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What to watch for in Week 1 of NFL preseason

Your football winter is over. It's Week 1 of the NFL preseason, and that means 30 teams are making their gridiron debuts in games that really matter -- well, to a degree. Not to slip too deeply into the coach-speak vernacular, but this is the time of year players must "step up" into the fantastical realm of "110 percent effort" to prove their 53-man roster worthiness.

It's the time of year football dreams are made or dashed, when high-profile rookies enter the pundit microscope petri dish and aging veterans begin to face cold, hard reality. It's a time when summons to the coach's office can be just as nerve-wracking as on-field action.

With a 12-game smorgasbord of games to indulge on Thursday (including a double-header on NFL Network), here's what we're watching for from each team (all game times Eastern). Get the latest preseason news, updates and highlights with NFL Mobile.


Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets, 7:30 p.m. (NFL Network)

Falcons: What are we going to see from Steve Sarkisian in Year 2? The offensive coordinator says he feels more comfortable orchestrating Atlanta's offense, and the team's plethora of tools is drool-inducing. One of those is rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who has impressed in camp and has the potential to help give the Falcons the best WR duo in the league playing alongside Julio Jones. There's also an open competition for the starting right guard spot with Brandon Fusco, Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland battling for the position.

Jets: It's been a while since a former USC quarterback has gotten Jets fans excited, but Sam Darnold's debut is one of the most anticipated stories of the preseason. His task is simple in directive yet very complicated in execution: Beat Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job. Still, don't expect the rising Summer of Sam to be as hot as an August night in Jersey. Keeping mistakes in check coupled with a knowledge of the offense is all we should expect from a QB who hasn't even tallied a full two weeks in camp.

Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders, 10:30 p.m. (NFL Network)

Lions: Another one of Belichick's disciples begins his quest to walk on NFL water. Matt Patricia has instituted a plethora of changes on the team since taking over as head coach, especially on defense. Still, perhaps the most interesting battle still raging in the Lions den is the three-way running back standoff. Ameer Abdullah has had a strong camp, but he appears to be in the 11th hour of his Lions career and needs to show why he still belongs. LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Kerryon Johnson continue to impress too. A good preseason showing by someone could go a long way in breaking the deadlock.

Raiders: Jon Gruden makes his much-anticipated return to coaching after having last coached an NFL game in 2008. Will it be a Dick Vermeil-like comeback that's ultimately punctuated by a Super Bowl title at some point? Or will it be like that time that one ESPN analyst rejoined the head coaching ranks? We won't get that answer after one preseason game, so don't look too hard. Instead, pay attention to the Khalil Mack-depleted pass rush and the overhauled secondary that's working under the guidance of coordinator Paul Guenther. The Raiders need to drastically improve on defense in order to challenge the rest of the AFC West.


Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos, 9 p.m. (NFL Network)

Vikings: Mr. Guaranteed aka Kirk Cousins likely will only see a scintilla of playing time in his Vikings debut, but it could still offer a peek into how the quarterback is adjusting to his new surroundings under offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. One of the most significant questions for Minnesota revolves around the No. 3 receiver position. Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings' 2016 first-rounder, needs to show improvement in 2018 and beating Kendall Wright would go a long way in prolonging his stay in Minneapolis. Keep an eye on first-round pick Mike Hughes as he looks to earn playing time in nickel and dime packages in the secondary.

Broncos: It's the Case Keenum revenge game! OK, that's taking things way too far. Keenum even says he holds no grudge against the Vikings for letting him go to Denver, so it's probably better at this stage of August to get more excited about the Paxton Lynch-Chad Kelly duel for backup honors. Even more intriguing is basically every other position on offense. Watch for who stands on in the running back contest between Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman and if Troy Fumagalli can outshine Jake Butt at tight end. Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton figure to see some targets as they try to work their way up the depth chart.

Chargers: None of the Antonio Gates comeback talk has come to fruition, so which tight end will rise? Veteran Virgil Green seems the likely pick for the most snaps, but Braedon Bowman, Sean Culkin and Cole Hunt will probably get a good share of playing time. First-round pick Derwin James, who missed the start of camp due to injury will be another one to watch as he looks to get a starting job patrolling the back of the defense alongside Jahleel Addae. Cardale Jones and Geno Smith will battle for the team's backup QB role and should see the vast majority of snaps.

Cardinals:Sam Bradford's the starter, but it's Josh Rosen's job to keep Steve Wilks second-guessing his decision. Bradford is expected to play, but he'll likely see a very limited number of snaps. Conversely, to no one's surprise, the Cardinals plan to give Rosen a ton of preseason work as they evaluate where their No. 10 overall pick stands against hungry NFL-level talent. Is Rosen the most NFL-ready signal-caller among his draft brethren? We could find out Saturday. With A.Q. Shipley done for the season with a torn ACL, it'll be up to third-round pick Mason Cole to run with the big boys at center.

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