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Thursday NFL preview: Final auditions for Tim Tebow, other bubble players

AP Photo/Michael Perez

NFL Nation reporters look ahead to what Thursday has in store for each team.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: The Bills will rest their starters -- and most of their quarterbacks -- during Thursday's preseason finale in Detroit, allowing fourth-string QB Matt Simms an opportunity to play the entire game. Even though most of the team's established players will sit, Rex Ryan has floated the possibility of getting receiver Percy Harvin and running backs Boobie Dixon and Bryce Brown some playing time, as all have recently returned from extended absences from injuries. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins will face the Buccaneers in the preseason finale. Key starters won't play much, if at all, as the focus is on staying healthy for the regular season. But keep an eye on safeties Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas, who are still competing for a starting job to replace Louis Delmas, who is out for the season with a knee injury. -- James Walker

New England Patriots: It's likely going to be the Ryan Lindley show on Thursday night as the Patriots host the Giants in the preseason finale. With the NFL opener just one week away, Bill Belichick isn't expected to have any of his top players in action, and that includes Tom Brady and likely Jimmy Garoppolo. So expect a lot of Lindley at quarterback. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets: The Jets' primary focus in the final preseason game is basic: Find a No. 2 quarterback for the first four games of the regular season -- or until Geno Smith has recovered from his broken jaw. With starter Ryan Fitzpatrick slated for a night off, Matt Flynn probably will start Thursday night against the Eagles. Flynn, signed Aug. 19, is the favorite for the job. Another veteran journeyman, Josh Johnson, signed Aug. 27 and also is expected to play. Rookie Bryce Petty, who has taken most of the preseason reps, could see time in a mop-up role. The ideal scenario for the Jets is Flynn doesn't reinjure his hamstring and plays well enough to serve as Fitzpatrick's insurance policy. -- Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore hopes Thursday's preseason finale at Atlanta will shed some light on a muddled situation at returner. Asa Jackson had an uneven performance last Saturday with a 103-yard kickoff return and a muffed punt return. It could be time for Michael Campanaro to get a look there after missing the past two preseason games with a hamstring injury. Ladarius Webb is another option at punt returner. The Ravens are looking to find a replacement for Jacoby Jones, who was released this offseason in a move that saved $750,000 in cap space. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals: As the Bengals' position battles come to an end in Thursday's preseason finale at Indianapolis, keep an eye on how running backs James Wilder Jr. and Terrell Watson perform. The two power runners have traded reps on the back end of Cincinnati's backfield rotation since training camp started. Wilder leads all Bengals rushers with two rushing touchdowns this preseason, while Watson paces them in yards with 93. Don't just watch their performances on offense, pay close attention to how often they play on special teams; that's where the winner makes the roster. -- Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns: The Browns conclude the preseason with an 8 p.m. game in Chicago on Thursday against the Bears. With most starters resting, the game will be very important for rookie receiver Vince Mayle as he attempts to show he deserves a roster spot. Same for Terrelle Pryor, who hopes his hamstring allows him to play in one game this preseason. -- Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers: In Thursday night's preseason finale against Carolina, watch closely the Steelers' offensive line configurations, because it impacts what Pittsburgh can do on the ground, Centers Cody Wallace and Doug Legursky are of particular interest, as replacing Maurkice Pouncey will be a challenge. Pittsburgh needs another week of film to evaluate these guys. DeAngelo Williams said the Steelers line is opening big holes in the running game, so that's a good sign. -- Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: Believing in jinxes, Bill O'Brien did not like being told on Tuesday that his was the only team in the NFL without a preseason turnover. "We really talk about ball security, taking care of the ball," O'Brien said. "I think that our defense does a really good job during practice of trying to take the ball away, so that makes it even more of a focus on our offense." The Texans led the NFL with 34 takeaways last season and were second with a plus-12 turnover margin. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts wrap up the preseason against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday. Quarterback Andrew Luck, running back Frank Gore and receiver Andre Johnson are some of the veterans who won't play. But not all the starters will get the night off. There are some starters, especially along the offensive line, that need to play against the Bengals. "We probably know the guys who need a little bit more than other guys, but we've got some young guys who need to still play some football, obviously," coach Chuck Pagano said. "So we'll examine each guy and see exactly what they need." -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars play their final preseasons game Thursday at Washington. Expect starters to play few, if any, plays. There are some interesting battles to watch, though. One is between Bryan Walters, Tony Washington and Neal Sterling for the final receiver spot. Another is the final cornerback spot, where four players (including Nick Marshall) are battling. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans: If Ken Whisenhunt follows his methods from last year, his first with the Titans, we'll see very few starters in the preseason finale Thursday night at Nissan Stadium against the Vikings. That could mean extensive time for No. 3 quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and No. 4 Alex Tanney. For Tanney, it'd amount to an audition for another team where a third spot might be open. -- Paul Kuharsky

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: The team's streak of 11 consecutive seasons in which an undrafted rookie has made the opening-week roster -- third-longest active streak in the league -- is in jeopardy if one of this year's doesn't finish with a flourish Thursday night against the Cardinals. With a deep, crowded roster of a Super Bowl hopeful, there isn't much room on the roster. Linebacker Zaire Anderson and wide receiver Jordan Taylor could have a chance if they can put an exclamation on a preseason that got them this far. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs: The plan is for Chase Daniel to play the first half at quarterback and Aaron Murray the second half in the final preseason game at the St. Louis Rams. Both have been impressive in the preseason with passer ratings of over 100. Starter Alex Smith is not scheduled to play. -- Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders: Pass-rusher Khalil Mack has looked outstanding this preseason. The Raiders, tied for the second-fewest sacks last season with 22, expect Mack to be a sack artist. He has worked hard to refine his spin move, and it was on display against Arizona on Sunday, as Mack had two sacks in a two-plus quarters. With the added weapon in his repertoire, Mack should be well on his way to being a top defensive players in the NFL. -- Bill Williamson

San Diego Chargers: One player to watch in Thursday's final preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers is rookie inside linebacker Denzel Perryman. He's missed a game and some practice time due to minor injuries. Perryman has played in 48 snaps during exhibition play, totaling seven tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass breakup in two games. Although he's flashed at times, Perryman needs to show he can be counted on as a consistent contributor on defense and special teams once the regular season begins -- Eric D. Williams

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys close out the preseason Thursday night against the Houston Texans, but the starters will not play. For the young players, this will be their final time to impress the coaches, scouts and front office. But the coaches are stressing to the players on the bottom of the roster that they are competing not only with the players on the team now, but players across the league. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants: As has become his custom, Giants coach Tom Coughlin will play Eli Manning and the starters for one or two series in Thursday's preseason finale in New England. Coughlin says he does this because there are still 10 days before the Sept. 13 regular-season opener and that's too long to go without game action. And as was the case last year, the Giants' first-team offense and first-team defense haven't shown much yet in preseason action, and Coughlin likes to see production in game action, if possible, to feel good about the team's prospects going into the real games.  -- Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles: Tim Tebow or Matt Barkley? The two quarterbacks get their final chance to convince Chip Kelly that they belong on the Eagles' 53-man roster. Kiko Alonso is another notable player expected to take the field as the Eagles finish their preseason against the New York Jets at 7 p.m. ET. -- Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins: The Redskins still have interesting battles to watch entering Thursday's preseason finale vs. Jacksonville, including how many receivers they will keep. They have five locks: DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Ryan Grant and Jamison Crowder. The other two to watch are rookie Evan Spencer and Rashad Ross. Spencer was drafted more for special-teams help, and Ross has impressed as a fast receiver. But for Ross to make the roster, they might have to keep seven receivers. -- John Keim

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: John Fox refused to announce his plans for Thursday's preseason finale, but expect Fox to rest many of the starters. The Browns game is an opportunity for coaches to finalize the bottom of the roster, where backup spots on the 53 remain up for grabs at tight end, safety, cornerback and along the entire offensive line. Keep an eye on guard Vladimir Ducasse, who is the obvious choice to play right guard if Kyle Long moves outside to tackle. The Bears need some assurance that Ducasse can handle the promotion before Long bumps over to right tackle. A strong effort by Ducasse against Cleveland can alleviate those concerns. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions: The Detroit Lions close out their preseason Thursday night against Buffalo. The main thing to watch is how the lions handle Joseph Fauria and Tim Wright, who are competing for the No. 3 tight end job. Seeing how much, if at all, Wright plays could be the key to who wins that. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers: Don't be surprised if coach Mike McCarthy sits as many as 25 to 30 key players in Thursday's preseason finale against the Saints at Lambeau Field. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn't played in the last preseason game since 2012. Each year since, McCarthy has taken a more conservative approach to this game. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings will play their final preseason game in Tennessee on Thursday night; coach Mike Zimmer said earlier this week the Vikings will play their starters on an as-needed basis. Zimmer wouldn't discuss whether quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play, but given the fact Bridgewater played a little more than a quarter last Saturday in Dallas, he likely wouldn't see much time against the Titans on Thursday. -- Ben Goessling

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: The backup quarterback situation is worth watching as the Falcons prepare for their preseason finale Thursday night against the Ravens. With Matt Ryan unlikely to play and T.J. Yates getting his extended look last week in Miami, Sean Renfree and veteran Rex Grossman will get a chance to show they belong on the roster. Grossman has the experience and knowledge the Falcons need behind Ryan, while Renfree could end up on the practice squad. -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers: All eyes will be on rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess and second-year receiver Corey Brown when the Panthers face the Steelers during the preseason finale in Pittsburgh. Will Funchess show signs he can replace No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin? Will Brown show he can catch a pass? Brown dropped four passes last week against New England and two the week before against Miami. He is 0-for-8 on passes from starter Cam Newton since Benjamin suffered a season-ending ACL injury. This game has some meaning. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints: Most of the Saints' veterans are expected to sit out the preseason finale at Green Bay. But it could be an important tune-up for several young cornerbacks who will need to step up in the wake of starter Keenan Lewis' reported hip injury. Canadian Football League transplant Delvin Breaux will likely be thrust into the starting lineup. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Damian Swann seems to have a slight edge on the nickel cornerback job. And second-year pro Stanley Jean-Baptiste needs to prove he's worthy of a roster spot and possibly ready to enter the mix right away on defense. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: With the starters expected to sit out Thursday's preseason game against Miami, the focus turns to players fighting for a roster spot. Defensive tackle is the Bucs' deepest position with Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel and Henry Melton as locks to make the team. That makes this game critical for William Gholston and Da'Quan Bowers, who are on the roster bubble.  -- Pat Yasinskas

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: The preseason finale against the Denver Broncos will likely be the first time the Cardinals see running back Chris Johnson and Sean Weatherspoon. Both are healthy, cleared and expected to play. Coach Bruce Arians said 22 jobs are on the line -- the final 10 to 12 on the 53-man roster and then the 10 practice squad spots, so Thursday night will be important for a lot of players.  -- Josh Weinfuss

St. Louis Rams: Rams coach Jeff Fisher played his starters a lot in the fourth preseason game two years ago but hardly at all last season. This time around, he's expected to lean more toward the latter. Quarterback Nick Foles will probably play a series or two with the starting offense, but most of the Rams starters will make only cameo appearances against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. The exception will be the team's young starting offensive linemen, who Fisher said will play a bit more than you'd expect from starters in the exhibition finale.  -- Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers close out their exhibition season Thursday night with a game against the San Diego Chargers on the new grass of Levi's Stadium. Of particular importance is who will claim the second starting cornerback position opposite Tramaine Brock -- Kenneth Acker, Keith Reiser, Dontae Johnson or Shareece Wright? Snaps could tell the tale.  -- Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson and the starters could see limited action as the Seahawks close out their preseason against the Raiders. A player to watch on defense is cornerback Tharold Simon. Cary Williams is the favorite to start opposite Richard Sherman once the regular season starts, but Simon could make a late push with a strong showing. -- Sheil Kapadia