NFL Preseason Begins Tonight: 5 Things to Watch

nfl preseason, nfl changes

Getty Hunter Henry takes a crunching hit last season. Henry is already on the IR with a torn ACL.

Football is BACK.

For the next 20 weeks, there will be NFL football. The season kicks off Thursday, when the Bears and Ravens meet in the Hall of Fame Game. It’s the only game of the first week of the preseason, and next week all 32 teams will begin exhibition action.

With football being crammed down your throat, and over a month to go until the first real game is played, it can be difficult to get into preseason football. But there’s real intrigue to the start of the season, other than paying close attention to your local team’s positional battle at nickel corner.

Here are the important storylines to watch for the next five weeks:

Rookie QBs

There are lots. Mayfield, Darnold, Rosen, Allen and Jackson all went in the first round, and could all contribute at some point in 2018. Jackson gets his first shot in the Hall of Fame Game, but is the one with the most established starter in front of him. The others are in place to become starters sooner rather than later, with little more than placeholders currently taking the starting spot. Darnold is the least likely to play in the first game, as he was the last to sign his rookie contract.

Same Faces, New Places

Kirk Cousins in purple! Alex Smith in (a different shade of) red! The NFL saw several starting quarterbacks change teams in the offseason, solving quarterback dilemmas for two teams. The Vikings and Broncos were languishing in QB purgatory, but the Vikings splashed on Cousins and the Broncos grabbed Case Keenum, the QB Cousins replaced in Minnesota.

It was also a nice offseason for wide receivers. Brandin Cooks moved for the second consecutive offseason, as the Patriots shipped him to the LA Rams, who promptly signed him to a nice extension. He’ll replace Sammy Watkins, who left LA for Kansas City for a juicy three-year deal.

Jerrick McKinnon was the biggest running back to change teams, signing a very nice deal to become the feature back in San Francisco.

Injuries Piling up

Injuries are natural in training camp, and thankfully the NFL hasn’t lost any true stars in the first week of practices. The biggest fantasy football-related casualty is Doug Baldwin, who will likely miss the entire preseason with a knee injury.

After Titans safety Jonathan Cyprien was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL on Tuesday, Adam Schefter posted on Twitter the full list of players who have already had their season ended by injury.

For fantasy players, keeping track of these losses is crucial to evaluation. Reps in training camp are critical to prepare for the season, and any time missed can be detrimental to a player’s performance once the season starts.

Only One Week Really Matters

If there’s any week to watch preseason football, it’ll be the weekend starting on Thursday, August 16th. That’s the third week of the preseason, otherwise known as the unofficial “dress rehearsal” before the NFL season. That’s when you’ll likely see starting lineups play the entire first half.

The preseason is all about getting reps while avoiding injury. The third game is important for the starters, whereas the fourth game is important for management in determining the final roster cuts.

Some interesting games that weekend include Eagles-Patriots, Giants-Lions, and Niners-Texans.

As a fantasy player, it’s worth watching because coaches will tip their hand as far as preference when executing their real offense. On a team where the clear-cut starting running back is unknown, the third game is critical for seeing who coaches view as the actual starter going into the season.

New Rule Change

It’s probably the most controversial issue heading into this season that doesn’t involve the Star-Spangled Banner.

The NFL has revised its rules on illegal hits involving the helmet, but it’s still unclear how seriously or accurately the new changes will be enforced.

The new rule states that “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” The contact does not have to be towards the head area, and the rule does not only apply to defenders. A violation is an automatic 15-yard penalty.

If the change is confusing to the fans, imagine being a player having to make a split-second adjustment. The Philadelphia Eagles were recently visited by NFL officials in an attempt to explain the new rule, but defenders were left with more questions instead of answers.

Linebacker Nigel Bradham later told reporters that “We were trying to ask questions to get a better understanding, and yet they couldn’t really give us an answer. They couldn’t give us what we were looking for.”

The rule could come into action on Thursday night, and will be a hot topic of discussion throughout the preseason.

Read More