The third week of the NFL preseason schedule is the most enjoyable for fans, because it is the one time that the starters will play a large part of the game, from a half to almost three quarters. It is also the most nervous time for coaches and GMs as those starters are exposed to injury for the same amount of time. One thing I never understood when I worked in the league was why the starters don’t play very much in the final week of preseason. Practically, GMs want to get a good look at the backups and those fighting for the last couple of roster spots. But, remember that the starters will not play any significant time in live action for 14-17 days (depending on when clubs play this weekend). That is a long time, and I often wondered what a layoff like that does when the bullets fly for real in Week 1. Now, when the 18-game regular season comes to pass in the new CBA agreement (whenever that is), there will be just two preseason games (three for the two clubs that play in the Hall of Fame Game). How the playing time will be structured is a guess. It’s a far cry from the six-game preseason schedule the NFL played until 1978 when the league went from 14 to 16 regular-season contests. There are five nationally televised games this week starting tonight with a potential Super Bowl XLV preview (depending on which prognosticator you believe) as Indianapolis travels to Green Bay (7 pm ET; ESPN). It’s a battle of two of the best quarterbacks in the game, the Colts’ Peyton Manning and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. Friday night (8 pm ET; CBS), the defending Super Bowl champ New Orleans Saints host San Diego in the Louisiana Superdome. Saints QB Drew Brees takes on his former team, a week after New Orleans took Houston to the woodshed in a 38-20 victory.
Saturday, Cleveland goes to Detroit (5 pm ET; NFL Network) in an intriguing game. Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme continues his reclamation tour against a Lions squad continuing its extreme makeover under head coach Jim Schwartz. I have a feeling that the Browns will be a tougher out in their AFC North games this year than most figure on. The Lions continue to improve with QB Matthew Stafford. Both franchises are selling hope for the future by building from the ground up.
The battle of Texas comes later Saturday evening (7 pm ET; CBS) when Dallas visits Houston. Dallas is trying to take the final step in 2010 and play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium, while Houston wants to fulfil playoff expectations. It could be an aerial show with the Cowboys’ Tony Romo and Houston’s Matt Schaub.
FOX gets Pittsburgh at Denver on Sunday night (8 pm ET). Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels hopes his club can finish what it starts this year and land in the playoffs. Pittsburgh will be working without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for at least the first four weeks of the regular season, and it remains to be seen if or how long Roethlisberger will play against the Broncos. If it is not Big Ben, then either Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon will get the call (and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is not saying right now).
The rest of Week 3 is: Thursday – St. Louis at New England (7:30 pm ET); Friday – Atlanta at Miami (7 pm ET), Washington at N.Y. Jets (7 pm ET) and Philadelphia at Kansas City (7 pm ET); Saturday – Cincinnati at Buffalo (6:30 pm ET), Jacksonville at Tampa Bay (7:30 pm ET), N.Y. Giants at Baltimore (7:30 pm ET), Seattle at Minnesota (7 pm ET), Tennessee at Carolina (8 pm ET), Arizona at Chicago (7:30 pm ET) and San Francisco at Oakland (6 pm ET).