NFL

Top storyline for each Week 1 NFL preseason game

DeShone Kizer throws during Cleveland Browns OTAs
Vincent Frank
Written by Vincent Frank

Week 1 of the NFL preseason starts this week and spans five days. It’s a time for rookies to make their NFL debut and veterans to hold off youngsters from taking their jobs.

From a rookie first-round pick in Houston attempting to win the starting job to the Los Angeles Chargers playing their first game in a new city, here is the top storyline for each Week 1 NFL preseason game.

Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers: Deshaun Watson’s pro debut

Will Deshaun Watson start for the Texans as a rookie?

It’s one thing to be impressive during training camp practices. It’s a completely different thing to show that in real-game action. Watson, a rookie first-round pick from Clemson, will have that opportunity for Houston Wednesday evening. The reigning national champion has impressed head coach Bill O’Brien and the Texans big time (more on that here).

But it’s now for real (almost). In the midst of a training camp battle with veteran Tom Savage, Watson only has a limited time to prove he can start for a Super Bowl contender as a rookie. That starts in Week 1 of the preseason against the Panthers.

Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins: Getting a look at Miami’s backup quarterbacks

Regardless of the extent of Ryan Tannehill’s injury, he will not play Thursday against Atlanta. In fact, the injury itself seems to be of the long-term variety. If that’s the case, we really shouldn’t expect Matt Moore to see much action (if any).

This is where the likes of 2016 seventh-round pick Brandon Doughty and Chicago Bears castoff David Fales come into play. Each will be given ample opportunity throughout the preseason. How they perform could potentially impact Miami’s future at this position. Oh, and don’t expect to see the newly signed Jay Cutler this week.

Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills: Dalvin Cook’s job to lose

With fellow running back Latavius Murray just now returning from injury, look for the Vikings to give this rookie a solid look in Week 1 of the preseason. Even if Murray is able to go, what Cook has shown since being selected in the second round of April’s draft lends credence to the idea that he’ll be an immediate star.

“That’s kinda how he (Cook) is. They see him out there on the field with the other guys, and it’s like, ‘There’s something different about this guy, the way he runs, accelerates, the creases he can get to.’ He’s got a tough mentality. Players can see exceptional athletes,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said earlier in August, via MMQB. “When they go out there and they’re going against guys, they can see: This guy is pretty good.”

Minnesota needs Cook to jump out of the gate strong in order to overcome last season’s No. 32-ranked rushing attack. He will get his first opportunity this week against Buffalo.

Washington Redskins at Baltimore Ravens: Avoiding injuries

This is all about the Ravens, who have lost multiple key players to injury over the summer. Joe Flacco remains sidelined with a back ailment. Potential starting running back Kenneth Dixon is lost for the season. Former first-round pick Breshad Perriman was seen leaving practice last week. On top of this, both tight end Crockett Gillmore and cornerback Maurice Canady are also likely done for the year.

While Baltimore likely won’t play its starters too much in this one, it can’t afford to have the team’s depth take any more of a hit prior to the start of the regular season.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots: Leonard Fournette takes over

Fournette may have received a rude awakening by a teammate in camp, but he’s definitely going to be Jacksonville’s star on offense this upcoming season. As a way to help Blake Bortles avoid the mistakes that have plagued him throughout his career, the focus will be on to get Fournette involved early and often.

While we won’t see a ton of Fournette in his debut this week, it will be interesting to see how the team utilizes him initially. In fact, we’re going to want to see if the Jaguars play the pass off the run. It’s something the team has not been able to do in the past.

Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky’s time to shine

By now, it’s readily apparent Mike Glennon will be Chicago’s opening day starter. That much isn’t even in question right now. And depending on how Glennon performs in the regular season, he could be the team’s solution in 2018 as well. But a lot of this will be contingent on how Trubisky looks in camp and the preseason.

Chicago yielded two additional picks to move up just one spot at the top of the 2017 NFL Draft for this inexperienced rookie signal caller. He’ll likely follow Glennon off the bench in Week 1 of the preseason. In this, we fully expect the North Carolina product to go up against Denver’s backups. If so, it’s definitely time for him to put on a show in his NFL debut.

New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns: DeShone Kizer’s NFL debut

Brock Osweiler earned the start for Cleveland in the team’s preseason opener, but Kizer will likely see more action than any other Browns quarterback. Despite recent struggles, the rookie second-round pick has drawn rave reviews in camp. He definitely has an opportunity to start out of the gate. But most of that will depend on how the former Golden Domer performs during the preseason. It starts against what has been a horrendous Saints pass defense this week.

Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers: Philly’s cornerback play

How bad has Philadelphia’s cornerback play been this summer? Torrey Smith is routinely winning at the line of scrimmage. That has not been the veteran’s forte over the course of his career. It’s so bad that the Eagles were forced to sign former Buffalo Bills safety Corey Graham to play corner. He joins fellow former Buffalo defensive back Rod Brooks in a group that just won’t scare opposing offenses.

Sure the Packers are unlikely to play Aaron Rodgers and their first-team offense in the preseason opener. But this doesn’t mean an impressive Brett Hundley can’t do damage. The Eagles’ depth will be tested against Green Bay’s backups. Anything short of a solid performance will add more questions to the mix.

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants: Home team’s running back situation

The Giants are extremely high on second-year back Paul Perkins. In fact, running backs coach Craig Johnson suggested he’s of the three-down variety. Meanwhile, rookie Wayne Gallman promises to get a ton of opportunities to prove his worth during the preseason. Not only does this leave veteran Shane Vereen on the roster bubble, it creates a nice little summer competition for touches. That starts against a stout Steelers defense this week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals running back situation

Courtesy of USA Today Images

Will the Bengals bring Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and rookie Joe Mixon all into the season at running back? If not, who will be let go between Hill and Bernard? That’s definitely a major question, especially as we look at the ever-evolving preseason trade block. Despite being veterans, both will have to earn their keep during the exhibition slate.

It’s going to be extremely important for Hill specifically to show up. He brings a lot of the same things to the table as Mixon, as to where Bernard is a receiving threat as well. It starts against a talented and deep Buccaneers defensive line this week.

San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs: Two teams, two new eras

San Francisco kicks off its inaugural season with Kyle Shanahan under the helm Friday against the Chiefs. It does so with a completely revamped roster and a true sense that 2017 might be a surprising campaign for the previously fledgling franchise.

On the other hand, Kansas City starts what could be its final season with Alex Smith under center. The team traded up for Pat Mahomes in April’s draft and will likely replace Smith with the Texas Tech product at some point soon. It will definitely be interesting to see how the influx of young talent on both teams show themselves Friday at Arrowhead.

Tennessee Titans at New York Jets: Finding a silver lining

It’s really hard. The Jets entered training camp with the most talent-stricken roster in the NFL. They proceeded to lose No. 1 wide receiver Quincy Enunwa for the season with a neck injury. Then, on the same day, young quarterback Christian Hackenberg was kicked off the practice field for continuing to make Pop Warner-level mistakes.

Looking at the Jets’ skill positions, it’s hard to imagine this team actually winning a regular season game this year. But maybe the team can find solace in a meaningless win over the Titans in Week 1 of the preseason. Yeah, that’s the silver lining we’re looking at here.

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff

Reports from Rams camp under first-year head coach Sean McVay have been extremely positive surrounding the 2016 No. 1 overall pick. That has to be considered some good news after Goff struggled so horribly as a rookie last season.

In the preseason opener, Goff will actually be given an opportunity to go against the Cowboys’ starters on defense. That was made possible by Dallas playing in the Hall of Fame game last week. This gives Goff an opportunity to show that he’s improved leaps and bounds from last season.

Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals: Finding depth

Both Oakland and Arizona know where they stand in terms of the starters. Derek Carr and Carson Palmer are unlikely to play this weekend. We also don’t expect to see much from Marshawn Lynch, David Johnson, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Larry Fitzgerald.

Though, both squads are going to be looking at youngsters here in order to find depth at positions of concern. That includes cornerback, tight end and the all-important pass-rush positions. It will surely be interesting to see who steps up.

Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts: Lions running back situation

Ameer Abdullah is considered the Lions’ starting running back, but he’s definitely going to have to earn his keep in the preseason. The unproven former second-round pick needs to show he can hold up physically in the NFL. Up to this point in his career, the Nebraska alum has not done that.

On the other hand, we’re going to want to see how both Dwayne Washington and Mike James perform behind Abdullah on the depth chart. Detroit’s key to success will be to develop a balanced offensive attack. That starts this weekend.

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Chargers: New city, new home

The Chargers will be making their debut at the smallish StubHub center this week. While the team just moved two hours north from its old stomping grounds in San Diego, it’s still at groundbreaking day for Philip Rivers and Co. Sure the on-field drama won’t be there, but it will be interesting to see the environment surrounding this 30,000-seat venue.

About the author

Vincent Frank

Vincent Frank

Editor-at-large, Sportsnaut.

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Rumi