Mano-A-Mano: Five Crucial Week One NFL Match-Ups

T.J. DoneganCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2009

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 8:  Cornerback Antonio Cromartie #25 of the San Diego Chargers enters Qualcomm Park for the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 8, 2006 at in San Diego, California.  The Chargers won 23-13.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

It's finally here.

Thursday night may have been the first game of the 2009 NFL season, but that was like opening a single present on Christmas Eve.

My parents tried that (as in, me and my sister talked them into it) once when I was a little kid and it just didn't feel the same.

Thursday's game was great and everything, but there's just something about waking up, knowing you have a full slate of games ahead of you, "adult sodas" to drink, and greasy food to eat that just makes this the best weekend of the year.

Even though it's week one and most of us will be lost in the euphoria of football finally returning, there are significant questions to be answered by teams around the league and some really intriguing match-ups to consider.

Despite being a team game, at the highest level it just takes one play, one step, one tackle to change the course of a game, of the whole season.

It may be week one, but in three months a team may look back to one snap of the ball and realize that was the play that determined the course of the season.

With that, let's look at five of the most crucial one-on-one matchups, the games-within-the-games that will define week one.

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Darrelle Revis vs. Andre Johnson

The New York Jets' Darrelle Revis has his work cut out for him. As was originally opined by M.A. Mehta of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Revis may have to face the toughest slate of receivers any cornerback could have this season.

Revis has quietly become one of the premier cover corners in the league, displaying a polish that belies his young age.

Still, this is just some guys he'll find staring across the line of scrimmage at him this season:

Steve Smith, Chad Ochocinco, Reggie Wayne, Roddy White, Randy Moss (twice), Terrell Owens (twice), Ted Ginn Jr. (twice), Antonio Bryant, Marques Colston, and of course Andre Johnson today.

Ouch. That looks like the PPR fantasy Hall of Fame.

Given the aggressive blitz-heavy scheme new coach Rex Ryan has installed —the Jets led the league in pre-season sacks with 20—much will depend on Revis' ability to hang with the league's elite pass-catchers.

It all starts today.

Terrell Owens vs. Leigh Bodden

Buffalo has been a doormat for New England for most of the past decade and, while they've had some opening day luck against the Patriots in the past, it looks like they'll once again play Washington Generals to the New England Globetrotters offense.

But on defense, the Patriots have seen a lot of familiar faces wave goodbye and take a final drive down Route 1 out of town.

Young guns like Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather will now be tasked with bringing the defense back to its former glory.

Still, the sorest spot last year for the Patriots was their much-maligned defensive backfield. With incumbent Ellis Hobbs now a Philadelphia Eagle, the Patriots will need replacements Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs, and Darius Butler to pick up much of the slack.

Bodden is a bit of a journeyman despite his young age, having already played in Cleveland and Detroit.

He showed some early promise in Cleveland and New England is hoping that his poor play in Detroit was a product of his environment more than anything.

Still, he's as close to a No. 1 corner as New England has and, while the rest of the defense will get a lot more media attention, it'll be his ability to replicate the success of the cover corners who have worn Patriot blue in the past decade that will determine how successful New England are this season.

JaMarcus Russell vs Antonio Cromartie

You can pretty much replace Cromartie's name with everyone involved with the Charger pass-defense, because they did not look good in 2008.

Still, this should be a low-hanging fruit for San Diego to tee off on.

While the Chargers boast some of the best pass-rushing talent in the league, Antonio Cromartie's 10-interception season of 2007 seems a distant memory.

What is far easier to recall is the 2008 Chargers defense, which can only really be described as "woeful."

Even during their most successful years, the Chargers ran with about the middle of the pack in terms of passing yardage against, but with Merriman out last year, they fell to bottom of the barrel against opposing passers.

Oakland doesn't have a whole lot of talent around Russell, but if San Diego can't even keep the lid on what amounts to a rather unimpressive passing attack, their title credentials will seriously be discredited this week.

I'd expect San Diego to really put the vice on the Raiders tomorrow, because that is a unit that has a lot to prove in 2009.

The hopes of the Chargers and what is a championship caliber offense are counting on it.

Aaron Kampman vs. Chris Williams

Aaron Kampman might be the biggest beneficiary of the Packers' switch to a 3-4 defense.

With his pass-rushing instincts and combination of size and athleticism, he's a guy who, like fellow 3-4 OLBs James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware, could rack up the sacks this season.

Kampman will likely man the left-outside linebacker position for most of Green Bay's defensive downs this season, including their week one matchup against Chicago.

Chicago on the other hand, will look to show off their new franchise quarterback Jay Cutler and hopefully keep him vertical.

A 2008 first-round pick, Williams essentially gave up a sack on his first snap at left tackle last year when then-defensive-end Aaron Kampman blew right past him. Grossman snuck away, saving Williams' blushes, but it was an inauspicious debut to say the least.

Williams will once again face Kampman tomorrow when he debuts as Chicago's new right tackle. With the addition of Orlando Pace at left tackle, Williams will have the chance to develop his considerable talents.

He'll also have the chance for a little payback. If he shuts down Kampman, it'll be Aaron, not Chris, hearing the boo-birds say he's not cut out for the position.

Albert Haynesworth vs. Brandon Jacobs

Having lived in Washington, D.C., the last three years, I can tell you that Skins fans are rabid supporters of their boys.

I saw the de facto memorial that the most loyal Washingtonians erected in the D.C. metro when Sean Taylor was killed in his home.

Unfortunately, they haven't had much to cheer for the last few years. Despite solid work out of Jason Campbell who can finally run the same offense for consecutive years, an MVP-caliber season out of Clinton Portis, and the addition of Albert Haynesworth, many experts still pick either the Giants of the Eagles to come out of this division.

If the Skins had the good fortune to be located outside the Northeast Corridor, they'd probably have an easy ride to the playoffs with a defense that is still pretty fearsome.

They're not so lucky though, and will have to earn their keep in what is still the toughest division in the conference. It'll come hard and Haynesworth is a big part of that.

The most dominant 4-3 defensive tackle in the game today, Haynesworth has had problems staying on the field. But he'll go up against the best rushing team in the NFL, a team he was brought in specifically to shut down.

Brandon Jacobs is probably the hardest man in the NFL to tackle. He's got the legs of Earl Campbell and the speed to hang with a faster modern game.

He's never going to be Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson, but he's a punishing runner who plows into the second level. There's nothing neat about Brandon Jacobs, nothing shifty.

He's going to come right at you and if you don't get out of the way voluntarily, he will remove you from his path. He's a joy to watch as a runner.

But Haynesworth is a special talent, too, and it'll be a treat to see the two go head-to-head on inside run after inside run on Sunday.

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