Even with the NFL lockout earlier this year, did anyone really think that there wouldn’t be football?
This league is too popular and makes too much money for anyone to want to miss out on that cash cow. Organized team activities were lost, as was the Hall of Fame game, but now we’ve arrived at what really matters. It’s time for Philadelphia’s “Dream Team” to prove what they're made of and show that they won’t be the Miami Heat of the NFL.
Time for the Kansas City Chiefs to prove that 2010 wasn’t a fluke.
Time for the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to play up to the preseason hype surrounding their young teams with very bright futures.
Just thank goodness that the time for the latest Brett Favre comeback saga has passed.
New Orleans at Green Bay
It’s become a trend for the defending Super Bowl champions to defend their title in the new season with a Thursday night home game in Week 1. And for seven consecutive years, the defending champion has won its season opener.
The Packers won’t have an easy time here though. Both teams are figured to be major contenders in the NFC thanks in large part to their talent, a miniscule roster turnover and a familiarity with the coaching staff. The latter two are more important than ever after the shortened offseason.
Still, Green Bay is a Super Bowl team that gets even better by returning their starting tight end (Jermichael Finley) and running back (Ryan Grant) healthy and back from injury.
It’s tough to go against history here.
Green Bay wins.
Atlanta at Chicago
The Falcons are a sexy pick to reach the Super Bowl this year. A lot of hype will surround rookie wide receiver Julio Jones, for whom the Falcons traded five draft picks to select. A lot of people are excited to see what he can do alongside standout Roddy White.
Chicago reached the NFC Championship game last year, but there isn’t much confidence in them: case in point, Jay Cutler leaving the championship game against the Packers with a sprained MCL. Many criticized him and his “willingness to win,” and that’s not to mention his great potential to turn the ball over.
Cincinnati at Cleveland
No Carson Palmer for the Bengals. No Chad Ochocinco for the Bengals. No Terrell Owens for the Bengals. Could it all mean no wins for the Bengals?
The team will certainly have its work cut out this year in trying to be competitive. The team will be reliant on a rookie quarterback (Andy Dalton) and a rookie wide receiver (A.J. Green) to do much of the damage on offense, but it doesn’t look like there’s enough talent across the board for the Bengals to be a legitimate threat.
The Browns aren’t a superstar-laden team either, especially at wide receiver, but Colt McCoy did a solid job last year in his rookie season and Peyton Hillis was a breakout star (although he’ll have to beware of the Madden Curse). This team stayed competitive last year and it looks like they’re a leg up on the Bengals right now.
Buffalo at Kansas City
Kansas City surprised quite a few people last year when they won the AFC West and made the playoffs. With a great running attack headed by stud Jamaal Charles and a solid defense, the Chiefs are being overlooked this year in favor of the more dynamic San Diego Chargers.
Buffalo may not have won a lot of games last season, but the late blooming of Harvard alumnus Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback helped keep the Bills competitive and somewhat interesting to watch. He has some playmakers around him in wide receiver Steve Johnson and running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They could wind up being only a .500 team, especially playing in one of the NFL's tougher divisions, but they’ll go down swinging.
Playing Kansas City at home is just too tough a task. The Chiefs finished 7-1 at home in front of an extremely supportive fan base that only gets rowdier with every win.
Kansas City wins.
Philadelphia at St. Louis
Nobody wants the season to start more than the Eagles.
It’s time for them to show off all their new toys (Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie), not to mention some very good older ones (Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy). This was probably the most exciting team in all of football to watch in 2010, and this season should be no different.
St. Louis has some talent. Sam Bradford did well as a rookie, Steven Jackson has been a good running back for many years now and Mike Sims-Walker is a big improvement over anyone Bradford threw to last year.
Still, just look at the talent the Eagles have.
Detroit at Tampa Bay
It’s not the rivalry of Pittsburgh-Baltimore or the hyped-up teams like the Jets and Cowboys, but the Lions and Buccaneers could be the most interesting matchup of the week.
Two teams loaded with exciting young players will square off. Josh Freeman has a lot of people talking in Tampa because of his pocket presence in 2010 but how will he fare with Ndamukong Suh chasing after him?
Matthew Stafford was a number one pick for the Lions, but will he ever stay healthy?
There’s a lot to like about these two teams and both have bright futures. The Lions look like they could be this year’s version of the Buccaneers: a young, up-and-coming team that surprises a lot of people and wins a lot more games than they have in years past.
Tennessee at Jacksonville
The best player on both teams is the running back, Chris Johnson for the Titans and Maurice Jones-Drew for the Jaguars. Both teams are also starting different quarterbacks than they did last year. The similarity ends there though, with the quarterback situations incredibly different.
The Titans brought in Matt Hasselbeck to start until rookie Jake Locker is ready. Hasselbeck is on his last legs and injuries have plagued him the last couple of seasons. He still knows how to run a team though and he might just even be an upgrade over the Vince Young/Kerry Collins platoon from last year.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, cut longtime starter David Garrard on Tuesday, making Luke McCown the new starting quarterback. Cutting Garrard saved the team $9 million but it won’t help them in the win column. He’s been in the NFL since 2004 (with the Jaguars the past two seasons) yet has only played in 16 games. There’s a reason for that.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
One of the biggest rivalries in football is on display in Week 1. The Steelers and Ravens are two smash-mouth football teams and this game will not be any different. For starters, will the Steelers have a Super Bowl hangover after losing the big game last year?
They’ve also had more off-field issues with their stars this year thanks to Hines Ward’s DUI arrest and James Harrison’s harsh words towards NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and team starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, amongst others, in a Men’s Journal article.
The Ravens went and added more pieces this offseason to add artillery to their offense. Lee Evans was brought in to be a downfield threat, Ricky Williams will be Ray Rice’s backup and Vonta Leach will be the new starting fullback and lead blocker. Leach was a big reason for Arian Foster’s success last season and the Ravens hope he will make an similar impact on the already successful Rice.
Indianapolis at Houston
Now is the time for the Texans to finally make good on that playoff push. They have flirted with postseason play in recent years, but have ultimately come up short. However, with Peyton Manning being inactive for the Colts indefinitely, the Texans could be the top team in the division.
They shocked the Colts last season in an opening week win when Arian Foster took advantage of a porous Colts run defense. Foster is questionable for this week’s game, but Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson still form an incredibly powerful combination in the air.
New York Giants at Washington
Rex Grossman claims his Redskins can win the division. Their first test will be against the Giants, who while they aren’t an easy team to beat, they certainly aren’t the cream of the crop anymore in the NFC East.
Eli Manning claims that he’s just as good as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He’ll need to stop turning the ball over as frequently as he does to even make that statement not as much of a joke as it currently stands.
Still the Giants have more talent overall than Washington.
New York wins.
Seattle at San Francisco
The 49ers were preseason favorites to win the NFC West last year, but an 0-5 start doomed them. They still only finished a game beind the division-winning Seahawks. Alex Smith leads San Francisco again, much to the dismay of 'Niner fans, but new head coach Jim Harbaugh is supposed to be a quarterback coaching guru, so there is hope for him.
Last season these two teams opened up against each other and the Seahawks put a beat-down on the 49ers 31-6. That was in Seattle, however. In San Francisco in Week 14, San Francisco won the game 40-21 and Smith—returning as a starter after previously being benched—threw for 255 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
San Francisco wins.
Minnesota at San Diego
Rejoice, the Brett Favre saga is over. It’s tough to tell if the Vikings are a better team though.
They still have Adrian Peterson. They lost receiver Sidney Rice. And in at quarterback comes Donovan McNabb. He’s been up and down the past few years, not terrible but not helping his team win many games either. He’ll have a good young running back to lean on this year though so that may help him.
San Diego is led by Philip Rivers, one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Last year’s individual success throwing the ball was without Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates for most of the year and those two will be back in action this year starting in Week 1.
The Chargers missed out on the playoffs last year even though they had the top-ranked offense and defense. They will be out for vengeance.
San Diego wins.
Carolina at Arizona
Rookie quarterbacks don’t tend to do well. No team with a rookie starting at quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl. And Cam Newton will have his work cut out for him with the Panthers who, even though they had only two wins all of last year, kept their roster mostly intact from last year.
Arizona gets Kevin Kolb in at quarterback. His sample size isn’t very big, but he’s had a little bit of success in the league and Larry Fitzgerald loves catching passes from him.
Dallas at New York Jets
Two years with Rex Ryan as their head coach (and Mark Sanchez as their starting quarterback) and the Jets have two trips to the AFC Championship game. They just haven’t won the division, or gotten a bye in the first round of the playoffs. They need to get a bye to make the process a little easier on themselves.
Dallas should have a nice bounce-back season with a healthy Tony Romo leading the way and contend in the NFC East, but at the newly christened MetLife Stadium the fans will be going nuts for the Jets.
New York wins.
New England at Miami
Miami’s starting quarterback has been booed by the home fans in the preseason, their head coach was given an extension only after the owner tried to pursue a different coach while the incumbent was still under contract and the Wildcat, which made this team unique offensively, lost its top guy when the team let Ronnie Brown go. They also went 1-7 at home last season.
Oh, and they went 0-2 against the Patriots last year and lost the two games by a combined 58 points.
New England wins.
Oakland at Denver
Oakland won only eight games last year and lost its top receiver in tight end Zach Miller and its top defender in corner Nnamdi Asomugha.
Kyle Orton threw for 3,653 yards and only nine interceptions last season but many fans will still begging for Tim Tebow to start and he was on the trade block. He’ll be out to prove his value this season, to the Broncos or any other team.