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Storylines Heading into Week Two of the Preseason

NFL

To the average football fan, the preseason is a boring, necessary evil.  The starters play limited minutes.  The play calling is rudimentary.  And, worst of all, it’s a giant tease leading up to the regular season.

Even though the preseason leaves a lot to be desired, this upcoming week offers a few intriguing matchups worth watching.  Will get a glimpse at how new players are acclimating to new systems, and how teams are developing as the regular season approaches  With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the best storylines and matchups heading into week two of the 2013 preseason.

Atlanta travels to Baltimore, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

It’s always an exciting matchup when the defending Super Bowl Champions face one of the most potent offenses in the league.  It’s an even better matchup when that defending Super Bowl Champion lost a number of starters on the defensive side of the ball from last year, and that potent offense added Steven Jackson to the mix.

The combination of Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Matt Ryan make for one of the best vertical passing attacks in the NFL.  No other team can stretch the field like Atlanta.  The starters won’t play that many minutes, but it’ll be interesting to see what new offensive wrinkles head coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have implemented during the offseason.  Also, I’ll be watching the carries of Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers.  At age 30, Jackson may have some gas left in the tank, but Rodgers is a dynamic, scatback with the capabilities to score every time he touches the ball.  The battle in the backfield should be a fun watch.

On the other side, the Ravens are going into their second week of the 2013 preseason not having their emotional leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on the field.  These departures won’t be a major problem, but the losses of Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Cary Williams, will be, unless …

Two under-the-radar signings for the Ravens this offseason have been defensive tackle Chris Canty from the Giants, and, of course, Elvis Dumervil.  As a Giant, Canty was a quality run stuffer and, at some points, could get to the passer.  Dumervil was a stud in Denver, and there’s no reason to think his play will decline in Baltimore.  The combination of Dumervil and Terrell Suggs as pass rushers, and Canty in the middle to stop the run, may be enough to overcome the losses of Kruger, Ellerbe, and Williams.

Chicago hosts the Chargers, Thursday, 8:00 p.m.

Chicago will be this year’s sleeper team in the NFC.  They’ll have a top-ten defense, playmakers in the backfield and at the X and Y receivers, and, if the moves Phil Emery made in the offseason pan out, a formidable offensive line and an improved Jay Cutler.

Emery, by releasing former head coach Lovie Smith after the Bears posted a 10-6 record in 2012, is gambling on Mark Trestman, and his track record for molding quarterbacks into top-passers.  The Bears’ offensive line was in the middle of the pack last season, ranking 16th in league, and allowing 32 total sacks.  The team addressed the offensive line in the offseason by signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson.  Those additions alone should shave at least 10 sacks off their 2012 total.  And if Trestman can live up to his reputation as a quarterback guru, the Cutler-to-Marshall connection may be one of the best in the NFL this year.

The Chargers have been battling injuries since training camp opened. They lost Danario Alexander to a season-ending ACL tear, and Malcom Floyd’s injury — initially thought to be season ending — looks to be a sprained knee.  If Floyd misses an extended amount of time, it’s going to be difficult for Phillip Rivers to rebound from back-to-back subpar years.  On Thursday, keep a close eye on Eddie Royal and Mike Willie.  With the receiver position marred by injury, these two may get increased minutes with the first-team offense against Chicago.

Jacksonville versus the N.Y. Jets, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. 

The Jags-Jets game has the potential of making the full circle.  What’s the full circle you ask?  Well, it’s a principal originally based off of bad action and horror movies.  The theory behind the “full circle” principle is that something is so bad, so disgustingly hard to watch, so inept, that it becomes entertaining.  Like, for instance, this.

If you’re a Jets fan, the preseason is actually meaningful.  There’s a legitimate quarterback competition taking place between incumbent Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith.  But don’t ask Rex Ryan about their progress, he wasn’t watching.  Since most fans aren’t able to attend practices, the preseason is their only platform to see the two quarterbacks battle it out.  Also, after watching the Jets’ first preseason game, there’s a chance their defense may be one of the best in the league this year.  Muhammad Wilkerson is coming out of his shell, and their first-round pick Sheldon Richardson looks to be the real deal.  Additionally, keep an eye on Dee Milliner — he’s got big shoes to fill.  If you enjoy watching football games devoid of offense, or if you recently quit smoking and you’re looking for an excuse to start up again, this game’s for you.

Yes, the preseason is vanilla and often boring.  But if you watch it with a keen eye and look at some of the smaller battles happening within the war, the preseason can be pretty entertaining.  Well, about as entertaining as a preseason game can be.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @OGDelicious