The dress rehearsal is upon us. Starters traditionally log the most playing time in Week 3 of the preseason, before resting up in Week 4. So in many ways, this week's contests are viewed as a final tune-up before the regular season.
Here is a quick guide to the three games on tap Thursday night:
This is Green Bay's first chance to see how Cedric Benson fits into the offensive attack. Benson might not play very long -- seeing as he's still getting integrated with the Pack -- but he'll be very motivated by the opportunity to line up against his former teammates in Cincinnati.
While it's only the preseason, this game will provide a great test for the Bengals. The Packers show a lot of different looks on defense -- excellent preparation for a team in the same division as the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati's starting offensive line has yet to allow a sack this preseason, but Clay Matthews and the rest of the Packers' defensive front will test that group in this game.
The Ravens are without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. His offseason Achilles injury has already had an effect on this defense, as Baltimore has only registered two sacks during the preseason. The Ravens need a few young pass rushers to accelerate their development or else this defense won't be nearly as dominant as it has been over the past decade.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville is still without last season's NFL rushing king, as Maurice Jones-Drew continues to hold out over unhappiness with his current contract. In his absence, backup running back Rashad Jennings has played extremely well. If he puts together a solid game against the Ravens, the Jaguars will continue to hold all of the cards in this contract standoff.
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On Monday, the Titans formally announced that Jake Locker would be the team's starting quarterback for the 2012 season. With his starting spot already locked up, Locker should be much more relaxed than he was in last week's uneven game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both teams also have interesting running back storylines to follow during this game. For the Cardinals, this will be their first chance to roll out Beanie Wells during the preseason. Second-year running back Ryan Williams has been very impressive during camp. The team has to be excited about the potential of this duo.