After the annual appetizer of the Hall of Fame Game, the NFL’s preseason kicks off for real Thursday night.
Twelve games are on the docket with both of Ohio’s NFL teams in action.
Cincinnati’s starters probably won’t play much, but it will be the first opportunity for a large audience to see what Bill Lazor has done with the offense and how Teryl Austin has changed the defense.
The Bears have already played a game, losing 17-16 to the Ravens in the Hall of Fame Game.
Even if Andy Dalton and the top skill position players have a short night, there should be plenty of reason to keep an eye on Cincinnati when the Bengals have the ball because the offensive line is still in flux.
While center Billy Price, the team’s first-round pick out of Ohio State, will be making his debut, auditions are continuing at right guard and right tackle. Both the starters and the second unit will have a lot to prove.
It’s the start of another Christmas in August for Browns fans, who are hoping for another undefeated preseason.
So far Cleveland has managed to build far more buzz than might be expected from a team that did not win a game in the previous regular season, but this is their first chance to prove optimism is warranted.
This game will air on NFL Network and is expected to include the debuts of the top two picks in last spring’s draft, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield and New York’s Saquon Barkley.
NFL Network will have the Cowboys and 49ers after the Browns and Giants.
The rest of the slate consists of Panthers-Bills, Steelers-Eagles, Saints-Jaguars, Redskins-Patriots, Rams-Ravens, Titans-Packers, Texans-Chiefs and Colts-Seahawks.
Injured stars expected to make their returns include Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Andrew Luck.
If Thursday night isn’t enough, more football is in store Friday and Saturday.
The NFL Network will have a doubleheader Friday night beginning with the Falcons at the Jets at 7:30. That will be followed by the Lions at Raiders.
On Saturday night, the Vikings play the Broncos at 9 p.m. on NFLN and the Chargers play the Cardinals at 10 p.m.