Even as television focuses on Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel to sell fans on Thursday's largely insignificant final preseason games, there are other battles for roster spots all over the American Football Conference that deserve attention.

In New England, fourth-year veteran Ryan Mallett is trying to hold off rookie Jimmy Garoppolo as the next man up should the Patriots great quarterback, Tom Brady, be knocked out of action.

Garoppolo, who broke Tony Romo's passing records at Eastern Illinois, was drafted in the second round this year and has looked outstanding in preseason, throwing for 334 yards and four touchdowns while hitting 65 percent of his passes. Perhaps most significantly he is starting Thursday against the New York Giants and is expected to play more than half the game.

The results may determine if Mallett slides to No. 3 on the depth chart, assuming the Patriots keep him on the final 53-man roster at all.

Correspondents covering each team for The Sports Xchange were asked to identify the key duel in this final week of preseason. Here is a closer look at each AFC team's Battle of the Week (listed by division in alphabetical order):


BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Both guard positions.

The combatants include Erik Pears, Doug Legursky, Kraig Urbik, Chris Williams, and rookie Cyril Richardson.

Williams was signed as a free agent in the offseason to be the left guard, a weak position for the Bills last year. But he has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Urbik was the holdover starter at right guard, having played 98 percent of the snaps there in 2013. But he is losing playing time and reps by the day. Williams and Urbik started in the first two preseason games, Urbik and Legursky got the call in game three, and then against Tampa Bay, it was Pears and Richardson.

Pears is making a shift inside from tackle to right guard, and Richardson, a fifth-round pick, has had a pretty good camp and has earned the chance. There is no clear-cut winner at either position, but it looks as if Pears may be in the driver's seat at right guard, and Richardson will get the call for as long as Williams can't play. It's not out of the question that if Williams is ready for the opener, Richardson could start at right guard, alongside another rookie, seventh-rounder Seantrel Henderson, who seems primed to start at right tackle.


BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Wide receiver.

In the hunt are Damian Williams, Marcus Thigpen and Armon Binns.

The Dolphins are loaded with talented wide receivers and they'll likely keep six. If that's the case, Williams and Thigpen will battle for the final positions behind Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie Jarvis Landry. If they only keep five wide receivers, neither Williams, Thigpen nor Binns probably makes the 53-man roster. Thigpen's advantage is he returns punts and kickoffs, but so does Williams.


BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Backup quarterback -- Ryan Mallett vs. Jimmy Garoppolo.

Mallett, the fourth-year veteran, is being pressed for the No. 2 spot behind Tom Brady by Garoppolo, the second-round rookie with a quick release and deadly accuracy.

Mallett was thrown into action in the first quarter of the third preseason game against Carolina as head coach Bill Belichick wanted to simulate an emergency situation without warning. Later against the Panthers, Garoppolo had a few plays.

There is some debate as to whether Garroppolo is ready to make the leap from small college to the NFL, but he does seem headed in the right direction. He had a solid summer. Still, it remains questionable whether Belichick is more comfortable with his veteran backup and it is likely the Patriots will keep three quarterbacks for the first time in three years.



The longer the preseason goes, the worse -- and more depleted -- the cornerback battle gets.

Dimitri Patterson, a starter by default, didn't show up for Friday's preseason game against the Giants. Converted safety Antonio Allen played but suffered a concussion. So with Patterson's future availability up in the air, Allen and Dee Milliner (high ankle sprain) questionable at best for the regular-season opener and Dexter McDougle out for the season, the Jets are looking at a potential cornerback combo of ... well, who?

The most impressive corners against the Giants were little-used fourth-year veteran Darrin Walls and journeyman LaQuan Lewis, who has spent time with eight different teams despite playing in just eight NFL games. In other words: This is one "battle" that will certainly go down to the final preseason game on Thursday.