What to watch for in Sunday's preseason games

Welcome to Week 3 of the NFL preseason, better known as dress rehearsal week. It's the one time when pretty much every starter will see at least a small chunk of playing time provided they're not nursing an injury or have a risk-averse coach who doesn't need to see the proverbial nail marks in the hand to believe in his stars.

Who will take center stage? The Jets are facing a jolly predicament with Teddy Bridgewater's stellar preseason play conjuring debate over whether he should start over Sam Darnold. In Buffalo, AJ McCarron's injury has made it a two-horse race between Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen for Week 1 starting rights -- for now. And across the league, there's a plethora of intra-team position battles that could take a decisive turn depending on what happens this week.

Week 3 is a stage, and the roughly 2,800 athletes looking to join or stay on a roster are merely its players. What NFL dreams may come when we've shuffled off this mortal preseason coil remains to be seen.

This week opens with one game on Thursday followed by six games on Friday, a seven-game Saturday slate and a pair of Sunday contests. Get the latest preseason news, updates and highlights with NFL Mobile. All times below are Eastern.

Here's what to watch for in Week 3 of the 2018 NFL preseason:

SUNDAY


Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills, 4 p.m. (FOX)


Bengals (2-0): With the team parting ways with veteran safety George Iloka, the focus shifts to second-round pick Jessie Bates in his quest to prove he's capable of being a leader in the secondary. Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes what he sees in Bates and is willing to put up some mistakes as long as it results in his continued development. Jordan Willis is another player who's working toward plenty of snaps. The second-year defensive end tallied three tackles and two sacks in last week's win over the Cowboys. Get ready for another backup QB brouhaha as Matt Barkley looks to break Jeff Driskel's streak of outperforming him in the preseason so far.

Bills (1-1): Will a 70-yard bomb mark Josh Allen's first professional start? The No. 7 overall pick practiced with the ones this week, and a strong performance in the all-important third preseason game will go a long way in earning Allen the Week 1 starting job. Allen has been a little less consistent than Nathan Peterman and it's debatable, at this point, whether he deserves to be QB1. Still, a team doesn't use a top-10 draft pick on a QB without automatically giving him the tiebreaker. Outside the highly publicized QB battle, first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds has performed well at linebacker and Dean Marlowe has worked hard at trying to earn a roster spot at safety. Be sure to watch Andre Holmes and Jeremy Kerley as they challenge the recently acquired Corey Coleman for the No. 3 WR spot.

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys, 8 p.m. (NBC)


Cardinals (2-0): Josh Rosen is a changed man when he has a decent offensive line playing in front of him. He shined last week playing behind the starters, but he likely won't get that luxury again Sunday as the team puts its primary focus on making sure Sam Bradford is prepared for Week 1. (Plus, Rosen suffered a minor thumb injury in practice Monday.) The strong play of the wide receiving corps has helped make things easier for Bradford and Rosen. Second-round pick Christian Kirk has performed well so far and second-year wideout Chad Williams is making strides in working his way up the depth chart. Stay locked in on the Cardinals kickers -- 43-year-old Phil Dawson missed a pair of field-goal attempts last week while rookie Matthew McCrane nailed a 53-yarder.

Cowboys (0-2): Jeff Heath has been a ball-hawking menace in the preseason, building off a promising 2017 season in hopes of breaking out this year. Unfortunately, the Cowboys need someone else to stand out in a secondary that's shallow on depth. Like Heath, linebacker Jaylon Smith also has seen year-over-year improvement. As for the Cowboys' receivers, Michael Gallup continues to show promise, but it's hard to see how the squad will sustain a potent passing attack that can complement the anticipated gains made by the Ezekiel Elliott-led rushing effort. Unfortunately, Cowboys fans almost certainly will have to wait until Week 1 to see Elliott or Dak Prescott again, so keep an eye out for what Randy Gregory can do in his second game back.

COMPLETED GAMES


Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 8 p.m. (FOX)


Eagles (0-2): Philadelphia was prone to sloppy play against the Patriots last week, and it's something coach Doug Pederson will be keen to eradicate. Nick Foles' rusty performance coupled with a slew of injuries certainly didn't help matters, so look for the Super Bowl champs to put in a more polished performance. Speaking of which, Shelton Gibson's play has been as shiny as a mirrored-finished Bugatti. The second-year wide receiver has been a stud on kick returns and led the team in receiving last week after hauling in a 57-yard TD pass. Carson Wentz is still finalizing his recovery from ACL and LCL tears, so he won't play. Foles will actually play despite leaving last week's game with a strained shoulder.

Browns (1-1): The budding dynamism of the new-look Cleveland offense should prevent opposing defensive coordinators from underestimating this group. Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb have shown flashes of what the Browns might accomplish in their running game. Lost amid all the Baker Mayfield hype has been Tyrod Taylor's solid, if brief, performances. Christened the Week 1 starter by coach Hue Jackson, Taylor should get a bigger helping of work against a solid Eagles defensive corps. Mayfield's numbers last week didn't set the rookie world on fire, but his decisive footwork was the best moves we've seen from Mayfield since Oklahoma peer pressure got the better of his pride. Hopefully we'll see more Thursday.

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers, 7:30 p.m.


Patriots (2-0): First-round pick Isaiah Wynn's season-ending Achilles tendon injury coupled with Marcus Cannon's injury issues means New England could use a hero to emerge on its O-line. Wynn was slated to be the Patriots' answer to Nate Solder leaving in free agency, but it appears now that Trent Brown will have to fill that role and LaAdrian Waddle will hold down the right side. Can he be an everyday Brady blocker? Keep an eye on the cornerback situation. Jason McCourty got burned for a TD last week and his roster spot could be in jeopardy if he doesn't make amends. Super Bowl LI unsung hero James White is doing his best to snag snaps in the crowded running back room and watch for Adrian Clayborn and Ja'Whaun Bentley to cause more problems for Cam Newton. Tom Brady probably will play the entire first half like he did last week.

Panthers (2-0): Carolina's nose for the end zone has been hog-on-truffles good so far, and Curtis Samuel has played a big role in the offensive success. Coming off a foot injury that prematurely ended his rookie season, Samuel has tallied six catches for 108 yards this preseason as he tries to claw up the depth chart. Ian Thomas, who drew accolades for his athleticism and pass-catching in camp, has bolstered his chances of winning the No. 2 tight end job with strong performances over the first two games. His big block on Christian McCaffrey's TD run last week might have secured a season ticket on the Rivera Riverboat cruise. Injuries have been a nagging issue for the offensive line, and it provides a chance for Taylor Moton and Brendan Mahon to show their potential.

New York Giants at New York Jets, 7:30 p.m.


Giants (1-1): Rookie running back Saquon Barkley likely won't play after a minor hamstring injury sidelined the No. 2 overall pick last week. Eli Manning will see some playing time, and he should hope for some better O-line play from a unit that couldn't tame the Lions' front seven last week. One player looking for continuity will be Kerry Wynn. The fifth-year defensive end has thrived on the line and on special teams, tallying nine tackles so far. He'll need to continue more of the same to crack a first-team defense that has stymied opponents to 19 rushing yards through the first two games. Watch for Wayne Gallman to continue his quest to beat Jonathan Stewart for the No. 2 RB job.

Jets (1-1): Teddy Bridgewater deserves a chance to snap with the ones, but it's unclear if coach Todd Bowles feels the same way. Bridgewater has thoroughly dazzled in his two preseason games, but he has yet to play against a front-line defense (or a starting front seven of the Giants' caliber). A Bridgewater start coupled with another fine performance could be like a ringing bell to the inner Pavlov's dog of quarterback-needy general managers. Or it could simply put him in the front seat for the Jets' Week 1 starting QB job. Either way, Bridgewater and Sam Darnold will be the players to watch again, and hopefully they'll benefit from better O-line play than they did last week. Oh, and Josh McCown might see a little playing time in the Snoopy Bowl, too.

Denver Broncos at Washington Redskins, 7:30 p.m.


Broncos (0-2): Vance Joseph has to feel good about his pass catchers, especially after seeing Jeff Heuerman's performance last week. The oft-injured tight end had a solid performance and could add another dynamic option to a pass-catching corps that has shown its depth with rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton shining at wide receiver. That's good news for an offense that has a new starting quarterback and a running back situation under development. Von Miller and first-round pick Bradley Chubb teaming up in the pass rush likely will give plenty of quarterbacks nightmares in the seasons ahead, and we'll likely get another glimpse of the terrible twosome after their bone-chilling debut last week.

Redskins (1-1): Washington's running back quandary pushed the organization into the old-timers RB market with the team's signing of former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. Peterson will see snaps against the Broncos, but his signing more or less confirms the team's commitment to the committee approach at the position with Derrius Guice gone for the season. Alex Smith made a cameo last week, but the Redskins' big offseason acquisition should see more playing time this week. Former Alabama teammates Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have been rolling over opposition running games, and Washington's pass rush might be among the best in the NFL. Be on the lookout for Cam Sims as he continues to lob grenades into the wide receiver battle.

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings, 8 p.m.


Seahawks (0-2): The next man up mantra on defense continues in the Pacific Northwest, and Rasheem Green is the latest player to stand out in a post-Legion of Boom moonscape that's undergoing youth terraforming. Green has recorded 1.5 sacks through the first two games and has been a menace for opposing offenses. While the defense has probably exceeded expectations this preseason, Seattle's nagging offensive line issues haven't gone away. Germain Ifedi was pushed around in pass protection last week against the Chargers and D.J. Fluker suffered a finger injury. The Seahawks need a hero to emerge on the O-line. Expect to see plenty of carries again for Chris Carson, who will be aiming for a more consistent performance after a couple flubs last week.

Vikings (1-1): Sacksonville made life difficult for Kirk Cousins last week, but don't expect more struggles for Minnesota's free-agency prize. After a very midseason-looking Week 1 start, Cousins was off his game against the Jaguars, and protection gaps from the injury-riddled offensive line didn't help. Still, no need to panic -- it's only the preseason. Latavius Murray should be a lock for the No. 2 running back position behind Dalvin Cook, but his struggles holding onto the ball -- if they continue -- could open the door to Roc Thomas or Mike Boone. Speaking of Cook, he's expected to make his preseason debut, but don't expect coach Mike Zimmer to give us a heads up either way.

Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8 p.m. (CBS)


Lions (0-2): Detroit's defensive growing pains under new coach Matt Patricia have lurked over the team this preseason. The first-team unit has struggled to prevent backup quarterbacks from orchestrating drives, so watch for a better overall defensive effort after two ho-hum outings. Offensively, the big questions continue to center on the Lions' running game. Kerryon Johnson is the clear leader with LeGarrette Blount not far behind. Ameer Abdullah, at this point, might just be working on his recruiting tape unless he has a huge game. The O-line could use that too after Matthew Stafford was forced into too many face-to-face meetings with the Giants' pass rushers last week. The Lions have to keep their ironman QB upright because, well, Jake Rudock and Matt Cassel aren't starters.

Buccaneers (2-0): DeSean Jackson is very much in danger of losing his No. 2 receiver spot to Chris Godwin, but he isn't going down without a fight. The three-time Pro Bowler put on a robust display of skills and trademark speed last week against the Titans. Godwin looked great too -- he made an amazing TD catch. Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to look strong against first-team competition and Jameis Winston simply torches guys trying to stay on the roster. We'll have to wait until Week 1 to see if the Bucs' pass offense remains lit into the regular season. Speaking of carries, keep watch for Ronald Jones as he competes for the top running back spot.

Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders, 10:30 p.m. (NFL Network)

Packers (2-0): Rookie cornerback Josh Jackson continues to state his case for snaps this season. He had a pick-six against the Steelers last week after baiting Joshua Dobbs into a bad throw. Jackson's penchant for sticky coverage has put him ahead of first-round pick Jaire Alexander, who has been slowed by injury this preseason. It'll be interesting to see who comes out in this rookie cornerback duel in the weeks ahead. The other intra-team battle involves quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Brett Hundley. Kizer took a step forward in his battle for the backup job, but it still looks like it could be Hundley's at this point in the race. This week's game could go a long way in determining how coach Mike McCarthy sees things.

Raiders (1-1): Raider Nation will get a glimpse of Derek Carr and some other offensive starters before the game slides into what's been a dreary backup QB battle. Both Connor Cook and EJ Manuel did everything they could last week against the Rams to resurrect Chucky from his decade-long slumber. They each need to do a lot more in order for the Raiders to feel comfortable about the backup QB role. On a brighter note, Maurice Hurst continues to shine on the defensive line. The fifth-round pick recorded a sack last week and is doing everything possible to win regular-season snaps.

Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. (NFL Network)


Chiefs (1-1): Give me more Patrick Mahomes. The second-year QB impressed last week, hurling a Zeus-like thunderbolt of a touchdown pass that sailed 69 yards through the air before striking down into Tyreek Hill's arms beyond a bewildered trio of Falcons. Injuries have exposed some depth issues on defense for the Chiefs. Coach Andy Reid's banged-up first-teamers have struggled against their offensive counterparts, but there have been encouraging showings from 2018 draft picks Breeland Speaks, Armani Watts and Derrick Nnadi. One player who has been exciting to watch is Alex Smith-trade afterthought Kendall Fuller. The third-year cornerback has performed well in coverage and has a knack for pass-swatting. Perhaps it's a prelude to a breakout year.

Bears (1-2): Preseasons often are smoke-and-mirror fests, so let's not get carried away with the bland performances we've seen in the exhibition days of the Mitch Trubisky-Matt Nagy collaboration. The second-year quarterback hasn't really quite broken off his rookie-year shackles, but he has shown glimpses of potential -- his passes last week to Trey Burton and Anthony Miller were beauts. Unfortunately, Trubisky will not play Saturday, NFL Network's Stacey Dales reported. Speaking of pretty performances, Kasim Edebali could be in line for plenty of snaps based on how he's played. The 29-year-old journeyman linebacker has been a factor in the pass rush and has softened the blow of injuries to Aaron Lynch and Leonard Floyd.

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams, 4 p.m.


Texans (2-0): Justin Reid appears to be hitting his stride. The third-round pick, who had a quiet Week 1 performance, exploded for six tackles against the 49ers last week. With Reid expected to get a good share of playing time behind Kareem Jackson at safety, his continued development will be important for a revamped secondary that labored at grounding pass attacks last year. Duke Ejiofor is another rookie who's making an impact. Last week, the sixth-round pick had two tackles -- including one for a loss -- after making three QB hits in the preseason opener. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has looked confident and comfortable in his comeback from a torn ACL, and we should expect more of the same in what should be his longest outing of the preseason.

Rams (1-1): Sean McVay has been playing it safe with his star players this preseason, so there's a better chance you'll see Jared Goff in the Chick-fil-A drive-thru in Thousand Oaks than on the field at the Coliseum this weekend. Watching Sean Mannion lead the offense will provide plenty of time to ponder just how good the Rams' offense might be in 2018. Still, Mannion has been effective in reiterating his credentials as an NFL backup QB while handing off the ball to John Kelly, who's sprinting toward the No. 3 running back job. Defensively, Ethan Westbrooks has shined with Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers watching from the sideline. Veteran linebackers Ramik Wilson and Bryce Hager also have played well enough to ease some concerns about the Rams' depth at the position.

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4 p.m. (NFL Network)


Titans (0-2): Tennessee's second-string secondary will be looking to bounce back after getting burned consistently by Jameis Winston last week. LeShaun Sims, Demontre Hurst and safety Kendrick Lewis all received their preseason trial by fire and probably won't face anything like the Winston-Mike Evans combo again this season as reserves. One player who was on fire for the Titans was second-year wide receiver Taywan Taylor. The speedy wideout made four catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns as he continues to lock in his new role as Tennessee's No. 2 receiver. Marcus Mariota has looked sharp in limited action. The fourth-year QB could see an entire half of game time against the Steelers.

Steelers (1-1): Rookie wide receiver James Washington drew plenty of praise in training camp, and he's deservedly earning more accolades in the preseason. Last week, the second-round pick caught five passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. His continued development could go a long way in helping the Steelers solidify what is one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. Whether we'll see Ben Roethlisberger toss a few his way this week remains to be seen with the veteran QB slated to see his first action of the preseason. James Conner underlined his No. 2 RB status with a fine performance last week and rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph will get another chance to show what he can do even if he seems destined for the No. 3 job behind Landry Jones.

San Francisco 49ers at Indianapolis Colts, 4:30 p.m.


Niners (1-1): Dante Pettis has thrilled the 49ers' faithful with some of the speed and skill that made him a second-round selection for the 49ers. It'll be interesting to see how coach Kyle Shanahan deploys him over the next two games. C.J. Beathard's struggles last week limited Pettis' effectiveness, but maybe he'll get a chance to run more with Jimmy Garoppolo and the ones this week. The 49ers' injuries along the O-line seem to be getting under control, so look for Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper to challenge for the starting right guard job. Rookie cornerback Tarvarius Moore showed off his athleticism last week with a couple strong plays on defense as he continues to make his bid for plenty of playing time. Garoppolo's blooming chemistry with speedy wideout Marquise Goodwin could be bad news for NFC West defensive coordinators. Richard Sherman plans to make his 49ers debut after a hamstring strain kept him out the first two games.

Colts (1-1): Now that Andrew Luck has taken a sack from Terrell Suggs on his surgically repaired shoulder and lived to tell about it, the quarterback should be feeling good about his continuing trek down the comeback trail. Luck didn't have the greatest of games Monday playing behind a not-so-reliable O-line, but working off the rust is exactly why the preseason exists. Speaking of which, will Indy figure out its running back situation? Christine Michael hasn't shown much promise in being able to back up Marlon Mack effectively once he returns from injury. Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins have had trouble holding onto the ball. Defensively, things have been more horseshoe up with linemen Hassan Ridgeway and Denico Autry causing all sorts of problems for opposing offenses.

Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars, 7 p.m.


Falcons (0-2): We certainly hope Damontae Kazee isn't one of those players like Cap Capi who shine brilliantly in the preseason only to fade when the regular season dawns. Kazee's interception off Patrick Mahomes last week showcased the skill and energy he's showered upon Atlanta's defense this preseason. Unfortunately, Atlanta's secondary will be looking for an overall better performance. Second-round pick Isaiah Oliver got burned on a touchdown pass and Justin Bethel, Tyson Graham and Marcelis Branch all got beat on the same TD play last week. Atlanta's first-team offense has looked strong -- as expected -- with rookie Calvin Ridley being the double espresso shot to an already heavily caffeinated attack.

Jaguars (1-1): The Jaguars are poised to bring back their defensive reign of terror to the AFC South, and Atlanta's first-team offense will provide their biggest test of the preseason. Coach Doug Marrone has most of his No. 1 slots on the defensive depth chart Sharpied in, but stay tuned for the duel between veterans D.J. Hayden and Tyler Patmon for the nickelback job. Both performed well against the Vikings. Offensively, Blake Bortles will look to bounce back after the mercurial quarterback looked lost at times against the Vikings last week en route to posting decent numbers. As expected, T.J. Yeldon is leading in the race for the No. 2 RB opening, but Corey Grant is snipping at his heels.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins, 7 p.m.


Ravens (3-0): Joe Flacco is the undeniable Week 1 starter and Lamar Jackson is simply backup quarterback material at this point. With that offseason storyline put to bed, which players actually have a chance to move up the depth chart? Ronnie Stanley's injury could provide an opportunity for Greg Senat to make the roster following a solid individual showing in what was otherwise a disappointing O-line performance against the Colts on Monday. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce has had a strong preseason and Kenneth Dixon is doing all he can to beat out Javorius Allen for the No. 2 running back job. Baltimore's lack of depth at wide receiver remains a concern, and rookies Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley haven't yet shown they're capable of filling the void.

Dolphins (0-2): Raekwon McMillan's comeback from a torn ACL has gotten off to a rocky start. Last year's second-round pick hasn't made much an impact this preseason, and he got spun around just as Christian McCaffrey spooled up a 71-yard TD run in front of him last week. The good news for the Dolphins is defensive bookends Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake are as good as advertised. First-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick has played well at nickel and wide receiver Kenny Stills is expected to play after sitting out with an ankle injury last week. David Fales is the leading candidate for the backup job and maybe Bryce Petty deserves an earlier entrance. As for Brock Osweiler, nothing lasts forever, even cold Brocktober rain.

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers, 8 p.m. (CBS)


Saints (1-1): Jonathan Williams saw a decent amount of work last week, and another strong performance would more or less make him the primary replacement for Mark Ingram during his looming four-game suspension. Williams is coming off a pair of encouraging performances to start the preseason to solidify his depth chart standing ahead of Shane Vereen and Boston Scott. Recent signee Brandon Tate has performed well on kick returns and stands a good chance of making the 53-man cut if he keeps it up. Stay on the lookout for Trey Hendrickson, who filled in admirably for the injured Alex Okafor last week with first-round pick Marcus Davenport still on the mend. Tom Savage looks set to win the Drew Brees backup battle.

Chargers (1-1): Keep an eye on the No. 1 defensive unit as it tries to make amends for a shaky performance last week against the Seahawks. Drew Brees and the Saints' offense should provide a good barometer as to where they stand. Melvin Ingram has been one of the biggest bright spots on defense, and the defensive end already looks in midseason form. Last year's first-round pick, Mike Williams, also looks poised for greater things now that he's healthy. Geno Smith is more or less in the driver's seat for the backup QB job ahead of Cardale Jones and he could seal the deal with another decent outing. Roberto Aguayo might win the kicking job unless Caleb Sturgis can prove otherwise.