The NFL preseason kicks off (for real) tonight! Am I the only one yelling? My bad. I understand that most people don’t love the NFL preseason the way I do. However, I think the games below include some matchups where there are either interesting position battles taking place, or an opportunity to get an extended look at some players who will be significant pieces for their team this year. If you are as desperate for professional football in the same way I am, you’ll take it in any form you can get it. Though this may be football in its raw, unrefined form, it’s football.
I picked six games for the purely superficial reason that touchdowns are six points, and it felt relevant. I hope you take the time to sit down and check out at least one of these games:
(Note: All regionally broadcast games will be re-played on NFL Network in the days following the game, and all games are listed in chronological order)
6: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, TONIGHT, 7:30 p.m. (Regional)
What to Watch For: The trenches. Most interesting are Pittsburgh’s two rookies starting on the offensive line tonight. David DeCastro, the rookie from Stanford will be starting at right guard, while Mike Adams starts at left tackle for the Steelers. As can be customary with rookies in these situations, they are more than likely going to see a greater chunk of the playing time than established starters typically would in the preseason. Lining up against Mike Adams will be Eagles’ 2010 first-rounder Brandon Graham, who has been much-maligned throughout his first two years in the league; he should receive an extended look tonight, as well. Finally, it will be interesting to see how Eagles’ starting left tackle Demetress Bell performs in lieu of all-pro Jason Peters, who has a ruptured Achilles. This is a good test for Bell, who will likely find himself in his fair share of blitz situations. If Mike Vick and Ben Roethlisberger are forced to scramble on numerous occasions tonight, these teams will both have critical problems to address with their offensive lines.
5: Detroit at Baltimore, Friday, August 17th, 8:00 p.m. (FOX)
What to Watch For: There are a decent number of players in this tilt who have something to prove. For Detroit, the main man to watch isn’t nicknamed after a Transformer. There have been reports out of Lions camp that Titus Young has taken big steps forward in his development during the offseason. However, he’s also been beating the hell out of people in camp fights. Take from that what you will. He is supposed to make a leap forward this season as more of a 1A option to Calvin Johnson, who will see nothing but double-teams all season. This will be his best chance to prove himself, against one of the best defenses in football. For Baltimore, keep your eye on Courtney Upshaw and Sergio Kindle. Both are going to line up at outside linebacker in the rush position. Upshaw was the Ravens’ first selection in the 2012 draft, and looks to fill Terrell Suggs’ shoes this season, after Suggs ruptured his Achilles tendon. Personally, I thought Upshaw was one of the steals of the draft—he seemed like a lock for the first round in terms of talent. Kindle, also a high 2nd round draft pick, has been maligned by injuries in his first two seasons, but is presented with an opportunity to prove himself following Suggs’ injury. If Upshaw gets off to a slow start, Kindle could very well steal the show.
4: San Francisco at Houston, Saturday, August 18th, 8:00 p.m. (Regional)
Houston’s revamped offensive lines will be tested by one of the most ferocious attacks in the NFL. They lost Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel, who made up the right side of one of the best, (if not the best,) offensive lines in football. The 49ers are one of the best tests you could ask for when trying to gauge the ability of your revamped offensive lines. Rashad Butler (right tackle) and Antoine Caldwell (right guard) will be the names to keep your eye on, as well as tackle Derek Newton and guard Brandon Brooks, who will push for the starting positions if Butler and Caldwell struggle. The biggest makeover the 49ers received was in their receiving corps, which added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham through free agency, as well as picking AJ Jenkins in the first round of the NFL draft. They will get to prove themselves against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, which Houston boasted last season, allowing only 189.7 pass yard per game, 3rd best in the NFL. Randy Moss will be battling Mario Manningham for the spot on the depth chart opposite Michael Crabtree, and this will give the 49ers a good idea of what they have in each of them.
3: Arizona at Tennessee, Thursday, August 23rd, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)
I like this one because of the quarterback battles it includes. This game should give us the clearest example of who the starting quarterbacks for the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans should be. Kevin Kolb got off to about as bad a start as you possibly can against New Orleans in the Hall of Fame game. Despite a solid yards per attempt last season (7.73, 12th in the NFL) he has struggled with decision making, and it showed with his first pass being intercepted. Kolb will likely get to start in Week 2, after John Skelton probably starts in Week 1, and whoever plays best in this game will probably start the games that count under center for the Cardinals. For the Titans, it’s a battle they want Jake Locker to win, but he’s been erratic in camp. By week 3 of the preseason we should find out whether or not Locker has figured out his issues. If we see Matt Hasselbeck take the majority of the snaps for Tennessee, it won’t look good for Locker, who was a top 10 pick, just last year.
2: Indianapolis at Washington, Saturday, August 25, 4:00 p.m. (NFL Network)
It’s pretty evident why this is a must-watch game. It’s not particularly often that you get to watch two supposed “franchise-changing” quarterbacks go head to head in their first season. Though this is in the preseason, it comes in week 3, which is the game where the starters tend to spend the most time on the field. This will be the first chance NFL fans have to watch Andrew Luck’s Colts face off against Robert Griffin III’s Redskins, and they will get to see how these two offenses are adapting to their new signal-callers. Luckily, for fans of the Redskins and the Colts, it can’t really get any worse than it was for them last season, with Dan Orlovsky and Curtis Painter holding down the fort for the Peyton Manning-less Colts, and Rex Grossman and John Beck trying to out-bad each other in Landover. This should be a fun one to watch for those of you who enjoy watching the future of the league in its incubation stage.
1: San Francisco at Denver, Sunday, August 26, 4:00 p.m. (FOX)
I won’t go so far as to say that this is a Super Bowl XLVII preview, but these are two teams that expect to contend for that distinction this season. The Broncos were a quarterback away from looking like a real contender last year, after their defense and running game began to take shape. Now they’ve added Peyton Manning, who, according to everything that’s been coming out of Broncos camp, seems to be back to his old self. He will receive his toughest test in the pre-season against a 49ers defense that was at the top of the NFL in takeaways last season, and knows how to pressure the quarterback. We know what we’re looking for from the 49ers, as their game against Houston was already listed here. What I didn’t mention, however, was their backup quarterback battle. This should be settled by this point in the preseason, and we will be able to gauge the development of Colin Kaepernick. If he loses the backup job to Josh Johnson, this will already start to look like a busted pick for the 49ers.
Hopefully you all take the time to check these games out. I know I’ll be watching, and before we know it, it will be time for the games that actually count. I’m already chomping at the bit for the season to get here, and I’m sure you’re probably just as excited as I am.