Monday Morning Digest: Who to Watch in the 2018 NFL Preseason

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterAugust 6, 2018

Monday Morning Digest: Who to Watch in the 2018 NFL Preseason

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Preseason football isn't about watching great teams. It's about watching interestingly bad teams. 

    That's why this week's version of the Monday Morning Digest is light on Patriots and Eagles but heavy on quarterback competitions, running back committees and rebuilding efforts. After all, who wants to watch Tom Brady wander the sideline and avoid eye contact with his coaches when Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and others are making their NFL debuts and battling for starting jobs?

    In addition to our exclusive NFL Preseason Watchability Index for all 32 teams, this week's Digest includes:

    • In-depth training camp reports on the Giants and Jaguars

    • Odds and predictions for the MVP race (we have to squeeze Brady into a Digest somewhere)

    • Deep dives into some of the league's most tangled running back competitions

    • A rundown of the week's worst ideas from around the NFL

    • Punters!

    ...and much, much more.

NFL Preseason Watchability Index

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The NFL Preseason Watchability Index is easy to compute. Starting quarterback competitions are worth 3 points, high-round rookie quarterbacks 2 points (bonuses stack) and "storyline" quarterbacks (new starter, returning from injury, etc.) 1.5 points.

    A new coach is worth 2 points. Crowded battles at running back or receiver are worth 1 or 2 points, depending on how juicy the competition looks. Exciting new faces on defense or the offensive line are worth 1 point, and "trainwreck" potential is worth 1 or 2 points based on the size of the potential disaster.

    Finally, "baseball cap" quarterbacks and finishing among the league's final four teams last year each deduct 1 point, because no one wants to watch Brady sip Gatorade for three hours while announcers talk about his legacy.

    Without further ado, here is this year's NFL Preseason Watchability Index:

    Cleveland Browns (9): They'll either get much better or rupture the fabric of space-time by getting worse. Both scenarios are appointment viewing.

    New York Jets (7.5): Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater? That's like preseason surf 'n' turf!

    Arizona Cardinals (7): Surprisingly watchable in the preseason thanks to Josh Rosen and the new head coach no one is talking about (Steve Wilks).

    Indianapolis Colts (6.5): Lots of position battles and a new coaching regime. Plus, if Andrew Luck throws only three passes, it's still three more than you ever expected to see again.

    Buffalo Bills (6): Whether Josh Allen throws three touchdowns or breaks windshields in the players' parking lot, it will still be worth a look.

    Denver Broncos (5.5): Case Keenum, Bradley Chubb, lots of newcomers and youngsters at the skill positions, plus the potential for hilarity when Mordecai and Rigby take over at quarterback in the second half.

    Oakland Raiders (5): Fourth quarters will feature guys who were starters four years ago.

    Chicago Bears (4.5): The rating system likes Matt Nagy and all the new faces. The rating index also didn't have to watch Chase Daniel on Thursday night.

    Baltimore Ravens (4.5): Lamar Jackson + Robert Griffin III - typical Ravens blahs = intriguing storylines, even when the football itself isn't very interesting.

    Tennessee Titans (4): Just seeing them throw a few forward passes is worth a gander.

    Washington Redskins (3.5): We're now below the waterline in terms of watchability for the typical national fan. Washington is all about Derrius Guice and seeing what Alex Smith looks like in burgundy.

    Los Angeles Rams (3): The open-locker room rebellion isn't scheduled until at least Columbus Day.

    Seattle Seahawks (3): Somewhat watchable, though they may leave you a sickly feeling, like you were rubbernecking at a wreck on the other side of the freeway.

    Green Bay Packers (2.5): Normally a preseason snooze, but Aaron Rodgers needs reps, and DeShone Kizer should attract some lookie-loos.

    Houston Texans (2.5): Everyone's healthy this year? Cool. (Changes channel.)

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2.5). Rank them higher if, umm, you enjoy, err, vague and awkward discussions of, you know, "player misconduct" by television announcers.

    New York Giants (2): There's a slim chance you will get to see the players you want to see.

    Cincinnati Bengals (2): Just enough new faces and redemption stories to make watching Matt Barkley play quarterback almost worth your while.

    Kansas City Chiefs (1.5): Change channels the moment Patrick Mahomes grabs a cap.

    San Francisco 49ers (1.5): Change channels the moment Jimmy Garoppolo grabs a cap.

    Minnesota Vikings (1.5): Change channels the moment Kirk...you get the idea.

    Dallas Cowboys (1): Fourth-quarter-caliber receivers and tight ends will be playing in the first quarter, and not because the starters are getting rested.

    Jacksonville Jaguars (1): Watching Jalen Ramsey on the sideline for three hours would be far more interesting than anything that happens on the field.

    Miami Dolphins (1): Ryan Tannehill doesn't count as a "storyline quarterback" because he's Ryan Tannehill.

    Detroit Lions (1): I guess it's must-see TV for Kerryon Johnson diehards.

    Philadelphia Eagles (0.5): The only thing worse for August viewing than an established quarterback who doesn't need preseason work is a pair of established quarterbacks who don't need preseason work.

    Pittsburgh Steelers (0.5): Rank them higher if you didn't hear enough uninformed Le'Veon Bell contract speculation in the offseason and crave three more hours of it.

    Carolina Panthers (0): Garrett Gilbert executing a Norv Turner offense while Cam Newton searches for loafers to match his ascot. How fun.

    New Orleans Saints (0): This is the part of the list where it becomes all fun/great regular-season teams that are devastatingly boring in the preseason.

    Atlanta Falcons (-1): Maybe fun/great was too strong a word/words.

    Los Angeles Chargers (-1): No team has greater reason to fear a Final Destination-like catastrophe if a starter strays onto the field before the third preseason game.

    New England Patriots (-1): Two words: Brian Hoyer.

Bad Ideas Digest

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Early August is the best time for the NFL, its teams and some football-adjacent industries to get all the bad ideas out of their systems. At least we hope they will get some of these bad ideas out of their systems...

       

    Browns move Joel Bitonio from left guard to left tackle

    Line coach Bob Wylie called the switch Plan Z after Shon Coleman flopped in his audition and the team somehow failed to draft Joe Thomas' heir apparent with one of the 2,000 extra picks it hoarded over the last three years. Hue Jackson overruled Wylie (and publicly stomped on him a bit), endorsed the Bitonio move and blamed the misunderstanding on the media. At least we now have a title for our Jackson biopic: Plan Z from Outer Space.

       

    Dolphins invite Rob Ryan to training camp

    NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported Ryan is just observing and taking notes, not there in any "official capacity." Sure. That's how it starts. One minute, Ryan is scribbling onto a legal pad. The next minute, there are 12 defenders on the field yet somehow three receivers are uncovered.

       

    NFL refs tour training camps to explain a helmet-to-helmet rule that no one has figured out yet

    Based on the Hall of Fame Game, it is now illegal for a safety to make a tackle in the open field while in possession of a head.

       

    Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo wears a "Make Football Violent Again" cap at practice

    Sandejo must make sure to trademark the phrase; it could earn him a tidy profit when Larry Fedora needs a slogan for his 2020 presidential run.

       

    Random television timeouts in the middle of drives interrupt the Hall of Fame Game

    The NFL is experimenting with new ways to alienate its entire fanbase.

       

    EA Sports censors Colin Kaepernick's name from a song on the Madden 19 soundtrack

    The video game company quickly backpedaled, blamed a licensing snafu and reinserted Kaepernick's name to satisfy its vast, highly engaged, international, multicultural and demographically desirable legion of customers. Meanwhile, the NFL is trying to outlaw protests to appease some cranky old white guys.

Quarterback Anxiety Digest

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Worried about your quarterback? You're not alone. The dog days of August can really bring out the quarterback anxiety. Think of this Digest segment as a smooth herbal tea to calm you down.

       

    Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers

    Anxiety: He's coming back from an injury and has had several multi-interception practices.

    Analysis: Packers fans always need something to obsess about. After David Bakhtiari's Saturday night injury, maybe they can stop worrying about a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback's training camp rust and start worrying about how the new front office is just as bad at accumulating offensive line depth as the last front office.

       

    Quarterback: Carson Wentz

    Anxiety: He's on schedule to return from an ACL injury, but is he on schedule enough?

    Analysis: There is nothing else to complain about on the Philadelphia sports scene right now. It's either gripe about the poor punter or the empty chair behind the 76ers general manager's desk.

       

    Quarterback: Cam Newton

    Anxiety: Kelvin Benjamin ripped him for being inaccurate and lacking knowledge.

    Analysis: Benjamin must have missed Newton's 15-1 MVP season. Oh that's right: He did. Maybe Benjamin should hold off on the Newton bashing until he learns whether he will be catching passes from Andy Dalton's former backup, the rookie trebuchet or the dude who still wakes up screaming with Joey Bosa night terrors.

       

    Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes

    Anxiety: Seven interceptions in six practices!

    Analysis: Bad quarterbacks don't throw many interceptions in practice. Good quarterbacks throw interceptions in practices because they are finding their timing on downfield throws (see the guy at the top of this segment). Bad quarterbacks throw endless three-yard passes in practice, and then local fans cheer when they read about an 8-of-9 performance in a seven-on-seven drill.

Training Camp Digest: New York Giants

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Each week during the preseason, Digest will highlight a pair of teams with legit playoff aspirations and take a deep dive into their training camps. This week starts with the Giants.

       

    What's new

    A new head coach and front office. A new defensive scheme. A rebuilt offensive line. A new all-purpose rookie running back. And while it's easy to play the "renewed optimism" card when a team makes sweeping changes after a 3-13 catastrophe, this particular team will field an offense led by Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley and a quarterback who led it to two Super Bowl wins.

       

    What to watch

    • You won't see much of Barkley and Beckham in preseason games. So here's the skinny from camp: The new offense looks sweet. Don't worry about offensive coordinator Mike Shula furrowing his brow and puzzling about how to best use Barkley (as he did with Christian McCaffrey in Carolina last year); Pat Shurmer is doing all the creative things with the multitalented running back that you could wish for. And Beckham is practicing like the world's happiest camper.

    • The battle for the third to fifth receiver spots bears watching in preseason games. Cody Latimer looks like a great addition, while journeyman veteran Russell Shepard is his usual versatile, mistake-free self. Kalif Raymond lists at just 160 pounds but looks sturdier and has the quickness to be an ideal slot weapon and returner. Amba Etta-Tawo and Hunter Sharp have also had big moments in camp. There will only be so many balls to go around for these guys when the season starts, but whoever gets to run patterns alongside Beckham, Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram could end up getting covered by a nose tackle.

    • James Bettcher's defense is noticeably different from anything the Giants have run in the past decade. Steve Spagnuolo's four-on-the-floor principles are gone. Fronts are more multiple and unpredictable, and blitzes can come from anywhere. There are some wacky moments—like Olivier Vernon split wide to cover Barkley—but the defenders themselves look and sound invigorated.

    • Third-year cornerback Eli Apple made the news after a tussle with Engram in practice Saturday. But Apple made several standout plays during Digest's camp visit. Shurmur has praised his professionalism multiple times throughout camp, a welcome change after two years of teammates treating Apple like the little brother who borrowed their bike and left it in the neighbor's driveway to get run over. "He has fun competing out there," Shurmur said. "I've enjoyed being around him."

    • Right tackle and former left turnstile Ereck Flowers still has some "whoopsies" moments in pass protection, especially against Vernon. Guard John Jerry has taken some right tackle snaps. Shurmur said he is just cross-training players in case of injuries. But you know how it is...

       

    Bottom line

    After the dour end of the Tom Coughlin regime and the mood swings of the Ben McAdoo era, the atmosphere in East Rutherford, New Jersey, this summer is refreshing. The Giants may not be great this season, but they will be entertaining and score a ton of points. With so many weapons on offense and a new attitude on defense, they could be the toughest out in the NFC.

Training Camp Digest: Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Digest continues its twice-weekly training camp deep dives on teams with legit playoff aspirations. Next up are the Jaguars, who finally brought their fans to the good place last year. Or did they?

       

    What's new

    People outside of Duval County actually care about the Jaguars in August. That's certainly new. The most prominent new face in Jaguars camp is hulking guard Andrew Norwell, who should upgrade the latter half of the Jaguars' defense-and-running formula.

       

    What to watch

    • Leonard Fournette has slimmed down to 223 pounds, his lowest weight since high school. Since the founding of the NFL in 1920, all running back conditioning stories ever told have only had two plots: running back slims down (He's quicker, but did he sacrifice power?) and running back bulks up (He's more powerful, but did he sacrifice quickness?). Fournette plodded to 3.9 yards per carry last season and didn't do much with 36 catches, so he could use a jolt of quickness. And what's most important is how Fournette feels about his new weight. "That is my weight I felt best in college—my sophomore year when I was up for the Heisman," he said. Sounds like the perfect weight, then.

    • The Jaguars receiving corps in the post-Allen Robinson II/Allen Hurns reality is taking shape. Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief are the probable starters. Speedy second-round pick DJ Chark Jr. is drawing raves for his ball-tracking, and second-year receiver Dede Westbrook, best suited to the slot, has generated his share of camp highlights. And don't forget Keelan Cole, the undrafted free agent who led the Jaguars in receiving yards after the Allens went down last season. And training camp highlights are no joke for Jaguars receivers: Remember who's covering them.

    • Jalen Ramsey was back in camp this week after missing the opening for the birth of his daughter. A.J. Bouye had a two-interception practice midweek. The best cornerback tandem in the NFL was rarely healthy at the same time in training camp last year, so it is finally getting the chance to practice its communication and trash talk. Be afraid, opposing quarterbacks.

    • Fournette on Norwell: "He doesn't talk. He does not talk, but he still gets it." The Jaguars have enough guys who talk.

       

    Bottom line

    Great defense. Faster Fournette. Upgraded line. Depth at receiver. The Jaguars have everything! What, you claim we forgot about an important position? Nonsense. Tra-la-la-la-la.

    And seriously, if you don't have a great quarterback, make everything else great, and hope the quarterback catches up. That's not the Jaguars' 2018 motto, but it could be.

Transactions Digest

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    A brief roundup of cuts, signings and extensions.

    Vikings sign Stefon Diggs to a five-year contract extension: The Vikings' salary-cap ledger is so clean you could carve sushi on it. With their nucleus signed through 2020, the Vikings' Super Bowl window is more like a sliding patio door.

    Titans sign Kenny Vaccaro: Vaccaro is a fine player and an ideal replacement for injured safety Johnathan Cyprien. That lonely diner next to the railroad tracks where all the unemployed strong safeties hang out now has an open table.

    Patriots sign Eric Decker: Cover the NFL long enough, and the Patriots sign every white wide receiver in the league jokes go from edgy to predictable to hackneyed all the way around to self-referential.

    Seahawks schedule tryouts for Erik Walden, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Lamarr Houston: A team that gutted its roster of Super Bowl heroes in the name of rebuilding looks around the locker room and thinks, We need some famously overpaid and disappointing veterans! Meanwhile, an ethereal voice whispers on the wind whipping across the Puget Sound, The Seahawks front office is broken.

    Colts guard Jack Mewhort retires: NFL football is brutal on the human body.

Running Back Roster-Battle Digest

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Most teams have been practicing in full pads for more than a week and even tackling to the ground at times, making it easier to sort out crowded backfields. Here's a look at how some of the most compelling (and mysterious) running back battles around the NFL are shaping up:

                                                

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Peyton Barber is about 13 pounds lighter this year and running hard to hold off second-round pick Ronald Jones. Jones is still expected to be the primary ball-carrier but is working through some rookie mistakes, like a stripped fumble in an early-week practice. Veterans Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims are also on the roster for reasons no one can really ascertain.

                                        

    Denver Broncos

    Five backs are competing for roster spots and carries, and anything is possible. Third-round pick Royce Freeman has gotten positive reviews throughout camp and has the inside track to take away carries from Devontae Booker, the closest thing the Broncos have to an incumbent starter. Undrafted mighty mite Phillip Lindsay has drawn lots of praise and has a great chance to stick in a Darren Sproles role. Seventh-round pick David Williams demonstrated his power in the first set of padded practices. De'Angelo Henderson is also in the mix. Don't be surprised if Freeman wins the job and Lindsay earns his Sproles role, with the veterans and Williams battling to make the roster by the end of August.

                                            

    Indianapolis Colts

    Marlon Mack mixed 10 20-plus-yard plays from scrimmage with a lot of seven-carries-for-seven-yards-type stat lines as a rookie in relief of Frank Gore last year. But Mack was also playing through a torn labrum, and he's ready to be more physical and more consistent as the lead back in the Colts committee. Fifth-round pick Jordan Wilkins is similar to Mack: explosive but prone to disappear for stretches. Fourth-round selection Nyheim Hines is taking reps at both running back and receiver. Christine Michael remains on the roster because this is early August. Look for Mack to play a role similar to the one Jay Ajayi filled for the Eagles in the second half of last season, with Hines as a slot guy and everyone else in a support role.

                               

    New England Patriots

    Andrew Callahan of MassLive.com reported early last week that Mike Gillislee was taking first-team reps before missing a practice. Rookie Sony Michel underwent a minor knee procedure last week and will miss a chunk of camp, which will put him behind proven all-purpose weapons Rex Burkhead and James White for touches early in the year. Callahan considers Jeremy Hill the odd man out; Hill only fits as a LeGarrette Blount-type battering ram for the goal-line and fourth-quarter blowouts anyway. But anything is possible with the Patriots, and all of this could just be what they want us to think.

                                             

    Seattle Seahawks

    Chris Carson, fully recovered from last year's early-season leg fracture and about 10 pounds thicker than he was in 2017, has drawn rave reviews and looks poised to hold off first-round pick Rashaad Penny for the featured role. Keep in mind that Carson is a solid pass protector, while Penny rarely had to pass-block at San Diego State, and the Seahawks offensive line is still populated by dumpster finds and art installations. That said, who knows what to make of this. The Seahawks reached for Penny in a deep running back class when they had needs at just about every other position, yet they are now enamored with a 2017 seventh-round pick. The Seahawks front office is broken.

Digest Sportsbook: MVP Odds

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Pro Football Talk reported early last week that Tom Brady is the favorite to win this year's MVP award, with 4-1 odds.

    Those odds came from Bet365, a sportsbook in the United Kingdom. But while British fans of American football can earn four quid, shillings, knickers or whatever the heck they call their money for every one bob, pence or kipper they wager on Brady, American gamblers can get a more favorable, less Brady-venerating plus-800 money line (that's 8-1), according to OddsShark.

    With gambling becoming legal in more states every day, you have to check the local listings, folks.

    Aaron Rodgers is the Vegas favorite to win the MVP award with a plus-550 money line, according to OddsShark, or a $550 return on a $100 wager. That's not a great payout for a player working his way back from injury, battling through a tough division, hoping Jimmy Graham doesn't forget to block an edge-rusher and so on. Carson Wentz at plus-850 isn't a great wager either. If you are not certain a quarterback will be healthy for Week 1, you should insist on at least a 10-1 payout on an MVP bet.

    Here are some other interesting odds—some to consider and some to avoid:

    Tom Brady (plus-800): Those are great odds for a GOAT to do GOAT stuff. You aren't wagering against Brady's opponents but against age and the fact that MVP voters think Brady has already won enough awards. And if you want to meta-game the voting instead of the performance of the players, there's always...

    Drew Brees (plus-1500): Brees has never won an MVP award, which increases the odds that voters will give him one as a sort of Lifetime Achievement Award after just a typical Brees season. Of course, voters could also deny Brees the award because it adds to the gritty, underappreciated mystique of his career. If that's the case: You're welcome, Drew!

    Jimmy Garoppolo (plus-1500): Twelve career touchdown passes, same MVP odds as Drew Brees. Think before you open your wallet, people.

    Andrew Luck (plus-3000): Digest couldn't find any reputable books offering Comeback Player of the Year odds yet. Don't wager any real money on Luck earning Comeback Player of the Year, anyway. You will either earn less from the bet than you would earn from a passbook savings account or wind up very, very disappointed. And avoid this wager too. If Luck has an MVP season, we'll award him with (you guessed it) Comeback Player of the Year.

    Le'Veon Bell (plus-4000): Along with Todd Gurley, the best odds of any non-quarterback for MVP. But just because Bell is forced to bet on himself doesn't mean you should too.

    Alex Smith (plus-6000): The MVP award often goes to a quarterback having a career year with a robust narrative angle. Smith, who generated some early-season MVP buzz last year, is just the kind of quarterback who could garner a bunch of votes for an 11-win, 30-touchdown season, while Drew Brees gets ignored for a 12-win, 35-touchdown season. This is a pretty enticing speculator's bet. Kirk Cousins is just plus-2200: Same reasoning, much lower payout.

    Saquon Barkley (plus-6000) and Alvin Kamara (plus-6600): You can get a better payout for a second-year running back coming off a 1,554 scrimmage-yard season for a playoff team whose workload is likely to increase than for a newcomer on a 3-13 team who's likely to settle for Rookie of the Year honors even if he goes ham. The fact that there's a legal sportsbook in the same parking lot as MetLife Stadium may result in some hinky Giants odds during these heady days of legalization. New bettors often make "homer" wagers that can skew the lines.

    Andy Dalton and A.J. Green (each plus-10000): Bad bets. And try not to think about how much better Green's odds would be without Dalton.

    Sam Bradford (plus-12500): Those would be good odds for Bradford to stay healthy for 16 games.

Punter Digest. Yes, Punter Digest.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Once per year, we are bound by the terms of the NFL collective bargaining agreement to devote one segment to punters. (Editor's Note: Not really). Just as the public service programming on your favorite radio station is relegated to 5 a.m. on Sunday mornings ("Today on Sunrise with the Freeholders, Councilperson Edith Watercress discusses the fiduciary implications of the new nozzle restrictions on public fountains, followed immediately by Mandatory Metallica"), we make sure to cram this mandatory punter slide onto the back of a preseason Digest. Anyway, enjoy!

                        

    New Broncos punter Marquette King's attempts to punt the ball into a bucket distracted fans from full-squad drills.

    After last season, Broncos fans will watch just about anything instead of their own offense.

                                                  

    Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt acts as a sort of "golf caddie" to help young kicker Harrison Butker handle pressure, according to Chiefs general manager Brett Veach (via Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star).

    A caddie making $7.5 million over three years? There's a Mar-a-Lago joke in there somewhere.

                                                      

    The Seahawks' competition between veteran Jon Ryan and fifth-round pick Michael Dickson could come down to holding on field goals.

    The Seahawks, who have both left- and right-footed kickers in camp, traded up to draft a punter with minimal holding experience to replace an expensive veteran as part of their cost-cutting rebuild. Repeat after me: THE SEAHAWKS FRONT OFFICE IS BROKEN. In fairness, at least the competition isn't coming down to who can select the proper club for an approach shot. Yet.

                                                            

    Eagles rookie punter Cameron Johnston is having a rough camp.

    Fear not if Johnston cannot get the job done: Nick Foles is probably an awesome punter who just never mentioned it.

                

    Rams punter Johnny Hekker thinks his Madden '19 avatar looks like The Office character Mose Schrute.

    Wait...does EA Sports own the rights to The Office characters? Did accomplished television producer Michael Schur (who portrayed Schrute) give the video game company permission to use his likeness? This is legally treacherous water, people! Better censor Hekker from the game! Better yet, get rid of all the punters just to be safe, since no one punts in Madden anyway. We need a company-wide meeting about these licensing issues! Conference room: five minutes!

    Oh wait, that whole thing was just an excuse to erase Colin Kaepernick from the game? Never mind.

Viewers' Tips for Preseason Week 1

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    We started this week's Digest by ranking the watchability of the teams. But what about the games? NFL Network will air a full slate of live preseason games next weekend. Some matchups look great; others look like an excuse to catch up on BoJack Horseman on Netflix. Naturally, Digest is here to help you sort out which is which. (All times Eastern.)

                

    Browns at Giants, 7 p.m. Thursday

    Second and third quarters populated by Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward and the dozens of players the Browns have drafted for three years with no real plan of what to do with them makes this preseason appointment viewing. We already covered the Giants, but the backup quarterback battle between Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta bears watching too, if only to prove that neither of them will replace Eli Manning anytime soon.

                                 

    Cowboys at 49ers, 10 p.m. Thursday

    Skip this game. Backup quarterbacks Cooper Rush and C.J. Beathard will be dueling by the time the network switches over from Browns-Giants.

                         

    Falcons at Jets, 7:30 p.m. Friday

    Change the channel when the Falcons offense takes the field. Life is too short to watch Matt Schaub run plays called by Steve Sarkisian.

                   

    Lions at Raiders, 10:30 p.m. Friday

    There's a good chance that Jon Gruden will do something wacky like make Derek Carr play the whole first half to prove some old-school point. The Lions backup quarterback is (checks roster) Jake Rudock? There's an NFL quarterback named Jake Rudock? Yep, that's him pictured above. This is a good one to DVR and watch on fast forward if, like, your career obligates you to do so.

                                  

    Vikings at Broncos, 9 p.m. Saturday

    Case Keenum seeks revenge against the team that signed him, gave him a backup job, surrounded him with championship-caliber talent when he became the starter and then bid him a fond farewell when he shopped his services to the highest bidder. Yep, sweet, sweet revenge against those fiends. Then the second quarter will come, and Paxton Lynch will bounce screen passes at his receivers' feet.

    Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.