The opening weekend of the NFL regular season is finally here, which means it is time for you to sit on the couch and watch football from Sunday at 1 p.m. until after the Chargers finish their dismantling of the Raiders in the late game on Monday night. Below is the first of what will be a weekly look at either a key matchup or storyline to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern)
Sunday, 1 p.m. Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
This is our first chance to find out whether the Colts can run the football now that their offensive line is intact -- the five projected starters from the summer made it through training camp unscathed. Running the football more efficiently has been an emphasis for new head coach Jim Caldwell's squad ever since the 2008 season ended. The mindset in Indy is all about averaging four yards a pop on the ground, so if they get that number in the opener, that is a great sign.
On the flip side, the Jags have made stopping the run their primary focus by lining up with five down defensive lineman a large percentage of the time in the preseason under new first-year coordinator Mel Tucker. Whether they choose to do that against Peyton Manning and his legion of receivers remains to be seen.
Sunday, 4 p.m. Washington Redskins at New York Giants
I have my eye on Malcolm Kelly in this one. The second-year wideout from Oklahoma has supplanted Antwaan Randle-El as the Redskins starter opposite Santana Moss, and he should get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. The Giants will start by stopping the run to make Jason Campbell beat them. Then they will roll their coverage on obvious passing downs to established producers like Moss and Chris Cooley. That means Kelly's ability to win his one-on-one matchups against a banged-up Giants secondary is the thing to watch for if the 'Skins want to steal a key division game on the road.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
The Packers looked good in the preseason, but how will the defensive front seven perform on a big stage in their first regular season game running the 3-4 defense? More specifically, how will the backers and safeties matchup against the Bears receiving tight end duo of Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark? The Packers veteran corners will be just fine covering the Bears no-name receivers, which will put the onus on guys like Nick Collins and Brandon Chillar, depending on the situation, to keep Olsen and Clark in check and not let them get deep down the seam.
Monday, 7 p.m. Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
This one is easy. Any time you are starting two rookie guards and you cut your left tackle earlier in the week, the offensive line is the center of attention. That is exactly the case for the Bills as they head into their unfavorable opening matchup against a Patriots team hungry to get back to postseason bliss after a one-year hiatus. No Richard Seymour is no problem for a deep Patriots defensive line that will run Jarvis Green, Mike Wright and rookies Ron Brace and Myron Pryor in waves at the young Bills line. Not to mention long-time starters Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork, both of whom will be going against guys getting their first Bills starts at their respective positions in right tackle Brad Butler and center Geoff Hangartner. This matchup could be ugly.
Monday, 10:15 p.m. San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
The Raiders defense had one of the worst preseasons in recent memory, hence the desperation move to get Seymour from the Patriots. The Chargers will bash and gash the Raiders at the point of attack until they prove they can hold up to LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Philip Rivers should have a great year, but he won't need to throw very much in this matchup.
E-mail and tweets...
Dude, no matter how much you write about it, and how many little examples you give, people will never ever feel sorry for professional athletes. The average person who works his ass off cannot feel sorry for someone who makes millions, even if he might have to make such a terrible "life-altering" decision to accept a pay cut from $4 million to $2 million. Ha, whatever.
The NFL (as much as I love it) portrays an image of idiot thuggery; most of these guys would be digging ditches if they couldn't catch a ball or were born with freakish size and talent. So nobody is going to feel sorry for them. I mean, even the NFL minimum, $300,000 or something, is more than most people make in five years. So STOP writing about this. Do more X's and O's stuff or locker room stuff. You played the game. Talk about player relationships, racism, that kind of stuff. Stop with the feel sorry for the player nonsense.--Keith, Freehold, N.J.
Who asked you to feel sorry for anybody? I'm just trying to give everyone an inside look at how things really go down in terms of contracts and how harsh a business it can really be. That got me to thinking about my thoughts on the potential next steps of some of the players looking to get their contracts adjusted. And anyone making a decision to refuse to take a huge pay cut that will inevitably result in you getting cut and not knowing where you will live or play, or even if you will play, is a life-altering decision.
I had very mixed feelings in reading about the unnamed player who was given the ultimatum to accept a salary decrease or be cut. While I feel for the player, I also want to shout, "Welcome to the world of your fans!" I've lost count of how many people I know who've lived with the identical situation for the past year -- and it's only getting worse. Should gifted athletes be exempt from what the rest of us are now living with? Maybe this will help them reconnect with how mere mortals live day in and day out, while looking forward to the diversion of a new NFL season.--Don, Lancaster, Pa.
Fantastic point, Don. I too know a lot of people who have had to take pay cuts or choose whether or not to take a severance package and look for work elsewhere. However, I'm not sure if they all got three hours to make a decision like the player I wrote about did.
In the past two weeks, three offensive coordinators have been fired. Usually coordinators get let go after the season, not before. What are your thoughts on this and how do you think it will affect the teams that fired their coordinators so close to Week 1?--Sean Sydnor, Altadena, Calif.
I think it is a scary sign for coaches everywhere and certainly a bad situation for the teams that are involved. What amazes me is that they went through the entire offseason program and most of training camp before coming to the conclusion that there was a problem. Better late than never, I guess, but it calls into question their vetting procedure during the hiring process. I also highly doubt Buffalo and Tampa Bay would have made the move if Todd Haley hadn't pulled the trigger in Kansas City first.
Why don't the Steelers just run hurry up offense as their base offense? They always make it work.--@pensfan087 (via Twitter)
After watching the opener Thursday night against the Titans,I think it sure seems that way, doesn't it? It's funny, but all I can think about when I watch the Steelers play late in games is that Ben Roethlisberger must have been the best schoolyard quarterback at recess of all time. Can you imagine?