Top storyline for each Week 3 NFL preseason game

By Vincent Frank

Week 3 of the preseason tends to be the best indicator of what we’ll see once the regular year comes calling. Starters tend to play into the third quarter, if not longer. It’s their final preseason reps for the exhibition slate, with teams deciding to sit their starters for Week 4 of the preseason.

This year promises to provide a bunch of stories as the NFL’s 32 teams prepare for the regular season.

In New Jersey, two stud rookies will take on one another. Both have lofty expectations heading into their first seasons, and this week’s matchup will certainly be telling. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott has played tremendous football during the preseason. Will that continue Sunday night against Arizona? These are among the top storylines for Week 3 of the preseason.

Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns: Nate Sudfeld making a push

After impressing big time this past week against the New England Patriots, it’s almost a lock that Sudfeld will earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Released by his original Washington Redskins squad back in September of 2017, the third-year signal caller completed 22-of-39 passes for 312 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the loss to New England.

Should Sudfeld continue to shine with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles somewhat banged up, it’s going to be hard for Philadelphia to hide him on the practice squad. That would lead to a rarity, with the team boasting three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. It could also potentially lead to a trade with a quarterback-needy team.

New York Giants at New York Jets: New Jersey’s promising rookies

It’s already well known what Giants rookie Saquon Barkley brings to the table. Despite missing last week’s game with a minor hamstring injury, Barkley has already showed himself more than capable early on in preseason action. We’re expecting to see the future face of the Giants’ franchise get some run Thursday night against the Jets. It will be a nice tune-up for the regular year with Barkley and New York’s starters likely sitting the preseason finale.

On the other hand, Sam Darnold is coming off his first career start with the Jets. The rookie played pretty darn well and is now nearly locked into the Week 1 starting job. Like Barkley, he’s seen as the future face of the franchise for his team. Likely to see upwards of three quarters of action this week, we’re interested to see if the USC product continues to progress under center.

Denver Broncos at Washington Redskins: Alex Smith looking great

Having led Washington on an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive to open up last week’s game against the Jets, Smith already looks more than comfortable in Jay Gruden’s offensive system. All said, he completed 4-of-6 passes for 48 yards. That came after Smith skipped Washington’s preseason opener against New England.

Now heading into the third preseason game, we’re fully expecting Smith to see at least a half of action. It’s going to be a rather big tune-up for the veteran given that top running backs Derrius Guice and Samaje Perine are both out to injury. How Smith performs with a makshift supporting cast could be indicative of what we see from Washington once Week 1 comes calling.

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers: Tom Brady’s rhythm

After having skipped the preseason opener, and following an offseason in which he was away from New England a majority of the time, it was a surprise to see the Pats play Brady at the level we saw last week. The future Hall of Famer played an entire half, completing 19-of-26 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns en route to leading New England to 27 first-half points in a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl against Philly.

It’s not yet known if that one game will act as the tune-up Brady needs for the regular season. The team took a vastly different approach in playing its starters longer in Week 2 of the preseason. Should that translate over to Week 3 against a sound Carolina squad, it will give the 41-year-old Brady even more to work with heading into the regular year.

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings: Huge test for the road team

Seattle really can’t be happy about the way the summer has turned out thus far. Its offensive line continues to be a dumpster fire. This is especially true when it comes to a right tackle in Germain Ifedi, who is making a mockery of that position. How will Russell Wilson, expected to see a ton of action this week, fare in these conditions? We’ll ask Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson and the league’s best defensive line about that after the game.

Equally as alarming, the Seahawks’ defense has been nothing to write home about. Without  a half dozen members of the artists formerly known as the Legion of Boom, this unit was eaten alive by the likes of Philip Rivers and Geno Smith last week. One has to wonder how it will perform against Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen on the road this week.

Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Getting the running games going

These two squads rank among the bottom nine teams in the NFL in rushing thus far in the preseason. For the Lions, it’s been a disastrous performance from the offensive line that’s played a role in an inept rushing attack. Last week alone, Detroit put up just 67 yards on 22 attempts against the New York Giants. Rookie second-round pick Kerryon Johnson gained a grand total of nine yards on four attempts.

It’s been worse for a Bucs squad that enters Week 3 of the exhibition slate ranked 30th in rushing and averaging just 2.6 yards per attempt. Much like his fellow rookie in Detroit, second-round pick Ronald Jones has been horrible. He’s put up 11 yards on 12 attempts in two games. In order for either of these squads to even sniff the playoffs, their rushing attacks will have to improve leaps and bounds. That starts with the biggest tune-up for the regular season this week.

Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders: Jordy vs his old team

It goes without saying that Jordy Nelson’s divorce with the Green Bay Packers wasn’t exactly smooth. The team offered him absolutely nothing of real substance in a restructured contract before outright releasing one of the franchise’s best ever wide receivers. It’s something that didn’t sit well with longtime battery mate Aaron Rodgers.

Both squads will be playing their starters well into the third quarter in this one. We’re darn sure that Nelson will want to show out against his former team, playing into what promises to be a hostile environment for the Packers in the Black Hole. It’s going to be a lot of fun, guys and gals.

Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears: The young gunslingers

First-year Bears head coach Matt Nagy went from mentoring Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City last season to being a vital figure in the development of Mitchell Trubisky in the Windy City this season. Both quarterbacks boast high expectations entering their sophomore campaigns and will be compared to one another, as both were top-10 picks last year.

For his part, Mahomes finally showed up in last week’s game against the Falcons, completing 8-of-12 passes for 138 yards. While he did connect with Tyreek Hill on a 69-yard touchdown, Mahomes also showed his turnover proneness in the process. As it relates to Trubisky, it’s been a whole lot of nothing through three Bears preseason games. He’s going to have to show up big time in an expanded role this week.

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams: Testing Texans’ offensive line

Having performed well in front of Deshaun Watson last week against San Francisco, the Texans’ offensive line faces a much stiffer test this week. Sure Aaron Donald is not around, but Ndamukong Suh should see his first substantive action as a member of the Rams. How the interior of Houston’s offensive line performs here will be telling.

Though, it’s much more about a makeshift tackle situation in Houston. Former fourth-round pick Julie’n Davenport is currently listed as the starting left tackle heading into his sophomore campaign. Meanwhile, there’s a growing battle between Seantrel Henderson and a whole host of lesser-known players on the right side. Houston needs this unit to step up big time after Watson ended his rookie season on IR with a torn ACL. This week’s game is a huge initial test.

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon, who?

Okay, that’s a bit brash. Le’Veon Bell remains the single most productive running back in the NFL. His abilities, both on the ground and in the passing game, are unmatched in the league. Though, he’s a holdout from camp and doesn’t seem to have a long-term future in Pittsburgh. That’s the harsh reality of the situation.

This has also allowed second-year running back James Conner to show out big time thus far in the preseason. He put up 57 yards on five attempts against Green Bay last week and is averaging nearly 10 yards per attempt through two games. Expected to see as many as 15-20 attempts this week, Connor will have yet another opportunity to prove his worth. And as ridiculous as it might sound, a solid performance could at least force Pittsburgh into thinking about trading Bell prior to Week 1.

San Francisco 49ers at Indianapolis Colts: Jimmy Garoppolo vs Andrew Luck

Boy, this is going to be a great one. There’s not a single preseason game on the slate more intriguing from a quarterback perspective than this one. Garoppolo leads a No. 1-ranked preseason offense into Indianapolis looking to continue his stellar play after a near perfect performance against the Texans last week. He does so with the loftiest expectations we’ve seen from a young quarterback in recent NFL history.

Though, Luck is pretty much the story here. Having not played since undergoing shoulder surgery back in January of 2017, Luck has looked pretty good in his first two preseason games. Going up against a 49ers first-team defense that has yielded a touchdown on the opening drive of each of its first two preseason games, Luck should perform well after struggling to an extent against Baltimore on Monday night.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins: Quarterbacks under a microscope

Joe Flacco has followed up a tremendous training camp with what should be considered an uplifting performance in the two preseason games he’s played for Baltimore. He’s completed 75 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and zero picks while leading the Ravens to two touchdowns on four possessions. Given all the talk surrounding rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson, a strong preseason became a necessity for Flacco. He’ll look to continue it this week.

On the other hand, Ryan Tannehill has completed 18-of-23 passes for 132 yards in two preseason outings. This comes after he had not suited up in live-game action since December of 2016. Now set to see extensive action this week against Baltimore, we’re more than intrigued to see how Tannehill performs for the Dolphins.

Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles must show out

Bortles’ performance against an elite level Vikings defense this past week proved worrisome for the Jaguars. In fact, it led to this writer concluding the Jaguars must consider trading for New York Jets backup Teddy Bridgewater. A team with Super Bowl aspirations simply can’t have such a mistake-prone quarterback under center. Bortles once again proved himself to be that type of signal caller last week.

In taking on a weaker Falcons defense this week, Bortles has another opportunity to prove that his turnover proneness is behind him. It’s a home game in Jacksonville, where Bortles has been pretty darn good. Short of a stellar outing in the biggest preseason tune-up of the year, we might start hearing more rumblings about Jacksonville trading for a veteran.

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers: Underrated defenses clash

Drew Brees returning to Southern California would be a nice regular season storyline. Alas, it’s the preseason and the focus should be on what makes these two teams legit Super Bowl contenders. And interestingly enough, it’s not about either Brees or Philip Rivers. Instead, it’s about their defenses.

Relying on the pass-rush prowess of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, Los Angeles yielded the third-fewest points in the NFL last season. It’s a potentially dominant unit that only improved with the selection of Derwin James in the first round of this year’s draft. On the other hand, the Saints’ defense improved leaps and bounds last season. Riding a Defensive Rookie of the Year performance from Marshon Lattimore and the continued excellence of Cameron Jordan, New Orleans ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense. This should be a nice little battle between the two up-and-coming squads.

Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills: QB competition narrowed to two

Bills quarterback Josh Allen

Buffalo’s starting quarterback job is between rookie Josh Allen and second-year player Nathan Peterman. Unlike the Bills’ preseason opener, Allen vastly outplayed Peterman last week.

This has led many to believe the rookie will start come Week 1. Interestingly enough, Peterman was the one taking the majority of first-team reps in practice this week prior to Allen getting the call to start against Cincinnati. Whether that means anything remains to be seen. But how the two play against Cincinnati and how the depth chart looks to start the game will certainly be telling.

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys: Is Dak really this good?

Dak Prescott has now led the Cowboys to 17 points on four drives thus far this preseason. In the process, he’s completed 13-of-18 passes for 125 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. That’s some elite level stuff, especially with Ezekiel Elliott having not played a snap. Remember, Prescott struggled big time in the six games Elliott was suspended last season.

Sunday night’s game against Arizona will offer a major test for Prescott. Not only will he see action into the third quarter, the third-year signal caller will more than likely have Elliott in the backfield with him. A strong performance against a good Cardinals defense will have fans in Dallas believing Prescott has turned the corner after regressing last season.