As NFL training camps around the nation bleed into the preseason, it can be quite the task to pick and choose which of the 65 upcoming duels to set aside time for in the dying embers of summer.
It all begins Sunday in a rather humble manner as the hapless Buffalo Bills take on the equally hapless New York Giants. But this time of year, nothing short of feel-good vibes rise up from each camp as every team fancies itself a contender.
For fans, a team's intrigue based on storylines and actual matchup factors plays a large part in which meaningless contests they decide to invest well-deserved free time (or sneaky work viewing on mobile devices).
Let's take a look at three can't-miss matches, two of which come in the all-important third week.
2014 NFL Preseason Schedule
|Date||Matchup||TV Info (ET)|
|Sun., August 3||NY Giants vs. Buffalo||8 p.m., NBC|
|Thu., August 7||Indianapolis at NY Jets||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 7||San Francisco at Baltimore||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 7||New England at Washington||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 7||Cincinnati at Kansas City||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 7||Seattle at Denver||9 p.m.|
|Thu., August 7||Dallas at San Diego||10 p.m.|
|Fri., August 8||Miami at Atlanta||7 p.m.|
|Fri., August 8||Buffalo at Carolina||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 8||Tampa Bay at Jacksonville||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 8||Philadelphia at Chicago||8 p.m.|
|Fri., August 8||Oakland at Minnesota||8 p.m.|
|Fri., August 8||New Orleans at St. Louis||8 p.m.|
|Sat., August 9||Cleveland at Detroit||7:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 9||Pittsburgh at NY Giants||7:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 9||Green Bay at Tennessee||8 p.m.|
|Sat., August 9||Houston at Arizona||8:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 14||Jacksonville at Chicago||8 p.m., ESPN|
|Fri., August 15||Philadelphia at New England||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 15||Tennessee at New Orleans||8 p.m.|
|Fri., August 15||Detroit at Oakland||10 p.m.|
|Fri., August 15||San Diego at Seattle||10 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||Green Bay at St. Louis||4 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||NY Jets at Cincinnati||7 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||Baltimore at Dallas||7 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||NY Giants at Indianapolis||7 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||Buffalo at Pittsburgh||7:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||Miami at Tampa Bay||7:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||Atlanta at Houston||8 p.m.|
|Sat., August 16||Arizona at Minnesota||8:30 p.m.|
|Sun., August 17||Denver at San Francisco||4 p.m.|
|Sun., August 17||Kansas City at Carolina||8 p.m., Fox|
|Mon., August 18||Cleveland at Washington||8 p.m., ESPN|
|Thu., August 21||Pittsburgh at Philadelphia||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||Oakland at Green Bay||8 p.m., CBS|
|Fri., August 22||Jacksonville at Detroit||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||Carolina at New England||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||NY Giants at NY Jets||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri., August 22||Chicago at Seattle||10 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Tampa Bay at Buffalo||4:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Dallas at Miami||7 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Tennessee at Atlanta||7 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Washington at Baltimore||7:30 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||New Orleans at Indianapolis||8 p.m., CBS|
|Sat., August 23||St. Louis at Cleveland||8 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Minnesota at Kansas City||8 p.m.|
|Sat., August 23||Houston at Denver||9 p.m.|
|Sun., August 24||San Diego at San Francisco||4 p.m., Fox|
|Sun., August 24||Cincinnati at Arizona||8 p.m., NBC|
|Thu., August 28||Atlanta at Jacksonville||6 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Detroit at Buffalo||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Indianapolis at Cincinnati||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Kansas City at Green Bay||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||St. Louis at Miami||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||NY Jets at Philadelphia||7 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||New England at NY Giants||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Carolina at Pittsburgh||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Washington at Tampa Bay||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Chicago at Cleveland||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Denver at Dallas||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||San Francisco at Houston||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Baltimore at New Orleans||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Minnesota at Tennessee||8 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Seattle at Oakland||10 p.m.|
|Thu., August 28||Arizona at San Diego||10 p.m.|
Each preseason game can be streamed with "NFL Preseason Live."
Matchups to Watch
Week 1: San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens
It may be the preseason, but fans get a double whammy with this one—a Super Bowl XLVII rematch and a Harbaugh Bowl.
In one corner of the ring rests John's Baltimore Ravens, a franchise on the prowl for a better finish than the 8-8 output a season ago. Defensively, the Ravens are hoping that rookie linebacker and No. 17 overall pick C.J. Mosley can come through and help turn the unit around. The reviews so far have been positive from all angles, as noted by Garrett Downing of the Ravens' digital media team:
Joe Flacco on C.J. Mosley: "He's a natural, man." http://t.co/HZz7UC99pR— Garrett Downing (@gdowning14) July 29, 2014
For Joe Flacco, his hopes ride on the arrival of veteran wideout Steve Smith, who spent the first 13 years of his stellar career with the Carolina Panthers, which was capped off by helping to bring along one Cam Newton. In theory, he will be a strong chain-mover who opens things up for Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, not to mention the ground game.
In the opposite corner is San Francisco, a team that Jim can only hope has what it takes to move past a tumultuous offseason. As if erratic behavior from Aldon Smith and an injury to NaVorro Bowman were not enough, the backfield depth is beginning to look quite shaky, as explained by Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle:
#49ers healthy RBs after LaMichael James was carted off field w/ wrist/arm injury: Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde, Jewel Hampton.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) July 27, 2014
LaMichael James is expected back before the regular-season opener, but further health issues at the position may put a damper on things.
Really, the 49ers are tailor-made for preseason action, though. General Manager Trent Baalke and Co. have constructed the NFL's deepest roster, meaning the action never gets boring—which will especially be the case in Week 1 against a familiar foe.
Week 3: New York Giants at New York Jets
A duel between the teams in the Big Apple is always a good time.
Ryan decided to bring on Michael Vick this offseason to counteract Geno Smith, who heads into his sophomore year after a rocky start. But Ryan cannot seem to decide whether he wants to compete now or build for the future, so whom he picks to start will likely be yanked from contests for backup-specific packages.
The dynamic is the main point to watch, even if Vick says the job is not his, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
Michael Vick speaks the truth, saying his job is to push #Jets QB Geno Smith. Sure, he’s competing but… said it’s Geno’s job— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 26, 2014
Big Blue has some storylines to watch, too. Eli Manning's plight a season ago that saw him tally 27 interceptions is something to monitor as he trades in Hakeem Nicks for rookie Odell Beckham Jr. But the real focus should be behind Eli.
With David Wilson on the sideline for an unknown amount of time, the door is wide open for Rashad Jennings, rookie Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis to steal totes. By the third week of the preseason, the starter should be known, but a test against a dangerous front seven may shake things up more than solve them.
Much will be revealed about the future for both franchises who share half of New York once the game concludes.
Week 3: Cincinnati Bengals at Arizona Cardinals
Any time Carson Palmer gets a shot at his former team, it is time to pay attention.
Remember, Palmer is the guy who was willing to retire rather than take another snap under center as a member of the franchise that calls the Queen City home. The Cincinnati front office then pulled off a rather uncharacteristic move and shipped him to Oakland, albeit to a familiar face—Hue Jackson, who just so happens to now be the offensive coordinator for the Bengals.
Jackson is one of the main reasons to watch this one, too. He has Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill to work with out of the backfield, and the two will have to maneuver past one of the NFL's best defensive fronts.
Through the air, Andy Dalton must get past a stout secondary that includes Patrick Peterson. His relationship with Jackson, and how it impacts the organization, is something to monitor closely. NFL.com's Michael Silver captured this complex, budding environment recently:
In the same conversation, Jackson told Dalton that "things will be different. We have to be better. And I'm going to coach you hard. If you'll allow me to push you, we can get to where we both want to go." Dalton, the coach recalls, "was receptive. He didn't even blink. He said, 'Coach, let's go.' I'm very proud of the fact that he's allowing me to coach him. He wants to be great."
On the flip side, the pressure is all on the offensive side of the ball for the Cardinals. Palmer is somewhat immobile—always has been—and the line features four new starters.
But with a full season under his belt in Bruce Arians' scheme, Palmer says things are finally coming full circle, according to Kent Somers of azcentral.com:
We've got a ton of work to do, but it just feels so good to be confident and be comfortable and know the guys around you know that you know what you're doing. There's not a shadow of a doubt on certain plays where there was in the past, like there are in new systems and new offenses. Just a great start and a long way to go.
What better way to test progress than against a perennial powerhouse defense that features an elite line led by Carlos Dunlap, an elite linebacker in Vontaze Burfict and a secondary that touts Leon Hall, Adam Jones and first-round rookie Darqueze Dennard?
As far as viewing entertainment goes, two potentially explosive offenses clashing against great defensive units in the week of the preseason that sees starters play into the second half of the contest is far and away the best one to watch in its entirety.