- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's "dress rehearsal" week in the NFL. This is the third and most important preseason game for most teams in preparation for the regular season.
Here are four questions for the third games in the AFC East:
No. 1: Can the New York Jets get in the end zone?
Thoughts: It’s a simple question. But the fact is New York remains the only NFL team yet to score a touchdown this preseason. The Jets are not showing everything, but leaks are springing up everywhere in their execution and fundamentals. Receivers are dropping passes, the pass protection has been horrendous and it's impacting quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. The potential return Sunday of No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes should provide a boost to the passing game. Benching right tackle Wayne Hunter is another move to get this offense going in the right direction.
No. 2: Is it rest or rust for the New England Patriots?
Thoughts: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made an interesting move on Monday when he sat out many of his big-name starters in the second preseason game. For Belichick, it was a chance to rest virtually all of his star players, but also get a good look at younger players like backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The flip side is many of New England’s important players have just one quarter of work this entire preseason. Belichick plans to play his starters about three quarters to tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Next week is a meaningless game. So tonight is New England’s last chance to shake of the rust before the regular season.
No. 3: Will the Buffalo Bills start fast?
Thoughts: Buffalo does not want to make a habit of starting games slowly. That's one of the quickest ways to fall out of playoff contention. But the Bills’ starters have been lethargic this preseason. Buffalo has been outscored 23-10 in the first half the past two weeks. The Bills need to get a fast start in this dress rehearsal game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It should be a good test of two teams expected to contend for a playoff spot in the AFC. If the Bills’ starters look lackadaisical for the third week in a row, you have to wonder if they are a little complacent and buying into their hype.
No. 4: Can the Miami Dolphins' defense step up?
Thoughts: Miami’s starting defense has allowed 24 first-quarter points the past two preseason games. Even with injuries, the fact that this group can’t get off the field should be a concern. Miami was without three key starters last week -- Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Cameron Wake -- so the defense gets a bit of a pass. But there will be no excuses in two weeks when the regular season begins. It's time for Miami's defense to build momentum. This is the strength of the team. If the defense doesn't play well, it's going to be a long season for the Dolphins.