The 2013-14 NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, instantly sparking commotion over hundreds of storylines.
The defending champion Baltimore Ravens—minus a few key starters from 2012—kick off the season against Peyton Manning, his new toy Wes Welker and the Denver Broncos. Something tells me Broncos safety Rahim Moore won't be giving up any deep balls after what happened to him in the divisional round of the playoffs last season.
But that's not all. There are plenty of exciting matchups in Week 1 of the 2013-14 season. Here are my favorite matchups on paper, complete with predictions and broadcast information.
*The complete 2013-14 NFL schedule can be found on NFL.com
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
When: Thursday, Sept. 5 at 8:30 p.m. ET
I like the Broncos in this game. You look at the playoff loss last season and if safety Rahim Moore doesn't make a terrible lapse in judgment, the Broncos win that game.
In addition, the Ravens—while picking up former Broncos outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil—lost inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, outside linebacker Paul Kruger and starting safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard to free agency. Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis also retired.
Yes, Baltimore did pick up former Oakland Raiders Michael Huff and Rolando McClain, as well as former New York Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty, but I don't think that's going to be enough to make up for the losses.
Plus, the addition of former New England Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker is huge for Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The Broncos also made a nice move by signing former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
The Broncos avenge their loss in the playoffs to start the 2013-14 campaign.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
When: Sunday, Sept. 8 at 1 p.m. ET
During the offseason, Atlanta replaced John Abraham with former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, signed former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, re-signed safety William Moore and welcomed back star tight end Tony Gonzalez for another year.
But there are some serious concerns for the Falcons up to this point, in my mind. While the addition of Jackson will surely help the offense, it's the defense that worries me. The Falcons lost both of their starting cornerbacks in the offseason—Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson—and Umenyiora wasn't nearly as effective last season as he had been in the past.
On the flip side, the Saints made some underrated signings on the defensive side of the ball in the offseason, including former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis and former Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Victor Butler.
The Saints defeated Atlanta at the Superdome last season, 31-27. What keeps them from piling on the points this time with Grimes and Robinson gone?
New Orleans wins this matchup, and I wouldn't be surprised if Drew Brees and company defeated the Falcons in Atlanta in Week 12, either.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Where: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA
When: Sunday, Sept. 8 at 4:25 p.m. ET
The last time the Packers saw the 49ers, they lost in the divisional round of the playoffs, 45-31, while dual-threat Colin Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards (including two touchdowns on the ground).
Re-signing Clay Matthews is certainly a good thing for the Packers, but it doesn't exactly change the fact that Kaepernick—as well as the rest of the 49ers rushing attack—pose problems for Green Bay. Don't forget, running back Frank Gore also gashed the Packers for 119 rushing yards and a touchdown on that fateful day.
I think one thing that could help the Packers is the fact that the 49ers lost safety Dashon Goldson in the offseason and "replaced" him with former Ram Craig Dahl. If San Francisco doesn't find someone other than Dahl to plug in as starter, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have the potential to attack the back end.
Very few teams in the NFL can overcome the loss of a high-caliber receiver such as Greg Jennings, but the Packers are one of these few teams. The emergence of young receiver Randall Cobb was huge for the Packers last season and they still have James Jones, Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley.
One of the underrated signings by San Francisco this offseason was former Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson, who knocked down 29 of 31 field-goal attempts in 2012. That included going 6-of-6 from 40-49 yards and 7-of-7 from 50 or more yards.
Do I really need to mention David Akers' name?
Whoops, I already did. Sorry, Niners fans. Try not to have flashbacks.
I think the 49ers ultimately win this matchup, especially at Candlestick Park.