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What to watch for in Thursday's preseason games

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Maybe it was the endless offseason focused on deflated footballs that did it. Or maybe it was the sudden string of heartbreaking preseason injuries that is rapidly increasing our desire to see games that actually impact everyday NFL standings.

Tonight, that won't be possible as the preseason begins just its second week with games between the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions (7:30 p.m. ET) and a Buffalo Bills-Cleveland Browns matchup at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Upset? Restless? Don't be, because we're giving you some storylines to watch out for, including why this Bills-Browns game will be the best one we see all preseason.

Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)


1. Wait, what did you say? The best game we'll see all preseason? Absolutely. First of all, we have a Buffalo Bills team for which each and every snap matters through the third quarter (at least). Tyrod Taylor was the most explosive quarterback we've seen so far this preseason and one we know very little about. Tonight, he gets to run the show against a defense piloted by Rex Ryan's most notable disciple; so far the only branch on his coaching tree. It's more than just Taylor, though, it's the entire Italian intermezzo opera that is the Bills' quarterback situation. EJ Manuel has first-round talent but is working his way through an epic mental blockade that is making some of us picture him in another uniform come September. Bills fans will have to wait to catch another glimpse of Matt Cassel, the dependable, but all-of-a-sudden less intriguing than Taylor, whose spectacular athleticism might just be the answer to Buffalo's gimmick-needy offense. NFL Network's Tiffany Blackmon reported shortly before the game that Cassel will not play tonight so the Bills can give more playing time to Taylor and Manuel.

2. Taylor and Manuel will have no reprieve against Browns coach Mike Pettine, either. Make no mistake, Ryan and Pettine are still close friends, maybe closer than any two head coaches in football. That being said, Pettine does not want his defense to be embarrassed. It wouldn't surprise us at all to see Cleveland stray a bit from the typically vanilla preseason zone looks and send some complex pressures into the backfield to ruin Taylor's debut in Buffalo.

3. The Browns have their own quarterbacking questions, though none quite as lively as the one in Buffalo. Still, Josh McCown was efficiently robotic in his preseason debut and Johnny Manziel was far more mature on the field than we've ever seen him before. Perhaps we're seeing the growth of a young quarterback under a great new coordinator, John DeFilippo, or Manziel just has us fooled again. Either way, it's absolutely worth our time to hang around into the second half and watch as Manziel tries to chip away at the gap between himself and McCown.

Detroit Lions at Washington Redskins (7:30 p.m.)


1. Lions rookie running back Ameer Abdullah gained 67 yards on six carries last week and called that sparkling debut "a little rusty." Needless to say, we're anxiously awaiting an encore. The Lions have always been a team geared to score 40 points a game, but at least after one preseason game, it looks like they have the running back to make it work.

2. Over 18 snaps and nine drop backs, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was not spectacular, but he was also not egregiously terrible. Coach Jay Gruden, as he should, defended Griffin's performance and gave us something to think about heading into tonight. Will he improve upon his Week 1 performance and eliminate some of the adrenaline-juiced throws? Can he give us a glimpse of the impossible-to-defend quarterback again?

3. Redskins rookie running back Matt Jones' name has popped up more than once during the preseason, and at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds it's easy to see why. The team has made clear that the ground game will be its identity and what better body type to ride than a young Brandon Jacobs-like Jones? Preseason games are really the only time we can see his physicality on display, which is why his snaps will be under a microscope.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast continues the three-part Fantasy Extravaganza and takes you behind the scenes in Cleveland with Marc Sessler.

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