The last week of the preseason is upon us with 16 games slated for Thursday night, including two on NFL Network. Although most of the starters and key contributors around the league will be parked comfortably on the bench as a precaution against needless injury, this fourth and final test still has plenty to offer viewers.
With a historic cutdown day looming, a 24-hour period during which over 1,000 players will be released, Week 4 of the preseason acts as many fringe players' last chance to stake a claim for a spot on the roster, or even the practice squad. Don't tell them these games don't count. This one matters more than most. Plus, there are position battles, at quarterback and elsewhere, that need sorting out.
Here's what we're watching for from each team in games going down this weekend (all game times Eastern). Get the latest preseason news, updates and highlights with NFL Mobile. Plus live national games and NFL Network 24/7 included only with Verizon.
Bengals: Cincinnati's offense looked absolutely "electrifying" against Washington with all of its young weapons on the field. The Bengals' offensive line continues to be a major question mark, but the speed of Joe Mixon and John Ross can help alleviate those concerns. Cincy won't tell much in the finale, but look for how they manage their now-crowded running back room of Mixon, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.
Colts: This is Scott Tolzein's team. (That is an accurate sentence written in the year two-thousand-and-seventeen.) With Andrew Luck's shoulder status still concealed like state secrets, Tolzein has been pegged to lead Indy into the season under center and should see some snaps against Cincinnati. Lacking depth, Indianapolis' secondary needs another look now that Vontae Davis is out for multiple weeks.
Jaguars: The second-worst quarterback situation in the AFC South belongs to Jacksonville. Blake Bortles was the starter before he was benched for Chad Henne before he was then re-named the starter -- for Week 1. The Jags are must-see TV if only for the chaos at the QB position. If Bortles and Henne are pulled early, stick around for Brandon Allen, who has shown out -- and could get starting snaps before the season closes. Anything is possible in Jacksonville.
Falcons: No Devonta Freeman. Minimal Matt Ryan. What to do with Dan Quinn's dirty birds? Tune in for Atlanta's brand new stadium with its halo screen and an ill-located Chick-fil-A. If shiny statues aren't your thing, then pay attention to the new guys, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and rookie defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley, who will be tasked with not ruining a good thing in the ATL.
Lions: With Matthew Stafford paid up, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty in Motown and focus on the men in the trenches. Ezekiel Ansah is finally healthy, but there is still cause for concern on the defensive line, which is losing depth by the week. Who will replace Jordan Hill (injured), Kerry Hyder (injured) and Armonty Bryant (banned for four games) to put third-down pressure on opposing QBs?
Bills: Say hello to Mr. Nathan Peterman! It's the rookie slinger's time to shine with starter Tyrod Taylor still in concussion protocol. Bills Mafia is clamoring for Peterman to start Week 1, and the Buffalo coaching staff might not have a choice. Can the fifth-rounder breathe some life in Buffalo's QB ghost town?
Eagles: Philadelphia's running game is an enigma lathered in mystery wrapped in a hoagie. LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood could be splitting carries to start the season, but aside from Darren Sproles, who's backing them up? Legendary college runner Donnel Pumphrey and impressive rookie Corey Clement will battle -- TO THE DEPTH -- for the final RB spot.
Jets:Josh McCown, a 38-year-old injury-prone journeyman who was just named the Week 1 starter on Monday, will see snaps in a preseason finale. That's the state of New York's QB position. Christian Hackenberg will get the bulk of reps in his final shot to inspire hope before the gauntlet begins, while the hampered Bryce Petty (MCL) might not see the field. Fun.
Rams: Where is Aaron Donald? Not in Los Angeles, and likely not in northeast Wisconsin on Thursday night. The defensive tackle's holdout continues, while Donald practices by himself in Pittsburgh. Forget the development of Jared Goff in Sean McVay's offense. Without Donald in the fold, the Rams will be in trouble on the defensive line, which needs big efforts from the likes of Tanzel Smart.
Panthers:Cam Newton's shoulder will be resting safe and sound on the Charlotte sidelines, so let's turn our attention to a fan favorite and roster hopeful instead. Rookie linebacker Ben Boulware, the captain of Clemson's 2016 championship defense, has yet to record even a tackle this preseason, but he's a notable name that could earn a place on the Panthers' roster or practice squad if he makes the most of his increased opportunities Thursday.
Patriots: Who will replace Julian Edelman? That's what Pats fans want to know. That's what you and your fantasy team want to know. That's what Bill Belichick ... probably already knows because he is an all-seeing eye that takes no days off. Thursday night will provide opportunities for potential roster cuts like Austin Carr to prove they can fill in for Edelman and be New England's next target monster.
Redskins: Washington's offense has been sluggish to say the least this preseason; with Kirk Cousins under center the 'Skins failed to produce a first down through their first three drives last Sunday. The additions of Terrelle Pryor and Samaje Perine have done little to expand the offense's capabilities. Maybe Jay Gruden isn't playing his hand in the preseason and isn't worried, but the coach might want another extended look at his starting unit this Thursday, just in case.
Bears: If you're a fan of Mitchell Trubisky, this is the game for you. The rookie is scheduled to start and play the entire game on Thursday night for the first time in his young career. Playing against starters for only a few series, it will be difficult to glean how much the second overall pick has improved since his dynamite debut. But hey: Any reps are good reps.
Dolphins: Miami was victimized in the secondary against the Eagles last week, so coach Adam Gase might want to take a long look at the potential starters before benching them on Thursday night. If Xavien Howard, Byron Maxwell and Alterraun Verner don't gel in the final go-around, the playoff-hungry 'Fins could go after a veteran presence via trade or free agency.
Vikings: Some things never change. Offensive line is an issue in Minneapolis again. After getting obliterated on national TV by the Niners' front seven last week, the Vikings need to shuffle the deck with Nick Easton and Pat Elflein and have a bounce-back performance, even if it's in a Week 4 preseason game.
Titans: If you're not on the Taywan Taylor train, what the hell have you been doing with your summer? Drinking lime-a-ritas and waiting for Corey Davis to return? Taylor is a real-deal gadget receiver, who has been all over the field this preseason. Look for Tennessee to showcase their own Tyreek Hill against K.C.
Chiefs: Kansas City could get its first look at Reggie Ragland on Thursday night. The former Bills middle linebacker, acquired by the Chiefs in a Monday morning trade, hasn't played a regular-season game, but K.C. hopes he is the missing piece in the middle of Bob Sutton's defense, which is similar to that of former Bills coach Rex Ryan.
Cardinals: Punter battle! We're sure you've been following Arizona's booter beef for quite some time now, but in case you've been slacking, here's a primer. Richie Leone and Matt Wile have both attempted eight punts. Leone has averaged 48.4 yards per punt with a long of 61, while Wile has just 43.5 yards per punt. However, the latter has a longer long (65) and more punts inside the 20. It's a dead heat in the desert.
Broncos: While Denver looks to trade T.J. Ward, the Broncos will also be focused on the backup QB position. After Paxton Lynch (shoulder) went down for multiple weeks, Vance Joseph told reporters the team would explore all options to find a suitable backup. Denver might just have one in-house in Kyle Sloter. The rookie out of Northern Colorado has an opportunity to not only win a roster spot, but be Trevor Siemian's backup for Week 1.
Chargers: After triumphing in the Fight for L.A., one would assume that there's nothing left for the Bolts play for this preseason. THAT PERSON WOULD BE WRONG. Anthony Lynn said this week he'll be looking at secondary depth in the finale, but the real player to watch is Cardale Jones. The third-string quarterback acquired via trade from Buffalo looks to get a ton of playing time in San Francisco.
Raiders: Yes, this matchup means Beast Mode is playing his former team for the first time since unretiring, but if you think Marshawn Lynch is playing more than one series in this game, you belong in the loony bin -- or at least the Black Hole. Look instead to Oakland's secondary, which won't have rookie Gareon Conley, who just returned to practice, and needs reinforcements.