Over the next few days, 30 of 32 NFL teams will play in their first preseason games. And even though the matchups “don’t count” as far as wins and losses go, there are numerous intriguing matchups to watch.
Whether it’s the debut of ballyhooed draft picks, seeing old faces in new places or just good old fashion regional hatred—there are plenty of matchups on the schedule for fans to fixate on.
Here are the top 10 preseason games to watch over the next few weeks until Week 1 of the regular season finally rolls around.
10. Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions (Saturday, Week 1, 7:30 pm ET)
This game would rank a lot higher on the list if Johnny Manziel was named the starting QB for the Browns. But for at least one series, fans will get to see Joe Haden vs. Megatron.
It’s also Browns head coach Mike Pettine’s first game with the team, and all eyes will be on him throughout the game.
The Browns also have one of the most intriguing positional battles going on, and it will be interesting to watch running backs Ben Tate and Terrance West battling it out for the starting job.
Even though Manziel isn’t starting, we’ll get to see him taking snaps under center with the second team.
9. Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, Week 2, 4 pm ET)
There’s a lot to like about this matchup. It’s the first time the 49ers have featured NFL action in the new Levi’s Stadium. And fans will get a look at what could’ve been had Richard Sherman not picked off a Colin Kaepernick pass in the NFC Championship game.
How is this not a nationally televised game? It’s a Week 2 game (meaning we’ll get to see a bit more of the starters than in Week 1), and a possible NFC Championship preview.
8. Houston Texans at Arizona Cardinals (Saturday, Week 1, 7:30 pm ET)
While they did make some strides in the previous offseason, Arizona’s offensive line still needed a lot of improvement in 2013. Some reinforcements came thanks in part to 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper getting healthy, but he’s still not at 100 percent mentally (which he admitted to Nick Krueger of KTAR 92.3 FM).
For his and the Cardinals’ offensive line’s first test, they’ll be matched up against the Houston Texans and their fearsome front seven, including the debut of Jadeveon Clowney.
What a trial by fire that will be. The Cardinals’ weakest unit will be tested immediately.
7. San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens (Thursday, Week 1, 7:30 pm ET)
It’s Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh in a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII.
More intriguing than that storyline, is how will RB Ray Rice be received in Baltimore? Rice was cheered in his return to training camp, but a full stadium on game night is a completely different scene than a practice.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars (Friday, Week 1, 7:30 pm ET)
If you believe this story published on ESPN.com, there’s a good chance that after the preseason you won’t see Blake Bortles (the third overall pick in this year’s draft) take the field until next season.
However, we’ve all seen what Chad Henne can do. And by Week 3, Jaguars fans will likely want to see what Bortles can do after his strong showing in training camp.
For now, some preseason action against the Jaguars’ in-state rivals will have to suffice for Bortles, against a team playing in its first game of the Lovie Smith era.
5. New York Giants at New York Jets (Friday, Week 3, 7:30 pm ET)
This interstate rivalry, unfortunately, is rarely decided in the regular season, but we get it in the preseason every year.
What better game to schedule than these two teams in the third preseason game, which is generally the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
These two teams want to beat each other for bragging rights. And for at least a half, we’ll get to see starters duking it out.
Both teams have questions surrounding them that this game could very well answer. Can the Giants’ new-look offensive line handle the pressure from the Jets’ aggressive front seven? And Can the Jets figure out their quarterback situation?
4. Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings (Friday, Week 1, 8 pm ET)
Vikings’ new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is “excited” over Teddy Bridgewater’s development, and wants to see him take reps with the first team in the preseason.
And who better than against the Oakland Raiders? It’s a home game in Week 1, which should mean as little pressure as possible for Bridgewater. The Raiders are debuting a dynamic rookie of their own (Khalil Mack). However, outside of Mack, the defense leaves a lot to be desired.
Bridgewater will play in this game no matter what, and hopefully we’ll get to see him with the first team.
3. Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (Thursday, Week 1, 9 pm ET)
Everyone likes a Super Bowl rematch. This is actually the fourth one on this list.
Seattle vs. Denver is the most recent rematch on the list due to the fact that the game was played six months ago, and with the way the Seahawks throttled the Broncos, one would think that there might be some bad blood between the two teams.
Also, this could be a preview of this year’s Super Bowl, as both teams look like the favorites in their respective conferences at this point in time.
2. Houston Texans at Denver Broncos (Saturday, Week 3, 9 pm ET)
There’s a lot to like about this matchup on paper, mainly the action between the Texans’ defensive line and the Broncos’ offensive line.
If you want good trench play, this is probably the best game of the preseason. And being that it’s a Week 3 preseason game, you’ll actually get some semblance of a real football game here.
This game could be more entertaining if it was played in Houston rather than Denver. Couldn’t you imagine the crowd erupting if Jadeveon Clowney is able to get his hands on Peyton Manning? Instead, it’s in Denver, which means in the same situation, you’ll hear nothing but a gasp coming from Colorado, no matter what Clowney or the Texans defensive line does to Manning.
1. Cleveland Browns vs. Washington Redskins (Monday, Week 2, 8 pm ET, ESPN)
We never got the treat of seeing Johnny Manziel vs. Robert Griffin III during a Big XII game.
But we’ll likely get that treat in Week 2 of the preseason, in a game that will be nationally televised, with so many storylines surrounding both teams.
For Washington, it’s a chance to see Robert Griffin III in a new offense with a hopefully fully-recovered knee. RGIII will have plenty of weapons to work with on offense, and it will be interesting to see how he distributes the ball among them.
Washington’s former offensive coordinator now serves in the same position with Cleveland. Kyle Shanahan hopes to inspire Johnny Manziel into having a similar season to the one RGIII had in his rookie year.
You will also see Johnny Football take more snaps with Cleveland’s first team, which could include Josh Gordon. Hopefully for the Browns, that’s a sign of great things to come, and not a complete tease.
Overall, this is the most intriguing preseason game of the season. Two teams hoping to return to respectability in 2014 under new head coaches and with plenty of hope around them.