The never-ending wait is over, and football is officially back as the 2014 NFL preseason is now in full swing.
While meaningless in terms of who wins and loses, the preseason is the opportunity for all 32 teams to trim down their rosters to just 53 men before the season starts. Fringe players are competing every snap for roster spots, and new-look units aim to build chemistry in the opening four exhibitions.
There will be some experimenting going on, too. The NFL is trying out an extra-point rule change that moves PATs to the 20-yard line, and it's something we could see in the regular season if it goes smoothly.
Many teams have made intriguing upgrades and additions over the offseason, making certain games must-watch stuff despite the inconsequential outcomes.
Here's a look at the complete NFL preseason schedule and the matchups you don't want to miss.
|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|
Top Games to Watch
Week 2: Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins
The opinions on how Johnny Manziel's career will unfold vary, but it's safe to say his biggest fans and biggest critics will both be tuning in to see how it goes.
The Browns travel to Washington to face the Redskins in what will be Johnny Football's second preseason appearance, and it could be his last real chance to win the starting job before Week 1 of the season.
Manziel is sure to see the field in all four preseason games barring injury, but his first two games will decide whether he starts against Pittsburgh in the season opener. Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine has repeatedly stated, per the team's official site, that he plans on having all his starters—including the quarterback—named by the third week of preseason.
With that said, eyes will also be fixed on a touted quarterback on the other team.
Robert Griffin III enters 2014 hoping to bounce back from his sophomore regression, and he will do so using new head coach Jay Gruden's high-powered offense. Washington kept things simple with RGIII in the preseason opener and opted to give Kirk Cousins more time, but the team should open things up a bit in Griffin's second appearance.
Week 3: New York Giants at New York Jets
This battle of the Big Apple is just preseason football, but the Jets and Giants will both want to make MetLife Stadium their home when they clash in Week 3.
The two teams are equal owners of the stadium, which opened in 2009, and will face off for the second time there after playing in the 2011 regular season. But make no mistake about it—both coaching staffs will be focused on their own teams first and foremost.
Rex Ryan's Jets seem to be boasting Geno Smith as the starter, but Michael Vick looked good in his opener according to his head coach (per the New York Daily News' Seth Walder). With Vick and Chris Johnson as offseason acquisitions, it could just be a matter of time and game film before the Jets go with experience and speed on offense over youth.
The Giants' offense is mainly focused on improving a run game that was among the league's worst a year ago. It got off to a strong start in the Hall of Fame Game against Buffalo—Andre Williams, Peyton Hillis and Rashad Jennings combined for over 100 yards on 21 carries.
2013 was a year to forget for New York NFL fans, but the future is looking bright for both the Giants and Jets after transforming their rosters this offseason.
Week 3: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
In a Sunday mid-afternoon slot on national television, Houston traveling to Denver to face the Broncos in Week 3 might be the closest thing to regular-season football we'll get before it officially comes.
Peyton Manning looked sharp in his preseason opener, completing 10 of 13 passes for 78 yards. While he won't get more than a few series, watching J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney pursue the all-time great will be compelling action.
Of course, Bill O'Brien and the Texans will be more focused on their own quarterback than taking down the other team's QB. Their offseason quarterback pursuit ended with Ryan Fitzpatrick—who played his way out of division-rival Tennessee—as the incumbent starter.
The Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith summarized the state of the Texans' quarterbacks in training camp (subscription required):
Since July 26, Fitzpatrick has clearly been the Texans' best quarterback. Savage, a fourth-round pick, has barely played. Keenum often has struggled, at times appearing weighted down by a complex system that requires constant in-the-moment decisions and instant precision.
By Week 3, O'Brien and his fellow coaches will have a better idea of what they're getting from their quarterbacks. Fitzpatrick is unsurprisingly the leader right now given his experience, but glimpses of promise from Savage or Keenum could start to swing playing time.
Most teams opt to sparsely play starters in Week 4, if at all. But the week before is when teams can give players they're unsure about some extra reps. If Keenum or Savage have any intentions of pressing Fitzpatrick early on this season, a big game against the Broncos would help tremendously.