The 2012 NFL season officially began on Wednesday, when the Super Bowl champions New York Giants lost at home to the Dallas Cowboys, but a full list of games on Sunday, with the Pittsburgh Steelers facing the Denver Broncos and the Peyton Manning debut is the biggest source of interest, while Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III make their debuts as well, in Chicago and New Orleans.
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears (1:00 PM ET)
Andrew Luck making his professional debut carries with it a lot of expectations, and the Colts will try to give him some support with their running game with Donald Brown and Mewelde Moore, but it’ll mostly up to him to take this franchise from a 2-14 season last year. On the other side of the field, Jay Cutler and Matt Forte are back, and the Bears, if they’ll remain healthy on both ends of the field, should be too much for the Colts and most of their opponents this season.
Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns (1:00)
The Browns open with two rookies at quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and running back (Trent Richardson), but the problem for them will be stopping the run. The Browns allowed 147 rushing yards per game last season, which means LeSean McCoy is going to see a lot of the ball after running for 1309 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. The Eagles are a lot of hype, but there’s plenty of talent, enough to take them through the opener.
St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions (1:00)
On paper, this seems like a no brainer. Steven Jackson might get some big numbers for the Rams, but the pass protection is still far from perfect, and the Lions should put enough pressure on Sam Bradford’s improved offensive line to keep him from being as effective as he can be with healthy. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson should continue to look like one of the more impressive dynamic duos in the league, and come up with an opening game win.
New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans (1:00)
The Jake Locker era begins in Tennessee, which probably means we’re going to see a lot of running from him and Chris Johnson, especially going to the outside, hoping to avoid the very strong middle of Vincent Wilfork and the men behind him, while Tom Brady has some new offensive toys to play with, adding Brandon Lloyd to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, which should be enough to beat the Titans.
Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs (1:00 PM)
The Falcons have a great chance of taking over the NFC South this year, with the Saints going through some known problems, but the regular season hasn’t been the problem for this team – getting it done in the postseason has. The Matt Ryan, Michael Turner duo should be enough against a Chiefs team that lacks speed and the ability to create big passing plays, while Jamaal Charles will carry most of the load on the ground along with Peyton Hillis.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings (1:00)
Two young quarterbacks in Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder who are likely to improve this season, but the Vikings have the better offensive line to protect Ponder and extend his plays. Maurice Jones-Drew is back, but not in the best shape, while Adrian Peterson isn’t likely to get touches at all for the Vikings on the day, which might make it easier for the Jags to cope in Minneapolis.
Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints (1:00)
The Saints suddenly got a boost as the suspensions over Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma were lifted, meaning Smith is ready to play the Redskins and haunt Robert Griffin III in his NFL debut. It’s going to be interesting to see just how aggressive the Saints D-Line will be in the post-Gregg Williams era, but having Drew Brees under center has really helped the organization go as smooth as possible through the troubles of the past few months.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (1:00)
The Bills have lost five in a row against the Jets, but they’re hoping that Ryan Fitzpatrick will stop throwing interceptions (23 last season) but more importantly, that the Jets offense will continue to look like they did through the preseason, with Mark Sanchez shackled by the presence of Tim Tebow on the bench, just waiting to take over the QB1 job.
Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans (1:00)
The Dolphins are heading towards last place in the AFC East kind of season, and are heading to Houston with a rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, who will be seeing a lot of blitzing from Wade Phillips’ defensive unit. The only problem for the Texans, 6-0 against the Dolphins, is Arian Foster being a game time decision, while Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are hoping to make this a full season without spending time on the DL.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (4:25)
The two teams that finished with the best records in the NFC last season, the Packers with the best offense in the league and the 49ers with the best defense, eventually ousted by the New York Giants. Expect Alex Smith to keep up his progress from last season in a short passing, grind out ground game, hoping to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field for as much as possible, although the Niners haven’t beaten Green Bay since 1990, nine consecutive losses, tied for the longest active winning streak by any team versus a single opponent.
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (4:25)
John Skelton emerged in the preseason as the Cardinals starting quarterback, but that’s far from fixing their problem on offense, with a aggressive Seattle defense hoping to create plenty of turnovers and give rookie quarterback Russell Wilson good field position for most of the game, hoping he’ll be able to rely on Marshawn Lynch, although he might miss the opener because of back problems. Without Lynch, the Seahawks’ defense might not be enough.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4:25)
Many are signaling the Panthers, mostly because of Cam Newton, as somewhat of a dark-horse in the NFC South. Newton threw for over 4000 yards last season and ran for 706, and he’ll be looking to take advantage of the undersized Tampa secondary in the opening game, which will be a lot about new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano hoping to revive the career of Josh Freeman.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (8:25)
Peyton Manning makes his debut in a non-Colts uniform, hoping to recapture some of that Tim Tebow magic that beat the Pittsburgh Steelers last post season in overtime. The Steelers are the better team, with a defense that should disrupt Manning’s return to the NFL as a lesser passer than he was two years ago, but with problems at running back due to injuries, their offense will be mostly relying on the ability to protect Ben Roesthlisberger, which was a problem last season.
Monday Night Football – Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (7:00)
The Ravens should win this one, but their weakness might be the left side of their offensive line, which hasn’t done too great in the preseason protecting Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. The Ravens are thinking Super Bowl this year because of their progress over the last four years, and because they play the Philadelphia Eagles next week in Philly.
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (10:15)
The last Norv Turner year or the season he finally makes the most of the talent he’s got? Philip Rivers will be looking to bounce back from his worst season, but their most important issue heading into this game will be stopping third down plays, meaning limiting Darren McFadden on the first two downs.