10 NFL 1-on-1 Matchups We Can't Wait to See in 2012
As the days tick off the calendar and we head into the middle of the summer, the anticipation for the 2012 NFL season is heating up with the weather.
Personally, I've been looking at the schedule for weeks and highlighting matchups I can't wait to see this fall.
Here is a look at the 10 matchups fans can't wait to see when the regular season finally gets underway.
Week 1: Peyton Manning vs. Troy Polamalu
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
There was no bigger story this offseason than the chase for four-time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning.
He wound up in Denver, and his first test in a Broncos uniform will come in Week 1 against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Even when other players like LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison have stepped up to lead the Steelers, Troy Polamalu has remained the key man at the back of the team's defense. The seven-time Pro Bowler is a ball-hawking presence that no quarterback can overlook.
Manning will have to be keenly aware of where Polamalu is at all times in his first regular-season game in more than a year. The chess match between those two will be fascinating to watch in that early-season matchup.
Week 1: Andrew Luck vs. Brian Urlacher
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The Indianapolis Colts made Andrew Luck the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and all he has to do is replace one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Good luck, kid.
In Week 1, Luck and his new-look Colts will face Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears, a team that has big goals this season. Urlacher and his defense have alternated between phenomenal and disappointing over the years, but in 2012, the Bears are poised to be great again.
Seeing how Urlacher sets his defense up to attack Luck will be fun to watch, since the young signal-caller is said to possess an uncanny ability to diagnose defenses.
He will have to be a quick study against the Bears in his first professional start.
Week 2: Brandon Marshall vs. Cortland Finnegan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Two players who changed addresses this season will line up across from each other in Week 2 of the regular season, and both will be out to prove something.
The Chicago Bears have taken a huge gamble on receiver Brandon Marshall, and the St. Louis Rams gave cornerback Cortland Finnegan a ton of cash to help rebuild their secondary.
The two players have combined to reach four Pro Bowls, and both can take over a game on their own. They are also both known to have tempers, so seeing the two of them go head-to-head should be really fun.
Marshall and Finnegan could battle to a standstill, and it would still make for a great viewing experience.
Week 3: Vincent Jackson vs. Morris Claiborne
Al Bello/Getty Images
Vincent Jackson was one of the biggest free-agent signings of the offseason, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers invested a ton of money in him.
His first big test of the 2012 season will come in Week 3, when he matches up with the new cornerbacks the Dallas Cowboys have assembled.
While Dallas did add Brandon Carr, and he is probably penciled in as the team's No. 1 cornerback, I'm more interested in seeing Jackson line up against rookie Morris Claiborne.
Before the 2012 NFL draft, scouts raved about Claiborne's natural abilities as a corner and his incredible instincts at the position. The Cowboys traded up to No. 6 for the opportunity to select the LSU product, and he has immediately upgraded the team's secondary.
Watching Jackson and Claiborne go at it will give us an idea of where both stand. Jackson may not be a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but if he can abuse Carr and Claiborne, it will go a long way toward answering any questions about his ability.
Meanwhile, if a guy like Claiborne can shut down someone as talented as Jackson, he will prove just how ready he is to step in and make a difference in the NFL immediately.
Week 4, Week 10: Mario Williams vs. Nate Solder
Winslow Townson/Getty Images
With the retirement of long-time left tackle Matt Light, the New England Patriots are now searching for an answer along Tom Brady's blind side.
Luckily, second-year tackle Nate Solder is already on the roster and should be able to step in and take over right away. He will be tested twice in 2012 by one of the offseason's biggest pickups.
Mario Williams legitimized the Buffalo Bills defense the minute he agreed to a $100 million deal with the team. He and Mark Anderson will provide the Bills with a pair of bookend pass-rushers that could dominate the AFC East.
If Solder can keep Brady's jersey clean against a pair of ends like Williams and Anderson, he will show that he can do it against anyone.
Week 6, Week 11: Melvin Ingram vs. Ryan Clady
Al Bello/Getty Images
Melvin Ingram dropped to the San Diego Chargers with the No. 18 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and he is expected to make a huge impact in his rookie season. The young outside linebacker will be counted on to boost San Diego's anemic pass rush.
Two times in 2012, Ingram will have to get after Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and standing in his way will be two-time All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady.
Ingram and the Chargers must get after the quarterback in 2012 if they hope to improve a defense that simply couldn't get off the field last season.
If they can get to Manning, they can beat the Broncos, and if they can do that, they might be able to save head coach Norv Turner's job.
I can't wait to see Ingram turned loose on an NFL field after watching him make plays all over the SEC for South Carolina last year.
Week 9: Michael Vick vs. Drew Brees
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Drew Brees is in the midst of contract negotiations with the New Orleans Saints, but I'm pretty confident he'll be in uniform and under center when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town in Week 9.
While Brees won't be lining up across from Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, the two will certainly be competing against each other.
Brees had one of the best seasons for any player in NFL history last year, and while Vick's 2011 season was a disappointment, he is incredibly explosive. Vick will also have a ton of weapons at his disposal, and that's a scary proposition.
I expect fireworks inside the Superdome in Week 9, as Brees and Vick will almost certainly air it out.
Week 9: Eli Manning vs. Ben Roethlisberger
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the 2004 NFL draft has turned out to be a pretty solid one as far as quarterbacks are concerned.
Manning and Roethlisberger have each won two Super Bowls in their young careers, and in Week 9 of the 2012 NFL season, they will share the field as the New York Giants host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While Manning and Roethlisberger aren't the main reason their teams have been successful, they are key components. Both guys have benefited from having fantastic defenses and outstanding running games on the way to championships.
But you can bet that each one wants to be the first from the 2004 quarterback class to get his third ring.
Week 9 will serve as a bragging-rights contest.
Week 10, Week 13: Tony Romo vs. Michael Vick
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Whenever the Cowboys and Eagles get together, it's an interesting contest, but now both teams have quarterbacks in need of big seasons.
Michael Vick must rebound this year and prove he was worth the big contract he received before last season, and Tony Romo has to find a way to lead Dallas on a deep postseason run.
Both guys have had success during the regular season, but neither has guided a team to the Super Bowl.
They will face each other two times in 2012, and if either guy can lead his team to wins in both games, his team will have a leg up in the always-tough NFC East.
Vick and Romo are undoubtedly talented, but both guys need to find a way to win big in 2012. Watching them go toe-to-toe should be fun.
Week 11, Week 14: Aaron Rodgers vs. Ndamukong Suh
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
It's a bit of an understatement to say Aaron Rodgers had a nice season in 2011.
The NFL's reigning MVP had one of the most statistically impressive performances of all time last year, and there is no indication he will be slowing down any time soon.
But while his Green Bay Packers are built to last, the Detroit Lions don't appear to be far behind.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is one of the most physically impressive and imposing forces in the NFL today. When the Packers and Lions do battle this season, I expect him to be on a mission to put Rodgers on his back.
Suh has gained a reputation as a bit of a dirty player during his brief NFL career, but there is no doubting his talent. If the Packers hope to have another stellar season in 2012, they have to keep the rising Lions in their rear-view mirror.
That means beating Detroit both times the teams play.
Rodgers will likely have Suh in his face for most of both contests. Whichever guy can get the other to flinch will likely see his team come out on top.