The NFL season proper is just about here, but first we have a full slate of preseason games to close out the exhibition season. On Thursday, most of the teams in the league will meet for their fourth and final preseason games, and if all goes as planned very few starters will be playing.
In fact, as far as most teams go, boring is better for the fourth preseason game. Often thought of as unnecessary, the game rarely features starters and the only significance comes when players are just returning to action, big-name rookies need more playing time or the final few spots on the roster are still up in the air.
Teams have to trim down from 75 to 53 players by Saturday, and many a roster spot will be decided on Thursday. A lot of that usually has to do with special teams or positions that aren't exactly "sexy" like the third tight end spot or that final offensive lineman.
Finding the actual story in each of these games may be tough, but below is a quick look at each one and where you can watch it, if that's your thing.
Tom Brady says he wants to play, Jimmy Garoppolo is basically a starter and nobody knows whether or not Bill Belichick will play either of them. Brady will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension.
Unlike many games on Thursday, this one should feature some starters. The Titans and Dolphins are still looking to figure some things out, the former with their defense and the latter with their offense. So expect a drive or two with players you'll recognize, at least!
Nobody of real note is expected to play in this game. Both teams are hoping their adjustments they've made thus far will help them compete in their divisions, but there is little be settled in the fourth preseason game.
The Jets won't be playing Ryan Fitzpatrick nor will they be playing Geno Smith. That either means Smith has secured the backup job or they are preventing him from getting injured while exploring the possibility of a trade. Interesting!
Both the Steelers and the Panthers are not only expected to rest their starters, but their backups as well. Two talented teams that should be in the playoffs this season, but not a whole lot of interest in this fourth preseason game, save for Steelers rookie Artie Burns getting an extended look.
The Bengals and Colts are no strangers to coming up short of expectations in recent seasons, but both teams feel pretty settled going into the regular season. This game should feature mostly players who will likely be released before the start of the season.
There are a few backup spots still up for grabs with these teams, but little else. The starters will not play, and the game will focus primarily on the younger players fighting for roster spots.
The Browns have a loooooong way to go until they're considered a good team. As such, they're taking every chance at improving they can get, and that includes playing starters in the final preseason game. Don't expect the same out of the Bears, however.
Dak Prescott came along just well enough to give the Cowboys some hope that they'd be well off if Tony Romo were to get injured. Then he went and got injured, and now Prescott likely won't play in Thursday's game because the Cowboys will be saving him for the regular season.
Word from both the Packers and the Chiefs is that not only will the starters not play, but many of the backups will not as well. The game will likely be left to younger players, many of whom will not make the final roster. This may be a good one to avoid.
Case Keenum is the starting quarterback for the Rams, and he's expected to sit this game out. But the first overall pick, Jared Goff, should get an extended look against a Vikings team that lost its starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, to injury. Shaun Hill is now the starter, and it's unclear if he'll play.
The only thing worth paying attention to in this game: Breshad Perriman's debut. Drafted to be a playmaker, the receiver has been injured for most of his NFL career. He'll be in action against the Saints and he's definitely the one to watch.
The Broncos have named Trevor Siemian the starting quarterback and, accordingly, he will likely sit for Thursday's game against the Cardinals. But that means rookie Paxton Lynch should get an extended look, and as the potential future starter, there's definitely reason to watch this one.
It's a tale of running backs on Thursday, as C.J. Prosise of the Seahawks tries to cement his spot on the offense and a pair of rookies for Oakland try and make their case for the same thing. Don't expect to see any starters in this one.
This game wouldn't hold much intrigue normally, but with Chip Kelly insisting the starting quarterback job for the 49ers is still up in the air, there's definitely some interest. Colin Kaepernick should get a whole lot of playing time while Blaine Gabbert will sit.
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