Twelve teams kicked off Week 1 of the preseason on Thursday night. The remaining 20 clubs take the field Friday through Monday. Here is a quick primer for all 10 games:
What to watch for: Tim Tebow is the main attraction in this one. Everyone wants to know how the Jets will incorporate him into the game plan as the triggerman in the Wildcat. In addition, observers want to see if his reported role on special teams is as significant as advertised. If Tebow is positioned as the personal protector (fullback) on the punt team, opponents will have to prepare for the possibility of gadget plays in the kicking game. For the Bengals, the progress of BenJarvus Green-Ellis is critical to an offense seeking to become more diverse in Andy Dalton's second season. How well Green-Ellis performs in preseason could determine how big a role the Bengals carve out for him during the regular season.
What to watch for: The Browns have already named Brandon Weeden their the starting quarterback, so the drama of the quarterback competition has seemingly disappeared. However, the rookie starter needs to have a strong debut to solidify his status as the leader of the team and earn the trust of his teammates. If Weeden can get the first-team offense into a good rhythm by connecting on a few throws and operating the unit at a quick tempo, the Browns can start to build the kind of momentum needed to get off to a fast start in the regular season. The Lions must find a running back capable of handling duties as the workhorse in the backfield. Injuries have limited the availability Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, so Kevin Smith will get the first crack at the gig during the preseason opener.
What to watch for: After enduring an offseason full of harsh criticism, Blaine Gabbert gets an opportunity to silence his critics in an intriguing matchup against the defending Super Bowl champions. Although the preseason tempo is drastically different from the pace of a regular season game, Gabbert will still face the pressure of a fierce pass rush. If he can display improved toughness and decision making within a collapsing pocket, Gabbert will take significant steps towards repairing his reputation as a franchise-caliber quarterback. The Giants will use the preseason to identify the right presence in the middle to solidify a formidable defense. Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich are embroiled in a tightly contested battle, so their respective showings over the next month will ultimately determine the winner.
What to watch for:Greg Schiano is determined to transform the Buccaneers into a disciplined, hard-nosed football team. He has emphasized the fundamentals throughout camp, and will want to see his squad carry over the attention to detail into game action. To track the team's progress under Schiano, I will pay close attention to Tampa Bay's tempo, urgency and execution, as well as penalties and turnovers -- those things will tell us if the team is getting the message. For the Dolphins, it is all about finding a starting quarterback for the offense. David Garrard was in line to get the start, but then came Friday's surprising report that the free-agent acquisition will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. All eyes now shift to the performance of Ryan Tannehill. If he gets off to a strong start in the preseason debut, the rookie could challenge incumbent Matt Moore for the starting job.
What to watch for: The quarterback competition is heating up in the desert with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton duking it out for the right to throw to Larry Fitzgerald. Both have shown flashes of potential, but neither has performed well enough to claim the job outright. However, a strong performance against a quality defense could give Ken Whisenhunt a good idea of which one is the superior player. Skelton will start this game, but Kolb is expected to play after suffering bruised ribs in the Hall of Fame Game last Sunday. The Chiefs will attempt to get Matt Cassel into a groove under Brian Daboll's direction. This should result in plenty of passes in the first two or three series to help Cassel build a rapport with an emerging receiving corps.
What to watch for: The 49ers have added some firepower, including wideouts Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The duo certainly upgrades the receiving corps, and Jim Harbaugh will use the preseason to come up with a plan for assimilating their talents into the offense. Given the Vikings' suspect secondary, the preseason opener could provide Harbaugh and Alex Smith with an opportunity to experiment with various concepts in game action. The Vikings will want to see how well Christian Ponder performs against one of the NFL's top defenses. He will face an imposing pass rush and throw against an opportunistic secondary that excels at generating turnovers.
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What to watch for:Cam Newton was absolutely sensational as a rookie, but he is expected to be even better in 2012 with a full offseason to hone his remarkable skills. He will have an opportunity to showcase his development against a Texans defense that suffocated opponents a season ago. If Newton gets to the second and third option in his progressions, he has made significant improvement with his coverage awareness and recognition. Houston will look to get Matt Schaub back on track after a foot injury ended his 2011 season in November. Against a Carolina defense that struggled to defend the pass last season, this could be the perfect opportunity for Schaub to regain his confidence as a playmaker from the pocket.
What to watch for: Quarterback competitions will dominate the headlines in this matchup, with both teams searching for a starter. The Seahawks are hosting a three-way battle between Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Russell Wilson. Although Flynn will get the first crack at the job with the starting assignment on Saturday, Wilson will also have a chance to move up the depth chart with a strong performance against Tennessee's backups. For the Titans, Matt Hasselbeck's starting, but 24-year-old Jake Locker will get every chance to unseat the veteran signal caller. Locker was impressive in limited action a season ago, but he will need to show improved accuracy and ball placement against the Seahawks to take the lead in this competition.
What to watch for: All eyes will be on Andrew Luck when the Colts take the field against the Rams. The No. 1 overall pick has been lauded as one of the most polished quarterback prospects ever entering the league, and he will get a chance to showcase his skills in an offense built around his talents. Although the nerves could affect his performance at the outset, Luck should be able to find a rhythm against a rebuilt Rams defense with many young players in the backend. Sam Bradford will be the center of attention when the Rams have the ball. He is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 campaign, and needs to quickly acclimate to Brian Schottenheimer's version of the West Coast offense. In addition, he must show better poise in the pocket after looking jittery while under duress a season ago.
What to watch for:Dennis Allen has purportedly changed the culture of the Raiders' locker room, but the preseason opener will give the rest of us a chance to see if an increased attention to detail results in a better performance on the field. Carson Palmer's development under Greg Knapp will also attract my attention, with the quarterback learning a new offensive system. How well he adapts to a movement-based passing game will impact the Raiders' ability to move the ball through the air and on the ground. When it comes to the Cowboys, the spotlight is on DeMarco Murray following his explosive (albeit abbreviated) rookie season. He steadied the offense with his ability to pound the ball effectively between the tackles, and must display the same burst and explosiveness in returning from a season-ending ankle injury.