I am a little late with this (2009 NFL regular season schedule was released on Tuesday), but better late than never, right?

It may only be April, but it is never too early to look ahead to the upcoming season.  With the NFL draft still a week away, I think it’s a good time to talk about the week one matchups coming at us in September.

Opening Weekend

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Ah, yes, the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers and their monstrous defense, led by newly re-signed All-Pro LB James Harrison, will get to face a tough competitor in the AFC South champion Titans.  The key matchup of the game will be Tennessee’s explosive run game of second-year half back Chris Johnson and big man LenDale White against the number one defense in the NFL in ’08, anchored by 300+ pound nose tackle Casey Hampton.  Both teams have virtually the same roster as in 2008, Pittsburgh losing guard Kendall Simmons (released), and WR Nate Washington, who was acquired by the Titans in early March.  The X-factor in the game will be on defense.  In order to stop Pittsburgh, Keith Bulluck and the Tennessee D will have to keep pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and, of course, stop the run.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just one of the nine 1:00 PM (ET) games are between two division rivals, but that doesn’t take anything away from the excitement of the scheduled games.

Matt Ryan, NFL’s AP Rookie of the Year just last season, will lead his 12-4 Atlanta Falcons into Miami to face one of the biggest question marks as of today: the Miami Dolphins.  Truthfully, I have no idea what to expect from the ‘Fins this season.  They were a playoff contender with Chad Pennington at the helm last year, but I would be surprised if they made it out of the AFC East alive this year.

The Jay Cutler-less Denver Broncos travel to Cincinnati for a week one match-up with the healthy Carson Palmer and his “crew”.  One thing I know about the Bengals is they desperately need their defense to show up to play this year, because Palmer doesn’t have much help from his offense (T.J. Houshmandzadeh left for Seattle, and Chad Ocho Cinco has continued his child-like actions this offseason).  A healthy Palmer is no good without support.  As for Denver, Kyle Orton is in no way a savior, and this team was doomed as soon as Josh McDaniels took over.

Here’s a great match-up for the NFL’s best back, Adrian Peterson.  How ‘bout a week one battle with the Cleveland Browns, who were 28th in the league in rushing defense in 2008?  Their offense doesn’t look to be in very good shape, either.  Eric Mangini may want to decide on a number one QB, and quick.  Oh, and what about Braylon Edwards’ future, Cleveland?  They have already lost one great blocker/receiver in Kellen Winslow, Jr. (who signed with the Bucs about a month or so ago.  Looking good for AP.

It’s finally Maurice Jones-Drew’s time to shine with Fred Taylor out of Jacksonville, who will be willing to run heavily on Indy’s defense with the loss of several key wideouts, and a questionable offensive line protecting David Garrard.  As for Indianapolis...the question is will they adjust to new head coach Jim Caldwell.  Will Peyton get off to another slow start?  Will Dwight Freeney even be a Colt come September?  There’s just too many questions for this team right now.

The Detroit Lions, winless in ’08, will have their hands full with Drew Brees, who had one of the biggest seasons a QB could have in this league in 2008.  The Lions should be a much better team come 2009 via free agency and the draft.  But New Orleans and their improved defense is looking for a playoff berth this season, and their high-powered offense may end up running (and passing) all over this Detroit defense.

The Terrell Owens era has officially ended, and Tony Romo will play his first game without him week one against Tampa Bay, who happens to be without veteran Jeff Garcia (signed with Oakland this offseason).  Instead, Tampa may have to start the season with the inexperienced Luke McCown under center, which could cause major problems for the rest of this offense.  Tampa’s aging defense may finally hit the wall this year, too.  Veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks still hasn’t signed with anyone, and cornerback Ronde Barber’s NFL days are certainly numbered.  What I expect to see is Dallas’ new and improved defense to rip apart McCown and the Tampa offense (who will be in even more trouble if Carnell Williams doesn’t come out healthy).

Possibly the most intriguing game of the weekend will be the Philadelphia Eagles/Carolina Panthers matchup.  Two very successful running games with great defenses, but I think the passing game will be the difference.  Donovan McNabb knows how to make the big play, and having a guy like second-year wideout DeSean Jackson on your side certainly helps out a lot.  I don’t expect Jake Delhomme to repeat his five interception performance from January 10 (as his Panthers were beat 33-13 in the second round of the playoffs by the underdog Arizona Cardinals), but I do expect Philadelphia’s fierce defense (even without All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins) to shut Delhomme down.  By making Carolina one-dimensional, Philadelphia should take this one easily.

The revitalized, Kansas City Chiefs will take on quite a task week one against the NFL’s second-rated defense (last year) in the Baltimore Ravens.  If Matt Cassel was to prove himself a reliable QB, it would be in this game.  But, I don’t expect much from him against this vicious defense, even with the absence of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.  Led by Ray Lewis, the Baltimore defense will get to Cassel early and often while sophomore QB Joe Flacco spreads the Kansas City defense out and airs it out.  Kansas City will be much better than in ’08, but don’t expect much from them week one.

If Matt Schaub can stay healthy this season, Houston will be special.  It all starts with their week one matchup with the New York Jets, in Houston.  But one thing I will say about this Texans team is that they will give Tennessee and Indy a run for their money this season.  With Steve Slaton lining up in the backfield, and All-Pro WR Andre Johnson lining up wide, and the defense led by Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans, the Texans are a dangerous team and very well could get overlooked in the South.  However, the Jets have a huge question mark at the QB position with the departure of future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.  As of today, Kellen Clemens, the 25-year old out of Oregon is the starting signal-caller.  But, that could easily change by the time August and September roll around.  In his three NFL seasons (all with New York), Clemens has played in a total 14 games, posting a career QB rating of 59.3.  The success of the 2009 Jets cannot be measured until the QB situation is fully resolved.

Jim Zorn will open up his second season as an NFL head coach when his Washington Redskins stroll in to New York to face Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin’s Giants.  Washington was, arguably, the “winner” of the offseason—so far—and will be showcasing their new team.  Washington failed to make a deal for the coveted Jay Cutler, so Jason Campbell will start the season as their number one guy once again, but his leash may a little shorter this year than in previous seasons (because of lack of production).  Eli will once again have one of the most feared running backs in the NFL running behind him in the monstrous Brandon Jacobs, who just recently signed a four-year, $25 million contract with the team.  New York will most likely address their WR need in the NFL draft next weekend, and their offense will be ready to air it out this year.

The Mike Singletary era will officially begin when they go head-to-head with the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.  Arizona, who lost their offensive and defensive coordinator this offseason, will have their own problems to deal with, which includes more drama between ownership and Anquan Boldin.  Will he stay or will he go?  You will have to keep your eyes and ears open this summer to find out.  The Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald combination will be as strong as ever, but the run game will suffer severely as the age of Edgerrin James continues to increase.  In the end, these two teams may still be battling for the division in December.

St. Louis’ offense, without a doubt will struggle.  Marc Bulger is losing all his weapons and protection, and Steven Jackson can’t carry this offense on his own.  They will need to get help on the defensive side of the ball as well.  This will be a growing year for St. Louis, while Seattle is looking to make it back to the playoffs this year.  Matt Hasselbeck looks to be healthier than ever, and they even brought in All-Pro WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh from the Cincinnati Bengals.  Sadly, though, they still may be battling with Arizona and San Fran for the division.

Sunday Night Football can’t get any better than this.  Football at Lambeau.  It may not be in the swirling winds of December, but it’s Green Bay and Chicago, the most prolific rivalry still alive in the NFL today.  Aaron Rodgers vs. Jay Cutler.  This will be the first time we get to see Cutler and his new team in action.  You should be really excited.  Both of their games last year were great, and I expect both of their two match-ups this year to be even better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots

This first game will be wayyy overhyped mainly because: 1) It’s T.O. versus Randy Moss. 2) It’s T.O.’s Buffalo debut and 3) It will, hopefully, be the return of Tom Brady.  Nevertheless, it will be a great game, and maybe the perfect game to have on national television.  BREAKING NEWS: John Madden will not be covering the game.  A couple days ago he retired from broadcasting (but, of course, you already knew that).  It will be interesting to see how Trent Edwards does with this offense now that he has TWO more-than-capable wideouts in Owens and Lee Evans.  Perhaps a little more vertical passing?  Who knows.

San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders

The MNF, and week one finale will be a late start (10:15 PM ET), and you will get to see how Jeff Garcia fares in black and silver (if, that is, he starts over young gun JaMarcus Russell).  LaDainian Tomlinson will be another big storyline in this game, like he always is.  Should be great, but I would expect LT to plow through this Oakland defense for a big game.

Personally, I can not wait for the season to kick-off.  Looks like it will be a long summer for me.

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