With the NFL season back in full swing, teams are busy preparing for their respective Week 1 battles.
A win early on helps teams set a tone for the season. Starting off on the right foot is a big step to gaining control of the division, making the playoffs and, hopefully, reaching the Super Bowl.
Looking ahead to Week 1, there are many great matchups that will prove to be interesting for fans around the league. While we have no idea of the outcomes, we can speculate all we want.
This is what Week 1 might look like.
After last season’s Super Bowl victory, the Green Bay Packers have arrived in 2011 with much of the same roster, having only lost five players to free agency.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints have more to prove, being beaten by the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card playoff last season. With a few roster changes, the Saints are hoping to, once again, advance to the playoffs, this time marching all the way to the Super Bowl.
While the Saints have added Darren Sproles in hopes of boosting their running game, the Packers secondary is difficult for any quarterback, even Drew Brees, to beat. While their running game may be vastly improved from last season, if New Orleans is unable to effectively run, the Packers can stand back and wait for Brees to throw.
Odds are it will be a tough game, but with much of the same roster from last season and home-field advantage in the opening game of the season, the Packers will likely come out ahead.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
With the addition of Julio Jones, the Atlanta Falcons have given Matt Ryan another weapon to throw to in hopes of, once again, winning the NFC South crown. Week 1 will send the Falcons to Chicago where they will match up against the Bears, the winners of the NFC North last season.
While the Bears defense is strong, the Falcons offense will still produce. The Bears offense will be better this season, adding Roy Williams as a target for quarterback Jay Cutler. If they don't completely shut down the Bears, the Falcons defense is capable of slowing them down enough to allow their offense a chance to take control of the game.
With both teams hoping for another division title in 2011, it looks like the Falcons will get off to the start they wanted. The Bears will likely be left hoping for a better outcome against the Saints the next weekend.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
With the Kansas City Chiefs adding several weapons on offense over the offseason, the Chiefs are looking to prove their 2010 division title was not a fluke. Kansas City has their work cut out for them, though, with one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, they do not appear to be a large part of that schedule’s difficulty.
While the Bills are much more talented than many people give them credit for, the 2011 incarnation of the Chiefs are much better than the 2010 team that was unable to record a win against Buffalo until the end of overtime. Add in the difficulty of a trip to Arrowhead Stadium, and the Bills will be starting off the 2011 season on the wrong foot.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
The St. Louis Rams continued to improve their young offense this offseason, drafting two young wide receivers and a tight end to complement second-year quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams look to have a very bright future in front of them.
For the Eagles, though, they are playing for now. After finishing 10-6 last season, Philadelphia hit the offseason hard, signing cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, running back Ronnie Brown and quarterback Vince Young as well as acquiring Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals.
Despite having home-field advantage, the Rams will have a hard time getting past the Eagles. When the clock finally hits zero, the St. Louis will be the first of many victims left in the Eagles’ wake.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
The AFC South will be a very talented division in 2011, and these two teams are the main reason. The Colts are great year after year, coming off of their ninth consecutive playoff appearance. Meanwhile, the Texans have improved their young offense, making them serious contenders for the division title.
The biggest factor in this game will be Peyton Manning. While Manning’s neck injury is showing progress, there are reports that he might not see any game action in the preseason. If his injury keeps him from being completely prepared, the Texans should have no problem winning this game at home.
Either way, there is a very good chance that the Texans find themselves getting an early lead over the Colts in the AFC South.
Winner: Houston Texans
In a division with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals and Browns frequently find themselves at the bottom of the division. 2011 will probably be no different for either team.
While both teams are working on building a talented squad, the Browns are ahead of the Bengals. Without Carson Palmer, the Bengals will be depending on Bruce Gradkowski or rookie Andy Dalton to lead the team.
While this game has the potential to be fairly ugly, the Browns will get a win at home to start the season.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
When the Lions and Buccaneers met last season, the game was not decided until overtime, giving the game to Detroit. As close as that game was, this one could be just as close.
Despite the 6-10 record last season, the Lions showed a great deal of young talent. With the addition of defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Detroit has a great defensive line that could put a lot of pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman. If the Lions can contain him and not allow him to scramble for big yardage, they will be able to trust their young offense to put enough points on the board for Detroit to open the season with a win.
Winner: Detroit Lions
With the addition of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the Titans finally have leadership behind center. Unfortunately, with star running back Chris Johnson still not under contract, there are a lot of questions surrounding the offense.
Before the season begins, Johnson and the Titans front office will likely come to an agreement. With Johnson under contract, this game could become a running battle with Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew taking carries back and forth.
With the Titans quarterback situation a bit more certain than the Jaguars, Tennessee should come out ahead of Jacksonville. If Johnson holds out too long to play in Week 1, however, this game could go either way. For now, we will count on Johnson’s return and a Titan victory.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
The last time the Steelers and Ravens met, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh downfield to score a late touchdown, giving the Steelers a playoff victory and a berth in the AFC Championship.
2011 will see these two teams once again compete for the division title. While the Steelers have most of their AFC Championship roster in tact, the Ravens have altered their roster quite a bit, releasing several players in hopes of lowering their payroll.
While both teams will be pushing for a playoff berth again in 2011, the Steelers will most likely ride Ben Roethlisberger to victory in Week 1, giving them a head start in the division. The game is sure to be close throughout, though, and could turn either way.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
With the drafting of quarterback Cam Newton with the first selection, the Carolina Panthers took the first step to rebounding from their 2-14 record last season. This, along with several free-agent acquisitions, will guarantee that the Panthers will not be the worst team in the NFL again.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, acquired a new quarterback themselves, trading for Kevin Kolb. With these two quarterbacks, this game is bound to be an offensive explosion. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Panthers defense is led by a strong linebacker corps and defensive end Charles Johnson, who registered 11.5 sacks last season.
While this game is destined to be close, the Cardinals offense has more NFL experience than Carolina’s. Kolb, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and new tight end Todd Heap will help the Cardinals get past Carolina in Week 1.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
Last season was a disappointment for San Diego, seeing the Chargers finish with 9-7 record, narrowly missing the playoffs.
With Vincent Jackson healthy, helping out the offense, and an improved special teams, the Chargers will be looking to return to the playoffs again. Starting off against the Minnesota Vikings is not the easiest game, but with a strong secondary there to give new Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb headaches all day, the Chargers will be able to come out ahead, starting off the season the right way.
Winner: San Diego Chargers
With the loss of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks will find themselves depending on an unproven starter in 2011. Hoping to build on an unlikely 2010 playoff berth, Seattle may find themselves struggling throughout the season.
Their first opponent will be San Francisco, a team that will be looking for their first winning season in nine years.
While both teams found talent in the draft to fill many of their holes, the fact remains that both teams will be fairly evenly-matched in all of the wrong ways. Neither team looks to dominate in 2011, and neither team will dominate in Week 1. This game could go either way, but San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith should be able to guide his team to victory if the 49ers are able to avoid mistakes.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
The actual outcome of this game will be at the back of people’s minds as New York and Washington play on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. With a great deal of the attention focused on memorializing the victims of the attacks in New York and Washington, many people will be watching for more than the action on the field.
After the tributes end and the game begins, the Giants should be able to win this game behind their strong defense. With division wins important for any team that hopes to beat the Philadelphia Eagles for the division title, the Giants will have a good start to the season.
Winner: New York Giants
The offseason saw a lot of turnover for the Jets, losing wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith to free agency. The signing of Plaxico Burress should combat this, but Burress has been out of the NFL and will need time to return to form.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have improved, adding talent to their defense and building on their core group of players.
While the Cowboys are underrated right now and will sneak up on some teams, the Jets are not going to be one of those teams. Quarterback Mark Sanchez will not have the easiest time against the Dallas defense, but he should be able to drive New York to victory.
Winner: New York Jets
The New England Patriots are perennial contenders for the Super Bowl, and 2011 should be no different.
With the addition of Chad Ochocinco, New England will have another option for quarterback Tom Brady. The last thing the Dolphins need is another receiver for Brady to target.
On the first Monday night of the 2011 season, the Patriots offense will have a chance to shine in the national spotlight and will do just that, defeating Miami soundly. For New England, it is just another win on the way to the playoffs again.
Winner: New England Patriots
Finishing 8-8 last season, the Raiders were dominate in the AFC West—2011 should see Oakland continue to play well against their division opponents.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are still trying to figure out their quarterback situation. While both Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow are very talented, the winner will have to prove themselves in front of a national audience on Monday night.
While the Broncos should improve on their dreadful 4-12 season a year ago, they will not be able to overcome the Raiders to start off the season.
Winner: Oakland Raiders