Here are some key matchups worth following in the Week 2 games:
Philadelphia DE Trent Cole vs. Dallas OT Flozell Adams
Two teams with a serious goal of being in Tampa when the Super Bowl is played there next February will square off on Monday night. The stage is nothing new for either of these NFC East rivals: Since 2000, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys have appeared in a combined 27 prime-time games.
Over the past six games in this classic series, each team has won three games. Dallas has scored a total of 119 points in those games; Philadelphia 118. The marquee matchup between Trent Cole at right end and Flozell Adams at left tackle should be as close as that combined score over the past three years.
Both players are coming off Pro Bowl years, and whichever one wins the head-to-head battle here has a good chance to see his team win. In the first game between these teams last year, Cole was held to zero sacks and Dallas won. In the second meeting, Cole had one sack and forced a fumble that helped lead to a 10-6 Eagles victory.
Cole is a relentless player, both against the pass (12.5 sacks last year) and the run (113 tackles). He has outstanding first-step quickness to go along with overall speed and strength.
Adams has started 147 games for the Cowboys. Because of his size (6-foot-6, 340), he is aptly nicknamed "Flozell the Hotel" -- but he is an outstanding athlete for his size and he can be a dominant pass protector. He does have a slight hearing problem, which leads to occasional false starts. Also, he holds the team record for blocking extra points (4).
Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning vs. Minnesota DTs Pat Williams/Kevin Williams
The Colts and Vikings have only met twice since 2000, with the Colts scoring 31 in each of two victories. Peyton Manning completed 73.9 percent of his passes for 8 TDs and just 1 INT in those games, but he should have a tougher time succeeding in this game. Manning is amazingly accurate when he's able to stay in the pocket. But with Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday out of the lineup, the Colts will most likely have a rookie starting center -- seventh-round pick Jamey Richard -- facing dangerous defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams.
Kevin Williams is the "under" tackle on the Vikings' defense. He is very quick and explosive, and plays hard on every play. Look for Manning to try a hard count to try to draw him offsides on crucial third downs. Pat Williams is the nose tackle, and he will line up on either side of center and will play on all downs. Pat Williams has only 4.5 sacks in the last three seasons, but he can collapse the pocket -- which would prevent Manning from stepping up to throw, as he likes to do.
One of these two preseason playoff favorites will be 0-2 after this game, so this matchup is critical.
Chicago DE Adewale Ogunleye vs. Carolina QB Jake Delhomme
The Bears and Panthers are both coming off impressive road upsets over AFC powers. In his last five starts overall, Jake Delhomme is 4-1, having passed for 1,078 yards, 11 TDs and just 1 INT. His last game against the Bears was a phenomenal performance in the 2006 postseason -- he completed 24 of 37 passes for 319 yards and 3 TDs, with 1 INT. Delhomme makes a lot of big plays and is dangerous when he gets into a rhythm. He doesn't force the ball. Carolina likes to run, but Delhomme had 41 attempts last week, and he looks to be throwing more to his tight ends.
Dehomme prefers throwing to his right, and that's where Adewale Ogunleye comes in. Chicago's Starting left end, he'll be facing rookie RT Jeff Otah. Ogunleye has a very good hump move, and is very good at jumping the snap count. He has long arms and big hands -- he will bat down passes and is tough to throw over. Ogunleye was second on the team last year in passes defensed and led the Bears with nine sacks.
New England QB Matt Cassel vs. N.Y. Jets coach Eric Mangini
All eyes will be on Matt Cassel, making his first career start, preseason excluded, since he was a high school senior in 1999. He has appeared in 15 regular-season games and made 57 career pass attempts. With Cassel, expect to see less shotgun formations and more running plays. When he does throw, what you will see is a quarterback who has a strong arm, good accuracy and athletic ability. He just lacks experience.
Of course, Eric Mangini was still coaching the Patriots' defense when Cassel was a rookie in 2005, so he should have a good feel for his strengths and weaknesses. One thing we can expect -- Mangini's defense will throw every blitz known to mankind at Cassel.
Buffalo RB Marshawn Lynch vs. Jacksonville QB David Garrard
Going to Jacksonville for a big AFC contest, the Bills will try to shorten the game by running the football with Marshawn Lynch and throwing short passes to tight end Robert Royal. The return of Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters should also help the running attack. Lynch can run with speed and power. He also has good hands as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, and he's solid in pass protection. Lynch, who gained 1,115 yards as a rookie last season, runs with an attitude.
David Garrard, who emerged last year when he threw 18 TDs and only 3 INTs, has a very strong arm and can also make plays with his feet. He ran the ball 49 times last season -- more importantly, he is an accurate passer when on the move, to his right or left. The Jaguars lost their starting center prior to the season and two more starting linemen last week. As a result, Garrard was sacked seven times and intercepted twice in a 17-10 loss to Tennessee. To avoid an 0-2 start, Garrard has to have a strong game.
Just wanted to give a quick evaluation of two quarterbacks who had successful debuts last week as NFL starters:
I was talking to Falcons receiver Roddy White on Tuesday, and he noted how impressed he was with rookie Matt Ryan's knowledge of the game. He also said Ryan's arm strength was much better than he had been led to believe when Ryan was drafted. That would be my evaluation as well. Ryan is smart, and it's clear that he knows what he's doing out there.
As for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he looked like a much better athlete -- more mobile than I thought he was -- in Green Bay's Monday night win over Minnesota. Rodgers made plays with his feet against a very strong pass rush. He also looked as if he learned to take a little off his fastball. Both of these guys look to be good young players in the NFL for years to come.