The 2011 NFL season has officially begun. Last night we were able to watch the defending champion Green Bay Packers pull off a victory against the New Orleans Saints in a heated, exciting season opener.
Now it's time for every other team to show us what they're bringing to the table, and for some, Week 1 will be a huge stepping stone into their season.
It can be argued that losing in Week 1 doesn't have a huge impact on a 16-game season, but in all reality, a win in Week 1 can be a huge momentum boost going into the rest of the season.
For some teams, a win in Week 1 provides a head start to a competitive playoff race. For others, a win in Week 1 acts as a silencer to all critics who have doubted their offseason tactics.
Regardless, Week 1 is bigger than most would make it out to be.
Here are six teams that are in a must-win situation for their Week 1 matchup.
Week 1 Matchup: Vs. Indianapolis Colts
Must Win Because: Open Door Opportunity
There should be no more guessing of whether or not Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning will be suiting up for the season opener.
Manning underwent another neck surgery, so he should be out a minimum of two or three months. This leaves the door wide open for somebody to come in and win the division.
Yes, I'm talking about you, Houston Texans. The Texans are now the best team in the AFC South, which also consists of the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only do they have the best defense in the conference, they also now have the best quarterback.
QB Matt Schaub has been on the verge of joining the elite QB club, and this is his best chance to show the world he belongs. Breakout RB Arian Foster is questionable for Sunday's game, but even if he doesn't play, Schaub will still have star WR Andre Johnson and other offensive playmakers to take off some of the pressure.
If Houston really wants to make some noise in the AFC this year, that all starts with a Week 1 victory over the Colts.
Week 1 Opponent: At St. Louis Rams
Must Win Because: Silence the Critics
The Philadelphia Eagles definitely weren't taking a backseat to anybody this offseason. After signing big-name free agents like CB Nnamdi Asomugha and WR Steve Smith, as well as aquiring CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kevin Kolb trade, Philadelphia has become one of the most talked about teams in recent history.
That's not always a good thing. Sure, there are some people who believe that Philadelphia will be the team to beat in the NFC, but for the most part, they still have critics shooting them down. They've become the Miami Heat of the NFL.
While Philadelphia signed these Pro Bowl defensive backs, they never once changed their offensive line, which looked pretty awful in the preseason. Michael Vick is confident that his guys will step up once the season starts, though.
The Eagles will need all the confidence they can get from Vick this weekend against the St. Louis Rams. While the Rams may not be the best competition the Eagles face all year, they are still an improved team, led by one of the best young quarterbacks in the game.
QB Sam Bradford has his Rams ready to make the playoffs. A Week 1 victory for the Eagles would be huge.
Now is the time for the Eagles to silence all the critics.
Week 1 Opponent: At Chicago Bears
Must Win Because: Justify Their Draft Day Decisions
Last April, the Atlanta Falcons made a shocking move on draft day. In order to move up high enough to draft Alabama's star WR Julio Jones, the Falcons gave up their first-, second- and third-round picks from this draft and their first and fourth picks in next year's draft.
The bold move came with mixed results from fans and critics. Sure, Jones will be a great addition to the offense, but is a No. 2 wide receiver worth giving up so many picks for?
Well, let's just say if he pans out like he's supposed to, nobody is going to be second-guessing the move. Jones will have to step up in a big way during his rookie campaign, though.
With Jones on board, the Falcons offense has become downright scary. QB Matt Ryan has improved every year in the league, and now he has two receivers in Jones and current star WR Roddy White to throw to. Not to mention, TE Tony Gonzalez is still hanging around.
The Falcons also have a great running game. Running back Michael Turner is coming off an almost 1,400-yard rushing season, and his running ability will open up the passing game even more.
If the Falcons defense can improve even slightly, as they were No. 16 in terms of total defense last season, then they have a chance to have a special year.
Of course, they will be battling with the New Orleans Saints to win the NFC South, but with the Saints already down one loss, this is the perfect opportunity to get a leg up on their competition.
Week 1 Opponent: Vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Must Win Because: Prove Their Worth
After watching Colt McCoy have a terrific preseason, there's no doubt who the best team in Ohio is this year, and no, it's not the Buckeyes.
The Cleveland Browns play in a tough division, and there's no getting around that. They currently do not match up with either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens, but they do have a shot at making the playoffs. They just have to start with a game one victory over the lowly Bengals.
Even if the Browns lost both their games to Pittsburgh and both their games to Baltimore, they would still have a chance to finish the season 12-4. All the rest of the games on their schedule are winnable, so even if they were to split the series with Baltimore, they could finish 13-3.
It seems like too much of a jump for a team that finished just 5-11 last season, but I really think it's doable.
The Browns beefed up their defensive line by drafting DE Jabaal Sheard in the second round. Sheard has already been named a starter and should provide some instant production to a rather young, inexperienced defensive line.
If the Browns can get their defense going, then there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to compete for a wild-card spot in the AFC Playoffs, but they have to win their easy games to do it.
That begins with their season opener.
Week 1 Opponent: Each other
Arizona Must Win Because: To give confidence to Kevin Kolb while the team prepares to win the NFC West.
Carolina Must Win Because: Cam Newton needs a win to justify his No. 1 draft pick status and to keep Jimmy Clausen off his back.
This is the only game in Week 1 to put two "must win" teams against each other, and it should be a potentially exciting game.
The Cardinals are currently a 6.5 point favorite over the visiting Panthers, which is reasonable because they should be the better team this season. They will be competing in a more competitive NFC West conference this season against the St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
A win in Week 1 would give them a head start, as the Rams appear to be underdogs this weekend against the Eagles, and the Seahawks and 49ers actually play each other, so at least one team is bound to have a loss.
A win would also give new starting QB Kevin Kolb confidence going into his first season as a full-time starter. The Cardinals gave up pro-bowl CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kolb, so a lot of pressure has been put on Kolb to pan out.
The Cardinals and the Rams are the two most likely candidates to win the division, and the Cardinals play a much more favorable schedule. This would be a huge win for Kolb and his team.
On the flip side, the Panthers are looking to just be better than their two-win season a year ago. After spending their No. 1 draft pick controversially on QB Cam Newton, the Panthers are hoping he can be the savior to their offensive woes.
Newton really needs to have a good game in order to silence his own critics and solidify himself as the starter in Carolina. If he has a turnover-ridden game, then the quarterback controversy will be back on in Carolina.
The Panthers still have great running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and veteran WR Steve Smith may have a bounce back year with a new QB under center, but they will need more than that to improve.
Carolina finished No. 18 last season in total defense and will have to improve on that this year in order to win more than just two games.
Unfortunately, the Panthers play a really unfavorable schedule and will be lucky to win two games again.
A Week 1 victory would be a really good start, though.