NFL Preseason Week 3 Preview: Biggest Question Facing Each Team

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystAugust 23, 2018

NFL Preseason Week 3 Preview: Biggest Question Facing Each Team

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    The third week of the NFL's preseason is a player's best opportunity to make a positive impression after weeks of grinding and banging heads with teammates. 

    The league's "dress rehearsal" is the closest thing to a regular-season contest, and it should be the culmination of everything an individual and team has been working toward. 

    "This is real football now," Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson said during the second episode of HBO's Hard Knocks. "... It's a f--king grind, and sometimes you don't want to do it. You gotta learn to do it when you don't want to do it. That's what pro football is. It hurts. You got to compete against each other. You gotta bust your ass. You gotta be in the right spot, and you gotta play the f--king game the way it's meant to be played. Or you're wasting your time."

    Stories develop and become the driving narratives behind each training camp. These stories play out on the field as teams ready themselves for the regular season.

    The following questions still linger, and the answers possibly found during the third preseason contest will have an immediate impact on the 2018 campaign.


Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns

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    Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles (9) and Nate Sudfeld (7)
    Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles (9) and Nate Sudfeld (7)Associated Press

    8 p.m. ET Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland (Fox)

    How much more work will Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles get before the regular season? 

    The reigning Super Bowl MVP suffered a strained shoulder when New England Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn sacked him during the second preseason contest after Nate Sudfeld and Joe Callahan played the entire first contest.

    Foles will play Thursday, according to's Tim McManus. His status is critical to the Eagles' early-season plans since Carson Wentz's timetable remains uncertain. 

    "It's gonna be close," Wentz said about playing Week 1, according to The MMQB's Albert Breer


    How does the Cleveland Browns offense come together? 

    Josh Gordon is back as part of the Browns organization, but he isn't a full participant yet, per Patrick Maks of the team's site. Jarvis Landry is the team's No. 1 target. Beyond that, nothing in Cleveland's offense has been determined.

    The passing game flew down the field (11.5 yards per attempt) during the Browns' first preseason contest against the New York Giants. The run game excelled (5.1 yards per carry) the following week against the Buffalo Bills. Everything needs to come together with Tyrod Taylor (or Baker Mayfield) leading the way. 

New York Giants at New York Jets

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    New York Jets quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater (5), Josh McCown (15) and Sam Darnold (14)
    New York Jets quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater (5), Josh McCown (15) and Sam Darnold (14)Associated Press

    7:30 p.m. ET Friday at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

    Will the New York Giants unwrap Odell Beckham Jr. before the regular season? 

    Odell Beckham Jr. may or may not play this preseason. 

    "We'll see," Giants head coach Pat Shurmur responded when asked if his star wide receiver will participate in the third preseason contest, per's Jordan Raanan

    The Giants are learning a new offensive scheme under Shurmur, and Beckham needs some time to reacquaint himself with game speed. While some organizations hesitate to place their top performers in preseason contests, Beckham would benefit from playing at least a few snaps, as he hasn't been in a game situation since he broke his ankle in October. 


    Which New York Jets quarterback will emerge as the starter? 

    Sam Darnold appears well on his way to becoming the Jets' starting quarterback. The rookie already got the nod to open the second preseason contest. Whether he does so against the Giants will indicate how far he is along the learning curve.

    Josh McCown has completed one preseason pass so far. Teddy Bridgewater seems more likely to be trade bait than a starter. Head coach Todd Bowles could lean on either to make sure Darnold isn't rushed, but if the 21-year-old starts a second straight contest, the decision is all but made. 

Denver Broncos at Washington Redskins

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    Washington Redskins running backs Derrius Guice (29) and Samaje Perine (32)
    Washington Redskins running backs Derrius Guice (29) and Samaje Perine (32)Associated Press

    7:30 p.m. ET Friday at FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

    Is the Denver Broncos offense ready for prime time? 

    Quarterback Case Keenum believed the Broncos offense "never got into a rhythm" against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 of the preseason, per KOA News Radio's Brandon Krisztal. A week later, Keenum said he "finally got into a rhythm" against the Chicago Bears, per 247Sports' Chad Jensen.

    The Broncos offense showed growth under Keenum's direction, but the group still needs to figure out which runner, Royce Freeman or Devontae Booker, is the lead back. Also, how the coaching staff uses rookie receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton remains a work in progress.


    Which Washington Redskins running back replaces Derrius Guice? 

    Preseason action hasn't been kind to Washington's running backs.

    Rookie Derrius Guice is done for the season with a torn ACL. Byron Marshall could miss a month, and Samaje Perine is out "at least a week" with ankle injuries, according to Jacob Camenker of Sporting News.

    The organization signed Adrian Peterson on Monday, and the future Hall of Fame back provides another healthy body alongside Rob Kelley and Kapri Bibbs. If the 33-year-old runs well leading into the regular season, he could push Kelley for the starting role.     

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers

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    Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey
    Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffreyAssociated Press

    7:30 p.m. ET Friday at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

    Who will answer the call at right tackle for the New England Patriots?

    Right tackle is a mess in New England. As Trent Brown solidified the blind side, first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn made his way to the strong side and began working with the first-team offense.

    Unfortunately, Wynn suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday. Marcus Cannon, meanwhile, continues to nurse an undisclosed injury. Until Cannon returns, LaAdrian Waddle must prove capable of completing the O-line. 

    "He's done a solid job," head coach Bill Belichick said of Waddle, per's Nicole Yang. "He's an experienced player. He's spent multiple years in our system, playing both sides. He gives us a solid, consistent level of play."


    How will the Carolina Panthers' running back rotation unfold?  

    Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson along with Kenjon Barner, Cameron Artis-Payne and Elijah Hood create a formidable backfield. Finding ways to get all five the ball is a good problem to have, but it's still a problem as the Panthers coaching staff tries to establish a rotation. 

    "They all have unique qualities, a skill set," head coach Ron Rivera said, per the Charlotte Observer's Jourdan Rodrigue. "Every one of those guys we brought in belongs in camp. And the hard thing is that we have a couple of young guys that we’re really trying to find out about, but at the same time, we haven’t been able to use them."    

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings

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    Seattle Seahawks offensive linemen George Fant (left) and Germain Ifedi (right)
    Seattle Seahawks offensive linemen George Fant (left) and Germain Ifedi (right)Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    8 p.m. ET Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

    Who will be the Seattle Seahawks' right tackle? 

    Different year, same story. The Seahawks offensive line is a still a major question mark.

    In particular, right tackle is a sore spot. Germain Ifedi, whom Seattle selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, continues to disappoint. The coaching staff decided to flip George Fant from left to right tackle now that he's ready to compete after recovering from last year's ACL surgery. 

    "That has been the thought all along to get him back moving again, feeling comfortable at the left side, with the thought of him getting over there and competing on the right side," head coach Pete Carroll said, per the Seattle Times' Bob Condotta.


    How will the Minnesota Vikings offensive line look? 

    Nick Easton's likely season-ending neck injury made an unstable situation even worse for the Vikings.

    Four different starters—Easton, Mike Remmers (ankle), Rashod Hill (ankle) and Pat Elflein (PUP)—didn't play Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, Hill and Remmers returned to practice Monday, according to Viking Update. Their presence in the lineup should reinforce the right side of the line, while Riley Reiff and Tom Compton form the left.

    Even as some of the projected starters return, the unit needs time and reps to build cohesion before the regular season. 

Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Detroit Lions offensive lineman Frank Ragnow
    Detroit Lions offensive lineman Frank RagnowAssociated Press

    8 p.m. ET Friday at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. (CBS)

    How will the Detroit Lions create and prevent pressure? 

    The Lions are the NFL's only team not to have registered a sack through two preseason contests. This is especially concerning since Detroit hired defensive guru Matt Patricia this offseason to be its head coach.

    Ziggy Ansah might be a franchise player, but he needs help in the worst way

    Discussing offensive line play isn't sexy, either, but it's the foundation of every successful offense. The team's starting five allowed Matthew Stafford to be sacked twice in three series during the second preseason contest. A decision to start first-round pick Frank Ragnow at center or guard will greatly help the situation. 


    Can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense overcome Donovan Smith's injury?

    The Buccaneers avoided a catastrophe when left tackle Donovan Smith suffered what appeared to be a major injury during Tuesday's practice. According to's Jenna Laine, Smith strained his knee and is expected to miss the next two to four weeks.

    That means the Buccaneers' blind-side protector may not be ready for the start of the regular season, which places the offense in a predicament. Michael Liedtke is the Bucs' backup left tackle for now, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

    "That's a guy that we need," Demar Dotson said of Smith, per Laine. "He means everything [to this team]. We don't have [anybody] that can play left tackle the way he can play left tackle."

Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders

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    Oakland Raiders wide receiver Martavis Bryant
    Oakland Raiders wide receiver Martavis BryantThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    10:30 p.m. ET Friday at Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, Calif. (NFL Network)

    Will Jake Kumerow and Reggie Gilbert continue their magical preseason performances for the Green Bay Packers 

    Wide receiver and edge-rusher were among the Packers' biggest problem areas this offseason. Unexpected training camp standouts may fill both of those holes.

    The Packers need to find a third receiving option beyond Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Jake Kumerow leads all Green Bay wideouts with 190 receiving yards through two preseason contests. Reggie Gilbert, meanwhile, has been a consistent presence in opposing backfields.

    If nothing else, these two have created quality depth at positions of need with the potential to develop into something more. 


    Will Martavis Bryant secure the Oakland Raiders' third receiver spot? 

    Raiders head coach Jon Gruden knows exactly what he wants in a No. 3 wide receiver.

    According to The Athletic's Vic Tafur, he wants "someone to come out here and string four or five really good days together and showcase their stuff. Make some plays. With and without the ball."

    Martavis Bryant hasn't done so during training camp. As a result, the Raiders are still searching for a third receiving threat beyond Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson. Bryant, Ryan Switzer, Griff Whalen and rookie Marcell Ateman are all in the mix, and Gruden is watching. 

Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears

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    Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith
    Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan SmithDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    1 p.m. ET Saturday at Soldier Field, Chicago (NFL Network)

    Will the Kansas City Chiefs offense take a step back? 

    Not a single person questions Patrick Mahomes' natural ability. His readiness to take over as the Chiefs' starting quarterback is an altogether different matter.

    Through two preseason games, last year's 10th overall pick has gone 13-of-19 for 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Mahomes' majestic 69-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill last week got everyone excited about his potential. However, the second-year signal-caller is still growing into his position. 

    "Just to be able to use the speed we have on the field is always a good feeling," Mahomes said, per the Kansas City Star's Brooke Pryor. "It's something you just get to keep learning. It's something that comes within the game. You can't force it." 


    Is Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith ready? 

    Roquan Smith will get his first taste of NFL action after a lengthy contract holdout. 

    "We're hoping that this is a great opportunity for him to get in there and move around," Bears head coach Matt Nagy said, per the team's official site

    Chicago spent this year's No. 8 overall draft pick to select the rangy linebacker. He's expected to anchor the defense for years, but Saturday's contest should be considered nothing more than baby steps considering he's participated in only one padded practice since signing his rookie contract on Aug. 14. 

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams

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    Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt
    Houston Texans defensive end J.J. WattAssociated Press

    4 p.m. ET Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

    Does J.J. Watt look like his old self? 

    J.J. Watt has suited up this preseason, but he has yet to play a down. This could change Saturday. 

    "More guys will play in this game than have in the last two," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said, per Click 2 Houston's Lainie Fritz. "I don't know yet [about Watt]. But I could see anybody who is healthy and ready to go could see some time in the game." 

    If and when the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year makes an appearance, all eyes will be upon him after two injury-plagued years. Though Watt looks better than ever, his play remains a question mark.


    Which Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker will pair with Samson Ebukam? 

    Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin are long gone. The Rams plan to start Samson Ebukam at one outside linebacker spot in Wade Phillips' preferred 3-4 defense.

    The opposite side might as well be a toss-up at this point in the process.

    Matt Longacre, Ryan Davis, Ejuan Price, Justin Lawler, Trevon Young and John Franklin-Myers are still competing to provide a pass rush from the other side of the formation. 

    "There are some guys that are doing a good job," head coach Sean McVay said, per's Lindsey Thiry, "but I think it's really important for us to kind of tailor in, find out who we think those guys are."

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur speaks to his wide receivers.
    Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur speaks to his wide receivers.Associated Press

    4 p.m. ET Saturday at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh (NFL Network)

    What will the Tennessee Titans offense look like under Matt LaFleur? 

    Previous Titans head coach Mike Mularkey failed to capitalize on his franchise quarterback's unique skill set. It's one of the reasons he's no longer leading the team.

    New head coach Mike Vrabel hired Matt LaFleur to maximize Marcus Mariota's potential. It's still a work in progress, but the early returns have been positive. The quarterback has gone 6-of-10 so far with two touchdown tosses. 

    "He [LaFleur] is going to put every guy on the offense in the best situation possible. For me, that's exciting because he's using our best assets," Mariota said, per's Turron Davenport.


    Should the Pittsburgh Steelers worry about their defense? 

    The Steelers defensive front is great. The rest of the unit is...meh.

    Preseason is preseason, but a lack of fundamentals will bleed into the regular season if they aren't corrected. Poor angles and missed tackles plagued this group through two contests.

    Five starters—Cam Heyward, Sean Davis, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton and T.J. Watt—didn't play against the Green Bay Packers due to injuries, but these issues are an extension of last season's inconsistent performance. The Steelers currently have issues at linebacker, especially next to Vince Williams, and a secondary still learning to play together. 

San Francisco 49ers at Indianapolis Colts

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    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck
    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew LuckJeff Haynes/Associated Press

    4:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

    Which guard will complete the San Francisco 49ers offense? 

    The 49ers offense looks fantastic with Jimmy Garoppolo leading the way. Right guard is the only position that needs to be settled between now and the regular season to complete the unit.

    Joshua Garnett is legitimately in the mix after dealing with lingering knee issues earlier in training camp. Mike Person continues to work with the first team, according to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group, but Garnett is now pushing to play.

    The 2016 first-round pick's next performance might be enough to usurp the starting role and not look back, whereas Person can provide depth at both guard and center. 


    How is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck progressing? 

    Just having Andrew Luck back on the field is a positive step for the Colts. Eventually, though, his return will need to become more than a good story. His play will dictate how competitive the Colts can be.

    The 2012 No. 1 overall pick provided two uninspiring performances to open the preseason. Luck has completed only 54.5 percent of his passes without a touchdown pass in limited opportunities. 

    "Not too sharp," Luck said after the second preseason contest, per Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News. "... Missed a couple throws that I'd like to hit. ... It's tough—when we play that way, a little sloppy—it's tough to become positive."   

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

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    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh speaks with wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) and John Brown (13).
    Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh speaks with wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) and John Brown (13).Associated Press

    7 p.m. ET Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens

    Which young tight end and wide receiver will emerge in the Baltimore Ravens offense?

    The Ravens spent a large portion of their offseason overhauling their skill-position talent. Veterans Michael Crabtree and John Brown have already become go-to targets for Joe Flacco, but the rookies need to do more.

    Tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are still establishing themselves after being first- and third-round picks, respectively. The team selected wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley later in the draft, too. 

    "You want to make the team, you've got to make the catch," head coach John Harbaugh said, per the Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer. "You want to make the team, you've got to make a block, you've got to make a tackle. Go make the team. Show us."


    Are the Miami Dolphins better after moving Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry and Mike Pouncey?

    Ndamukong Suh "made an observation any blind man could see" when he poked fun at the Dolphins' poor run defense on Instagram, according to's Lindsey Thiry.

    One social media comment about Miami surrendering a 71-yard touchdown run to Christian McCaffrey speaks volumes, though.

    The Dolphins seem to be struggling at key positions vacated by core performers. Miami's coaching staff is still trying to determine its starting defensive tackles, wide receiver DeVante Parker may not be able to pick up the slack in the passing game and center Daniel Kilgore isn't powerful at the point of attack. 

Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.
    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    7 p.m. ET Saturday at TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.

    Have the Atlanta Falcons found an answer at right guard? 

    The most significant change to the Atlanta Falcons offense will likely occur at right guard, where 2017 starter Wes Schweitzer and eighth-year veteran Brandon Fusco continue to compete.

    Fusco might only need one strong performance in the third preseason game to lock up the starting gig. He started the second preseason contest and will continue in that role. 

    "I'll be ready next week," Quinn said of naming his right guard, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. "But [Fusco has] earned the right to take more of the first-team snaps for sure."


    How much value does Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler still hold? 

    The Jaguars have done a lot of things right in the draft during general manager David Caldwell's tenure. Selecting Dante Fowler with the third overall pick in the 2015 class isn't one of them.

    Fowler, along with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, returned Monday from a weeklong suspension for violating team rules and "conduct unbecoming of a Jaguars player." While Ramsey has developed into a superstar cover corner, Fowler is well on his way to being labeled a bust.

    If the 24-year-old defender doesn't piece together a standout performance soon, he may not be with the Jaguars much longer. According to the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta, the Jets have already inquired about a potential trade for him.

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers

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    New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport
    New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus DavenportAssociated Press

    8 p.m. ET Saturday at StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. (CBS)

    Will Marcus Davenport develop into an elite pass-rusher?

    The New Orleans Saints should finally get to see their top offseason investment on the field against an actual opponent.

    Edge-rusher Marcus Davenport missed nearly three weeks of training camp with an unspecified injury, but he returned to the practice field Wednesday, according to Sean Fazende of Fox 8 New Orleans. Head coach Sean Payton expects him to make his preseason debut against the Chargers, per KPLC 7 NBC's Garland Gillen.

    The Saints made a significant investment in Davenport by trading away a future first-round pick to acquire him. He needs to show his skill set is well worth the price. 


    Which Los Angeles Chargers kicker will emerge?

    Special teams never get enough attention, unless they stink. The Chargers stunk in the kicking game last season, converting a league-low 67 percent of their field-goal attempts.

    Though they acquired two new kickers this offseason—Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayothey still lack clarity in the kicking game. 

    "I would love to make that decision sooner than later. I really would," head coach Anthony Lynn said, per's Eric D. Williams. "But it's so close right now, so I just can't. We have so many battles that we can focus on this training camp, but that one right there—I'm definitely not ready to pull the trigger on that one yet."

Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills

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    Buffalo Bills quarterbacks AJ McCarron (left) and Josh Allen (right)
    Buffalo Bills quarterbacks AJ McCarron (left) and Josh Allen (right)David Richard/Associated Press

    4 p.m. ET Sunday at New Era Field, Buffalo, N.Y. (Fox)

    Will the Cincinnati Bengals' new-look offensive line hold together? 

    Like so many other teams around the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals continue to search for their best starting front five.

    The left side appears set with left tackle Cordy Glenn, left guard Clint Boling and rookie first-round center Billy Price. The right side isn't nearly as sturdy.

    Bobby Hart could be a problem at right tackle, even if he seems to be the preferred starting option over Cedric Ogbuehi. Trey Hopkins is listed as the team's starting right guard, per Jay Morrison of the The Athletic, although Alex Redmond is still competing for the spot.

    A talented Bengals offense could be derailed by poor blocking. 


    Is Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen the long-term answer? 

    The Bills' quarterback competition has become a war of attrition, with the biggest gun seemingly ready to win the battle.

    Nathan Peterman has been better than expected, but he's a low-upside option. AJ McCarron is dealing with a sore shoulder, and he's been "limited" in practice, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    That leaves the seventh overall pick, Josh Allen, as the logical choice, and the rookie received first-team reps throughout the week, per Rapoport. The Bills appear to be full-speed ahead with Allen leading the way, as long as he performs well with the first-team offense. 

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys

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    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen
    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh RosenRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    8 p.m. ET Sunday at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas (NBC)

    Can Arizona Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford hold off rookie Josh Rosen? 

    The sentiment has lingered throughout the offseason: Sam Bradford will be the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback until he suffers another injury. No one hopes the 2010 No. 1 overall pick gets hurt, but his injury history suggests it's a distinct possibility.

    Furthermore, Josh Rosen may be playing his way into a legitimate competition. Bradford has been precise in shortened work. The rookie, meanwhile, showed growth in his second appearance after getting work with the first-team offense. 

    "I think the decisions he made in knowing where to go with the ball, knowing his reads, knowing what we were in was pretty impressive for a young guy," New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins said of the opposing quarterback, per's Herbie Teope


    Do the Dallas Cowboys have enough at safety? 

    The Cowboys' decision to sign a pair of safeties this week—Dominick Sanders and Jeron Johnsonspeaks volumes regarding the state of that position for them.

    Free safety Xavier Woods is nursing a pulled hamstring and may not be ready for the start of the regular season, according to's Todd Archer. Plus, Dallas placed backup safety Jameill Showers on injured reserve with a knee injury. Kavon Frazier now serves as Woods' replacement, but the franchise is looking at all of its options. (Earl Thomas, anyone?)

    "We're always looking to improve ourselves," Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said, per the Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota. "If we get the opportunity to improve our football team, we'll certainly take a look at it."


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