Originally Published: September 7, 2011

Sunday Countdown: Your weekly NFL guide

Weekly Picks

Mike Ditka Keyshawn Johnson Cris Carter Tom Jackson
  Ditka Johnson Carter Jackson
New Orleans @ Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay
Atlanta @ Chicago Atlanta Chicago Atlanta Atlanta
Cincinnati @ Cleveland Cleveland Cleveland Cleveland Cleveland
Buffalo @ Kansas City Kansas City Kansas City Buffalo Buffalo
Philadelphia @ St. Louis Philadelphia Philadelphia Philadelphia Philadelphia
Detroit @ Tampa BayDetroit Tampa Bay Detroit Detroit
Tennessee @ Jacksonville Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee Tennessee
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Baltimore
Indianapolis @ Houston Houston Houston Houston Houston
N.Y. Giants @ Washington N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants N.Y. Giants
Seattle @ San Francisco San Francisco San Francisco San Francisco San Francisco
Minnesota @ San Diego San Diego San Diego San Diego San Diego
Carolina @ Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
Dallas @ N.Y. Jets N.Y. Jets N.Y. Jets N.Y. Jets Dallas
New England @ Miami New England New England New England New England
Oakland @ Denver Denver Oakland Oakland Oakland
Week 1 Record 9-7 10-6 11-5 11-5
Overall Record 9-7 10-6 11-5 11-5
More picks: Experts | SportsNation: Pick Week 1

Countdown Confidential

By Bob Holtzman, Rachel Nichols and Sal Paolantonio

Can Collins find his rhythm? Less than three weeks ago, Kerry Collins was retired in Nashville, dabbling in some country music songwriting. If he can lead the Colts to a win Sunday in Houston, it'd be the kind of long-shot story country hits are made of: gray-bearded veteran (literally) who takes over for a legend and rediscovers his glory days.

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Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesColts QB Kerry Collins has a lot of factors working against him in Week 1.

"In no way do I think that I can replace someone like Peyton, what he means to this franchise and this city," Collins said of Indianapolis icon Peyton Manning, who has started every Colts game for the past 13 years. "But at the same time I've been doing this for a long time, and I guarantee you that I will bust my butt to get ready to play this week."

It won't be easy. Collins told me last week he's never seen anything like the Colts' offense. He said it has a few similarities to the offense he ran in Oakland in 2004 and 2005, but not many.

"I can't imagine trying to learn something as complicated as this as quickly as he has," center Jeff Saturday said.

Learning the offense isn't the only challenge. Collins will work behind a young, inexperienced offensive line that likely will start two rookies and just one player (Saturday) in the same position he played last year.

There's also this: Seven times Collins has faced a defense designed by Houston's new coordinator Wade Phillips. Seven times Collins has lost.

-- Bob Holtzman

Flacco in harm's way? Ideally, when Pittsburgh's Pro Bowl pass-rushers are barreling toward you, hoping to plunge your neck in the ground, you want your offensive line to be a crisp, experienced group of players who know each other's every tendency and habit, cohesively moving as one to protect you.

Instead, what Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be getting Sunday is an offensive line that has never played a snap together before.

"We're going to make sure it's not a problem. It's our job, all of us, together, to make sure that it's not a problem," coach John Harbaugh said as the Ravens started their practices this week, although he acknowledges that is easier said than done.

The new-look offensive line is the result of several injuries and new acquisitions during the preseason: Bryant McKinnie, newly signed, will be playing left tackle; Michael Oher will move to right tackle, a position he hasn't played since 2009; and center Matt Birk will be playing his first game coming off bursa sac surgery, although even that is not definite as he continues to test his recovery.

The Ravens' coaches plan to streamline some of their usual calls to make up for these players having never been on the field as a unit together before, and for McKinnie still learning the team's terminology. But Flacco says he is not worried, despite having taken some nasty sacks from the Steelers even when he had a more experienced line in front him.

"The thoughts are all good -- I'm not really concerned about it," he said. "I think we have a good group of guys together and that is the most important thing."

-- Rachel Nichols

Vick honing mechanics: How dedicated is Michael Vick to getting his first Super Bowl ring? Flash back to Week 4 of the preseason: the Eagles visiting the Jets. Two days before, Vick had just pocketed a $100 million contract, the second of his career. Along with the rest of the starters for both teams, Vick was getting a well-deserved night off.

But, unlike most of the starters for both teams, Vick was not sitting on the sideline or in the locker room, shooting the breeze with his teammates. Instead, he was on the muggy MetLife Stadium field with quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson, going through his passing tree with DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin -- for a solid hour.

They got in some very specific work. Vick has a tendency to drop his arm down and deliver the ball from a three-quarter position. As a result, Pederson says, Vick is susceptible to batted balls and a low completion percentage over the middle.

The numbers fill out the story. In 2010, Vick's completion percentage outside the left hashmark was 67.5 percent. Outside the right hashmark: 63.6 percent. But inside in the hashmarks, over the middle, Vick's completion rate had a severe drop-off: just 52.1 percent. And 17 of his 21 touchdown passes were outside the hashes.

With Pederson watching and instructing over and over again, Vick delivers the ball straight overhand -- like the great Cleveland Indians pitcher Sam McDowell from the mound.

"We're trying to keep his arm up, his left hip closed," Pederson said. "Michael is totally determined to attack every phase of his game. He's attacking every detail."

-- Sal Paolantonio

MVP Watch

By Mike Sando

Quarterbacks' recent grip on the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award could be slipping.

Peyton Manning's precarious health situation heading toward the Indianapolis Colts' 2011 opener leaves him ranked only 10th on our initial MVP Watch of the season.

It's nearly unfathomable.

Manning has won four of the past nine MVP awards in Associated Press balloting. Tom Brady commanded 99 of 100 votes in winning the 2007 and 2010 awards. He's the favorite this year, but if Manning fails to recapture his usual form after missing the exhibition season, non-quarterbacks can feel better about their chances.

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Brady has won MVP honors twice in the past four seasons. He became the first unanimous choice last season, collecting all 50 votes. Brady also led the NFL in QBR last season, and it wasn't particularly close (76.0 for Brady to 69.5 for Manning). Brady, Drew Brees and Manning are the only players with at least 60 touchdown passes in the past two seasons. The INT totals for the same period are telling: 17 for Brady, 33 apiece for Brees and Manning.

2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Winning a championship last season enhanced Rodgers' credentials. He's still an ascending player coming off only his third season as an NFL starter. Rodgers cut down his sacks last season after taking a league-high 50 in 2009. MVP balloting had closed by the time Rodgers started playing his best -- in the playoffs. We won't hold that against him here.

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