By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s NFL Sunday Preview: Week One
Though the NFL is now a year round league filled with activities, nothing gets fans going to the point of delirium like the Kickoff Weekend of the NFL season. I am not sure if it is the arduous seven-month long wait for real games, the once a week high, the boredom of baseball, the talented athletes, the “every game counts” subplots, the autumn weather, team allegiance, trash-talking, the dreaded g-word (gambling), fantasy football, or any other thing, but we all know that the NFL is America’s Game.
Week one sets the tone for an entire season and Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday said about the opening week “This is when it gets serious. This is why you go through the whole off-season. This is what it’s all about.” Every team and fan has a clean slate going into week one and remember unpredictability rules in the NFL, so everyone has a chance to be in Arizona on Feb. 3, 2008 for Super Bowl XLII. In fact in 2006, seven teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2005 did not make them in last year and since 2000, 12 different teams have played in the Super Bowl.
So enjoy everyone as the NFL has returned in splendor for week one of the 2007 regular season.
PHI @ GB 1:00 PM (FOX): This is the game that I will be paying particular interested to as a native Philadelphian. The Packers lead the overall series 22-13, but in the Eagles have four straight recently including a 2003 divisional playoff win (remember Freddie Mitchell on 4th and 26). The game features two quarterbacks that are linked by comparisons and the fact both players were coached by Andy Reid. Brett Favre will look to continue his streak of 237 consecutive games started and he is in sight of breaking several of Dan Marino’s all-time records including wins and touchdowns. The game also marks the return of Donovan McNabb from his season ending knee injury in 2006. McNabb (4-1 versus the Packers) has looked sharp in pre-season and he will look to get the ball to Brian Westbrook, who will finally be allowed to play a full game. The Packers have 47 wins on Kickoff Weekend, second most all-time (Chicago, 49), but the Eagles usually capitalize on turnovers by Favre, especially safety Brian Dawkins.
ATL @ MIN 1:00 PM (FOX): This rematch of the 1998 NFC Championship game will be the first game AV (After Vick) for the Falcons. New Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington and debuting head coach Bobby Petrino lead their team into the Metrodome to face a young, but improving Vikings team. Harrington will want to show that he can handle the crowd and duties of being a starter early. The good news is Harrington is 3-0 as a starter on Kickoff Weekend, but he is still getting acclimated to his new teammates and the Falcons receivers have been underachievers in the past. For the Vikings, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is making his third career start and he will have to lean on running backs Chester Taylor (1,214 yards last season) and first-round draft pick Adrian Peterson.
MIA @ WAS 1:00 PM (CBS): This inter-conference meeting features two teams searching to get off on a good start after a disappointing 2006. The Dolphins have brought in a new head coach Cam Cameron, who is trying to clean house and motivate an underachieving team. And the Redskins led by veteran head coach Joe Gibbs are trying to justify the large amounts of dollars invested on the team by owner Daniel Snyder that has yet to produce a contender. The Dolphins have won two of the past three meetings, but playing at FedEx field in front of 90,000 fans is a daunting task. On offense, the Dolphins will look for former Redskin veteran quarterback Trent Green to give them a spark after returning from a concussion problem in ’06. The Redskins, who are celebrating their 75th anniversary, will lean on 2nd year starter quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell was hot at the end of last season throwing a touchdown in all seven-career starts (10 TDs). The Redskins also will feature the backfield tandem of former 1,000-yard rushers Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts.
NE @ NYJ 1:00 PM (CBS): “Mangini Bowl IV” should be another physical contest as New York Jets Head Coach and former Bill Belichek disciple Eric Mangini tries to beat this year’s AFC favorite. The last time these two met was in the 2006 wildcard round on Jan. 7, 2007 with the Patriots winning convincingly 37, to 16. Mangini and Belichek are not the best of friends and they had the NFL’s briefest handshake in history last year (Sept 17) after the Jets beat the Patriots. That Jets’ win was their only one in the last eight meetings versus the Patriots. Veteran quarterback Tom Brady who is 6-0 lifetime playing at Giants Stadium versus the Jets leads the Patriots and he will be looking for off-season acquisition WR Randy Moss.
TEN @ JAC 1:00 PM (CBS): This AFC South battle features two teams trying to catch the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars have won three of past four matchups, but Titans quarterback Vince Young (NFL Rookie of the Year in 2006) will be looking to turn around that trend. When the two team met last December, the Titans won 24-17 as their defense scored three defensive touchdowns. I will be interested to see how Jaguars new starter David Garrard (5-5 as a starter in 2006) will handle the Titans attacking defense led by big DT Albert Haynesworth.
DEN @ BUF 1:00 PM (CBS): This game is a typical black and blue AFC match-up of two teams close to being playoff worthy, but having question marks. The Broncos will be traveling across the country in search of their fifth straight win over the Bills. The two teams last met in December of 2005 with the Broncos winning. The Broncos rank 2nd in AFC with a .630 win percentage (29-17-1) on Kickoff Weekend will be leaning on 2nd year quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler and “Big Daddy” Travis Henry will look to move the ball versus a Bills team that lost LB London Fletcher (Redskins), CB Nate Clements (49ers), and LB Takeo Soikes (Eagles) in the off-season. On offense, look for Bills’ quarterback J.P. Losman to try and improve upon his career highs from 2006 (3,051 passing yards, 268 completions, 429 attempts and 19 TDs). Losman should have help from rookie first-round pick running back Marshawn Lynch and wide receiver Lee Evans (1,292 yards receiving in 2006).
PIT @ CLE 1:00 PM (CBS): An AFC North battle of two historic franchises going in opposite directions. Though they are playing at home, the beleaguered Browns have lost twelve out of thirteen games to the Steelers. I don’t see that mark changing for the better, because the Steelers always seem to rise and shine versus the Browns. In their last meeting in December of 2006, Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker set a club-record 223 yards rushing and had one touchdown in a 27-7 rout. The Steelers, who are celebrating their 75th season will be debuting their new head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin will be counting on Ohio-native QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is 5-0 as starter against Browns. The Browns led by “Hot Seat” Head Coach Romeo Crennel will be looking from a spark from first round draft pick tackle Joe Thomas and quarterback Charlie Frye. Frye was surprisingly named the starter after having a sub par pre-season compared to first-round pick and quarterback of the future Brady Quinn.
CAR @ STL 1:00 PM (FOX): This game features two teams that had high expectations in 2006, which did not materialize. The Panthers will be looking to continue their current streak of two straight wins over the Rams including a 15-0 shout out win November of 2006. However going to St. Louis in one of the NFL’s loudest venues (Edward Jones Dome) will not be easy, plus the Rams have won 10 of their past 12 home openers. The Panthers (8-8 in ’06) will be looking for quarterback Jake Delhomme to continue his mastery of the Rams (3-0 in career). Delhomme’s number one target Steve Smith is finally healthy and the Panthers will look to get the ball to the tough wide receiver early and often. The Panthers will also try to get their two-head monster in the backfield of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams going. The Rams will counter with quarterback Marc Bulger and versatile running back Steven Jackson. Watch for the play of Rams rookie DT Adam Karriker, who is moving inside for the first time in his career. Also watch for big plays from Pro Bowler Panthers DE Julius Peppers, who tied for second in NFC in ’06 with 13.0 sacks.
KC @ HOU 1:00 PM (CBS): This AFC opening weekend game features the former Dallas Texans (now Kansas City Chiefs) versus the Houston Texans. In their short history the Chiefs hold a 2-1 edge in the series. The two teams last met in November of 2005 with Chiefs running back Larry Johnson mauling the Texans for 211 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a Chiefs’ victory. The Chiefs can only hope to get that kind of production from Johnson as the big back missed all of the pre-season in a contract holdout. Chiefs Head Coach Herman Edwards finally decided on veteran Damon Huard (5-3 as a starter in ’06) as his starter at quarterback, but Huard will need to lean on the running game first with Michael Bennett carrying some of the load for Johnson. The Chiefs will need a good defensive effort to win on the road despite the loss of suspended DE Jared Allen (two games). The Texans will unveil their new franchise quarterback Matt Schaub and he will look to get the ball to Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson (103 catches in ’06). The Texans will also try and get veteran running back Ahmad Green going. Keep an eye out for Texans pre-season phenom third-round pick WR/KR Jacoby Jones, who led the team with 11 receptions for 139 yard and two touchdowns plus he returned two punts for touchdowns.
TB @ SEA 4:15 PM (FOX): The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel across the country in a game that has all the makings of a mismatch. The Seahawks hold a 9-1 series edge over the Bucs and they have won the last two meetings including a December 2006 23-7 victory. In that game the Seahawks relied on running back Shaun Alexander (92 yards, TD) and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (17-29, 216 yards and 1 TD) and you can expect the same in this game for the defending NFC West champions. The Buccaneers will be starting their 10th quarterback under Jon Gruden in veteran Jeff Garcia (1,309 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs) and Garcia will need to have assistance from running back Cadillac Williams to get past the Seahawks. The Bucs are led defensively by Pro Bowl LB Derrick Brooks, first round pick DE Gaines Adams, and free agent signee LB Cato June, but they appear to be aging.
CHI @ SD 4:15 PM (FOX): This is one of the marquee match-ups for week one with two teams that have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. These two teams have not met much since they are in separate conferences (last meeting 2003 with the Bears winning 20-7) and the Bears hold a slight 5-4 advantage in games. The Bears and their Head coach Lovie Smith want to prove that last year’s Super Bowl appearance was not a fluke. Smith is attempting to become the first head coach to lead the Bears to consecutive division titles since Mike Ditka did it. The key for the Bears as always will be the play of inconsistent quarterback Rex Grossman, who has won 17 of 23 starts, but sometimes the wins are extremely ugly with the Bears stifling defense dominating. Watch for superstar Bears return man Devin Hester (NFL record six return TDs in ’06) and a defense that led the NFL in 44 takeaways. The host Chargers probably have more talent than anyone in the NFL and they want to prove that they are more than an inflated regular season star. The Chargers had won 10 straight regular-season games and were undefeated at home in ’06, but they lost in their first playoff game to the Colts. New Chargers head coach Norv Turner will attempt to get the team over the hump and he will need to rely on Pro Bowlers QB Phillip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates, LB Shawn Merriman, and NFL MVP RB LaDainian Tomlinson.
DET @ OAK 4:15 PM (FOX): This is one of the uglier match-ups of week 1 as the 2007 NFL Draft’s first and second place teams face off in an inter-conference game. These two teams have not met since November of 2003 and the Raiders lead the all-time series 6 games to 3 games. The game will feature the Raiders surprisingly tough defense versus the Lions version of the “Greatest Show on Turf”. Lions quarterback Jon Kitna is coming off a career-best 4,208 yards passing in ’06 and he has vowed to put up even better numbers in ’07. Kitna will have a lot of weapons to work with in RB Tatum Bell, Pro Bowl WR Roy Williams (led NFC with career-high 1,310 yards). WR Mike Furrey (98 receptions) and rookie sensation WR Calvin Johnson. The Raiders will try to attack the weak Lions defense led by the NFL’s youngest head coach ever Lane Kiffin. Kiffin surprisingly decided to start former Lions quarterback Josh McCown instead of former Pro Bowler Daunte Culpepper. Watch for Raiders DE Derrick Burgess has led the NFL with 27 sacks the last two seasons.
NYG @ DAL 8:15 PM (NBC): Sunday Night football returns on NBC with this heated divisional rivalry that was more fun when Bill Parcells was coaching either team. The Cowboys lead the all-time series 52-35-2, but the Giants have won two of last three meetings. This game should be a close battle just like the December 2006 meeting when the Cowboys squeaked out a 23-20 victory in New York. The Giants will look to get some consistency from QB Eli Manning, who has not played bad against the Cowboys winning three of five career starts. Manning will try to lean on Tiki Barber replacements Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns and WR Plaxico Burress. The Giants defense will try to plug many holes left by injuries and defections and it will be interesting to see if DE Michael Strahan, who just reported is able to play. Strahan is a Cowboys killer having 17.0 career versus them (second-most versus a single opponent). The Cowboys will be making their debut under new head coach Wade Phillips and they will be looking for QB Tony Romo to prove last year was not a flash in the pan. Romo made the Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter and boasted a 95.1 passer rating, but he may still be haunted by his fumble of a field goal snap that cost the Cowboys a playoff win against Seattle. Also look for WR Terrell Owens to play well in the spotlight as he is hoping to continue on his 12 touchdowns 12 games pace from last year. The Cowboys defense will feature Pro Bowl LB DeMarcus Ware, first round draft pick LB Anthony Spencer, and hard hitting Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams, but they may be hurt by starting CB Terrance Newman being hurt.
BAL @ CIN 7:00 PM (ESPN): Game one of the ESPN Monday Night Football doubleheader pits the two most recent AFC North champions in a rivalry game. The Ravens hold a 13-9 edge in the series, but the games are always competitive. In 2006, the two split their two game series with each team winning aft home. I believe this division will be very competitive with the Bengals, Ravens, and Steelers fighting it out for supremacy. This game is important not only for getting off to a good start, but it also represents the importance of divisional games. The Bengals, whose coach Marvin Lewis is on the “hot seat” need to play disciplined football. In 2006, the Bengals were known to meltdown on and off the field limping home to an 8-8 record. The Ravens (13-3 in ’06) on the other hand enter the game looking to repeat as division champs and they want to get off to a good start after an embarrassing home playoff loss to the Colts. The Ravens will lean on their tough attacking defense under Rex Ryan that features 10 of 11 starters returning including rejuvenated veteran MLB Ray Lewis. The Bengals explosive offense led by Pro Bowl players quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Rudi Johnson, and wide receiver Chad Johnson will try and put points on the board
ARI @ SF 10:15 PM (ESPN): Game Two of the ESPN Monday Night Football doubleheader pits two franchises, who believe they have turned the corner to becoming respectable in a divisional battle. The Cardinals may have the easiest road to the playoffs as their opponents having a winning percentage of 46%, but the 49ers have loaded up on defense bringing in SS Michael Lewis, CB Nate Clements, and first-round draft pick Patrick Willis. The key to the game will be the 49ers secondary’s ability to contain Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinhart and his plethora of offensive weapons (RB Edgerrin James, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Bryan Johnson, and WR Anquan Boldin). The 49ers offense will need to see if running back Frank Gore is healed from his pre-season broken hand and if Alex Smith is ready to take the next step in his maturation.