The two most interesting games as the NFL sparks back into action with a full Sunday schedule are those on the edges: The early game between the San Francisco 49ers and its injured/suspended defense and the Dallas Cowboys with plenty of defensive problems themselves, and the late show between the Indianapolis Colts and last year’s Super Bowl losers, the Denver Broncos.
The Cowboys enter the game against the 49ers with a three game winning streak against a team they had the best rivalry in the NFL with during the 1990’s. The last time the 49ers beat the Cowboys was in 2002, and might be heading into this clash as favorites, even if they’re the road team, for the first time in more than decade.
One big problem for the 49ers during the offseason was their offensive line. However, Alex Boone isn’t holding out anymore, so Colin Kaepernick is free to feel guarded again, while Frank Gore will try and show he has some gas left in the tank. The other issue will be key players missing on defense: Aldon Smith is suspended, NaVorro Bowman is injured and Ray McDonald might be missing as well, depending on how quickly the NFL makes a decision about him.
The Cowboys gave up 415.3 yards per game last season, worst in the NFL. Their defense, on paper at least, hasn’t really improved, losing Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware to the Broncos while Sean Lee is injured again. It’ll be about relying on Tony Romo to make the most of this receiving crops that include Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, while hoping for the right kind of balance, another issue from last season, when it comes to deploying DeMarco Murray.
The last time the Denver Broncos beat the Indianapolis Colts was in 2005. Since then they’ve lost six times including the playoffs, most of those losses with Manning wearing white or blue. Last year however the Colts beat Peyton Manning in orange while Andrew Luck was calling the shots. That game was in Indianapolis, as Luck’s transcendence in close games was proven once again.
The Broncos made the right moves in the offseason: Improving the pass rush with Ware and also added Aqib Talib to the secondary, thinking about everything that went wrong for them in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. The Colts made changes as well, the biggest of them being adding Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants, giving Luck a trio of Nicks, Hilton and Reggie Wayne, back from an ACL tear, to throw to.
Considering how badly Trent Richardson has been doing since coming from the Browns while Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t been exactly lighting it up, having a solid running back duo won’t mean a lot of time spent going to running plays. Luck has the ability and probably the desire to throw a lot more, and maybe this will be the season in which the Colts, coached by someone who is a bit conservative offensively, begin to open things up.
Peyton Manning won’t have Wes Welker (suspended) or Eric Decker (gone), but the trio of Demariyus Thomas, Julius Thomas and new arrival Emmanuel Sanders should be enough for him to have another solid, and maybe even record setting day from behind center.