After Further Review: What to watch in Week 1
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: September 07, 2012
It’s finally here. The seal was broken Wednesday, but Sunday brings the first full slate of games, to really sate our appetites, after more than seven football-less months. There’s a lot to think about (a healthy majority of it being fantasy-related, and The Football Girl herself Melissa has you covered there), but I wanted to run through each matchup and give you something to keep your eye on. There have been a few headlines to dominate the off- and pre-season as well as some lingering issues from 2011, but each game will offer a compelling storyline (or two).
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears, 1:00pm
Since the dawn of “Suck for Luck”, we’ve all been waiting for this game. How will Andrew Luck perform in the big show? He’s drawn a tough matchup, with a nasty (if aging…hold that thought) Chicago defense, but look for Luck to demonstrate poise and sophistication in his first outing. Receiver Reggie Wayne has taken on a more complete role in the offense and will be vital to Luck’s early success, while fellow Stanford rookie tight end Coby Fleener will be a work in progress through the first few weeks. See also: how will veteran Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher play after multiple offseason surgeries? Between his age and physical ailments, Urlacher will look like he’s out to prove a point.
Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 1:00pm
According to our resident handicapper, the outcome of this game isn’t up for debate; a blowout will surprise no one. A pair of important offensive weapons who spent much of the preseason sidelined with injury will be the focus of this game. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick claims he’s back to 100% and Browns prized rookie running back Trent Richardson has practiced fully this week, but expect to cringe each time one of them takes a hit. One bonus item? How much time Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden spends scrambling or… flat on his back. Looking at that Eagles defensive line, I fear for the rookie.
St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions, 1:00pm
I’m tempted to say we should look for how many laws the Lions break in their season opener, but that’s not constructive. Instead, I’ll opt for a variation of the above: has Ndomukong Suh grown up at all? Who could forget Stompgate 2011, as Suh stomped on Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith during a Thanksgiving Day game? There’s no doubt Suh is a significant talent and has often demonstrated class and intelligence off the field, but he needed to focus on harnessing his on-field rage the past eight months. I’m not certain the Rams’ offense will frustrate him, so his attitude may be more of a season-long item to observe, but it’s worth noting in the first game.
Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans, 1:00pm
All eyes will be on Ryan Tannehill (or his wife) to see how he performs, but the Dolphins have done so little to improve at receiver that I simply can’t see the rookie quarterback finding any success against a stingy Texans defense. After losing superstar defensive end Mario Williams to injury last season and the Buffalo Bills in 2012, I don’t expect Houston to miss a beat with emerging stars like JJ Watt, Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed (provided he’s healthy for the game). And that will be much to the disappointment of Tannehill and beleaguered Dolphins fans alike.
Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs, 1:00pm
Is this the year Matty Ice Ryan leads the Falcons to a postseason victory? Time will tell, and we will not learn definitively during Week 1. I’m going to be watching the Chiefs under new head coach Romeo Crennell. When Crennell stepped in as interim head coach after Todd Haley’s departure, the Chiefs performed well above their previously established capabilities. Just ask Aaron Rodgers. That being said, how has a full offseason with Crennell, as well as the return of quarterback Matt Cassell, affected the team? In theory, they should be better and stronger. The best way to test this theory is to see the team in action against a tough Falcons defense in Week 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00pm
There are two parallel storylines I’ll be following this Sunday. Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson, each team’s respective offensive stalwart, failed to participate fully in offseason workouts. One was hoping for a bump in pay while the other recovered from a major knee injury, but such reasons will matter little once the game gets going. How much playing time either will get remains to be seen (Jones-Drew lost the Week 1 starting job to Rashad Jennings; Peterson will be a game-time decision), but I’m excited to see what develops. Additionally, second year quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder have statements to make. Gabbert had a widely-panned rookie year in Jacksonville, while Ponder performed unremarkably in Minnesota, especially when compared to the 5,000-yard men in his division, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Watch for improvements, if any, as both young QB’s look to begin their second years with a bang.
Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints, 1:00pm
Yes. I’m curious to see what the Redskins bring to the table this season. It will be our first time seeing Robert Griffin III in action, and who knows how many different running backs will carry for Washington? That alone could potentially entertain you for the duration of the game. But this game will be all about the post-bounty scandal Saints. With erstwhile offensive line coach Aaron Kromer filling suspended head coach Sean Payton’s shoes, how will one of 2011’s most explosive offenses respond? Payton has reached elite status, but he’s been fortunate to have quarterback Drew Brees and a wicked arsenal of receivers to pitch in. I’m guessing the Saints offense hardly misses a beat after the coaching change. You’ve seen Brees lead the Marine Corps-based pregame pump up. The guy’s a leader and you can expect him to exercise impressive control over the 2012 Saints offense.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets, 1:00pm
Buffalo spent a lot of time and money developing its defense this offseason, most notably with the bold acquisition of Mario Williams at defensive end. Its first challenge will be an offense with middling-to-poor protection, middling receiving talent and a somewhat decent run game. I desperately want to not endorse Tim Tebow as someone to watch, but I have a feeling Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will be hassled early and often, resulting in the first Tebow chant of the season. Aside from that, Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson has been one of the few to come and go from Revis Island at will; that matchup should be interesting. My instincts tell me Darrelle Revis, the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the league, is tired of hearing that Johnson has his number and will shut him down accordingly.
New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans, 1:00pm
I’m excited to see what kind of defense New England brings to the field Sunday. After an abysmal 2011 season, New England focused heavily on defense in the draft. Tennessee should be a nice early test; enough talent to present a challenge but far from dominant. Will Titans running back Chris Johnson return to 2010 form or fail to impress as he did last season? Second year quarterback Jake Locker will have his hands full; not only is he making his starting debut against Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (4-2 record against first-time starters), he’s doing so without number one receiver Kenny Britt, who is serving a one-game suspension. Look to see if Nate Washington, rookie Kendall Wright or potential breakout tight end Jared Cook pick up the receiving slack for Locker.
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25pm
With all the Matt Flynn hype this offseason, raise your hand if you knew Russell Wilson would be Seattle’s starting quarterback in Week 1. (Put your hand down. No one knew.) Although his position as starter is impressive, it’s by no means a permanent role for the rookie out of Wisconsin, so keep an eye to see how he plays. It may not happen this week, but I expect head coach Pete Carroll to give both Wilson and Flynn opportunities to earn the permanent starting job. I’ll also be watching Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald. If there’s one receiver in the NFL who will make the most of an unfavorable quarterback situation, it’s Fitzgerald. I anticipate quarterback John Skelton to look far better than he should, thanks to the brilliance of Fitzgerald.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers, 4:25pm
Other than the Sunday night game, this is the matchup I’m dying to see. Two of the most compelling stories from 2011, the Niners will look to expand on last season’s surprising successes while the Packers will begin their journey to postseason redemption. A tenacious defense going against one of 2011’s weaker offensive lines could mean that guys like Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith will be in quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ face all afternoon. Rodgers has demonstrated considerable speed out of the pocket throughout his career and will rely on it Sunday; look for Rodgers to be scrambling at least once every drive. Other than its offensive line woes, Green Bay had the worst secondary in the NFL last season and did little to improve it. Look to see if quarterback Alex Smith takes advantage and gets the Niners’ passing game off to some early season success. And, of course, watch receiver Randy Moss. I’ve missed reading his body language on the field and on the sidelines.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25pm
This list has been quarterback-heavy and I apologize, but I will not apologize for asking you to watch Cam Newton. I’d sooner challenge you not to watch him. His playmaking capability as a rookie last year was astounding; there are things he does with his feet and his arm that boggle my mind. Many of his big plays, while spectacular, did have a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants feel to them. I expect this year to see a more controlled use of the weapons around him, especially go-to guy Steve Smith and second year player Brandon LaFell. Also watch Tampa Bay as a whole. Under Raheem Morris last season, you could almost see the wheels coming off the machine. I think we can expect a rejuvenated, recommitted team under new head coach Greg Schiano. Plus, one of these years HAS to be the year quarterback Josh Freeman starts playing to his potential. Right?
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos, 8:20pm
Little known fact: brand new Bronco Peyton Manning will be making his first start since January 8, 2011. I’m sure you haven’t heard much about him in the last 18 months, but he’s back. In seriousness, I’m anxious to see how he plays after four neck surgeries at the age of 36. In preseason, Manning’s arm strength developed before our eyes as his deep ball became more accurate each game. But a few drives in a preseason game differs slightly from four quarters against last year’s number one defense. Will stamina be an issue? Will he take any frightening hits? There’s no doubt Manning will be the star of Sunday’s show, and his job will be easier with Steelers safety Ryan Clark unable to play at Denver’s high altitude due to his sickle cell trait. I’m also watching new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense as a whole. The most explosive offensive drive of Pittsburgh’s preseason came about from a no huddle, Ben Roethlisberger-called series of plays. Could that be the beginning of developing tension between Haley and Roethlisberger?
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens, 7:00pm Monday
The Bengals were a welcome surprise of the 2011 season and the duo of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green is one of the most exciting young combinations in the league. That being said, Cincinnati failed to beat a single playoff team and was eliminated from the playoffs by a TJ Yates-led Texans offense. If there’s one team in the NFL that thrives with a chip on its shoulder, it’s the Baltimore Ravens. After January’s heartbreaking AFC Championship loss (thanks a lot, Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff) I expect Baltimore to be nastier and more committed than ever. Evans and Cundiff are no longer on the roster and quarterback Joe Flacco began to show glimmers of elite play last season. Will this be the year Baltimore’s offense plays to the level of its perennially-vaunted defense? Although thirtysomething veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed continue important leadership roles, the Ravens defense overall is young, fit and hungry. Cincinnati’s in for a long night.
San Diego Chargers at the Oakland Raiders, 10:15pm Monday
The Chargers were an overall disappointment last season. With just 32 sacks, its defense underperformed and put too much pressure on an otherwise adequate secondary, while Philip Rivers struggled in the passing game. But I’m actually curious to see how the running game goes for San Diego. Ryan Mathews broke his collar bone and has been limited in practice, so veterans Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle will make their Chargers debuts on Monday. For Oakland, I want to see how running back Darren McFadden establishes himself early in the season. He was off to a stellar start through seven weeks in 2011 before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. Will a healthy McFadden get off to a good start?
Kim O'Hara is the Assocate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @arahomik
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