Week three, as you may have heard 6,246 times this week, is dress-rehearsal week. The starters and their backups play the majority of the game, and there’s not much mystery outside of an occasional younger player perhaps trying to unseat a more expensive veteran. Thursday’s games will be the final chance for many of these players to showcase their talents not only for their own teams, but for all 31 other teams who might be looking to fill a roster spot, as well. Other than a few big name players outside of the division getting massive contract extensions, it was a relatively quiet few days in the NFC North.
By Friday, however, NFL teams will have a pretty good idea of what their rosters will look like, and we can all get on with speculating about football games that matter.
With that, let’s take a look around the division and see if there were any newsworthy nuggets or intrigue among our division rivals.
Chicago slipped past the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, 27-24. At first glance, this would have seemed like a bit of a nail-biter, save for the fact that Chicago pretty much rested all of their starters, and Kansas City did not. And that the Chiefs scored ten late points to make it that close.
On the impressive side, Chase Daniel once again looks like the player that some Vikings fans were clamoring for a few years ago. He’s a solid number two (and really, who doesn’t like that?), and with the way Mitchell Trubisky likes to bootleg, that may just come in handy at some point for Chicago this season.
Wide Receiver Kevin White caught his first touchdown as a professional, which was good to see. The Bears made him the second receiver of the board in the 2015 draft, but to say he has struggled to stay healthy is an understatement. And it’s not like the injuries he’s had have been of the nagging variety. A broken left tibia ended his rookie season. A broken left fibula ended his sophomore campaign. A fractured left shoulder blade ended season three. Just a suggestion - maybe some milk in the diet? Get that calcium up a little?
Linebacker Roquan Smith - the team’s first round draft pick who finally signed his rookie contract last week - didn’t see any game action, as the team is letting him get up to speed.
Trying to be objective, I don’t see any players on the Bears “bubble” that would draw any interest from Zimmer or Spielman. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the Bears roster looks a lot like the one Leslie Frazier had in Minnesota in 2013 - a few good players surrounded by a whole lot of pretty average players.
The Lions might be the most enigmatic team in the NFC North this year. They have an immensely talented offense, led by a quarterback who can make every throw. They’ve built a pretty great offensive line to protect him. O.C. Jim Bob Cooter - who has the best NASCAR name of any person not involved with racing - had a top ten scoring offense last season. And after not having much in the way of a running game for the past several seasons, they seem to be able to run the ball now, too, as their top four running backs each averaged more than four yards per carry last weekend. And it’s not like their defense is devoid of talent. Glover Quinn, Darius Slay and Ziggy Ansah are all very good.
And yet, the team was down 27-6 at one point last weekend, even giving up an Antonio-Cormartie-esque 109 yard missed field goal return. They rallied late, however, and beat the Bucs 33-30.
The folks over at Pride of Detroit were pretty excited on Monday, as 72 percent of fans voting graded the teams’ signing of 32 year old defensive end Robert Ayers somewhere in the ‘B’ to ‘A-’ range. Well, after about 30 hours, the team released him. Apparently GM Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia were seen speaking to one another on the sideline during yesterday’s practice, and Quinn was seen being very animated while on his phone a few minutes later. Ayers was nowhere to be found. Either Robert Ayers did some serious backpedaling, or he was so good that he accomplished all he set out to do in just one day. Either way, I hope for Quinn’s sake there’s some sort of lemon law protection for teams buying used defensive ends.
The Detroit Free Press is projecting the team will keep five backs - Ameer Abdullah, Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, and Nick Bellore (FB). For a team that seemingly could use the roster space elsewhere, keeping five seems a little bit of overkill. Abdullah and Zach Zenner would likely be the ones out. Johnson and Blount are better bangers, and Riddick is a better pass catcher. With the Vikings having their own difficult decision to make regarding Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, neither Zenner or even Abdullah probably wouldn’t move the needle for Mike ZImmer and Company.
However, one player that may not make the 53 that could potentially draw interest from a lineman needy team such as the Vikings is third-year Guard Joe Dahl. He’s not a bad player - he may simply become a victim of the numbers game in Detroit. He won the Pro Football Focus game ball for his efforts in week seventeen last year versus Chicago. The Lions’ offensive line is the deepest unit on the roster, and a pretty good player may well be let go. It’ll definitely be something to watch out for.
At some point in the past year, an NFL executive drew up the preseason schedule. This person is or was responsible for not only making sure that everyone has an opponent every week, but that the matchups would be appealing, as well. Well, the Packers and Raiders preseason week three matchup should have been just about as perfect a game for fans of preseason football (that just sounds stupid, doesn’t it?) as any, right? It’s Rodgers versus Derek Carr! It’s John Gruden! It’s Carr throwing to Jordy Nelson going against his old team! It’s Khalil Mack running roughshod over the Packers line! It’s… uhhh… it’s… yeah. It’s preseason. Rodgers didn’t play. Carr threw three balls. Nelson didn’t catch any of them. Mack is still holding out. And Chucky Gruden? Well, the two teams traded field goals all night long before the Raiders finally broke away with a 13-6 victory.
Green Bay fans got a scare before the game, as rookie linebacker Oren Burks was pulled from the lineup after warmups with an apparent injury. Burks has impressed in preseason, and a significant injury would have been terrible for an already thin linebacking core. The Packers also made a move this week to add some depth at linebacker, acquiring Antonio Morrison from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for defensive back Lenzy Pipkins. Morrison has some starting experience in Indy, but is currently listed with the third-stringers on the depth chart.
Ty Montgomery was nicked up in the game versus the Raiders, but the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. The rest of the Packers backfield situation to start the season is a bit cloudy. Jamaal Williams, who ended up with the Packers starting job last season, is listed number one on the depth chart. Montgomery is second, followed by Aaron Jones (who is suspended two games to start the season for substance abuse). Montgomery has a history of injuries, and with Jones suspension, the team may be watching Detroit’s backfield competition closely.
Here’s the part where Packers fans will roll their eyes at me.
There are no players on the packers bubble that would have a chance to make the Vikings roster.
That’s a compliment to the Vikings’ players, an indictment of the Packers depth at certain positions, and also an acknowledgement that the players the Packers could part ways with don’t fit what Zimmer and his coaches might be looking for. So don’t get your undies in a bunch. You folks are so damn sensitive, sometimes. For instance, Quinten Rollins is a name that keeps coming up as “out” when the rosters are cut down. He’s not better depth at any spot in the Vikings’ defensive backfield than any player the Vikings will keep. And I’ll take my chances with Boone, Thomas and Ham over any running back the Packers don’t keep. The Packers are probably going to cut some players who will end up on other rosters. I just don’t see any of them ending up across the St. Croix next week.