While most NFL fans view the preseason as a necessary, if sometimes pointless exercise in playing meaningless games and dodging avoidable injuries, the preseason is hugely important for rookies and fringe players in cementing their statuses on their respective rosters.
With the 2010 NFL season officially kicking off at Sunday night's Hall of Fame game, which features the new-look Cincinnati Bengals and the Dallas Cowboys, it's time to take a look at which preseason games will have the largest effect on how the regular season plays out.
Whether it's the arrival of a new player or coach, or a marking point of a possible injury return or contract holdout coming to a close, be sure to check out these 10 games this August.
Though by almost any standard Michael Crabtree had a fantastic rookie season, there will always be a sense of "what if" about what the former Texas Tech Red Raider could have done in 2009.
What if he hadn't missed all of training camp and the first six weeks of the season?
What if he had the time to build chemistry with Alex Smith and the rest of the receiving corps?
What if he had learned the nuances of Jimmy Raye's offense before having to prove himself on the fly in regular season game action?
While we'll never know the answers to these questions, we will be able to see a preview of just how great Crabtree can be as he enters his first NFL preseason. His reps may be limited, but if the 49ers hope to finally meet franchise expectations, Crabtree and Smith will need to gel early on.
Two of the NFL's premiere franchises will meet in week one of the preseason when the New Orleans Saints travel to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots.
Concerns about Tom Brady's contract and Wes Welker's knee have Patriots faithful as worried about their team as any year since 2001.
Again skill players, like Randy Moss, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk are finally facing the white lights of their careers. And disgruntled offensive lineman Logan Mankins is certainly causing a stir in the front office.
A smooth, injury-free preseason in which proven veterans sharpen their timing and some fresh faces prove themselves in game action will be paramount to the Patriots' success in 2010.
The Cincinnati Bengals are chalk-full of interesting characters: Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson and Rey Maualuga certainly makeup the NFL's most colorful roster of tweeters.
But can they mesh on the field?
Their August 20th matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles should be an early tell how of T.O. and other new faces are fitting into their roles with the Bengals.
The Eagles have one of the most exciting group of young skill players in the NFL. The preseason will be hugely important for new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb and his young group of wide receivers to find their chemistry on the field, or the always fickle Eagles fans may have Donovan McNabb seller's remorse.
With key starters Vincent Jackson, Shawne Merriman and Marcus McNeill all entrenched in what could be lengthy holdouts, the Chargers players in camp will have to prepare to go through the season without them (however unlikely that may be.)
Rookie running back Ryan Mathews will have to prove early on that he's capable of filling the shoes of the departed LaDainian Tomlinson.
An early test against the defending Super Bowl champs should go a long way in setting team moral. And, if the Chargers play well without their stars who are holding out, those guys may feel pressure to get back into camp.
Game two of the New York Jets' preseason will be at the height of HBO's best sports series, Hard Knocks. The storylines will be getting thick, viewers will become attached to players, and the mouth of Rex Ryan will surely have offered a litany of memorable quotes.
It's always fun to watch the game, then see all the behind-the-scenes happenings the following Wednesday on Hard Knocks.
The Carolina Panthers will have plenty of their own preseason melodrama, highlighted by the quarterback competition featuring Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen.
A rough-and-tumble, bring the house Rex Ryan defense, even in preseason, will be an intriguing test for the former Golden Domer Clausen.
Regardless of whether or not Brett Favre comes back to play in 2010, there is little chance that he'll be back for the Vikings' August 14th tilt against the St. Louis Rams.
Odds are likely that Favre won't rejoin the team until they've at least broken in camp mid-to-late August.
That doesn't diminish the importance of this preseason game, for either the Rams or the Vikings.
Rams fans will get their first look at their franchise quarterback Sam Bradford. The first game of the season should be the game in which Bradford gets his most reps, so the former Sooner could see action into the third quarter.
The Vikings quarterbacks will get their chances to stake claim to Brett Favre's job. And, though he's still a "project," keep an eye out for rookie Vikings quarterback Joe Webb who has been impressing Minnesota coaches since camp started.
In a somewhat surprising training camp development, reports have come in from Arizona that former Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson has been impressing in camp.
What a difference Larry Fitzgerald makes, ey?
While it's all but certain Matt Leinart will be the Cardinals' opening day starter, if Anderson impresses enough during game action this preseason, a legitimate quarterback controversy could be on.
This third preseason game against the Chicago Bears will be the last chance that either quarterback gets to stake their claim on the starting job.
Undoubtedly, Donovan McNabb will be lacking the big play options he had during his time Philadelphia while in Washington.
Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are certainly not DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, at least not yet.
But in all likelihood, McNabb won't be asked to do the same things he was asked to do in Philadelphia. He'll be more of a game manager, utilizing the middle of the field with his pair of solid tight ends in Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.
He'll also rely on his three-headed backfield (if they all stick with the team), consisting of Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.
Preseason will be an interesting tell as to how McNabb is progressing and whether or not the 'Skins have a chance of competing in the NFC East.
Much has been said and written about the disappointing 2009 season that Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had.
But the arrival of offensive coordinator, and passing game guru, Mike Martz has Bears fans feeling confident in Cutler again. There is no doubt that Cutler is as physically gifted as any player in the league. The questions remains whether or not Martz can harness his talent and use it for good.
The Raiders have finally moved on from the JaMarcus Russell era and have welcomed former Washington Redskins signal-caller Jason Campbell into Napa with open arms.
Local media has reported that Campbell is already one of the team's most vocal leaders, commanding a presence in the huddle that the Raiders have lacked since RIch Gannon.
Both Cutler and Campbell will need as many reps as they can get during preseason to acclimate to their new schemes.
One of the most hyped rookie seasons in NFL history will get started on August 15th when Tim Tebow will finally get under center when the Denver Broncos visit the Cincinnati Bengals.
Very little tangible evidence of Tebow's worth as an NFL quarterback will be learned during his first appearance. But any NFL fan, no matter how sick they are of Tebow speculation, will certainly tune in to see how "Friar Tuck" Tebow fairs.
Also of note will be to see how head coach Josh McDaniel uses Tebow. Will he mostly be moved out of the pocket? Will he be featured in Wildcat sets? Will he motion out of the backfield?
All questions that will be answered on the 15th.