Preseason football continues this week and includes some very interesting matchups. Not only are teams fighting against other teams, but teammates battle against teammates for roster spots and starting jobs. Saturday's slate of games includes some of the more high-profile position battles.
Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith? Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne? Not to mention the stars of HBO's Hard Knocks, the Cincinnati Bengals. Here is a preview of each game, including the betting lines for each. For a complete list of Preseason Week 2 lines, go to OddsShark.com.
The Cowboys have emerged on the other side of a long offseason muddled by Jerry Jones-sparked controversy (what else is new?). After head coach Jason Garrett went .500 in his first two seasons, Jones made a show of stripping his play-calling duties for 2013, igniting controversy among media outlets and fans. Meanwhile, pressure will be ratcheted up for quarterback Tony Romo, who signed a six-year, $108-million extension this offseason.
Expectations are also high in Arizona, where Larry Fitzgerald is hoping he's finally acquired a competent quarterback in Carson Palmer, who arrived in a trade from Oakland in April. After hauling in 35 touchdowns in the three years preceding Kurt Warner's retirement, the super star wideout has tallied just 18 in the three seasons since. The Cardinals are hoping a Palmer-Fitzgerald connection can reignite the high-octane offense in the desert.
Titans (+3.5) at Bengals, 7 p.m. ET
The Titans ranked 21st in the NFL last season in rushing, a statistic that clearly weighed heavily on the mind of the team's brass this offseason. They signed guard Andy Levitre away from Buffalo, then took guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick in April. The hope is that the drastically improved interior offensive line will help spring free halfback Chris Johnson, who hasn't crossed the 1,400 yard mark in a season since exploding for over 2,000 in 2009. An expanded running game could do wonders for opening up the field for second-year starter Jake Locker.
The Bengals are also hoping for an upgrade to their rushing attack, having drafted running back Giovani Bernard in the second round to pair with incumbent starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis was solid in his first season as a full-time starter, but didn't have the touchdown numbers (six) that the Bengals were probably expecting. Quarterback Andy Dalton looks like his favorite weapon, A.J. Green, is recovered from his knee injury, and the arrival of veteran linebacker James Harrison figures to upgrade an already solid defensive front seven.
Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley gets his second in-game opportunity to evaluate the quarterback competition between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, though neither inspired a ton of confidence in their first preseason game. Gabbert completed 5-of-10 passes for 19 yards and an interception against the Dolphins in a 27-3 loss at home. Henne was much better statistically (8-of-11 for 87 yards) but against the second string Miami defense. The real player to watch if you want to stay awake could be rookie running back Denard Robinson.
Meanwhile, Rex Ryan has his own QB competition to worry about. Mark Sanchez gets the start after going 10-of-13 for 125 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the Jets' 26-17 loss to the Lions last week. Rookie Geno Smith was 6-of-7 for 47 yards but also suffered a sprained ankle. Sanchez will get the start against Jacksonville, but Ryan says there's still a possibility that Geno will play. We might not know the final decision on that until the game is already underway. Either way, it looks like Sanchez will play the entire first half.
Dolphins (+3.5) at Texans, 8 p.m. ET
The Miami Dolphins are a sneaky sleeper team this season after the additions of receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller, and defensive end Dion Jordan. Big things are expected this year from running back Lamar Miller and he might see a lot more than the two carries he received last week against the Jaguars. The biggest concern on offense is offensive tackle, an area that Miami failed to address in the offseason Defensively, keep an eye on Cameron Wake, the best pass rusher in the NFL that people seem to overlook. Wake has 37.5 sacks over the last three years.
If the Dolphins are a sleeper team, Houston is the team that everyone keeps expecting to win the AFC but that has fallen short the last two years. The Texans are solid on offense with Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and new addition DeAndre Hopkins. But beyond the top two receivers, the Texans will be looking for another option to step up on Saturday and establish himself as a threat after the departures of James Casey and Kevin Walter. That means that it's up to Lestar Jean, Keshawn Martin or Garrett Graham to show they deserve more reps. Defensively, it's all about 2012 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
The biggest change for the Packers this year will be the absence of receivers Donald Driver (retirement) and Greg Jennings (free agency, Vikings), tackle Bryan Bulaga (ACL) and safety Charles Woodson (free agency, Raiders). Green Bay will be observing a competition at running back among five players and a competition for the fourth receiver spot among a handful of unknowns. Even as a team going through a considerable amount of change, the Packers remain a favorite in the NFC thanks to Aaron Rodgers.
The Rams might not be a favorite in the NFC West, but they are certainly more dangerous than they've been in a long time. With the addition of tackle Jake Long, head coach Jeff Fisher hopes to finally give Sam Bradford ample protection as well as helping them evaluate a running back competition between Isaiah Pead and Benny Cunningham. No, not to be the starter -- that job belongs to belongs to Daryl Richardson. Pead is fighting to stay at No. 2 on the depth chart just a year after being a second-round pick. The Rams are also deciding on a starter at left guard. The Rams got bad news this week after finding out that linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar was suspended for the first four games of the season.
The running back competition got very interesting last week after undrafted free agent C.J. Anderson ran for 69 yards on 15 carries, but there was no good news for Anderson on Thursday. He was carted off of the practice field with an apparent right leg injury. In addition to the knee injury for Knowshon Moreno, there could be fewer players getting carries on Saturday. This opens the door for Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball as they compete to take over for Willis McGahee. You will also likely still see a lot more Brock Osweiler than you will Peyton Manning.
The Seahawks haven't lost a preseason game since 2011 and they look to continue that streak in Seattle on Saturday. They beat the Chargers, 31-10, in the first preseason games after strong performances from Tarvaris Jackson (8-of-9 for 128 yards, two touchdowns) and Christine Michael (16 carries for 89 yards.) The Seahawks have settled most of their starting position battles, but there are some hotly-contested depth battles at receiver, offensive line and the secondary. Keep an eye on undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey. A guard at Arkansas, Bailey was moved to left tackle and has looked like a solid veteran in training camp, as well as holding his own against San Diego.