The third preseason game is usually the closest thing you'll get to a game that matters. Most NFL teams treat the third game as a dress rehearsal with the starters playing the entire first half if not into the third quarter.
By next week, the first- and second-year players will be dominating the preseason games, so savor these games.
Except for the Cardinals-Titans game on ESPN. Chris Berman is calling that one. You can ignore that if you'd like.
Three more games on Thursday night. Here's what you should be watching for:
Can Graham Harrell stop the Packers from signing another quarterback?
Graham Harrell is the Packers backup quarterback and many people think that's a problem. In the next eight days, more than 1,000 players will hit the open market as teams begin making roster cuts. That means the Packers could have an opportunity to upgrade at the backup quarterback position.
Harrell has two more opportunities to impress the Packers' coaching staff, including Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Last week he was a dreadful 12-of-24 for 100 yards and two interceptions. The Packers organization seems to be run too well to enter the season with such a liability at backup quarterback.
They may not want to give up the draft picks, but the Packers should consider Colt McCoy if Harrell flops again on Thursday night against the Packers.
Cedric Benson gets his shot
Forgotten for much of the offseason, Cedric Benson inked a deal with the Packers last weekend. And believe it or not, he could open the season as the Packers' primary back. SB Nation's Acme Packing Company ran down the reasons why Benson is the top player to watch on Thursday night.
One, Benson is a rare controversial veteran signing for Ted Thompson, and this is his first time on the field as a Packer. Two, he is starting his Packer career at the home of his previous employer and many Bengal fans aren't too fond of him. Three, perhaps most importantly, he may be an upgrade over James Starks, Brandon Saine, and Alex Green, and this week is his first (and perhaps best) chance to prove he should be the starter week one.
Say what you want about Benson, but he's durable. He was on the field for nearly 600 carries the last two seasons and played in 31 of 32 regular season games.
By the way, Benson's first game in a Packers uniform will be coming against his old team, the Bengals.
The MJD-less Jaguars take the field
The Jacksonville Jaguars face the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, which means a big test for the Jaguars' offense in its dress rehearsal game. The Ravens' defense is annually among the elite in the league and the Jaguars continue to prepare for this season without their best offensive player, Maurice Jones-Drew.
You can catch up on all the MJD drama here but he will not be on the field on Thursday night. And for all the trash talking we give the Jaguars, they've put up 59 points in two games this preseason. Another strong offensive showing will make the Jags dig in even deeper with the MJD situation.
SB Nation's Big Cat Country writes that the Jaguars need to be extra careful about Rashad Jennings, the man who could be replacing MJD.
All that high ground can be lost in just the twist of a knee, roll of an ankle, or unnecessary shot to the body. So the team needs to be careful just how long they leave him vulnerable to a tenacious Ravens defense.
Veteran Montell Owens has been surprisingly effective running with the first and second teams so far, and the team would no doubt still like to see what they have with guys like Jalen Parmalee (who has been a pre-season disappointment after a great camp), Richard Murphy, and DuJuan Harris, both of whom have flashed at times. If it were up to me, I'd sit him completely, but I don't see the team doing that, so it'll be interesting to see how much of the work load they put on Jennings legs.
Watching Jake Locker without the pressure
Though the Titans' coaching staff would probably say differently, Jake Locker will take the field on Thursday against the Arizona Cardinals with significantly less pressure than the last time he lined up. The Tennessee Titans named Locker the starting quarterback earlier this week.
Locker hasn't exactly been on fire this preseason when you look at the numbers. In Week 1 he completed 7-of-13 passes. In Week 2, that dipped to 4-of-11. But it's clear the ability is there. SB Nation's Music City Miracles writes:
4-of-11 for 21 yards and an interception isn't going to get it done unless the Titans want to see fans break out the cyanide capsules. Look for Locker to get between 40-50 snaps and play into the 3rd quarter.
This will be Locker's best test yet.
Meanwhile, in other quarterback battles
The Titans' quarterback competition is done. The Cardinals' is not. Arizona is still deciding between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb with many people believing Skelton has a solid grasp on the job. SB Nation's Revenge of the Birds calls this the "most obvious" topic that will be discussed in the game.
Will John Skelton clinch the starting job with his performance or will he leave the door open for Kevin Kolb to sneak back in and perhaps take the starting job? Then you have the backup players. Will Ryan Lindley make his case for being the #3 guy or does Richard Bartel still have a dark horse's chance? Keeping an eye on how the quarterbacks perform against a pretty solid defense will be important.
Most starting quarterbacks play into the second half of the third preseason game. Skelton will play into the third quarter on Thursday night.
The Cardinals say a decision has not been made but indications are this is Skelton's job to lose.
Your complete Thursday night football schedule
- Packers vs. Bengals (7 p.m.)
- Jaguars vs. Ravens (7:30 p.m.)
- Cardinals vs. Titans (8 p.m. ESPN)