After an off-season that was anything but typical due to the prolonged lockout and labor dispute, the NFL opened the 2011 season on Thursday night. Fans and analysts alike were concerned about the quality of play due to the lack of Organized Team Activities and mini-camps, plus the lack of time that free agents and rookies would have to get used to a new system.
With all that in mind, the NFL could not have opened the season in a better fashion. Rather than a sloppy game on offense, both Aaron Rodgers for the Green Bay Packers and Drew Brees for the New Orleans Saints threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. The game featured the occasional defensive stop, offensive firepower and even exciting special team plays. The game even came down to an untimed play that could have led to a tie game and overtime.
After an offseason that left a bad taste in most fans’ mouths, the opening game of the 2011 was refreshing and exciting. All is forgiven. Now the question is will the rest of opening weekend live up to Thursday night? Let’s take a look.
Sunday, September 11th :
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens – One of the most intense rivalries in the National Football League right now, this game has a chance to rival Thursday night. While the Packers-Saints game was almost completely about offensive fireworks, this game will feature fireworks on the other side of the ball. Expect big hits, lots of extracurricular activities, and the occasional big offensive play. Until proven otherwise, the Steelers do have the edge even though the game is in Baltimore.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns – Also known as the other two teams in the AFC North. These two teams are also moving in the opposite directions, as the Browns seem to be getting more competitive and adding talent, while the Bengals look to be headed back to worst franchise in the league status. Especially with this game being played in Cleveland, the Browns should handle the Bengals, winning by at least a touchdown.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans – If this was a normal football game between the Colts and the Texans, most people would be speculating if this is the time for the Texans to finally beat the Peyton Manning-led Colts like they have been the past two years. However, this is not going to be a normal game. Manning will not be under center for the Colts, which likely means that the Texans will win this game. No single player in the NFL matters more to his team than Manning.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars cut their starting quarterback earlier this week. The Titans got Chris Johnson back in the fold. Have to expect that the Titans take this one simply by running all over the Jaguars for four quarters.
Atlanta Falcons at Chicago Bears – The Falcons had the best record in the NFC last season and added wide receiver Julio Jones to an already explosive offense. The Bears won the NFC North with a stifling defense. Have to give the edge to the Falcons because of the sheer amount of weapons they have now.
Philadelphia Eagles at St Louis Rams – The Eagles were an explosive team on offense last season with the resurgence of quarterback Michael Vick. The Rams nearly won the weak NFC West and got quarterback Sam Bradford some more weapons on offense. Eagles should win this game, but the Rams will give them a run for their money and could pull off the upset.
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Lions boast potentially one of the best defensive lines led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Bucs have a superstar in the making with quarterback Josh Freeman. The Lions should contend for a wildcard spot this season, the Bucs next. Lions should win, but it could be a very entertaining game.
Minnesota Vikings at San Diego Chargers – The Chargers under head coach Norv Turner are notorious for their slow starts. The Vikings look like they might be one of the weaker teams in the league. This matchup should be what the doctor ordered for the Chargers, which is perennially one of the most talented teams in the league. Chargers should start off the season with a win.
Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals – The Panthers were the worst team in the NFL last season. The Cardinals were better, but not by that much. However, the Cards to have a more talented roster and may have their franchise quarterback in Kevin Kolb. The Panthers have a great rushing attack, but the Cards should be able to move the ball at will on the Panthers, which equals a win at home.
New York Giants at Washington Redskins – On paper, the Giants are the better team. The Giants have their franchise quarterback in Eli Manning, while the Redskins will be starting Rex Grossman. The Redskins do have a good defense, but the Giants should win this game. The Redskins have another offseason to go before getting their offense settled.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers – Last season’s NFC West champions have a new look at quarterback. Rather than Matt Hasselbeck leading the offense, it will be Tavaris Jackson, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. The 49ers will rely on Alex Smith to lead their offense. Neither quarterback inspires that much confidence. The 49ers should have the edge with a better defense and run game.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets – The first Sunday night game of the year showcases one of the best defenses in the NFL going up against a Cowboys offense that can be extremely hard to defend when it is clicking. The Jets should win this game, but it will be interesting to see if quarterback Mark Sanchez has made any significant strides and how the defense will fare without defensive end Shaun Ellis, who was a huge part of the pass defense.
Monday predictions will come Monday afternoon.