Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
If you were ever to make an argument for shortening the NFL preseason, this would be the week. Be careful about blinking; you might miss the players you were hoping to watch as teams approach their final game hoping to preserve health above all else.
We’ll truncate our coverage of these games accordingly, but I still want to take a look at the three NFC North matchups set for Thursday evening. (Minnesota will wrap up Friday night against Dallas.)
Detroit at Buffalo (6:30 p.m. ET)
Starters will play… An undetermined amount of time. But coach Jim Schwartz did say that quarterback Matthew Stafford will be on the field for the first 20 or 25 plays.
I’ll be watching… Stafford to see if he can lock down the starting job with a strong performance. It’s possible that Daunte Culpepper will make a surprise return from a toe injury, but otherwise Stafford is in the driver’s seat. Brooks Bollinger and possibly Kevin O’Connell will follow Stafford. … Whether we like it or not, we’ll also get a look at the Lions’ depth at cornerback. Starters Anthony Henry and Philip Buchanon aren’t expected to play. Neither will linebacker Ernie Sims, giving Jordon Dizon another chance to prove himself. … We’ll also get a chance to see whether Daniel Loper can hold off Manny Ramirez in the competition at left guard.
Cleveland at Chicago (8 p.m. ET)
Starters will play… no longer than the first quarter.
I’ll be watching… to see how rusty cornerback Zack Bowman (hamstring) and safety Danieal Manning (hamstring) are. Both will make their preseason debuts and are projected starters if they can make it through this game. … Fans will also want to see veteran Adrian Peterson put the finishing touches on his bid to win a roster spot. It seems Peterson will have to beat out tight end Michael Gaines. … Plenty of people have been watching to see which receivers new quarterback Jay Cutler feels most comfortable with. We know the group includes Greg Olsen, Earl Bennett and Matt Forte. But will his apparent chemistry with Devin Aromashodu help determine the final depth chart at receiver?
Green Bay at Tennessee (8 p.m. ET)
Starters will play… likely one series. Two at the most.
I’ll be watching… to see which tailback lays claim to the No. 2 job behind Ryan Grant. Brandon Jackson is sidelined by an ankle injury. So will DeShawn Wynn grab the job? Rookie Tyrell Sutton? Kregg Lumpkin? … Linebacker Nick Barnett will make his preseason debut. Will his performance be enough to convince coaches to put him in the starting lineup when the regular season begins? … With quarterback Matt Flynn (shoulder) still sidelined, we should get a long look at quarterback Brian Brohm. That might or might not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. You wonder if Brohm will get released if he can’t demonstrate some progress. That would leave the Packers in the market for quarterback depth when teams begin paring down their rosters this weekend.