Even if it didn't feel like it, football came back to fans in a hurry with Week 1 of the 2015 NFL preseason underway.
The Hall of Fame Game was a good appetizer, but it's time for the main course of exhibition action as all 16 teams enter the Week 1 fray. In other words, it's time to see the new faces in new places and the rookies make their debut.
Of course, fans can't expect much in the way of starters. These exhibitions are about coaching staffs figuring out playing time, who fits where and how to construct the final 53-man roster and practice squads.
Either way, it's a great time for fans to warm up for the typical Sunday fanfare and watch as their favorite team and league progresses.
2015 NFL Preseason Week 1 Schedule
|Friday, Aug. 14||7 p.m.||Titans||Falcons|
|Friday, Aug. 14||7 p.m.||Panthers||Bills|
|Friday, Aug. 14||7:30 p.m.||Giants||Bengals|
|Friday, Aug. 14||7:30 p.m.||Steelers||Jaguars|
|Friday, Aug. 14||10 p.m.||Rams||Raiders|
|Friday, Aug. 14||10 p.m.||Broncos||Seahawks|
|Saturday, Aug. 15||8 p.m.||Buccaneers||Vikings|
|Saturday, Aug. 15||8 p.m.||49ers||Texans|
|Saturday, Aug. 15||9 p.m.||Chiefs||Cardinals|
|Sunday, Aug. 16||1 p.m.||Colts||Eagles|
Top Matchups to Watch
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings
A war between two teams on the hunt to take the proverbial next step is always a good time.
The Minnesota Vikings took care of business against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game, sure, but second-year coach Mike Zimmer and Co. are still quite a way from contention.
Zimmer is a defensive force, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he used the team's first two picks in this year's draft on corner Trae Waynes and linebacker Eric Kendricks. Much of the attention goes to sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, though.
Bridgewater looked good completing 64.4 percent of his passes as a rookie, but figures to improve with wideouts Mike Wallace and rookie Stefon Diggs in town, the latter who almost took a punt back for a touchdown against the Steelers.
There's a similar feeling in Tampa Bay. Credit a strong defense in place thanks to Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and others, but renewed hope thanks to No. 1 pick Jameis Winston under center.
Winston's debut isn't one to miss under normal circumstances; Winston on his own against a defensive guru and strong unit makes it even better. As Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times pointed out, he looks great passing to his two massive targets:
Taking it all into account, this is a nice chess match sure to entertain fans no matter if it's an exhibition or serious contest. It's also a nice preview of the league's future at quarterback, because both of these young gunslingers figure to stick around for a long time.
Don't miss out.
St. Louis Rams vs. Oakland Raiders
When it comes to the preseason, it's not so much about high-profile matchups, but encounters between rebuilding teams thanks to the lack of playing time starters see.
As such, the duel between the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders is one to circle.
Oakland's Derek Carr is another one of the league's bright young quarterbacks one season after throwing for 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Now he works with a depth chart including prized free agent Michael Crabtree and top-five pick Amari Cooper.
As the Raiders illustrated, Carr's happy with the changes:
Adding a wideout who excelled on a run-first offense at Alabama and became one of just three Heisman Trophy finalists helps.
The Raiders aren't the lone place with major changes, though. The Rams now have Nick Foles under center. Behind him is head-turning rookie back Todd Gurley, although he's out with an injury.
Other than Foles' fit with his new team, it will prove interesting to see how a new-look offensive line performs after the team spent four of its picks in this year's draft on the position. Against a pass-rush touting Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack and others, it's yet another wrinkle making this one a matchup to catch.
It's never easy to tell which teams will surprise in an upcoming season, but the Rams and Raiders sit as two to keep an eye on, starting Friday.