Next, watch the first series or two of the first string offense. Generally, this is what everyone wants to see anyway, but there is an underlying plot here. Last season the offense seemed to constantly struggle out of the gate and it lead to early deficits. This seemed to happen quite regularly as Andy Dalton has to keep leading his team to comeback victories. During the mock game played in Cincinnati against their second string defense, they had the same struggles out of the gate. Burfict picked off Dalton early, and their drive halted. On the second series it was not any better as Dalton struggled to complete passes. They finally got into a groove, but the damage was done. Coaches were furious at the slow start their offense showed. Look for Dalton and company to come out strong and try to pick up a nice head of steam for a sustained drive right away.
Third, and this is the one that no one is going to want to hear about…Tim Tebow. Not because Skip Bayless said so, but watch the Bengals defense against Tebow simply because of the running aspect of his game. Cincinnati will be playing several quarterbacks this season that have that same dimension to their game and it will be interesting to see if Cincinnati can stop a running game led by a quarterback. The quarterbacks that the Bengals face this season may not be quite as great as a runner as Tebow with the possible exception of Michael Vick in Philadelphia, but they also face quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, and rookie Robert Griffin III that can all be a threat on the ground.
Finally, and most importantly, watch out for injuries. The best thing that can ever come out of a preseason game is knowing that your team did not sustain any significant injuries. Cross your fingers, turn the lights in the room off and on three times, do whatever your good luck routine happens to be to keep the Bengals healthy throughout the game. After all, there are plenty of players that sustain significant or even season ending injuries during this time of the year. The key to a successful season is making sure your team can get the best possible 53-man roster going into week one. That simply can’t happen if injuries pile up over the course of training camp and the preseason.
During the course of the preseason the things to watch for will change. First team offense and defense become more relevant with more playing time and fans start to get a better feel of what their team will look like in the upcoming season. For now, preseason game one, the things that have been touched upon in this article are the extent of the sub-plots in this football game. Remember, don’t get too caught up in the score, or if the defense looks terrible in the third quarter. This is only a dress rehearsal for the season ahead.