August 17, 2011

NFL Week 1 Schedule: Ranking the 16 Games

Three more Sundays. That's it. Just three more NFL-less Sundays to get through before a full slate of NFL games. Or, as I like to call it, all hell breaking loose.

Here's a ranking of the games I'm most interested in during Week 1.

16.) Cincinnati at Cleveland

How bad is the situation in Cincinnati? Carson Palmer would rather never play football again than suit up for the Bengals. NFL fans of the future will someday look back at 2009 and wonder how Cincinnati went 6-0 in its division. Cleveland's draft-day trade of Julio Jones (an explosive receiver the team hasn't had in what seems like forever) for five draft picks shows how far Mike Holmgren thinks the Browns are from competing.

15.) Seattle at San Francisco

Tarvaris Jackson vs. Alex Smith. Thankfully, I'll get to see this matchup again in December! If you're a 49ers fan who didn't pay attention to football during the lockout, your reaction to the 2011 lineup would probably be: "Wait a second, wait a second, another year of Alex Smith?!?"

14.) Tennessee at Jacksonville

I participate in pick 'em during the season, and really there's nothing scarier than looking at the week's slate and seeing some variation of the following: Tennessee-Houston, Tennessee-Jacksonville and Jacksonville-Houston. These games manage to feel like more of a toss-up than flipping a coin.

13.) New York at Washington

It seems like forever since the Redskins last beat the Giants; how long has it been? I'm glad you asked! The last time Washington won was in December 2007. You'd think that wasn't surprising because the Redskins are, well, the Redskins, but during that same time they've beaten Dallas and Philadelphia three times each.

12.) Carolina at Arizona

Two franchises, with two franchise-altering quarterbacks. In January 2012, we'll know if the Cardinals made the right move by gambling the team's next five years on Kevin Kolb, and we'll have a better idea of whether or not Cam Newton can be an NFL quarterback.

11.) Buffalo at Kansas City

Kansas City could be in for a down year in 2011 (no Charlie Weis, tougher schedule) while its Week 1 opponent has somehow been in a down year since 1999. The Bills are always good for a couple of fun games per year though: last year's notables included two overtime losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and scoring 35 straight points against the Bengals to win 49-31.

10.) Oakland at Denver

(Searching for a reason why this game isn't higher on the list). I don't think I've ever been more confident in a 4-12 team winning the season opener. I'd compare it to the second game of last year's doubleheader, when the Chiefs beat the Chargers in front of a crazed Monday night crowd. (Really, that's my only justification for ranking this No. 10).

9.) New England at Miami

If ever there was a time for Brandon Marshall to get in a public dispute and have the negative PR result in Miami being forced to trade him, it would be now.

8.) Minnesota at San Diego

Norv Turner is back in San Diego, which means this incredible American employment tale is now in its fifth year! Meanwhile, I think this is how it went down when the Redskins broke the news to Donovan McNabb he would be traded:

Mike Shanahan: I think we're going to trade you to Minnesota.
McNabb: YES!!!!

7.) Indianapolis at Houston

Yearly preseason analysis: "You know, I really think this is the year the Texans take away the AFC South from the Colts." (Really, this happens every year).

But if there were ever a time to take control of a division, after the Colts won it on fumes last year, it would be now for Houston.

6.) Atlanta at Chicago

I think everyone has that one player who, no matter what, they never have confidence in. For me, it's Jay Cutler. Really everytime I watch him, I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. (And in this case, the "other shoe to drop" translates to a pass being taken 93-yards the other way).

But I'm mainly excited to see Julio Jones debut. I always love when a team is aggressive, knows it has a window of opportunity to win and goes out and gets the player it needs.

5.) Detroit at Tampa Bay

As an NFL fan, I'm hoping for one injury-free season from Matthew Stafford so we can see how good this Lions team is/can be.

These teams met in Week 16 last year, and in one of the great "What Ifs," it's amazing to think the Packers Super Bowl run could have never happened had the Bucs beaten the Lions then.

4.) Philadelphia at St. Louis

To review: Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, Babin, Young, Jenkins, Brown, Smith, Harris and Hargrove. 

Even though I need to find out who Sam Bradford will be throwing the ball to this year, I like his chances in a division quarterbacked by Jackson, Smith and Kolb.

3.) Dallas at New York

The Jets replaced each of their losses at: deep threat (Plaxico Burress for Braylon Edwards), possession receiver (Derrick Mason for Jerricho Cotchery) and defensive end (Muhammad Wilkerson for Shaun Ellis). On offense, I'm ready to see if Shonn Greene can shine as the No. 1 RB.

The Cowboys open for the second straight season on Sunday night, after having a historically awful time on Sunday/Monday night last year. 

Week 1 Sunday night: Washington defeats Dallas, 13-7. A game-winning Dallas touchdown was negated by a holding penalty and the Redskins only touchdown came via a DeAngelo Hall 32-yard fumble return as the first half expired.

Week 7 Monday night: The Giants defeat Dallas, 41-35. The Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. One broken clavicle later, the season was lost.

Week 9 Sunday night: Green Bay defeats Dallas, 45-7. The next day, Wade Phillips is fired.

Week 14 Sunday night: Philadelphia defeats Dallas, 30-27. The Jon Kitna-led Cowboys (3.5-point underdogs) played well in this game and, most importantly, covered the spread thanks to a backdoor cover!

2.) New Orleans at Green Bay

I really like the Saints this year, and it feels like the Packers are sliding under the radar, if ever it was possible for a defending champion to slide under the radar.

Anyway, never has a Thursday night opener had as much fantasy impact as this one. (Or, at least since Indianapolis-New Orleans in 2007). And really, when it comes down to it, isn't fantasy impact what's most important here?

1.) Baltimore at Pittsburgh

Ravens-Steelers and Patriots-Jets are 1A and 1B when it comes to NFL rivalries. With that said, it almost feels like it's a little bit too early to have this type of matchup. Three things for this game:

1.) It feels nothing like a game that should start at 1 p.m.
2.) Despite grabbing Ricky Williams, the Ravens are committed to using Ray Rice as a goal-line back. I've waited so long for this to happen. Even though he's not the prototypical short-yardage back in terms of height and weight, I love the move and think it will work out well.
3.) There's a 65 percent chance James Harrison is fined $10,000 for comments made following the game.

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