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Tag:Aaron Rodgers
Posted on: September 26, 2011 11:44 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:47 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 3

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Podcast is coming tomorrow -- this week's edition of SSP is brought to you in tardy fashion by the Ford Fusion that hauled your writer home at 3:00 a.m. ET Sunday.

Group exercises are, for the most part, ridiculous. I trust you! You trust me! How groundbreaking.  

But play along for 30 seconds and repeat after me: "the Bills and Lions are undefeated."

Haha, but no seriously. This is happening. The idea that bad NFL teams become good and the idea that good NFL teams become bad isn't shocking. It shouldn't be. It won't ever be absolutely mind-blowing, because this is what happens in today's NFL -- some teams get good, some teams get bad and some teams just happen to become the first team in NFL history to mount consecutive comebacks of 18 or more points.

Parity is what drives this league. No one doubts that, no one thinks that's weird, and no one should. There'll be some regression to the mean, and it'll probably happen to the really good teams who are only really good through a few weeks. When it does, please don't act like it's any weirder than what went down in a b-a-n-a-n-a-s Week 3 of NFL action.

1. Young guns
Two of the top three passers from Sunday's action -- Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford -- are excellent examples of the young crop of quarterbacks that are blossoming early in 2011.

Questions surrounded both Flacco (Can he beat the Steelers?) and Stafford (Can he stay healthy?) and, three weeks into the year, they're answering their critics. Flacco struggled against the Titans in Week 2, but the Ravens did a fantastic job of bouncing back from a subpar Week 2 to point out to everyone that they're elite.

I watched the games Sunday with my NBA counterpart, Matt Moore (yes, the link's ironic, thanks, I know), and at halftime of the Vikings early beatdown of Detroit, he pointed out that the Lions bandwagon was derailing.

He was correct at the time, but the Lions stormed back on the strength of Stafford's arm, winning in overtime to move to a surprising 3-0.

If Stafford stays healthy and Flacco keeps developing like he has thus far this year, we're going to be re-ordering the list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and both these guys will be joining the upper echelon sooner, rather than later.

Look, the list of truly "elite" quarterbacks will continue to feature the names you know: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning.

Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are also there, but we're seeing a new "generation" of quarterbacks starting to come into their own, as guys like Flacco, Stafford and other recently-drafted quarterbacks really start to generate some press.

And it's happening in a year when passing attacks are at an all-time high, which is only going to make the game better.

2. What do you know about pressure, Tom?

There's an ample number of awesome young quarterbacks in the NFL right now, but two very familiar names -- Brady and Brees -- are tops in the league when it comes to passing. Brady in particular is lobbing up some pretty ridiculous numbers right now; he leads the league in passing yards with 1,327, the most by a quarterback through three weeks in NFL history.

Only 22 people in the history of football have thrown for more than 4,500 yards in a single NFL season. 14 of those have happened in the past 10 years. (As we've noted, it's a passing league.)

So can Brady break Marino's record? Well, yes, he most certainly can. Remember that Marino, during his record-setting season, didn't surpass 400 passing yards in a single game until Week 5.

He's on pace for a stupid 7,077 yards for the season, although we have to assume he'll regress off that pace a little bit.

Just for fun, though, let's imagine Brady completes his schedule by passing for the exact same number of yards that his remaining opponents have allowed per game through three weeks. (Yes, there are several problems with this calculation, but just play along.)

Based on the remaining 13 games and the teams' respective yards per game allowed via the pass, Brady would pile up another 3,072 yards, which would give him a total of 4,399 yards for the season.

Conversely, Brady "only" needs to average another 289 yards per game to match Marino's record from 1984. That's not easy, per se, but it's certainly possible. And given how badly New England's own pass defense has been this season -- they're dead last in yards allowed -- it may be required too.

3. Hit the Snooze Button

Look, this is a world where Eli Manning is criminally undervalued -- the man referred to himself as "elite," tried to prop up his game, and everyone wanted to trot him out to the guillotine. No big deal though, you guys, because Eli doesn't need to show up and throw beautiful passes to Brandon Jacobs for 40-yard touchdowns. (Pardon the interruption, but FTC rules require that I write "OH GOD" in big letters again at this juncture so you'll be aware that the Apocalypse is coming soon to a city near you, by the way.)

The Giants are, somehow, not terrible. And while I might be [metaphorically] drunk on Tom Coughlin's team having watched them play in a Giants bar, it's pretty damn hard not to be impressed with what they've done this year. Last week's win over St. Louis was the single-worst blowout victory I've ever witnessed and, no, that is not a compliment.

This Sunday was an entirely different ballgame. Despite the face that actually fielding a defensive roster should be an impossibility, the Giants showed up to Philadelphia, generated a ton of pressure on Michael Vick, and barnstormed their hated division rival en route to a win that gives the NFC East more of a jostle than a trip to Sterling Archer's tumbler.

Let's move past the Giants, though, because they're the same thing that we knew they were, we just undervalued the properties they own. The Eagles are in much worse trouble than New York, simply because everyone assumed that if you have a really talented but sometimes injured quarterback and combine him with a marquee-worthy defense that secretly sucks up the middle, you don't have to worry about the rest of your problems.

Then the season happened, and the Eagles, as it turns out, have a terrible offensive line and a pretty bad combination of linebackers and safeties. Vince Young's belief that this is the "Dream Team" was fun to mock in the offseason, but it's downright comical at this stage.

Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha drew the headlines in the offseason, and DeSean Jackson plus LeSean McCoy make any team a viable threat to win any week just based on offensive explosiveness. But just like the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia Eagles offseason signings might have masked some serious positional-skill issues that will only become more exacerbated when depth starts creeping in.



4. A Hue-gh Win
The only way that the weird scene of a rookie Raiders coach dominating a third-year, Super Bowl-guaranteeing guy is if, well, the Raiders won. And they did. And people predicted it -- this actually happened. The absolutely weirdest thing is that it somehow managed to go Hue Jackson's way, as opposed to Rex Ryan's.

With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez threw a touchdown pass and in classic New York-style, Derek Jeter-fashion and the Jets shortened the lead to seven points. It had all the stink of a Ryan win, which is, frankly, a compliment. You can't lose well in the NFL -- just ask Cam Newton! -- and people will question your every move. But if you win and you're not that good at it, it's OK.

Jackson's got Oakland doing some fun, funky things on offense right now, as if Darren McFadden's pump-faking a throw nine yards in front of the line of scrimmage while running an option end-around of sorts doesn't make that obvious.

He's an aggressive attacker, and can do creative things with all the speed that the Raiders have drafted in recent years, but Jackson also knows that using Oakland's physicality and letting McFadden do what McFadden does best -- pile up yardage by the ton -- is how Oakland can remain a viable playoff contender all season long.

5. Ponder This
Are the Vikings that bad or are the Lions that good? The answer is likely the second one, but the Vikings aren't that bad, and it's not fair to say that just because they choked away a trio of halftime leads.

Here's the thing that people will miss -- the Vikings are a not good team in the middle of a rebuilding project they don't know about.

There are problems with the Vikings. Adrian Peterson is an epic talent somehow surrounded by an aging cast parading as a group of guys that are, in the NFL environment, "making a last run." The truth of the matter is that Peterson is the definition of sublime when it comes to running backs, and the rest of the Vikings just aren't that good.

On the bright side, at least they didn't do the double disservice of trading up for a quarterback AND trading further picks for a veteran who is, despite his reputation, quite clearly a one-year rental.

Which is where things get problematic -- I asked Rich Gannon last week if he thought the success of Newton and Dalton cranked up the pressure on teams like the Vikings, who drafted Christian Ponder this past year, to play their rookie.

"I don't think so," Gannon said. "I don't think the plan in Minnesota will change unless they continue to lose and all of a sudden that whole process will be expedited. I think there's more pressure now, certainly moreso now than there was 10 years ago to develop that position and have a guy play right away and be successful. Days of what they did even with Aaron Rodgers, I don't know if we're going to see as much as that. I think they're paying these guys so much money that it's like, let's get these guys on the field.

"The problem is they're not always ready to play."

And that might be the case with Ponder in Minnesota, especially if he looks as overwhelmed as he did during the preseason. On the other hand, if Ponder steps in and looks even remotely good after/if this season's lost for Minnesota, it'll do wonders for the scrutiny on Leslie Frazier.

6. What about the Packers?
Detroit won, so we shouldn't discount them for the sake of chatting about the Vikings. But the real NFC North story is the Packers, who dominated the Bears on Sunday, winning by double digits against their biggest rival for the first time in three years.

Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, all to Jermichael Finley, and this is precisely why everyone should be very scared of Green Bay again in 2011.

Finley is an absolute terror who is nearly impossible to defend near the goal line and, really, anywhere else on the field. The Packers won the Super Bowl without him, of course, and if he's healthy this year, Green Bay's offense is only going to be more difficult to defend than it was in 2010.

What's interesting is how Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have done a fantastic job of making sure that Greg Jennings and the other wide receivers stay incorporated, though Finley's obviously a much bigger part of the passing game than he was last year.

Jenning really struggled early on in 2010 and only blew up after Finley went down (and after he'd made mention he wasn't thrilled with how many targets he was getting). The transition to the 2011 version of the offense featuring Finley's been much more seamless, and that's reason to fear the Packers again this season.

They're the defending Super Bowl champion and arguably the best team in the NFL right now, and yet, why aren't we talking about them much?

7. Not running away from anyone now
There's very little sympathy for Kenny Britt around the NFL. Dude racked up more tickets this summer than "my friend" at college piled up.

Aside from that clown's reputation, it's important to note that when stupid people do stupid things a stupid amount of time, we take notice. Britt drew tons of attention this summer for his off-field antics, and he should have. Somehow he skated out of a suspension, but karma appears to rolled his way, as he'll likely miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and MCL.

Britt shredded his knee on a screen pass, fumbled the ball, and carted off the field in a Week 3 win against the Broncos.

The worst part about this saga is that Britt somehow had the "Dwayne Bowe circa 2010" look about him, making plays, looking like a top NFL wide receiver, and generally wrecking the same havoc on the NFL that he wrecked on the legal system this summer.

Without him, the Titans offensive gameplan is an entirely different ballgame, especially considering that the corpse of Chris Johnson can't do a whole lot without providing more than three yards a carry. Look, Matt Hasslebeck deserves tons of praise for doing what he's done with what he's had to do while, um, doing what he do.

That being said, this is a Titans team that's begging to lose it's offensive identity in 2011. The biggest curiosity they face isn't so much "how the hell are the 2-1?" so much as it's "how they hell are they scoring points at a pace to make them less terrible than the Chiefs?"

Between the two questions, one is substantially better, and one question -- hint: it's about Kansas City -- is one you don't want everyone asking about your team. Yet Tennessee continues to survive. Maybe that's the way Mike Munchak's regime will win, and that's fine.

But expecting an exact repeat of Jeff Fisher's reign just because Munchak worked for Fisher but didn't necessarily retain all the offensive firepower seems like a stretch.

8. The Camwagon
As you probably know by now, when the word "Cam" gets dropped, it's time for some bragging. Well kudos first go to me for predicting that Cam Newton wouldn't have the monster game everyone expected when he beat -- yes, Cam won! -- the Jaguars on Sunday.

Before you strain your elbow giving some much-deserved pats, though, you should know that I have a weather app on my iPhone.

Speaking of weather, if someone tells you that Newton won a game, make sure you point out that he did it in the most terrible fashion ever. The Panthers might have come out victorious, sure, but did he throw for 400 yards? And was there a double rainbow? No sir there was not.

Ergo, the only answer is that Cam is absolutely terrible at controlling the weather and therefore not a winner. This is actually a thing that someone at your office will probably try and say.

Here's the truth though: Newton was really bad on Sunday, horribly inaccurate with his passes and very much looking like a rookie. The Panthers won 16-10, but they should have won 60-10, even with the weather. Blaine Gabbert, in his first career start, gifted Carolina a safety in his first career drive, and the Panthers somehow never managed to capitalize the opportunity.

Then all of a sudden there was a monsoon in Charlotte, the exhibition matchup became a legitimate great game and Newton was in danger of "not being able to step up." Or something. Everyone will find an excuse. Know this, though -- the Jaguars are a sneakily decent-sounding 1-2 and they're a terrible team. This is despite the career-high 185 yards (through the first two weeks anyway) that Maurice Jones-Drew has compiled.

Another nice day from MJD and a start from Gabbert masked what should have been one really team blowing out another much worse team. Jack Del Rio, this last sentence is for you, sir.

9. Just Wing It
Enjoy saying this now, because there's a strong chance you'll never say it again: "The Bills nearly left too much time on the clock when they scored." Fred Jackson streaked for the end zone to put Buffalo up a touchdown (Again! Against the Patriots!) and give Tom Brady a shot at what Tom Brady does.
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Instead, instant replay ruled Jackson down, the Bills got the ball just shy of the Patriots end zone, and were able to melt the clock down before kicking a game-winning field goal. The really wonked out thing here is that the scoring replay change was perfect for Buffalo.

We've watched enough football to know what happens if you hand this Brady character the pigskin with two minutes remaining and down a few points, right? Watching Brady eviscerate a pass defense en route to a comeback win is still exciting and thrilling and something everyone should do before they die, but it's borderline cliche.

Instead, the Bills flipped the narrative on us, won the damn game and are the leaders at the two-thirds of one-quarter mile-marker for the 2011 NFL season in an AFC East division that didn't have a single bit of prediction promiscuity at the top.

Yes it is early and yes we've seen the Bills storm out of the gates hot before, but there's something afloat in Buffalo's water these days and it's not Spalding's Baby Ruth bar.

10. Houston, We Have … No I'm Sorry I Can't Make That Joke
While we're taking a magical ride on the jump to conclusions mat, let's go ahead and assume that the Texans are terrible at defense and that they are much closer to the 2010 abomination we know, understand, love and play fantasy people against than they are the 2011 would-be division winners.

Except that's silly.

It's not silly to point out that there are a lot of teams who cannot "stop the pass" -- quotations are necessary here because in case you're not reading this regularly, the NFL woke up and decided to chunk the ball down the field with collective regularity.

Arian Foster missing is not the problem, of course. It's still defense for Houston, who appeared on the verge of justifying the Wade Phillips 3-4 hype before coughing up 40 points to New Orleans. But before we freak out and judge this team let's again remember that it's Week 3, again remember that this is Drew Brees commanding a very efficient and very dangerous offense, and let's, most importantly, remind ourselves that it's a baby-stepping process.

Houston wasn't becoming an elite defense overnight, and much less so in a lockout-shortened season. Losing to the Saints is tough, but they're still taking this division, and once they're playing against rookie quarterbacks, it will probably be on the strength of their offseason signings on defense.

While we're here, and because it's too important for muffed punts, Darren Sproles is the most important offensive signing of 2011's free agency. Yeah, I'm doing the knee-jerk thing, but this guy is making a difference in the Reggie Bush role for Sean Payton's offense.

The awkward thing is that he's just flat-out better than Bush at every facet of the game. That's not to rip Reggie, who probably needed to move on anyway, but it's an important reminder that sometimes it's not signings with the big, bold lights that really make the difference once people start playing football.

Pop-culture referencing Jim Irsay tweet that's sure to drive Colts fans insane of the week
"After 9 days,I let the horse run free..cause the desert had turned 2 sea"

Irsay's referencing "Horse With No Name" by the band America. Except he decided to do so a day after refuting his own statement that Peyton Manning wasn't playing this season.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
- A Fox Sports bar in the Charlotte airport made the decision Sunday night to shut off their televisions because a bunch of airport patrons were crowded around the outskirts of the restaurant, watching the Colts-Steelers game. It was the most obstinate, pig-headed display of customer service I've ever seen.
- If you go to New York City and need a good spot to watch some football, the Cornerstone Tavern in Manhattan is pretty freaking fantastic. Good food, nice beer selection and tons of televisions. Also, it's like the unofficial place for Florida Gators to go, so there's that.
- Alex Henery has been a bright spot for the Eagles, by the way. Kid comes in as a rookie, replacing a legend like David Akers, and is producing on some crucial kicks.

Worth 1,000 Words


Hot Seat Tracker
So here's something fun -- Sportsbook.com has odds for the first NFL coach to be fired. We'll include them in parentheticals.
  • Tony Sparano (-120): Sparano's 0-3, the Dolphins can't seem to score and Chad Henne isn't progressing as we thought he might after the first week. Losses at the Chargers and the Jets over the next three weeks make him the favorite to get canned first.
  • Todd Haley (+180): A decent effort against the Chargers on Sunday at least should give Haley a bit of comfort that he can hold onto his job. Plus injuries are a nice excuse.
  • Jack Del Rio (+350): Speaking of nice excuses, the weather in Charlotte on Sunday really helped out Del Rio, because it gave the Jaguars a chance to win against the Panthers. Jacksonville recovered five (!) fumbles and still couldn't pull out a win.
  • Leslie Frazier (+400): Yeah, I was as surprised as you to see him here and I'm only including him because Sportsbook did. Oh, right, and because the Vikings have been outscored like 6,456 to six in the second half so far this season.
  • Jim Caldwell (+1000): It's hard to imagine the Colts canning Caldwell if he continues to keep games close, having lost Peyton Manning. There's  no reason for a midseason firing unless there's a particularly viable candidate out there.
  • Random note: It's just crazy that Tom Coughlin was in this spot less than seven days ago. Oh NFL, you're so nuts.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
Dolphins (1/2): They're almost assuredly going to be 0-5 through six weeks. That should be good for morale.
Chiefs (3/1): Somehow they've already played the easy portion of their schedule!
Colts (2/5): What to watch here is whether or not Indy thinks Peyton Manning can play more than two or three years.

MVP Watch
I'm sticking with my boy Matthew Stafford for now -- hard to argue with him considering the Lions are undefeated, he's second in the league in passing touchdowns (nine), fifth in passing yards and has only thrown two picks. Obviously Tom Brady's a good choice but if the season ended today, he'd get the Offensive Player of the Year award and Stafford would get my nod for MVP. Aaron Rodgers is certainly in the conversation as well.
Posted on: September 21, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 3:23 pm
 

Film Room: Bills vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



We’ll find out this Sunday just how "for real" the Bills are. It’s one thing to face unfamiliar foes from the iffy AFC West. It’s another to face the perennial bully of your own division. Before we forecast the matchup, let’s use the first four points to understand what these 2-0 teams are all about.

1. Patriots passing attack
The last time New England’s juggernaut offense was hitting on this many cylinders was 2007, when the rest of the NFL had no answer for Randy Moss over the top and Wes Welker underneath. New England runs a much different offense now than in those Josh McDaniels days.

Under McDaniels the Patriots in 2008 went 11-5 with Matt Cassel filling in for the injured Tom Brady. The system still worked because of the unique combination of Moss and Welker. If the Patriots were to lose Brady in their current system, they’d plummet to the middle of the AFC East. Virtually everything New England does is predicated on Brady’s unbelievable ability to diagnose a defense and set his feet before throwing.

Most NFL passing offenses are built on the quarterback anticipating where the receiver is going. The Patriots’ offense is essentially built on Brady seeing where the receiver is going before firing. The reason for this is New England’s heavy use of option routes.

The patterns that Patriot receivers, as well as their sensational young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (who will miss this game with a knee injury), run often hinge on what the defense does. It’s up to the receiver to correctly assess the coverage – both presnap and on the fly – and choose his route accordingly. This is the premise of an option route.

Because of this, the Patriots don’t look for size and speed at wide receiver; they look for intelligence and precise route running. That’s why Wes Welker and Deion Branch, two classic role players, are stars here. They’re perfect for this system.

Option routes are designed to specifically exploit the weakness of a coverage. The reason other teams don’t run option routes nearly exclusively is because they take a split second longer to unfold, and other teams don’t have a quarterback who can make accurate throws a split second later in the down. Brady happens to have an unmatched ability to square his body and throw soundly with defenders around him.

It’s incredible – the guy has a quick, picturesque release, and you almost never see him throw off-balance. Even other superstars like Rodgers and Brees can’t quickly square up and fire under duress the way Brady can.


2. Buffalo’s quarterback
Since last season, the Bills have been higher on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick than any other team in football. There are rumors that the front office is looking to quickly sign the 28-year-old Harvard alum to a long-term deal before his market value skyrockets.

But how good is Fitzpatrick, really? Most of his supporters tout his grit. Praising a quarterback’s grit is like praising a girl’s personality. Even if the praise is justified and honest, it still feels backhanded because it implies the absence of more obvious (important?) physical attributes.

While Fitzpatrick is no Chad Pennington, he doesn’t have the world’s strongest arm. He can scramble and buy time with his feet, but he’s no Aaron Rodgers. And he reads a defense OK (he was phenomenal recognizing Oakland’s blitzes last week), but he’s no Peyton Manning. Most concerning is his occasionally erratic accuracy. Every game, poor accuracy costs him a few quality completions. And because he’s such a risk-taker, there’s an increased possibility that his inaccuracy translates to interceptions.

Don’t take this as “Fitzpatrick hating”. We only harp on his negatives because, these days, so many are highlighting his positives.

3. Chan Gailey’s adjustment
Even in the shortened offseason, the Buffalo Bills managed to drastically alter their offensive playbook. Prior to the season, we heard that Chan Gailey (who runs the offense) and Curtis Modkins (who coordinates the offense) would implement more spread formations. A lot of teams talk abot spreading out and being more aggressive, but the Bills have actually done it.

This is somewhat surprising because the Bills, especially after dumping Lee Evans, don’t seem to have the receiving personnel for this. None of their wideouts other than Roscoe Parrish – who is out for the season with an ankle injury – have great speed. And all of them are young.

However, through two games, Buffalo’s spread approach has worked marvelously. Stevie Johnson’s improvement as a route runner (he gets open late in his patterns extremely well) has compensated for his middling speed and made him a veritable No. 1 target. David Nelson, who’s a lanky 6’5” and has a newfound comfort for hauling in passes, has been a matchup nightmare both inside and out.

Donald Jones offers decent quickness off the line of scrimmage, and Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller (who, by the way, are both running with outstanding fluidity, especially on the perimeter) are capable of flanking out, which gives the Bills formation flexibility in their personnel packages.

Tip your cap to the historically power-run oriented Gailey for recognizing the direction that the NFL is going in and, at age 59, adjusting his philosophy accordingly.

4. The defenses: 4-3 or 3-4?
Both teams have run hybrid 3-4-slash-4-3 defense in recent years, not because they have versatile players or schemes but because they’ve been without a quality pass-rusher and have looked for creative (i.e. desperate) ways to manufacture pressure on the quarterback.

As it stands, neither team still has a quality rusher. Knee injuries have robbed Shawne Merriman of his burst and direction-changing ability. Merriman still has decent power, but without the movement prowess, he’s a shell of his former self. Opposite him, Chris Kelsay, though playing faster than usual this season, is not consistently dynamic. In New England, Bill Belichick is hoping elder newcomers like Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter can skim the edges on third down.

Despite feeble pass-rushing resources, both teams’ 3-4/4-3 ambiguity appears to be gone this season. Both made personnel moves that suggest a commitment to one system. The Bills spent the No. 3 overall draft pick on Marcel Dareus, a classic 3-4 end. So far, Dareus has shown intriguing power in shedding blocks, both laterally and in penetration. The Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth, a classic one-gap tackle (just ask him) and have settled into a 4-3.

So far, Haynesworth has been a monster, but only in sub-packages. He must improve his endurance if he wants to be an everydown player like Vince Wilfork.

5. The Bills’ prayer
Do they have one this Sunday? They won’t be able to get pressure on Brady, so their best bet is to play coverage and hope for a timely turnover or two. That will be tough, though, as No. 1 corner Terrence McGee is out and his replacement, Leodis McKelvin, has struggled in man coverage.

Also, strong safety George Wilson, while stout in the box, is a slow runner with limited coverage skills. The Raiders took advantage of this with screen passes and underneath passing routes last week; the Patriots, with Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead, will have no trouble doing the same.

Thus, it’s on the Bills offense to control the tempo and shorten the game. Buffalo’s front five, coached by Joe D'Alessandris, has been phenomenal through two weeks. Center Eric Wood has the run-blocking movement skills of a Pro Bowler, while left tackle Demetrius Bell (whom yours truly has been very hard on the past few years) has shown good awareness and improved mechanics in pass protection.

A good front line is key to having a sustainable offense. But unless the Bills can work some magic on special teams, they won’t need a sustainable offense to have a chance Sunday…they’ll need a perfect one.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 1 games.


Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 13, 2011 3:37 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 6:49 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 1

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 1 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Brady Revis Ginn Jackson
Prisco Brady Urlacher Ginn Gailey
Judge Brady Ngata Ginn Harbaugh
Brinson Brady Urlacher Cobb Harbaugh
Katzowitz Newton Haden Ginn Jackson
Wilson Rodgers Suggs Trufant Gailey
Week 1 of the NFL season is in the books and goodness, was it a week. We saw Cam Newton break the rookie record for passing yards in a debut and, not to be outdone, Tom Brady show up on Monday night and eviscerate the Miami Dolphins for the fifth-highest passing yardage total (512) in NFL history.

Oddly, that was only the second time Brady's been over 400 yards in his career. But it was just good enough to land Brady our inaugural Eye on Offense Award. Though there are compelling arguments made for other players -- Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton -- you'll see his unreal performance on Monday night was just too much for our panel to pass up.

Scoring on defense isn't a must, but it helps too, and despite a hefty effort by Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata in throttling the Ravens, Brian Urlacher's 10 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown give him the nod on defense.

Meanwhile in the special teams category, Ted Ginn mopped up the competition with his back-to-back returns in less than five minutes. We had a three-way tie for the inaugural Eye on Coaching award and while we almost ruled out the Raiders and Bills because they're the Raiders and Bills for strength of schedule purposes, we give Chan Gailey the sympathy nod here since as our boss puts it "he'll never win again."

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Tom Brady Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
He throws for over 500 yards. He wears UGG boots. He dances. No better choice. Brady makes the ordinary receiver look like Jerry Rice. The two tight ends for the Patriots both looked like Kellen Winslow.
Tom BradyTom Brady, QB, Patriots
First, I hear Vontae Davis tell us that Miami has the best pair of starting cornerbacks in the business. Then, I watch Brady shred the Dolphins' defense for 517 yards and four touchdowns in a lopsided game that, frankly, could've been worse. Yeah, I know, Miami's cornerbacks were suffering from the heat all night and ran in and out of the lineup. But I wouldn't blame them if they didn't want to be anywhere near that field -- not when Brady's torching an entire unit. Marvelous, marvelous performance, but typical Tom Terrific. Nobody does it better.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tom Brady Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
I watched his 517-yard passing performance with my own two eyes. It was sensational. His ability to find open receivers and put the ball into tight spots was amazing. He hit 10 different receivers. Brady also threw a 99-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker, changing the play at the line of scrimmage. I've seen him do some amazing things, but this was by far the best.
Tom BradyTom Brady, QB, Patriots
Of all the record-breaking performances we saw this weekend, it wasn't close as to which was the most impressive -- Brady disemboweled the Dolphins defense on Monday night and while it's one thing to watch a quarterback rack up yardage by chunking the ball deep, it's an entirely different thing to watch someone conduct their offense the way Brady did Monday. Two 100-yard receivers and four guys with six catches or more? Yikes.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Cam NewtonCam Newton, QB, Panthers
Obviously, he didn't accumulate as many big numbers in Week 1 as Tom Brady, and in fact, the Panthers didn't even win their game. But Newton's pro debut was better than impressive. It was outstanding. And sort of surprising. With his 422-yard performance, he shattered Peyton Manning's record for a pro debut (302 passing yards), and he destroyed Otto Graham's 346-yard total in 1950 when Graham was making his NFL debut (he previously had played in another pro league). So, obviously, Newton is much better than Manning and Graham. Ultimately, we don't know if Newton will be Carolina's savior, but we do know this: he was damn fun to watch in his first game.
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
It's not a particularly sexy pick after what we saw Aaron Rodgers do the the league's best defenses during the postseason in January and February, but after a four-month lockout in which the Packers admitted that they weren't holding player-organized workouts (and Rodgers was pimping auto insurance), he looked every bit the Super Bowl MVP when he stepped on the field against the Saints last Thursday. If Tom Brady was prolific, Rodgers was clinical. He completed 77 percent of his attempts for 312 yards, including three touchdowns. He also knows how to rock a 'stache, something Brady could never pull off.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Darrelle RevisDarrelle Revis, Jets
He gets crucial interceptions. Sure, Tony Romo gift-wrapped it but after giving up some big plays early to Dez Bryant it was Revis who clamped down on Bryant in the second half and shut down the Cowboys' biggest weapon. By the second half Revis looked like the best defensive player in the NFL. That's because he is.
Haloti Ngata Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens
People ask how the Ravens could have unraveled mighty, mighty Pittsburgh, and I tell them to rewind the videotape to the Steelers' first two series of the second half. On the first, Ngata blows up running back Rashard Mendenhall, forces a fumble and recovers it. On the second, he deflects a pass at the line of scrimmage that Ray Lewis intercepts. The guy's a load. Pittsburgh committed seven turnovers, and Ngata was a primary reason why. The Steelers had no answer for him.
Prisco Brinson
Brian UrlacherBrian Urlacher, Bears
He was all over the field for the Bears and scored a touchdown on a fumble return. But his best play was an interception of Matt Ryan. He was locked in man coverage with the back and ran stride-for-stride with him and made a great pick of the football. Urlacher was overrated at times in his career. But now that he understands the game better, he's much improved over the guy who used to get mostly with amazing physical skills.
Brian UrlacherBrian Urlacher, Bears
Who would have thought the 33-year-old Urlacher could look so young at the start of his 12th season? He made an interception that was the definition of acrobatic. His recovery of a Julius Peppers-forced fumble ended up in the end zone. He also piled up 10 total tackles and continued to show that he's the motor that drives the very vanilla-painted car that is Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense.
Katzowitz Wilson
Joe Haden Joe Haden, Browns
His performance was lost in the shuffle because the entire Browns defense was caught sleeping when the Bengals quick-snapped in the fourth quarter and Bruce Gradkowski threw the easiest 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green you'll ever see. But Haden clearly frustrated 2011 No. 4 pick Green for much of the day. With that kind of performance, Haden will draw the opposing team's top receiver every week, and in Week 1 at least, it looks like he can handle it.
Terrell Suggs Terrell Suggs, Ravens
This could go to any number of Ravens defenders but Tuggs racked up three sacks and two forced fumbles and made the Steelers offensive line look like, well, the Steelers offensive line. Suggs has now sacked Ben Roethlisberger 15.5 times in his career, more than anybody else, The only thing he didn't do Sunday was score a two-point conversion.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Ted GinnTed Ginn, WR, 49ers
That noise you heard on Sunday was Dolphins fans puking. Ginn has been a lousy wide receiver but as a kick returner has long showed promise. This might be the year he becomes a star as a returner.
Ted Ginn Ted Ginn, WR, 49ers
He returned a kickoff for a touchdown. He returned a punt for a touchdown. Yet Seattle kept giving him chances.Someone please explain the logic of giving Ginn four opportunities to return kickoffs. I'm serious. The Seahawks had no touchbacks, and someone tell them the NFL just moved kickoffs to the 35. It's OK to drill the back of the end zone. Instead, the Seahawks kept feeding Ginn, daring him to beat them, and, well, he did. When San Francisco acquired him it was as a return specialist first and pass receiver second. Now I can see why.
Prisco Brinson
Ted GinnTed Ginn, WR, 49ers
Ginn Jr. is playing for a new contract. He's off to a good start. He returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the 49ers victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Just when it appeared the Seahawks were making a game of it, he ripped of the 102-yard the kickoff return and then followed it up with a 55-yard punt return for a score. Wow.
Randall CobbRandall Cobb, WR, Packers
Cobb might face a fate worse than being struck down by lightning if he takes any more kicks out from the back of the end zone, but for one night, he was the difference maker for the Packers as they topped the Saints in part because of his 108-yard touchdown return. It might not count for this purpose that he scored on a pass, but it doesn't hurt either.
Katzowitz Wilson
Ted Ginn Ted Ginn, WR, 49ers
My favorite part of Ginn's performance for the 49ers on Sunday -- you know, he scored on a 102-yard kickoff return and a 55-yard punt return in the span of less than a minute -- was the Twitter reaction immediately following, proclaiming that Ginn had fulfilled his entire two-year productivity quota in a single afternoon. And even if Ginn doesn't do much for the 49ers for the rest of the season, we honor his standout performance in helping lead San Francisco past the Seahawks on Sunday. 
Isaiah Trufant Isaiah Trufant, DB, Jets
A former Arena League and UFL player, Trufant was signed to the Jets practice squad last season and elevated to the 53-man roster just before the Cowboys game. Sunday night, he was in the right place at the right time, scooping up a Mat McBriar blocked punt (courtesy of Joe McKnight) and scoring a touchdown with five minutes in the game. The play tied the score, 24-24, and moments later, Tony Romo's ill-advised interception pretty much sealed Dallas' fate.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Hue JacksonHue Jackson, Raiders
He got the Raiders their first season-opening win in almost a decade. When the Raiders win, the terrorists lose. I'm wondering if Jackson is getting more autonomy than other recent Raiders coaches because the team's game plan looked, well, sensible.
Cliff Lee John  Harbaugh, Ravens
Talk about issues. He had an offensive line that hadn't played together. He had inexperienced wide receivers. He had cornerbacks who seemed vulnerable. And he had a quarterback who never, ever, ever beat Ben Roethlisberger. So he draws defending AFC champion Pittsburgh in the season opener and doens't just win; he wins in a 35-7 laugher. Unbelievable. The pre-game edge had to belong to the more experienced club, the team that made fewer off-season changes, and that team was Pittsburgh. Logic told us that Baltimore was an unsettled club that would only improve as the season progressed. But tell me: How do you improve on this?
Prisco Brinson
Chan GaileyChan Gailey, Bills
The Bills passed on taking a quarterback in the first round of the April draft because Gailey believed in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now we know why. He threw four touchdown passes as the Bills blew out the Chiefs 41-7. The defense also did a nice job shutting down the Chiefs offense. Gailey has this good-old-boy demeanor about him, but the man knows offensive football. He has his team ready to play against the Chiefs and pulled off what many considered to be an upset.
John HarbaughJohn Harbaugh, Ravens
The most impressive thing about the Ravens manhandling the Steelers was the game plan they had from the start -- and that falls on Harbaugh. They attacked on offense in an unexpected, high-powered manner and the defense just swarmed. Hell, they even had a built-in fake extra point play ready in case they needed it ... or in case they wanted to embarrass their arch-rivals on national television.
Katzowitz Wilson
Cliff Lee Hue Jackson, Raiders
In making his head coaching debut, Jackson had his team ready to play vs. the Broncos and coached a smart game, using much of the same gameplan Oakland formulated to beat Denver last season, to lead Oakland to the 23-20 road win. It was the first season-opening win for the Raiders in eight years, and at this rate with Jackson in command, Oakland might run the entire AFC West table again. 
Chan Gailey Chan Gailey, Bills
If anyone's due some recognition, it's Gailey. After suffering through a four-win season a year ago, the Bills showed up ready to play against the Chiefs in Week 1. Kansas City did not and they got rolled 41-7. Whether the Bills can keep this going remains to be seen, but for now we  salute you, Chan.



Posted on: September 9, 2011 5:10 pm
 

Tramon Williams only has a shoulder bruise

Posted by Will Brinson

There wasn't much from Thursday night's 42-34 victory over New Orleans that should make the Packers unhappy. But a potential injury to Tramon Williams -- the cornerback was helped off the field, holding his arm and grimacing painfully -- would certainly take some luster off the win.

Good news, then, for Green Bay, as it appears that Williams only suffered a bruised shoulder.

"It was positive from what we thought. Tramon's a Pro Bowl-caliber football player," McCarthy said, per Bill Huber of Packer Report. "He allows us to play certain ways."

You really can't classify how important the development of Williams as an elite cornerback in 2010 was. Not only did he make some huge plays, but when the Packers line up in Dom Capers' funky defensive formations, Williams being able to lock down opposing wide receivers so Charles Woodson can do his roving thing is absolutely crucial.

More on Saints at Packers

Also, Williams is just, you know, really good. A step back for him in 2011 and/or an injury would be a serious problem. Fortunately the Packers avoided it. In other Packers news, Randall Cobb apparently got really, really, really lucky last night.

Not only did he run the wrong route on his touchdown reception, but he definitely did not have Mike McCarthy's permission to take the ball out of the end zone when he returned it for a touchdown.

"I just trust in God, he told me to bring it out," Cobb said. "I'm NOT supposed to bring that out. I'm NOT. Some things are just illogical and some other things are just the power of God."

Far be it from me to question the power of the Big Guy but, um, Randall, dude, you should probably slow your roll on letting your higher power dictate what you do on the football field. Otherwise you're gonna end up on the bench faster than Aaron Rodgers can hit your back shoulder.

In fact, Cobb would absolutely be in the doghouse today were it not for the broken tackle on the 25-yard-line that allowed him to spin out and take off for the end zone.

"Thank God you can't hear what we say on those headsets," McCarthy said. "Because I wasn't cheering for him until he spun out of that tackle on the 25."

So, yeah, while it's awesome that the Big Guy got Cobb into the end zone, he needs to remember that even "He" doesn't have control over the Packers depth chart.

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Posted on: September 9, 2011 1:31 pm
Edited on: September 9, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Aaron Rodgers knows how to rock a 'stache

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers takes his facial hair very seriously. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

This story has been around for a few days but we feel it still merits a mention in light of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' performance against the Saints in Thursday night's season opener. The same guy whose career began with an agonizingly long wait in the 2005 NFL Draft green room, and who spent the next three seasons as Brett Favre's backup, has made himself into one of the league's best quarterbacks, maybe even the best.

We were again reminded of that Thursday, when Rodgers followed up a Super Bowl MVP showing with a clinical effort against New Orleans. When it was over, the Packers had outlasted the Saints, 42-34, Rodgers had completed 77 percent of his throws (27 of 35), amassed 312 passing yards and tossed three touchdowns. And he made it look effortless.

The only thing missing from this virtuoso performance? A ridiculously awesome mustache, something Rodgers had sported during the preseason (as he's done so in previous years). And while he was clean shaven for the Packers' regular-season opener, facial hair isn't a joke to him. Or maybe it is. Either way, his homage to Goose Gossage caught the attention of the American Mustache Institute.


"You can't help but be in trance by the amazing covering up of the upper lip. You don't know whether the person is smiling or going to pull a gun as we've seen from such wonderful shows as Reno 911." - Aaron Rodgers

For those of you too lazy to watch the video, the transcribed highlights are below (courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunn by way of Shutdown Corner):

On what has a better ring to it -- "Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers" or "Mustached American Hero Aaron Rodgers:" "I'd say it's probably neck and neck. It's tough to pick between the two. Being a mustached American is something I dreamt about when I was a kid and being a Super Bowl champion is something I dreamt about as a kid as well."

Saints, Packers & the rest of Week 1

On if having a mustache makes it easier to pick up sideline reporters: "If I needed to pick up any sideline reporters, my first line of business would be to grow a very thick mustache. I'm often encouraged when I watch a movie such as Tombstone, my favorite movie, by Sam Elliott's mustache. I'm very jealous of the fact that he can cover up both lips with one blade of hair that's consistent over his upper lip. I often look to a movie like that for support if I'm at a low point in my life and realize that growing a mustache can really turn your fortunes around very quickly."

On if Joe Namath could have sealed the deal with [ESPN sideline reporter] Suzy Kolber if he was rocking his 70s mustache: "That's tough to say. As you all know, a mustache grows on you whether you're the one wearing the mustache or whether you're the one staring at it. You can't help but be in trance by the amazing covering up of the upper lip. You don't know whether the person is smiling or going to pull a gun as we've seen from such wonderful shows as Reno 911...If Joe Namath would have had a mustache in that situation, who knows what the response might have been."

Rodgers is redefining the NFL quarterback position. Not just with his play, but also in the way he presents himself off the field. Guessing we won't see him in UGGs anytime soon, and skinny jeans are definitely out of the question. Then again, you don't need a guy rocking a porn 'stache to tell you that. Or at least you shouldn't.

Whatever, Rodgers definitely has a future in law enforcement and/or auto insurance.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 9, 2011 12:09 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2011 9:57 am
 

Packers vs. Saints, Week 1 Preview Podcast

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

We're want your questions! Got something you want answered on the podcast or feel like telling us how dumb smart we are? Email us here.

Wow. What a way to kick off the NFL season, huh? The Saints and Packers soaked the house in fire and set it on fire Thursday night and yes indeed football is back.

We break down Sean Payton's late-game and fourth-down playcalling, talk about how to defend Aaron Rodgers, wonder whether or not there should be some concern with the New Orleans and Green Bay defenses and Will admits that he was absolutely dead wrong on not giving the Packers receivers top-five status.

The guys also break down the Steelers-Ravens game, the Bears-Falcons game and the Cowboys-Jets game.

Then Paul Bessire of PredictionMachine.com joins Will to chat about the statistical outlook for the season, what the best over/unders are for the NFL season, who the best survivor picks for Week 1 are, and much much, more.

Hit the play button below to listen (and did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?). If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.



For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 10:11 pm
Edited on: September 9, 2011 5:43 am
 

So much for a Packers Super Bowl hangover

Posted by Will Brinson

As we mentioned in the preview, Super Bowl winners were a whopping 37-7-1 in their opening weekend the following year.

The Green Bay Packers made it 38 wins for former Super Bowl winners on Thursday with a 42-34 statement win over the Saints in Green Bay.

The over/under of 48 turned out to be a joke, nearly getting smashed in the first half. Also a joke? The Packers needing to get together in the offseason.

"We didn't have offseason workouts," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said glibly after the game. "So I was surprised I was able to read [Randall Cobb's] body language."

Rodgers did just that on a catch-and-run by Cobb that resulted in a diving touchdown, his first score of the game. Rodgers also pointed out Cobb ran the wrong route. Another thing Cobb did "wrong?"

He took a kickoff out of the end zone without coach Mike McCarthy's permission. It's cool, though, because 108 yards later the rookie out of Kentucky was in the end zone, tying the NFL record for the longest kickoff return in history.

The single biggest takeaway from the game was that Rodgers and the Packers offense seemed to pick off like the Super Bowl never ended, scoring four touchdowns on their first five drives and dominating on offense all day. Rodgers finished 27-35 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, James Starks looks poised to take the starting role from Ryan Grant, and Jermichael Finley looks prepped for the breakout year everyone expected before his injury in 2009.

But the Packers weren't the only ones with some firepower. Drew Brees nearly led the Saints on a pretty epic comeback, only New Orleans own rookie, Mark Ingram, was stuffed on an untimed down after A.J. Hawk drew a pass interference call while leaping over Darren Sproles on the final play.

It was an odd call by Sean Payton, particularly considering a run up the middle would have been more effective when he eschewed a shot at three points late in the third quarter and had Brees roll out, only to lose the play and possession.

But fourth-down debates aside, the biggest problem New Orleans -- and the rest of the league -- will have if they see the Packers again is stopping Rodgers and this offense.

The defense will be good again in 2011 (very good, in fact) but this offense is somehow more loaded than it was when the Packers stormed the playoffs. There's little reason to think that the NFC North is even remotely up for grabs if Rodgers and crew can continue playing like this.

And there's even less reason to think they should have been worried about what they did this offseason given they way they showed up on Thursday.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 12:34 am
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:09 pm
 

7-Point Preview: Packers vs. Saints

Posted by Will Brinson



Eye on Football's patented 7-Point Preview will get you prepped for some of the biggest games of the 2011 NFL season. Don't forget to check out our podcast preview below and Subscribe to the Pick-Six Podcast on iTunes.


1. Green Bay Packers (0-0) vs. New Orleans Saints (0-0)
The NFL is back. (!) And what a way to kick things off, huh? The last two Super Bowl winners square off at one of the sport's greatest venues, Lambeau Field, in primetime on a Thursday following a turmoil-filled lockout that eventually led to one of the craziest offseasons and most anticipated regular seasons in recent NFL history.

It's also the first time that two Super Bowl MVPs -- Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers -- will face off against each other on the NFL's opening weekend since 1993 -- when Troy Aikman and Mark Rypien, of the Cowboys and Redskins, respectively -- went head-to-head.

And presumably the first time that Kid Rock has been within 100 yards of whoever the people are that form Maroon 5. Of course, these bands apparently impressed Packers wideout Greg Jennings, who referred to this game as a "mini-Super Bowl." Mr. Rodgers would like to disagree, sir.

"It's a similar feel to a big game, a playoff game," Rodgers said. "I don't want to say the Super Bowl. There's a big atmosphere outside the stadium. But the only thing that matters is taking care of business on the field."

Winners of Super Bowl XLV last season, the Packers have pretty good historical odds on their side in terms of this opening game. The previous 45 Super Bowl winners are 37-7-1 in their season opener the following year, and 10-0 in the last decade when it comes to showing up early and often the next year.

But then again, the last ten Super Bowl winners probably weren't chugging beer cheese in the offseason, and everyone knows how nasty a hangover that creates.

Of course, that's all the past. We're talking about the future now, and both these teams should be wearing shades. Thanks to the roster-building skils of Ted Thompson, the Packers are arguably the biggest favorite to win the Super Bowl again in 2011 and, honestly, look like team with dynasty stamped all over it.

The Saints had a "down" year in 2010, but are clearly motivated by their embarrassing wild-card loss to Seattle last year and certainly have the personnel and the talent to get back to February.

2. What the Nerds and Degenerate Gamblers Say:
Well, Vegas unsurprisingly has this game as a high-scoring affair, as the over/under is set at 47.5. That's the highest point total of the entire first weekend, which is interesting because it just occurred to me that the lockout will probably cause suppressed over/unders to start the season. And 47.5 is unsurprising because the lockout has people so jacked for football that their willing to throw piles of money on touchdowns.

The Packers are a (relatively) heavy favorite at -4.5. None of our NFL experts picks went towards New Orleans straight-up, and only Clark Judge and I selected the Saints against the spread. I don't want to say that Clark and I came out firing last year and you should bet on the Saints, but Clark and I came out firing last year. You should bet on the Saints.

Unfortunately, there are no stats on-hand to say "hey, the Packers and Saints can really throw the ball well" just quite yet. At least not for this season anyway. But, it's quite interesting that the Saints and Packers are very close in Football Outsiders' projections for the 2011 season. Green Bay's defensive DVOA is nearly elite (like, almost top-six) and a very stout good offense (like, almost top-10).

New Orleans doesn't project to having a particularly impressive defense, but their offensive DVOA is elite, ranking in the top-five.

3. Key Matchup to Watch
With that nerdiness in mind, perhaps the best matchup to pick is Aaron Rodgers vs. Greg Williams. Look, Rodgers may not like fancy GQ photospreads, but he's a very talented quarterback who, as Ryan and I mentioned above, has gotten very good at moving quickly through his progressions. Add in his athleticism and unbelievable arm and, yeah, he's very good at football and very difficult to contain.

That's where Williams -- a fiery fella in his own right -- comes in. If you want to beat Rodgers, you have to put him on the ground. And if you want to put Rodgers on the ground, you have to blitz him, unless you can generate enough pass rush from your defensive line to get through Green Bay's offensive front. (Good luck with that.)

"The one thing about Aaron Rodgers that’s most impressive is that he was the best quarterback last year against the blitz and the pressure," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "He gets the ball out of his hand quick, so we've got to find ways to create some things."

Given that defensive end Will Smith is suspended for this game, there's an even bigger onus on Williams to generate pressure on Rodgers from somewhere other than straight-up defensive fronts.

If he can put Rodgers on his butt early, the Saints will be able to scale this thing back from a full-on shoot-out. If not, we could see a lot of Packers players doing their best Michael Jackson impersonations into the end zone.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube
This is the first time in Thursday night Kickoff Weekend history that the past two defending Super Bowl winners are playing to open up the season and, frankly, I love it. Of course it doesn't really hurt that it's the Saints and Packers, which should provide fireworks on both sides of the ball. To honor their recent success, as well as Freddie Mercury's recent would-have-been birthday, why don't we bring back some Queen to our previews?



5. The Packers will win if ...
Rodgers can stay on his feet. The lasting reminder of Rodgers, for anyone who watched the 2010 playoffs, is that he's untouchable. And his mobility does make it hard to bring him down. But if you'll recall, Rodgers and the Packers looked like they were going to miss the playoffs when the quarterback had to sit out against New England -- a game Green Bay nearly won with Matt Flynn under center -- last year, so it's not unheard of for Rodgers to get knocked around a bit.

If he can stay on his feet and remain untouched during most of Thursday night's game, though, he'll end up finding Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver and James Jones and Jordy Nelson plenty of times, and probably end up giving Williams a new highlight reel to show his defense.

6. The Saints will win if ...
They can establish the run and keep Green Bay's talented linebackers from attacking too much. It's something that's doable -- the Packers ranked just 24th in the NFL in rush defense in 2010. But despite the stereotype that the Saints are a passing team, they truly found success (and a Super Bowl victory) in 2009 by running the ball extremely well, as they finished sixth in the NFL with 131.6 yards per game on the ground.

That dipped off tremendously last year, which is precisely why they jumped up in the draft to grab Mark Ingram. If he, starter Pierre Thomas and the speedy Darren Sproles can generate a substantial ground attack, the Saints have a very good shot at prevailing.

"There’ll be plenty of touches not only for Pierre, but for Mark and Darren," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "And it’s our job to mix those up and also to let the running back get comfortable and get in a rhythm when he's in the game."

That (those?) comfort zone(s) will be key for a potential Saints win.

7. Prediction: Packers 24, Saints 21

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com