July 30, 2012; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) walks off the field after Redskins training camp at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
Six NFL preseason games are on the schedule for Thursday night, including the debut of Robert Griffin III as a Redskin and Peyton Manning as a Bronco.
The NFL season is finally here... sort of. It's just the preseason, but it's still football games regardless. We are currently one game into the schedule with the Saints topping the Cardinals last week in the Hall of Fame game. This is the first real week of preseason, however, where we'll see every team play.
There are 16 games scheduled between now and Monday night. Thursday night's schedule is by far the most intriguing. A few things I'm looking for in Thursday night's games...
Let the RGIII show begin
For a guy who's supposed to be the next great quarterback of our generation, Andrew Luck isn't getting as much pub as the guy picked directly after him, Robert Griffin III. Luck doesn't have the charisma that RGIII brings to the table and he doesn't have the same skill set. I'm not saying RGIII is better than Luck; I'm saying they're not the same kind of quarterback. We love quarterbacks who can run.
The RGIII show starts on Thursday night in Buffalo. The game is blacked out locally so those in Western New York won't see the fireworks but the cameras will be rolling and we're sure to watch a show. It seems as if everything RGIII touches turns to gold -- and he hasn't even played a game yet.
Now it's time to take it to the field. How often will RGIII run the ball? Just how fast is he in the NFL game? Is he strong enough to take a hit once he leaves the pocket and a 250-pound linebacker crashes into him? Will the Redskins investment in receivers pay off?
Lots to look forward to with this one. For the first time in a while, I'm more interested in the No. 2 overall pick than No. 1.
Peyton Manning dons Broncos colors for first game in Denver
We've seen pictures of him practicing in Denver, but it'll still be strange. Peyton Manning won't be wearing Colts blue, instead playing out his final years in Denver. The biggest free agent in history will take on the Bears at Soldier Field on Thursday night.
Everyone wants to see the same thing -- Manning taking a hit. He hasn't take a legitimate hit in well over a year and since his four neck surgeries. Despite all the hoopla that he's getting healthy, I still want to see him prove that he can take a form tackle from someone like Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs.
I also want to see him go deep, at least once. Once his neck healed, his arm strength became the big story. Is he back, 100 percent? 85 percent? I want to see Demaryius Thomas take a fly route and Manning fling it 40 yards down the field to show us where he stands.
The battle of (alleged) cheaters
Which scandal is bigger -- the Saints alleged bounty system that ran for at least three seasons or the Patriots SpyGate scandal?
Many have accepted that the Saints had an incentive program, but the evidence of an actual pay-to-injure bounty program is shakier. As for the Patriots, they illegally recorded opponents' hand signals, but weren't using the film in the same game (at least we don't think they were).
As for the actual game, too bad it comes in the preseason when the games don't matter. These are two of the elite franchises in the NFL with two of the three best quarterbacks in the game. It's a shame games like this won't be played at a high level.
Drew Brees and the Saints starters looked sharp enough in their brief outing last week against the Cardinals. I think they can beat the Patriots. (Sorry, I tried to act like I cared who wins a preseason game, but I really don't.)
Will the replacement refs be good enough?
Players were supposedly laughing at the replacement referees in last week's HOF game between the Saints and Cardinals. They even screwed up the coin toss, one of their first official duties in a game. They missed an obvious holding penalty that would've resulted in a safety.
Now word comes that one of replacement referees was reportedly fired by the Lingerie Football League. And another one, the first female referee who will work the Packers vs. Chargers game, played in the World Series of Poker. The NFL doesn't like any connection to gambling (unless they can make money off of it).
So, yeah, there's a lot of attention on the referees. The locked out refs will surely be watching this game, monitoring their every mistake and then releasing that information to the media so that everyone knows just how bad the game will be with referees who make frequent mistakes.
Will they be good enough? I doubt it. Frankly, I hope they screw up so bad that the NFL has no choice but to cave and end the lockout against the regular referees.
If only this were the regular season...
... then this would be the best slate of games that I can remember in a long time.
- Redskins vs. Bills (7:00 p.m. ET)
- Ravens vs. Falcons (7:30 p.m. ET)
- Saints vs. Patriots (7:30 p.m. ET)
- Steelers vs. Eagles (7:30 p.m. ET)
- Packers vs. Chargers (8:00 p.m. ET - ESPN)
- Broncos vs. Bears (8:30 p.m. ET)