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Eight games to watch this preseason

The NFL released its 2016 preseason schedule on Thursday. This is cause for intense, heady celebration.

The reason should be self-evident. If Park Avenue is dropping the preseason schedule, that can only mean one thing: The actual 2016 season is now in the distance -- however deep -- hidden behind a blanket of fog on the other side of that mountain range.

Come to us, real football. We'll treat you right.

We took a look at the preseason schedule and picked out eight games well worth tuning in for this summer. Let's get to it.

1. Green Bay Packers vs. Indianapolis Colts, Hall of Fame Game, Canton, Ohio: The annual kickoff game comes a week before the official preseason schedule commences. Played at quaint Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, the game has charm, even if you shouldn't expect to see more than a possession from the starters. That said, this is a golden opportunity to witness Andrew Luck taking live snaps with his kidney fully intact. Bonus points: Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden should call the game for ESPN.

2. Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams, Week 1: Here it is, the official return of the NFL to Los Angeles after a 22-year absence. This is a nationally televised game on ESPN that features a Cowboys team that has made Southern California their summer home for years. Do you smell drama? Not really, but it will be great to see NFL football at the Coliseum again.

3. New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers, Week 3: Ahhh, the Super Bowl 50 that almost was. The best week of the preseason is always Week 3 for the simple reason that many starters will play at least a full half of football. That means you'll see plenty of Tom Brady and Cam Newton in this one, worth the price of admission alone. Speaking of the Super Bowl -- will this be a preview of the big game in Houston next February?

4. Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans, Week 3: Here's another nationally televised game -- this one's on FOX -- that should give us a long look at new Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler facing off against an NFC superpower. The spotlight will shine brightly on Osweiler all season as he attempts to live up to that contract -- here's an early test.

5. Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears, Week 1: While Osweiler attempts to make his mark in Houston, the Broncos will begin life after Peyton & Brock against the Bears and former Denver coach John Fox. This could be Colin Kaepernick's Broncos debut or the first of five consecutive weeks of Mark Sanchez criticism leading to the regular season. Or both!

6. Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Week 3: This seemingly mundane matchup is being nationally televised on CBS for a reason. It goes back to the Browns' quarterback position and the possibility -- the very strong possibility -- that Robert Griffin III and a first-round pick quarterback could be in a final audition for the Week 1 starting job. That's the type of drama other summer reality programming can't touch. I'm looking at you, ABC's Splash.

7. New York Giants at New York Jets, Week 3: When the Snoopy Bowl is on the line, you don't touch that dial. We wouldn't call these two teams rivals, per se, but the fan bases have issues with each other, which always makes for a fun, rambunctious scene at MetLife Stadium. Remember, the Jets all but extinguished the Giants' playoff hopes with a comeback win at the Meadowlands last December.

8. Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks, Week 3: You can safely assume Jason Garrett is going to keep Tony Romo in bubble wrap for most of the preseason in an effort to protect that troublesome collarbone, but we should see Romo a bit against one of the best defenses in football. We might also get a look at Romo's future successor if Dallas takes a quarterback early in this month's draft. Fun! Now you're just starting to look bad, ABC's Splash.

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