A look at what to expect in Thursday night’s NFL preseason games:
PACKERS AT PATRIOTS
Will the New England Patriots’ preseason opener be a coming-out party for Jimmy Garoppolo or a thumb in the eye to Roger Goodell and the NFL’s “Deflategate” investigation?
That’s what football fans will see when the Patriots play the Green Bay Packers in their exhibition opener. With a four-game suspension looming over quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick will have to decide which is more important: Getting his backup prepared for a possible stint as the starter, or showing his support for the suspended Super Bowl MVP.
No surprise: Belichick hasn’t said anything about his plans. So when the teams take the field, the Packers and the rest of the NFL will learn for the first time how the defending champions plan to handle the potential absence of their star.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said his plan is to play everyone who travels to New England, and that includes quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
JETS AT LIONS
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets try to put a tumultuous few days behind them when they play at Detroit. Fitzpatrick is now the starting quarterback after Geno Smith was lost for at least six to 10 weeks with a broken jaw. Smith was punched by teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali in the locker room Tuesday. Enemkpali was claimed by the Buffalo Bills - coached by former Jets coach Rex Ryan - off waivers Wednesday.
The Jets face a Detroit defense that was excellent last season, but lost star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to free agency. Second-year defensive lineman Caraun Reid may play a bigger role this season.
REDSKINS AT BROWNS
All eyes will be on the quarterbacks as Robert Griffin III tries to win back the hearts of Washington fans and Josh McCown tries to hold off Johnny Manziel for Cleveland’s starting job.
RGIII has been saying all the right things during training camp and exuding the confidence that helped him take the NFL by storm as a rookie. Despite being benched the past two seasons, Griffin begins the season as the Redskins’ No. 1 QB and can solidify his status with a solid preseason. He’ll likely play a quarter before turning the offense over to Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.
The 36-year-old McCown has had an impressive camp, displaying the leadership Cleveland desperately needs while serving as a mentor for Manziel. The Browns only see McCown as a temporary fix. They are anxious to see if Manziel can continue his development following a forgettable rookie season.
Manziel was bothered by a sore elbow earlier this week, but is expected to play. Cleveland’s offense has been hit with injuries. Wide receivers Dwayne Bowe, Terrelle Pryor and rookie running back Duke Johnson are all out.
SAINTS AT RAVENS
Veteran quarterback Matt Schaub will see his first action with the Baltimore Ravens, serving as backup to Joe Flacco. The 34-year-old Schaub is expected to receive the majority of playing time. Schaub threw only 10 passes as a backup in Oakland last year, and fills a role held the past four seasons by Tyrod Taylor, now with the Bills.
The Saints’ kicking competition begins in earnest when Zach Hocker out of Arkansas and Dustin Hopkins out of Florida State vie to fill the void left by Shayne Graham, who was cut loose during the offseason. Neither Hocker nor Hopkins has ever participated in an NFL regular-season game.
DOLPHINS AT BEARS
The Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins were busy in the offseason.
Chicago hired general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, hoping to turn around a team that won five games. Miami signed one of the league’s top defensive lineman in Ndamukong Suh.
Both teams also revised their receiving group. Chicago traded Brandon Marshall and drafted Kevin White with the No. 7 pick. Miami, 8-8 in 2014, drafted DeVante Parker at No. 14. Neither rookie has yet to take the field in training camp. White has left shin injury; Parker is recovering from foot surgery.
The Bears have openings all over their defense as they switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 scheme. On offense, they hope quarterback Jay Cutler can cut down on the turnovers under new coordinator Adam Gase.
COWBOYS AT CHARGERS
The Chargers host the Cowboys and will get their first real look at running back Melvin Gordon, whom they drafted with the 15th pick overall.
“I’m excited to see what I’ve got and see what we’re capable of,” Gordon said. “I just want to go out here and contribute to the team and be the playmaker I think I can be.”
Gus Johnson, an undrafted rookie running back, gets perhaps his best chance to prove he can make it with the Dallas Cowboys.
Injuries to the top three candidates to replace NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray could mean Johnson is the starter in San Diego. A month ago, he was unsigned. He got a call just before the Cowboys reported to training camp in California.
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