The NFL preseason kicks off with the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, pitting the Dallas Cowboys against the Miami Dolphins in Canton, Ohio.
While that should be an intriguing opener, there are several showdowns that Week 1 has to offer that should be just as exciting—and the AFC East division will be heavily involved.
Certain position battles and teams that are in a state of flux with new personnel, regimes and undergoing similar changes should make these otherwise inconsequential exhibition games critical.
Established veteran starters aren't likely to take a ton of reps in most cases at this early juncture of the preseason, so the developments with rookies in many cases will be more interesting to monitor. Below is a breakdown of the top matchups that will open the 2013 gridiron action in pro football.
Note: For the complete preseason schedule, visit NFL.com.
Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars
Which Week 1 game is most intriguing?
This will be the Dolphins' second preseason contest in a short span, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust after what should be a relatively light workload for marquee players in the Cowboys game.
The Jaguars are one of the league's least respected teams at this point, yet GM David Caldwell had a stellar draft. It included the addition of former Michigan star QB Denard Robinson, who is listed simply as an "offensive weapon."
Considering the success athletic QBs have had lately, it's possible that Robinson could be brought in as a change of pace to either Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne—who are vying for the starting quarterback job.
No matter how minimal Robinson's role is or what kind of tricky plays Jacksonville is willing to reveal in a relatively meaningless game, there should be palpable anticipation whenever he hits the field.
Caldwell took over the Jaguars' official Twitter handle to answer questions and provided a cryptic but fascinating response with regard to Robinson's early role:
Miami should give QB Ryan Tannehill some more live reps to get chemistry with speedy new wide receiver Mike Wallace, along with fellow free-agent acquisitions Brandon Gibson and pass-catching tight end Dustin Keller.
With how athletic Tannehill is, too, his ability to run may be more heavily utilized in 2013.
After being overshadowed by superior rookie quarterbacks last season, several prominent analysts feel Tannehill is ready to make his own splash:
I have a feeling this is going to be a very special year for Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, who turns 25 today. pic.twitter.com/UuUA7rCWLN— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 29, 2013
At least ProFootball Weekly has Ryan Tannehill named as the top contender for a "Fantasy Breakout." L. Miller is No3 pic.twitter.com/gN7qpRGVYj— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) July 30, 2013
Lamar Miller is also a player to watch, as the former University of Miami running back is in line to be an every-down staple in the backfield for the Dolphins in his second pro season.
New York Jets at Detroit Lions
Perhaps more than any quarterback battle, the one in the Big Apple will be the most interesting between Mark Sanchez and rookie second-round pick Geno Smith.
An anonymous Jets veteran player said Smith can do more, which makes sense given Smith's superior mobility—which, to be fair, wasn't utilized very much in college at West Virginia.
It appears that Smith may be in for more running at the NFL level, though, because of the effectiveness other dual-threat quarterbacks have experienced in the zone-read option trend.
Manish Mehta of The New York Daily News could not specify the formation, but did recently report that Smith was running with the ball in training camp practice:
We're not permitted to tweet specific formations. But I can say that Geno Smith just ran the ball. Read between the lines. #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) July 28, 2013
Given how early it still is before the regular season starts, Sanchez will enter the Lions game as the starter, barring some unforeseen setback or catastrophe on the practice field. That's not necessarily a good thing, either.
Detroit has one of the scariest defensive fronts in the league, keyed by defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. With those two occupying so much attention, it should set loose athletic freak DE Ezekiel Ansah coming off the edge.
It will be key for Sanchez to be sharp in his limited action. Otherwise, if Smith impresses even against lesser competition, he'll likely get a leg up in the battle.
New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles
These two teams have been at the center of controversy. The Aaron Hernandez saga in New England doesn't even need to be detailed, and it's not worth getting too much into the Riley Cooper situation for the Eagles.
Those issues may have an impact on how sharp these teams will be.
As for the football side of things, a less suspenseful quarterback battle is taking place in Philadelphia, with veteran Michael Vick seemingly taking the lead after Wednesday's practice, according to NJ.com's Jordan Raanan.
Vick fared substantially better than Nick Foles, and in a tweet during practice, Raanan highlighted the struggles of rookie Matt Barkley, who worked with the third team:
Matt Barkley is 0 for his last 10 passing. #Eagles— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) July 31, 2013
The innovative offensive mind of new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is what makes this game most exciting, as his up-tempo attack should rival the pacing of New England's relentless offense keyed by Tom Brady.
In a game like this, though, the Pats' starting quarterback doesn't figure to see many reps, but Tim Tebow should, which will inevitably increase the hype around this contest.
Along with the preseason finale, this will likely be the best chance for Tebow to make an impression running the offense.
It's also possible he'll be brought in on some gadget plays—even at this early point in the preseason.
If McDaniels starts putting the idea in opponents' minds that Tebow could take the field in a variety of different roles, they will already have to start preparing for it, even if it ultimately doesn't happen.