Dixon, Kolb stepping into spotlight among Week 1 storylines

1. Kolb, Dixon in the spotlight

Kevin Kolb faces the Packers, offering an ironic twist considering he replaces Donovan McNabb just like Aaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre. The Packers fans loved Favre but were extremely tolerant of Rodgers' learning curve in 2008. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles faithful handle the growth spurt Kolb has to go through.

The Packers will pressure Kolb and test an offensive line that gave up 38 sacks a year ago. The Packers scored 242 points on the road last season (30.3 per game) and Kolb will have the pressure of staying up with that kind of pace.

As for Dennis Dixon, this was a move out of necessity with Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games and Byron Leftwich getting injured in the preseason finale. Steelers fans could be calling for Charlie Batch if things get off to a rough start.

Dixon has thrown 27 regular-season passes in his NFL career. The Falcons aren't going to let him escape to his right where he creates problems. Look for Atlanta to keep Dixon contained and force him to win with his arm, not his legs.

The big question for both young quarterbacks is will the coaches feature the running attack in an attempt to help each of them when they are known passing teams?

2. Week 1 a predictor of success

It's always important to get off to a good start, but when you open the year against a divisional foe, the stakes are raised.

Last season, there were seven division matchups in Week 1. Of the seven teams that lost, only one rebounded to have a winning season and win a division title (Arizona Cardinals). In 2008, there were eight division games to open the season and only two of the eight losers (Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings) went on to win their division.


Predictions for 2010

» Packers unanimously picked to reach Super Bowl
» These teams have the profile to reach the big game
» Gimme 5: 2009 non-playoff teams for 2010 postseason
» Brooks: Early 2010 award predictions

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Also

» Marshall to Dolphins among 2010's impact moves
» Immense pressure put on Chargers rookie RB
» Tough being the guy replacing The Guy
» Texans lead list of new contenders

2010 team previews, predictions

» NFC EAST: Cowboys | Giants | Eagles | Redskins
» NFC NORTH: Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
» NFC SOUTH: Falcons | Panthers | Saints | Buccaneers
» NFC WEST: Cardinals | 49ers | Seahawks | Rams
» AFC EAST: Bills | Dolphins | Patriots | Jets
» AFC NORTH: Ravens | Bengals | Browns | Steelers
» AFC SOUTH: Texans | Colts | Jaguars | Titans
» AFC WEST: Broncos | Chiefs | Raiders | Chargers

This year, we have seven division games and the loser of the Miami-Buffalo, Detroit-Chicago, Indianapolis-Houston, San Diego-Kansas City, San Francisco-Seattle, Arizona-St. Louis and Dallas-Washington games will have plenty to worry about this season.

3. Brady's home streak in jeopardy

More and more, the Patriots have to lean on Tom Brady as the defense goes through a youthful transition and might not be able to support the offense as in the past. Brady has won 20 straight regular-season games at Foxboro and is 54-10 in the regular season at home in his career.

This week, Brady will probably have to generate close to 30 points to keep the streak alive against a Bengals team that will stress the Patriots defensively.

4. Growth of 3-4 continues

The Redskins, Bills and to some extent the Seahawks are all moving to their version of the 3-4 defense after years in the 4-3. Last season, the Packers pulled it off but others struggled when they didn't have the components to make the switch.

Do the Redskins need Albert Haynesworth to make the transition work?

Do the Bills have the outside pass rushers the 3-4 requires after Aaron Schobel retired?

Although the Seahawks will be in more of a hybrid scheme, confidence in DE Red Bryant helps them move towards an odd-front package. The teams coming into play the Bills (Dolphins) and Redskins (Cowboys) really know how to attack the 3-4 defense. We will quickly know if these teams are ready to play in their new schemes.

5. Matchups to watch

Every week produces intriguing individual matchups. Catching my eye this week are rookies facing veterans: Redskins LT Trent Williams against Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware, Texans CB Kareem Jackson vs. Colts WR Reggie Wayne, 49ers RT Anthony Davis on Seahawks DE Red Bryant, Lions DT Ndamukong Suh facing Bears G Roberto Garza and Eagles DE Brandon Graham, who already tweeted his plans to sack Aaron Rodgers, against Packers RT Mark Tauscher.

6. Pressure on Cutler

Mike Martz is a brilliant offensive mind and will be a great influence on Jay Cutler over time. However, I have some questions about this year. Can the offensive line protect Cutler? The Lions have a good four-man rush and will check out the pass blocking. If LT Chris Williams can get beat by Kamerion Wimbley, you have to figure Kyle Vanden Bosch is going to be in Cutler's face. Secondly, are any of the receivers even close to Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim? I am very interested to see how coach Martz adjusts to the talent he has in Chicago.

7. Get out of the way

The umpire has never been under a bigger microscope than this week. The league moved him from next to the middle linebacker to the offensive backfield for his own safety. The problem is many teams use a no-huddle package, and it takes time for the umpire to get to his new spot. The alignment has been tweaked at certain points of the game, but problems could still arise. A team looking to move quicker than the official could find its drive stymied with a penalty or see its rhythm slowed, which will be a bone of contention next week.

8. Impact of suspensions

While Ben Roethlisberger is lucky his suspension was reduced to four games, if the Steelers get off to a bad start with a loss to the Falcons, he will really start to realize how he hurt his team. It will be tough to beat the Falcons with Dixon's inexperience.

Brian Cushing, who had a pick against Peyton Manning last year, is the heart and soul of the Texans' front seven. He will also sit four games, which could go a long way toward seeing the Texans lose to the Colts. There's lots of pressure on Xavier Adibi, and you know Manning will be looking him.

In Seattle, LB Leroy Hill will sit against the 49ers, putting stress on replacement David Hawthorne. Hawthorne replaced the injured Lofa Tatupu last year, and if he plays like he did last year, he might not lose the job when Hill returns.

9. Ready to make an impact?

Brandon Marshall is now a Dolphin, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are Ravens and Terrell Owens is a Bengal. All of them should make their respective teams better, but it remains to be seen how much. Week 1 will be a good indicator.

10. Passing time

Go back one year and look at the starting quarterbacks. There are 13 different starters this season. The point is which quarterbacks getting the call this week will be on the bench or long gone a year from now. Here's the list from last year to this season.


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Arizona Cardinals: Kurt Warner (2009), Derek Anderson (2010)
Carolina Panthers: Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore
Cleveland Browns: Brady Quinn, Jake Delhomme
Kansas City: Brodie Croyle, Matt Cassel
Miami Dolphins: Chad Pennington, Chad Henne
Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell, Jason Campbell
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Dennis Dixon
Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb
St. Louis Rams: Marc Bulger, Sam Bradford
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Byron Leftwich, Josh Freeman or Josh Johnson
Tennessee Titans: Kerry Collins, Vince Young
San Francisco 49ers: Shaun Hill, Alex Smith
Washington Redskins: Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb