Thursday night? That was the cheese and crackers. And we got overtime from the Steelers and Titans so let’s say it was the soup and salad too.
Sunday? The entrée. The first full Sunday of NFL games for the 2009 season. Nine early games, three late games and the Bears and Packers on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Here are five “big picture” things to watch for as you dig in to 2009.
1. What can Favre do for Purple?
Brett Favre is starting an NFL season opener for the 17th consecutive season. But he wheels into this one with a partially torn rotator cuff, sore ribs and having missed a huge chunk of training camp. He’s also pushing 40. But Favre doesn’t have to do it all for his new team, the Minnesota Vikings, as they open with the Browns in Cleveland. With Adrian Peterson in his backfield and one of the league’s elite defenses prepared to take care of business while Favre’s on the sidelines, he can be an offensive caretaker. Is that in his nature? Not really. But against the Browns and Favre’s former coach Eric Mangini, look for Favre to ease in with the dink-and-dunk style he used in the preseason. Everyone else will do the dirty work and Favre will exit the conquering hero. Sounds about right.
2. Making their points
Last season, 11,279 points were scored league-wide. That’s an average of 44.1 points per game, the highest total since 1965 (46.1). In Week 12 last season, 837 points were scored league-wide, the first time more in league history scoring topped 800 for a weekend. The season opener Thursday night was, predictably, a rock fight between Pittsburgh and Tennessee in which 23 points were scored. But on Sunday, there’s potential for big numbers in a few games. The Lions, trying to get off the 0-16 schnied begun last season are in New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints. Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards in 2008. The 2008 Lions defense came up with a grand total of four interceptions. New Orleans might score 90. Also, watch the scoreboard in the Eagles-Panthers and Broncos-Bengals games. Donovan McNabb has a habit of hitting the ground running at the start of seasons and with the Panthers running attack, there’s potential for high numbers. As for the Broncos and Bengals, both teams can get porous defensively. Cincinnati was on the uptick at the end of last year defensively but during one stretch last season, they allowed more than 24 in nine out of 12 games. Denver allowed 112 in their final three games last season.
3. Who’s on the griddle early?
4. Do you believe the hype?
Jay Cutler’s going to make the Bears watchable. The Texans are the sleeper team in the AFC South this season. The Bengals? Ready to get it right. Mark Sanchez is the new Namath. Matthew Stafford is plenty ready to be the opening day starter for the Lions. The Packers can realistically think about Miami in February. An offseason in the spin cycle has generated proclamations like these. And we all know how accurate the spin usually is. The most fascinating game in which these stories intersect is the Bears-Packers matchup. Cutler has looked like the answer for a Bears offense that’s been deadly dull for too long. While the Packers appeared unstoppable at times in the preseason. Which one will make the hype look well-deserved?
5. Sophomore jump?
Many coaches believe that players make their biggest leaps between their first and second seasons. So many rookies had brilliant 2008 campaigns – Texans running back Steve Slaton, Titans running back Chris Johnson, New England linebacker Jerod Mayo, Denver tackle Ryan Clady. But the two biggest stars of the class were the ones with the most responsibility – Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Today, Ryan goes up against the Dolphins in a game between rags-to-riches teams from 2008. Flacco gets to go up against the rebuilding Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how these guys – Ryan in particular – fare at the start of this year.
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