First Full NFL Preseason Weekend Kicks Off

(08/06/2008 – After two weeks of going against teammates in training camp, all NFL clubs this weekend will be able to see a real, live — opponent!

It’s the first full weekend of NFL preseason football, bookended by nationally televised games on Thursday and Monday nights.

“Definitely, you look forward to getting a different matchup,” says quarterback ELI MANNING, whose New York Giants this Thursday will get the first taste of an opponent (Detroit) since defeating New England in Super Bowl XLII last February. “We’ve been going against the same guys for a long time, so it’ll be good to see a live defense. You’ll be able to make some plays and celebrate the good plays.”

All that playmaking and celebrating comes this week packed with interesting storylines:

NEW ORLEANS AT ARIZONA (Thursday, ESPN, 8:00 PM ET): Brees wants to get it perfect. Leinart wants to get it going.

They’ll both spend the preseason attempting to do so.

New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES, who has completed the most passes for the most yards in the NFL over the past two years, thinks there is always room for improvement — by him and his team, which wants to get back to the playoffs.

“We always feel like we can do a better job,” says Brees. “I think we’re our toughest critic.”

Brees’ counterpart, Arizona’s MATT LEINART, returns from a broken collarbone suffered last October. He has spent camp perfecting head coach KEN WHISENHUNT’s offense, a process that was interrupted last season.

“He’s a lot more comfortable, a lot more familiar with the offense,” says Arizona quarterback coach JEFF RUTLEDGE. “When he gets in the huddle, you can sense that confidence, you can sense that leadership,”

CINCINNATI at GREEN BAY (Monday, ESPN, 8:00 PM ET): The AARON RODGERS era begins. And the CARSON PALMER quest continues.

For Green Bay, it will be the first outing as starting quarterback for Rodgers, the club’s first-round draft choice of 2005. Head coach MIKE MC CARTHY will give the Cal grad plenty of playing time this summer, starting him in all four preseason games.

“We’ve talked about possibly playing our starters a little longer than usual in the preseason,” says the coach. “And that is our plan with Aaron.”

The Bengals want to get things back to where they were in 2005, when they went 11-5 and won the AFC North. They think they are on the way with a No. 10 finish in total offense last season and a No. 7 in passing.

Cincinnati has added to quarterback CARSON PALMER’s top-flight receiving corps headed by CHAD JOHNSON and T.J. HOUSHMANDZADEH and will use the preseason to work in the newcomers.

The Bengals signed tight end BEN UTECHT from Indianapolis to strengthen their passing game down the middle, and rookie wideouts ANDRE CALDWELL and JEROME SIMPSON have been strong in camp and will see plenty of action starting Monday.


NEW YORK GIANTS at DETROIT: Super Bowl champ Giants get their first taste of ’08 action where they were so successful last year – on the road. New York won an NFL single-season record 10 consecutive away games, including in the playoffs.

SAN FRANCISCO at OAKLAND: Quarterbacks battle on one team, and one gets ready on the other. For the 49ers, it’s a three-way competition to see who will start among SHAUN HILL, J.T. O’SULLIVAN and ALEX SMITH. “The quarterback position is open,” says Niners head coach MIKE NOLAN. “Whoever gives us the best chance to win is the guy.”

For the Raiders, it’s all JA MARCUS RUSSELL, the No. 1 overall draft choice of 2007 who has been declared the starter by head coach LANE KIFFIN.

BALTIMORE at NEW ENGLAND: Clubs who staged one of ’07’s most memorable games meet again. Who can forget that chilly Monday-nighter last December 3 when the Ravens came close to breaking the Pats’ unbeaten streak at 11 games but were done in by a TOM BRADY-to-JABAR GAFFNEY TD pass with 44 seconds left to pull out a 27-24 victory?

SEATTLE at MINNESOTA: Vikings fans get a chance to see ’07 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year ADRIAN PETERSON tune up at RB, while the Seahawks will trot out their new RB tandem of MAURICE MORRIS and newcomer JULIUS JONES, fresh from Dallas.

ATLANTA at JACKSONVILLE: First action of the season for the Falcons’ first-round draft choice, QB MATT RYAN. His counterpart with the Jags, DAVID GARRARD, won the starting job last year with a stellar preseason (113.4 passer rating). “It’s a proven fact that you can win a job in preseason,” says Garrard.

INDIANAPOLIS at CAROLINA: QBs big here, too. Colts will give more work to JIM SORGI (7-for-10 for 66 yards in Indy’s opening drive in Sunday night’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game). Returning-from-injury Panthers QB JAKE DELHOMME is ready to get things started. “It’s awesome to have your leader back under center,” says Carolina TE JEFF KING. “Blue-collar” Panthers – with Delhomme, BRETT BASANEZ, MATT MOORE and LESTER RICARD – are only team in NFL whose quarterbacks are all undrafted.

DALLAS at SAN DIEGO: These guys want to go even further! Meeting of ’07 playoff teams — Divisional Playoff Cowboys and Championship Game Chargers.

So it’s time to match up with a “real opponent.” “I think the games are the real tests,” says JIM ZORN, victorious (30-16) in the Hall of Fame Game in his first outing as head coach of the Washington Redskins. “We can evaluate on the practice field but you’ve got to see how that translates onto the field during a game.”