You know what time it is …
That’s right. It’s game time.
After Thursday’s kickoff – in which the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks showed the rest of the league that they are likely the team to beat this season …
… We’re back to regular season Sunday NFL Football. And it is glorious.
Whether you’re in a fantasy league or your favorite team has a shot to win it all this season, you’ll have your own reasons to watch the games on Sunday.
However, allow me to be so bold as to tell you why you need to be watching these six games in the hubbub of Week 1. Let’s do this:
What to Watch: New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
Why You Need To Watch: It’s Drew Brees vs. Matt Ryan. That’s the only reason you need, right?
Obviously, it’s more than that. We’re talking about two quarterbacks who experienced completely contrasting seasons in 2013. Brees threw for over 5,000 yards through the air for the third straight season, on the way to a conference-high 68.6 completion percentage and a career-low 12 interceptions. Those are epic fantasy numbers if I’ve ever seen them. No reason he won’t pick up where he left off to start 2014 – much to the chagrin of Brees owners all over the fantasy football landscape.
Meanwhile, Matt Ryan suffered big-time after top WR Julio Jones went down for the season early in 2013. The team’s defense ranked 5th-worst in the league, and a depleted offense – which saw Ryan with career-highs in interceptions (17) and sacks (44) didn’t help much either. With a healthy wideout duo in Jones and Roddy White, along with OT Jake Matthews (drafted sixth overall in 2014) to shore up the O-Line, Ryan hopes to prove that their 4-12 record in 2013 was a fluke.
What to Watch: Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Why You Need To Watch: JOHNN-Y FOOT-BALL! (Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap) JOHNN-Y FOOT-BALL! (Clap, Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap)
I know, I know – he won’t see the field as the starter this week against the Steelers in Week 1. But, despite what the coaching staff says, all eyes will be on both Johnny Manziel and starting QB Brian Hoyer as the game – and season – goes on.
Beyond that, though, this is a good, old-fashioned AFC North matchup, and the deciding factor may be – surprise, surprise – what the defenses can do. After all, Cleveland’s secondary received a bit of an upgrade after they signed former San Francisco 49ers SS Donte Whitner in the offseason. Teamed up with franchise CB Joe Haden and recent first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert, they may be a “Legion of Boom, v 2.0” in the making. Meanwhile, the Steelers will boast a defense in flux, with four new starters, and without retired LB James Harrison. Even while losing WR Josh Gordon for the year (suspension), the Browns may be able to exploit whatever holes his once-great defense may have. In any case, the AFC North will provide plenty of headlines this coming season.
What to Watch: Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
Why You Need To Watch: Speaking of AFC North matchups …
Here, we have two franchise QBs who raised a lot of flags when they each got their fat contracts. Sure, one (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco) got his after a Super Bowl victory in 2013, but that was also after years of mediocre play. The other (Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton) received his incentive-filled $115 million deal on the heels of three straight playoff appearances, but without an actual postseason victory.
You throw in the fact that Ravens starting RB Ray Rice is suspended for this game and the next for a domestic violence incident during the offseason, yet the Bengals – despite being at relatively full strength – have not won in M&T Bank Stadium since 2009, who knows what you’re getting from this game? And that’s the intrigue – you DON’T know. The only certainty here is that whoever wins this game will have the inside track to win the division after only Week 1 (No offense to Pittsburgh and Cleveland – but, c’mon, who are we kidding?).
What to Watch: Washington Redskins @ Houston Texans
Why You Need To Watch: What do you think RGIII is going to do against a defensive line boasting both JJ Watt AND Jadeveon Clowney?
No, really – I’m seriously asking, because I don’t know.
The point is, that will likely be the biggest question heading into this game. Washington’s embattled QB is entering his third year at the helm after being drafted second overall in 2012. With a new head coach (Jay Gruden), Griffin hopes to continue where he left off in his rookie year – you know, before that ACL tear against the Seahawks in his first playoff game – rather than continue where he left off in 2013, missing his final three games due to nagging injuries. He’ll at least have a new weapon in WR DeSean Jackson to throw to.
As for Houston, a 31st-ranked offense without a starting QB between Matt Schaub, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates derailed a promising season, all the way to a 14-game losing streak to end the 2013 season. Now, with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, and new head coach Bill O’Brien, there is a renewed sense of optimism in Houston – especially with the aforementioned first overall pick in Clowney helping to anchor the defensive line.
What to Watch: San Francisco 49ers @ Dallas Cowboys
Why You Need To Watch: Sure, I’m a little biased, but it’s not like that’s the only reason you should watch.
After all, the 49ers are coming into this year with a little bit of a chip on its shoulders, having lost in the postseason to the eventual Super Bowl Champion in each of the past three seasons. They’re also coming into the season with the most question marks of any possible Super Bowl contender in the NFL. What will their revamped offense (with new weapons like RB Carlos Hyde and WR Stevie Johnson) look like against one of the worst defenses in the league in 2013 (415.3 yards allowed/game)? And what will their drastically depleted defense look like without LBs Aldon Smith (Suspension) and NaVorro Bowman (ACL)? This game may set the tone to how good (or bad) the Red-and-Gold will be in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys are getting no favors opening their season at home. They are coming off their third straight 8-8 season, they lost franchise DE Demarcus Ware to the Broncos this past offseason, and there are question marks everywhere as to the status of QB Tony Romo as the quarterback to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Coming off major back surgery and entering his 11th year, he could help propel his ‘Boys if he can win a possible shootout against San Francisco.
What to Watch: Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos
Why You Need To Watch: Five words: Manning versus Luck, Part deux.
186 more words: On one side, you have Indy’s former franchise QB, still licking his wounds from a Super Bowl drubbing in February at the hands of the Seahawks. He will be without safety valve WR Wes Welker (suspension), but will still have Demaryius Thomas, newly-acquired Emmanuel Sanders, and TE Julius Thomas to work with. In what may likely be Manning’s last year in his prime, he will do everything in his power to return to the Super Bowl. He will start his campaign against his old team.
Meanwhile, for the Colts – despite the headlines their owner has generated in recent months – Andrew Luck and Co. mean to do the same thing they did in 2013 and give the Broncos their first loss of the season. They will have to deal with the Broncos’ beefed-up defensive line – what with previously-mentioned Demarcus Ware in the Orange Crush this year – and a record-setting, Manning-led offense. But theirs is an offense that ain’t too shabby in their own right – and it will likely be a shootout at Mile High. No wonder this is the Sunday Night game.