Four things to watch in preseason finales

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
11:30
AM ET
The NFL preseason will conclude Thursday night for the AFC North division.

Here are four things to watch in the final preseason games:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers' backup quarterbacks

Analysis: Pittsburgh's backup quarterback position is wide open because Byron Leftwich is out for the season with a broken arm. Veteran Charlie Batch and the younger Dennis Dixon will battle it out tonight against the Carolina Panthers. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin decided to sit starter Ben Roethlisberger so the team can better evaluate Batch and Dixon. The player who performs the best against the Panthers probably will go into the regular season one play away from seeing the field.

2. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton

Analysis: The early reviews haven't been pretty for Dalton. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton recently ranked the rookie second-round pick dead last among starting NFL quarterbacks. Dalton has been up and down this preseason. The good news is he's coming off a solid outing in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers. He threw for 130 yards and a touchdown. Dalton needs to carry that momentum into tonight's game against Indianapolis. This is the final tuneup before the regular-season opener against Cleveland.

3. Baltimore Ravens' offensive line

Analysis: Baltimore's offensive line has struggled with a lot of moving parts this preseason. This final preseason game is a chance for the unit to jell one last time before the Ravens' regular-season opener against Pittsburgh. Although nothing is official, there's a chance starting center Matt Birk and new left tackle Bryant McKinnie could make their 2011 debuts against the Atlanta Falcons. Birk is coming off knee surgery and McKinnie is still working his way back into football shape. If at least one of these players gets reps Thursday, that would mark progress.

4. Cleveland Browns' left guard

Analysis: The left side of Cleveland's offensive line was once the biggest strength of the team before Eric Steinbach's season-ending back injury. Now, the Browns have a huge hole at left guard next to perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. Rookie fifth-round pick Jason Pinkston will get the first crack at replacing Steinbach. Oniel Cousins and John Greco are two more possibilities. Keep a close eye on this group Thursday against the Chicago Bears. The Browns hope to have their answer at left guard before Week 1.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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