6 Week 1 Matchups We Can't Wait to See in 2012
The 2012 offseason has seen no shortage of dramatic storylines, player-centered media frenzies and continued off field disputes between the players union and NFL owners. With all that has taken place since the New York Giants hoisted their fourth Lombardi Trophy in February, the end of summer can't come soon enough for Week 1 of the regular season to begin in September.
With that being said, here are six Week 1 matchups we can't wait until September to see.
6. Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears
"Should they?" or "Shouldn't they?"
That is the question that will continue to surround Jim Irsay and the Colts for releasing Peyton Manning in the offseason, amidst questions surrounding his recovery from four neck surgeries and a $28 million bonus due in 2012.
With No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck the solidified starter and the heir apparent to Manning, the Colts travel to Soldier Field where a revamped Bears passing attack will be waiting. With Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffrey as potential big-play targets, Jay Cutler will look to put together another conference title run in a very competitive NFC North.
Luck, though, will be the focus of this game considering the media attention he has already garnered for the man(ning) he is replacing. The expectations are not high for the Colts as their owner has already conceded they are rebuilding, but expect every dropback Luck makes to be the subject of a lot of talk.
5. Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints
As Mike Shanahan enters his third year with Washington, there is a sense that the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach is beginning to create a hot seat for himself. After all, the Redskins have finished fourth in the NFC East in each of his two seasons while posting only 11 wins combined.
Between a disconnect with Donovan McNabb in 2010 and a quarterback controversy of mediocrity with Rex Grossman and John Beck, Shanahan looks to start anew with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at the helm.
Before the draft in the April, it was widely debated if Griffin were the better quarterback than Andrew Luck, who went No. 1 to Griffin's No. 2. With the Redskins trading up to get Griffin, Shanahan now has a quarterback he can develop from the ground up who has not only a tremendous presence in the pocket but also gifted speed in the open field if he needs to escape.
His regular season debut will come against a team more eager than any for the football to begin: the New Orleans Saints. After dealing with the Bountygate scandal, the resulting suspensions and the the highly publicized Drew Brees contract dispute, to finally get on the field will be a welcome to the Saints. However, with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire year (as a result of Bountygate), the question of how the Saints will perform this season is one of the more interesting ones in the NFL.
4. Cincinatti Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Coming off a 9-7 season and a Wild Card playoff berth, the Bengals are poised to build upon the success of 2011. In fact, some (ESPN) have picked them to take the lead in AFC North this year, ahead of the Steelers and the Ravens, and win the division.
Although their acquisitions in the offseason were not flashy, they reinforced not only their secondary by signing cornerback Jason Allen and re-signing Adam Jones, but they added BenJarvus Green-Ellis to their lacking backfield from New England.
The predictions of the "sophomore slump" are inevitable for any quarterback who had an outstanding rookie season (see Cam Newton in Carolina), and Andy Dalton is no exception. However, with Green-Ellis as a veteran running back behind him and A.J. Green still his most viable deep threat at wide receiver, Dalton has the supporting cast to have a viable second campaign as the Bengals quarterback.
On the other side, the Ravens, coming off last year's AFC Championship loss to New England, are reeling from the loss of Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, who tore his Achilles in the offseason and is expected to miss most, if not all, of the 2012 season.
Along with losing Suggs, the Ravens also lost their defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, to the Indianapolis Colts, where he has now assumed the head coach duties. Although they've lost more players to free agency than they've signed, the Ravens still have four-year starter Joe Flacco, and they did re-sign rushing workhorse Ray Rice. Not to mention, they still have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense.
What will be curious to see is if the Ravens (sans Suggs) are able to stave off the up-and-coming Bengals and remain in the hunt for the AFC crown and get John Harbaugh to his first Super Bowl and the Ravens' first since 2000.
3. Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
The Bills were not playing around in the offseason, signing defensive end Mario Williams from Houston and re-signing star wideout Stevie Johnson to a long-term deal. Add in a fully recovered Fred Jackson at running back and a quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) coming off a career year in 2011, and you have a Bills team positioned to make some noise in the AFC East and contend with the Patriots.
However, all of the attention, for better or worse, will be surrounding the most sensationalized quarterback controversy in the league as the Jets put Tim Tebow on the Broadway stage—as a backup. Well, at least for now.
Mark Sanchez, entering his fourth year as the Jets starter, has passed for more yards and more touchdowns each season he has been with the Jets, but the team stagnated last year, missing the playoffs after two consecutive AFC title games. Hot seat, shaky ground, insert your cliche—Sanchez is feeling it in 2012.
Imagine getting to direct this game for CBS: Sanchez makes a bad throw. Cut to Tim Tebow on the sidelines. Then to Tebow supporters in the crowd. Finish with Rex Ryan shaking his head.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Nobody wants the 2012 season to start more than Peyton Manning.
After sitting out all of 2011 and watching the Colts not only become the worst team in the league but move on without him after the end of the season, Manning begins anew in a Tebow-less Denver. The rumors of his arm's demise were greatly exaggerated as the four-time MVP showed the same ol' zip in grainy cell phone videos and recently in OTAs.
Pittsburgh's last trip to Denver still carries a bitter taste of Wild Card defeat, as the Steelers look to erase the Tebow overtime strike that ended their season prematurely.
However, in an offseason that has seen locker room leaders Hines Ward and James Farrior released from the team and Todd Haley taking over the offense from Bruce Arians, the Steelers are already being undermined by conjectures about the defense's age, Ben Roethlisberger's resistance to Haley's offense and a contract dispute with Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Who wouldn't love to see Manning and Roethlisberger in a shootout under the lights of Mile High?
1. San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
The 49ers were definitive in their need to add big-play wide receivers to complement Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis. They wasted no time in adding 35-year-old Randy Moss (who hasn't played since 2010) and wideout Mario Manningham from the Giants. They also added Brandon Jacobs to complement Frank Gore in the backfield and drafted LaMichael James out of Oregon. Not to mention, they kept all of the key components of their fourth-ranked defense a year ago.
The Packers threw a party on the NFL in the regular season as Aaron Rodgers racked up more than 4,500 yards and 45 touchdown passes en route to a 15-1 regular-season record for Green Bay. And yet, the Giants ruined the Packers' bid at back to back Super Bowl wins with their 37-20 loss in the playoffs.
In 2012 the Packers are again favored to be a Super Bowl contender, and the 49ers close behind. Their Week 1 showdown at Lambeau could be a preview of the NFC Championship and yet another chapter in the star-crossed NFL journeys of 2005 draft class alumni Rodgers and San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith.