A couple thoughts per NFC West team heading into the final games of the 2010 NFL exhibition season:
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo says he wants to see Sam Bradford string together back-to-back impressive performances before announcing the rookie as his starter for the regular season. Bradford would have to falter badly or suffer an injury for the Rams to make him their backup heading into Week 1. That's my feel, anyway. Avoiding significant injuries to Bradford or any key player stands as the top priority for the Rams in this game. They lack sufficient depth to weather injuries. Losing receiver Donnie Avery to a season-ending knee injury in the third exhibition game heightened those concerns. The Rams have been able to keep together their starting offensive line in recent weeks, a trend that needs to continue.
Matt Leinart could complete 9 of 10 passes and still not win the starting job. We know this because Leinart did just that in the the third exhibition game, but Derek Anderson remained the starting quarterback.What would it take for Leinart to prevail in this race? An injury to Anderson would clear the way. Short of that, however, it appears the Cardinals think Anderson gives them a better chance to win, regardless of what happens against Washington in the last (and least) exhibition game. The manner in which Leinart has handled his demotion -- questioning Whisenhunt, claiming he had outplayed the competition and making it sound like he's earned the right to start -- makes it tougher for the Cardinals to hold up Leinart as their starter heading into the regular season. How much each quarterback plays Thursday night could matter. If Leinart does not play, it suggests the team might be planning to release him (assuming no trade partners emerge). If Leinart plays sparingly in relief, the status quo might prevail for a while (the Cardinals could always keep four quarterbacks on the cutdown to 53 players, biding their time). I'd be surprised if Leinart played extensively Thursday night.
Getting something going in the running game would make the Seahawks feel better about their prospects heading into the regular season. The Raiders' run defense was a question mark heading into camp, and Frank Gore carried twice for 58 yards against Oakland last week. The Seahawks haven't gained much traction on the ground even though Leon Washington looked good in scoring an 11-yard touchdown against Green Bay two weeks ago. Ben Obomanu, Brandon Jones, Jordan Babineaux, Owen Schmitt, Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah are some of the players whose status with the team could use clarification, at least publicly, heading toward the mandatory 53-man cutdown Saturday.
The 49ers have the least compelling roster-related drama heading into the final exhibition game, a reflection of the depth and continuity they've worked to achieve. Alex Smith isn't going to play and the top two quarterback spots are set, draining intrigue from this final game. Third-string quarterback Nate Davis could stand to make a positive impression with his game management and decision-making after coach Mike Singletary called him out. The recent practice-field spat between Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis serves as a subplot even though the 49ers do not plan for Davis to play, and Crabtree might not play, either.