NFL Preseason: Week 3

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The final of the NFL’s three preseason weekends kicks off on Thursday with two games, and it will end Sunday night with a final game in New Orleans.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5) at Atlanta Falcons – Thursday

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has looked very good this preseason, and it has fans in Western Pennsylvania thinking about a return to the playoffs. A postseason berth for Pittsburgh is paying +125 on, with the main reason it pays in the plus-money being the difficulty of the division.

The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the NFL’s top teams, and the Baltimore Ravens are quarterbacked by a past MVP. The Steelers are good, but good enough to make the playoffs in the AFC? The continued growth of Kenny Pickett at quarterback (who will play Thursday in Atlanta) will ultimately decide.

The Atlanta Falcons are also thinking about making the playoffs, but precisely because the NFC South is so weak. Someone has to win it – why not the Falcons? 

All they need is Desmond Ridder to be an average quarterback. With below average quarterback play last year they had one of the most efficient running games in the NFL. Better QB play plus the addition of rookie running back Bijan Robinson – the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year – could be enough to put them over the top.

Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers (-4.5) – Friday

Top overall pick Bryce Young is the unquestioned starting quarterback in Carolina, and this Friday at home he will make his third start of the preseason. Head coach Frank Reich has decided that getting Young game action is more important than keeping him safe on the sideline.

Young looked marginally better in his second start, and if he takes another small step forward against the Detroit Lions, the preseason will be a success in Carolina. 

The Lions open up the season on September 7, earlier than any other team in the NFC, so head coach Dan Campbell will rest the majority of his starters this weekend. That’s a big reason why the Panthers are favored to win.

New England Patriots (-2) at Tennessee Titans – Friday

A surprise injury to rookie quarterback Will Levis resulted in an entire game of Malik Willis last week for the Tennessee Titans. Levis said he hopes to return and play this week. But if he doesn’t, it will be the Willis show once again.

It’s a golden opportunity for Willis, who was the heir apparent to Ryan Tannehill when he was selected in the third round last year. But he lost that status with poor play when he did get on the field, and with the pick of Levis in the second round this year.

Willis was terrific on the ground in Week 2, rushing for 95 yards on 11 carries. His passing, however, left plenty to be desired. He needs a good game on Friday to secure the number two spot behind Tannehill. Levis needs to prove to be healthy if he has designs on being the primary backup.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (-3) – Saturday

You are more likely to see Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith and the rest of the starters on the sideline in bubble wrap than on the field in uniform. In Seattle’s second preseason game, they lost standout rookie wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba to a broken bone in his wrist.

On Tuesday Smith-Njigba had surgery on his wrist, and Seattle hopes his absence is only for three-or-four weeks. But even with the optimistic return time line, there will be no more chances taken. Seattle’s starters will watch on Saturday.

The Green Bay Packers are going the other way, and they will start Jordan Love in his final preseason tuneup before he takes over the starting quarterback job for real on September 10 at Chicago. The Packers starters will play, and that is why they are favored by

Other Week 3 Storylines

Aaron Rodgers will start at quarterback on Saturday when the New York Jets play their fellow stadium tenants, the New York Giants.

Keep an eye on rookie running back Deuce Vaughn when the Dallas Cowboys host the Las Vegas Raiders. Vaughn has scored touchdowns in each of the Cowboys first two preseason games, and the sixth-round pick from Kansas State may win the job as Tony Pollard’s primary backup.

When the Cleveland Browns play the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, both teams will be solidifying their backup quarterback job. Blaine Gabbert is the veteran in Kansas City, but third-year QB Shane Buechele has shined, completing all 10 of his passes last week. In Cleveland, the job was assumed to belong to Joshua Dobbs. But rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been outstanding in the preseason. Another big game from DTR, and the job should be his.

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