Meaty matchups mean a whole lot of hurtin' in Week 1
IT'S ONLY the first Sunday—and Monday night—of the season, but there are four games that can't be missed.
Eagles at Packers
"I always told Brett that if I thought he couldn't play, I'd tell him," says Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, who used to be Brett Favre's quarterbacks coach in Green Bay. "But watching tape of him from last year, I think he'll still be good when he's 80." The Pack dragged its feet in pursuing offensive skill players in free agency, so Favre will need rookies Brandon Jackson (right), a RB out of Nebraska, and James Jones, a WR out of San Jose State, to have big seasons.
Key to the game: Eagles QB Donovan McNabb returns nine months after right knee surgery, likely wearing a brace. Will he be mobile enough to evade edge rusher Aaron Kampman?
Patriots at Jets
Two stats that bode ill for New York: QB Tom Brady is 6--0 against the Jets at the Meadowlands and 23--2 in games on artificial turf. What's more, Brady has two new WRs, Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker, who are better than the go-to guys (Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell) he had a year ago in this game—and there may be a third in Randy Moss, if his hamstring injury is healed enough.
Key to the game: Will the absence of New England SS Rodney Harrison (four-game suspension for taking human growth hormone) give New York QB Chad Pennington a chance to get into a shootout with Brady?
Bears at Chargers
Only one team gave up fewer rushing TDs than the seven that Chicago allowed last year, and the Bears have 589 pounds of healthy, run-stopping DTs ( Tommie Harris, Darwin Walker) plus two excellent sideline-to-sideline LBs ( Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher) to go after Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran for 28 scores and was the league's MVP in 2006. What a matchup.
Key to the game: Tomlinson likely won't be able to shred the quick Chicago D, so it may come down to whether QB Philip Rivers can make enough big plays against the Bears' rising-star CBs, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman, for San Diego to win.
Ravens at Bengals (Monday night)
A few weeks ago Cincinnati WR Chad Johnson called Baltimore LB Ray Lewis to chat with his buddy about this game, and Lewis bellowed, "Eighty-five [ Johnson's uniform number], you know y'all won't score in this game!" Actually, the Bengals averaged 24.6 points in their last five meetings with the Ravens, and Cincy QB Carson Palmer doesn't get unnerved easily.
Key to the game: The Bengals did little to improve a defense that ranked 30th in 2006 and played especially soft down the stretch. The D has to develop a backbone in a hurry to stuff Baltimore's new Willis McGahee--led running game.