Football is back.
The NFL preseason officially kicks off Wednesday night, with 14 games following in the coming days. The preseason spans four games, as each team prepares to cut their roster down to 53 players.
While the games don’t have the same excitement as the regular season, some teams have position battles that make the games worth watching. Players changing teams, new coaching schemes, and exciting rookie debuts give the preseason meaning.
Here’s the full schedule this week, ranked by how interested I am in watching the game. They’re separated by day because honestly, I miss football, and if there’s one game on a Wednesday I’m probably going to watch it regardless.
Wednesday, August 9
Houston vs. Carolina
Not only is this the only game in town, but it’s our first official look at DeShaun Watson in a Texans uniform. The Panthers defense struggled last year 26th in points allowed, so it’s a good opportunity for both sides to improve in the preseason opener.
Thursday, August 10
Atlanta vs. Miami
The Dolphins dominated headlines last week after signing Jay Cutler to replace Ryan Tannehill. Cutler won’t play on Thursday, but the Dolphins need Thursday to tweak their offense in a post-Tannehill world. We haven’t seen the Falcons since they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, and they’ll greet whoever takes snaps for Miami with new first round pick Takkarist McKinley.
New Orleans vs. Cleveland
The QB carousel is perpetual in Cleveland, who host the Saints in their opener. Brock Osweiler will make the start, but Deshone Kizer is the one worth watching. Kizer is gaining support for the starting job, and Thursday will be his first real test. It’s also a chance to see Duke Johnson, who has been working more and more as a slot reciever in the offseason.
Denver vs. Chicago
Quarterback battles shape this battle as Bears coach John Fox opens the preseason against his former team. The opening job is still undecided in Denver, as reports have leaked that the team is actively trying to trade for another quarterback. Meanwhile, Mike Glennon is set to take reps for the Bears, with rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky waiting for his shot.
Washington vs. Baltimore
This is a rivalry game, right? Joe Flacco’s back has the Ravens concerned, so it’s worth checking out how his backups play. Terelle Pryor is earning high praise from his performances in practice, and he makes his Washington debut against a team he faced twice last season. He might be covered by Marlon Humprehy, who the Ravens selected with the 16th overall pick in the offseason.
Minnesota vs. Buffalo
Dalvin Cook has been turning heads at Vikings camp, and he makes his debut in Buffalo. The Bills just signed Anquan Boldin, but it’s rookie Zay Jones that I’ll be watching against a deep Vikings secondary.
Philadelphia vs. Green Bay
Carson Wentz continues his development against the Packers. Ty Montgomery is listed as the Packers’ starting running back, but rookie Jamal Williams has been impressive early. In the Packers high-powered offense, the Williams-Montgomery battle is one worth keeping an eye on.
Jacksonville vs. New England
If the Jaguars really want to commit to running the football, Leonard Fournette has to be as good as advertised. He’ll make his debut on the road against the World Champions, who also boast a handful of new faces. Mike Gillislee and Brandin Cooks probably won’t play much, but it’ll be interesting to see how the ball is distributed with all the talent surrounding Tom Brady.
Friday, August 11
San Francisco vs. Kansas City
The 49ers hit rock-bottom, but they’ve got a ton of young players (namely on defense) worth watching. They’ll go up against the Chiefs, who should give plenty of playing time to rookie QB Patrick Mahomes.
Pittsburgh vs. New York
Two teams expected to make the playoffs shouldn’t produce many sparks in their preseason, but each team has a rookie running back worth watching. James Conner is recovering from an injury but should make his Steelers debut, and the Giants should get their first look at former Clemson running back Wayne Gallman.
Tampa Bay vs. Cincinnati
It’s the least interesting game because the Buccaneers are on Hard Knocks this season, so that’s probably the best way to watch the game. Joe Mixon makes his debut for the Bengals, while the Bucs will show off high-powered rookie weapons Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard.
Saturday, August 12
Tennessee vs. New York
The Jets are a disaster, but have position battles worth watching all over the field. The Jets have real position battles at quarterback or wide receiver, and in the case of latter, a breakout star may be waiting somewhere deep on the depth chart.
Oakland vs. Arizona
The Carson Palmer Bowl hits Glendale, where the Cardinals will host the preseason opener. Don’t expect either quarterback to play much, and don’t expect to see newly-unretired Raider Marshawn Lynch outside of maybe the first possession.
Dallas vs. Los Angeles
NFL Network will broadcast Cowboys-Rams, which will be great if you enjoy multiple hours of Zeke Elliot speculation. I’m interested in seeing how Dallas uses Ryan Switzer in the slot, and if Jared Goff has improved after a tough rookie season.
Sunday, August 13
Detroit vs. Indianapolis
If Andrew Luck’s shoulder isn’t ready for the regular season, Scott Tolzien will be the opening day starter. That’s a scary thought for Colts fans, who can watch Tolzien struggle in an exhibition game on Sunday. Kenny Golladay has been a human highlight reel in Lions camp so far, and we’ll see how he does in his first NFL appearance.
Seattle vs. Los Angeles
The Chargers have already suffered a few injuries in training camp, and they’ll be looking to leave their preseason opener against Seattle as healthy as possible. The Seahawks are working with a handful of running backs, but former Packer Eddie Lacy is the presumed Week One starter.