The end of NFL preseason is nigh, and this week we’ll get our final looks at each team on the field before regular-season action starts in early September. With the final 53-man roster cut deadline on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, the last games of the preseason are some of the last opportunities for players to make their push to make NFL rosters. It also gives coaches and front offices one last chance to solidify their depth charts ahead of regular season Week 1.
Here are the storylines I’ll be most looking out for.
Who Wins Remaining QB Battles?
With the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, and New Orleans Saints each naming their starters this week––Andy Dalton, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jameis Winston, respectively––there are three fewer teams with question marks at starting quarterback for Week 1. That still leaves two big ones though, and both involve rookies.
The first one we may get clarity on is the battle between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance in San Francisco. Lance performed well in his two preseason games so far, showing flashes of his raw talent, but some of his mistakes in both starts exposed a lack of consistency so far at the NFL level. San Francisco knows what they have in Garoppolo, so the question that remains is whether Lance has proven himself to be enough of an upgrade in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s eyes to be the 49ers’ Week 1 starter. We’ll get an answer soon enough, potentially even right after their Sunday afternoon matchup with Las Vegas.
The second battle––the one in New England Patriots camp between Cam Newton and Mac Jones––has reportedly become a much tighter race in the past week. After Newton missed several practices this week due to a “misunderstanding” of the NFL’s COVID-19 testing policy, Jones has taken advantage of his extra opportunities with the Patriots’ first team. He shined brightly in his performance in camp this week, and if Jones continues to excel in his final preseason game on Sunday night, it could be the end of the Newton era in New England.
Joe Burrow Gets First Taste Of Preseason Action
Burrow has been on the road to recovery since tearing his ACL in Week 11 last season, and the Bengals announced earlier this week that he’d be making his preseason debut against the Dolphins this Sunday. It’s great news for the Bengals, who hope to reap the benefits after drafting Burrow’s former LSU teammate wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the first round of this year’s draft. After a 2020 season that saw them finish with the fourth-fewest offensive yards per game in the league, Cincinnati hopes the return of their franchise quarterback will help spark the offense in 2021.
This week will be our first chance to get a look at where Burrow stands post-injury in a game situation. Head coach Zac Taylor made it clear that Burrow would play a limited set of snaps, for now, so we won’t know just how much we’ll see of him this weekend.
This week will also be the first chance we have to see Burrow throwing to Chase since the 2019-20 college football season. Will the reunion with his college quarterback help Chase get through his drop issues? We’ll know soon enough.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Washington Football Team
The Ravens have not lost a preseason game since Sept. 3… 2015. Should they beat Washington, it will mark the fifth straight undefeated preseason for Baltimore and an NFL-record 20th straight preseason win. And I know! I know. I’ve said it many times in the last couple of weeks: preseason games don’t count for anything in an NFL season. It’s not like the Ravens have won a ring in the last five years. But if it wasn’t something that was on your radar, it’s a cool thing to look out for this weekend.
The more important storyline from this game is a surprise preseason star, Washington’s undrafted free agent running back Jaret Patterson. In the words of Ryan Fowler, “He’s been electric.”
Through two preseason games, Patterson has 203 all-purpose yards (111 rushing, 55 receiving, and 37 return), and his production, quickness, and explosiveness out of the backfield has made him a near-lock to make the 53-man roster. However, we have yet to see exactly where he fits into a backfield that already features presumed roster locks Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. Another show-stopping performance from Patterson may even put him in a good position to move up the depth chart early, so make sure to keep an eye on his production output this weekend.