Exhibition NFL games will never carry the same significance as the real ones that begin in early September. Even so, Wednesday’s announcement of the league's 2012 preseason schedule (exact dates have not been set for all games) still gives fans something to get excited about. Those contests will provide the first look at star veterans taking the field in different uniforms, such as longtime Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning wearing orange and blue in Denver. Highly touted rookies such as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III also will be making their NFL debuts, as will six new head coaches. Alex Marvez takes a look at 10 of the most intriguing preseason games of 2012:
San Francisco vs. Oakland
Sadly, this annual crosstown game won’t be played in 2012 because of what transpired during last year’s matchup at Candlestick Park. Fan violence resulted in 70 ejections, 80 calls for medical attention and two parking-lot shootings, even though the stadium was less than 70 percent full. The Raiders and 49ers had met in the preseason for 11 straight years and 39 times overall since 1967.
New Orleans vs. Arizona in Canton, Ohio (Hall of Fame Game: Aug. 5)
The first preseason game always generates the most excitement from football-starved fans, but this Saints-Cardinals matchup will draw headlines for another reason. It’s the Saints' first game since the bounty scandal that rocked the franchise and led to the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton. At this point, Payton’s replacement is unknown (pending the outcome of his appeal), although Bill Parcells and assistant head coach Joe Vitt are two strong candidates. Last year’s Hall of Fame game was canceled because of labor strife between the league and NFL Players Association.
Denver at Chicago (Week 1: Aug. 9-13)
Peyton Manning’s first Broncos game will come against a team quarterbacked by one of his predecessors — the Bears' Jay Cutler. This also marks the Chicago premiere of former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was one of Cutler’s favorite targets in Denver from 2007-08. Conversely, this game could mark the beginning of Brian Urlacher’s final season with the Bears. The star linebacker will be 34 in the final year of his contract.
Tennessee at Seattle (Week 1: Aug. 9-13)
Although teams dislike having to travel long distances for preseason games, Titans quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker won’t complain. A Seahawks starter for a decade (2001-10), Hasselbeck will get his first opportunity to play in Seattle since joining the Titans as a free agent in 2011. An inspired effort will help Hasselbeck in his quest to keep his starting job ahead of Locker, a University of Washington standout before being chosen by Tennessee with the No. 8 overall pick in 2011. For Seattle, free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn will make his Seahawks debut as he jostles with Tarvaris Jackson to start at quarterback.
New York Giants at New York Jets (Week 2: Aug. 16-20)
This is a dream for New York’s tabloids. Not only did the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI victory add more fuel to an already heated crosstown rivalry, quarterback Tim Tebow will make his home debut for the Jets.
Detroit at Baltimore (Week 2: Aug. 17 on FOX)
San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh and Detroit’s Jim Schwartz nearly came to blows during the 2011 regular season during the customary postgame handshake between head coaches. Harbaugh’s more mild-tempered brother and Baltimore head coach, John, now gets a shot at Schwartz’s Lions in what could be a precursor to a Super Bowl XLVII matchup.
Dallas at San Diego (Week 2: Aug. 16-20)
Call this the Disappointment Bowl, as both teams failed to fulfill the Super Bowl hype that surrounded them in the previous decade. Expect the Cowboys to keep an eye peeled on San Diego’s backups for potential acquisitions after final roster cuts. Dallas was able to get an up-close look last preseason at wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who later was released by the Chargers and signed by the Cowboys — and then caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Indianapolis at Washington (Week 3: Aug. 23-26)
This game should showcase the two top selections in April’s draft — quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Luck will be playing for Indianapolis, barring an unexpected change-of-heart by the Colts with the No. 1 overall pick. Both rookies will also get extensive playing time in a Week 3 preseason setting that has traditionally served as NFL teams' dress rehearsals for the regular season.
Atlanta at Miami (Week 3: Aug. 23-26)
The Falcons will be trying to put the finishing touches on the offensive and defensive systems being implemented by new coordinators Dirk Koetter (offense) and Mike Nolan (defense). For the Dolphins, Matt Moore and David Garrard could be making their final bids to start at quarterback if Miami is still undecided at this point of the preseason.
Minnesota at Houston (Week 4: Aug. 29 or Aug. 30)
If he hasn’t returned already, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will have this final preseason opportunity to retake the field before Minnesota’s regular-season opener. Peterson suffered a serious knee injury in December against Washington but is targeting a Week 1 return.