The NFL’s pre-season fully ramps up this week with 16 games scheduled from Thursday through Sunday, including a Saturday night matchup between the Eagles and Ravens.
While winning and losing does not particularly matter in the pre-season – it’s more about player evaluation, playbook execution and team chemistry – that particular Baltimore-Philadelphia contest is in the spotlight because the Ravens will be looking to extend the franchise’s incredible pre-season winning streak to 24 games. The Ravens have won 23 exhibition matchups in a row dating back to 2016.
Lamar Jackson and most other Ravens starters won’t play this week yet we may see the debut of rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers take on fellow first-round picks Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, the former Georgia duo expected to make their Eagles debuts on the other side of the ball.
That’s just one of many storylines to keep track of as the pre-season gets underway.
BURROW STILL SEVERAL WEEKS FROM RETURNING
Joe Burrow returned to Cincinnati Bengals practice this week for the first time since straining his right calf in late July but he was wearing a bucket hat instead of a helmet.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor confirmed to reporters his star quarterback remains several weeks away from returning to the field.
Burrow’s top target, Ja’Marr Chase, told the NFL Network earlier this month he hopes his QB takes his time and would even prefer he miss a regular-season game or two and return fully healthy opposed to toughing it out for Week 1 if that’s what it takes.
“I just want him to be 100 percent healthy to play,” Chase said. “I don’t want him rushing nothing. I don’t want people in his ear telling him to play a certain time. I just want him to be healthy…100 percent healthy.”
Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2020 draft, is heading into his fourth NFL season with the Bengals and is currently listed among the top three MVP contenders for 2023 along with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
WILL HERBERT BREAKOUT IN CHARGERS NEW OFFENCE?
Kellen Moore was brought in as the Chargers’ new offensive coordinator in January after four seasons as Dallas’s OC but could his playbook see starting QB Justin Herbert take his game to new heights?
Keenan Allen, a five-time 1,000-yard receiver, told reporters Herbert is thriving in Moore’s offence so far in camp and has become more vocal as a leader in huddles and on the sidelines.
Allen has caught 272 passes for 2,882 yards and 18 touchdowns in 39 starts with the Chargers since Herbert took over for Philip Rivers in 2020.
“I think this year he’s way more comfortable than he’s been,” Allen told the NFL Network. “He’s changing plays, he’s more vocal in the groups, he’s just settled in, and you can tell he’s got that confidence and that swagger now to where he’s ready to run this team.”
With stressful contract negotiations now behind him, the 25-year-old can focus solely on improving on the 4,739 yards and 25 touchdowns he threw in 2022 when the Chargers finished a respectable 10-7 in the regular season but didn’t win in the playoffs.
Herbert certainly appears dialled in thus far this training camp and was dropping dimes like this one on Thursday.
MAYFIELD UP FIRST AS TAMPA‘S QB BATTLE HEATS UP
The competition between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask to determine the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting quarterback has been tight to begin August and Bucs coach Todd Bowles announced Mayfield will start Tampa’s pre-season opener Friday at home against Pittsburgh, while Kyle Trask will get the start in the team’s second preparation contest next week against the Jets.
Bowles didn’t clarify whether Trask could also see action in Week 1 and vice versa for Mayfield in Week 2.
Mayfield signed with Tampa in March after splitting last season with the Panthers and Rams. The 2018 first-overall pick went 2-8 in 10 starts in unfavourable circumstances in Carolina and Los Angeles but has a fresh start with a Bucs team moving on from a retired Tom Brady.
Trask, a second-round pick of the Bucs from 2021, has only made nine regular-season pass attempts during his brief pro career.
COLTS’ RICHARDSON READY FOR DEBUT
The next chapter in Colts history begins this week when 2023 fourth-overall pick Anthony Richardson take his first pro snaps with Indianapolis.
Colts coach Shane Steichen confirmed the rookie quarterback, who recently underwent nasal surgery, will start the team’s pre-season opener Saturday afternoon versus the Bills in Buffalo.
“I knew I was going to get my reps, but I’m excited about going out there first. It lets me know where I’m at,” Richardson told reporters.
Gardner Minshew and Sam Ehlinger are the only other quarterbacks currently on the Colts depth chart.