2013 NFL Preseason Schedule: Must-Watch Matchups of the Exhibition Season

John RozumCorrespondent IApril 5, 2013

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos warms up against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL preseason schedule was released earlier this week and plenty of can't-miss action is set for August.

Although they're just exhibition matchups, we at least get to catch a brief glimpse of what to expect when the regular season kicks off. Factor in free agency and the NFL draft and the preseason offers a fresh introduction leading up to September.

Plus how a specific team or player perform during the fake games can certainly impact your fantasy football strategy.


Ravens at Buccaneers

Thinking of picking the Baltimore Ravens' defense in fantasy? That's a bold move considering the drastic changes. With Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe all gone via free agency the Ravens will have a different look.

On the bright side, Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw receive defensive line complements in Chris Canty (via his Twitter) and Elvis Dumervil (per Mike Klis of the Denver Post). The new look of Baltimore's defense, though, faces a tough challenge in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa fields a balanced offense with the potential to strike deep at any moment. It's the Buccaneers defense; however, that is concerning.

Ranking last in pass defense last season, Tampa Bay brought in safety Dashon Goldson from San Francisco, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. Well, Baltimore still presents a strong ground game to setup the pass and Tampa will be briefly challenged downfield.

Here, the Ravens must display their aerial assault, whereas the Bucs' have to perform better versus the pass—the pass-oriented NFC South will consistently attack them deep.

Broncos at Seahawks

Two former AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks each possess Super Bowl potential for 2013.

The Broncos spruced up the passing game with Wes Welker and the coverage got a boost in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: Each via Adam Schefter. In addition, the front seven landed Terrance Knighton, as tweeted by John Elway.

Given Seattle's punishing ground game and efficiency through the air, we'll catch a snapshot of Denver's ability to slow opponents down this season.

On the flip side, Seattle did struggle against the run last season, but Cliff Avril—who signed according to NFL.com's Albert Breer—brings depth and bolsters the pass rush. The Broncos are the perfect test for Seattle in this regard, because Peyton Manning will conduct a pass-first offense to set up the run.

The Seahawks already possess the secondary to isolate in man coverage, but the threat of Welker and Co. will limit the blitz package. Watch this chess match, because the Broncos have to find success through the air to keep the linebackers occupied, which creates wider running lanes later.

Seattle won't face a quarterback like Manning in the NFC West and locking down in coverage will add more confidence.

Chiefs at Steelers

So, the Kansas City Chiefs are in the midst of trying to quickly rebuild. And the offseason has been impressive with a new coach in Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith.

Include other offensive adds in receiver Donnie Avery and tight end Anthony Fasano (each also from Schefter) and K.C.'s potential is definitely enhanced.

But to reach that next level of effectiveness when attempting to move the rock, that has a greater impact against a better defense. And there aren't many better challenges than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That said, for as disciplined as the Steelers are the Chiefs pose a great threat. Jamaal Charles' presence on the ground will keep the attention of Pittsburgh's linebackers and minimize the pass rush.

As a result, the Steelers can't afford to become vulnerable in coverage as few turnovers were forced last season.

A by-product of that are fewer possessions for Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's offense, not to mention the field position. Kansas City may not field as dominant of a defense, but the upgrades in Dunta Robinson (per Schefter) and Sean Smith (via Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports) significantly complement the front seven.

In short, K.C.'s talent to generate turnovers has increased, and the blueprint for fending off Pittsburgh will become marginally exposed just before the regular season.