This weekend’s must-watch games in the first week of the NFL preseason

Training camps are wrapping up and the league’s 30 NFL teams are set to make their preseason debut this weekend. There are 16 games from Thursday to Sunday night and these are the games to keep an eye on.

The Raiders and Jags started the preseason in Canton

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders kicked off the preseason last Thursday, but that was just a taste of what’s to come over the next three weeks.

The key games entering Week 1 of the preseason, as always, center around quarterbacks and teams with open competition for the starting job. The upcoming rookie class will have its time to shine as we get our first look at the upcoming draft class. There are also some big names in new spots, but many of the stars we see on Sundays during the regular season will get little to no time this weekend.

New York Giants @ New England Patriots, Thursday at 7:00 PM ET

The Patriots will host the Giants in the first official Week 1 preseason game. New England is coming off a surprising season in which their rookie Mack Jones led them to the playoffs. Don’t expect the sophomore to see too many snaps early in the preseason. We will, however, get our first look at rookie Cole Strange, who the Pats drafted to protect Jones when he moves back into the pocket.

The Giants have been consistently underwhelming since the arrivals of Saquan Barkley and Daniel Jones. Barkley needs reps after missing much of the past two seasons due to injury, but how much of a risk do the Giants want to take on him in the preseason? Patience is running out with Daniel Jones and New York is rumored to be making a trade to add some competition at the QB position.

Cleveland Browns @ Jacksonville Jaguars, Friday at 7:00 PM ET

The Browns were the story of the offseason, and for reasons they’d like to avoid. Their quarterback situation is a mess right now, with the length of Deshaun Watson’s suspension still undecided. Watson will be able to play in the preseason, but the focus will be on getting fellow QBs Jabcoby Brissett, Joshua Dobbs and Josh Rosen ready for Week 1 of the regular season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars already have a game on their backs this preseason, and needless to say, they have failed to impress. Their rookie pass rusher was pretty much the only one to impress as the Raiders’ perennially troubled QBs early on. Trevor Lawrence did not play, nor did Travis Etienne, who missed his debut season with a foot injury. Both should get minutes, but not much.

Packers Packers @ San Francisco 49ers Friday at 8:30pm ET

This is a rematch of the NFC divisional round playoff game played in heavy snow at Lambeau last year. The Packers’ special teams blew up the game late in the fourth quarter and have no doubt spent the entire season trying to fix their issues in that aspect of the game after bringing in Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia to tighten things up on special teams. Aaron Rodgers is a back-to-back MVP winner and the highest-paid player in the league, so don’t expect to see him in this game. However, Jordan Love should get a good portion of snaps in the first half. Unfortunately for the former Utah State QB, the preseason is pretty much the only time he’s had to shine since being drafted.

Kyle Shannahan and the San Francisco 49ers appear ready to hand over the car keys to Trey Lance. Jimmy Garapolo is still on the books, though both sides are looking for an exit for the QB who led San Fran to the Super Bowl three years ago. No doubt the look of the offense will change as offensive genius Shannahan shapes the playbook to his new QB1’s liking. Don’t expect to see either of these two much in the Niners’ first preseason game. We should see a decent chunk of San Fran’s second-round pick, linebacker Drake Jackson, and third-round pick Tyrion Davis-Price.

Washington Commanders vs. Carolina Panthers, Saturday at 1:00 PM ET

Ron Rivera’s team flirted with the playoffs last year and now has a revamped look on the offensive side of the ball with quarterback Carson Wentz hopping on board in the nation’s capital. Taylor Heinicke won’t make it easy for Wentz to step right into a starting role. Rookie wide receiver Johan Dotson will get a chance to showcase his skills in hopes of making an immediate impact.

Over the past few years, Carolina has been desperately trying to solve their struggles at the quarterback position. They brought in Sam Darnold last offseason and traded Baker Mayfield this year. Darnold failed to shine in his first year in Carolina and will have to fend off the favorite for the QB1 spot in Mayfield. Rookie offensive tackle Ikki Ekwonu should get some time to protect both QBs, and the Panthers’ No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft Matt Corral could make the QB competition interesting if he has a good preseason.

Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday at 7:00 PM ET

Two teams starting new chapters face off after both sides lost their franchise quarterbacks in the offseason. The Seattle Seahawks sent Russell Wilson to the Mile High City after 10 years in the Pacific Northwest. Now it’s time for Drew Lock and Geno Smith to show what they’ve got. Both should share snaps, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pete Carroll trades them possession-to-possession, at least in the first half.

The Steelers are in a similar position after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger this offseason. Pittsburgh knew they would have to replace him and brought a local guy into the project. Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky will battle it out in what should be one of the QB races of the preseason.