The return of the NFL preseason also means the return of primetime football to all of our television screens. Here are my picks for the four primetime games that occur during Week 1 of the NFL season.
New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers
The Saints travel to Lambeau field facing a tough task in containing the reigning Super Bowl champion Packers. The fanfare that surrounds these curtain raisers often propels the home side to victory as it has done in recent years.
In Wisconsin tomorrow night, things don't look like they're changing as the Saints enter the game with a few teething problems while the Packers look stronger than they finished last season.
Incorporating Olin Kreutz at center won't be an issue, but the Saints defensive line is going to have to rely on a few unfamiliar faces as new signings Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rodgers look to make an immediate impact.
The fantasy focus may be on Mark Ingram, but the Saints' spotlight will be on their rookie defensive end Cameron Jordan who will be looked to to ease the loss of Will Smith as he is suspended and Alex Brown was already released.
Getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers will be crucial as the Super Bowl MVP has even more weapons surrounding him now with the return of Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant to the offense. The Packers will be able to bully the Saints defense on Thursday night if there are any toughness questions lingering from the team's last outing.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets
The Cowboys' trip to face the Jets in New York will be an intriguing matchup as both of Buddy Ryan's sons face off.
The Cowboys for my money enter the game with less question marks than the Jets which will ultimately decide the game. The Dallas defensive unit may be dodgy at best, but I think Rob Ryan will be able to instantly light a fire under the talented pieces that are lacking the determination to dominate at the NFL level.
The Jets, however, are putting together an offense that will ask an awful lot of Mark Sanchez that I simply don't believe he can manage. This season they will need Sanchez to carry more of the offensive load as LaDanian Tomlinson's tires are close to being worn out. Shonn Greene remains, but the offense as a whole lacks explosion and pace outside of Santonio Holmes.
Defensively, the Jets are set, but Dez Bryant could manage to muscle his way into a big game whether Darelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie is matched up against him. Even if he does take a trip to Revis Island, the Jets have nobody that can cover Jason Witten even with their talented linebackers, while the question of who will pressure Tony Romo remains unanswered.
Winner: New York Jets
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Many people see this game as being a blowout, but the Dolphins defense is too good in my mind to let that happen.
This game could be an early awakening for Tom Brady as the Dolphins have the defense that can matchup to the Patriots. With Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett at linebacker, they have two players that can cover Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in single coverage while the corners on the outside would be known nationally if they could hold onto the football—Sean Smith in particular.
Offensively, the Dolphins probably won't have enough. While I expect Chad Henne to be better this year in what is essentially his third season entering his fourth year, it is difficult to see that offense as a whole matching the Patriots despite the question marks that lie over the Patriots' heads in the secondary and upfront.
Winner: New England Patriots
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
The Broncos and Raiders isn't a matchup that NFL fans across the world would have been calling out for to be nationally televised.
Regardless of this, the game could be a close one as these division rivals will look to gain an early edge on one another. The Raiders will be relying on Darren McFadden to carry their attack which will test the Broncos' new-look defensive line early on.
With Elvis Dumervil and Von Miler coming off the edge, establishing the run early will be vital for the men in black to come away with a victory.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos and Raiders will appear very different from the teams that finished last season. The Raiders will be seeing if they can continue to play so much man coverage without their star cornerback in Nnamdi Asomugha while the Broncos will be looking to run the ball more under John Fox.
Eventually, I think that Raiders defense will prove the difference as the front seven should get the better of the Broncos' offensive line.
Winner: Oakland Raiders