Football is finally back. After seeing the Hall of Fame Game get cancelled this past weekend, the first six games of the 2016 National Football League season are now set to kick off tonight starting at 7:00 p.m. EST. And while they may just be meaningless preseason matchups, there will be several storylines worth following during the lead up to the regular season and the games that count.
With all that being said, here is a look at five preseason games that are a must-watch for all NFL fans.
1. Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks
Date: August 25, 2016
Time: 10:00 p.m. EST
Location: CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington
Heading into the 2016 season, the Cowboys are out to rebound from a disastrous 2015 season and prove that their success in 2014 was no fluke, while the Seahawks have their sights set on Super Bowl LI and a third NFC title in the last four years. And seeing as how this will be the third preseason game for both teams, this matchup will be our first live look at the starting offensive and defensive units for each team going against outside competition.
The main matchup worth watching in this game is the Seahawks’ defense versus the Cowboys’ offense. Dallas will have quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant back in their lineup, but we are most interested in seeing how rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ offensive line does against one of the best defenses in the league. On that note, this game will also be a pretty good indicator as to whether or not Seattle’s defense will continue to be dominant in 2016.
2. New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers
Date: August 26, 2016
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina
Regardless of who the Patriots play at quarterback in this game (it will likely be Jimmy Garoppolo), this preseason matchup could be a preview of Super Bowl LI. For Carolina, this will be our first look at their starting defense without cornerback Josh Norman in their lineup, and on offense we will get to see how impactful wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will be after missing the entire 2015 season with a knee injury.
For the Patriots, all eyes will be on Garoppolo, but this will also be the first time we see the tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett in live action. It will also be interesting to see how New England performs on the defensive side of the ball against a very talented Carolina offense that features the reigning NFL MVP in quarterback Cam Newton.
3. New York Giants vs. New York Jets
Date: August 27, 2016
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Barring a (highly) unlikely meeting between New York’s two NFL franchises in Super Bowl LI, this will be the only time we see these two bitter rivals match up in 2016. And fortunately for everyone, this will be each team’s third preseason game, so we should get a heavy dose of the starting lineups for both squads.
The Giants will be putting their rebuilt defense on display for the first real time since spending close to $200 million on three players during free agency this offseason, and the Jets will be looking to pick up where they left off with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback in 2015. Moreover, this is a true rivalry game, which means that there is sure to be fireworks – even if it’s just the preseason.
4. Los Angeles Rams vs. Denver Broncos
Date: August 27, 2016
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST
Location: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado
Not only will this game be the first time that we get to see what the Broncos starting lineup will look like in their quest to defend their Super Bowl 50 title, it could also shed some light into the results of two of the most widely-discussed quarterback competitions of the 2016 offseason.
By kickoff of this game, we should know whether the Broncos are going with Trevor Siemian or Mark Sanchez. And we should know if the Rams are going to hand over their offense to rookie Jared Goff or give the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft more time to develop and go with veteran Case Keenum.
5. Arizona Cardinals vs. Houston Texans
Date: August 28, 2016
Time: 4:00 p.m. EST
Location: NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas
Simply put, this game is worth tuning into if you are a fan of the NFL. The Cardinals have legitimate Super Bowl title aspirations after making it to the NFC Championship Game in 2015. And the Texans have high hopes as well after spending big money to rebuild their offense with the signings of quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller. This game could ultimately be very indicative of how successful both teams will be in 2016.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.