NFL coaches used to all follow the same script for the preseason.
The first game, the starters would play a series or two. The second game, maybe a quarter. The third game was the "dress rehearsal," with starters playing a half or a little more. Then the fourth game was the one everyone blew off.
Some teams now treat the entire preseason like it's worthless. They refuse to expose any key players to injuries in games. This week we'll see some teams playing starters and taking the third and final preseason game seriously, while their opponent is using mostly players who have little chance to be on the final 53-man roster.
"It's changed a lot," Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera said, via SI.com. "...For whatever reason, the concern about guys getting hurt has really kind of gotten in a lot of people's heads about how much you play them. So, you really do want to be careful. You'd rather start your season with your best players healthy."
For the games on Saturday and Sunday, here are the lines from BetMGM and a quick look at how each team is approaching the game:
Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills (-9.5)
It's a high spread because the Packers are expected to rest key players. Josh Allen and the Bills starters will see some time, so take the Packers at your own peril.
Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints (-3.5)
The quarterback competition is over for the Saints; Jameis Winston will start Week 1. The Saints haven't given much indication which starters will play, if any. Kyler Murray won't play for the Cardinals, though it's uncertain if other starters will rest too.
Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) at Washington Football Team
The Ravens are going for their 20th straight preseason win, which would set a rather odd NFL record. We know the Ravens take the preseason more seriously than most. There's no word on how much WFT will play starters, but either way, it's tough to go against the team that has won 19 preseason games in a row.
Chicago Bears (-3) at Tennessee Titans
Justin Fields gets the start for the Bears and while Matt Nagy insists Andy Dalton will start the season opener (and, for some strange reason, that's probably true), the conversation in Chicago will be interesting if Fields has a big preseason finale. The Titans are dealing with COVID-19 related issues and a preseason finale probably isn't high on their priority list.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4) at Houston Texans
Bruce Arians is playing the Bucs starters for at least a half, he says. Given that, it's hard to take the Texans. However, Houston is taking the preseason a bit seriously and is 2-0.
Los Angeles Rams at Denver Broncos (-8.5)
We know the Rams don't care about the preseason finale, because they don't care about any preseason games. The Broncos have named Teddy Bridgewater their starting quarterback and will play starters against the Rams.
Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle Seahawks (-5)
It seems the Seahawks will play starters at least a little bit against the Chargers. Chargers coach Brandon Staley is from the Sean McVay tree and has a similar approach to the preseason, not playing any key players.
Jacksonville Jaguars (-3.5) at Dallas Cowboys
Given how bad the Jaguars have been in the preseason, it's tough to take them even if the Cowboys are resting everyone. Jacksonville has not sat many players and has still looked bad. Jacksonville's starters will play this week, but does that matter?
Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals (-1.5)
Joe Burrow will play his first snaps of the preseason, getting limited action as he returns from a torn ACL. That is probably the biggest story from the weekend's preseason games. The Dolphins will be resting starters.
Las Vegas Raiders at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)
The 49ers plan to play their starters, while the Raiders have sat most of their key players during the preseason. Expect Las Vegas to sit its key players again. The 49ers are the better side, even if the Raiders have played well in preseason.
New England Patriots (-3.5) at New York Giants
Cam Newton and Mac Jones seem to still be vying for the Patriots' starting quarterback job, and if they play that could be the most important thing that happens in the NFL's final preseason week. The Giants are going to treat the game seriously, playing starters after mostly sitting key players in the first two games.