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Week 1 Game Rankings: Steelers-Broncos, Cowboys-Giants start NFL feast

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With a heaping helping of intriguing games in Week 1, what's not to like? (US Presswire)  
With a heaping helping of intriguing games in Week 1, what's not to like? (US Presswire)    

It's the most, wonderful time, of the year.

Who doesn't love this? We've got football three days out of the week, with two games on Monday night, and, thanks to President Obama, we even get the annual season kickoff affair 24 hours earlier than the norm. I'm bouncing off the walls over here.

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That long, long offseason is finally beyond us and, I don't know about you, but I can barely remember sitting through any of those seemingly four-hour, fourth preseason games. It's like they never even happened at all.

This week we get to welcome five rookie starting quarterbacks to the league, Peyton Manning truly becomes a Bronco, we have some meaty divisional matchups to sink our football-starved jaws into, and we don't even have to feel special for the midweek game -- because Thursday football is now a part of the regular schedule.

On the slip side, there are a bunch of dudes who would otherwise be doing Lingerie Football League games officiating these contests, and we all know that will be the prevailing story line leaguewide until or unless this gets resolved, but I guess the good news is at least everyone is in the same boat.

It's the only thing derailing what is a nationwide celebration. And I for one am basking in it (and, in this my maiden voyage with CBS, and with me already getting hungry from this hoagie-meter, I can only hope that the green room is stocked with subs of all varieties come game day at our studios in NYC. Because not much goes better with football than a two-fisted slab of meat, bread and condiments on a fall Sunday).

OK, with that out of the way, here's to the Week 1 rankings:

  
 

Pittsburgh Steelers  at  Denver Broncos

Sunday, Sept. 9, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why To Watch: No one remembers that playoff game at Mile High from a few months back, do they? And it won't be much of a big deal that Peyton Manning is playing his first NFL game for someone other than the Colts, either. Or that it happens to come against a team uniquely qualified to destroy opposing quarterbacks with hits that are clean (for the most part) or otherwise (paging Mr. Harrison). This one is pretty delicious.

What To Watch For: The Steelers secondary was totally inept in that postseason game without its mental anchor, safety Ryan Clark (who has a sickle-cell trait and is held out of playing games at this altitude for health reasons). And that was against Tim Tebow, of all people. So what could Peyton do to that unit? Of course, the Steelers were shredded by injuries then as well. ... Who is getting the bulk of Manning's looks? Eric Decker and Joel Dreessen are strong bets to get a ton of targets from what I hear. ... Will the Broncos run game be nearly as effective without all of the gimmicky stuff Tebow's presence provided? What's it like the first time Manning is really pummeled in a game that actually counts.

Dallas Cowboys  at  New York Giants

Wednesday, Sept. 5, 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network)

Why To Watch: Um, it's the first flippin' game of the season, people. It features the defending Super Bowl champs against "America's Team" and will be the perfect segue to a week's worth of TV-babble about whether Tony Romo is as elite as Eli Manning. Who doesn't live for that stuff? In the NFC East, which should be bunched pretty close again this season, September intra-division slipups can loom large -- ask the Cowboys from a year ago, for instance -- and this game features no shortage of intriguing matchups. Jersey boy Mile Austin tries to come back from another injury against New York's perpetually beat-up secondary, and the Cowboys will try to muster a cogent run game to keep New York's powerful pass rush off Romo's back. And who doesn't lose the war of words triggered by Giants lineman Mathias Kiwanuka this week?

What To Watch For: You have to wonder if a traditional Sunday start would have allowed injured guys like Jason Witten and Hakeem Nicks to be a little better prepared for this one. ... The absence of Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff is significant, and the Giants could opt for a lot of rookie back David Wilson up the gut. ... The Giants keep winning Super Bowls without studs at tackle, and DeMarcus Ware could be moving around to find the best matchup here. ... You never know if Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan opts to leave a little something behind in the Meadowlands for his brother Rex to find when the Jets make it to their home opener. Boys will be boys, you know. Especially the Ryan boys.

Cincinnati Bengals  at  Baltimore Ravens

Monday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why To Watch: For all of their gains last season, the Bengals could not beat the Ravens or Steelers; that will have to change if the AFC North balance of power is to truly shift. Baltimore's defense looked vulnerable in the preseason, for what it's worth, and trying to muster a pass rush with Terrell Suggs possibly out for the season won't be easy. This could well be Joe Flacco's breakout season, while Andy Dalton seeks to avoid the sophomore slump. Ravens have one of the NFL's true home-field advantages, and fans have been clamoring for a Monday night game for a while.

What To Watch For: Jimmy Smith versus A.J. Green has the makings of a premier corner/receiver matchup for years to come. ... How do the Ravens attempt to replace Suggs, and can Paul Kruger make any impact on non-passing downs? Is this the year Haloti Ngata becomes the latest Raven to win Defensive Player of The Year honors? ... Ray Lewis dropped a bunch of weight, but how much has he slowed down (a yearly, if not weekly, question)? Do the Bengals have a No. 2 receiver? How vulnerable are they at corner beyond Leon Hall? Can the Ravens get both of their injured tight ends truly active and involved?

San Francisco 49ers  at  Green Bay Packers

Sunday, Sept. 9, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Both teams had their Super Bowl hopes expunged by the Giants in the playoffs a year ago, and we get to relive the Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers debate from their draft year all over again (oh, yeah, wait, there is no debate). But seriously, can Smith, and the 49ers for that matter, do it again? Will teams be better prepared and take them more seriously now? And have the Packers done enough to get their defense back to where it was a few years back, and is Cedric Benson the answer to their ground concerns?

What To Watch For: Randy Moss doesn't suffer fools, so Smith had better not play like one. The Packers' tackle situation will be under scrutiny and the 49ers will able to generate a massive rush like a year ago without bringing numbers to do so. ... 49ers had incredible luck in terms of injuries, and turnover ratio, in 2011, but those things tend to even out over time. ... Can the 49ers negate the slot game in the Green Bay offense?

Buffalo Bills  at  New York Jets

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: The Jets have the air of a team that could be a beautiful disaster on so many levels. The tabloids are locked and loaded already. I can only imagine the plug-and-play headlines they have already concocted. It took the third-string quarterback, in the final preseason game, to finally get New York an exhibition touchdown. The Bills feel like Stevie Johnson can actually thrive on Revis Island, but then again would anyone in Buffalo really want Ryan Fitzpatrick putting the ball anywhere near him? Fred Jackson returns for the first time since his MVP-type season was snapped by injury. Mario Williams makes his Bills debut as part of a revamped front seven, and will get moved around plenty on Jets novice right tackle Austin Howard. Oh, this one could be delicious, not to mention it's a division game.

What To Watch For: Could the Bills, with ex-Jet Brad Smith, out-wildcat the Jets? How soon could a quarterback controversy begin? After their fiery preseason and the throwdowns in camp at Cortland, can we rule out Jets sideline fisticuffs at this point? Have the leadership training courses nipped that in the bud? ... Buffalo has the kind of secondary that can negate Santonio Holmes, so can anyone else make a play for Sanchez? WWJNS (What Will Joe Namath Say?). Did I mention Tim Tebow yet? Oh, Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow.

  
 

Indianapolis Colts  at  Chicago Bears

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Andrew Luck makes his NFL debut on the road in a hallowed stadium against a team with no shortage of defensive talent. That alone makes for some good viewing. It's also the first time Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and coach Jeremy Bates get all reunited for a game that actually counts. If the Bears are going to get back in the postseason, this is the kind of early season game they need to capitalize on, but Luck will make some highlight-reel plays, too.

What To Watch For: The Colts offensive line is not ready for prime time and they need to find a way to allow Luck to get his feet under him. Indianapolis is lacking for talent in key spots -- no one rebuilds overnight in this league -- and running the ball, stopping the run and giving Luck time to operate are all major questions as they head into the season. ... Brian Urlacher will play, but how close to 75 percent does he look, because with the way he has talked about his repaired knee, it could be a while before he's really going side-to-side. The Bears are old on defense in general, and if it's a hot one in Chicago, wonder if heat/conditioning will be any sort of issue in the second half. ... Any chance Colts owner Jim Irsay possibly live tweets a trade offer at halftime?

San Diego Chargers  at  Oakland Raiders

Monday, Sept. 10, 10:25 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why To Watch: These teams generally conspire to play some competitive and interesting games, and controversy is not often far behind (The Holy Roller; The Louis Murphy play in the back of the end zone on the Monday night opener a few years back). You've also got Norv Turner coaching for his job, yet again, in 2012, Ryan Mathews trying to show he isn't brittle after missing all of preseason, Philip Rivers out to show last year was a fluke and Carson Palmer out to show he can still play (though I talk to plenty of scouts who see the Raiders in the market for a QB in 2013). Dennis Allen's first game as Raiders coach.

What To Watch For: Palmer's ball speed, especially on sideline throws, and on throws when he has to pick up his foot. ... Is Darren McFadden all the way back from his serious foot injury from a year ago, and how explosive is that first step? ... Do the Chargers miss Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester in the run game, with Mathews banged up again? Do the Chargers have a left tackle, and does the Raiders defensive line size present particular problems? ... Just how little press-man coverage are the Raiders employing now, post Al Davis?

Atlanta Falcons  at  Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: The Chiefs have become a quasi-sexy pick as a rebound team. I see them around .500 at best, but this is a nice little test off the bat, especially coming of a lackluster preseason. Injuries have already mounted again for Kansas City, while ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez, a Chiefs legend and fan favorite, rolls back into town still hoping this is the season that results in a playoff victory or two for him. Falcons QB Matt Ryan needs to be better on the road, and in the postseason, this season if he's going to make that leap up in status.

What To Watch For: The Chiefs have to keep a close eye on Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeki -- all are coming back from season-ending knee surgeries. Is that normal burst there? How sure and confident do they look under the circumstances? Matt Cassel has yet another offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, and these fans are thirsty for some aerial gains. Does Dwayne Bowe know what's up in this new KC offense after sitting out most of camp before signing his franchise tender? Is this the year some high draft pick along the defensive line for the Chiefs lives up to his billing?

Washington Redskins  at  New Orleans Saints

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: How will Robert Griffin III's game translate to the pros? How will the Saints fare without Sean Payton ... and Mickey Loomis ... and Joe Vitt ... and Will Smith ... and Jonathan Vilma ... am I missing anyone here? ... Steve Spagnuolo makes his debut as Saints defensive coordinator trying to throw wrinkles at the Heisman Trophy winner. Drew Brees faces just the sort of corners he can undress with ease as he enters the season after breaking Dan Marino's passing mark in 2011. This game has no shortage of intrigue, and you could maybe argue it being foot-long worthy, if I thought it would be more competitive.

What To Watch For: Griffin had difficulty finding the open man when teams rolled their safeties in the preseason. He also didn't see much zone blitzing. ... Will the Redskins go heavy spread and run elements of the Pistol? I'm hearing that's quite possible, with this offense possibly looking a lot like the rudimentary stuff the Oilers/Titans ran when Steve McNair was learning the pro game. ... Will Mike Shanahan find a way to make sure all three of his running backs get at least 10 carries? And are fantasy football players still falling into that trap every week?

New England Patriots  at  Tennessee Titans

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Jake Locker now faces the pressure that comes with being the starter, with top receiver Kenny Britt suspended for the game, and having opponents prepare to face you every snap. Tom Brady simply starts another season, which is reason enough to tune in. Chris Johnson tries to prove that 2011, and his post-holdout hangover, was an anomaly. Brandon Lloyd tries to be the legit deep threat Brady has lacked since Randy Moss' heyday.

What To Watch For: You know Belichick will get involved in this defensive scheme, with Locker very raw, not accurate, but a real threat when he tucks and runs. ... Has New England's overall speed, tackling and production improved on the defensive side of things? ... Chandler Jones could wreak some havoc on third down right away. ... If the Pats drop back the linebackers and play a lot of quarters, defensively, does Locker become a turnover machine?

  
 

St. Louis Rams  at  Detroit Lions

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Matthew Stafford tries to repeat his 5,000-yard output against a team that gave up big plays in bunches a year ago. Sam Bradford begins what he hopes will be the kind of breakout season Stafford enjoyed a year ago after both had been stalled by injuries early in their career. Bradford's ankle issues could be exacerbated by a punishing Lions defensive line, but then again, what quarterback wouldn't be foaming at the mouth some to get a shot at Detroit's secondary right now?

What To Watch For: Heard that Ndamukong Suh was pretty motivated during offseason workouts about getting back to his dominant rookie form, and few offensive lines will be as hospitable to that end than this one. ... Can the Lions muster some sort of consistent ground game with their battery of backs? ... No need to fear any Jim Schwartz postgame sideline fireworks -- he's facing his mentor, Jeff Fisher, in Fisher's first-game as Rams coach. ... Rams are one of few teams with the potential for two shutdown corners in Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins, and who wouldn't want to see some of that physical rookie against Megatron?

Jacksonville Jaguars  at  Minnesota Vikings

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: It's the battle of the running back who missed all of the preseason, Maurice Jones-Drew, vs. the back who wants to race back ahead of schedule, as Adrian Peterson comes back from season-ending surgery. And the reality is neither is in line to do a whole heck of a lot, though that plot line will surely carry the day in this battle of rebuilding teams. Also, another chance for second-year starters Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder to be measured against one another, after ominous rookie seasons. And it's Mike Mularkey's first game as Jags coach.

What To Watch For: How tall are the kid quarterbacks standing up against the rush? In particular, Gabbert, who struggled mightily in that regard a year ago and stands to have a fair amount of Jared Allen in his face all day. Will either coach, hardly among the most tenured in the NFL, blink and use a whole lot less Toby Gerhart or Rashad Jennings, as is called for in this opener? ... Justin Blackmon will get Rookie of the Year talk if Gabbert can get him the ball.

  
 

Carolina Panthers  at  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sunday, Sept. 9, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Cam Newton is The Truth. You should watch Cam Newton every week! And no, I am not being sarcastic or flippant like I was about Tebow before. Do not miss a chance to watch this kid play, because he doesn't disappoint, and getting Steve Smith back for this one is huge. On the other side, how much better is the slimmed-down Josh Freeman? Will Vincent Jackson make a Week 1 impact? Can Greg Schiano change the Bucs culture as quickly as he hopes to?

What To Watch For: Mike Tolbert is the Panthers' hidden weapon. The coaches are giddy about him and he did next to nothing in the preseason games. They will use him as a fullback, H-back, running back, and flex him out sometimes. Newton could even pitch stuff his way in option situations. Brandon Lafell seemed to benefit from Smith's absence in the preseason and develop a chemistry with Newtown, and will be interested to see how much Louis Murphy is on the field for Carolina. ... Is the interior of Tampa Bay's defensive line any more stout?

Seattle Seahawks  at  Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, Sept. 9, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: We know John Skelton will start the game for the Cards, but will he finish it? If it's not of his own undoing, it could be that of the Arizona offensive line. Russell Wilson makes his NFL debut for Seattle as the least likely of the five rookie starters to find himself in that role, though he is totally deserving. ... Seattle's pass rush could get immediate boost from rookie Bruce Irvin. ... Seattle might have the best young secondary in the NFL.

What To Watch For: Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt literally gnawing through his play sheet from watching his quarterback play? Larry Fitzgerald, ever the consummate pro, making a beeline for Mexico at the half? ... Can Seattle get some of its walking wounded, like Braylon Edwards and Sidney Rice, involved right away?

Philadelphia Eagles  at  Cleveland Browns

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Um, other than the fact that Cleveland's GM, head coach and offensive coordinator are all former Eagles, I can't see a whole lot of magic in this one. Maybe that gives a seemingly woefully overmatched Browns team a fighting chance. Yes, it will be the NFL debut of Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden, but based on what I was hearing from the preseason, don't expect much immediate bang for your buck. Not that Browns fans need a primer on woeful quarterback indoctrinations.

What To Watch For: How much of a load can rookie RB Trent Richardson handle after a lost preseason due to another knee procedure? Can the Browns keep the game within 21 points by the half? ... How soon do people start putting the Browns on an 0-16 meter? Personally, I figure they win 3-4 games, but the piling on could start really early with their tough schedule. ... Also should be plenty of talk about new owner Jimmy Haslam, who will be more hands on than anything this franchise has known, and who will officially take over next month.

Miami Dolphins  at  Houston Texans

Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Team with potentially the AFC's deepest roster faces team with what might be its weakest. Not sure how else to put this one. It's the debut of Dolphins rookie head coach Joe Philbin and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, if you are into that sort of thing, but somehow I don't think either one will be smiling much after four quarters against the Texans. In fact, unless you are living in a world of over/unders and parlays, this probably won't be your cup of tea.

What To Watch For: There is already a fair amount of veteran dissent in the Dolphins locker room, so there could be some interesting postgame quotes coming out of there should this be a blowout. And if Andre Johnson goes off, don't be shocked if a Dolphin or two invokes the Vontae Davis trade. ... Matt Schaub takes the field for his first game since a foot injury ended his 2011 campaign. ... Arian Foster's attack on the NFL's rushing crown could get off to a cracking start here.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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