Sunday Countdown: Your weekly NFL guide
|Minnesota @ New Orleans
|Carolina @ N.Y. Giants
|Atlanta @ Pittsburgh
|Denver @ Jacksonville
|Cleveland @ Tampa Bay
|Indianapolis @ Houston
|Miami @ Buffalo
|Detroit @ Chicago
|Oakland @ Tennessee
|Cincinnati @ New England
|Arizona @ St. Louis
|San Francisco @ Seattle
|Green Bay @ Philadelphia
|Dallas @ Washington
|Baltimore @ N.Y. Jets
|San Diego @ Kansas City
|Week 1 Record
|Mike & Mike's Stone Cold Lead Pipe Locks | More picks: Experts' picks | SportsNation: Pick Week 1
Eagles' O-line faces huge challenge: The third preseason game in Kansas City scared the Eagles straight. The Chiefs, using a traditional 3-4 defense, sent wave after blitzing wave right up the gut. The result: Kevin Kolb often abandoned the pocket quickly or drifted into a backpedal that disrupted his timing and rhythm.
Third-string center Mike McGlynn was overmatched. Left guard Todd Herremans, playing in his first game back from a bad foot injury, tried to hold his own. And right guard Stacy Andrews proved once and for all that he had to go.
So, after months of experimentation, the Eagles have reconfigured the interior of an O-line that has been problematic since back-to-back humiliating defeats last season in Dallas.
Pressed into service at center is veteran Jamaal Jackson, who is coming off major knee surgery and hasn't played a down of football in eight months. Herremans hopes to reach a comfort level at left guard. And replacing Andrews, who was shipped to Seattle for a late-round draft pick, is Nick Cole, who failed as Jackson's replacement in the playoffs against Dallas and spent most of training camp in the trainer's room with knee swelling.
And here come the Green Bay Packers, who also employ a 3-4 defense that features one of the best young nose tackles in the game, the 337-pound B.J. Raji. Under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers' zone blitz schemes led the league with 30 interceptions in 2009.
Last season, Capers called for a blitz on 245 of 540 pass attempts -- an astonishing 45.3 percent of the time. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 62.2 against the Packers' blitz -- fifth-lowest in the league.
There could not be a more challenging home debut for Kolb, who did not throw a touchdown pass in 19 offensive possessions in his first preseason as the official replacement for Donovan McNabb.
-- Sal Paolantonio
Owens mastering Bengals' offense: It was 10 p.m. on an unusually cool Friday in late July when the Bengals' decision to sign Terrell Owens a day earlier was validated.
"One of the coaches went to his dorm room for bed check," Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski told me. "And there was Terrell, 10 o'clock on a Friday night, with his playbook laid out on the floor, asking some of our younger receivers questions."
Six weeks later, Owens' knowledge of Cincinnati's offense is far beyond what most expected.
"He picked up the offense faster than anyone I've ever been around," quarterback Carson Palmer said.
The other thing the 36-year-old Owens did during his 12-catch, 143-yard preseason was energize his 32-year-old reality-show buddy Chad Ochocinco.
-- Bob Holtzman
Week 1: Numbers Crunching
Colts at Texans, 1 p.m. ET
Last season, the Houston offense got worse after halftime, ranking seventh in DVOA before the half but 16th after the half. However, the defense got better after halftime, going from 26th before the half to 11th after the half. Indianapolis allowed a league-low 3.9 average yards after catch last season, including just 2.7 average YAC on passes beyond the line of scrimmage.
Cowboys at Redskins, 8:20 p.m. ET
Last season, the Cowboys led the league with an average of 6.5 yards after the catch, while the Redskins were second with 6.2 yards after the catch and the Eagles (led by new Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb) were fourth with 5.9 yards after the catch.
Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET
The Steelers will have a serious field-position problem if they haven't improved their kickoff coverage from last season. The Falcons had the best net kickoff value in the league, according to FO measures, while the Steelers had the worst net kickoff value of any team in the past 17 years. Although the Steelers may want to go to a heavier ground game with QB Ben Roethlisberger out, the Falcons had an excellent run defense last season. They finished the season second in our DVOA ratings and ranked first in run defense from Week 10 onward.
Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET
Remember when the Panthers destroyed the Giants near the end of last season? New York fans better hope that late-season trends don't carry over to the new season. Last season, Carolina's offense had the biggest improvement in the league from the first half of the season (23rd in DVOA) to the second half of the season (eighth). The Giants' defense had the biggest decline from the first half of the season (10th) to the second half (28th).
Chris Johnson: It's not as if you need numbers to figure out that Sunday's game against Raiders is a fantastic matchup for Johnson and the Titans. Arguably the best running back in the game -- certainly top-two if you care to dispute No. 1 -- will go up against arguably the league's worst run defense.
Aaron Rodgers: Philadelphia loves to blitz, and the Green Bay quarterback has a penchant for staying in the pocket a tad too long, but there also will be plenty of man-to-man mismatches for him to exploit. Start Rodgers with confidence.
On 'Sunday Countdown'
• How does losing the Super Bowl affect a team the next season? How vulnerable are the Colts to a Super Bowl-loser hangover? Greg Garber reports.
• Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens join forces in Cincinnati. YouTube sensation DJ Porter mixes the best all-time sound from T.O. and Ocho.
• Donovan McNabb not an Eagle? The JaMarcus Russell and Matt Leinart eras over? It was an NFL offseason full of stories -- but Rip Van Ditka missed everything.
• How did Pats WR Wes Welker come back so quickly from a torn ACL? Kenny uncovers an unholy alliance made by Welker in the "Mayne Event."
• Follow all the happenings on "Sunday Countdown" on Twitter here.
Chat Wrap with Chris Mortensen
• Ryan (Ashburn, Va.): Chris, when does the [Albert] Haynesworth vs [Mike] Shanahan saga finally end? Do you think the Redskins will find a suitable offer? I like what Shanahan has done since he has arrived. The lunatics no longer run the asylum, but I think the longer the two are still together, we'll continue to talk about them.
• Mort: I have a feeling this drama will be ongoing until the Redskins get rid of Haynesworth. That could push it up to the trade deadline (Tuesday after Week 6). I guess the pleasant surprise would be if Haynesworth decided to turn on the switch. Joe Gibbs ran the place, too, so Shanahan has the same kind of latitude. He doesn't want to embarrass Dan Snyder by dumping Haynesworth outright but he'll only put up with so much.
Cincinnati at New England
It was hard to choose just one game from what looks like one of the all-time best opening week NFL schedules, but the game between the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals will have ramifications all season.
Both teams made the playoffs last season, and both lost in the first round. So which way are they heading?
The Patriots were the team of the past decade with their three Super Bowl wins and almost-perfect season. They have arguably the most talented quarterback and best coach in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
New England's offense will be a force every time it takes the field. With Randy Moss and Wes Welker back together, the offense will be primed to respond in its first game since the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The question marks come on defense. New England has lost a lot of talent on defense in the past few years. New players have struggled. For instance, lately the Patriots have had to rely on blitzes to generate a decent pass rush, and that has led to some coverage problems. If they are going to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, a few of the new faces will have to step up.
The Bengals feel they are on the verge of elite status in the NFL. Carson Palmer used to be one of the top-five quarterbacks in the league. If he can return to that form, his play will give the Bengals a real shot at taking that next step.
The rest of the team looks pretty strong. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco could be one of the best WR tandems in the league. Cedric Benson leads a very strong running attack. And the defense is good and getting better all the time.
For all these reasons, I think that opening day 2010 means a little bit more to these two teams. The Patriots want to prove they are back, and the Bengals want to prove they have arrived.