Players to watch during Thursday night's games


The third week of the preseason is the one that matters. Well, for the preseason anyhow. It's the week that feels the most like the regular season.

It's the week when coaches hold their collective breath the longest because starters often play into the second half. I don't read too much into preseason performances for trusted veterans, but it is important for players trying to earn a starting job or a roster spot.

Here's what to watch during Thursday night's two games:

Carolina Panthers @ Baltimore Ravens

1. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has struggled this preseason. It would be a confidence booster to move the ball better under new offensive coordinator Mike Shula before the regular season starts.

2. With Jonathan Stewart unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, the Panthers will rely heavily on rookie running back Kenjon Barner. Barner is set to have a sizable role in the Panthers' offense early in the season. He's a player to keep an eye on in this game.

3. It appears that the Ravens' top two draft picks, safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown, will not open the regular season as starters. Perhaps that storyline will change if they play well Thursday.

4. Carolina's No. 3 receiver battle remains up for grabs with David Gettis and Ted Ginn playing. Armanti Edwards, also in the mix, remains hurt.

5. Baltimore's top cornerback, Lardarius Webb, is expected to play for the first time since tearing his ACL last year.

New England Patriots @ Detroit Lions

1. Calvin Johnson is out once again for the Lions, so Matthew Stafford will have to step up his performance without his top weapon. Stafford barely has been able pick up first downs in two preseason games.

2. With Danny Amendola expected to miss the game, Julian Edelman has a big chance to make a statement for the Patriots. Edelman hasn't played a lot with the first-team offense in the preseason.

3. Patriots running backs Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington might be jousting for two roster spots. It's possible all three will make the team.

4. Keep an eye on Lions receiver Ryan Broyles. Coming off ACL surgery, he could provide a suitable No. 2 receiving option to Johnson if he can regain his explosiveness.

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