The NFL preseason schedule was officially released on Thursday, and with the draft just around the corner, anticipation for what promises to be an exciting 2013-14 season continues to build.
Several teams in particular capitalized on favorable salary-cap situations to upgrade their rosters in an extremely active free-agency period. That should only assist the league's trend toward parity and generate plenty of buzz surrounding every fanbase entering the year.
Before the truly significant games occur, though, the preseason must play out. Here is a breakdown of the schedule, with a focus on the nationally televised games.
For the complete slate of preseason games, visit ProFootballTalk.com. Below is a list of all the games that will be carried by major networks and will be available to view nationwide.
|Hall of Fame Game|
|Sunday, Aug. 4 ||Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins (Canton, Ohio)||NBC (8 p.m. ET)|
|Week 1 (Aug. 8-11)|
|Thursday, Aug. 8 ||Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons ||ESPN (8 p.m. ET)|
|Week 2 (Aug. 15-19)|
|Thursday, Aug. 15||San Diego Chargers at Chicago Bears ||ESPN (8 p.m. ET)|
|Friday, Aug. 16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots ||FOX (8 p.m. ET)|
|Sunday, Aug. 18||Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants ||FOX (8 p.m. ET)|
|Monday, Aug. 19 ||Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins ||ESPN (8 p.m. ET)|
|Week 3 (Aug. 22-25)|
|Thursday, Aug. 22||Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens ||ESPN (8 p.m. ET)|
|Friday, Aug. 23||Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers ||CBS (8 p.m. ET)|
|Saturday, Aug. 24||St. Louis Rams at Denver Broncos ||CBS (8 p.m. ET)|
|Sunday, Aug. 25||New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans ||FOX (4 p.m. ET)|
|Sunday, Aug. 25||Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers ||NBC (8 p.m. ET)|
Best Televised Games
Hall of Fame Game: Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins
This will be the first taste of football for NFL fans, and it isn't short on intrigue. GM Jeff Ireland totally retooled the Dolphins' roster with playmakers on both sides of the ball, most notably electric wide receiver Mike Wallace and ex-Baltimore Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
Meanwhile, America's Team is in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, and without any major moves made in the offseason, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys respond in their first appearance of 2013.
Dallas is adjusting to a new defensive scheme under Monte Kiffin, switching to a 4-3 alignment. Depending on who is drafted in April, it remains to be seen how well the Cowboys will adjust. Plus, the development of quarterback Ryan Tannehill should be on display, and his revamped supporting cast should help him thrive as a passer in Year 2.
Neither team has been very successful in the past in this annual affair, as Dallas is 1-3 in four previous appearances while the Dolphins have suffered losses in all three prior occasions.
Week 2: Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants
It's nearly impossible to distinguish how good teams are at this juncture, but the excitement surrounding the first week's best performers will generate plenty of interest.
Although the big-time incumbent contributors aren't going to take the field for very long, there are valuable reps to be had for higher draft picks, assuming their contract situations are fleshed out.
The Colts improved the offensive line for 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, and it will be interesting to see how well-protected the highly touted signal-caller is against the Giants' typically formidable pass rush.
New York is coming off a tough season, as it fell woefully short of defending its Super Bowl title. Running back David Wilson should fill in as the starter in the backfield, and should give the Colts' defense headaches due to how much of a home-run threat he can be.
Eli Manning will want to look spot-on in his first contest, and the situation involving wide receiver Victor Cruz's contract will be interesting to continually monitor. A report by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News indicates Cruz seeks $10 million in salary per season.
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
The starters will likely play at least for an entire half in the third preseason game, which is the most of any other time before the big games start.
With that in mind, this should be a barn burner—for the first 30 minutes of action, anyway.
This is a rematch of the infamous "Fail Mary" game in which Golden Tate "caught" the game-winning touchdown pass from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson as time expired to give the hosting Seattle team a key victory early in the season.
Both teams appeared in the postseason, so this is going to be all the more interesting since both are favorites to emerge out of the NFC in 2013.
Percy Harvin joins the Seattle offense and gives it another dangerous dimension, while the Packers are able to counter that with a versatile playmaker of their own in talented youngster Randall Cobb.
The Seahawks will have to travel away from their massive home-field advantage into Lambeau. The temperature won't be frigid this time of year, but based on last year's game, the relations between the two sides should be rather chilly.