Football is back! Well, it was technically back with the Hall of Fame game last week…but, this is the first week back for all 32 NFL teams, 10 of which you can watch live on NFL Network over the next three days:
Thursday, August 9th
Friday, August 10th
Saturday, August 11th
NFL Network usually picks the preseason games they feel will be most compelling to air live on their network (the rest are still aired, but after the games have already concluded). Here’s a look at why NFL Network chose these five games, aka why you should watch them and what you should look for:
Cleveland Browns @ New York Giants- Thursday, August 9th 7pm ET
- QBs. While Tyrod Taylor is already widely considered the Day 1 starter for the Browns, don’t sleep on Baker Mayfield. It’s not too often that you see #1 overall NFL draft picks sit their entire rookie season. While I believe Taylor is the better player and he has a winning track record (see: 2017 Buffalo Bills playoff run), I don’t think he’ll start the entire season because I don’t think head coach Hue Jackson (1-31 in 2 seasons in Cleveland) can afford that, especially if the Browns come out of the gate slow. Also, tune in for perennial backup Drew Stanton, who is probably one of the best backup QBs in the league, but may not make the final 53 in Cleveland.
New York Giants
- Secondary. The Giants have the usual issues that you’ll want to watch with another ‘retooled’ o-line and linebacking corps (oh, and there’s also a RB by the name of Saquon Barkley that you might be excited about, though he’s not likely to play much tonight), but I’m really interested in seeing the defensive secondary. CB1 and SS are both locked down by Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins, respectively (you might not see either in this game), but CB2, FS, and Slot Corner are all much more compelling. CB2 is likely to go to Eli Apple, the 10th overall pick in 2016 who is probably in his last year to prove that he belongs. Curtis Riley is getting the start at FS, but I like Boise State alum Darian Thompson who, like Eli Apple, is a member of the 2016 Giants draft class who is probably in his last year to prove himself. If Thompson plays well in the preseason, expect to see him jump Riley come the regular season. Slot Corner is the biggest toss-up with a mix of at least six different players up for the job. My two favorites are veteran signee BW Webb, and fan-favorite Donte Deayon.
Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers- Thursday, August 9th 10pm ET
- WRs. Dez Bryant is gone, Jason Witten is retired. Who’s got next? I don’t really like any of the TEs in Dallas, so I’ll focus on the receivers. There’s hot-and-cold Terrance Williams who has yet to have a true breakthrough season, there’s on again-off again Cole Beasley, there’s first-round bust and physical freak Tavon Austin (who’s actually listed as a RB), and there’s third-round rookie Michael Gallup. One of those guys has to step up. I don’t think Williams, Beasley, or Austin are capable of anything more than what they’ve already shown. If Dallas is going to have a WR1 emerge from this group, it’s going to be Michael Gallup, who is probably my favorite receiver from this draft class. He’s not really a physical standout in terms of speed, agility, etc., but I think he’s got the best hands to come out of the draft since the 2014 class (OBJ, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks).
San Francisco 49ers
- FS. I think the 49ers are in a spot where there is a pretty clear line between most of their starters and their backups, which is pretty unusual and can be a good or a bad thing. The one spot I definitely do not believe that to be the case is FS. The 49ers’ unofficial depth chart lists 2017 7th rounder Adrian Colbert as the starter, followed by rookie 5th rounder DJ Reed. I don’t know much about either player, which usually means most people don’t (that’s not intended as a brag so much as a comment about how I spend WAY too much time analyzing football), so I figure that should be a fun competition to watch. One name I do recognize is backup CB Jimmie Ward, who I believe has played safety in the past and may be a dark horse to win the starting FS job if Colbert and Reed fail to distinguish themselves.
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Jets- Friday, August 10th 7:30pm ET
- RG and Tevin Coleman. RG is the biggest starting spot competition for the Falcons this year, so there’s that. But I’m going to be watching Tevin Coleman, who is WAY too good of a RB for the Falcons to keep on their bench (but he’s also not good enough to warrant benching Devonta Freeman). He won’t be in a Falcons uniform next season, so Falcons fans should enjoy having the best backup RB in the league while he’s still a backup.
New York Jets
- QBs. Veteran journeyman Josh McCown is listed as the starter and was serviceable for the Jets in a less than stellar 2017 campaign. Free agent acquisition Teddy Bridgewater is listed as QB2 and has reportedly looked quite good in training camp after missing most of the last two seasons with a severe knee injury. Rookie 3rd overall pick Sam Darnold is listed as QB3 and is looking to start making good impressions on his teammates, coaches, and fans following an extended holdout over his rookie contract. One of these three guys will not be a New York Jet by the trade deadline, possibly even by the start of the regular season. Who will be the odd man out?
Detroit Lions @ Oakland Raiders- Friday, August 10th 10:30pm ET
- RBs. Come for the best goal-line back in the league, stay for the hilarious mess that has been the Lions running game basically since Barry Sanders called it quits. I kid you not, the depth chart at detroitlions.com has TWO SEPARATE RB SLOTS, without any sort of ‘power’ or ‘3rd down’ or other distinguishing designation on either! LeGarrette Blount is the veteran free agent signee who has been on two straight Super Bowl Champion teams but is slowing down at 31 years of age. Kerryon Johnson is the 2nd round rookie who the Lions probably could have gotten as late as the 4th round. Then you have Theo Riddick (a pass catcher), Ameer Abdullah (a bust), Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner who were all on the team last year and if you recognize their names, it’s because they have ALL TAKEN SNAPS FOR THE LIONS AT SOME POINT. Good luck figuring this one out because the Lions sure haven’t.
- COACH. The Raiders’ roster hasn’t changed that much. What has changed is that Jon Gruden will once again be roaming NFL sidelines in black and silver.
Minnesota Vikings @ Denver Broncos- Saturday, August 11th 9:05pm ET
Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos
- Why this game is getting televised is beyond me. You’re probably thinking, “because both teams have new starting QBs, and the Broncos’ new QB was the Vikings’ old QB. DUH!” But this is the preseason. Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum MAY get one drive each. Leaving them in any longer than that would be idiotic. This is a dumb game to televise. I guess tune in to watch Broncos QB Paxton Lynch (2016 first rounder) throw away the rest of his NFL career and Vikings QB Trevor Siemian (last season’s Broncos’ starter) show once more why he should never have been a starting QB?