It's so close. So very close. After months of biding time and biting nails in anticipation of the 2019 NFL season, kickoff is just seven days away. But before we can enjoy the thrill of competitive professional football, there are still scores to settle in the preseason. Sixteen to be specific.
All 32 teams will play on Thursday night on the final night of preseason football. It will be the fourth preseason competition for 30 clubs, and the fifth for the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, who took part in the Hall of Fame Game back on Aug. 1. Things were simpler then. Everyone was OK with his league-certified helmet. Andrew Luck was in the league. Pass interference was solved.
But over the course of a month, a lot has changed, and more will continue to change just two days from the end of the preseason when cutdown day arrives and upwards of 1,200 players lose their jobs. But before general managers whittle their 90-man rosters down to 53-man rosters, those footballers at risk will have one more chance to stake their claim for a roster spot or a preferred place on the depth chart before the season kicks off on Sept. 5.
With that being said, here are 32, well, 10 players and position battles to watch for on Thursday night:
Brian Flores has yet to name a starting quarterback with one preseason game left and just over a week to go before Miami's season opener against the Ravens. The Fins' fourth and final August exhibition Thursday was supposed to be their last look at both Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Fitz, perceived as the front-runner all camp, is ill and likely won't play against the Saints, meaning Rosen will get the start, and the final say. The second-year QB shone on one 99-yard scoring drive in the second half last week, but it will be difficult for Rosen to impress Miami's staff enough in Thursday's preseason finale, against what is likely to be second- and third-stringers, to seal the Week 1 start. Rosen would have to play with the spirit of '84 Dan Marino against Saints subs in the Superdome to win the job. But starting gig on the line or not, every snap of Rosen's will be worth watching, given he is likely to start at least one game this season.
Minnesota has spent this week combing the collective bargaining agreement for a return policy on kickers. ICYMI, the Vikings swung a swap for Norwegian punter-kicker Kaare Vedvik, who had been nailing kicks left and right for Baltimore the past two preseasons. Minnesota reportedly outbid the Bears and Jets for the kicker, sending the Ravens a fifth-round pick (!) for Vedvik's services. So far Vedvik has not been as advertised as a placekicker; the second-year booter missed both of his field goal attempts last week, inspiring Vikes coach Mike Zimmer to say his concern is "high" regarding Vedvik. In an odd turn of fate for the Vikings, both punter Matt Wile and kicker Dan Bailey, whose jobs were threatened by Vedvik's acquisition, have been performing better, according to Zimmer, ever since the trade was executed. A franchise long mired in kicking woes, the Vikings will hope to get some clarity on the position this weekend against the Bills.
Who's Jimmy Garoppolo No. 1 wideout? Who knows? San Francisco doesn't yet know the shape of its young receiver corps, with Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd fighting for spots in a rotation that also includes Marquise Goodwin, Jordan Matthews and Kendrick Bourne. Samuel has the best opportunity to be the top guy come Week 1. He is available to play Thursday against the Chargers, while Pettis and Hurd, both out with injuries, are not.
Indianapolis lost a starting quarterback last week when Andrew Luck retired out of nowhere, but it might gain a future starting wide receiver this week. Second-round rookie Parris Campbell returned this week from a hamstring injury suffered in late July and is expected to see some reps against the Bengals. The wideout, who could eventually slide into a starting role alongside T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess, said he feels back to his old self and wants to get his feet wet Thursday. Colts fans eager for some good news likely can't wait for him to dive in.
Out all month after undergoing a cardiac heart ablation procedure, the Falcons' first-round right tackle is expected to make his first appearance on Thursday against the Jaguars. With Ty Sambrailo out with a shoulder injury, McGary could stake a claim for the starting right tackle job with a positive performance Thursday despite having missed most of training camp.
The last man standing in Chicago after a nine-kicker competition was whittled down over the course of three-plus months, Eddy Pineiro is safe, right? He's the Bears starting kicker for the 2019 season and nothin', not nothin' can change that, right? Right?! Depending on how the kicker follows his 58-yard field goal from last week and on how cutdown day shakes out across the league, Pineiro's stranglehold on the Bears' kicker job could morph into a tenuous grasp. Pineiro's latest proving ground will be Soldier Field where he is 1-of-2 this preseason and where 20 mph winds and scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast.
Spoiler warning: Don't watch Oakland's preseason finale vs. Seattle on Thursday if you don't want the "Hard Knocks" finale totally ruined for you on Tuesday. You wouldn't want to know before tuning into premium cable five days later whether Nathan Peterman fulfills Jon Gruden's deepest, darkest desires and outplays Mike Glennon against Seahawks second-stringers, therefore validating the coach's bizarre professional affection for the Bills castoff, would you? Why on God's fiery earth would you endeavor to scout Peterman's play on a local broadcast without Liev Schreiber's dulcet baritone chronicling his completions to Keelan Doss? What a waste! (Though if you are interested, the match will be streamed live on NFL Game Pass at 10 p.m. ET.)
Is Thursday night T.J. Yeldon's last stand in Orchard Park? Of the four viable running backs the Bills brought to camp this summer, Yeldon looks to be the odd man out with just a few sleeps to go before cutdown day. That is unless the Bills choose to keep five backs (Yeldon, LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, fullback Patrick DiMarco). Buffalo's matchup with the Vikings on Thursday night should be Yeldon's last opportunity to stake a claim for a 53-man roster spot.
Geno Smith vs. Paxton Lynch is coming down to the wire in the Emerald City ($49.99 on PPV). The role of Russell Wilson's backup is a bit part, an understudy who rarely sees regular-season action, save for the dying seconds of a Seahawks blowout. Case in point: Wilson has not missed a single start in his entire career. But that doesn't mean there's nothing at stake for these two castoffs. Smith was the front-runner coming in and has completed 14 of 27 passes for 175 yards in two appearances. Lynch has hit 17 of 30 throws for 176 yards and a score in two outings. For the Seahawks, who rarely carry three QBs into the regular season, the performances of Geno and Paxton on Thursday night vs. the Raiders will be weather vanes for their future employment.
10. V-V-V-Vincent and the Bucs!
This one has no bearing on anyone's Week 1 status in Tampa Bay. It might be the most inconsequential "thing to watch for" we'll recommend all year. But dagnabit if the anticipation isn't high to see a Testaverde take in-game snaps in a Buccaneers jersey again. Vincent Testaverde, the son of Heisman Trophy winner, Buccaneers draft pick and longtime NFL starter Vinny Testaverde, was re-signed to the 90-man roster ahead of Tampa Bay's preseason finale. With Ryan Griffin not expected to play long, Testaverde is slated to get most of the snaps against the Cowboys on Thursday. His parents will be in attendance and so will you (via television or your streaming device) if you know what's good for you.