The Pittsburgh Steelers are transitioning a little, and they know, that to make another trip back to the Super Bowl, not only will they have to overcome a formidable bunch like the New England Patriots, but also the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat them twice last season, including a playoff game.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, the challenge is a bit different, because they are the defending Super Bowl champions, and thus, they have a target on their backs. There are several teams in the NFC, including the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams, who like to think they have improved themselves enough to mount a charge for the conference title.
And then there is that matter of whether Philadelphia's quarterback will be ready for the regular season.
This "Battle of Pennsylvania" is slated to take place at 7 PM ET on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in the City of Brotherly Love.
TV: Local coverage, NFL Network (Replay). LINE: Eagles -3 O/U: 35
ABOUT THE STEELERS: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has left for the same position with the Cleveland Browns, and so Randy Fichtner was elevated from quarterback coach to the coordinator job. His rapport with Ben Roethlisberger is excellent, but there are some observers who wonder whether there is enough healthy "friction" to really create a great dynamic, as there was with Haley. That won't be a big factor here, as Landry Jones is likely to make the start in this first pre-season game. Jones was 25-for-37 with one touchdown pass in last year's pre-season, and 41 of 59 (68.5%) with four INT's in the 2016 exhibition slate. He's got five NFL regular season starts. This will also be the coming-out party for Mason Rudolph, the former Oklahoma State quarterback who may find himself on the field to throw passes to former college teammate James Washington, who was a second-round draft pick and had 4,462 receiving yards in his OSU career. Joshua Dobbs is another quarterback on hand; this dual threat had 38 completions in 64 attempts with six sacks and a rushing touchdown in the 2017 pre-season. If you were hoping to see running back Le'Veon Bell in this game, forget it. The rushing-receiving star, who had 1946 yards from scrimmage last season, has been given the franchise tag and is not expected to sign his tender until right before the regular season opener.
ABOUT THE EAGLES: The official word on Carson Wentz is that the Eagles are being cautious with him. The quarterback, who suffered a season-ending knee injury not long before the Eagles made their Super Bowl run, has not been participating in 11-on-11 drills and it is a real possibility that he won't play at all in the pre-season. He's insisted that he could be ready for Week 1 even without any pre-season snaps. Nick Foles, who proved himself to be more than just an insurance policy as he rambled to the Super Bowl MVP award, may not see a lot of pre-season action either. Nate Sudfeld, who was 33-of-56 in the 2017 pre-season, as well as Joe Callahan, a South Jersey kid (Cape May Courthouse) who is with his fourth NFL team, and won a roster spot with Green Bay in 2016 with a strong pre-season (54-of-88, 3 TD's). Offensive coordinator Mike Groh, who took the place of Frank Reich (now the head coach for Indianapolis) says that left tackle Jason Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler who had both ACL and MCL surgery, is looking as good as ever and that the knee is a "non-issue" right now. Sidney Jones, who came in the second round of the 2017 draft from the University of Washington, missed all of training camp last year, but he is turning heads and may have a chance to snag one of the starting cornerback spots. In his two years as an NFL head coach, Doug Pederson is 6-2 straight-up and 5-3 against the spread in the pre-season.
1. Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree was recently removed from practice and had to be placed in the concussion protocol. The fourth-year pro out of Kentucky was a first-round draft pick in 2015.
2. Callahan played his college ball at Wesley, a Division II school in Delaware, and was the first D-3 quarterback to top 5000 passing yards for a season. That brought him the Gagliardi Trophy, which is Division III's equivalent of the Heisman.
3. Joshua Dobbs may be fighting for a spot on the Steelers' roster, but he doesn't have any problem digesting the schematics of the team's playbook. Dobbs graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in aerospace engineering and a 4.0 grade-point average.