New schedule will give different vibe to third preseason game

For years, the third preseason game amounted to the dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener. Now, it’s also the preseason finale, played just a few days before the rosters cut from 80 to 53 per team.

That last preseason game, for most if not all teams, had become a bench-emptying exercise in getting through the reps with players who at best were on the bubble.

Now, as the 32 teams prepare for a third preseason game which for the first time will become a final preseason game, it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

The Steelers, who had an extra preseason contest given their participation in the Hall of Fame game, will put their first two quarterbacks in bubble wrap. The Bears will sit Week One starting quarterback Andy Dalton, giving Justin Fields the start.

Other teams have made it clear they’ll use starters. Those who do may not rely on them for a full half and, as teams often did, into the third quarter.

It will be an interesting wrinkle to watch as the final preseason weekend, with games spread between Friday (four), Saturday (seven), and Sunday (five). And, by Monday, it will all be forgotten — but for any injuries that may happen this weekend.