The season has finally arrived! After a long and eventful off-season the 2010 NFL season is ready to kickoff.
The new look Cincinnati Bengals have a lot to be excited about. But the fourth hardest schedule in the league wont be a picnic.
While the Pats have won five openers in a row, the Bengals lucked out being able to play them in game No. 1.
The Bengals are loaded on offense with the additions of Terrell Owens and rookies Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham. The biggest problem last year was the lack of weapons for Carson Palmer.
Adding one of the top 20 receivers of all-time, the receiver with the most yards in the University of Texas' school history, and the best tight end coach Marvin Lewis has seen in his eight seasons with the Bengals should help Palmer juuust a little bit.
On the other side, the Pats looked to be in decent shape against the pass until projected starter Leigh Bodden went down for the season. He historically had played well against Chad Ochocinco with his tenure as a Brown. Ochocinco called him one of the best in today's game.
The Patriots are left with little to no experience. Second year pro Darius Butler will lineup across from rookie Devin McCourty. Pitting the two against Owens and Ocho, whom have a combined 25 years of NFL experience, and well, advantage Bengals.
It's not as if the Bengals aren't playing rookies either. Shipley and Gresham will both play big roles in the offense on Sunday. Gresham hasn't played in a regular season game since the very beginning of '09.
Look for the offense to spread the field and revitalize the vertical passing game that fell off the face of the earth last year once the late Chris Henry broke his arm. Expect Owens to have a reception of at least 20 yards against the young Patriot corners.
All of Palmer's critics will pipe down when they see the former Pro Bowler in action with so many weapons.
On the other side, expect Tom Brady to launch the pigskin early and often. Sure he was in a car accident earlier this week, but it's highly doubtful that the fender bender has any effect on his play. All Pro receiver Randy Moss has been upset with the Pats regarding his contract.
He sat out Wednesday's practice with a "sickness" and has complained both privately and publicly. The focus of Moss on Sunday is certainly in question.
Wes Welker will start, eight months after tearing his ACL. He is not expected to be 100 percent for a few more weeks. Welker needs his outstanding agility to be effective. Will he have it right off the bat?
Bengals' corners Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph need to be very physical with Moss and Welker. Frustrate Moss and give him a chance to check-out of the game mentally. Push around Welker a bit to test his rehabilitated leg.
The running game for the Bengals was the staple of the offense in '09. Cedric Benson will need to get off to a good start to set the tone in the hostile Gilette Stadium. Vince Wilfork will be there to clog the middle for the Pats, so expect the Bengals to run lots of plays away from the trenches.
The Patriots will rely on the old veteran Fred Taylor, as Laurence Maroney is not expected to play. The Bengals run defense really wore down as the season hit December. The Bengals defense allowed 152.6 yards per game over the last five, including in the playoffs. A lot of that was due to injuries but defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has some adjustments to make for the new season.
Expect a high scoring affair that will feature more than a few big plays. The inexperienced secondary is a huge issue for the Patriots.
For the first time in 20 years, the Bengals can say they don't posses a glaring weakness. The offensive line is solid, as is the defensive line. Antawn Odom may be facing a four game suspension of PED's, but that's an issue for another day. He will be in the starting lineup. Last year he led the team in sacks with eight after only playing in the team's first four games.
The secondary is one of the best in the league with Joseph and Hall. The combo were the only two teammates to have at least six picks last season.
The biggest reason the Pats are favored is the almighty Bil Belicheck. He is the best coach in the game and has stayed a cut above the rest with his ability to get the most out of players with average talent.
The intangibles that the Patriots posses year-in and year-out don't show up in the stat line, but in the win column.
The Pats will be a great team once again. But playing them in Week One is a blessing in disguise for the Bengals.
A less than 100 percent Welker, a disgruntled Moss, little to no experience for the starting corners, Maroney is doubtful, and Brady did just get into a car accident.
In a back-in-forth game that will feature some explosive plays, expect the Bengals to grasp a lead on a excellent day by Palmer and run out the fourth quarter clock.
Final score 30-24 Bengals