After a moderately entertaining opening game this past Wednesday that saw the Dallas Cowboys’ off-season additions [read: revamped secondary] pay early dividends, today we’re in for an all-out football bonanza. Several good games will be played in week 1.
The early games this Sunday aren’t quite as high-profile as those that follow but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of to watch for.
Jacksonville at Minnesota: Blaine Gabbert vs Christian Ponder. Two first round quarterbacks from last season face off with both fan bases expecting improvement from last year but to say this game will prove which one is the better player is premature. Keep an eye on the status of Adrian Peterson. If he’s inactive and you own Toby Gerhart be sure to get him in. If I owned Adrian Peterson I wouldn’t play him this week unless I had to. I would also sit MJD this week and wouldn’t play Rashad Jennings unless I had to (Rashad over MJD though if that’s the decision you’re faced with). Rashad is apparently starting and MJD is getting third down duty but if MJD busts off a 25 yard run on his first carry it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll get more work than they initially planned. Murky backfields = avoid if possible. Update: 11:33 A.M. — Adrian is active. To me, this makes both he and Toby less useful and I’d avoid if I could.
Indianapolis at Chicago: Andrew Luck’s NFL debut. The prized rookie has looked as advertised– that being the most pro-ready quarterback to possibly ever come out of college. I watched this kid at Stanford every chance I got and was always impressed but didn’t think he’d look as good as he has so far. I swear– something about putting on an NFL uniform all of a sudden makes a quarterback’s arm look a lot better… Also in this game, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler are reunited in a Bears offense run by Professor Mike Tice. Look for the Bears offense to look a lot better now that they have an offensive coordinator that’s not trying to party like it’s 2001 and run the greatest show on turf with Devin Hester, Earl Bennet and 5-man protections with an offensive line not anchored by Orlando Pace.
Philly at Cleveland: Can Michael Vick play more than 3 snaps? Will Brandon Weeden be able to complete a pass 10+ yards down field? The answer to both questions is yes. I’m excited to see how Trent Richardson looks in an NFL uniform. He’s another guy I watched in college whenever I could and he always looked dominant but everyone running behind an Alabama offensive line looks pretty good these days. Is he the best running back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson? We’ll start to get an idea today.
St. Louis at Detroit: Ram Bradford and his new head coach, Jeff Fischer take on former Fischer understudy and Lion’s head coach, Jim Schwartz. Most people are already giving this game to the Lions and I agree that the Lions will win but I think the Rams could make this closer than peope think. Louis Delmas and Chris Houston most likely won’t be playing. This makes an already awful Detroit secondary even worse and could certainly lead to a nice day throwing the ball for Ram Bradford. I think Danny Amendola could have a very nice game.
Miami at Houston: This game is one of the least appealing on paper this opening week. The Texans should be able to treat these Dolphins like a Japanese whaling ship would. This undoubtedly means we’re in for a really close game that the Dolphins will have a chance in. This is the National Fake-you-out League.
Atlanta at Kansas City: Among the early games, this one stands out as the one with the most potential to be a close one. Then you remember that Tamba Hali is suspended to start the season and Brandon Flowers (arguably as good as Revis– he just doesn’t play in New York so no one gives a crap about him…) is apparently already banged up and it makes me think the Falcons shouldn’t be overly challenged. Nevertheless, Arrowhead is an extremely difficult place to go get a win as the 15-1 regular season of the 2011 Green Bay Packers will attest to. Update 11:33 A.M.– Brandon Flowers is inactive. Julio and Roddy should be going nuts today.
Washington at New Orleans: Bob Griffin III makes his highly anticipated pro debut against the New Orleans Saints. Let’s hope the Saints don’t high-low him the first chance they get and that they let this kid try to have a semblance of a career. I would love it if the Redskins won this game.
Buffalo at New York Jets: The new look Bills defensive front gets it’s first real action against the Jets. The return to health of Fred Jackson? Mario Wiliams’ Buffalo debut? Stevie Johnson (if he plays) vs Darrelle Revis? Ryan Fitzpatrick with healthy ribs? None of these real story-lines will probably get any play and all the coverage for this game will be about Tim Tebow and the amount he plays or does not play. Let’s hope it’s pretty uneventful on the Tebow front just so we’ll be able to get media coverage of other games that happened this week too…
New England at Tennessee: Jake Locker’s first NFL start vs a New England defense that was pretty awful last year but can’t possibly be any worse this year. I like Locker and I’m actually starting him in one league this week where I got too cute at the quarterback spot (5 people took backup QBs on the way back in the end of round 6/beginning of round 7… I KNOW, RIGHT?!?) Locker will leave some throws on the field but he’ll also make plenty of plays that Matt Hasselbeck just can’t anymore and he’s capable of having a nice game running the ball any given week.
Brandon Lloyd makes his debut for the Patriots as well. He apparently had a pretty good rapport with Brady throughout training camp which has a lot of people thinking he’s in for a Randy Moss type splash in New England this year. I don’t know that he’ll set a record for the most receiving touchdowns in a season but I do love his talent. That being said, I only got him in one league and that was because he fell to round 6 somehow.
Late Afternoon Games
Seattle at Arizona: Two of the best-schemed defenses in the NFL face off in Arizona along with two quarterbacks looking to answer some questions. John Skelton beat out Kevin Kolb and will look to stay on the field and prove capable of feeding Larry Fitzgerald. Russell Wilson showed enough in the preseason to earn the trust of Pete Carroll and his teammates. I loved what I saw from Wilson and I drafted him as my backup in two leagues. I could easily see myself starting him over Locker the rest of the way if he passes his test this week. No more bland preseason base defenses– this is Pittsburgh West’s 3-4 Dick LeBeau zone blitz impression. I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT, RUSSELL!! I’m also excited to see Ryan Williams get a good workload if Beanie Wells remembers he’s Beanie Wells and sits out because he’s hurt.
San Francisco at Green Bay: Everyone is calling this a potential NFC Championship Game preview. I disagree with that take. Green Bay will be around come playoff time but I think the 49ers are getting way too much respect to start this season. They had a ridiculously easy schedule last year that not only featured bad teams with bad quarterbacks, but often times, the even worse backup quarterbacks on those bad teams because the already bad quarterback was out with an injury. That last sentence was quite a bit to handle.
Even though Aaron Rodgers claims to be cordial with Alex Smith, you know he still takes this game personally and will see to it that the 49ers are not just humiliated but obliterated. I would absolutely love to see Alex Smith down by 21 in the first half and have to throw pretty much the whole rest of the game.
Carolina at Tampa Bay: This is going to be a fun one. I’m excited to see how the new look Bucs offense looks– specifically Doug Martin. On the other team there’s this guy named Cam Newton who happens to be pretty fun to watch. As tempting as the Green Bay-San Fran game will be when it’s close, I’m pretty sure most of my time for the later games will be on the NFL RedZone Channel.
The real viewing fun for this one, however, might be on the defensive side of the ball. This game features the league’s best rookie LB for Carolina in Luke Kuechly and the best rookie safety for Tampa in Mark Barron– both of whom made some very nice plays in the preseason. Those two guys will be household names in a short amount of time.
Pittsburgh at Denver: I’m definitely looking forward to this game. Peyton Manning makes his glorious return to the NFL against the vaunted Pittsburgh defense. I’d be even more excited if James Harrison were healthy but he’s not going to be playing and that’s good news for Peyton’s neck/Broncos fans. This defense isn’t the same without him. Combine that with the fact that Ryan Clark doesn’t play at Mile High because of a sickle cell trait and you’ve got a defense that’s not at full strength. Ryan Clark may not seem like a huge loss, but he’s the one who reacts appropriately to all the crazy pre-snap stuff that Troy Polamalu does and prevents the secondary from getting overexposed.
Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are certainly startable this week, as are Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. If you have a better option, I’d try to bench Willis McGahee but don’t get cute as he could easily score a TD or two– just don’t expect a huge day yardage-wise.
Cincinatti at Baltimore: AJ Green and Andy Dalton enter year two in the NFL and look to build upon a damn good rookie campaign. BenJarvus Green-Ellis hopes to show he can be an every down back. Joe Flacco looks to build on a season that should have ended at the SuperBowl if Lee Evans could hang on to a ball. Torrey Smith looks to prove that he is more than a deep bomb guy and Ray Rice is looking to prove he’s the best runner in the NFL right now.
The thing I’ll be watching closest is how father time has treated Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. One of my favorite sayings in recent years is “Gravity is undefeated.” Last year, Ray Lewis proved to still be a quality NFL linebacker despite beginning to decline in coverage and Ed Reed was still Ed Reed. They’re another year older and top of that, they’re missing the best pass rusher on their team in 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs. I still think this Ravens defense will be good but not the same dominant group we’re used to seeing.
San Diego at Oakland: San Diego has an awful offensive line and no Vincent Jackson or Ryan Mathews. They do, however, have a healthy Antonio Gates (we’ve heard that before…). The Raiders have a healthy Darren McFadden. I have no idea what to expect from this game and that, to me, is the appeal of it. If Richard Seymour is in Philip Rivers’ face every play this is going to be a long game for the Chargers. If Malcolm Floyd and Robert Meachem are making plays down-field and Gates is cleaning up in the middle, it could be a long day for the Raiders and their weak secondary. The only thing I’m not excited about is Chris Berman in the booth for Monday Night Football. I wish he’d go “back, back, back, back, back” to Bristol where he belongs but it’s only one week and I’ll deal.
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