For football-starved fans, today is a great day. Tonight, for the first time since January, there are multiple NFL games on the schedule. Sure, they are just pre-season games and the elite players will only see the field for about half of a quarter, but it’s football. Some of it will ever be on television for the whole country to watch. We’re so, so close to having our Sundays once again full with meaningful NFL action.
Washington and Buffalo kick things off at 7pm tonight at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The game will feature the first chance for Redskins fans to see rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, in action. Griffin was annointed the starter (and savior, in the eyes of many fans) for the Redskins early in camp and it will be fascinating to see whether the rookie can have the kind of impact on the NFL that Cam Newton did last season. On the other side of the ball, Bills fans will get to see their team’s prized free agent signing, defensive end Mario Williams, try to kill Griffin. These teams last played in Week 8 of last season, with the Bills shutting out the Redskins by a score of 23-0 in Toronto.
In one of three 7:30pm games, the Ravens and Falcons will battle at the Georgia Dome. Both teams played in the 2011 playoffs, but both fell short of their Super Bowl goals. The Ravens came withing a Lee Evans dropped pass of beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship, whereas the Falcons were spanked by the Giants in the Wild Card Round. Both teams are widely expected to make it back to the post-season this year. The Ravens will be without the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs (he’s out with an Achilles tendon injury, but promises to return later in the year), so it will be interesting to see how the team’s famed defense adjusts without his pass-rushing ability. The Falcons will finally have a fully-healthy Julio Jones to unleash onto the NFL. Look for Jones to become a break-out star this season.
The Saints have already played a pre-season game (they beat the Cardinals in the Hall of Fame Game) and they are back on the field for a second game before most teams have played even once. The Patriots will host this one and it’s safe to say that Bill Belichick and company will be eager to get the bitter taste of Super Bowl XLVI out of their mouths. The Saints, of course, will be without the players (including middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma) and coaches (head coach Sean Payton) who were suspended as a result of the NFL’s “bountygate” investigation, but you should expect to see the same old Saints–a high-powered offense featuring a lot of passing. The Patriots will be unveiling their revamped defense, bolstered by the additions of first-round draft picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.
It’s a battle of Pennsylvania as the Eagles welcome the Steelers to Lincoln Financial Field. Eagles coach Andy Reid will be present to lead his team, just days after the shocking death of his son. The Eagles were one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments in 2011, failing to make the playoffs after backup quarterback Vince Young called them a “dream team.” The Steelers’ 2011 season also finished in disappointment, as a Tim Tebow pass to Demaryius Thomas finished them off in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. The Eagles used the draft to upgrade their defense, bringing in a defensive tackle, linebacker and defensive end with their first three picks. The Steelers focused on their offensive line in the draft, selecting an offensive guard and tackle with their first two picks. The rookies will be on display tonight.
In a game that will be televised on ESPN starting at 8pm, the Packers travel to Qualcomm Stadium to play the Chargers. The Packers were upset by the Giants in the Divisional Round of the 2011 playoffs, but they are considered a Super Bowl favorite in 2012 nonetheless. Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers returns, as do nearly all of the Packers’ key players on offense and defense. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers have a bit of new look on offense. Star receiver Vincent Jackson left in free agency and the Chargers are looking to replace him with a few players who have never really reached their potential in the league–Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. The good news for the Chargers on offense is that tight end Antonio Gates is said to be the healthiest he’s been in several years and running back Ryan Mathews looks to be on the verge of a break-out campaign.
In the final game of the night, the Bears host the Broncos. This will be the first chance for fans to see Peyton Manning, the biggest free agent signing in NFL history, suit up for a team other than the Colts. Don’t expect Manning to play many snaps in this game, but expect all eyes to be on him for the whole night, regardless. It will also be interesting to see how the Broncos’ backup quarterbacks, Caleb Hanie (a former Bear) and Brock Osweiler (a rookie) fare in this game, as it’s far from a lock that Manning will make it through this season with his surgically-repaired neck intact. Though he may not be of the profile of Manning, Chicago also has a new player to unveil–wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Bears traded for Marshall and are hoping that a reunion with quarterback Jay Cutler (the two played together in Denver) is just what each player needs to take his game to the next level.