Football is back. We’re now going to get NFL action every week from here until the Super Bowl concludes in February. It’s an exciting time of the year for pretty much every team around the league.
All 32 teams will be in action during a slate that opens up Thursday with the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills taking on one another. It will represent Josh Allen’s NFL debut. The slate then wraps up Saturday evening with Arizona Cardinals rookie signal caller Josh Rosen making his debut.
These are among the top storylines we’re paying attention top heading into Week 1 of the NFL preseason.
Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen’s NFL debut
According to numerous reports out of training camp in Western New York, this rookie top-10 pick has been the most impressive Bills quarterback. In overshadowing second-year signal caller Nathan Peterman and veteran A.J. McCarron, it’s going to be interesting to see how Allen performs in his first live-game action.
In general, Buffalo’s offense has been far behind its defense over the first couple weeks of the summer session. If given the chance, we want to see how Allen performs with the likes of starting receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones. That’s going to be the biggest takeaway for a rookie that might end up starting Week 1.
Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals: Mitch Trubisky to see action
We expected the second-year quarterback to see action during the Hall of Fame Game last week. That never came to fruition, as rookie head coach Matt Nagy didn’t want to risk injury in what ultimately ended up being a sloppy game. The time is now for Trubisky to be thrown out there in this new offense.
The good news for Chicago? It will be a pretty extensive test against those on Cincinnati’s first-team offense that actually suits up in its preseason debut. The stories have been written. Trubisky has shown himself to be wildly inconsistent during camp. Nagy is considered an offensive genius. It’s now time for everything to come together on the field, even if it’s just in a preseason game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins: Ronald Jones II
Whether it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jameis Winston under center for the majority of the 2018 season, said quarterback is going to need a much better rushing attack than we saw last season. That’s why Tampa Bay exhausted a high second-round pick on this former USC standout back in April.
While Jones hasn’t really stood out in camp, it’s going to be interesting to see how he looks in his first live-game action. He doesn’t have any real competition with the likes of Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims failing to show themselves to be anywhere near as talented as Jones.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles: Steelers’ youngsters
We’re not expecting Ben Roethlisberger to even see action on Thursday. If he does, it will be for one or two possessions. Instead, the Steelers are going to feature rookie third-round pick Mason Rudolph a whole heck of a lot in this game against their cross-state rivals. Rudolph has been erratic during camp, but he boasts the frame and arm that reminds a lot in the Steel City of Big Ben.
Joining Rudolph as youngsters looking to make an impact this summer is former Oklahoma State battery mate James Washington, who the team selected in the second round back in April. The two combined for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Cowboys last season. Let us also not forget about second-year back James Conner, who might be the future at that position in Pittsburgh with Le’Veon Bell’s status with the team up in the air.
Cleveland Browns at New York Giants: Top picks clash
This is somewhat of a rarity. The first two picks in April’s draft making their NFL debuts against one another. Cleveland will throw Baker Mayfield out there at some point in the first half against the Giants. Having shown himself well during camp, we’re excited to see how the reigning Heisman winner performs in his first real live-game action as an NFLer.
On the other side, we’re not expecting the Giants to feature No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley too much during the preseason. A generational talent, New York already knows what it has in the former Penn State star. Even then, he should see limited action early in the game. It’s simply going to be a blast in Jersey Thursday evening.
New Orleans Saints at Jacksonville Jaguars: Home team’s rookies
We’re still not too sure how a team that earned an AFC Championship Game appearance last season brought in this much talent in April’s draft. It started with defensive lineman Taven Bryan in the first round. Bryan has looked spectacular during the summer session, providing Jacksonville with even more talent in the front seven. He’s joined by third-round pick, safety Ronnie Harrison, on defense. The Alabama product has a real opportunity to earn a starting gig out of the gate. While Bryan might sit with a minor injury, Harrison will see extensive action Thursday.
On offense, wide receiver D.J. Chark will look to make a big impact after Jacksonville lost former starters Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns during the offseason. This trio of youngsters promise to be exciting during a preseason slate in which Jacksonville will rest most of its stars.
Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson’s home debut
Jackson’s initial NFL game against the Chicago Bears last week had its ups and downs. He did, however, look like the best of the three quarterbacks Baltimore threw out there. Heading into the Ravens’ second preseason clash, it’s going to be interesting to see how John Harbaugh and Co. handle the quarterback situation.
Starter Joe Flacco sat out the opener, but should see some early action on Thursday. After that, we’d be surprised if Jackson didn’t get into the game ahead of Robert Griffin III. Going up against one of the most-talented defenses in the NFL, this could be an early sign whether the former Heisman winner is anywhere near ready to make a contribution as a rookie in 2018.
Washington Redskins at New England Patriots: Derrius Guice continues to impress
We’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about this rookie second-round pick thus far in Redskins camp. For those who have been around Guice during his LSU days, this isn’t necessarily a surprise. Though, it comes months after he dropped from the first round following questions about maturity issues.
With said questions now behind him, Guice will look to earn Washington’s primary ball-carrier duties — forming a completely new backfield with Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith. His first opportunity will come against the two-time defending AFC champs at Gillette on Thursday night.
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers: DeShone Kizer gets his shot
Aaron Rodgers might get some early play in Green Bay’s preseason opener, but we’re going to see a whole lot of Kizer and last season’s spot starter, Brett Hundley. Acquired from the Cleveland Browns back in March, Kizer now gets to start his career anew in a much better situation. After the disastrous performance of the former second-round pick in Cleveland last season, that’s great news.
The bad news? Kizer has not looked especially good during training camp. He’s struggled connecting with receivers in practice with timing being a primary issue. In his Packers debut, the Notre Dame product will have to prove himself worthy of earning the No. 2 spot ahead of Hundley.
Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, unquestioned starter
Having traded Alex Smith during the spring, Kansas City has made it clear that its committing to this first-round pick long term. With the arm and talent to be a franchise quarterback, most figured that Mahomes would up the Chiefs’ offense in a big way as a second-year player.
While it’s foolish to read too much into training camp, that has not been the case thus far this summer. Mahomes has been a turnover machine during the summer session, leading some to wonder whether he’s ready to take on such an important role. After all, these Chiefs are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Struggles with turnovers from the quarterback position could derail said expectations.
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers: Young offense under Shanahan
We’re not expecting to see a lot of the 49ers’ veterans in their first preseason game Thursday evening. Jimmy Garoppolo will play a handful of snaps. Meanwhile, there’s no reason to believe that running back Jerick McKinnon and wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin will see a ton of action. Instead, we’re intrigued to watch the youngsters perform in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
That includes a second-year back in Matt Breida who impressed as a rookie last season and has been a standout performer thus far in camp. It also includes rookie second-round pick Dante Pettis. Here’s a kid that’s legitimately made San Francisco defensive backs look downright horrible during the summer. It should be a blast in Santa Clara.
Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks: Andrew Luck’s return
Having not thrown an in-game pass since Week 17 of the 2016 season, Luck finally appears to be fully recovered from shoulder surgery. It’s been a long time coming for the fledgling Colts organization and brings a renewed sense of optimism to the horseshoe. All reports thus far in camp have been positive, leading many to believe that Luck will return to pre-injury form.
Expected to play at least a quarter in Indy’s preseason opener Thursday evening, the hope here is that Luck’s excellent practice play transitions to real game action. Seattle’s defense isn’t as feared as it once was. We’re also not expecting Pete Carroll to play his starters a whole lot. Even then, this game will represent a major test for Luck as he returns from injury.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets: Home team’s quarterbacks
Incumbent starter Josh McCown has not necessarily made headlines during the summer session. Instead, that’s gone to rookie No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold who has impressed in practice after ending a belief holdout. Darnold will make his preseason debut in front of the home crowd this week. It’s certainly going to be intriguing to see how he performs in his initial in-game action.
The same can pretty much be said for free agent signing Teddy Bridgewater, who has also impressed during the summer camp. Having thrown two regular season passes since the end of the 2015 campaign, Bridgewater’s preseason performance will determine whether he competes for the starting job in New Jersey, acts as a primary backup or is moved to a quarterback-needy team.
Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders: Chucky is back
Jon Gruden is back in the black hole, where he belongs. After having not coached the Raiders since the early years of George W. Bush’s administration, things have changed a great deal around the NFL. Even then, Gruden is maintaining his old-school ways. It started with moving on from talkative Pro Bowl punter Marquette King and has since culminated in a staring match with star holdout Khalil Mack.
In terms of what Gruden brings to the Raiders, this year’s version of their roster is all about Gruden putting his mark on the team. He’s also been very open to the idea of reconnecting with Raiders fans, as the organization prepares for a move to Las Vegas. In any event, his initial home preseason game since 2001 will be a festive occasion.
Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos: Kirk Cousins vs Case Keenum
If this were a regular season game, the hype train would be at full capacity. Minnesota figures it acquired a major upgrade over Keenum by signing Cousins to the first fully-guaranteed multi-year deal in NFL history. In terms of what they’ve brought to the table throughout their careers, the Vikings are not necessarily going out on a limb.
That said, Keenum led the team to the NFC Championship Game last season and is considered a vast upgrade over what Denver has thrown out there since Peyton Manning’s retirement. If nothing else, this game will give us an early indication where each signal caller stands.
Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen’s debut
First-year Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks has not committed to free agent signing Sam Bradford starting the preseason opener. And for good reason. Arizona has made it clear that they’re going to take it easy with the injury-plagued veteran. If that is indeed the case, we expect Rosen to see a ton of action in the opener.
Arizona also added Mike Glennon in free agency, but what he brings to the table is already known. The former Buccaneers starter is nothing more than a backup, having proven that throughout his career. It’s in this that all eyes will be on the rookie No. 10 overall pick from UCLA as he makes his debut in the desert. It should be fun.