Week 3 of the NFL preseason is a critical juncture in a franchise's preparation for the regular season, and it should prove to be the most exciting week of football for fans since training camp began.
Just about every team will give its projected starters an extended run in Week 3, before giving way to those fighting for roster spots in Week 4. If there is a time to gauge a team's potential before the season begins, it is in the first half of the Week 3 contests.
There will be ample opportunity to evaluate rising stars from around the league and see whether or not they have what it takes to elevate their games to the next level.
Here is the full slate of action for Week 3 of the 2014 NFL preseason, followed by a few key storylines to keep an eye on from around the league.
|2014 NFL Pre-Season: Week 3 Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET), TV Info|
|Thu., August 21||Pittsburgh at Philadelphia||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||Oakland at Green Bay||8 p.m., CBS|
|Fri., August 22||Jacksonville at Detroit||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||Carolina at New England||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||NY Giants at NY Jets||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||Chicago at Seattle||10 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Tampa Bay at Buffalo||4:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Dallas at Miami||7 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Tennessee at Atlanta||7 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Washington at Baltimore||7:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||New Orleans at Indianapolis||8 p.m., CBS|
|Sat., August 23||St. Louis at Cleveland||8 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Minnesota at Kansas City||8 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Houston at Denver||9 p.m.|
|Sun., August 24||San Diego at San Francisco||4 p.m., Fox|
|Sun., August 24||Cincinnati at Arizona||8 p.m., NBC|
Storylines to Watch
Can Teddy Bridgewater Win the Quarterback Battle in Minnesota?
Teddy Bridgewater's pre-draft fall from grace was a huge storyline early in the NFL summer, but lately the chatter surrounding the University of Louisville product has been nothing but positive.
Bridgewater has shown a strong ability to make throws in the pocket, on the run and under pressure so far in this preseason. He also showed that he could very well be blessed with the clutch gene, a must-have for a successful NFL quarterback.
Bridgewater displayed calm under pressure in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals, leading the Minnesota Vikings on an 83-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and then completing the game-winning touchdown pass to Rodney Smith on a separate drive with 18 seconds left in the game. He ended up completing 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller was able to find some faults in Bridgewater's performance, but noted that the numbers were hard to argue with:
He's also said all the right things to the media this offseason.
"I'm still the young guy here, and I still have a lot to prove, and I still have a lot to work for," Bridgewater said via USA Today's Tom Pelissero. "I'm going to come in each and every day and get better."
It sounds like he should be a lock for a starting job, but Matt Cassel has been stellar throughout the preseason as well. He went 12-of-16 for 153 yards and a touchdown against the Cards and completed five of six passes in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders.
There is very little in his performances so far to suggest that he won't be a competent starter while Bridgewater absorbs as much as possible from offensive coordinator and renowned quarterback guru Norv Turner on the sidelines.
However, if Bridgewater greatly outplays Cassel in Week 3, he could be lining up behind center as an NFL starter much sooner than most football observers projected.
Carolina Panthers Wide Receiver Corps
If the Carolina Panthers are to repeat their success from the 2013 season, the revamped wide-receiver contingent will have to step up in a big way.
The pass-catcher exodus comes at a crucial point in Newton's development. The numbers show that Newton has relied more and more on his burgeoning passing acumen with each passing year.
|Cam Newton Key Stats, 2011-2013|
|Season||Cmp %||Pass Yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Rush Yards||Rush TDs|
The Panthers don't want to see their star quarterback unnecessarily risking his body to move the ball on the ground, especially when the team has capable running backs in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Fozzy Whittaker. They need to be able to move the ball in the air. So far, rookie Kelvin Benjamin has looked up to the task.
The lanky, 6'5" wideout has been promising in training camp, and he even caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in the Panthers' preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. Head coach Ron Rivera likes the way he has responded to the different looks the team has thrown at him in training camp.
"It’s probably a little bit different than what he experienced in college,” Rivera said, via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “But still in this game it really is a matter of how you handle it. He’s done a pretty good job.”
Steve Reed of The Associated Press noted that Benjamin could quickly become Newton's favorite target in the red zone:
Veteran wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are in camp to provide competition and round out the unit. Thankfully, Newton is safe at tight end with Greg Olsen, who amassed 816 yards through the air last season. Watching how this new group gels with Newton will be key to gauging how successful the Panthers will be in the 2014 season.
Manziel or Hoyer?
Of course, all eyes are on the Cleveland Browns' preseason quarterback battle, a sentiment rarely expressed before this offseason. Johnny Manziel will be looking to move past Brian Hoyer on the Browns' quarterback depth chart, and Week 3 should give fans a clear picture of who will be the team's starter in Week 1 of the regular season.
Manziel fared better than Hoyer in Week 2 of the preseason against the Washington Redskins, but it took a big improvement in the second half for the final numbers to look even halfway decent.
Johnny Football completed seven of 16 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, while Hoyer went just 2-of-6 for 16 yards. However, the rookie was dreadful in the first half, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Manziel missed several wide-open targets on the night, and Hoyer never really had a chance to get into the flow of the game.
ESPN's Stuart Scott couldn't help but poke fun at the quarterback situation in Cleveland:
A quarterback controversy is a strange situation when neither player is faring well. The Browns may be inclined to start Hoyer in the regular season since Manziel doesn't appear to be ready to take the league by storm. Still, things can change in Week 3.
If the Browns open up the offense and give both players a shot at working with the first unit, it could at least serve as a referendum on Manziel's timetable for assuming the mantle as the team's starting quarterback of the future.