Now that the 2012 NFL regular season is finally here, I can hear fans rejoicing about the end of the meaningless summer months. Labor Day has passed, autumn is quickly approaching and football is back.
In short, games actually mean something.
Predictions have been made, odds have been set and the contenders have been separated from both the pretenders and those franchises with little hope of contention.
Of course, that is only a representation of armchair expertise at its absolute best.
I plan on continuing with that theme when I focus on five NFL favorites who should be worried about losing their initial regular-season game of 2012.
vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
In one of the few games in which the Minnesota Vikings will actually be favored, I have them going down in defeat to Jacksonville.
Minnesota just isn't a good football team. While most experts will draw that conclusion, it is important to point this out relatively early in the slide.
Secondly, Adrian Peterson will not be 100 percent and cannot be relied upon to make a huge impact against a very underrated Jaguars defense.
Finally, Jacksonville might just be a better all-around team.
I honestly cannot see Minnesota being able to line up against the likes of Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson and Marcedes Lewis. They just don't have the personnel to stop those threats on the outside.
Harrison Smith, Chris Cook and Mistral Raymond are going to struggle a great deal in the secondary. It is also important to take into account that Maurice Jones-Drew should be able to go, with Rashad Jennings more than capable to shoulder the load against a weak Minnesota defense.
Again, Minnesota is going to struggle getting anything going against a solid Jaguars defense. Jeremy Mincey and Andre Branch should put consistent pressure on Christian Ponder.
This shouldn't come as a huge surprise, considering we are talking about two teams that promise to struggle through the 2012 season.
I just see Jacksonville being able to do enough to pull off the "upset" on the road.
at Tennessee Titans
The New England Patriots may be the favorite to capture their second consecutive AFC championship, but their season opener is not going to be a walk in the park.
Jake Locker takes over as Tennessee's starting quarterback and suddenly has a ton of skilled position players on offense. Chris Johnson appears ready to rebound from two disappointing seasons.
Meanwhile, Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Kendall Wright comprise a formidable wide-receiver group until Kenny Britt returns from his one-game suspension.
In short, I can envision a scenario where the Titans offense is able to get rolling and outscore Tom Brady and Co.
The key here is going to be Tennessee getting pressure on Brady and stopping the Patriots' air attack. If they are able to limit him to 300 passing yards and just a couple scores, the Titans will be in good shape.
One major key for New England is being able to contain Johnson. If the talented running back puts up monster numbers, it is going to open up the passing game against a lackluster Patriots secondary.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Tennessee pulls off the biggest upset of opening weekend. They will be able to hold New England under 30 points and come away with a narrow victory.
The biggest advantage Tennessee has here is Jared Cook going up against Brandon Spikes and Steve Gregory between the hashes in the passing game. The talented young tight end causes a tremendous number of mismatches. If Locker gets the time to pass, he should be able to exploit that advantage.
Meanwhile, Tennessee will have to find a way to stop Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the best tight-end tandem in the league.
Should be a stellar game.
at Arizona Cardinals
Make no mistake about it, the Seattle Seahawks are going to be in playoff contention this season. That being said, their offense is going to be a work in progress throughout the early part of the year.
You simply cannot put a rookie Round 3 pick behind center and expect him to come out firing on all cylinders. That doesn't happen far too often.
Couple that with the fact that Marshawn Lynch might not play (via Liz Mathews, 710 ESPN Seattle) and you have Russell Wilson in a not-too-envious position heading to Arizona for his regular-season debut.
It is hard to imagine Arizona doing nearly enough on offense to come away with a win. They don't have the ability to protect John Skelton, and they are going to struggle finding any seams in the passing game against one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
The Cardinals will have to force multiple turnovers and get something out of the run game in order to pull off what would be considered a big upset.
Road games against division opponents are far from a guaranteed victory. We saw this when the San Francisco 49ers lost in Arizona late in the 2011 season.
There is a strong possibility that Seattle isn't able to continue its solid preseason performance in the regular-season opener.
I still have to take Pete Carroll and Co. here.
vs. Indianapolis Colts
Normally, a rookie quarterback going up against one of the best defenses on the road in his NFL debut doesn't equate to victory.
Well, Andrew Luck isn't a normal rookie quarterback. He seems to possess all the necessary skills to come out and make a major impact for Indianapolis as a rookie. Luck is wise beyond his years; he reads defensive schemes to a T and is able to go through his progressions with relative ease.
Reggie Wayne and Coby Fleener should cause a great deal of matchup issues for a stout Chicago Bears defense. It will be interesting to see how Chicago handles what promises to be multiple tight-end sets for Indianapolis.
Starting free safety Chris Conte was limited in practice on Wednesday (via Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune) and will be questionable for Sunday. This might leave veteran Craig Steltz with the difficult task of covering Fleener and fellow rookie Dwayne Allen between the hashes.
Obviously, Luck loves to utilize his tight end and is damn accurate delivering the ball there.
As you already know, Indianapolis transitions to the 3-4 defense this season. This leaves Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as their two starting outside linebackers. Talk about a nightmare for what has been a suspect Bears offensive line.
I just don't see that happening.
In what might take the cake as the biggest upset of opening weekend, I have Indianapolis going into Soldier Field and defeating a Bears team with tremendously high expectations coming in.
Luck will be able to use the middle of the field—much like what we saw on a consistent basis at Stanford. While the rookie should face some tremendous pressure, he already possesses elite pocket awareness and does a great job stepping up against the pressure.
Meanwhile, Chicago will see their timing thrown off by what promises to be an unconventional scheme, courtesy of new Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Cutler will have a hell of a time avoiding this pressure and should make a couple untimely mistakes.
Colts take this one.
vs. San Francisco 49ers
The Green Bay Packers have won their last 13 regular-season home games and are 19-1 in their last 20 games at Lambeau Field. This seems to indicate that Green Bay should be heavily favored against San Francisco on Sunday.
That isn't the case.
San Francisco matches up very well with their NFC rival. They possess one of the best front sevens in the entire National Football League and are going up against an offense that lacks any semblance of balance. In short, you can expect Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and NaVorro Bowman to absolutely dominate the trenches.
This takes away a good part of the field for Aaron Rodgers and Co. Instead of being able to utilize the hashes with Jermichael Finley and slot receiver Randall Cobb, Green Bay is going to have to force the issue on the outside against Pro Bowler Carlos Rogers.
Moreover, you can expect a consistent pass rush from Aldon Smith. The 2011 rookie standout will have to be accounted for all afternoon long as San Francisco moves him around on their base defense. Neither Marshall Newhouse nor Bryan Bulaga will be able to handle him one-on-one.
As it relates to San Francisco's offense, it is all going to be about the run game opening up the passing lanes. If Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are able to get early success on the ground, it will allow San Francisco to beat the Packers down the field with Randy Moss, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
Once again, it is all about pass protection. Whichever quarterback gets more time to pass the ball will come away with a victory.
Green Bay pulls off a narrow victory at home against San Francisco in what promises to be a precursor to a playoff matchup between two elite clubs.
It will be a lower score than most people expect, with neither team hitting the 30-point plateau. In the end, home-field advantage wins the day.