The final week of preseason action should feature at least a couple of teams playing starters for an extended amount of time.
PIT @ ATL | THU 7:30 PM ET | NFL Network
The Steelers no longer seem to be a “sleeper” team to contend in the AFC based on how the starters have performed this month, and Mike Tomlin is playing his guys again for another tune up before the 49ers come to town in Week 1. On the Atlanta offense, I’m interested in how Kyle Pitts is utilized—particularly in terms of number of snaps with Desmond Ridder.
IND @ PHI | THU 8:00 PM ET | Prime Video
Things got chippy between the Colts and Eagles during joint practices earlier this week, but Philadelphia is unlikely to play their starters as Indy linebacker Zaire Franklin and others seek payback. Still, this should be a good game to watch with Anthony Richardson hopefully seeing quite a bit of playing time to prepare for the opener.
DET @ CAR | FRI 8:00 PM ET | CBS
Detroit is another team that won’t be playing key starters for the third game in a row, but Bryce Young and the Carolina offense is trying to put something together in the final exhibition. Improved play from 2022 first-rounder Ikem Ekwonu is crucial, and he’ll be tested by strong depth on the edge for the Lions.
NE @ TEN | FRI 8:15 PM ET | NFL Network
If the Patriots play their starters again this week, we’ll get our first look at the possible split between Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott (though fantasy football owners probably shouldn’t overreact to whatever happens). I’m primarily curious how Zeke looks after just a short time with the team.
LAC @ SF | FRI 10:00 PM ET | NFL Network
San Francisco playing their starters—including Brock Purdy—might be somewhat of a counter to Pittsburgh doing the same leading up to the opener, as Kyle Shanahan obviously wants his squad to be prepared for what should be a physical game. Whether or not Los Angeles gives Justin Herbert and the star power on offense playing time, it’ll be a challenge in the trenches with Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer at guard for the Chargers.
SEA @ GB | SAT 1:00 PM ET
I love what Green Bay has done in the preseason by building up Jordan Love’s confidence, and he’ll get an opportunity to string together three encouraging outings before taking on the Bears in Week 1. Unfortunately, the Seahawks might be hesitant to play DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett with Jaxon Smith-Njigba (wrist) going down, but undrafted rookie Jake Bobo can lock up a roster spot—if he hasn’t already—with another promising showing.
ARI @ MIN | SAT 1:00 PM ET
Minnesota clearly has Super Bowl aspirations, but Dalvin Cook was a game-breaking running back that’s no longer on the roster—so is Alexander Mattison ready to carry the load? While the analytical-driven front office might not even consider it, I’d definitely inquire about Jonathan Taylor to give the offense an elite running back, wide receiver, and left tackle to build around.
CLE @ KC | SAT 1:00 PM ET | NFL Network
The preseason play of Dawand Jones has continued to elevate his stock for Cleveland, and he’s even gotten reps at left tackle in practice. Kansas City will play the starters and might throw some different looks on defense, so how Jones handles it will be fun to watch.
BUF @ CHI | SAT 1:00 PM ET
A disappointing showing for Buffalo last weekend might result in Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and others playing again on Saturday; if so, I’ll have my eyes on Dalton Kincaid whenever he’s on the field, and it’s been interesting to see everyone suddenly talking him up like crazy after a few preseason grabs.
NYJ @ NYG | SAT 6:00 PM ET | NFL Network
Our first look at Aaron Rodgers on the field for the Jets will be the headlining part of the week, and fans will be collectively holding their breath about pass protection holding up in an exhibition. If not, it might be wise to “throw in the towel” with the Giants having some Ivan Drago-types up front and an aggressive defensive coordinator in Wink Martindale.
CIN @ WAS | SAT 6:05 PM ET
The Commanders haven’t been shy about giving the offensive starters plenty of action, but Terry McLaurin (toe) now being in question for the opener and Sam Howell having high confidence makes them likely to rest everyone this weekend. Instead, Jake Fromm will get a shot to build on last week’s comeback victory when he was dropping dimes all over the field.
BAL @ TB | SAT 7:00 PM ET
Baker Mayfield has been named the starter for Tampa Bay, and we’ll see if Chris Godwin and Mike Evans suit up to get the offense going before the regular season. Defensively, slot cornerback is a concern on a unit that can be extremely stingy with everyone healthy, so I’m curious about the play of Zyon McCollum and Dee Delaney with Sean Murphy-Bunting in Tennessee.
MIA @ JAX | SAT 7:00 PM ET
Jacksonville will play their starters on Saturday night, so as mentioned for the Patriots and as is true for many teams, how the backfield unfolds will be worth watching closely. Travis Etienne Jr. is a star-level player, but third-rounder Tank Bigsby has rushed 22 times for 122 yards so far in the preseason and could have a fairly substantial role.
LV @ DAL | SAT 8:00 PM ET
Jimmy Garoppolo, Davante Adams (for one snap), and many of the starters for Las Vegas played some last week, but this game—perhaps with Dallas almost certainly sitting key players again—feels like it could be very backup-heavy. I’ll be watching Cowboys linebacker Jabril Cox as he makes his case for a role with rookie DeMarvion Overshown (knee) out for the year.
LAR @ DEN | SAT 9:00 PM ET | NFL Network
The Rams are another team that will rely on the reserves for the final exhibition, but Stetson Bennett has played very well and still brings some buzz to the matchup. Unfortunately, Denver will only play their starters for a series (if at all) after they had more action in the first two preseason games, but undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin is a player/story to watch with one more shot to make an impression before roster cuts.
HOU @ NO | SUN 8:00 PM ET | FOX
Joint practices between the Texans and Saints being canceled would seem to make it more likely we see the year’s final preseason matchup feature starters for both sides, and C.J. Stroud—not yet named officially named “QB1”—will at least play for Houston. I’m hoping to see Stroud and fellow rookie Tank Dell on the field together.