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XLVI things to look forward to this NFL season

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With a nod to the final game in February, here are the XLVI things I am looking forward to as the 2011 NFL season kicks off.

I. Sam Bradford. He was fun to watch last year as a rookie and I am looking forward to him playing well enough to enter my blue-chip/red-chip ratings next season. He has blue talent, and just needs to play like one.

II. Matthew Stafford. Based on preseason play, I think Stafford is ready to crack the top 10 QBs. I am looking forward to seeing him play an entire season, showing the talent that has been on display this summer.

III. Bengals defense. The unit might go the entire season without getting any love from the national media, but I am excited to watch this defense surprise some teams. The offense might face tough times, but the defense packs a punch and will be tough for teams to handle. Cincinnati's front seven defines the word physical.

IV. Not the Bengals offense. I would be excited to watch the Bengals this year if Carson Palmer was back at quarterback. The sad part about the early Palmer retirement is that he would have liked playing in this offense, with new coordinator Jay Gruden.

V. Chiefs facing reality. I might be wrong, but something about the Chiefs is not right. Their schedule is tougher, their talent level has not increased and no one will take them lightly.

VI. A.J. Green. The Cincinnati rookie will be fun to watch run. He has explosive speed and will put fear in many top corners.

VII. Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh on Thanksgiving. John's Ravens vs. Jim's Niners is a game I cannot wait to see. However, I'm afraid one of the Harbaughs is coaching a quarterback-less team. Can you guess which one?

VIII. Redskins quarterbacks. I am excited for Mike Shanahan to tell me which quarterback he chooses for his starter, and even more excited to see if this experiment will work. The NFC East is more wide open than many might think, and if Shanny is right with his choice, he might have the best team at the end.

IX. How the Eagles fare. The Eagles are really dreaming if they think they have a "Dream Team." Such teams don't have concerns on the offensive line, at middle linebacker and with the quarterback getting hit too often. The Eagles have a nice collection of players, but it will take more than six weeks to build a cohesive championship team.

X. Peyton Manning. Even if Manning plays in the opener to keep his streak of consecutive games started alive, his play will not be Manning-like. But I am always excited to watch him play -- he makes my Monday tape watching so much fun. I hope he does not return too soon, just for the sake of the streak.

XI. The rest of the Colts. And on Monday when I watch the Colts, I am always impressed with Manning, Dwight Freeney and Reggie Wayne, but rarely with the entire team. They have looked bad in the preseason. I realize they don't try hard in the summer, but this Colts team looks to have more problems than just effort.

XII. How the Cowboys fare. If the Cowboys don't win the NFC East, it won't be Tony Romo's fault. It will be the fault of the secondary and not having a legitimate cover man to complement Rob Ryan's blitzing defense.

XIII. Old Jets receivers. Does Rex Ryan ever worry about his team? If he does, he never shows it. But if I were him, I might be worried about counting on 34-year-old receiver Plaxico Burress and 37-year-old Derrick Mason being healthy and vibrant in December. Age is the silent killer in football, but Rex never seems worried about making his team older.

XIV. Not LaDainian Tomlinson. I loved watching L.T. run when he was with the Chargers, but I don't like watching him play now. He is not the same player he once was and I am afraid the spark might be gone. I am not looking forward to his season.

XV. San Diego's special teams. The Chargers will be able to punt and cover kicks this season and their special teams will be improved. Therefore, I am excited to watch Philip Rivers and his team finally make a Super Bowl run.

XVI. Tom Brady and Chad Ochocinco. Brady throwing to Ochocinco is something I never thought would happen, but I am excited to see how well they mesh and what kind of chemistry they develop.

XVII. Albert Haynesworth. He will be the real deal this year. I am confident he will play well and prove his detractors wrong. Haynesworth, in shape and motivated, can change the game.

XVIII. The Lions. Ndamukong Suh is a game changer and the defense has shown it is fast, athletic and physical. Detroit has a tough schedule, but it is a tough team. The Lions will move from good to much better. Next year they will be great.

XIX. Reggie Bush. Bush in the slot, Bush in the backfield, Bush all over the field for the 'Fins, but can he be a playmaker all year long? I am excited to see if he can stay healthy. If Miami loses Bush for any extended time, can this team overcome it?

XX. The soft Texans. I am really excited to see if the Texans can play with physical power and not lose leads in the fourth quarter. If they do, I'll remove the soft label.

XXI. The Titans as a sleeper. This team is fast on defense, tough on offense and will get better as the year moves along. Opponents better not fall asleep on this team.

XXII. Year Two of the Pete Carroll regime. Theoretically, the Seahawks should make some strides after last year's division title. But based on the preseason, it might be a long 2011.

XXIII. The Niners' QB situation. San Francisco's No. 1 need before the lockout was quarterback, its No. 1 need after the lockout was quarterback and its No. 1 need today is quarterback. When are the 49ers going to admit that Alex Smith is not their answer -- or anyone else's?

XXIV. The Falcons offense. Atlanta is improved with first-round pick Julio Jones at wide receiver, but tight end Tony Gonzalez will still need to be effective on converting key third downs. I am excited to see if he can. The Falcons' 42 first-half passes last week in Pittsburgh showed some promise, but to win 13 games again, they still need to be a run-first team.

XXV. The Steelers' passing game. Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Mike Wallace is fun to watch. Adding a more experienced Antonio Brown makes the Steelers even more explosive.

XXVI. The Raiders' QB situation. Oakland is banking on Jason Campbell being its short-term answer and Terrelle Pryor being its long-term one. I'm going to love watching it all unfold.

XXVII. A healthy Jermichael Finley. I love the Packers tight end and can't wait to watch him return from his injury. Is there anything better than Aaron Rodgers and Finley make plays together?

XXVIII. Eli Manning's bravado. Eli Manning is confident that he is a top player, and I believe he is a top-10 quarterback. But Manning will have to play like a top-five passer to get the Giants back to the playoffs.

XXIX. The motivated Saints. Something tells me last year's early exit from the playoffs will be a huge motivation. I am always excited to watch Sean Payton call plays.

XXX. Monday film study. It's all about the simple things. There is nothing better than watching a great game plan unfold on tape.

XXXI. Dick LeBeau in the pregame. Everyone loves to watch the Steelers play defense, which I do as well, but I love watching defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau in pregame warm-ups hugging and inspiring his players even more. No matter how old we get, this game keeps the kid alive in all of us. Watching LeBeau work reminds me of that every time.

XXXII. Larry Fitzgerald in the pregame. Watching Fitzgerald make one-handed grabs in pregame warm-ups is worth the price of admission. Can Fitz and Kevin Kolb become a dynamic duo? I cannot wait to find out.

XXXIII. DeSean Jackson. The Eagles need Jackson to have a big year. Quarterback Michael Vick gets all the attention, but Jackson makes Philly's offense explosive. TV does not do Jackson's speed justice. I am always excited to watch him play in person.

XXXIV. Jay Cutler. The quarterback is dirt tough. He might need work in some areas of his game, but toughness is not one of them. I am looking forward to him proving everyone who questioned his toughness wrong.

XXXV. Cam Newton. I know there will be some bad plays, but I am looking forward to watching the good ones as well. Those will be sensational.

XXXVI. Josh Cribbs. I hate the new kickoff rules, but each time the Browns returner touches the ball, I get excited. He makes me hold my breath, and I love that feeling.

XXXVII. The unpredictable Jaguars. Jacksonville always surprises me with its play: Each time the season starts, I don't think the Jags can win five games, and each December they are in the playoff race. I still don't know what to make of them.

XXXVIII. Lambeau Field on Sept. 8. Saints-Packers is the best way to start the season. I can't wait to see that ball in the air.

XXXIX. Nnamdi Asomugha. The new Eagles corner is fun to watch play press coverage. He forces the quarterback to look elsewhere early in the route with his incredible strength at the line. Watch Asomugha as the play develops: He deters most passes. When a receiver separates from him at the line, he is really good. I love to judge players against Asomugha and can't wait to do it again this year.

XL. Danny Amendola. I am excited to watch him catch 80 balls from Sam Bradford. He will be a star in the Rams' new offense.

XLI. Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants defensive lineman will be a household name after this season. He is fun to watch, and I am excited to see him develop.

XLII. Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots tight end has had a great preseason, and he looks like a young Russ Francis, a former tight end for the Patriots. Gronkowski is going to be a Pro Bowler very soon.

XLIII. Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs running back makes some incredible moves and has incredible speed. He is one of those backs who changes field position instantly. He makes Sunday fun.

XLIV. The Bucs' encore. Can Tampa Bay take the next step and make the playoffs? Can Josh Freeman become one of the NFC's top QBs? Can Raheem Morris continue to motivate his "youngry" bunch? We will all know soon enough.

XLV. Doing my job. I am so looking forward to doing "Game Day Morning" from NFL Films this year and then watching Red Zone and all the games with my son Matty. Football is great bonding time.

XLVI. September 11. Remembering and honoring all the people lost on 9/11 will be a great tribute to start the season, as we shall never forget the men and women who lost their lives that day.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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