top receiver, Sammy Watkins, and veteran Anquan Boldin retired in a matter of nine days. The rest of Buffalo's wide receiver corps is suspect at best (to put it kindly). It's cliche, but someone must rise to the occasion—whether it's second-round rookie Zay Jones, Jordan Matthews, Philly Brown, Andre Holmes, etc. The Bills feature a run-first offense, but Tyrod Taylor needs a reliable target on the other end of his passes.
How will the Baltimore Ravens piece together their offensive line?
The Ravens—more than any other team—need the regular season to arrive. The team experienced multiple debilitating injuries and setbacks. Baltimore's coaching staff is now tasked with replacing three starters along the offensive line due to Rick Wagner's departure in free agency, John Urschel's abrupt retirement and Alex Lewis' season-ending shoulder injury. In an attempt to plug this sinking ship, the team signed veterans Austin Howard and Jeremy Zuttah. Both will play and compete for starting spots.
New York Jets vs. New York Giants
7:00 p.m. Saturday at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
Is there any hope for the New York Jets?
The Jets have yet to play a single down of meaningful football, yet their 2017 campaign already seems lost. It begins at quarterback, where Christian Hackenberg started his first contest against the Detroit Lions and the entire offense failed miserably. If the second-year signal-caller can't provide a glimmer of hope, neither will 38-year-old journeyman Josh McCown. The Jets need something—anything—positive to happen and build upon as the regular season nears.
Will the New York Giants' offensive line provide proper protection?
The story remains the same today as it has the entire offseason, and the Giants coaching staff isn't hiding the offensive line's importance to the team's overall success. Said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, per ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan, "We know we're going to go as far as the offensive line goes."
Ereck Flowers is the focal point after he allowed far too much pressure on Eli Manning over the last two seasons. If the third-year left tackle can string a couple of strong performances together, the Giants would be far more confident entering the regular season.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Can the Indianapolis Colts first-team defense stop anybody?
The Colts' defensive starters have been shredded by their preseason opponents. New general manager Chris Ballard made a concerted effort to improve the defense's speed and athleticism this offseason. Neither has been on display, as the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys marched downfield early in each contest. The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't any easier to defend, either. A stop or two against Ben Roethlisberger and Co. will go a long way in establishing the Colts' new-look D.
Will the Pittsburgh Steelers defense show any improvement?
Pittsburgh's defense isn't as poor as Indy's, yet the Steelers are still searching for an identity under coordinator Keith Butler. The secondary will lean heavily on a pair of second-year starters in Artie Burns and Sean Davis. First-round pick T.J. Watt needs to be a consistent factor in the pass rush. Plus, nose tackle Javon Hargrave suffered a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons, per the team.
"There were too many escape lanes, not enough pressure and not tight enough in coverage," head coach Mike Tomlin said after his team's performance, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "Those two concepts [rush and coverage] live and die together."
Cleveland Browns vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay
Will the Cleveland Browns finally identify their starting quarterback?
Brock Osweiler went from an afterthought in a trade that provided the Browns with a second-round pick to Cleveland's top quarterback option. Head coach Hue Jackson moved Osweiler to the top of the depth chart prior to the team's first preseason contest, but he needs a better overall performance to hold off rookie signal-caller DeShone Kizer. The team's second-round pick proved to be streaky in both practice and preseason contests, but his potential is obvious. The Browns coaching staff must settle on one and move forward without second-guessing the decision.
Where do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turn in their kicking game?
Roberto Aguayo may have been a major disappointment for the Buccaneers, but he wasn't the team's only issue within the kicking game. Nick Folk took over duties after the organization released last year's second-round pick, only to miss an extra point and a field goal during Tampa Bay's second preseason game. Folk will continue to battle for a job alongside Zach Hocker. Another miss may force more change.
Oakland Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys
8:00 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Who will be the Oakland Raiders' starting middle linebacker?
The Raiders continue to allow chunk plays in both the run and pass games because their defense has a soft spot at middle linebacker. Marquel Lee seems to have a slight edge to man the position even though he didn't start against the Los Angeles Rams. A poor performance from Lee in Week 3 will allow multiple linebackers to stake their claims—whether it's Cory James, Nicholas Morrow or Tyrell Adams.
Can Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith build upon his initial performance?
Smith's return to the football field is a wonderful story. But a story is only as good as its ending. Smith has a chance to develop into a long-term solution at middle linebacker, and his performance in Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts was the first step in doing so. He now needs to string together multiple performances where he makes more plays and appears to be the type of talent that warranted a top-five draft selection before his devastating knee injury.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Los Angeles Rams
8:00 p.m. Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles (CBS)
Can the Los Angeles Chargers create more explosive offensive plays?
Philip Rivers' return to the Chargers lineup will certainly have a profound effect after he only played in a single series so far. Yet the Los Angeles coaching staff needs to be concerned, since the unit couldn't manufacture much offense without the veteran behind center. The Chargers still feature Melvin Gordon, Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams at the skill positions. The group managed just 17 total points through two games without Rivers.
Will the Los Angeles Rams' Jared Goff continue to look like an NFL-caliber quarterback?
Too many buried Goff for his rookie performance despite his terrible situation: playing in an outdated offense, with few weapons, under the supervision of a mediocre head coach. He's now starting to display the talent everyone saw at Cal, with head coach Sean McVay nurturing his ability. The second-year quarterback has completed 79.1 percent of his passes this preseason—which is the direct result of better decision-making.
Houston Texans vs. New Orleans Saints
8:00 p.m. Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Are the Houston Texans Tom Savage's team?
Deshaun Watson is the future of the Texans franchise. Savage is the present. This reality seems to cement itself with each passing week. It has less to do with Watson's performance, and more with the reliability Savage provides in the first-team offense. Only three passes fell incomplete through two preseason contests. According to FM Denver's Benjamin Allbright, Savage is "firmly in control" of the competition. Another solid performance will hammer this point home.
Can Marshon Lattimore be the New Orleans Saints' top cover corner?
Defense has been a thorn in the Saints' side for years. The unit's impressive performance Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers showed its potential, but head coach Sean Payton still needs to see more from his cornerbacks, particularly first-round pick Marshon Lattimore. This year's 11th overall selection will be tested against Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
"I want to make some plays on the ball," Lattimore said, per NOLA.com's Josh Katzenstein. "I want teams to test me, so they can see I'm the real deal."
Green Bay Packers vs. Denver Broncos
9:00 p.m. Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Will an undrafted free-agent corner continue to receive first-team reps with the Green Bay Packers defense?
The Packers placed a heavy emphasis on upgrading their secondary and improving upon last year's 31st-ranked pass defense. They did so with the additions of free agent Davon House and Kevin King and Josh Jones during the draft. Yet an undrafted free agent has made the biggest impression during training camp. Josh Hawkins received an opportunity to start against the Washington Redskins due to injuries to House and Damarious Randall. He flourished and may receive another chance to start against the Denver Broncos.
Can the Broncos offensive line come together and protect quarterback Trevor Siemian?
Denver head coach Vance Joseph named Trevor Siemian the team's starting quarterback Monday, per the Broncos on Twitter. Finally, the staff can concentrate on fine-tuning the rest of the offense, particularly the offensive line. The team's front has been penalized 13 times during its first two preseason contests. First-round left tackle Garett Bolles flashed dominant traits, but his play has been inconsistent as well. Meanwhile, the rest of the offensive line could feature four new starters. Once this group comes together, the entire unit can be properly evaluated.
Chicago Bears vs. Tennessee Titans
1:00 p.m. Sunday at Nissan Stadium, Nashville (Fox)
Can Mike Glennon hold onto the Chicago Bears' starting quarterback spot?
Glennon's performance during the Bears' second preseason game didn't inspire much confidence, but it wasn't a complete failure, either. He followed his zero quarterback rating against the Denver Broncos by completing 72.2 percent of his passes with a touchdown and interception against the Arizona Cardinals. Mitchell Trubisky is looming, though. If Glennon can't produce at least one standout preseason performance, the Bears front office and coaching staff may consider starting this year's second overall pick sooner rather than later.
Which Tennessee Titans receiver can make enough plays to earn a roster spot?
The Titans offense looks like a potential juggernaut, with Marcus Mariota's continued development, a physical offensive front, two talented running backs and versatile tight ends. The organization revamped its wide receiver corps, too. After adding Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Eric Decker, the front office will have a few decisions to make. Tajae Sharpe, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems and Tre McBride are competing for roster spots. Sharpe continues to recover from offseason surgery, while the rest have something to prove against the Bears.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Washington Redskins
4:30 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field, Landover (Fox)
How will the Cincinnati Bengals' safety rotation look without Shawn Williams?
The Bengals are banged up in the secondary with both Williams and George Iloka injured. Williams is expected to miss four to six weeks after dislocating his elbow, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The secondary was already a concern, and the team's safety depth is quite thin. Josh Shaw is expected to see more time at safety alongside Clayton Fejedelem and Derron Smith.
When will the Washington Redskins offense come together?
Washington's offense hasn't been firing because quarterback Kirk Cousins is still trying to build a rapport with his wide receiver corps. Terrelle Pryor's performance, in particular, has been disappointing. After dominating during training camp, Pryor hasn't been a popular option. Instead, Cousins targeted him three times with only one reception for 11 yards. This combination needs to jell and start making more plays.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings
8:00 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis (NBC)
Will San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward play Sunday?
Free safety is a vital position within the 49ers' new defensive scheme. Coordinator Robert Saleh brought the Seattle Seahawks system to the Bay, but his defense lacks an Earl Thomas-like option along the back line. Jimmie Ward, a former first-round pick, is supposed to fill the role, but he continues to nurse an injured hamstring.
"So we're going to see how he responds to that on Monday and Tuesday and hopefully we'll get him ready to go by Wednesday," head coach Kyle Shanahan said, per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner.
Which five offensive linemen will start for the Minnesota Vikings?
The Vikings spent a lot of time this offseason trying to improve their offensive line. The front office spent a lot of money to acquire offensive tackles Riley Reiff in Mike Remmers in free agency. The team drafted center Pat Elflein in the third round, too. Elflein remains the favorite to win the team's most heated position competition. But Nick Easton will get a final shot to overtake the rookie or even start at guard.