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After seven months of finally waiting, the NFL season is finally upon us. A lockout, a frenzied free agency period and a preseason that flew by have brought fans to the brink of euphoria, as tonight the season kicks off. A slew of enticing games lines the Week One docket, including a few heated division rivalries, a matchup of the previous champions and some intriguing contests with varying storylines. Here’s a look at whats on tap for the first weekend.
An absolute thriller to begin the season with the previous two Super Bowl Champions squaring off on Thursday. Sean Payton vs. Mike McCarthy, Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers, Marques Colston vs. Greg Jennings, Jonathan Vilma vs. Clay Matthews are just some of the matchups between these two heavyweights. Green Bay, riding the emotion of raising the banner and championship thrills takes this in a close one right until the end.
Green Bay 27, New Orleans 24
One of the best rivalries in the NFL over the past five seasons, the Ravens and Steelers renew acquaintances at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to start the year. Games between these two are close as can be, as the past nice games have been decided by an average of 4.6 points, with the largest margin of victory being nine points in the 2008 AFC Title. Both teams have upped the trash talk recently, so look for this to be a blood bath. Pittsburgh takes a low scoring game on the road.
Pittsburgh 16, Baltimore 14
A pivotal game between these two young teams will determine their early season fate. Hopes are high in Detroit after stomping the Patriots earlier in the preseason, and Ndamukong Suh will look to get to Josh Freeman through a questionable Tampa line. Detroit survives the heat and tops the Bucs.
Detroit 24, Tampa Bay 14
Both victims in Green Bay’s path to a Super Bowl victory, the Falcons and Bears square off at Solider Field. Atlanta has a retooled offense after trading up for Julio Jones, while their defense improved with the signing of Ray Edwards. Chicago remains a team with several question marks, and those concerns will flare up against one of the NFC’s best squads.
Atlanta 28, Chicago 10
Chiefs QB Matt Cassell is scheduled to start on Sunday, but his rib injury remains something to watch. Bills rookie DT Marcell Dareus starts up the middle and anchors a defense that added Nick Barnett from Green Bay. Despite a 4-12 record, the Bills lost six games that finished within one possession. Kansas City should win playing in front of its home crowd, but expect this to be close.
Kansas City 21, Buffalo 16
Colts QB Peyton Manning is listed as out, significantly crippling the Indianapolis offense to begin the campaign. An emotional Texans team will ride that wave to an easy win. Recently unretired Kerry Collins has not had enough time to mesh with Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and the rest of the Indy O, while new Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will showcase a rejuvenated Mario Williams.
Houston 35, Indianapolis 14
The Eagles take their “Dream Team” on the road to St. Louis, taking on a Sam Bradford led Rams squad. The Rams will keep it close but Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will help the Eagles pull away in the end.
Eagles 31, Rams 17
Either Cincinnati or Cleveland will be tied for the division lead after Week One and be a game up on the Ravens or Steelers. Despite how ridiculous this seems, this will in fact be true. Colt McCoy and Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis should lead the Browns to a 1-0 start, opposed by Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton, who makes his first career appearance.
Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 13
The Jaguars start Luke McCown after releasing David Garrard on Tuesday in a suddenly competitive AFC South. Jacksonville returns Maurice Jones-Drew, while Matt Hasselbeck starts for the Titans. Despite what some say, Del Rio is a good coach capable of maximizing the most out of his teams.
Jacksonville 28, Titans 21
With a QB controversy already brewing in DC, the Redskins seem ripe for the picking against a talented Giants defense without Osi Umenyiora. Rex Grossman has shown he isn’t capable of leading an offense, while Eli Manning has talented targets in Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham with Ahmad Bradshaw to shoulder the load. The Giants take this one with a late score.
Giants 27, Redskins 21
Cam Newton takes the Panthers’ offense to the desert to battle Kevin Kolb and a rejuvenated Cardinals passing game. Teamed with Larry Fitzgerald and his record contract, the Cardinals should top the Panthers with relative ease. Carolina coach Ron Rivera had a quiet but productive offseason and is slowly building a foundation. That will not be enough though, so expect Kolb and the Cardinals to start 1-0.
Arizona 28, Carolina 17
The reigning division champions and slayers of the 2009 Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks are somehow underdogs to begin the season. While John Harbaugh brings optimism to the Bay Area, he still has Alex Smith and an often injured Frank Gore commanding the offense. Seattle will come out strong, and take an early lead on a weak NFC West.
Seattle 27, San Francisco 21
One of the most lopsided games of Week One on paper, the Chargers host the Vikings in a rematch of Adrian Peterson’s 296 yard outburst in 2007 at the Metrodome. This time however, the Vikings are led by Donovan McNabb, but the veteran quarterback will be no match against Phillip Rivers and Vincent Jackson. Expect the Chargers to roll and correct their previous early season slides.
Chargers 42, Vikings 14
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the weekend, America’s Team travels to East Rutherford to take on the Jets on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Despite a down year in 2010, Jason Garrett has a firm grasp on his offense and hired Rex Ryan’s brother, Rob Ryan, to lead the defense. Mark Sanchez should struggle in front of the home fans while Tony Romo makes just enough plays for an opening week win.
Dallas 24, New York Jets 17
The Patriots make their season debut on Monday Night Football against a Dolphins team with numerous question marks. While the South Beach heat and humidity may tire the Patriots early, their superior and talent should help them prevail over a Phins team led by Chad Henne and Reggie Bush.
Patriots 27, Dolphins 13
Somehow, Oakland is a three-point underdog despite going 6-0 in the AFC West last season. Oakland has a superior defense and has game changer Darren McFadden to run against Denver’s defense. Kyle Orton and new coach John Fox help keep it close, but Oakland triumphs to cap off Week One.
Oakland 24, Denver 10