With the 2011 NFL regular season officially underway on Thursday night with the New Orleans Saints traveling to Green Bay to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Packers, it’s that time of year for weekly picks. Week 1 provides plenty of tough matchups with plenty of questions to be answered for numerous teams–especially when it comes to teams expected to make a surprise run at the playoffs like the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Here’s a look at the Weekly Picks for Week 1 of the 2011 NFL Season for Red Zone Talk:
New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers
What better way to kick off the 2011 season then to have the previous two Super Bowl champions square off against one another on opening night. There’s a good chance this game could be an early preview of an early playoff matchup and this opening game will be important for both the Saints and Packers considering they each play in two very tough divisions.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. St. Louis Rams
All eyes will be on the so-called “Dream Team” in Week 1 to see how they handle all of the pressure from the preseason hype. After an impressive rookie season for Sam Bradford, there are high expectations for the Rams to make a strong run in the NFC West this season–but the Eagles may be too much for this team to handle opening weekend.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns
Colt McCoy looks to get off to a good start after an impressive preseason and he’ll certainly have a good matchup against a young Bengals squad that seems to be heading towards a season of rebuilding mode. With the Ravens and Steelers considered the favorites in the division, it will be important for Cleveland to win these types of games if they want any chance to stay in the AFC North hunt.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
How intense is this AFC North rivalry? Seven of the last eight games between these two teams have been decided by seven points or less. The Ravens will be looking for blood after their final two games against the Steelers last season and will look to use playing at home to their advantage.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Chicago Bears
After reaching the NFC Championship last season, the Bears enter the 2011 season with plenty of questions to be answered–especially when it comes to how Matt Forte and Lance Briggs will perform since they’re unhappy with their contracts. As for the Falcons–they made numerous key additions this offseason to make sure they’re one of the top contenders in the NFC again in 2011.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans
It seems like this this time every year, all of the experts are talking about how this is going to be the season Houston finally overtakes Indianapolis in the AFC South. With Peyton Manning’s return up in the air, this may actually be the year the Texans emerge on top of the division and a win over the Colts opening weekend would be the perfect way to start the 2011 season.
Tennessee Titans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars pulled off one of the biggest surprises this week after the decision to release starting quarterback David Garrard to clear up cap space and will start the season with Luke McCown instead. As for the Titans, they’re just happy to have their star running back after a long offseason of holding out and will look to bounce back from last season’s disastrous 6-10 finish with plenty of new faces on staff and even at quarterback.
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Despite finishing 4-12 last season, the Bills were one of those teams in 2010 that was difficult to figure out considering how many close games they were in. Even with a banged-up Matt Cassel, Buffalo may be in over their heads in Week 1 against a Chiefs team looking to get off to a hot start after last year’s surprise 10-6 finish.
Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Talk about a great opening weekend matchup between two teams in the NFC that are expected to be “sleepers” when it comes to making a strong run at the playoffs. While the fate of the Lions relies on the health of Matthew Stafford, the Buccaneers find themselves in a similar situation with Josh Freeman–who quietly emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in 2010 after leading the team to a 10-6 record and threw for 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins
The Giants have won their previous six games against the Redskins, but will have to start the season without star defensive end Osi Umenyiora–who is recovering from knee surgery. It’s safe to say no team has suffered with as many injuries as New York has over the last few weeks and it should be interesting to see how they perform at the beginning of the season.
Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals
It won’t take much for the Panthers to perform better than last season considering they need just three wins to do so. However, Cam Newton still needs plenty of experience before that happens considering his young receiving corps–but at least DeAngelo Williams appears to be fully healthy after missing most of last season. Still, the Panthers could be in for some trouble on Sunday against this new Cardinals team that finally has a quarterback to build the franchise around in Kevin Kolb.
Minnesota Vikings vs. San Diego Chargers
Donovan McNabb is a major upgrade over Joe Webb or Tarvaris Jackson–but the loss of Sidney Rice hurts the Vikings’ passing game. There’s no reason why Minnesota shouldn’t improve from last season’s disappointing 6-10 finish, but they face a difficult matchup in Week 1 against a San Diego squad that is anxious to re-take the AFC West back after watching the playoffs from home last year for the first time since the 2005 season.
Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
Will the Seahawks regret not pushing harder for Kevin Kolb after seeing how effective Tarvaris Jackson is? How will Alex Smith handle the pressure of arguably his last chance at the starting job with the 49ers? While all these questions won’t be answered right away–both quarterbacks will be scrutinized for every little mistake they make and it’s important for them to get off to a good start this upcoming season.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Jets
Arguably one of the top matchups to watch on opening weekend as the Ryan brothers will clash once again in the first Sunday night game of the 2011 season. After reaching the AFC Championship in each of the last two seasons, there are high expectations for the Jets once again heading into 2011–but the Cowboys will be just as anxious with the return of Tony Romo and the addition of Rob Ryan at defensive coordinator.
New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
The argument can be made that no quarterback will be criticized more for every mistake he makes this upcoming season than Chad Henne considering how upset Dolphins fans are about the organization missing out on Kyle Orton. Unfortunately, Henne’s first task of the 2011 season comes against a Patriots squad that looks locked and loaded to make yet another strong run at the Super Bowl.
Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos
There’s no reason why the Broncos can’t bounce back after a disappointing 4-12 finish in 2010. Kyle Orton proved this offseason he’s worthy of the starting job and will be pleased to face the team’s AFC West rival without one of the league’s top cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha–who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason.
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