The first full week of preseason action provided a number of interesting developments -- impressive debuts from rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson; a dynamic showing from Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones; injuries to notable players like San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews -- but the intrigue is amplified in Week 2. Starters play deeper into games, position battles really heat up and we take another big step toward the regular season.
Here is a quick guide to Week 2 of the preseason, highlighting what to watch for in each game:
There are two very important position battles to keep an eye on in this contest. For the Titans, this could be the game that settles the quarterback debate. Jake Locker will get his first start of the preseason and all signs seem to be pointing toward the second-year quarterback taking the reins from veteran Matt Hasselbeck. For the Bucs, this will be Round 2 of the battle for the starting running back position. Both LeGarrette Blount and rookie Doug Martin have been excellent during camp. Each guy will see plenty of action during the 2012 season, but there can only be one starter.
The Ravens got torched by Julio Jones in the preseason opener. They will face an even greater test this week with All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson and the Lions coming to town. Detroit has an incredibly thin running back crop, but somehow the Lions managed to run for almost 200 yards against the Browns in their preseason debut. They will have a very difficult time producing similar numbers against Baltimore's physical front.
Ryan Tannehill had an excellent start to his pro career last week. It will be very interesting to see if he can build off that performance against a very fast Panthers defense. Carolina rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly looked right at home in his first NFL action against the Texans in Week 1 of the preseason. It will be fun to watch him chase Reggie Bush around the field in this game.
Both of these offenses struggled mightily in their preseason openers, combining for a whopping 12 points. Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson called out his offensive unit following their disappointing display. Both offenses will be challenged by aggressive pass-rushing defensive fronts in this game. For Vikings fans, the pregame warmup might be the most important aspect of the game, as Adrian Peterson continues to test his surgically repaired knee.
This will be the Saints' third preseason game, thanks to their participation in the Hall of Fame Game. Drew Brees and the offense looked very sharp in the preseason opener against the Cardinals, but they never found a rhythm against the Patriots. They will look to get back on track in their first preseason home game. The running game will be worth following on both squads. The Jaguars once again will be without the league's reigning rushing king, as Maurice Jones-Drew continues to hold out over dissatisfaction with his contract. For the Saints, they will continue to sort out a running back rotation with no less than five capable runners.
The Cardinals are desperate for one of their quarterbacks to emerge as the clear-cut starter. If John Skelton can simply protect the football and move the offense, he should be in good shape to win the job over the trigger-shy Kevin Kolb. While the Raiders' offense failed to score in their preseason opener against the Cowboys, they had to be encouraged by the play of running back Darren McFadden. He looked quick, explosive and potentially dominant. He will have a tough test against a very underrated Arizona front seven that features one of the best defenders in all of football, versatile defensive lineman Calais Campbell.
This game is always one of the more entertaining preseason contests. I'll be very interested to see how the Jets' offensive line is able to block the Giants' pass rush. They did a poor job of protecting Mark Sanchez during last week's game against the Bengals, and this Giants front four is more talented than the group in Cincinnati. For the Giants, I'm anxious to see how their running game is coming along after finishing dead last in that department last season. Rookie David Wilson looked very promising in the Giants' preseason opener, rushing for 43 yards on seven carries.
Robert Griffin III didn't play long in the Redskins' preseason opener, but he performed at a high level. RG3 didn't have any "wow" plays, but he efficiently ran the offense and put together a nice scoring drive, capped off by a quick-hitting touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon. Chicago's defense will provide a great test for the young signal caller. This will also be the first chance we get to see the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall combination in Chicago. Ironically, Mike Shanahan will be on the other sideline, as the two former Denver Broncos teammates look to recapture the chemistry they developed under their former head coach. Expectations for this Bears' offense are higher than they've been in a very long time.
Both of these organizations took huge leaps forward during the 2011 campaign and they each have set their sights on winning the Super Bowl this season. This should be a very physical contest between two teams that effectively pound the ball on the ground, even when everyone in the stadium knows what's coming. Three of the best linebackers in the entire league will take the field in this game; San Francisco's Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and Houston's Brian Cushing represent the ideal traits of an elite linebacker. All three can run, are extremely explosive and boast excellent football instincts.
Breer: New offense, new hope
Despite the lopsided score, Sam Bradford played well in the Rams' preseason opener against the Colts. The third-year quarterback still needs to improve his chemistry with all of his young wide receivers, but there were a few promising signs last week. The Chiefs quietly put together a dominating performance against the Cardinals last Friday. Running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki all saw game action for the first time since returning from season-ending injuries in 2011. It will be interesting to monitor the amount of snaps head coach Romeo Crennel elects to give these three key players on Saturday.
It will be all about the quarterbacks in this game. Peyton Manning looked very sharp in Chicago last week and should see a little more playing time in this game. Both Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson played well for the Seahawks last week. Flynn was very efficient, while Wilson provided some electric plays with both his arm and legs. This quarterback competition favors the high-priced free agent in Flynn, but Wilson could make things very interesting if he puts together another highlight-filled performance.
The Cowboys' defense made a lot of plays against the Raiders in their preseason opener, but the offense did next to nothing. They will look to get untracked against a San Diego defense that has been re-energized by new coordinator John Pagano and several young additions in the front seven. Rookies Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes had excellent debuts against the Packers. They will have their hands full when they match up against Tyron Smith, who looks very comfortable after moving from right to left tackle for Dallas and is poised to contend for Pro Bowl recognition in just his second NFL season.
Things couldn't have gone better for Andrew Luck in his first NFL action. He toasted the Rams' secondary with several big-time throws. Those windows will be much smaller against the Steelers this week. Pittsburgh's complex scheme will also provide an excellent mental challenge to the ultra-impressive rookie passer. The Steelers will use this game to evaluate a couple of their young running backs. Suddenly, Chris Rainey and Baron Batch are about their only healthy running backs after a barrage of injuries at the position.
Both of these teams have very high expectations and deep, talented rosters, but neither looked particularly sharp in Week 1 of the preseason. The Patriots' pass protection was spotty against New Orleans. Philadelphia's front four will provide a major test for New England's offensive line. Meanwhile, the Eagles have a very talented young center in Jason Kelce, but his anchor in pass protection can be suspect. Vince Wilfork will test Kelce's breaks in this game.