Are you ready for some football? Following Sunday’s embarrassing events that led to the cancellation of the Hall of Fame game, we’re pretty sure fans want this thing to start already.
The good news. Week 1 of the preseason brings a full slate of 16 games. Some more interesting than others.
Football returns in Los Angeles with the Rams playing host to the Dallas Cowboys. Robert Griffin III returns to a starting role in his first season with the Cleveland Browns.
Meanwhile, quarterback competitions will be the name of the game in Denver and San Francisco over the next month.
These are among the top storylines for each Week 1 NFL preseason game.
Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams: Welcome back
For the first time in over two decades, a home team will play a NFL game in Los Angeles. It’s been a long time coming for fans in the nation’s second-largest media market.
It’s also not a coincidence that America’s Team will play the role of visitor in this otherwise meaningless game.
To give us an idea of the interest level here, the cheapest ticket on the secondary market is $50 for this game. For comparison’s sake, you can get into the San Francisco 49ers game a tad further north for as low as $8.
For both Los Angeles and the NFL, the hope here is that interest in the product will continue moving toward the regular season. If the Rams season ticket stats are an indication, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens: Home team’s running back situation
Terrance West seems to be the talk of Ravens’ camp thus far this summer. That’s rather interesting considering he entered camp itself on the roster bubble.
Also important to note, rookie fourth-round pick Kenneth Dixon has looked extremely good after suffering a knee injury earlier in camp.
These two will be vying with incumbent starter Justin Forsett and second-year back Buck Allen for touches. Though, the expectation come Thursday night has to be that West and Dixon will see a majority of the early-game action. That’s definitely something worth watching in Baltimore.
Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers: Robert Griffin III’s debut
There’s no quarterback competition in Cleveland. After just over a week of camp, the team named embattled former top-two pick Robert Griffin III starting quarterback.
"It's time. [@RGIII] has earned the right to be named the starting quarterback … "
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 8, 2016
It wasn’t necessarily something that seemed unlikely. Instead, the surprise is that this came so early in camp.
We have no idea how long RGIII will play in his Browns debut, but it seems rather obvious that new head coach Hue Jackson is going to want to see him run the team’s offense for at least the first couple possessions.
For RGIII, this situation isn’t all-too foreign. He was named Washington’s starter shortly into the 2015 offseason before being unseated by Kirk Cousins in the months that followed. Though, history itself might not be repeated here.
Griffin III isn’t said to be on a short leash, and will likely use the exhibition slate as a way to prepare for the regular year.
Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears: Quarterbacks aplenty for defending champs
Now that Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian are reportedly co-starters heading into the first preseason game, it appears that the Broncos’ quarterback competition is down to two.
Interestingly enough, head coach Gary Kubiak previously indicated that the first game will play a large role in determining the Week 1 starter (more on that here).
What does this all mean? Well, the defending champs simply have no idea how their quarterback situation is going to play out. Not a single member of this trio, rookie Paxton Lynch included, has impressed in camp.
“I don’t think anybody has taken off and done anything,” Kubiak said earlier in August. “I think they’ve all done what they did in the off season. They all continue to do it. We’ll just going here. We’ll start playing some people and playing some games. We’re going to find out.”
While we normally don’t want to read too much into the preseason, it’s definitely going to be interesting to see who emerges from this co-starter tandem following Thursday’s game at Soldier Field.
More than that, we’re going to want to see who gets the majority of first-team reps and what that might mean heading into the second exhibition game. This could tell us a lot moving forward.
Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers: First post Calvin Johnson Lions game
We likely won’t see too much of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones this week. They are locked in as the team’s starting receivers and can continue to gain rapport with Matthew Stafford during practice.
Instead, we’re going to want to see how the depth of Detroit’s wide receiver group looks minus its all-time great pass catcher. This is where the likes of T.J. Jones, Andre Caldwell and Corey Fuller come into play.
Will any of these three step up into a role behind Tate, Jones and the recently signed Anquan Boldin? It might not seem like a sexy story, but it will have an impact on Detroit’s success.
Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers: Chip Kelly’s debut
San Francisco has been playing fast during camp. By that, we mean really fast. This is the complete antithesis of what we saw from 49ers offenses under both Jim Harbaugh and Jim Tomsula.
More so than seeing how Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert perform in such a fast-paced offense, we’re going to want to see how San Francisco’s defense responds to increased snaps.
It was a major issue for Kelly in Philadelphia, where his defenses continually ranked among the worst in the NFL.
Some will conclude this had to do with the Eagles’ offense putting the team’s defense in less-than-stellar situations with quick three-and-outs. That will be telling in San Francisco.
While we’re surely going to want to see how the quarterback competition plays out here, this will likely draw on further into the preseason. And once each quarterback gets extended in-game reps, we will start seeing one pull ahead.
From a team-wide perspective, the onus is going to be on the depth of San Francisco’s defense to step up. With a whole host of players set to take the field Sunday at Levi’s, that’s the biggest story here.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: Running backs in Indy
Frank Gore is unlikely to see much action during the preseason. With over 3,000 career touches under his belt, the Colts already know what they’re getting in the 33-year-old back.
This will leave the door open for an un-drafted free agent in Josh Ferguson to prove his worth. Ferguson has been so impressive in camp that he might already have the inside track on the backup job.
His primary competition consists of veteran Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman. Neither have done very much to prove themselves in the NFL. All eyes should be on the young rookie from Illinois.
After all, this is no small competition. Gore has a ton of tread on his tires and put up just 3.7 yards per carry last season. There’s no telling when he’s going to hit the wall. If that happens, Andrew Luck will need someone else to step up in order to create balance on offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets: New-look Jaguars defense
Jaguars' defensive rankings under Gus Bradley pic.twitter.com/BHJfhDf9OT
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) August 9, 2016
We should see Myles Jack and Dante Fowler on the field this week. Though, 2016 top-five pick Jalen Ramsey will be a no go.
As it is, we’re talking about a youthful and talented group looking to help the Jaguars’ defense improve off the substandard performances that have become the norm in Jacksonville.
Jack, a second-round pick from UCLA, has seen first-team action with Gus Bradley’s defense during the summer. He’s an elite-level talent that was held back during the draft process due to large-scale concerns over a problematic knee (more on that here).
Speaking of knees, Fowler missed his entire rookie season to a torn ACL. The former No. 3 overall pick has reportedly been dominating throughout camp. This is a clear indication that he’s ready to make an impact early.
Despite their injury histories, both Jack and Fowler should see some action this week. They’ll be joined on defense by free-agent acquisitions Malik Jackson and former Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson.
If the Jaguars’ defense is able to show substantial strides early, it will help cement their status as a sleeper team in 2016.
Miami Dolphins at New York Giants: Sterling Shepard
Victor Cruz likely won’t be a go too much this summer after missing the past year and a half to injury. Meanwhile, the Giants have no real reason to play star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during the preseason slate.
This should enable Shepard, a rookie second-round pick, to showcase his skill-set early and often. Shepard has reportedly been dominating in camp, and looks to be ready for his first in-game action.
Shepard’s ability to perform at a high level will tell us a lot about the Giants’ passing game this season. Likely playing against Miami’s first-team defense for a couple possessions, this week could be a good start.
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals: New-look Vikings offense?
Will the Vikings’ first-team offense open up out of the shotgun? That’s going to be one of the major stories when the squad travels to Cincinnati for its first preseason game.
While Adrian Peterson won’t see any action, it’s still going to enable us to see what types of tricks offensive coordinator Norv Turner has up his sleeve. That’s only magnified by the tremendous presence backup Jerick McKinnon boasts out of this formation.
There were reports earlier in the summer that Minnesota might line up out of the shotgun more often this season. The reasoning behind this is rather simple. Teddy Bridgewater performs at a much higher clip when he’s not directly under center.
Though, it’s also important to note that Peterson himself has struggled out of this formation recently.
By going to the shotgun more, the Vikings are taking Adrian Peterson out of his comfort zone. 2015 stats here. pic.twitter.com/MLHHOTwPgn
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) July 25, 2016
If Minnesota decides to practice in-game snaps out of the shotgun early in the preseason, it could tell us a lot about the team’s offensive scheme moving forward.
New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots: All eyes on Jimmy Garoppolo
Tom Brady might play a few snaps this preseason, but it’s definitely going to be the Garoppolo show in New England. With a sample size of 31 career regular season pass attempts under his belt, the former second-round pick must prove his worth.
Slated to start the first four games of the regular season, the issue here is that Garappolo has looked anything but stellar during camp thus far.
Jimmy Garoppolo has struggled the past few practices. Taking too long to get rid of the ball, looks like he's thinking a bit too much.
— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) August 8, 2016
The only way to change this will be to perform at a high level during preseason games. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a decent chance New England won’t be able to even tread water while Brady sits.
Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer against former team
There’s not much to look at here. Neither team is going to play its first-team offense too much in the preseason opener.
Oakland knows what it has in Derek Carr and his dynamic receiver duo. Meanwhile, Arizona’s veteran offensive cast is coming off a 2015 campaign that saw it score the second-most points in the NFL.
Instead, it’s going to be interesting to see Palmer, in the limited snaps he does take, go up against his former team.
It’s the first time he will do so with both his former and current clubs potentially slated for the playoffs. While that won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, it will surely be something to watch.
San Diego Chargers at Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry’s time to shine
— Mickey Ryan (@MickeyRyan1045) August 9, 2016
DeMarco Murray might not see a ton of action in his first preseason with the Titans. He’ll surely get some play in a new offense, but the summer slate of action will likely feature Henry a lot more than his veteran counterpart.
Coming off a Heisman-winning campaign with Alabama, Henry has continued to impress in camp with the Titans.
A strong preseason performance could push him atop the team’s depth chart by the time Week 1 comes calling. That opportunity starts this week against San Diego.
Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs: Seattle’s running back situation
Neither Thomas Rawls nor C.J. Prosise will see action this week against Kansas City. Rawls is returning from a severe leg injury he suffered late last season. Prosise, a rookie third-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, has been slowed by injuries himself during camp.
Instead, the bulk of the action should go to another rookie running back. Former Arkansas standout Alex Collins has been super impressive during the summer, and should see a ton of playing time this week against the Chiefs.
Not only is how he performs important to Collins’ standing on the roster, it could have a major impact for Seattle. After all, the team lost Marshawn Lynch to retirement and is still without last year’s leading rusher (Rawls).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz’s debut
It’s possible that Wentz might not see any action during the regular season. If that ends up ringing true, Philadelphia’s only opportunity to see him perform in-game will be during the exhibition season.
This is an important aspect of evaluating any young quarterback. That takes on an entirely new meaning considering what the Eagles have at stake here.
Should Wentz not prove himself worthy of playing time, it will set the team’s evaluation process back a great deal. It will also force the Eagles into the unattainable situation of having to sit him during regular season action out of necessity rather than choice.
Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons: Home team’s pass rush
The primary focus here isn’t going to be on Vic Beasley and the rest of Atlanta’s starting front seven. We already know this unit needs to improve after finishing this past season dead last in the NFL in sacks.
Beasley and Co. will have an opportunity to prove their worth during the team’s third preseason game. Until that point, it’s going to be all about depth.
This is where the likes of Ra’Shede Hageman and Malliciah Goodman come into play. Both will be relied on to provide a consistent pass rush this season. A solid start during the exhibition slate could go a long way in making that come true.