The NFL Preseason Schedule has been announced. Most fans know that NFL Preseason games don’t mean very much, and are more an opportunity for teams to cut their rosters, and not to show what they can do.
However, for fans who have gone months without football, even preseason games, can become an important chance to see their team. And in spite of the usually low quality of preseason games, for the 2016 season the NFL has rewarded fans with very interesting clashes, several of which could even be called “must watch” matchups. Join us as we look at 10 of the best games of the preseason.
1. Hall of Fame Game, Green Bay Packers vs. Indianapolis Colts, 7th August.
The NFL Hall of Fame Game marks the official return of Football, and for many fans, August 7th can’t come soon enough. Teams taking part in the Hall of Fame game play one extra preseason game, often, this results in a pretty laid back performance from both teams, and as the only game of this weekend this often leaves fans less than impressed.
However, the 2016 game between the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts has more than a little intrigue.
While starters are unlikely to play for more than a single drive, the game will nonetheless mark Andrew Luck’s first game back since suffering a kidney laceration and torn abdomen in Week 9 of the 2015 season, which a doctor described as being similar to those suffered in a car crash, and fans, and coaches alike will be intrigued to see how the star will rebound from a very disappointing 2015 season.
The game will also see extended playing time for Brett Hundley—the Packers backup quarterback, and Aaron Rodgers presumed heir apparent—and Colts backup Scott Tolzien—who assumed the same role in Green Bay last season. Both men will have a lot to prove, and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder, so expect to see big performances from the backups.
2. Week One, Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams, 13th August.
While on paper, this game doesn’t have too much to offer—both teams were fairly unspectacular in 2015, and neither team has done anything to set them apart from the pack thus far in free agency—there is one fact that makes this game a must watch. Los Angeles.
This will mark the first home game for the L.A. Rams, who will return to the L.A. Memorial Colosseum—their home for 33 years—for the first time since 1979. The Rams will only play here until the end of the 2018 season, making each and every game to take place at this iconic venue special, and even for a week 1 preseason game, expect the atmosphere and pageantry for the Rams return home to be pretty spectacular.
3. Week Three, New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers, Date TBC.
It’s a well-known fact that week three is the best week for preseason football, with starters typically playing for well over a half of the game. And for the third straight season, the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots will face off in preseason, and will do so during week 3.
The Panthers and Patriots is the Super Bowl matchup many had predicted, and perhaps hoped for last season, and one that would be hard to bet against come next January. This will be an important early chance at redemption for both Tom Brady and Cam Newton, who fell both short at the final hurdle last season.
For Brady, it will be his first real chance to atone for the mistake that sent the Broncos to the Super Bowl—an interception on a 2-point conversion that would have tied the game. And for Cam Newton, it will be a chance to prove his mental fortitude and leadership, after his antics left many fans, and more than a few players and coaches, questioning both following their Super Bowl loss, when he broke down and stormed out of the post-game press conference in an ultimate show of unprofessionalism and immaturity.
This game will have high stakes for both starting quarterbacks, each of whom will likely play at least one half of football, as well as their supporting cast, who also looked less than spectacular during their respective final games of the 2015/2016 season. Expect fireworks.
4. Week 3, New York Giants at New York Jets, Date TBC.
While there are no shortages of heated rivalries in the NFL, there are a distinct lack of, what would here in the UK be lovingly called “Local Derbies”. While there are several cross-state rivalries, the only true citywide rivalry exists between the New York Giants and the Jets, who share a stadium, ironically located outside of both the city and state of New York in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
As the Giants play the majority of their games in the NFC, and the Jets in the AFC, meetings between the two are relatively rare, so this rivalry between players is perhaps not as heated as it could be, but the atmosphere among fans is always something to see. Another week three matchup, this should be a fun game with both teams attempting to cement themselves as the biggest draw in America’s top market.
For first year Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, and second year Jets coach Todd Bowles, this will also be an important opportunity to establish themselves as serious contenders, and sell their long-term plans for their respective teams in front of what will, for both teams, be a rabid home fanbase, regardless of who is officially named as home team (in this case, the Jets).
5. Week 3, Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans, 28th August.
One of the “nationally televised” games during week three, it’s easy to see why FOX picked this game as their showcase matchup.
The Arizona Cardinals were one of the hottest teams in football for most of 2015, and are looking to cement themselves at the top of a tough NFC West once more, while the Houston Texans will look to build on their 2015 success, and prove that they are the team to beat in a perennially underachieving AFC South.
The Cardinals once again reshuffled offensive line will be put to its first real test, as JJ Watt attempts to get his hands on a top-tier NFL quarterback, while Brock Osweiler will look to prove he is worth the money the Texans invested in him against what the Cardinals hope will remain one of the top secondaries in the NFL in 2016, and their newly signed pass rusher Chandler Jones.
And then there is Tyrann Mathieu. While Mathieu has no intention of rushing his recovery—and the Cardinals certainly don’t want to risk their star—some are suggesting that the honey badger could be targeting preseason week three as a potential return date, albeit in a very limited capacity.
Officially, he’s planning to be ready to go full speed by week one of the regular season, but several insiders have suggested that keeping to that timetable may mean taking at least a few limited snaps during the final two preseason games in order to assess his recovery.
While that recovery timetable may seem optimistic, according to a recent interview with Pete Prisco, just two months after the second ACL surgery of his young career, Mathieu is already undertaking 5-6 hour workouts daily, and based on the associated video, Mathieu is already running, squatting, and lifting with his recently reconstructed knee, so it would be impossible to rule it out. If the timetable holds true, then, this only adds more intrigue to an already interesting game.