The 2012 regular-season schedule hasn't been released quite yet, but the NFL whet our appetite by unveiling its preseason slate Wednesday. Highlighted by a showdown featuring likely Colts No. 1 pick Andrew Luck vs. likely Redskins No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III in Week 3, the preseason consists of 65 games, 12 of which will be nationally televised. Here's a look at some of the most compelling matchups of the preseason:
In the wake of the bounties: Cardinals vs. Saints
(Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio)The Saints dominated the offseason headlines after Commissioner Roger Goodell uncovered that they had been running a bounty program. It changed the face of the franchise's 2012 season, with coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and GM Mickey Loomis suspended and several players likely to follow. The league's debut preseason game will shed some light on New Orleans' ability to recover and move forward. Perhaps the key players like quarterback Drew Brees stay on the field longer than usual to fast-forward the acclimation process with a new play-caller.
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Old faces, new places: Broncos at Bears
Peyton Manning's highly publicized search for a new team ended with him holding an orange jersey in Denver, and he will make his debut at Soldier Field. For the first time, we'll all be able to judge Manning's arm strength and gauge how well he has recovered from multiple neck surgeries after missing the entire 2011 campaign. This one has more than one juicy storyline, though. Not only is it the reunion of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall, but the two former Broncos also face their old team.
An unexpected reunion? Saints at Patriots
It's too early to know just how intriguing this game could be, besides being a showdown of two of the NFL's most prolific offenses. But it's possible -- yes, possible -- that Patriots coach Bill Belichick will face his old mentor Bill Parcells, who is mulling over a decision about whether to fill in for Payton as Saints coach in 2012. Belichick and Parcells have repaired their once-fractured relationship, but merely seeing them stare at each other from opposite sidelines once again will be mind-blowing.
Straight flashback, homey: Vikings at 49ers
The 49ers have given mercurial receiver Randy Moss one more shot at finishing his career on a high note, signing him to a one-year contract. At 35 years old and after a year off, one must wonder how much Moss has left. The Vikings, who scooped up Moss with the 21st pick of the 1998 draft and received a fine return on the investment, will get first crack at finding out. This is also the same Vikings team that unceremoniously cut him last year, giving Moss something to prove.
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Offseason darlings meet: Redskins at Bills
It would be tough to imagine two teams having bigger offseasons than the Redskins and Bills. In Washington, the mammoth (and daring) trade of four high draft picks for the right to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was complemented by a high-priced restocking of their receiving corps. They'll debut against a team that suddenly boasts one of the NFL's most talented front fours, as Buffalo added monstrous end Mario Williams and pass rusher Mark Anderson.
The Toilet Bowl: Rams at Colts
Nothing says preseason excitement like the two worst teams from 2011 squaring off. Well ... this one is different. Presumptive No. 1 pick Andrew Luck will almost certainly make his much-anticipated debut under center as he begins to fill Peyton Manning's shadow. That won't be the only new face. Both teams boast new coaching staffs, with Jeff Fisher on the Rams sideline and Chuck Pagano holding the reins of the Colts.
Vick-tory? Eagles at Patriots
The last time these two teams played, quarterback Tom Brady embarrassed an undermanned Eagles defense and the crowd was left voicing their displeasure for coach Andy Reid. ("Fi-re An-dy!") But Philly also played without electric quarterback Michael Vick, forcing the team to use woeful Vince Young instead. This time, expect Vick to play, testing a Patriots defense that hopes to be much improved.
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Remember me? Dolphins at Panthers
Once upon a time back in 2010, Matt Moore was a fledgling starter the Panthers couldn't wait to replace. They have, inserting No. 1 pick and burgeoning star Cam Newton behind center. But Moore has reinvented himself in Miami, and he might be the Dolphins starting quarterback when these two teams face off in Week 2 of the preseason. Perhaps Moore will find motivation in showing Carolina what it is missing, while also trying to hold off a possible Dolphins rookie quarterback (Ryan Tannehill?).
Battle for NY/NJ: Giants at Jets
Do we need to explain this one? No chance. The Jets and Giants share a building, a turnpike and two states. They also share the back pages of the New York City tabloids, battling against each other for headlines. The Giants easily won that scramble in the postseason, taking home another Super Bowl title. The Jets responded in the offseason, trading for Tim Tebow. On this day, at least something can be settled on the field.
Manning vs. The Spurned: 49ers at Broncos
Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning ended up signing with the Broncos, beginning his second career a Mile High. But he did so after forcing the Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks, Titans and others to endure an excruciating (and public) courtship process. The scheduling Gods smiled on us, forcing the Broncos to face Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco in preseason battles with those Manning spurned. The Week 3 matchup with the Niners is simply the best game, as Manning will rumble with one of the league's nastiest defenses.
QB1 vs. QB2: Colts at Redskins
For the balance of their careers, Luck and RG3 will be compared side-by-side. Yup, just like Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Luck will almost certainly be selected No. 1 by the Colts and Griffin will go No. 2 to the 'Skins. No, they won't be attempting to stop one another -- the defenses will handle that. But why not begin the evaluation process on the same field during a game that generally sees starters play the bulk of the time? Which one will have made the biggest strides? Will both exit the game as starters?
Running QBs unite: Panthers at Jets
Two of the NFL's most versatile and debated running quarterbacks on the same field at one time? You can't go wrong with that. For the Panthers, former No. 1 pick Cam Newton will try to build on an epic rookie season and help this up-and-coming team make the natural progression that so many expect. Then, there is Tim Tebow. The ex-Broncos first-rounder is now with the Jets, settling in as a much-publicized backup to Mark Sanchez and possible gadget player. In the all-important Week 3 experience, the NFL may finally learn how the Jets intend to use Tebow, maybe even on special teams.
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A perfect upset, redux: Chiefs at Packers
The Packers appeared primed to roll to a perfect 16-0 regular season, thanks to a juggernaut offense that couldn't be stopped. Then Romeo Crennel, the defensive guru who was then interim Chiefs coach, stopped them. A 19-14 upset in Kansas City was the result. No, this game won't bring back a perfect season or last season's momentum. But at least the Pack can bury the memories -- somewhat.
Super Bowl XLVII? Patriots at Giants
For the eighth consecutive year, the Patriots will face the Giants in the preseason. Ho hum, happens every year. Except this time, it's also a Super Bowl XLVI rematch, one that came down to Tom Brady's last-ditch (and futile) Hail Mary. Super Bowl XLVII? Eh, not quite. More like a chance for coaches Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin to figure out the final pieces of their roster. Perhaps, more than anything, it's a chance for Patriots fans to finally digest the loss and put it behind them, and for Giants fans to relish the memories once more. Then, it's time to begin 2012.