NFL fans can breathe easier because the preseason has started.
While the NFL games in August bear little resemblance to what they will see once the regular season begins in early September, players are on the field, they are competing against opponents and the league is keeping score.
The last factor may not matter much to coaches, but it matters to NFL fans who have an interest in the point spread because many will bet on preseason games.
The Baltimore Ravens edged the Chicago Bears 17-16 in the Hall of Fame Game played in Canton, Ohio, Thursday night, and that gave fans a taste of NFL action. The Bears were 2.5-point underdogs and covered the spread, per OddsShark.
The full schedule begins August 9, and there will be four full weeks of preseason games before the regular season commences when the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons September 6.
Nationally Televised Preseason Games
Thursday, Aug. 16: New York Jets at Washington Redskins, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Monday, Aug. 20: Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Thursday, Aug. 23: Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 8 p.m. ET (Fox)
Friday, Aug. 24: Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8 p.m. ET (CBS)
Saturday, Aug. 25: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers, 8 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sunday, Aug. 26: Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills, 4 p.m. ET (Fox)
Sunday, Aug. 26: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
2018 Preseason Week-by-Week Schedule
Week 1: August 9-13
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Arizona Cardinals
Los Angeles Rams vs. Baltimore Ravens
Carolina Panthers vs. Buffalo Bills
Chicago Bears vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Minnesota Vikings vs. Denver Broncos
Tennessee Titans vs. Green Bay Packers
New Orleans Saints vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins
Washington Redskins vs. New England Patriots
Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants
Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Jets
Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers
Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: August 16-20
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Atlanta Falcons
Miami Dolphins vs. Carolina Panthers
Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys
Chicago Bears vs. Denver Broncos
New York Giants vs.Detroit Lions
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers
San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans
Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts (ESPN, Aug. 20)
Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Oakland Raiders vs. Los Angeles Rams
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Minnesota Vikings
Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots
Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Tennessee Titans
New York Jets vs. Washington Redskins (ESPN, Aug. 16)
Week 3: August 23-26
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills (FOX, Aug. 26)
New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Chicago Bears
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns (FOX, Aug. 23)
Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys (NBC, Aug. 26)
San Francisco 49ers vs. Indianapolis Colts
Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Chargers (CBS, Aug. 25)
Houston Texans vs. Los Angeles Rams
Baltimore Ravens vs. Miami Dolphins
Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings
New York Giants vs. New York Jets
Green Bay Packers vs. Oakland Raiders
Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (CBS, Aug. 24)
Denver Broncos vs. Washington Redskins
Week 4: August 30-31
Denver Broncos vs. Arizona Cardinals
Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons
Washington Redskins vs. Baltimore Ravens
Buffalo Bills vs. Chicago Bears
Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns vs. Detroit Lions
Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans
Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints
New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Carolina Panthers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Los Angeles Chargers vs. San Francisco 49ers
Oakland Raiders vs. Seattle Seahawks
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans
While many fans see avoiding injuries as the primary goal during preseason, the games are vital to players who will fill out the bottom spots on the roster. A big play or two in a preseason game combined with solid work in practice sessions can often be the difference between making the team and getting cut.
Here are three key preseason games that could prove to be important.
The Colts are hoping to have quarterback Andrew Luck back in the lineup this season, as he missed all of the 2017 season and the team finished with a 4-12 record.
New head coach Frank Reich expects to have Luck in the lineup, and he could see some action against the Ravens. If Luck shows he can throw the ball well without any ill effects of past injuries, the Colts will have a chance to show quite a bit of improvement.
The Ravens should have a fast and active defense, and while they won't show off their regular-season packages here, they should provide a test for Luck and the Colts.
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson of the Ravens should also have an opportunity to see quite a bit of action in this game. While he is not expected to beat out incumbent Joe Flacco, Jackson's accuracy throwing the ball and his running speed should be compelling factors here.
Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, Fox, 8 p.m., Fox, Thursday, Aug. 23
This game will almost certainly matter a lot more to the Browns than the defending Super Bowl champions.
Cleveland was winless in the 2017 season, but many of the game's insiders expect the Browns to be a much better team in 2018 than they have been in recent years.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is not expected to be the team's starter early in the regular season, but he is likely to see action in the preseason. Performing well against the Eagles could provide him and the team with a spark.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is not going to be rushed back in the preseason as a result of his ACL injury, but Nick Foles is perhaps the best backup quarterback in the league and is coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance.
The Browns will have a chance to measure themselves against a powerful Philadelphia team.
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers, 8 p.m. ET, CBS, Saturday, Aug. 25
The Saints were a playoff team last year, and after winning their wild-card game against the Carolina Panthers, they lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional playoffs.
The Chargers closed the season by winning six of their last seven games and finished just one game behind the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The third week of the preseason is considered the most important by nearly every team, and this showdown between Drew Brees of the Saints and Philip Rivers of the Chargers could provide the most entertaining matchup.
Tickets for all NFL preseason games can be purchased at StubHub.com.