Our first full week of preseason football continues! Five games are set to be played Friday and Saturday, including two that will be broadcast live on NFL Network. Here’s what we’re looking forward to (all times Eastern):
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers (7:30 p.m. ET, Friday, NFL Network)
Bucs: Bruce Arians’ return
After a one-year hiatus, the offensive guru is back on the sidelines to take over a Tampa Bay franchise that’s had just one winning season since 2011. That’s bad. Arians has just one losing campaign — a 7-8-1 mark in 2016 — in six seasons as a head coach. That’s good.
Steelers: Mason Rudolph
Is he actually Ben Roethlisberger’s successor? He didn’t attempt a pass during his rookie season and Roethlisberger agreed to a two-year extension in the spring. So the preseason might just be an audition for Oklahoma State’s all-time leading passer.
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (8 p.m., Friday)
Vikings: Garrett Bradbury
Much of the Vikings’ starting lineup will be familiar, while Bradbury, the team’s first-round draft choice will make his debut at center as he looks to stabilize an offensive line that was problematic a year ago. There will also no doubt be quandaries about how he performs in the heat of the spotlight after Kirk Cousins pointed out Bradbury often offers up a sweaty snap exchange.
Saints: Pass inference
While a bit of history was made a week prior in the Hall of Fame Game when Denver coach Vic Fangio challenged a pass interference call for the first time, there will be significance — preseason game or not — when and if Saints coach Sean Payton challenges a PI call. Chances are the Saints faithful still isn’t over the non-call in last season’s NFC Championship Game that hindered New Orleans’ hopes of a Super Bowl berth and was the genesis for the PI rule change. When Payton lets that red flag fly it’ll be a sight to see — even if Saints fans will immediately bellow how much they would’ve liked to have seen it last winter.
Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders (8 p.m., Saturday)
Rams: The running back situation
With the Rams’ plan to limit Todd Gurley’s workload this year combined with it being the preseason opener, we aren’t going to see standout back on the field. However just how Malcolm Brown plays coming off an injury and how rookie Darrell Henderson fares in his debut will be of particular interest for Rams fans and fantasy enthusiasts, alike.
Raiders: First-round debuts
Anytime a first-round pick gets his first live action, it’s something to look forward to. With the Raiders, there will be three such interests and their debuts come three days after many got to know them a bit better on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell will offer a glimpse at a pass rush that needs to improve, running back Josh Jacobs can change things up for the Raiders’ offense and safety Johnathan Abram will get the opportunity to go full-speed and hit the opposition after being told to hold back against teammates.
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (8 p.m., Saturday)
Bengals: Zac Taylor
With no previous experience as a head coach, Zac Taylor will get some Saturday. A branch from the Sean McVay coaching tree, the sideline rookie will navigate his first action as the man in charge, doing so facing off against the venerable Andy Reid.
Chiefs: Mecole Hardman
This offseason has seen the Chiefs’ second-round pick (and their first pick of the draft) draw notice as a potentially dynamic addition to an already-flammable offense. While things are likely to stay vanilla in terms of play-calling, Hardman is slated not just as a receiver, but a returner and to possibly get some carries.
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers (9 p.m., Saturday, NFL Network)
Cowboys: Tony Pollard and fellow backfield back-ups
As Ezekiel Elliott remains in Mexico, Tony Pollard will make his debut following initial rave reviews in training camp. The returning Alfred Morris should also get some looks and if the worst comes to fruition in Dallas and Zeke holds out into the season, this could be a glimpse of what’s in store with the Cowboys’ rushing attack.
49ers: Nick Mullens vs. C.J. Beathard
Jimmy Garoppolo’s return to action will wait as he won’t play Saturday. The battle to back up Jimmy G will rage on and Mullens has been looking good, but with the preseason spotlight on it will amp up.
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