|Crazy eights? New starters Matt Hasselbeck (left) and Rex Grossman face tough tasks in their respective divisions|
In the movie The Godfather II, Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth are sitting in a study watching a football game, and Roth tells Corleone that their business together is "bigger than U.S. Steel." That might have been true back then, but today nothing is bigger than the NFL, including U.S. Steel.
Last night proved that. What a show the Packers and Saints put on. The Packers offense already was in Super Bowl form. Before most of the West Coast got home from work, the Packers were up by 14 and the Saints were fighting an uphill battle all night. Green Bay's execution in both the run and pass game was sensational. In the end, the Saints' inability to convert short-yardage plays cost them the game. Winning teams always convert those short-yardage plays and the Saints will go back to New Orleans and try to fix their problems on both sides of the ball.
The game was a great appetizer for things to come this weekend. Before I get to the 15 things I'm looking forward to in Week 1, let's take a look at my two sleeper division winners in 2011.
Why I like the Redskins to win the NFC East
Most people are laughing at my pick of the Redskins to win the NFC East. But I gave it great thought, did my research and did not simply just throw it out for effect, or to be called an idiot by my Twitter followers. Here are my reasons for thinking the 'Skins can go from worst to first in the East:
» The Redskins play the 29th easiest schedule in the league, facing only five playoff teams from 2010. Washington plays the entire NFC West, as well as Buffalo and Carolina.
» Washington actually played better on the road last year, winning four games versus just two at home. They will play better at home this year. They won in Philadelphia and Chicago last year and beat the Packers at home.
» The 'Skins lost six games by four points or less last year, and were horrendous on defense, finishing 31st in yards allowed. This year they have talent that suits their 3-4 scheme and are not trying to shoe-horn 4-3 personnel into a 3-4.
» Running back Tim Hightower and an improved offensive line will make the run game much better. Tight end Fred Davis is blocking well and Anthony Armstrong is emerging as a big-play receiver.
» Mike Shanahan wants to prove he is still a big-time coach and knows another 6-10 season won't make many happy in D.C. Shanahan was hired to restore the 'Skins to their glory days, the sooner the better. I think Shanny will have a better year this year as well.
I know, I know: Rex Grossman is playing quarterback and everything stated above is meaningless if Grossman turns the ball over. I know he has never had a quarterback rating higher than 78. I know the only year he started, he threw 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. I know there are risks with this pick, but I am going to believe that Shanahan can get more good Rex than bad Rex. We shall see.
Why I like the Titans to win the AFC South
» Sure, it's the Texans that have one of the most explosive offenses in football. But look at the numbers. The Texans averaged 24 points per game last year; the Titans, with all their problems at quarterback, still averaged 22. This season, with a proven quarterback in Matthew Hasselbeck, Tennessee's offensive production is sure to improve.
» Like the 'Skins, the Titans have a favorable schedule, the 25th easiest in the league. They will only face six teams that were in the playoffs last year.
» Hasselbeck will give them stability, leadership and work ethic at the quarterback position, as well as a more accurate passer who can still be effective.
» The Titans have one of the best offensive lines in the league and they also have two excellent tight ends in Jared Cook and Craig Stevens. Cook is a diamond in the rough and I expect him to have a breakout season.
» Their defense will be improved this year. Watch rookie defensive tackle Karl Klug, a fifth-round pick who gives them another tough inside player capable of creating negative plays.
The Titans were a tough-minded team before Mike Munchak took over, but this summer they look even tougher, playing the game with better pad level and more intensity. Jeff Fisher was great for the Titans, but sometimes change is good and the Titans seem to have responded to their new coach.
15 thoughts on Week 1
1. The Bears claim they have resurfaced the grass at Soldier Field this season; let's hope it plays much better than it has. It will be tested Sunday by the fast Falcons, who are looking to increase their big play potential offensively. It will be hard to generate big plays against the Bears defense.
2. The Steelers defense garners a great deal of attention, but their offense this year has really impressed me with its incredible speed at receiver and big-play ability. As for the Ravens, they needed Lee Evans, but they are still a slow offense. Ray Rice must carry them.
3. As we saw Thursday night, special teams still provide an opportunity for a big play. Teams must be alert for onside kicks and not be caught off-guard. It's hard to practice the speed and tempo of the kicking game in practice or preseason games.
4. We also saw Thursday night that conditioning will be a huge component of determining the outcome of games early in the season because of the heat and humidity in the country this time of the year.
5. Last time the Colts went to Houston, Arian Foster ran for 231 yards and three scores. This year he is nursing a hamstring, but Ben Tate looks fully capable of carrying the load if Foster cannot go. The speed of the game will bother Colts quarterback Kerry Collins. I am not sure how the Colts score more than 14 points without Peyton Manning, and their defense is not built to play in a slugfest.
6. I am expecting a big game from Titans RB Chris Johnson in Jacksonville. He is fresh, well-paid, the offensive line is blocking well right now and the Titans normally run the ball well against Jacksonville.
7. San Diego's wide receivers get off the ball better than anybody in the league, which spells trouble for Minnesota's corners and safeties. The Chargers have worked all camp on starting fast, and I expect them to take a quick 7-0 lead on the Vikings. But they need to finish strong and not allow the Vikings to hang around.
8. The Chiefs were 30th in the league last year in passing yards with Charlie Weis running the offense, so I am not sure it can get worse -- but it just might. The Chiefs need Jamaal Charles to be their playmaker and they must get all-purpose back Dexter McCluster involved.
9. The Eagles offensive line is in transition, so expect to see Michael Vick running around and trying to make plays. I think Sam Bradford will make a few more, though, and look for rookie tight end Lance Kendricks to have a big day. He'll be a tough matchup for the Eagles.
10. One of the Panthers' two wins last year came against the Cardinals. Cam Newton will be making his first start and expect him to have some great plays, some good plays and many bad plays. If the Panthers can keep the game close going into the fourth quarter, they might be able to pull an upset.
11. Do you get the feeling that the losing quarterback in the Seahawks-Niners game might lose his starting job?
12. The Redskins-Giants game features two turnover-prone QBs in Eli Manning and Rex Grossman. The Redskins have lost nine of the past 10 games against the Giants, but I think it will be different this time. Receiver Anthony Armstrong will be a tough matchup for the Giants.
13. The Cowboys need another receiver. Miles Austin is solid and Dez Bryant is really talented, but he does not know what to do on most plays and struggles when he faces bump coverage. Unless the Jets turn the ball over, I cannot see the Cowboys scoring many points.
14. I am sad we will not see Peyton Manning play this opening weekend. Let's all hope he comes back soon and continues to wow us with his pinpoint accuracy and incredible play. Get well first, Peyton.
15. Each time I walk on the boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J., I pass a bench dedicated to a victim of 9/11. Each time, I take a moment to say a prayer for all the people affected by the horrible events that day. We all mourn every day, not once every 10 years, but this Sunday will be like no other Sunday. For a moment, we won't be football fans with different rooting interests, but Americans missing those we lost.
Enjoy the games.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi