The Playbook: Previewing Packers-49ers, Redskins-Eagles, other Week 1 games
Cincinnati at Chicago (1 p.m. ET, CBS): How far along is ex-CFL coach Marc Trestman’s Chicago offense? The Bengals, considered by some a legitimate Super Bowl threat, will provide a significant measuring stick. The Bears’ O-line features two rookies (Kyle Long and Jordan Mills) up against what may be the NFL’s premier defensive front, led by Geno Atkins. If Chicago cannot protect QB Jay Cutler, it will not matter what sort of plays Trestman calls. – CB
New England at Buffalo (1 p.m. ET, CBS): Look for a no-huddle vs. no-huddle matchup here. The Patriots are on the vanguard of today’s speed offenses, and they’ll want to keep Buffalo’s multi-tiered defense in base nickel coverage. The Bills are starting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who will benefit from quicker action and timing passes to his targets. Running backs could be the key — Bill Belichick knows how dangerous C.J. Spiller is, and Pats back Shane Vereen can line up all along the formation. – DF
Tennessee at Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET, CBS): Chris Johnson and the revamped Titans line run into a strong Week 1 test — the Steelers allowed just 90 yards rushing per game in 2012. Pittsburgh’s two big storylines boil down to who’s there (Troy Polamalu, after missing nine games last season) and who’s not (Mike Wallace, gone via free agency; rookie RB Le’Veon Bell, out with a foot injury). – CB
Tampa Bay at NY Jets (1 p.m. ET, FOX): If Geno Smith really isn’t watching tape on Darrelle Revis … well, that’s not good. Smith will have his hands full with the Bucs’ rebuilt secondary, featuring Revis and safety Dashon Goldson. He’ll see a lot of looks he hasn’t seen before. The Jets have a decent defense, especially up front and with cornerback Antonio Cromartie, but Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano has a great back in Doug Martin and two matchup-beating receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. This could be the first of many long Sundays for Rex Ryan in 2013. – DF
Arizona at St. Louis (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX): The San Francisco-Seattle rivalry has dominated preseason headlines in the NFC West. But could the Cardinals or Rams spoil the party? The winner here will have a leg up, and the Rams appear to be closer to competing following a 7-8-1 season. Arizona should be much better than in 2012, though, especially if Carson Palmer has any juice left in his right arm. – CB
Minnesota at Detroit (1 p.m. ET, FOX): The running back to watch in this game? It’s actually Reggie Bush, who brings a new and dangerous target in the short passing game for Matthew Stafford. You’ll see the NFL’s two best offensive players (non-quarterback division) in Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson, but Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is the key to this game and Minnesota’s season. He must read blitzes with better results and upgrade his long passing game. – DF
Houston at San Diego (Monday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Week 1 finale pits a Houston team that’s among the AFC favorites against a Chargers squad working on a three-year playoff drought. This will give us the first real evidence of new coach Mike McCoy’s impact on QB Philip Rivers. San Diego did have the league’s sixth-best rush D in 2012, so Houston’s dynamic duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate may have to work for its yards. – CB
Seattle at Carolina (1 p.m. ET, FOX): The Seahawks are well aware that Cam Newton can eat their lunch in the run game — they’ve talked about assignment-correctness all week. The Richard Sherman-Steve Smith matchup is always one of the NFL’s best. Carolina’s defense will be tempted to load up for Marshawn Lynch, but they can’t go too heavy, or Russell Wilson will kill them with play action. Both teams have great inside linebackers (Luke Kuechly for the Panthers, Bobby Wagner for the Seahawks) who will spy mobile quarterbacks. – DF
Only For The Faithful
Kansas City at Jacksonville (1 p.m. ET, CBS): The two worst teams from a year ago kick off the season under new leadership — Andy Reid in K.C.; Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. The expectations are much higher for Reid in Year 1. The winner of this one will be halfway to its 2012 victory total. – CB
Miami at Cleveland (1 p.m. ET, CBS): The Browns put a lot of money into their defense and hired Ray Horton to run it. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, still learning to play within structure, will be challenged to the hilt against Horton’s crazy blitzes. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden can hit vertical strikes but is still learning to make multiple reads. -- DF
Oakland at Indianapolis (1 p.m. ET, CBS): According to the Vegas oddsmakers, this is the biggest mismatch of Week 1, with the Colts around 10-point favorites. Can Terrelle Pryor, expected to be make his second NFL start, inject some life into the Raiders? – CB
(This week, all stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus, and all are from the 2013 preseason unless otherwise indicated).
• Ryan Tannehill had the highest percentage (76.4 percent) of air yards, or yards before the catch, of any starting quarterback. It would certainly seem that the Dolphins are preparing him to hit a bunch of deep strikes to Mike Wallace, though Wallace caught just one pass of 30 yards or more.
• Looking for a sleeper deep threat? Try Seattle’s Stephen Williams, who caught five of the seven passes of more than 20 yards that were thrown to him. Williams scored three touchdowns and gained 213 yards on those plays.
• Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is already proving the team’s wisdom in signing him to a five-year, $56.4 million contract extension. In 43 preseason pass-rush snaps, Atkins racked up 11 quarterback hurries, which is fairly amazing for an interior lineman facing double-teams all the time.
• If you want sacks from a defensive tackle, look to Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey, who led the league this preseason with three, matching his 2012 regular-season total. The 2011 third-round pick out of USC is one of the real risers among young defensive linemen — he brings a great combination of pass-rush penetration and run-stopping ability.
• Washington Redskins rookie safety Bacarri Rambo still needs to learn how to slow down and make tackles in space, but he’s been pretty good in the box so far. He led all at his position with a 25 percent stop rate (the prevention of productive plays) within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. Baltimore Ravens rookie Matt Elam, however, had a 20 percent stop rate on 15 such plays to Rambo’s four. If Elam can calm his own kamikaze tendencies, he’s got Defensive Rookie of the Year potential.
• Phillip Tanner may be the key to Dallas’ power running game. The third-year undrafted free agent led the preseason with 2.95 yards after contact per carry and caused 12 missed tackles on 37 rushing attempts.
• Another good number for Cowboys fans — Dez Bryant dropped 11 passes in his 137 targets in 2012 but didn’t drop one of his 14 targets this preseason. – DF
• Matchup To Watch: Adrian Peterson vs. Ndamukong Suh/Nick Fairley.
Fairley said this offseason that the Lions have the best DT tandem in the league. There’s little question Peterson is the top running back — and arguably top player — out there. The NFC North matchup between Minnesota and Detroit could be decided by which side gets the better of this showdown in the trenches.
If the preseason was any indication, Fairley is knocking on the door of becoming a star. The Lions utilized a wide variety of looks and tactics with both him and Suh to put pressure on opposing offenses. Fairley and Suh responded by consistently making their way into the backfield. Minnesota averaged 161.5 yards rushing in two wins over the Lions last season. Detroit’s front will be focused on substantially lowering that number.
• This Week’s Sleeper: Mike Tolbert, Carolina.
The Panthers have upset on their minds in Week 1 as Seattle makes the cross-country trip to Carolina. Churning out some steady yards on the ground could be the key to accomplishing that goal. DeAngelo Williams will be in the lead role for the Panthers, with Jonathan Stewart opening the season on the PUP list. Tolbert, though, will be worked into the mix, especially on short yardage and in the red zone. His ability to keep the chains moving — and thus keep Seattle’s potent offense off the field — could be a key variable.
• Pressure’s On …: Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay.
Week 1 is hardly do-or-die for any team. But for Freeman, who enters the 2013 season trying to prove he’s worthy of remaining the Bucs’ guy at QB, losing to Geno Smith and the Jets would hand plenty of ammo to his critics. The Buccaneers also have a Week 2 matchup with New Orleans and a Week 3 trip to New England, so stumbling Sunday might set the table for a tough first half.
• Rookie Spotlight: Bacarri Rambo, Washington.
When Chip Kelly’s offense ran well at Oregon, even the best collegiate defenders had trouble diagnosing the plays and getting to the football. So Rambo, the Redskins’ rookie safety, will have his work cut out for him Monday night against Michael Vick and that wide-open Eagles attack.
Rambo impressed the Redskins enough this preseason to nail down a starting job. He struggled at times, however, in preventing big plays in the secondary. Similar issues Monday would make life tough for Washington’s defense. – CB
St. Louis: If the Rams really think they can contend in 2013, they can ill afford a home loss to Arizona out of the gate. Back-to-back trips to Atlanta and Dallas after this one make it all the more imperative that St. Louis starts 1-0. – CB
Seattle: If the Seahawks lose on the road to Carolina, there’s a pretty good chance they start 2-2 out of the gate. They have the 49ers at home and Houston on the road in September, and the second half of their schedule (Bucs, Falcons, Vikings, Saints, 49ers, Giants, Cardinals, Rams) is even more brutal. – DF