For some, last Sunday represented the most wonderful time of the year. When you're a child, that time comes somewhere around mid-to-late December. But as you grow older (and wiser), sports fans, like me, begin to circle the second weekend in September.
Who wouldn't want 17 weeks of presents?
Well, the wait is over and the opening weekend provided its fair share of surprises. From a rookie quarterback snapping the Saints' eight-game home winning streak, to the defending Superbowl champs getting knocked off at home, Week 1 had it all.
Now, we look towards Week 2 and the second "day" of Christmas promises to deliver.
Starting with a classic NFC North rivalry on Thursday night, the Bears and Packers will kick off a weekend of intriguing headlines across the NFL. Other gifts include Harbaugh vs. Schwartz Round 2, and Peyton Manning in primetime Monday night.
Two Week 1 winners, Philadelphia and Baltimore, figure to offer an exciting game at Lincoln Financial Field. Also, some upset victims will be determined to get back on track.
Here are three teams that will bounce back from tough defeats:
New York Giants
The Giants and Cowboys kicked off the 2012 NFL season in the Meadowlands last Thursday, and the NFC East rivalry lived up to expectations. New York came out on the losing end of an impressive performance from Tony Romo, but it wasn't all negative for the G-men. Several key drops plagued an offense that reeled off six consecutive victories during last season's Superbowl run.
New York plays host again this weekend, but this time, the Buccaneers are in town. Tampa Bay won an ugly one at home against the Panthers in Week 1, but the Giants have won the previous three matchups between the two teams.
Look for Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson to pound the ball early, after the 'Bucs did a good job containing Cam Newton last Sunday. Also, expect another solid fourth quarter from clutch quarterback Eli Manning.
The Buccaneers aren't going to roll over for the defending champs in New York, but I don't think they have the experience or the talent to compete with the Giants for four quarters.
New Orleans Saints
After the controversial offseason in New Orleans, many expected the Saints to make quick work of the Redskins and their rookie quarterback behind an electric home crowd. Drew Brees and Co. went 8-0 at the Superdome in 2011, but the streak came to a grinding halt in Week 1 thanks to an impressive rookie quarterback from Washington.
Now, the Saints hope to get back to their winning ways on the road. The league's best offense from a season ago posted decent numbers overall, but struggled to control the football against the Redskins who held possession for nearly 40 minutes.
A balanced attack from New Orleans will be critical in Week 2 when they head into Carolina to take on another young superstar in Cam Newton.
Don't be surprised if Newton puts up RGIII-like numbers on the depleted Saints defense. However, Drew Brees should have no problem moving the ball against the NFL's 28th ranked defense from 2011.
This Week 2 matchup could come down to special teams and turnovers, but my guess is that New Orleans will score enough points to make the Panthers one-dimensional on offense. Taking one of the game's best rushing attacks away will put a lot of weight on second-year quarterback Cam Newton, and I don't see Drew Brees coming up short again.
Green Bay Packers
Well, the Packers have already matched their loss total from all of last year, and for a team with Superbowl aspirations, it wasn't very pretty. A disappointing home loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday told us two things: that Jim Harbaugh's team is for real, and that the Packers still don't have a championship-caliber defense.
Their Week 2 matchup with the Bears will be another tough challenge for the only publicly owned franchise in the NFL. Chicago looked dominant in their Week 1 win over the Colts, but it is tough to imagine Mike McCarthy's squad starting 0-2 one season after flirting with perfection.
The key for the Pack, at least on offense, will be their running game.
Last season's MVP led Green Bay in rushing against the 49ers last week, but the only problem is he plays quarterback. Look for Aaron Rodgers to hand the ball off early against the Bears in an effort to set up the play-action pass later in the game. And though Rodgers may be without his top target Greg Jennings in Week 2, he has plenty of offensive weapons to pick up the slack.
Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall will likely add to their strong performance in Week 1 against a weak Packers secondary, but the Bears don't want to get into a shootout with the NFL's best QB. Look for Rodgers to make a statement against a solid Chicago defense at Lambeau and for the Pack to even their record this Sunday.
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