The first of the year's great matchups, Brees vs Rodgers, went to the youngster
If you were lucky enough to witness the Thursday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, it may have had enough of everything to whet your appetite.
There were some key match ups that sparked big plays.
There was also the match up between head coaches Mike McCarthy and Sean Payton, both of whom applied for McCarthy's eventual Green Bay gig. They have nearly identical records as head coaches of their respective teams.
There was the Dom Capers' pass-rush schemes, which gave the Saints offensive line fits, especially their highly touted interior offensive linemen: Jahri Evans, Olin Kreutz and Carl Nicks.
Conversely, there was Green Bay's crafty management of Gregg Williams's blitz-heavy scheme, with Rodgers calling Tom Brady-like pre-snap motion to uncover the assignments.
There were the player match ups in the wings that sparkled.
Greg Jennings picked on young cornerback Patrick Robinson to great effect.
Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins brought the wood to anyone running a vertical route upfield.
Green Bay rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb smoked Saints safety Roman Harper a couple of times, including once for a touchdown.
The Packers defensive line, especially BJ Raji, sniffed out Mark Ingram all game long.
Darren Sproles was utterly uncoverable by everyone.
So what other match ups bode well for the rest of the week?
Two extremely young quarterbacks.
Both highly drafted, both highly gifted.
And both extremely competitive. Freeman's 2010 season is criminally underrated: he threw 25 touchdowns and a ridiculous six interceptions. To anyone not named Brady, that touchdown-to-interception ratio would already be a career year.
Beginning with this Sunday, Freeman has to solidify his credentials and string another fantastic year on top of his 2010 season.
Matt Stafford does not have these same credentials, as he has battled injuries throughout the past two seasons. However, Stafford is a gamer (evidenced by his performance against the Cleveland Browns in 2009) and has the talent to become an elite QB someday.
This one may not be an all-out gunslinging battle, but it'll be fun nonetheless.
In their preseason game against the New England Patriots, the Buccaneers offensive line looked decidedly second rate.
They coughed up 26 quarterback pressures, hits or sacks on 28 first-half snaps. Yes. You read that correctly.
The Patriots defensive line may have been somewhat revamped over the preseason, but the Lions defensive line barely needed to be.
And rookie Nick Fairley.
Can the Buccaneers offensive line stop Detroit? They've had a week to prepare.
Seeing this one go off could be worth the price of admission alone.
Jim Schwartz, up-and-coming coach.
Jim Schwartz inherited one of the toughest jobs in football, fixing Matt Millen's Lions.
He's done so with aplomb, stacking together a formidable defensive line, secondary, quarterback set and running back corps.
He's also coached well, having pushed some pretty good teams around, but often falling down at the last hurdle.
However, this year may bode differently, as he thinks he's added talent in the right places, and the Lions may well push for a playoff spot.
He also happens to be a clever and creative coach, moving his weapons around to create mismatches and generally managing his chess pieces in a way conducive to winning.
All descriptors that apply equally to Raheem Morris.
Morris inherited a rudderless Buccaneers team after Monte Kiffin jumped ship, and generally went about putting together a roster that could compete, despite the salary cap constraints imposed upon him from above.
In 2010 he took an extremely young team to 10 wins, becoming the first coach to have 10 rookie starters on a winning record.
In short, both these guys have a defensive mindset, eke out great performances from their players, and aren't afraid to experiment.
It makes for a good showdown.
Quarterback? Nom nom nom.
Peyton Manning is an utter freak of the quick release.
He senses pass-rushers in a radar-like way that makes you wonder whether Archie Manning was messing around with a bat on the side, slides away from pressure and pulls the trigger on a pass, usually under two seconds.
He has had to, as the Colts offensive line usually only gave him two or three seconds.
However, this year there's no Manning.
Kerry Collins is more of a play-action, deep-ball thrower, not a quick-release kind of guy.
That means the offensive line is going to have to keep pass-rushers off him, and it just so happens the pass rushers he'll face are some of the scariest around.
Under the new Wade Phillips scheme, the Texans will be in a 3-4 alignment that for all intents and purposes is a 5-2, as the outside linebackers will be rushing.
That means Mario Williams is coming from an edge, constantly.
Brooks Reed, when he's subbed on.
That's a lot of beef to stop, and it's anyone's guess whether the Colts offensive line can do it.
May need foot extensions to fill those shoes.
Kerry Collins has the most unenviable position in football.
He's trying to replace an injured legend, on short notice, after a short spell of retirement.
While this isn't a football matchup per se, it is perhaps the one thing that Colts fans are most desperate to see.
In fact, it's probably the question on the lips of every fan in the AFC South, as it has division-wide implications.
How much of a quarterback is Collins, relative to Manning?
We'll get an indication on Sunday.
Andre Johnson loves picking on Colts' safeties.
The Colts of recent years have been criticized for running a completely bland Cover-2 defence.
Two cornerbacks, usually sitting in short, off-coverage zones watching the quarterback's eyes and trying to evaluate reads.
Two safeties, Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt, are both extremely talented and very dependable.
Andre Johnson is Andre Johnson.
Lightning quick, 6'5", broad-shouldered and with phenomenal reach, he can immediately eat up the space to and blow past a cornerback in zone coverage.
Once he's there, he's testing the safeties, and when the guy his 6'5", there are few things a safety can do but try to tackle, and hope.
This is a match up you should definitely keep in mind. In particular, watch the pockets over a Cover-2, being the seams between the cornerbacks and safety, and up the middle seam in between the safeties on a post route.
Has to outcoach Chan Gailey's creativity.
Chan Gailey is a wily offensive coordinator who ran a dazzling array of trick plays and unusual player packages for the Bills last year.
In contrast, Romeo Crennel is a traditionalist who comes from the same 3-4 coaching tree as Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells.
Gailey is all about creativity; Crennel is all about discipline.
With extra weeks to prepare and the incentive to start off a good season, expect Gailey to crank up the creativity and pump out a game plan specifically designed to mess with Crennel.
The last time we saw a game plan specifically designed to screw around with the head of a Belichick/Parcells' coach was Belichick himself, in the 'wildcat' game against the Dolphins.
The possibility of seeing something unusual from Gailey is worth the price of admission.
Jamaal Charles might fancy his chances against the Bills
The Bills can struggle to contain the run on good days.
They've given up career days to guys like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, so the possibility of an elite running back like Jamaal Charles cutting up their front seven may intrigue some people.
The fact is, the Chiefs offense will commit to the run.
Matt Cassel is at his best running off play-action, and with his favorite 2010 target Tony Moeaki out, he may have to rely on Charles as a pass-catcher more often, too.
The Bills must realize all the above, of course.
The Bills must also realize they have to plan accordingly.
So will Charles run rampant over the Bills, or will they scheme him out of the game?
Byrd has had success picking off Chiefs QBs before.
Matt Cassel can be mercurial.
Sometimes he elevates his entire team, as he did when he led the Chiefs to an emotional win a week after he had surgery.
And sometimes he can be rattled early and melt down.
If he has a rough day, expect Jairus Byrd to profit.
Byrd's a ball-hawk on occasion, having snagged 10 interceptions his rookie season in a traditional free safety role.
If Cassel goes back to his roots of throwing mostly out of play-action, there will inevitably be a point where he spins around, coils up the arm and lobs one downfield.
If Byrd can read it, as he's shown himself capable of doing, it could make for a potential turnover, or alternatively, a blown coverage for a touchdown.
Can Steve Johnson challenge the Chiefs secondary?
Steve Johnson was a revelation in 2010.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, Johnson's speed became far more relevant than when he was subject to the whims of Trent Edwards.
Chan Gailey is an offensively minded coach and will surely find ways to get Johnson involved in 2011.
Conversely, take a look at the Chiefs secondary.
Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr on the corners, Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis in the deep third.
That's impressive, and Chan Gailey will know that from the outset.
That means Gailey is going to have to be creative, and that could be very, very fun.
Who will celebrate a sack first, Merriman or Tamba Hali?
This is a like-for-like contest.
Merriman is the guy playing for his career.
He showed up early in his time at San Diego, becoming a sack-monster and regularly clobbering all comers at opposition quarterback.
However, he had a couple of injury-plagued seasons and didn't seem like the same guy when he returned.
It's up to Merriman to show he's got what it takes, albeit in a newly acquired Bills uniform.
Tamba Hali was a slightly slower burner.
He had respectable stats, notching high single-digit sack seasons, carving out a name for himself as a devastating pass-rusher in his own right.
He exploded in 2009 and 2010, dragging down 23 sacks and cementing himself as a threat.
Which one will pay merry hell upon the quarterback this week?
Grimes will surely make a nuisance of himself to Cutler.
Jay Cutler is one of those quarterbacks who can be baited.
You only had to see DeAngelo Hall do a number on him, showing him a little space and then closing up after Cutler gunned a pass in, picking him off four times in one encounter.
Brent Grimes is a talented young cornerback who really emerged in 2010, notching 81 tackles and 5 interceptions, and generally making a good impression.
Can Grimes learn to bait Cutler, who seems unable to resist?
This will be a firecracker of a match up if Grimes can give Cutler just enough rope to hang himself on.
But if Grimes gives too much, Cutler's too good a quarterback not to take advantage.
This match up could make or break this game, so keep an eye out.
Jay Cutler is unhappy Mike Martz believes an offensive line is optional
If you watched a few Bears games last year, you might be forgiven for assuming that Mike Martz believes that pass-blocking is an optional exercise.
It was not surprising, then, when the Bears were active in seeking an upgrade to the offensive line, drafting Gabe Carimi in the first round.
Similarly, the Falcons upgraded their pass rush, pairing stalwart John Abraham with Ray Edwards from the Vikings, in a bookend set.
Who will take advantage? The Bears with their new tackle, or the Falcons with their new defensive end?
If the Falcons get to Cutler like some other teams did last year, it could be the game.
Julio Jones will threaten the pocket of a Cover-2
The Bears run a pretty standard Tampa-2, with two deep safeties in Chris Harris and Major Wright (or perhaps new acquisition Brandon Meriweather), and Brian Urlacher patrolling the middle.
However, that means the defense might be susceptible to a team with two big, quick wide receivers who can attack the seam between the cornerbacks and safeties, and a tight end who can harass the area between the safeties.
Something like what the Falcons have.
Specifically, there's the wily old veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. Sure, he's old. But so is the guy covering him, Brian Urlacher.
On the flanks, you have the rookie phenom Julio Jones, on whom much ink has been spilled saying what a freakish talent he is already showing himself to be.
On the other side, you have Roddy White, and I'm sure he needs no introduction at this point.
That could be the personnel needed to test the Bears, and it will be an exciting match up to watch for.
Bob Sanders is a handful when he comes down into the box.
Bob Sanders, when healthy, can turn a game on its head.
The kicker, of course, is "when healthy."
Sanders is in a new environment, finding himself on the sunny west coast, and that weather may suit him.
He was always at his best when using his vision and pace to climb up into the box after sniffing out the run and laying the wood for the Colts.
It's that kind of enforcement the Chargers will need from him in order to shut down Adrian Peterson, as Peterson is a handful to bring down and has a knack for being able to roll out of one tackle and hare off at an unusual angle to open space.
Sending Bob down into the box to hunt down Peterson could pay dividends, and seeing if he can shut down Peterson while remaining injury-free will be intriguing.
McNabb may be tempted to test out the deep ball early
This is the flipside of the Bob Sanders' question.
If Sanders closes down to the line to pressure Peterson, there's potentially an incentive to a veteran quarterback with a big arm to look deeper, to find the soft spot left by Sanders' absence.
Donovan McNabb's a quarterback with a proven deep-ball arm. Hmm.
If McNabb sees space back there, he'll air one out. And that will put pressure on the sole remaining safety in the deep third, Eric Weddle.
Weddle's a stud. He's got speed enough to play sideline to sideline, and he's a sure tackler who racked up 127 tackles last year.
He's not necessarily a ball-hawk, but if McNabb floats one, Weddle will profit.
And if he leads a wide receiver down the garden path with a poor throw, Weddle will knock his block off.
Watch this space.
Antoine Winfield is quietly an elite cornerback
Whichever side of the field Antoine Winfield is on, he's liable to draw a big, fast and ultra-productive wide receiver.
Whether it's Vincent Jackson or Malcom Floyd, Winfield will have his hands full.
However, he's up to it.
Winfield has somewhat quietly eked out a reputation for being one of the best cornerbacks going, being a sure tackler that rarely allows yards after catch, and a sure coverage man that rarely allows the catch in the first place.
Watching an elite cornerback take on an elite wide receiver is always a treat, and no matter where Winfield is lined up, he'll be in that situation.
Definitely keep an eye on it when you can. If the ball isn't going in that direction, it's probably because Winfield is doing a superb job, and you wouldn't want to miss out on that.
Alex Smith and Tavaris Jackson are fighting for NFL vindication
This is a battle for National Football League relevance.
It might also be a battle to avoid being the joke quarterback of 2011.
Both of these guys have had rough starts to their careers, and it's not out of the question to suggest that they're both playing on borrowed time.
The thing with guys on borrowed time is that they're desperate and are likely to work themselves into a frenzy to try to seize the last opportunity tossed their way.
For that reason, it might be worth catching this game, if only to see whether Alex Smith or Tarvaris Jackson is the most desperate guy going.
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll do not like each other from their PAC-10 days
These guys do not like each other.
It dates back to their time as Pac-10 coaches, where Harbaugh's Stanford put Carroll's USC to to sword 55-21.
When Harbaugh elected for a two-point play instead of an extra point for no particular reason, Carroll was inflamed, demanding Harbaugh explain himself.
The flare-up continued when Harbaugh smack-talked Carroll's coaching tree, too, and is unlikely to have disappeared just because the coaches are in the NFL.
That air of wanting to one-up the other may increase the likelihood of risky plays or aggressive calls. If you're wanting a game where field goals will be eschewed for 4th-down conversion attempts, this might be it.
Lynch and Willis have met before
Marshawn Lynch made a statement in his playoff game against the Saints.
He wants to make it known that if you want to tackle him, you really have to tackle him.
After ram-rolling his way through seemingly the entire Saints lineup, Lynch has given notice that teams will have, have, have to use correct technique and containment on him.
That dictates the 49ers use a steady dose of Patrick Willis, and lots of him.
Willis is a tackling machine who regularly forces big plays.
However, his most valuable role this week may be to take Lynch from the lineup on a play-by-play basis.
If he doesn't, bad things might happen to the 49ers.
Daboll had some success against New England last year
Brian Daboll has a history with Bill Belichick.
He was Belichick's wide receivers coach from 2002 to 2006 and learned his trade under Belichick's tutelage, while amassing three Super Bowl rings.
He then went to the Jets, putting him directly at loggerheads with Belichick.
In 2009 and 2010, he was with the Browns as offensive coordinator, and would have had a large hand in the game plan that upset the Patriots in the Browns' shock win.
Now he has a similar opportunity to draft a game plan that will upset his old boss.
As for Belichick?
He doesn't tend to lose week 1 games.
The last time he did, Daboll was still a Patriot.
Ochocinco-Davis: Proven to be a handful of a matchup before
Chad Ochocinco has had a somewhat abrupt start to the season.
He's working hard and constantly learning, but it's clear that he's coming from an alien system and from a team with a totally different set of expectations than the Patriots.
He's frustrated with his inability to pick up the system from scratch, and that showed in the preseason.
However, he's also the irrepressible sort that will not give up and will make the most of his opportunities, so with Brady behind center he's a risk to break out at any time.
It may just 'click' on the field under game-day pressures and expectations.
The guy who has to stop that from happening is Vontae Davis, who is the best physical matchup for Ochocinco among the Dolphins cornerbacks.
Davis is a gifted corner, big, and an occasional ball-hawk. If Brady airs one out to Ochocinco, and one or the other of them is off, Davis may be the guy who profits.
Keep an eye on number 85.
Sure to be pressured by the Pats defensive line
The Dolphins offensive line is going through a bit of a transition.
At center is highly drafted rookie Mike Pouncey, who perhaps skates in off the name made by his brother, and who will be tested early.
On the one side is Richie Incognito, who has bounced around the AFC East and has something of a dirty reputation and a history with the Patriots Vince Wilfork, who is no angel himself.
On the other side is converted tackle Vernon Carey, who is learning his trade after having slid in a spot this offseason.
Lining up opposite them are Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth, neither of whom likely needs an introduction.
Wilfork is in a time machine, having re-educated himself with his college skills of being a 1-gap penetrating 4-3 defensive tackle, after having spent an eternity as a 2-gap 3-4 defensive linesman.
Haynesworth is similarly back to his roots as a 4-3 defensive tackle after having spent an unfruitful year in Mike Shanahan's 3-4.
This one will be a ripper, and will set the tone for the whole game.
McCourty and Marshall have tangled before
Devin McCourty was a revelation last season, snaffling 7 interceptions despite playing close coverage instead of risk-taking route-jumping.
It's unknown whether he'll recapture his rookie form, or even more impressively, improve in his sophomore year.
And then there's Brandon Marshall, who is a wide receiver trapped in a tight end's body.
He's bigger and stronger than McCourty, and has the greater reach and height.
He'll try to out-muscle the ropey cornerback, but McCourty won't be intimidated, as he's a physical cornerback for his size.
This one will be fun. Keep an eye on Marshall, and watch McCourty ply his trade.
Matt Hasselbeck finds himself in a wide-open AFC South
Both Matt Hasselbeck and Luke McCown are placeholders.
Sitting behind Hasselbeck is rookie Jake Locker, the quarterback of the future.
Behind McCown is Blaine Gabbert, also quarterback of the future.
In the short term, Hasselbeck and McCown are playing for their starting roles, and possibly even their roster spots.
In the long term, they're fighting for relevance, and particularly in Hasselbeck's case, a swan song before the end of a career.
Could either of these guys pull out a Kurt Warner/Cardinals-type career highlight?
Worth watching to see if the hints are there.
Both guys are after credibility in 2011
Mike Munchak is a first-year coach who inherits the franchise he once played for (albeit as a Houston Oiler) from its long-term coach Jeff Fisher.
This will be Munchak's 30th year with the franchise.
It's for that reason that his first opportunity as head coach will mean the world for Munchak, as he's lived and breathed Houston Oiler/Tennessee Oiler/Tennessee Titan since 1982.
And then there's Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio's the dictator of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and like Munchak is another player-turned-coach.
He's also the guy who, in two of the last four seasons, has cut the Jaguars starting quarterback early in the season.
The fact he's brave enough to cut his starting quarterback in preference of a guy he signed off the street says a lot about his personality. But it also suggests that he's a guy who feels desperate enough to do something unconventional on a semi-regular basis.
This one could be explosive.
These teams and running backs are well acquainted
Two of the most explosive backs in the league get an opportunity to strut their stuff.
Jones-Drew is a pocket-rocket who seems to effortlessly slide through holes, and when he does get hit, he is so low, strong and energetic that he seems to slip off tackles like an electric flea.
Chris Johnson is a different beast, being a big, strong, and incredibly fast beast of a man who breaks tackles and then engages a top gear far outside the realm of anything with two legs.
Jones-Drew will consistently plug up gains and squirt out for the odd long run.
Johnson will batter the defensive line with his brutal running style, and then will rip off a long run after slipping one too many tackles.
Different running styles, both effective. This one will be fun.
Colt McCoy barely has the edge in experience.
Two young quarterbacks square off to stake a claim to be the generation's next great AFC North quarterback.
Colt McCoy impressed last year, aided by strong running from Peyton Hillis and a decent outlet in tight end Benjamin Watson.
He managed upset wins over the Patriots and Saints, and showed enough in games against the Steelers, Ravens and Jets to suggest good things in future.
Andy Dalton steps into the void that was a terminally unhappy Carson Palmer.
He inherits a useful offensive line, a good young tight end in Jermaine Gresham, a good running back to rely on in Cedric Benson, and exciting young wide receivers in AJ Green and Jerome Simpson.
Young quarterbacks are confidence players, so this isn't merely about bragging rights, but about setting the tone for the whole season.
Battle of the first-round talents
Youth on youth.
AJ Green is a stud first-round wide receiver with huge props and even higher expectations attached to him.
On the opposite side of the field is Joe Haden, a stud first-round cornerback with huge props and even higher expectations attached to him.
See how this plays out?
Haden has the edge on experience, but it would be unwise to count Green out, as he came from a college running a pro-style set.
Pat Shurmur is trying to get some Head Coaching cred at Lewis's expense.
The old hand against the debutante.
Shurmur comes to the Browns after being the offensive coordinator at the Rams, and part of the reason the Browns pursued him was the intent to have him call the offensive plays.
As for Lewis, he's a defensive mind, having been a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator before his tenure as head coach of the Bengals.
See how this plays out?
Another year, another showdown.
One of these years must be Flacco's year.
He's struggled against Roethlisberger's Steelers and has seemingly found a variety of ways to struggle when faced with the Pittsburgh team.
However, with the additional target of Lee Evans and emergence of tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, Flacco might have enough targets to threaten the Super Bowl incumbents.
Polamalu in the box may be the best way to stop Rice
Troy Polamalu is as much a linebacker as a safety, considering the regularity with which he roams up into the box to hunt down tight ends or spy running backs.
With the Ravens having a particularly good running back in Ray Rice, Polamalu will have licence to roam closer to the line of scrimmage, especially considering Rice's undoubted receiving ability.
The risk with this is, of course, that it leaves Polamalu out of position if the Ravens use play-action, and with the new addition of Lee Evans the play-action is particularly dangerous.
Watch Polamalu. And then see if Ray Rice actually gets the ball.
Ed Reed has a homing device for Steelers WRs
Ed Reed is one of the premier defensive backs of this generation, if not ever.
Bill Belichick thinks so, calling Ed Reed the best free safety he's ever seen in an on-field communication caught on camera.
What Reed does so well is read the play, flow to the ball, and use his ridiculous sideline-to-sideline speed to make plays on a deep ball.
He's also very good at baiting the quarterback, showing him an open man and then closing up with his deceptive speed.
However, at this stage of his career, he's not faster than Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace.
This poses an interesting dilemma to Reed. Does he bait Roethlisberger with a route to Wallace, knowing that if he mistimes it, Wallace will be gone for a touchdown, or does he restrict his ability to make the big play?
He's never been a shrinking violet, so Reed will be baiting Roethlisberger to try out his arm to his deep guy. And one way or the other, it will be a big play.
Lee Evans made an impact on the Ravens offense in preseason
Dick LeBeau's Steeler defense is a work of art.
He's turned the zone-blitz into his own personal plaything, and he's drafted guys with the according skill set to allow the most effective mix of coverage and pass-rush with any given personnel package.
However, it is susceptible to certain things, and as Tom Brady showed last year when he threw three touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski, LeBeau's scheme can leave the third cornerback on a very, very lonely island sometimes.
What Flacco will have to do is move his receivers around to find a match up he likes, and then pursue it relentlessly.
The guy most likely to find a favorable matchup is the speedster, Lee Evans, most likely matched up with a slot corner and running a corner route.
This is something Flacco hasn't had before, and it may well be the reason he can beat LeBeau's defense with a newfound regularity.
Mike Vick will destroy you if you give him a chance
Steve Spagnuolo learned his trade under Bill Parcells, so the thing he will always take into consideration is how to take the opposition's biggest weapon away.
In this instance, that weapon is Mike Vick.
Spagnuolo is also the guy who crafted the creative pass-rush of Super Bowl XLII, where Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora turned Tom Brady into a rag doll.
So you've got a quarterback who needs a specific game plan to be closed down, and you've got a defensive-minded coach who is known for drafting brilliant quarterback-specific defensive plans.
Vick versus Spagnuolo. Who will come out on top?
McDaniels likes airing it out, but has three top-rated cornerbacks to contend with
Josh McDaniels was the man who penned one of the most prolific offenses of all time, the 2007 New England Patriots.
McDaniels's offense featured an unnatural level of shotgun, many four- and five-wideout sets, a lot of movement, a strong-armed and extremely intelligent quarterback, and a shifting array of different types of targets, enough to confuse an opposition defensive coordinator.
He's got the quarterback in Bradford, the wide receivers in Danny Amendola, Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, and Danario Alexander, the running backs in Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams, and others.
But facing his lineup this week are the Eagles cornerbacks Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Who takes who? How many receivers will McDaniels churn out? Or will he go heavy with tight ends and runs?
I'm not sure. You're probably not sure. But you definitely want to tune in to find out.
Steven Jackson is extremely hard to bring down
Steven Jackson versus the seemingly nonexistent Eagles defensive tackles and linebackers.
The Eagles seem to be selling out their run defense in order to bolster their pass-rush and defensive backfield.
Sure, that's legitimate way to build a defense, and the last two Super Bowl champions did just that.
But a Steven Jackson could shred you in any given week. And the man himself may well do it in this particular week.
Two young quarterbacks are vying to prove they are franchise guys.
Two young quarterbacks, both with massive investments on them made by teams with the intent of staying relevant.
Cameron Newton, college scandals aside, is a very raw talent.
Unpolished passer with a strange windup and occasionally scattergun approach to passing, he barely cracked a 50-percent completion rate in the preseason.
On the other side, you have Kevin Kolb, who has still yet to prove he's a franchise quarterback, despite having a franchise quarterback paycheck to look forward to.
Two guys with new franchises and a massive amount to prove. Bank on this being a big game.
Rivera needs to engineer a strong start to the season
Ron Rivera is the new guy on the block, after having spent his recent years as a defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.
Ken Whisenhunt is the old campaigner, an ex-offensive coordinator for the Steelers who guided the Cardinals to relevance under the eye of quarterback Kurt Warner.
Defensive guy. Offensive guy. Both need to prove their relevance with new personnel.
Beason has had some success against Arizona
Beanie Wells became a feature back about three seconds after Ryan Williams went down with an injury.
And given the Cardinals will to break in new quarterback Kevin Kolb, he ought to get a lot of work.
The guy who will be designated to stop Wells from damaging the Panthers is Jon Beason, who ought to get more national recognition than he already does.
The guy is a tackling machine and playmaker, and it will be on his head to stuff Wells and keep the game close.
Gamble and Fitzgerald have crossed before
Larry Fitzgerald will need no introduction.
Chris Gamble is often tagged with "disappointment,", perhaps unfairly, as he is a strong cornerback who plays with good fundamentals most of the time.
He's not a ball-hawk to any great extent, but he's useful in a pinch and will get the odd interception from playing decent technique.
Given his seniority within the Panthers defensive backfield, it will also be his responsibility to manage Fitzgerald and not allow Larry to take over the game.
Hall vs Manning has has its ups and downs for both players
Eli Manning threw 25 interceptions last season but swears he's not a 25-interception quarterback.
DeAngelo Hall would love to prove him wrong.
Hall's real gift is his ability to bait a quarterback into making a risky throw and then jumping the route.
It also happens to be his greatest weakness, as you can't jump every route successfully.
This played out one of the last times these teams met, as Hall gave up a 92-yard touchdown pass to Manning.
Will Hall have a game like he did against Jay Cutler, getting four interceptions? Or will he get toasted again?
Either way, it'll be entertaining.
Chris Snee is a warrior on the Giants interior line.
He's taken flak for earning Pro Bowl spots when some say he's not a Pro Bowl level-guard, but that's beside the point to some extent. The reality is he's a good footballer, and when he plays well, the Giants succeed.
Opposite him is the gifted young player Adam Carriker.
Carriker was stuck for a while playing 4-3 defensive end. Despite having almost ideal physicals for a pass-rushing 4-3 end, he has always preferred the 3-4, as it allows him to play with power instead of quickness.
That attitude got him traded to the newly 3-4 Shanahan Redskins, and he's ever-improving as a 3-4 defensive end.
That means there will be a battle in the trenches, and at some point Carriker will meet Snee, and this battle of the titans will be worth keeping an eye on.
Pierre-Paul has tasted success against the 'Skins
Same story: a battle of the trenches.
Jason Pierre-Paul is a stud first-round defensive end, being lined up against Trent Williams, a potential stud first-round offensive tackle.
Both these men have rare physical talent, and while they are works in progress, seeing that progress is part of the entertainment.
Can Orton stay upright enough to be effective?
Kyle Orton has regained the starting quarterback role of the Broncos just in time to be harassed by the Raiders defensive line.
Richard Seymour will lead the charge, as he should, given his expansive pay package.
Tommy Kelly also mans the trenches, and the two defensive tackles are flanked by ends Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston.
Any of these guys are hard to contain, but together, they could be unstoppable. Just how quick is Orton's release, again?
Can Routt shut down Lloyd and inherit Asomugha mantle?
Stanford Routt is trying to fill the shoes of Nnamdi Asomugha.
Not literally, as Routt and Asomugha played left and right cornerback, and it's unlikely Routt will switch sides.
However, it means that at some point the best Broncos wide receiver, Brandon Lloyd, will likely be matched up against Routt.
The interest here is whether Routt can do as good a job on Lloyd as Asomugha, or whether Routt will be found wanting.
After overturning the quarterback depth chart, can he overturn the Raiders, too?
John Fox comes to the Broncos with a new hard-nosed philosophy and a licence not to make friends (Tebow, third string? Yikes).
Hue Jackson retains the coaching role of the Raiders after having made nice steps to resurrecting the proud Raiders brand.
Hard-nosed, and hard-nosed.
Big running games, trench warfare, and no-nonsense attitudes.
Old-fashioned football at its finest.
Fighting for a father's affection is always dramatic.
The father of the Ryan brothers has put his cancer treatment on hold to catch this one.
Rob Ryan has moved allegiances to Dallas, and Rex Ryan is the incumbent Jets head coach.
They both have their flamboyant, aggressive defensive identities.
And now they have the competition for a sick father's love on the line.
Makes for an interesting matchup on Revis Island.
Dez Bryant is a troubled youngster with a ridiculous amount of talent, when his head is screwed on straight.
He's got great acceleration, massive hands, and good body control, and he can cut on a dime.
So when he lines up against Darrelle Revis, there will be fireworks.
Will Revis get into Bryant's head and infuriate him into cracking? Or will Bryant come out on top with big play?
Will Sanchez or the pass-rusher come off best?
Mark Sanchez can still find a way to play like a rookie, especially when he gets rattled.
He looked decidedly average last year when playing against a mediocre-at-best Bengals team, and he looked poor against the Patriots in the second match up.
The key? Pressure.
And DeMarcus Ware's middle name is "pressure."
With Ware coming off the edge, Sanchez will be forced to look for his checkdowns early.
Making Sanchez rifle through his reads too quickly has gotten him in trouble previously, and Ware must be aware of this going in.
So must Rob Ryan, which is why he'll be scheming ways to get Ware a free shot at the quarterback.
Will Ware get to Sanchez, and if so, will good Sanchez or bad Sanchez turn up?
I can't wait to find out.