Week 1 NFL Preview: A Feast For The Hungry Fan
Welcome to the opening NFL banquet dinner. Our taste buds have been tingling, our mouths salivating since the Giants won Superbowl XLVI. Starve no more, my friends. Football is back. What’s on the menu you ask? To start, I will serve up the players to watch a la carte, followed by the best games of the week with all the fixings, and will wash it down with news and notes from around the league. After this hearty meal you will not only want actual food, but will be prepared for this gloriously delicious (but probably not nutritious) weekend of action.
Appetizer: Players to Watch
Andrew Luck, QB (Indianapolis Colts):
Starting off against the always-feisty Chicago defense is no walk in the park. Luck also happens to have a pretty weak offensive line. They will make it hard to consistently run the ball and the pocket will collapse faster. However, watching Andrew in the preseason, I really like the way he’s stepping up in the pocket when the pressure comes from the sides, and rolling out when the pressure comes from the middle. He’ll have to make all the right decisions for the Colts to have a chance against this talented Bears team. No pressure or anything…
Calvin Johnson, WR (Detroit Lions):
This one may not be a surprise to anyone, but there is no one like him in the league. “Megatron” puts on a display of athleticism that is so palpable, so effervescent that it makes my jaw drop every time he plays. The Lions have one year of extremely respectable
football under their belts, and Calvin Johnson has been a catalyst for their success. How many times was Stafford in trouble last year, chucked up a ball to the corner of the endzone, and Johnson bailed him out with a circus catch or strong positioning and awareness? Corners prepare for him, but it seems no person in this league has the skill set to stop him.
Tim Tebow, QB (?) (New York Jets):
Yeah, I went there. The Tim Tebow study is something I should (and probably will) write an entire article about. As it pertains to Week 1, what does Rex Ryan have concocted for Tebow? With the Jets being one of the more publicized teams in the league, it’s no news flash they have only scored an offensive touchdown once in the preseason. While I don’t hold many teams to preseason performance (in 2008, the 0-16 Lions won all 4 preseason games), one has to wonder: what exactly does this mean? The Jets never showed their “wildcat” package this preseason, but can that set propel a stagnant offense? Is there a chance the wildcat is so amazingly effective that it opens the door for Sanchez to make plays? Personally I have my doubts but Jets fans better hope so or it’s going to be a long season.
Mario Williams, DE (Buffalo Bills):
With all the talk about this wildcat package the Jets are rolling out Week 1, there is something else to consider. Their offensive line had quite the horrendous preseason, giving up 11 sacks against the Panthers and Giants (last games starters played in). Mario Williams is coming off a major 2011 injury. He’s looked solid this preseason and recorded two sacks against the Steelers on August 26th. This Bills front seven is a quality collection of playmakers. I anticipate the Bills to hunt them some Sanchez effectively and rack up at least 5 sacks. Mario Williams has an amazing combination of speed and strength; Sanchez will always have him in the back of his mind.
Russell Wilson, QB (Seattle Seahawks):
I can’t help but draw comparisons to Jeremy Lin; I know it’s early. He hasn’t played a single regular season game. However, there is this undeniable, underlining desire for him to do well. He was supposed to be a back up at best, too short for the league, or a quarterback who benefitted from a run-happy offense at Wisconsin. This was Matt Flynn’s team, right? Enter Russell. His first outing people took as potential beginners luck. But he consistently produced this preseason, and is now the starter. We’ll see what he can do against an Arizona pass defense that ranked 17th last year. But seriously, how awesome would it be to have a Jeremy Lin of the NFL? They could call it Wilsanity. I can do better… come back to me later.
Main Course: Games to Watch
San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 4:25 PM EST):
In football, there are few things greater than watching a powerhouse offense face the stingiest defense in the league. This game could very easily be a preview of the NFC Championship game. Both teams come into this year with high expectations. Aaron Rodgers has become the master chef of this 5-star offense, cooking up everything flawlessly. He has the amazing ability to read defenses, audible at the line, and make immaculate strikes to a variety of weapons. The San Francisco 49ers have two linebackers in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman that are practically impossible to tell apart. They both have an uncanny nose for the football, and will be involved in most plays one way or another. The classic saying of “defense wins championships” will be put to the test in this matchup. This game will also offer insight into how bad the Packers defense is, which put up the worst numbers in NFL history last year. Can a mediocre 49ers offense do enough to win?
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens (Monday, 7:00 PM EST):
Kicking off Monday Night Football this year are the Bengals and Ravens, an AFC North match up of playoff teams from last year. One has to wonder what Andy Dalton’s sophomore season will look like. He was never the focal point of this offense, but he seems to have the tools to get it done. He is a prototypical NFL quarterback with solid vision and touch. He doesn’t try to do too much very often, which makes him a safe QB; I’m just not sold on him being a Superbowl winning quarterback. Unless he winds up in a Trent Dilfer-ish situation where he has an amazing defense and running game. The Ravens are an interesting mix of young talent on offense and old talent on defense. There are two major questions surrounding Baltimore’s season. Is Joe Flacco going to become the player people thought they saw or fade into irrelevance? On the other side of the ball, when is this defense that feels like it’s been the same for 7 years going to crack? First, Flacco could lead this team far just by game managing and making occasional plays. The running game is good, and the defense has been unforgiving (in the past). Second, this defense is without a key playmaker, Terrell Suggs, who injured his Achilles while “getting ready for a conditioning test”. I don’t know what’s worse, that lie (a ton of people saw the injury occur at a basketball tournament) or what lies ahead for an aged Ravens defense. Without Suggs we could see this unit show signs of weakness.
Atlanta Falcons @ Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 1:00PM EST):
Having personally gone to school at the University of Kansas and having been to Arrowhead for a game, I was shocked at the atmosphere. As far as professional games go I don’t know that I’ve been in a louder place, and this was when the Chiefs were terrible. Not that they’ve become an amazing team or anything (7-9 last year), but the air in Kansas City is different. Jamaal Charles overshot his mark last year, and I think they’ve realized he’s better (and healthier) when he’s not a 30 carry-a-game workhorse back. They’ve added Peyton Hillis to help out, which gives them a thunder and lightning combo. The defense is young, athletic, and hungry. Eric Berry is quickly becoming one of the best safeties in the game; Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson also have the ability to make plays in the box. One big question looms in KC, what kind of impact can Matt Cassel make? The Atlanta Falcons are a proven solid team, and I don’t think anyone expects things to change for Matty Ice and crew. Jacquizz Rodgers provides some spunk out of the backfield to compliment the bruising Turner, and I expect big things out of Julio Jones this year. He has all the tools of a top receiver and I expect him and Roddy White to finish the season with similar stats. The one-two punch of White and Jones is formidable to say the least. The Falcons have seemed one step, one play, or one call away from making it their year. Is this that year?
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos (Sunday 8:20 PM EST):
Surprising, I know… I’m high on Manning’s Broncos. The talk about Peyton before kickoff will probably be nauseatingly voluminous, but you can’t deny the juiciness. This is one of those scenarios where I will claim I’m tired of the Peyton talk, but secretly, I’m all giddy about it. How sharp will Peyton be? Can he take a hit? Did the preseason interceptions mean anything? Has he worked out things with his receivers? Has he finally hit the point where he’s made so many commercials that his football
career is secondary to acting? I NEED TO KNOW! Pittsburgh has had some preseason drama with the holdout of Mike Wallace. Word from Steelers camp is that he’s learning the new offense quickly, and plans to play Week 1. Let’s get real here; his bread and butter routes are the fly or deep post. The man has blazing speed, and this isn’t his first go-round with Big Ben. I don’t see the time off being that limiting, if at all. I’m also sure this stout defense is chomping at the bit to make Manning look flappable. I’m not sure I’ve talked enough about Peyton… Looking at him in another jersey still freaks me out, is anyone else still struggling with this? O.K. I’m done.
Dessert: Last Minute News and Notes from Around the League
Pretend it’s an all you can eat cookie buffet, take what you want:
- The Miami Dolphins released David Gerrard (QB). This developed too late for Hard Knocks to cover fully, but it was clear that they did not want to let Pat Devlin go.
- Ryan Clark (CB, Pittsburgh) will not play in Denver on Sunday due to the high altitude. Clark is a carrier of the sickle-cell trait, which may affect red blood cells. In 2007, Clark played in Denver and felt pain in his left side. He later lost his gall bladder and spleen (true story), so this is definitely the right call.
- Adrian Peterson (RB, Minnesota) will be a game day decision. It seems like a Vikings team in transition is in no rush to bring him back before he’s healthy. He has participated in contact practices this week, and I believe he’ll see game time, just in a limited capacity.
- Joe Haden (CB, Cleveland) failed a drug test and is facing a possible four game suspension by the league. It’s unlikely they’ll hold him out this week, rather next week. Haden has appealed the suspension.
- Marshawn Lynch (RB, Seattle) has been suffering back spasms and his status for Sunday’s game against Arizona is unknown. Lynch played in 15 games last season, missing one with the same ailment. He’s been out for a few weeks now, and you never know with this kind of injury.
- Owner Art Modell passed away at age 87. He was responsible for moving his team from Cleveland to Baltimore (a much scrutinized move). He forever impacted the modern game, especially with his push to connect television and the NFL. Art died of natural causes and may find his way into the Hall of Fame.
- Tony Romo and the Cowboys seem legitimate this year after taking it to a shockingly porous Giants team Wednesday night. I found the replacement referees to be suspect in their hold calls, but overall were not solely responsible for the outcome. The Giants defense and secondary just didn’t show up. As a Giants fan it pains to me to say, Tony Romo delivered and finished (something he’s had serious issues with) in this game.