The NFL offseason seems like an eternity. Fans wait all spring and summer for the moment that football is here again.
That moment has finally come. Okay, it is not regular season football, but preseason NFL football is much better than no football at all.
Fans will get their first look at their team’s draft picks and free agents in live action. Coaches get to see how players look against competition other than their teammates. Players get to knock the rust off and get ready for the regular season.
Preseason may not yield many memorable moments, but they are important moments still. Here are the top five games to look forward to this preseason.
Week 1 – Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions
Johnny Manziel is the biggest story in the NFL right now and his debut is sure to draw much attention. While Manziel may be the main storyline, the Browns need to see how their offense will function with new running back Ben Tate. They also need to see how the receiving core is going to fair without Josh Gordon. On defense the Browns will get to see how they fair against the best wide receiver in football, Calvin Johnson.
The Lions look to rebound after a disappointing season. This will be the first look to see if Jim Caldwell has had any effect on the bad mechanics of Matthew Stafford. The Lions also hope that their defense will be much improved this season. A quality showing against the Browns would be a solid start.
Week 1 – Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
Last season, Chip Kelly’s offense had defenses playing catch up. The rumor this offseason is that he plans to go even faster. This will be a new-look offense to some degree because DeSean Jackson is no longer with the team. Jeremy Maclin looks to replace his production but he is coming off of injury. These reps will be important to him fitting back in.
The Bears hope the offense can continue to grow from the progress they showed last season. The defense hopes to be improved. Questions remain about the safety position, but the team is hoping they won’t have to defend as long because of improvements to the defensive line.
Week 3 – Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs
Week 3 is normally the dress rehearsal for teams. Most teams play their starters well into the third quarter. This will be a very important game for Teddy Bridgewater and whether he is the starter come Week 1 of the regular season. The Vikings defense needs to show improvement. Their secondary was horrible last season. Mike Zimmer is hoping that he can have a similar effect on the Vikings defense as he did with the Cincinnati Bengals defense.
Alex Smith is playing for a contract extension. His continued growth in Andy Reid’s offense will be important to the Chiefs taking another step forward this season. Jamaal Charles has proven himself to be a top-tier running back in the league. If the passing game can become more consistent and add in a few more explosive plays, it could become a top-five caliber offense.
On defense the Chiefs’ dominance surprised everyone. The defense played well, but their stats may have been inflated due to playing several backup quarterbacks. The defense has to bounce back from the letdown of last season’s playoff game. They have lost quality players such as Brandon Flowers and Tyson Jackson. It will be important to find their replacements.
Week 3 – San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
The Chargers surprised everyone last season and made a playoff run. They will be looking to build on that and make a deeper run this season. Playing against the 49ers defense will be a good test for Philip Rivers and company. Rivers rebounded from poor seasons with Ken Wisenhunt as his offensive coordinator. Frank Reich will look to build the same type of bond with Rivers.
The Chargers defense worked with a patch-work secondary all last season. Derek Cox was a bust of a free agent signing. The team brought in Brandon Flowers and drafted Jason Verrett to improve the secondary. If the front seven can produce more consistent pressure, the defense should be able to rise in the defensive rankings.
On offense, the 49ers have several receivers that are similar in their abilities. Anquan Boldin, Steve Johnson, and Michael Crabtree are all possession to intermediate receivers. None of them are deep threats. Not having a deep threat can make things difficult for Colin Kaepernick.
On defense the 49ers are loaded. They will need to address the loss of Navorro Bowman and Glenn Dorsey. They have solid depth at all positions so making up for those loses should not be overly difficult. The team will have an interesting battle at the nickel cornerback position. The departure or Carlos Rogers leaves an opening that could be filled by Jimmie Ward or Perrish Cox.
Week 3 – Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots
The Panthers need to know if their receivers are up to the challenge heading into the regular season. Going up against Darrelle Revis and company will prove to be a tough test. Kelvin Benjamin will get every opportunity to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver but he has a lot to learn. Jericho Cotchery and Jason Avant will have to make considerable contributions. Cam Newton will be looked upon to lead this group back to the playoffs. On defense the Panthers are one of the best teams in the league. If they remain healthy, the sky is the limit for what they can do. Luke Kuechly is becoming one of the premier linebackers in the league.
The Patriots on offense will always be dangerous as long as Tom Brady is under center. The Patriots have failed to give Brady better targets on the outside, yet somehow he finds a way to remain one of the top quarterbacks in the league. If Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen can be competent in the running game, the Patriot offense should be fine.
On defense the Patriots got the steal of the offseason by bringing in Revis. Revis combined with the defensive acumen of Bill Belichick should scare the entire NFL. If Vince Wilfolk can return from his injury and perform at a high level, the Patriots could easily find themselves in the AFC Championship game again. The Patriots defense against Cam Newton and company make for a fun preseason game.
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