If Thursday was any indication of how the 2011 season will turn out then we are in for a great one. You know except for the New Orleans Saints. Not only did the Pack look as good as a Thanksgiving feast they sprinted right out of the bat. Aaron Rodgers wasted no time in going up seven on the scoreboard and then the defense forced a turnover and before you knew it the scoreboard was blinking 14:0. The Packers ruled the tempo of the game. The Saints could never keep up. Of course New Orleans played a great second half but Green Bay had already built such a lead that there was nothing Bress and company could do. That’s how the Pack will win games this year.
The Saints are the first team since 2008 to give up 21 points in the 1st quarter of a Week 1 game. The last team to do the not-so-pleasing feat? The 2008 Detroit Lions, who as you may know went 0-16. Will the Saints follow the Lions’ lead? Probably not, but that’s just some food for thought heading into an NFL season that is known for shockers. Something not shocking is that 10 yards is up next!
1. Perhaps the greatest rivalry right now in the NFL gets renewed Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens will play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since Joe Flacco became the starting quarterback as a rookie in 2008, the Ravens have won two of eight games against Pittsburgh- and the Steelers were without QB Ben Roethlisberger both times. Now Big Ben is healthy and in the lineup which should bode well for avid wavers of Terrible Towels.
Expect a Steelers win. But it won’t be easy. These two teams are so evenly matched and hate each other so much that the best will be brought out on Sunday. While Flacco may not be Roethlisberger he does have two great targets in Lee Evans and Anquan Boldin. But perhaps the biggest change in Baltimore is fullback Vonta Leach. While many fans may not know who Leach is, he was arguably the most important player last season. A running back like Arian Foster just doesn’t have the most rushing yards in a season without some special potion. That potion came in the form of blocking machine Leach. And there is no doubt in my mind that Leach will do what he did for Foster for Ray Rice in 2011. It will be close and if you have to watch one game this week make it this one.
2. The dream starts or ends here for the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, the Miami Heat of the NFL start their season at Saint Louis vs. an improved Rams team. For the Dream Team a win means everything. They are under a bigger microscope than an insect in a High School lab. If they lose, lets just say the City of Brotherly Love will not live up to its namesake. But losing isn’t an option for Michael Vick and company. They will face a fierce test against the Rams, though.
I don’t buy into the hype of Philly but I realize their potential. I’m not predicting a Rams win but I won’t be surprised if it happens. Second year quarterback has a sort of swagger to him and is the undisputed leader of this team even when he is surrounded by guys such as Steven Jackson (who is coming off his sixth straight 1,000-yard season -- the NFL's longest active streak) and Mike Sims-Walker. "Confidence level is high," says defensive end Chris Long. That could be said about their opponents as well. But when all is said and done expect Philly to be sleeping easy on their ride back home.
3. Who is Luke McCown? The world is about to find out. Quarterback David Garrard was cut from the Jacksonville Jaguars this week and head coach Jack Del Rio named McCown the starter instead of first round pick Blaine Gabbert. McCown has had seven starts in seven seasons and is more unknown then the meat in a McDonalds burger. Is he good? Is he bad? Who is he? Where do we put him on our list of quarterbacks? All these question will be answered when the Jags take on rivals Tennessee Titans. Picking this game comes down to whether or not I trust McCown.
But this move is not unusual for Del Rio. In 2007 he released Byron Leftwich and made Garrard the starter. The Jaguars went 11-5 that season and made the playoffs. Maybe he does believe McCown is the answer. But I would still have to go with the Titans. McCown will be undoubtedly nervous and will make some mistakes in the biggest game of his life. Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will make the start for the Titans and with Chris Johnson back and Kenny Britt out of trouble (for now) Sunday could be a rough day for McCown and the Jags.
4. The Texans will run all over the Colts. For the first time in his NFL career, Peyton Manning won't be in uniform. For the first time since Dec. 21, 1997 the Colts will be without Peyton Manning. And all hell will broke lose. Veteran Kerry Collins will start in place of the injured Manning but it won’t be the same for Indy. Could Collins salvage a season? Yes but he won’t win Sunday.
The Holy Trinity is in place in Houston and it’s a perfect day for Colts bashing time. For one minute just think. The Colts are the older brother to the younger sibling Texans. For almost fourteen years the Colts have beat up on the Texans. Now the Colts are weakened and the younger brother has found a loophole. For the first time the Texans could finally win this fight. There will be no mercy for a Colts team on life support. Andre Johnson and company will deliver a win to a screaming crowd in Reliant Stadium under the Texas heat and the AFC South will never be the same again.
5. Monday Night Football is back! In a double dose of Monday the Patriots will face the Dolphins at 7 ET and the Raiders will play the Broncos at 10:15 ET. Sadly we get two sleepers. And by sleepers I don’t mean games under the radar. I mean two games that will make you fall asleep. Literally. These games suck. I wouldn’t be watching if I wasn’t a Patriots fan but I am so I will. But seriously who thought of these two games? What would be the best way to make sure no one watches these games?
The Pats will run (and throw) all over the hopeless Dolphins and no one on the East Coast will watch two depressing teams try to salvage a win. At least some games are good this week.
6. Watch this game! Two years ago I would be considered crazier then the Jersey Shore cast to recommend the Lions-Buccaneers. But right now these are two of the youngest teams on the brink of a playoff berth. A little fun history to add to this game: if Tampa Bay had beaten Detroit last December instead of losing by a field goal in overtime, the Bucs would have edged Green Bay for the sixth playoff seed in the NFC and Aaron Rodgers would not have had a Super Bowl win under his belt.
But now Josh Freeman and company are back with a vengeance. They are ready to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. And with a young coach Raheem Morris and playmakers Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount this Bucs team could very well be playing well into January. But the Lions with Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson are also a young team on the verge of playoff glory. Their defense is young and ferocious and includes such playstoppers as Ndamukong Suh, defensive end Kyle Vanden, Cliff Avril and tackle Corey Williams. This will be a battle for the ages. Thank little angel Deion Sanders for this game.
7. The Houston Texans will win the AFC. You could spend all day telling me why the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots or the Baltimore Ravens will run all over the Texans but since I have to go to a high school football game I will keep this short and sweet. Arian Foster. Andre Johnson. Matt Schaub. Mario Williams. Johnathan Joseph. The Best Offense in the NFL. Gary Kubiac. The Sting of Almost Making It. No Peyton Manning. Wade Phillips. Sure, the Texans are always a trendy August pick but this year they will be a trendy February pick!
8. The Atlanta Falcons will win the NFC. I’m ready to do it. I’m ready to put all my marbles on Matt Ryan. Sure, predictions don’t mean squat. But the Falcons have all the pieces in place to finally brake through and go to the Super Bowl. They’re young (see Julio Jones), they’re fast (read Michael Turner), they’re aggressive (see John Abraham), they’re talented (read Roddy White) and they are poised to make a Super Bowl run. The NFC is wide open and it’s anyone’s game. That anyone could be Atlanta.
9. The Super Bowl Champion is the Atlanta Falcons! Not only are they the better team but also they will have home field advantage as the Super Bowl is being played in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. No Colts-loving fan will cheer for their division rival the Houston Texans. Therefore the Falcons will have the crowd on their side and that is a big deal. Just ask the New Orleans Saints. Secondly, the wide receiver power of Jones and White will be two much for the defense to handle. The Falcons also have the option of running it down the Texans throat with Turner. The defense has always been the weak spot for Houston and the Falcons will expose that en route to a Super Bowl title.
10. Welcome to the NFL Randall Cobb! The Packers rookie not only had two touchdowns Thursday night but he also had the second longest kickoff return ever. Ever. This poses two questions. One: How good is Randall Cobb? and Two: Should people stop complaining about the new kickoff rules? I mean I’m no fan of them but Cobb’s return proves that maybe the new rules DO make the game more exciting. Take a look for yourself: