Matchups to Watch  


Ware vs. Thomas headlines opening week matchups

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After a terrific rookie year, Browns LT Joe Thomas begins his second season against Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware.

It's Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season, and here are some of the key matchups worth watching:

Dallas LB DeMarcus Ware vs. Cleveland LT Joe Thomas

This is the marquee matchup of the week. Both players have game-changing ability -- Ware as a pass rusher, Thomas as a pass protector.

In the two years prior to Thomas joining the Browns as the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, Cleveland had allowed a total of 100 sacks. Last year, they allowed just 19 sacks, with a mere 1.5 coming against Thomas. The result of that increased protection: The Browns averaged 351 yards per game, eighth in the NFL in 2007. Thomas has long arms, strong hands and is very athletic.

Also a first-round pick, Ware is starting his fourth season with Dallas. He has started 48 consecutive games and has 33.5 sacks in three years, including 14 last year. Ware is a dominating player with great speed for his position. His unbelievable quickness prevents offensive tackles from getting their hands on him, which is obviously what Thomas needs to do here if QB Derek Anderson is going to have time to make plays against Dallas.

N.Y. Jets QB Brett Favre vs. Miami QB Chad Pennington

Has there ever been this much Week 1 anticipation for a game between teams that combined for five total wins the previous season? It's safe to say the answer is no, but it's also understandable given the developments of the summer.

We all know what Favre can do with his strong arm and improvisational skills. He has the ability to make a team better and will do that with the Jets as he makes his debut for them. But in terms of passing stats and overall success, can he do in 2008 what he did with the Packers in 2007? Pennington, meanwhile, is starting his ninth NFL season and his first as a Dolphin. Pennington, who started 61 games in his Jets career, lacks the arm strength of most quarterbacks but makes up for it with accuracy and his ability to read defenses. His career completion percentage is better than 65 percent.

Chicago CB Nathan Vasher vs. Indianapolis WR Reggie Wayne

In 2007, the once-proud Bears defense ranked 27th versus the pass with 16 total interceptions. Playing against the Colts in this rematch of Super Bowl XLI, Chicago obviously needs to slow down the passing game. Wayne lines up on left side most of the time, which means Vasher, from his right CB spot, will be relied on heavily. Wayne caught 104 passes for 1,510 yards and 10 TDs last season, while Vasher missed much of '07 season with injuries. He played in just four games last year, starting two, but was excellent in '05 and '06. He'll need to return to form if he is to stop Wayne.

Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay LB Nick Barnett

Peterson is a big back with speed. Barnett is a big 'backer with speed. In the second meeting between these teams last year, on Nov. 11, the Packers held Peterson to 45 rushing yards on 11 attempts (plus 14 yards receiving yards). Barnett is an every-down player, and he was the team's top tackler last season. Peterson, meanwhile, is coming off a spectacular rookie season. He ran for 1,341 yards, second best in the NFL, and set a single-game mark with 296 yards against San Diego. One concern here for the Vikings: They like to run to the left, and they will be without starting LT Bryant McKinnie in this game, as he is sitting due to suspension.

Houston CB Fred Bennett vs. Pittsburgh WR Santonio Holmes

Holmes had a coming-out last year as a sophomore in the NFL with 52 receptions. 942 yards and 8 TDs. Look for him to break out with an even bigger year in '08. Holmes has the speed to get deep and will catch crossing patterns across the middle. Bennett, meanwhile, is a second-year player for the Texans with good size and speed. He lacks experience, though, and it would help him greatly in this matchup if the Texans can get a big pass rush against QB Ben Roethlisberger. Houston had only 11 INTs all of last season -- but Bennett led the team with three.

St. Louis LB Will Witherspoon vs. Philadelphia RB Brian Westbrook

Westbrook may present the toughest matchup in the NFL on a weekly basis. A threat as both a runner and receiver, he led the league in '07 with 2,104 scrimmage yards and 104 first downs. Witherspoon, a seven-year veteran entering his third season with the Rams, has the speed needed to contain Westbrook from making big plays.



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