Reporting Matt Ryan
After an eventful opening weekend on the college gridiron, the 2013 football season will be in full swing tonight when the NFL kicks off. This year’s opening weekend includes rematches of several playoff games from last season and divisional showdowns that could be determine who will be playing in January and beyond. Tonight’s kickoff game will feature the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens beginning their journey for a repeat on the road against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Ravens eliminated the Broncos in the NFL Playoffs last January, in a 38-35 double overtime game.
Another playoff rematch from last season will take place on Sunday afternoon between the Green Bay Packers and the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons will begin their 2013 campaign in New Orleans against the Saints, who will have head coach Sean Payton back on the sidelines, in a non-exhibition game for the first time in nearly 20 months. Although its great that pro football is back, not all games are created equally in terms of excitement on kickoff weekend. Which games are you looking forward to the most on opening weekend?
16. Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars: Kansas City begins the Andy Reid era against a team that could finish 2013 with the league’s worst record. The Chiefs will be led on offense by former Niners quarterback Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles who ran for 1500+ yards last season. With a favorable schedule and new personnel in place, Kansas City could be a dark horse playoff contender this year.
15. Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns: Ryan Tannehill isthe forgotten man of the 2012 rookie quarterback class. He didn’t make many headlines last year or lead his new club to the postseason, but has shown potential of being a long-term starter in the NFL. Tannehill passed for 3200+ yards and led the Dolphins to a 3-3 finish (two of those losses were against New England). Miami will have an opportunity to get off to a great start in 2013, opening on the road against a Cleveland Browns team that will be in a for a long season in the ultra-competitive AFC North.
14. Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts: Some teams need more time than others to rebuild. The Colts finished the 2011 season with a 2-14 record and rebounded immediately in 2012 with Rookie of the Year – Andrew Luck leading Indianapolis to 11 wins and a playoff appearance. Oakland has been recovering for more than a decade, after their Super Bowl appearance during the 2002 season. The rebuilding process could continue for a few more years, if Terrelle Pryor is unable to find success as the Raider’s new quarterback.
13. Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers: With all the hype surrounding the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens and the HBO starring Bengals, Pittsburgh has been a little bit under the radar this off-season. Ben Roethlisberger had one of his most productive season ever in 2012, but an uncharacteristically poor running game was a big reason why the team failed to make the postseason. Their defense may not be among the NFL’s elite this year, but it should be good enough to help Pittsburgh avoid missing the playoffs in back to back years for the first time since 1999. Tennessee isn’t expected to be a playoff contender this year, but the team could be in for more changes in 2014, if quarterback Jake Locker doesn’t improve significantly in his third season.
12. New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: Another year, another new set of receivers. Tom Brady will be on the field this Sunday without his best receiver and top two tight ends from a year ago. Despite all the changes, New England is a heavy favorite to win their 10th division crown in 11 years. It could be another long year for the Bills who haven’t made the NFL Playoffs since 1999, the longest drought in the league.
11. Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: Adrian Peterson shocked the league last season when he nearly set the NFL single season rushing record, less than a year after suffering a devastating knee injury. His heavy production will be counted on again, in order to get the Vikings back in the postseason. Detroit will need more than just a record setting season from Calvin Johnson to get back to the NFL Playoffs this January. The Lions were the NFC’s breakthrough team in 2011, but took a big step backwards in 2012, by winning six fewer games (4) than they had the year before. Another lackluster season could put head coach Jim Schwartz on the hot seat.
10. Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers (Monday): The Texans have won the AFC South the previous two seasons, but have yet to make the next step towards bring a Lombardi Trophy to Houston. Its a similar success that Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers experienced in the late 2000′s. San Diego won four consecutive AFC West titles from 2006-2009, but have finished in second place and out of the NFL Playoffs for the last three seasons.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets: It will be a make or break season for Josh Freeman who will be entering his fifth year with the Buccaneers. The time is already up for his fellow 2009 NFL Draft quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has been replaced as the Jets signal caller by former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. While both starters have a lot question marks on opening weekend, the biggest headline of this matchup is Darrelle Revis getting to play his first game as a Buccaneer against his former team in the Meadowlands.
8. Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers: Andrew Luck and RG III made the 2012 rookie quarterback class one of the most anticipated ever, but the emergence of Russel Wilson as a Pro Bowl player in his first year made it one of the best ever. Wilson helped the Seahawks improve their record by four games and helped them get within minutes of an NFC Championship Game appearance. He gets to open his season against a squad led by a phenom from his rookie year. Cam Newton and the Panthers finished in a three way tie for second place in the NFC South last season with a 7-9 record.
7. Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams: San Francisco and Seattle may be the co-favorites in the NFC West (as well as the entire NFC), but the Cardinals and Rams could still make things interesting in the division. St. Louis went 2-1-1 against the Niners and Seahawks last year, while the Cardinals began 2012 with a 4-0 record, before losing 11 of their last 12 games.
6. Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears: This contest is the most underrated matchup of Week One. Cincinnati is coming off back to back Wild Card playoff appearances and is looking to take the next step this season towards a championship. The Bengals boast one of the NFL’s best defenses and arguably the league’s top defensive line. Chicago got off to a great start last season with a 7-1 start, but stumbled towards the end winning only three of their last eight games. Jay Cutler is in a contract year and could receive the next nine figure contract if he has a productive season in 2013 and gets Chicago back in the playoffs.
5. Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins (Monday): The Chip Kelly era will begin for the Eagles on Monday Night Football against the defending division champion Washington Redskins. Philadelphia may not be the NFC East favorite, but the new up-tempo that Kelly is installing will make them one of the most intriguing teams to watch this season. Rookie sensations Robert Grffin III and Alfred Morris helped the Redskins win the division last year for the first time since 1999. Both will be counted to help Washington continue their success in 2013, especially RG III who is recovering from a torn ACL.
4. New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: New York fell back to the middle of the pack in 2012, after winning their second Super Bowl title in five seasons. The Cowboys have failed to make the postseason for the last three seasons and the pressure will once again be on Tony Romo to lead America’s Team back to prominence. The NFC East will be wide open once again and could be the most competitive division in the NFL. The Cowboys (nine wins) and Giants (eight wins) finished in second and third place respectively last season, to the 10 win Washington Redskins.
3. Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: No team has repeated as the NFC South champion since the division began in 2002. The Falcons have had five consecutive winning seasons and will look to take their first step towards a Super Bowl title on the road against their division rival. Sean Payton will be back on the sidelines for the Saints after serving a season-long suspension for his role in the Bountygate scandal.
2. Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (Thursday): Last time these teams met in Denver, they played in a 38-35 double overtime in thriller in the playoffs. Peyton Manning and the Broncos will get a chance to redeem themselves against the defending Super Bowl champions in the inaugural contest of the 2013 NFL season. Both teams will new look defenses on the field, with the Ravens replacing six starers from their Super Bowl winning team, while the Broncos will be missing their two best pass rushers from a year. Von Miller is serving a six game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy and Elvis Dumervil is now a member of the Ravens, after a contract snafu with the Broncos in the off-season.
1. Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: The Packers will begin their 2013 season where the 2012 season ended. San Francisco beat Green Bay 45-31 in January on their way to the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick went 8-3 for the Niners after replacing Alex Smith as the starter midway through last season.