Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills (+4.5, 39.5)
Off a decisive 40-9 victory over the Patriots last week, the Lions should be content to simply go through the motions and stay healthy in Buffalo Thursday. They've saved their best football for the home faithful in the preseason under Jim Schwarz and that hasn't changed this year, going 2-0 SU and ATS at Ford Field but 0-1 on the road. Expect only cameo appearances from QB Matt Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson and the rest of the first-string offense.
Buffalo can ill-afford another injury under center with both E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb already sidelined. Jeff Tuel is expected to start in Week 1 and will see about a quarter of action on Thursday night. From there, we could see newcomers Matt Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis. Leinart was signed, while the team traded for Lewis in a deal with the Lions Sunday. C.J. Spiller left the team last week following a death in his family but did return Sunday. He's unlikely to play more than a series, if at all Thursday.
Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals (-3, 38)
Colts DE Robert Mathis says Thursday's game is all about making final decisions on who makes the team and who goes home. "Ah, yes, the infamous Cincinnati fourth preseason game. It's make or break if you are going to make the squad or not. It means a lot. If you want to make the squad, you have to put a good showing together." Head coach Chuck Pagano likes his team's depth heading in. "We've created so much competition. We're deeper across the board at all positions, so we're going to have to let some really good football players go. They'll end up on other teams like everybody else's guys. It's going to be tough."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis summed up his game plan for Thursday night pretty well earlier this week. "The mindset is it's a great night for our fans. It's another home game. It's a fun thing and we'll have our guys get out there and let them play a little bit, get them out, and let the other guys finish the game up that are fighting for spots. And there are guys who haven't played much who'll be on the 53-man roster that need experience." In other words, don't count on seeing much more than a brief glimpse of the projected starters on either side of the football.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets (+3, 40)
The quarterback competition has already been settled in Philadelphia. Michael Vick will be the starter in next week's season opener. So what can we expect from the Eagles Thursday? A lot of Nick Foles and Matt Barkley under center. Foles will get the start and likely see at least a quarter of action. Of the projected regular season starters, Kelly has indicated that only a few players in the secondary are likely to see any action at all against the Jets.
The big news out of Jets camp last weekend was the needless injury to QB Mark Sanchez in the second half of their game against the Giants. He won't play Thursday. Rex Ryan has yet to name a starter at quarterback for Thursday's game and likely won't until Thursday. There's a good chance that rookie Geno Smith will sit out as Ryan feels he's seen enough of his rookie QB in game action this month. That would leave the bulk of the action to Greg McElroy and Matt Simms, although McElroy is banged up as well.
New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins (-6, 36)
The Saints will be playing on a short week after defeating the Texans in Houston Sunday. Not surprisingly, Sean Payton is expected to give his regular starters the night off, just as he has in previous Week 4 preseason contests. We have seen better production from the Saints’ backup quarterbacks this year, however, with Luke McCown and rookie Ryan Griffin taking turns carrying the load. Expect to see a lot of Griffin Thursday night.
Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins first-string offense could see a series or two of action Thursday, but that's it. After Pat Devlin took over for Tannehill last week, we can expect veteran Matt Moore to shoulder much of the load this week. The Dolphins haven't had a great deal of preseason success under head coach Joe Philbin and are off to a 1-3 start this year.
New York Giants at New England Patriots (Pick, 38.5)
Syracuse University product Ryan Nassib will get an extended look for the Giants against the Patriots, entering in relief of Eli Manning after he sees a series or two of action. Head coach Tom Coughlin has indicated that he would like to see all four of his quarterbacks play Thursday. The Giants have dropped back-to-back games after opening the preseason with a win in Pittsburgh.
Patriots QB Tom Brady says he expects to play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Giants. Brady believes he needs additional work with his new receivers in advance of next week's season opener in Buffalo. “I think there’s always something to be gained from the competition. I think you have to go out there and always be prepared, and whatever Belichick wants to do for however long he wants to play us, that’s what we’re going to do. So we’re ready to go.”
Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2, 37.5)
With RGIII and Kirk Cousins both sidelined and veteran Rex Grossman not needing any more game reps prior to the regular season, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has indicated that Pat White will start and play the entire game Thursday. Most of the Redskins starters are expected to sit out Thursday's contest.
Bucs head coach Greg Schiano has indicated that backup QB Mike Glennon will see the majority of the snaps Thursday night. "The plan is, Mike’s going to play a lot. Is he the starter? Proabably. We want Mike to keep getting repetitions. Dan is a multi-year vet who has had a lot of repitions. They’ll both play.'' The Dan he referred to was veteran QB Dan Orlovsky.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers (-3.5, 36.5)
The Steelers backup QB competition is over, with Bruce Gradkowski winning the job. He and Landry Jones will split duty in Carolina with Ben Roethlisberger remaining on the sidelines. Pittsburgh has yet to win a game this preseason but Mike Tomlin isn't putting much emphasis on picking up a win Thursday.
Just like last year, the Panthers are likely to sit Cam Newton with Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen each playing a half. Former Giants WR Domenik Hixon is expected to make his Panthers debut. LB Jon Beason says he would like to play, but could be held out in preparation for next week's season opener.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons (+3, 40)
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has indicated that RB Maurice Jones-Drew will be held out of Thursday's game after seeing limited action against the Jets and Eagles. Starting QB Blaine Gabbert is unlikely to see much more than a series or two before giving way to veteran backup Chad Henne.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith doesn't put much stock in wins and losses in the preseason and it's shown in the Falcons play so far this month, going 0-3 SU and 1-2 ATS. With WR Roddy White already hurt, Smith won't take any chances in Thursday night's meaningless preseason finale. Don't count on even catching a glimpse of Matt Ryan or Julio Jones on the field.
Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears (+2, 39)
Bears head coach Marc Trestman is keeping it simple on Thursday night. “I wouldn’t say all, but it’ll be close to all of the starters that sit. There’s always going to be things that happen later in the week because of injuries and things like that that we may have to play some guys but our hope is most if not all will be held out of the game.”
Browns rookie head coach Rob Chudzinksi is taking a different approach. He's leaning toward playing his starters for up to a quarter. "We’re going to approach this next game that those guys are going to play, and then I’ll make that determination later in the week as it goes on.” Cleveland had impressed in its first two preseason tilts before falling flat in Indianapolis last week.
Tennessee Titans at Minnesota Vikings (+4.5, 39)
Titans WR Kenny Britt will not play Thursday night after sitting out back-to-back practices due to knee soreness. No fewer than three Titans linebackers are hurt, including Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, and none of them will suit up Thursday. As for the offensive starters, they could see a series or two but that's it.
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has always treated his team with kid gloves in the preseason, and that won't change this week as they take the field on a short week following Sunday's loss in San Francisco. In other words, don't expect to see much from QB Christian Ponder and the rest of the starting offense.
Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (-3, 36.5)
Aaron Rodgers barely broke a sweat during the preseason and while Mike McCarthy has yet to rule him out for Thursday night, there's a good chance he'll be left holding his helmet on the sidelines. Vince Young will get the bulk of the snaps regardless whether Rodgers sees the field against the Chiefs. The Packers have been banged up throughout the preseason and should take a cautious approach here.
Andy Reid was mum as to his team's playing rotation Thursday night. “I’ve sat the ones, I’ve played the ones for a series, I’ve played them for a quarter, I’ve done it all. The main thing you want to do is to make sure with the guys who are remaining on this team you get a good evaluation on the players.
Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys (+2.5, 37.5)
With starting QB Matt Schaub and the majority of the offensive starters sitting, the Texans will split the snaps between T.J. Yates and Case Keenum in Dallas. Rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins could return to the field after missing last week's game due to a head injury suffered on August 17th against Miami.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett hasn't revealed his gameplan for Thursday night, but chances are he'll sit his regular starters, just as he did against Miami last year. Keep in mind, Dallas still won its 2012 preseason finale by a 30-13 score. After a strong showing against the Bengals last Saturday, there's little reason for the Cowboys to push the envelope here.
Baltimore Ravens at St. Louis Rams (-7, 38.5)
There's a reason why the Rams are the biggest favorite on the board this week. Baltimore will rest the majority of its starters, including QB Joe Flacco and WR Torrey Smith, head coach John Harbaugh revealed earlier this week. The Ravens will open the regular season in Denver exactly one week from Thursday.
Jeff Fisher takes an old school approach when it comes to playing to win in the preseason. “The philosophy has been to build reps throughout camp. That has been the way we’ve done it in the past. We may adjust that ever so slightly this week.” In other words, Rams starters will see some playing time Thursday night. Exactly how much remains to be seen.
Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos (Pick, 38)
The Cardinals will play their starters Thursday night, but not for more than a quarter. QB Carson Palmer may not be among those suiting up, however. RB Ryan Williams is expected to get extended work out of the backfield.
After seeing extended action in last week's dress rehearsal against St. Louis, don't expect to see much of Peyton Manning or the rest of the Broncos’ first-team offense. Head coach John Fox has yet to outline his gameplan but based on past history, is likely to treat this game as little more than a walk-through.
San Francisco 49ers at San Diego Chargers (Pick, 38.5)
John Harbaugh has limited QB Colin Kaepernick's workload all preseason and that isn't going to change in Week 4. The 49ers have a wealth of options at quarterback, with four different possible backups seeing time against Minnesota last Sunday night. Count on another mixed bag from San Francisco Thursday.
With a number of key injuries on both sides of the football, the Chargers will take a cautious approach to Thursday's game. Philip Rivers won't play more than a series or two, with veteran backup Charlie Whitehurst likely getting the majority of the snaps. After getting embarrassed in their preseason opener, the Chargers second and third-string defense has held up well over the last two games.
Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5, 36.5)
QB Terrelle Pryor will start for the Raiders in Seattle Thursday. Matt Flynn will sit out as he continues to recover from a minor arm injury, possibly watching his starting job slip away for the second straight year. Pryor saw the bulk of the action in last year's preseason finale in Seattle as well.
Unlike last year, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will only get a cameo appearance against the Raiders. While Seattle always gets fired up in front of its home faithful, it certainly has little to prove this week after winning its first three preseason contests. Pete Carroll has indicated that his young players will not surprisingly get extended work in this game.