In less than eighteen hours, the NFL regular season will begin. I can honestly say I've been waiting for this moment since the day after the Super Bowl back in February. I've been trying to stay caught up with all the news and transactions, as well as playing a lot of Madden to set the mood, but nothing is as satisfying as that opening kick off.
With only a few days before the majority of the games are being played, there are still various questions around the league that have different people coming up with a wide variety of answers.
- Both Quarterbacks 1 and 1A look to start their respective games. How will they do?
- How will Brett Favre play?
- Will the Eli Manning we see tonight against the Redskins be Eli from Week 17 on or the Eli we saw playing at home during the regular season? Also, can the Giants win in New York?
- Injuries abroad. Shawne Merriman. Chad Ocho Cinco (what a stupid name). Jason Taylor. Willis McGahee. A hundred other guys. Can they heal in time to make an impact?
- Darren McFadden. Jonathan Stewart. Matt Ryan. Jake Long. Who will be this year's Adrian Peterson or Joe Thomas?
It's hard to really know anything at this time. We haven't really seen much of anything, and everyone knows the preseason is next to worthless, with the guys you really care about either not playing or giving it only a half-assed effort. It will be an interesting year this year - that much is for sure.
Now, I'll attempt to answer some of these questions (at least give my opinion).
First of all, Colts fans and fellow Pats fans have nothing to worry about. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the two best quarterbacks in the league. Minor injuries that kept them out of preseason will not change that. They will both start Week One. Brady should have a field day with the Chiefs, including Brandon Flowers, the only rookie cornerback starting to begin the season. Peyton Manning figures to have a slightly tougher game, playing the Bears, who generally offer a tough defense. Thankfully for fans of both teams, both quarterbacks will be playing on their home fields (Manning makes his first start in the new dome...how will that come into play?).
Next question. It's Brett Favre. Look up every career passing record in existence. Brett Favre owns it. He'll make it work.
Eli Manning has progressed as a quarterback, but don't expect him to be able to be called elite just yet. He still has a lot of work to be on that top tier of quarterbacks (I put four guys there currently....Romo being the fourth, behind Brady, Big Manning, and Favre, of course). I don't expect the Giants to return to the playoffs this year, but they do have the potential to do so. Don't blame Eli though - blame the fact their two best defensive players are gone (and if there is any doubt how important those two guys were to the championship, you clearly didn't watch the Super Bowl). For the second year in a row, the Giants open up with a loss.
Shawne Merriman will not be the dominant pass rusher he's used to being. After totaling nearly 40 sacks in only three years in the league, I expect him to fail to reach double digit sacks for the first time in his career. Chad Eight Five will be a solid receiver; however, he will not be the tops in any statistical category and his production should drop a bit. I expect Jason Taylor to return to his 2006 Defensive Player of the Year form, or at least close to it. McGahee should be able to rebound, but look for Ray Rice to make a big debut with Willis trying to heal some.
I've already stated many times that Matt Ryan will get the Ravens to 6 - 10. Not outstanding, but a big jump from where they were last year (when you take into consideration he's only played in four NFL games). Jonathan Stewart will haul in Rookie of the Year honors. Darren McFadden makes it interesting, but he just doesn't have the supporting cast of Stewart. Defensively, my new favorite young guy Jerod Mayo hauls in the defensive honors (he was one of the few bright spots for the Patriots this preseason). As far as last year's guys, expect Peterson to challenge Tomlinson for the best back title - "All Day" has already stated his goal for every year, not just this year, is 2,000 yards and there's little reason to think it's not a realistic possibility to at least come close. Oh, and that Patrick Willis kid should do well in San Francisco again. Not enough to be Defensive Player of the Year (I actually am giving that to Champ Bailey), but someone might give him consideration.
Also, I hate to throw too many predictions out regarding MVP's and stats and wins...but I will go out on a limb and say an NFC South team will be in the NFC Championship. Will they win? ....I haven't decided yet. I also haven't decided which of the three it will be. I'm leaning towards Tampa Bay, although a lot of experts seem pretty high on the Saints. As a former Purdue student, I love Drew Brees. However, before they can dethrone the reigning champions, Reggie Bush needs to develop, Jeremy Shockey needs to calm down, and the defense needs to step up.
On a side note, I'm very tired from battling The Bong Show and peytonsPIA in all things Patriots/Colts related. Can I get some of the fellow members of Patriots nation to step up and fill in for me? I'm doing a good job of holding down the fort, but I'm seeing a lot of weak arguments from "so-called" fans. Am I the only one who can do research? There's plenty of places to get great pieces of information about players, teams, and games. Use it.