Do you see it? Way off in the horizon? It's real football that counts! Almost there. We've reached the third week of the preseason, or as it's alternately known, The Only Preseason Game Worth Attending If Your Dad's Work Buddy Offers Free Tickets. Starters for many teams will play into the second half, giving us the best look yet at the teams you'll be following the next four months.
There are 11 games on the schedule for Saturday. Here's something to watch for in each of them:
First it was Matt Cassel, then Tyrod Taylor. Now it's EJ Manuel's turn to start a preseason game for Rex Ryan's Bills. It's an unorthodox strategy by Ryan, who will evaluate Manuel during a time most coaches like to have their starting quarterback in place. By most opinions, that's not going to be Manuel. Perhaps he can sway some doubters with a big performance against Pittsburgh's starters.
Another chance to gain clarity on the Cowboys' muddled running back picture. Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar will all see the field. Don't be surprised if McFadden gets a good run as Jason Garrett and Co. try to get a handle on what they have in the former Raider. McFadden missed the beginning of camp with a hamstring injury and had just four carries for three yards in his preseason debut against the Niners last week. McFadden came out of that game with a sore neck and shoulder, which cost him practice time this week.
Is Ryan Tannehill better than Andrew Luck? This seems crazy, but the respected analytics site ProFootballFocus.com believes it, slotting in the Dolphins' starter in the final spot of their top 10 at the position. Tannehill took a big step forward statistically last season (27 TDs, 12 INTs, 92.8 passer rating), and more is expected in his second season under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Saturday will give us our longest look yet at Tannehill and a new stable of playmakers that includes tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Throw out the record books when the Snoopy Trophy is on the line! Keep an eye on the Giants' first-team offense, which sputtered mightily in the first two weeks of the preseason. Odell Beckham Jr. was held without a catch in five targets against the Jaguars, and complained afterward that Jacksonville defenders were looking to rough him up rather than make plays on the ball. (Get used to it, kid.) ODB will have an even bigger challenge Saturday when he lines up across from Darrelle Revis. It should be fun.
Any thought of a potential QB controversy in Cleveland went out the window when Johnny Manziel was struck down with a sore elbow this week. We won't see him against the Bucs, but that doesn't mean Josh McCown can keep delivering clunkers like last week, when he threw two interceptions in three series against the Bills. We'll also get our longest look yet at Jameis Winston. The No. 1 overall pick made nice strides last week against the Bengals.
We won't see Robert Griffin III, who was cleared to play, then ruled out by an independent neurologist who concluded Griffin needed more recovery time after last week's concussion. It was odd. This is probably for the best with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil ready to pounce. The game now becomes an open audition for Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy, who are both in contention to be Griffin's No. 2. Cousins has been selected to start the game, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, per a source informed of Washington's thinking.
Andy Dalton admitted this week that it's impossible to avoid the flood of criticism that's begun to flow in his direction. His performance in Monday night's ugly loss to the Bucs certainly didn't help matters. Dalton could use a nice game here, perhaps a couple of TD hookups with A.J. Green will do the trick.
Life without Jordy Nelson begins for the Packers, who must adapt after losing their starting wideout to an ACL tear last week. Keep an eye on third-round pick Ty Montgomery, who lined up as the team's third wide receiver in practice this week. On the Eagles' side, Sam Bradford gets another chance for game reps after an eventful debut against the Ravens.
Melvin Gordon is back in the lineup after missing last week's game with a tender ankle. He'll be looking to improve on a forgettable preseason opener in which he ran tentatively in gaining just 11 yards on six carries. Matching up against Seattle's first-team defense will be a great early test for the first-round pick.
We like 49ers tight end Vernon Davis as a bounce-back candidate following a strangely quiet 2014 season. Expect Colin Kaepernick to look early and often toward his tight end in Denver. If the Niners are going to have any chance this season, Davis must return to being the Pro Bowl contributor of old.