Week 1 of the 2011 NFL season features an AFC North grudge match, a meeting of the past two Super Bowl champs, two Monday night games, the debut of a handful of QBs and more. Which Week 1 game are you most looking forward to watching, and why?
This one isn't hard for me. Give me Pittsburgh-Baltimore. Every game in this series seems like it's played in a dark place. And more often than not, these are determined the way football games are supposed to be -- by figuring out who's tougher, and which team can outlast the other. Having this game Week 1 this year adds a different dynamic, too. With folks looking for evidence that the lockout has taken a toll on the level of play, these two veteran teams that know one another so well figure to be able to put on quite a show.
I'm very interested in Eagles at Rams, and not so much because I'm dying to see Philadelphia. I think the Eagles will be inconsistent early then round into form around mid-season.
I want to see what the Rams are about. They're an upstart team with a hot young quarterback in Sam Bradford, but the front end of their schedule is brutal, starting with Philly. If somehow the Rams can get through their first six or seven games at or above .500, they should be playoff-bound.
I want to see how Bradford and a good but young offensive line handle Philly's defense, which is stacked with talent, but we'll see about production. I also want to see how the Rams' physical defense and better-than-advertised secondary deal with the waves of pressure the Eagles will apply.
Atlanta at Chicago. Both teams are coming off division titles, but both also feel a sense of unfinished business. The Falcons made the biggest draft-day move, trading up for WR Julio Jones, and Chicago QB Jay Cutler's first answer to his critics was to report to camp in shape. Two NFC Super Bowl contenders colliding early -- should be a great game.
You won't find a more spirited, harder-hitting game on the schedule than Baltimore-Pittsburgh. The Thursday night Saints-Packers game is great and I'm incredibly intrigued by the Detroit-Tampa game, but Ravens-Steelers is a sure thing.
Steelers-Ravens is the best rivalry in the game. It never disappoints. It is hard-hitting and riveting and the games resonate. The results matter and impact the postseason. There is some real animosity and a history here.
These teams are mirror images, built and maintained in largely the same manner, and it makes for compelling theatre. Add in the fact they routinely play three times a year, and there is even more to dissect.
Joe Flacco, unfairly, will be measured by his inability to best Ben Roethlisberger and both defenses remain at the vanguard of the game after all these years.
The Steelers-Ravens rivalry was ratcheted up a notch when Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said the Ravens wouldn't win a Super Bowl "in this lifetime." I visited both teams during my camp tour and found two groups solely focused on one another, even in early August. Sunday will be another great game. In the offseason, I was asked which 2010 regular-season game was my favorite and I said Steelers at Ravens in Week 13. That was the game Ben Roethlisberger had his nose broken, and the Steelers came back and won a defensive struggle with a late score. Let's hope Sunday is just as entertaining.
What's your deal? There is no better game in Week 1 than 49ers-Seahawks because former Pac-10 rivals Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll are squaring off. To borrow one of the most overused clichés that NFL broadcasters use, these guys **do not like each other** -- and there could be a fist fight at the end of the game!
There almost was a fight the last time these two hooked up. Carroll was upset that Harbaugh's Stanford club nearly hung a 50-spot on USC in 2009, and the Trojans' coach asked, "What's your deal?" To which Harbaugh responded, "What's your deal?"