Plus, a team will score 50, two upset specials, a survivor pick and a relationship that could be even rockier than a Kardashian marriage -- all in our Thursday edition of The Schein Nine.
Rapoport: Ranking Week 1 games
Ian Rapoport provides a pecking order of Week 1 contests, as well as storylines to follow in each matchup. More ...
Don't misinterpret. I love RG3. I think he's going to have a great rookie season and become entrenched as a star in Washington, D.C., with his play, leadership and personality. He's just walking into a hornet's nest Sunday at the Superdome.
No team in the NFL needs the season to start as much as the Saints. They are hot. They are angry. Every single player, every single resident of the state believes they were wronged by Roger Goodell and the NFL with the "Bountygate" suspensions. Sean Payton won't coach a game this year and can't communicate with the team. Goodell successfully ended bounties forever in the NFL with the penalty. The Saints don't see it that way. Heck, there was a "Free Sean Payton" banner flying over MetLife Stadium for the NFL Kickoff game on Wednesday night.
Jon Vilma won't play a down on Sunday -- or, at this point, the rest of the season. General manager Mickey Loomis won't be found near the game, serving an eight-game suspension. Joe Vitt is the interim coach, but he's beginning a six-game suspension of his own. So, enter Aaron Kromer as the interim to the interim. The built-up anger will give this game a playoff feel. The Saints need to hit someone. RG could easily stand for Roger Goodell as the Saints see it.
I don't want to pooh-pooh the importance of Payton, a great play caller who seemingly shares a brain and a feel for the game with Brees. Payton will be missed. But Brees is a star. He will be out to prove he can still dominate sans Payton.
Pete Carmichael Jr. will call the plays this year. You can bet he will do his best Payton impression and be super aggressive, throwing the ball over the middle to the unstoppable Jimmy Graham, down the field to Marques Colston and in the flat to jitterbug Darren Sproles. Washington's defense will have no response.
Lost in the Bountygate shuffle this offseason: The Saints' smart upgrade of Steve Spagnuolo at defensive coordinator. He's a masterful guru, a great designer of pressure. The reason Spags isn't the interim head coach is so he can solely focus on running New Orleans' defense. He will blitz RG3. He will confuse RG3. The Saints will pound RG3, legally, with no money exchanging hands, of course. Loomis made a savvy pickup by signing Curtis Lofton to fill Vilma's void at linebacker.
I think the 'Skins compete all year and win seven games. I think Griffin III competes for Offensive Rookie of the Year, falling short to Andrew Luck. I think RG3 has no chance on Sunday. In fairness to him, most quarterbacks -- most teams -- couldn't beat the talented and angry Saints in Week 1 after this offseason.
2) Romo's best
NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth raised an interesting point during the Cowboys' upset of the Giants on Wednesday night. Could this be Tony Romo's most impressive game of his career? I totally understand what Collinsworth was saying. The knock on Romo is that he fizzles when it matters the most. Romo tossed an early pick, fueled by grotesque mechanics against a blitz. It felt like a "Here we go again ..." moment on national television.
Jeremiah: True grit
Instead, Romo was razor sharp for the remainder of the game, throwing three touchdown passes, including two to the immortal Kevin Ogletree. He survived four offensive penalties on a crucial drive that culminated in a 34-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin, giving Dallas a 24-10 lead with 5:57 to go. That's clutch. He made excellent decisions throughout the game and iced it with a 13-yard strike to Ogletree on third down. That's clutch. An incomplete pass would've sparked memories of his misfire to Austin against the Giants on a critical third down in Week 14 last year.
Romo was more clutch than Eli Manning on Eli's home turf. If Romo had played poorly, he'd be getting crushed. He deserves a ton of credit. Romo has produced bigger numbers before, but with this much-maligned quarterback, it's never about individual stats.
Now, for Romo and the Cowboys, the challenge becomes keeping this going and doing it in December and January.
3) Upset special No. 1
The Carolina Panthers are the en vogue, flavor-of-the-month pick to surprise in the NFC South. I think they are the fourth-best team in the division. Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are better, and you will see that on the field this Sunday. Sure, Cam Newton is better than Josh Freeman, who slumped last year after a clutch 2010 season quarterbacking the surprising Bucs. But Tampa newbies -- including power back Doug Martin, legit No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson, safety Mark Barron and guard Carl Nicks -- will make an immediate impact in a Week 1 upset special for the Bucs. And I think Freeman bounces back this year.
4) Upset special No. 2
The back injury that popped up for Marshawn Lynch is a big deal, especially when the Seattle Seahawks are starting a rookie quarterback. While I do really like Seattle's backup running back Robert Turbin, I don't see how Russell Wilson and the Seahawks beat the Cardinals in Arizona. This won't be pretty. With John Skelton vs. Wilson, it will be the ugliest game of Week 1. Arizona's defense, led by Sam Acho and Daryl Washington, will lead the Cards to a slugfest win.
5) Big Ben, big concern
I'm concerned about Ben Roethlisberger's relationship with new play caller Todd Haley. They are both very high strung. The Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line is a mess, with poor play and the David DeCastro injury in the preseason. Roethlisberger has a knack for improvising. While Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told us Tuesday on the SiriusXM Blitz that he thinks the relationship questions are "probably overblown," I am fascinated to see what the cameras might capture if Ben takes an ill-advised sack against the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.
6) NFC title game preview
I love matchups like San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers. It features the top offense and top defense in the game today, and I think these two teams will meet again in the NFC championship.
While I think Green Bay wins at home, I expect a very close game with the stingy San Francisco defense. Star linebacker NaVorro Bowman isn't worried about the Niners being the hunted this year, after sneaking up on the league in 2011. He told us on the SiriusXM Blitz, "The bull's-eye is just talk from the outside. We know the work to put in. We know what it took to get to where we were last year and what it takes this year. We have a great group of guys who work, a great group of guys who can deal with the shine on us."
I totally agree.
7) Lions roar in Week 1
8) Sam I am
I still believe in Sam Bradford, but his head is swimming with a third different play caller in three NFL seasons. It's going to take some time. I did like hearing about Bradford's leadership from St. Louis general manager Les Snead when he joined us on my SiriusXM show. After the Rams looked atrocious in Week 1 of the preseason, Snead noticed the sense of urgency Bradford showed that week in practice, Bradford's choice of words in addressing the team and the productivity in the Week 2 preseason game. St. Louis will finish in last place this year, but I think the franchise is headed in the right direction under Jeff Fisher.
9) Survive and advance
It's always a challenge picking for a survivor pool in the opening week of the season. You don't want to get "Norved" like many did when Dante Rosario caught a game winner from Jake Delhomme in Carolina's Week 1 upset of the Chargers back in 2008. I considered the Saints (over Washington), Lions (over St. Louis) and Eagles (over Cleveland). But there's just no way Miami Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill plays well against the best defense in the AFC. Give me the Houston Texans.