The 3 biggest NFL games this weekend
The NFC East will instantly go head to head with inner-division play: Giants at Dallas Sunday night and Philly in Washington for part one of Monday night’s festivities. Then there’s a battle of potential playoff teams in Chicago with the Bears and Bengals while the NFL’s two most talented offensive weapons - Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson - are on display in Mo-town.
All in all, the NFL’s back in a big way, and here are the 3 matchups you should make sure to focus on in week one:
3. Atlanta at New Orleans
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST
Last year was a fluke for the Saints. Drew Brees knows it. Sean Payton knows it. And the Atlanta Falcons better know it too, because after starting 2012 off with 4 straight losses, you better bet the Saints are prepared to defend their home turf against the 2012 NFC South Champs.
Matt Ryan made some major strides in 2012, none of which more important than his first career playoff victory against the Seattle Seahawks. After a nearly monumental collapse, Ryan rallied his troops for one last drive with 30 seconds left, connecting with Hugh Douglas for 22 yards and Tony Gonzalez for 19 yards to set up Matt Bryant for the game-winning field goal.
This year, Ryan is joined by star running back Steven Jackson and expectations are as high as ever in Atlanta.
Expect a shootout from two of the top offenses in the NFC, probably the entire NFL.
2. Green Bay at San Francisco
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST
Green Bay’s defense had absolutely no response to Colin Kaepernick in round 2 of the NFC playoffs last year. In his first ever playoff game, Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns while running for another 181 yards and 2 touchdowns - yes, the 181 rushing yards was a playoff record for a quarterback.
Think Packers fans want to forget about that? Well here’s a chance for some retribution.
Aaron Rodgers brings a similar offensive unit back this season, minus Greg Jennings, but with Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and JerMichael Finley, he’ll make do. One of the league’s top offenses will be matched up against one of its top defenses.
San Francisco’s biggest offseason losses were receiver Michael Crabtree (Achilles surgery) and safety Dashon Goldson (signed with Tampa Bay). To replace Crabtree, the 49ers acquired veteran Anquan Boldin in exchange for a measly 6th round pick, but losing Goldson’s 69 tackles and team-high 3 interceptions could be rough. Unproven 5th year pro CJ Spillman (54 career tackles) will likely be the starter Sunday.
1. Baltimore at Denver
Thursday, 8:30 PM EST
After a remarkable first year in Denver, Peyton Manning’s season abruptly came to a halt after an un-Peyton-like pass against the eventual Super Bowl Champions. You know what’s been on his mind the past 7-8 months: the thought of brining Denver back to the NFL’s elite and the opportunity to get his revenge on the Ravens.
The addition of Wes Welker should only help Manning’s passing attack and there’ll be an interesting array of running backs to watch out of the Denver backfield as well between Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, and rookie Montee Ball.
The Ravens will be without former #1 receiver Anquan Boldin, and they’re now looking for 3rd year pro Torrey Smith to really breakout. Additionally, last year’s starting tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught 61 passes in 2012 (tied with Ray Rice for 2nd on the team) will also be sorely missed. As a result, a lot of pressure falls on the shoulders of reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.
On the defensive side, it will be interesting to see how Denver does without linebackers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, two huge contributors in 2012 who combined for 29.5 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. 6th year pro Wesley Woodyard will be the teams top linebacker until Miller returns (after his 6-game suspension).
Dumervil, meanwhile, will be wearing the other jersey Thursday night. But for as many questions as there are with Denver’s defense, Baltimore has them beat. Apart from entering the season without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for the first time in over a decade, the Ravens lost safety Bernard Pollard and linebacker Dannell Elerbe (the team’s two leading tacklers in ’12). Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs will be leading the charge up front with the difficult task of slowing down the future Hall of Famer Manning.
Here’s to opening weekend!