By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Sunday NFL Preview: Week One
All the hoopla signaled a new beginning for the sport that everyone is watching — In 2007, NFL games on broadcast TV (CBS, FOX and NBC) averaged 16.6 million viewers (up two percent from 2006). On cable, NFL games on ESPN averaged 11.2 million viewers and 4.6 million viewers on NFL Network. Week one in the NFL is almost at the holiday level as football fans everywhere finally quench their thirst for “real” NFL game action.
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, fantasy football, the dreaded g-word (gambling), fantasy football, or any other thing, but we all know that the NFL is America’s Game.
Friday’s in Corporate America are now wear your NFL team’s colors as co-workers have fun jabbing at each other over who’s team is better and making plans for where and how they will celebrate America’s Passion each weekend until February brings the curtain down on the season.
Week one sets the tone for the entire season — the 42 Super Bowl Champions started out a combined 34-7-1 in week one and in ’07, nine of the 12 playoff teams (Dallas, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Seattle, Tennessee, and Washington) were winners in week one. Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard fresh off a playoff win in the 2007 and huge contract said of week one in the NFL, “We’re ready to roll”.
The veteran quarterback added, “Everybody is excited. It’s time to stop just practicing and playing for fun and start playing for real.” Every team and fan has a clean slate going into week one and remember unpredictability and parity rules in the NFL (Half of last year’s games were decided by eight or fewer points and for the 12th consecutive year five teams made the playoffs after missing out the year before), so don’t even think about getting up from your television. Everyone’s goal is Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, FL so it is now time for teams to fulfill their promise or fall behind the pack.
We all know the goal of the Super Bowl hanging in the balance, but there are some distinct trends that everyone needs to keep an eye out for this week.
- Passing, Passing, and more Passing – I am a smash-mouth run the football kinda guy, but NFL teams are looking to chuck it more than ever. Last season seven quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards, the most in a season in league history.
- Pressure, Pressure, and More Pressure – The Giants showed in their victory over the seemingly invincible Patriots that defensive pressure from your front seven can disrupt any passer (hit Tom Brady 16 times and sacked him 5 times). The Giants used a rotation of athletic D-linemen, who led the way to an NFL high 53 sacks in ’07. The Giants huge move in the Super Bowl was defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo moving athletic defensive end Justin Tuck to defensive tackle on passing downs.
- Two headed monsters in the backfield – Every team is now looking for at least two strong running backs on their roster to keep defensive coordinators guessing. Some teams may go with a “big” back and a speed back like the Giants (Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw), but one thing is evident you need two guys because you can fill more vital characteristics (inside power runs, match-ups, mismatches, hands, blitz pickup, etc). By splitting carries running backs are more healthy and fresh. In 2006, the Colts (Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes) proved two backs are better than one 380 plus carry back, combining for 1722 yards, a 4.1 yards per carry average, and 12 TD’s.
- Spreading the field on offense – The NFL game is now all about match-ups on offense. Offensive coaches now know that if they can get a player like Brian Westbrook (RB with speed and hands) in a foot race with a safety or linebacker they will almost find a big play every time. They are willing to put four wide receiver sets on the field causing a defense to use all of their DB’s in coverage leaving the running back one on one. This trend can work, but it can also fail if your running back cannot pick a blitz or your quarterback doesn’t get the ball out in rhythm.
- Versatility from linebackers – The NFL defenses are now built on hybrid players and schemes at the LB area. 4-3 teams often incorporate 3-4 coverage and pass rushing, because the 3-4 has come back in vogue in the NFL due to pressure. 3-4 defenses rely on interchangeable players, who can rush the passer and cover (Patriots LB unit), so defensive coordinators want guys that can play all three positions (SAM, MIKE, WILL). The key is an athletic player with the ability to stay on the field for all 3 downs (Think Patriots LB Adalius Thomas). We are also seeing versatile defensive players like Patriots LB Mike Vrabel on offense in certain packages.
This week features eight divisional match-ups right off the bat. The marquee divisional battle will surprisingly occur in Miami as the rebuilding Dolphins and their new quarterback Chad Pennington face his old team the New York Jets. I know you all know how Chad was unceremoniously jettisoned by the J-E-T-S after they signed quarterback legend Brett “The Jet” Favre. It will be real interesting to see #4 in Jets green instead of the Green and Gold of the Packers.
Before I move onto my week one feature game preview, I wanted to acknowledge Gene Upshaw who recently passed away at the age of 63. Everyone knows the NFL family was shaken by his death and the league will honor the cornerstone contributor throughout the ’08 season especially in week 1. All NFL players this season will wear a jersey patch “63″ for the fallen NFLPA leader and special ceremonies occurred at Thursday night’s opener with more to follow at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland on Monday night.
Well the wait is finally over and here’s wishing that everyone’s NFL dreams for 2008 come true. But my advice is to just enjoy the splendor of the NFL every weekend as February ’09 will be here before we all know it.
Week 1 Featured Game
VIKINGS at PACKERS @ 7:00 PM EST on ESPN
Broadcast Team: Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, and Tony Kornheiser
In the first part of Monday Night Football’s season-opening doubleheader this is an old-fashioned black and blue battle of the NFC North rivals. The game features the division’s best team from 2007 (Packers) versus the team (Vikings) everyone is picking to win the division this year. MNF probably figured Brett Favre would be under center in Green Bay for this game, but alas this battle will be the first one sans No. 4 as Brett “the Jet” will be in Miami playing for the J-E-T-S. But the real storyline will be a match-up of two young quarterbacks that are finding their way. Everyone knows that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a former first round pick (25th overall) in 2005, will be making his first career start while also having the enviable task of replacing an NFL icon. Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (passing number of 171-294, 1911 yards, 9 TDs and 12 INTs in 2007 plus a career starting record of 8-6) will also be under the microscope as he is fighting fans doubts regarding his health and ability to lead the Vikings back to the playoffs. Jackson also is battling a knee injury from the preseason, so expect a lot of 2007 NFL Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson.
Peterson (1,341 yards on 238 attempts with a remarkable 5.6 ypc in ’07) is taking aim at Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2109 yards, but he will have to lean on his large offensive line led by Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and without huge offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie (suspended for first four games for violation of league’s player conduct rules). The Vikings will also need free agent pickup and deep threat Bernard Berrian to come through with some big plays to help take the pressure off of Jackson. On defense, the Vikings will look for pressure from key off-season trade acquisition DE Jared All (16.5 sacks in ’07 for KC) and the big defensive tackle firm of Williams & Williams (Kevin and Pat). The Vikings invested a lot in their defense, so slowing down the Packers is paramount as last time these two met in November 2007 the Pack smoked them to the tune of 34-0 with Favre throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns.
The Packers I am sure are just happy to finally put the Favre vs. Management fiasco to rest as head coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson has moved on and they are expecting the same from their team. McCarthy is 4-0 versus the Vikings and their head coach Brad Childress going back to ’06 when they both got their head jobs. I expect Rodgers (passing numbers of 20-28, 218 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs in limited 2007 action) to lean on running back Ryan Grant (956 yards rushing and 8 TDs in ’07 including 119 yards the last these two met) and then look for WR Donald Driver on play action.
The key will be for Rodgers to feel comfortable in front of a crowd that could still be pro-Favre. The Packers on defense will look to Pro Bowl DE Aaron Kampman (12 sacks in ’07) to rattle Jackson into mistakes. Packers LB Nick Barnett will also have his hands full with RB’s Peterson and Chester Taylor. But the last time they met the Packers held Peterson to 45 rushing yards on 11 attempts (plus 14 yards receiving yards)
LV’s Pick: With the Packers holding a 48-44-1 edge in the overall series and fans behind Rodgers from the beginning thanks to Driver making a big play, I expect the Pack to win. The game should be very close, so don’t go to the bathroom as Peterson and Jackson should make it exciting. The Packers kickoff the Rodgers’ era with a 27-24 win.
Week 1 Schedule
N.Y. Giants 16, Redskins 7
N.Y. Jets at Miami, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Detroit at Atlanta, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
Jacksonville at Tennessee, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Tampa Bay at New Orleans, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
St. Louis at Philadelphia, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
Houston at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Kansas City at New England, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Cincinnati at Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Seattle at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
Dallas at Cleveland, 4:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
Arizona at San Francisco, 4:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
Carolina at San Diego, 4:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
Chicago at Indianapolis, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
Minnesota at Green Bay, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Denver at Oakland, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)