After mostly cameo appearances for starters around the NFL during the opening week of the preseason, the intensity level should begin to rise in Week 2. It's a chance for teams to start building rapport, as the games that count are now on the horizon.
As always, it's a delicate balancing act for coaching staffs throughout the league. These contests are important building blocks for the regular season, but they will want to limit the risk of injury as much as possible.
The good news for football fans is that games are on for five straight nights starting Thursday. Let's check out the complete schedule for the second week of exhibition action along with the top clashes to watch.
Week 2 Preseason Schedule
|Date||Time (ET)||Road Team||Home Team|
|Aug. 14||8 p.m.||Jaguars||Bears|
|Aug. 15||7:30 p.m.||Eagles||Patriots|
|Aug. 15||8 p.m.||Titans||Saints|
|Aug. 15||10 p.m.||Lions||Raiders|
|Aug. 15||10 p.m.||Chargers||Seahawks|
|Aug. 16||4 p.m.||Packers||Rams|
|Aug. 16||7 p.m.||Giants||Colts|
|Aug. 16||7 p.m.||Jets||Bengals|
|Aug. 16||7 p.m.||Ravens||Cowboys|
|Aug. 16||7:30 p.m.||Dolphins||Buccaneers|
|Aug. 16||7:30 p.m.||Bills||Steelers|
|Aug. 16||8 p.m.||Falcons||Texans|
|Aug. 16||8:30 p.m.||Cardinals||Vikings|
|Aug. 17||4 p.m.||Broncos||49ers|
|Aug. 17||8 p.m.||Chiefs||Panthers|
|Aug. 18||8 p.m.||Browns||Redskins|
Top Games to Watch
Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots (NFL Network)
This is the type of game that's always fun to watch—unless you're a defensive coordinator. Both teams ranked inside the top 10 in yards per game last season and will be facing defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in the same stat.
At least part of the reason for that is the pace of play. As John Buccigross of ESPN noted, both the Eagles and the Patriots love getting back to the line quickly and using a no-huddle approach to put extra pressure on the opponent:
Fewest Seconds of Possession Per Play Last Season Eagles 24.0 Bills 24.7 Broncos 25.3 Browns 25.5 Patriots 25.6— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) August 12, 2014
One player to watch closely is Darren Sproles. He comes from a New Orleans Saints offense built on spreading the ball around to an Eagles group built around LeSean McCoy. It will be interesting to see how Chip Kelly and Co. get the versatile back involved in the game plan.
On the New England side, the defensive front seven will be the focus. The Eagles love to run, so getting a push into the backfield is essential after ranking poorly against opposing ground games last season. This is a chance to show progress.
Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers (NFL Network)
The Broncos face off with one of the top contenders from the NFC for the second straight week. They are coming off a win over the Super Bowl rival Seattle Seahawks, which featured a long scoring drive that was an ideal start to the preseason.
San Francisco will be looking for some promising signs from its first-team offense after the backups struggled to create much of anything in a 23-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Rookie Carlos Hyde was the only standout, averaging nearly eight yards on five carries.
Which game are you most looking forward to?
An intriguing aspect of the game is a physical 49ers squad going up against a Broncos group coming off a chippy week of practice, including a couple of minor fights. Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com noted that Peyton Manning wasn't a fan of how things played out.
"I don't like [fights], to tell you the truth,'' Manning said. "You don't do it in a game. If you do it in a game, it usually costs you something important, it costs you a drive, costs you field position. ... I'm into treating practice like a game. I'm not a fan of it.''
A phrase you will probably hear a lot during the broadcast is "potential Super Bowl preview." It's certainly possible. The Broncos made some defensive upgrades after last year's success, and the 49ers also remain one of the most well-rounded teams in football.
Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins (ESPN)
Everybody has an opinion about Johnny Manziel. Some can't get enough of watching him play, while others are already getting tired of hearing about a quarterback who hasn't played an official down. Either way, the hype train is moving at full steam.
The Browns battled the Detroit Lions last week in a game that featured a solid showing from Johnny Football. If there was any doubt about his drawing power, it was eliminated after that game due to the numbers passed along by Daniel Kaplan of the SportsBusiness Journal:
The Clev-Det game (Manziel) on NFLN not only set rating record 4 preseason,it crushed it. 2.8 mil v 2.07 mil 4 NOLA-Pit in '07, 36% up— daniel kaplan (@dkaplanSBJ) August 12, 2014
While Manziel and Brian Hoyer continue to vie for the starting job in Cleveland, there's no quarterback controversy in Washington. Robert Griffin III is the choice under center, but the Redskins hope he can return to form after taking a step back in his second season.
So though there are other things worth watching—notably, Washington's offensive line and Cleveland's running game—most of the focus will be on the quarterbacks. Perhaps a clear front-runner will emerge for the Browns by night's end.