Week 3 games are the most important of the preseason, serving as the "dress rehearsal" for most teams. So which individual player has the most at stake this week?
Seattle Seahawks wideouts Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards. These veteran receivers appear to be playing for one spot, and the loser could move a step closer to retirement. Owens showed last week that he could still run, but if he gets outplayed by Edwards, he might not get a look by another team. (The same goes for Edwards.)
It won't be easy for either receiver going against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that is pretty loaded and will game-plan to stop Seattle to some degree, given that this week is the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Nick Foles is the player with the most at stake as we get ready for the ultra-important third week of the preseason. The rookie quarterback will be on full display for the Philadelphia Eagles, with Michael Vick and Mike Kafka banged up.
Foles has been all the rage for the Eagles in the preseason. That scares me. When you have an oft-injured quarterback like Vick, the backup is very important. I think the Eagles should trade for Colt McCoy or Tarvaris Jackson. But Andy Reid loves Foles. Big spot this Friday against the Cleveland Browns.
Rookie Russell Wilson is scheduled to start at quarterback for the Seahawks in Kansas City on Friday night, but the real pressure is on veteran free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn.
Seattle paid Flynn $10 million guaranteed on a three-year deal in March, which is enough money to give him multiple shots at the starting job but not enough to just hand it to him. He has four years of NFL experience (most of which came on the sidelines), but he needs a strong performance against the Chiefs to hold off the hard-charging third-round pick out of Wisconsin.
Arizona QB Kevin Kolb is my choice. The Cards made a big trade to get him -- giving up a second-round draft choice and starting CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- and then signed him to a big-money extension. Up to this point, Kolb certainly has not lived up to expectations. He has missed time due to injuries and underperformed when he has taken the field. Last week, Oakland Raiders DT Tommy Kelly questioned his courage.
In watching Kolb this preseason, I have been disappointed by his play. In my opinion, he is still not comfortable running the offense and leaves the pocket too soon at times. He has the most at stake of any player this week: a starting job and his reputation (in regard to his toughness). It's not fair to question his toughness based on one preseason game, but the reality is everyone will be watching his pocket presence in Tennessee on Thursday.
Oh, now people want to talk about the West Coast teams? Typical.
When Tony Romo opens the season in Week 1 at New York, his starting receivers could be Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley. (Sure, I'll give you a moment to do the Google search on those guys, or, better yet, check out Gil Brandt's list of NFC players with something to prove; both players are included.) Even if Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are able to return for the season opener against the defending champions, Holmes and/or Beasley will figure prominently in the offense. Both have the potential to follow in the footsteps of Laurent Robinson, who virtually came out of nowhere to post 11 touchdown catches for the Cowboys in 2011.
So I'm going to keep a close eye on the Cowboys' receivers to see who finishes strong. Holmes was the early favorite, but based on Beasley's performance last week, he definitely belongs in the conversation.
Peyton Manning has plenty at stake. The Denver Broncos completely revamped the quarterback position by bringing in the future Hall of Famer, and management expects a huge return. But after sitting out the entire 2011 season, Manning has shown a lot of rust in the preseason, throwing three interceptions and zero touchdowns.
The San Francisco 49ers will be his toughest preseason opponent yet, and this is Peyton's last opportunity to get his moxie back before the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had the league's top-rated defense in 2011. The veteran Manning is probably using the preseason to work on the timing nuances of the new playbook. The great ones commonly take risks in the preseason to gauge how far they'll be able to push it when the games count.