Football is back. Finally. Thank you, Tim Tebow, for speeding up time.
So what if it's just the NFL preseason? After being forced to pass the dog days of summer with sports like baseball, soccer and cricket, the return of the pigskin will be welcomed like the prodigal son.
(Note: I myself enjoy those sports. Especially cricket. But the unique allure of the NFL is undeniable in the United States.)
That being said, the return this year has been a bit of a rocky one. The Seattle Seahawks' shiny new toy, Percy Harvin, could be out for the season, and Dennis Pitta, Jeremy Maclin and Dan Koppen, all important cogs on important teams, are definitely out for the season.
On top of those major injuries, various players have been hit with minor maladies as they get back into playing shape.
It's an unfortunate part of early-preseason football.
Nevertheless, football is back, and I'm as happy as a camel on Wednesday.
Let's take a closer look at teams and players to watch during the opening week of games.
Note: A complete look at the full preseason schedule can be found here at NFL.com. Below is the complete Week 1 slate of games.
|Date||Time (ET)||Away Team||Home Team|
|Thursday, August 8||7:30 p.m.||Baltimore Ravens||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Thursday, August 8||8 p.m.||Washington Redskins||Tennessee Titans|
|Thursday, August 8||8 p.m.||St. Louis Rams||Cleveland Browns|
|Thursday, August 8||8 p.m.||Cincinnati Bengals||Atlanta Falcons|
|Thursday, August 8||9 p.m.||Denver Broncos||San Francisco 49ers|
|Thursday, August 8||10 p.m.||Seattle Seahawks||San Diego Chargers|
|Friday, August 9||7:30 p.m.||Miami Dolphins||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Friday, August 9||7:30 p.m.||New York Jets||Detroit Lions|
|Friday, August 9||7:30 p.m.||New England Patriots||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Friday, August 9||8 p.m.||Arizona Cardinals||Green Bay Packers|
|Friday, August 9||8 p.m.||Chicago Bears||Carolina Panthers|
|Friday, August 9||8 p.m.||Kansas City Chiefs||New Orleans Saints|
|Friday, August 9||8 p.m.||Houston Texans||Minnesota Vikings|
|Friday, August 9||10 p.m.||Dallas Cowboys||Oakland Raiders|
|Saturday, August 10||7:30 p.m.||New York Giants||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Sunday, August 11||1:30 p.m.||Buffalo Bills||Indianapolis Colts|
Games to Watch
Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars
The preseason is all about rookies.
Although there are no Andrew Lucks or Robert Griffin IIIs in this year's class, there are plenty of newcomers worth keeping your eye on.
Quarterbacks, as a rule, are always noteworthy. E.J. Manuel of the Buffalo Bills, Geno Smith of the New York Jets, Matt Barkley of the Philadelphia Eagles and several others will be watched closely.
But if you're looking for a rookie vs. rookie matchup, the Dolphins and Jaguars will suffice.
Luke Joeckel vs. Dion Jordan. No. 2 pick vs. No. 3 pick. Elite quarterback protector vs. speedy, athletic edge-rusher.
Joeckel, who protected Heisman winner Johnny Manziel's backside at Texas A&M, has embraced a move to right tackle this summer. Jordan is a versatile weapon capable of playing several different positions, but he figures to start opposite Cameron Wake, who often lined up against opposing left tackles.
That means you could very well see some one-on-one battles between the elite prospects.
Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers
Yes, it's the preseason. Yes, the starters will only be on the field for a handful of series. But whenever you get a chance to compare two legitimate Super Bowl contenders this early, you take it.
The Denver Broncos could very well start the season without superstar pass-rusher Von Miller. But when you have Peyton Manning throwing to Black and Decker—also known as Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker—and Wes Welker, the most dangerous slot receiver in the game, you could have a defense made up of 11 chairs and you'd probably still have a chance to win most games.
Fact of the matter is, they are arguably better than—and at the very least, just as good as—they were a year ago when they won 13 regular-season games.
The San Francisco 49ers are just as much of a Super Bowl contender because, well, they went there last season.
Michael Crabtree's injury is unfortunate, but Colin Kaepernick, who led the 'Niners to the Super Bowl and established himself as one of the most dynamic QBs in the league, has reportedly looked even better this offseason.
With two elite teams featuring some of the game's most dominant players, I couldn't care less about the setting.
Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts
For a player who followed up on some unreachable hype with an incredibly productive—4,374 yards, 18 touchdowns, a league-leading seven game-winning drives—rookie campaign, Andrew Luck is getting shockingly little attention.
Perhaps that has to do with the sudden excess of young quarterback talent across the league.
Nevertheless, if Luck's improvement this offseason matches his rare talent, he is in for a monster second year. I, for one, am giddy to see him in action again.
On the other side of the field, the outlook at quarterback is pretty much the complete opposite.
Which game do you want to see most?
Since the days of Jim Kelly, the Buffalo Bills have been plagued with mostly mediocrity at quarterback, from Alex Van Pelt to an old Drew Bledsoe to Kelly Holcomb to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The options this year to turn that trend around are Kevin Kolb and E.J. Manuel, who will make up one of the most compelling QB battles to watch this preseason.
Kolb, once an intriguing young prospect, has struggled to find any consistency in his career, while Manuel, the Bills' shocking first-round selection, is still fairly raw.
Will Kolb get another chance as a starter? Or will the youth movement start a little early?
We should get a great early look at the answer to both of those questions.