NFL Preseason Schedule 2012: Highlighting Top 5 Most Interesting Games
Be a smart football fan.
For most, the initial excitement of the NFL preseason quickly fades to general restlessness after the first few weeks of games are in the books.
You're better than that.
No, the preseason won't determine the Super Bowl champion, but there's a host of players and player groupings to watch as teams use the exhibition games to prepare for the regular season from a physical, mental and personnel standpoint.
There's plenty to take away from the NFL's preseason.
Here's a list of the five most interesting games on this year's exhibition docket.
August 9: New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots
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Brady will likely play only one series, maybe two. But Brees, playing in his second preseason game, will likely be on the field for a good portion of the first quarter.
While this is our first look at Brady and our second at Brees, there's a host of different players and personnel groupings worth keeping your eye on in this one.
To begin, this game will showcase Patriots newly acquired wideout Brandon Lloyd. He had a career year under Josh McDaniel in 2010, and many believe he'll have a "Randy Moss-type impact" on New England's already well-oiled passing attack.
Lloyd's remarkable tracking the football down the field, and with established underneath targets (Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman) and intermediate pass-catching options (Ron Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez), the thought is that Lloyd will wreak havoc on opponents' safeties in 2012.
Also, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots look to a combination of second-year runners, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, to shoulder the running game load.
Yes, Brady's aerial assault is the key to New England's offense, but it did total 438 rushes in 2011, good for 17th in the NFL, and Green-Ellis accounted for 181 of them.
For the Saints, building on an impressive showing against the Arizona Cardinals is of the utmost importance right now. The offense clicked on all cylinders and the defense made plays early. Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston weren't targeted in the Hall of Fame game, so there's a chance the playbook is "opened" a bit on Thursday.
As the game progresses, be on the lookout for Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, the Patriots' two first-round picks in 2012. They won't play late into the game, but they should receive ample playing time to truly begin their transition process to the NFL. They're youngsters, but will be instrumental to New England's defensive success or lack thereof this season.
New Orleans' roster long shots like Travaris Cadet and Courtney Roby will look to turn in a second strong effort against the Pats.
Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to watch this football game.
August 16: Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers
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Let's start with Pat Shurmur's club.
So, against a Packers team that was as defensively challenged as any in 2011, Weeden gets his first opportunity to prove the Browns made the correct decision. Acclimating to the NFL is rarely easy for a first-year signal-caller, so it's always compelling to watch a rookie in his first professional outing.
Trent Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick, won't see an abundance of playing time against the Packers, but his debut, albeit a preseason debut, is highly anticipated. If Cleveland is going to improve on offense in 2012, it'll mainly be due to T-Rich's impact on the ground.
Josh Gordon, the team's supplemental draft pick, was selected to bolster a receiving corps that hardly struck fear into opponents last year. At 6'4'' and 220 pounds, he's a menacing physical specimen and has the long-striding speed to stretch secondaries down the field.
It remains to be seen if the Browns' offense will be more dynamic in 2012, but it'll look drastically different personnel-wise.
For the Packers, it'll be intriguing to see how a 15-1 team that lost its first playoff game begins this season. Aaron Rodgers has all his offensive weapons back, and many believe second-year hybrid Randall Cobb will play a more prominent role in one of the most dynamic offenses in football.
The lack of a steady pass rush ultimately doomed Green Bay, but Jerel Worthy and most importantly Nick Perry will be relied upon in their rookie years to add more stoutness along the defensive line and complement Clay Matthews.
August 18: New York Giants vs. New York Jets
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Remember who the guy pictured above is?
That's Victor Cruz, before the Super Bowl triumph, the salsa dance or even the No. 80 uniform.
He exploded onto the scene in a preseason game against the cross-town rival Jets in 2010, but a hamstring injury simply delayed his emergence as a receiving superstar.
But don't forget about 2012 rookie Stephen Hill, a freakish athlete with formidable size who will be asked to take the tops off defenses for Gang Green this season. Classmate Quinton Coples will likely play in a situational edge-rushing role and his job is to bolster a pass rush that totaled a mediocre 35 quarterback takedowns in 2011.
For the Giants, a team that's somehow flown under the radar following a second Super Bowl title in five years, they have some new pieces to incorporate, too.
Gone is bulldozer Brandon Jacobs. In is shifty and explosive runner David Wilson. For a team that finished dead last in rushing yards per game during the regular season last year, Wilson's presence will be critical.
Due to a minicamp injury, Hakeem Nicks won't play, so it'll be up to guys like Jerrel Jernigan, Ramses Barden and especially rookie Rueben Randle to show they're capable of keeping the Giants as one of the more explosive passing teams in football.
August 24: Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs
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Terrell Owens is back.
This time with the Seattle Seahawks, one of the most enigmatic teams in the NFC.
His acquisition will be met with some criticism, but the move is undoubtedly intriguing. Owens brings an established wideout with immense physical talent to a team in dire need of receiving firepower.
Because this game's in Week 3 of the preseason, history tells us this is when starters will receive the most action.
Seattle's in the midst of a three-headed quarterback competition between Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and rookie Russell Wilson. This game could ultimately decide who gets the nod as starter for Week 1 of the regular season.
The Chiefs were primed to make noise in the AFC last year, but early-season injuries to key players like Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki curtailed their chances to dominate the AFC West.
All three are recovered, and with an underrated defense that now features mammoth rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe, is Kansas City back?
August 26: San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
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This will be Peyton Manning's third start of the preseason, so it'll be his most extensive work.
By this point, he should at least have some semblance of a rapport with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas—his primary targets in the foreseeable future.
Tracking the progress of Denver's offense against arguably the best defense in football makes this as captivating as a preseason matchup can be.
With new toys on offense, Alex Smith will be put under much more pressure in 2012. Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and rookie A.J. Jenkins are all capable of making big plays down the field, so the former No. 1 overall pick will likely be asked to excel out of the game-managing role he played last season.
San Francisco's defense should be as stout as ever, with Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman anchoring one of the most intimidating and productive front sevens in football.
Mark this one on your calendar, as it'll show us a great deal about both already intriguing teams.