NFL Gameday: Week 1

Running back LeSean McCoy and the rest of the 'Dream Team' Eagles will be under a ton of pressure...

Running back LeSean McCoy and the rest of the 'Dream Team' Eagles will be under a ton of pressure to succeed. (REUTERS FILES/Robert Galbraith)

Mike Rutsey, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:51 PM ET

MUST-WIN SUNDAY

Of course, there is no real ‘must win’ on the opening weekend but today there are definitely teams that have more to lose than others. The Philadelphia Eagles are one of them.

The Eagles come into the 2011 season with more hype and more mouth than the New York Jets — and that’s almost impossible to do.

Thanks to backup quarterback Vince Young’s reference to them being a ‘Dream Team’, a description that was echoed by owner Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles have placed themselves under the microscope of one and all and made themselves a marked team, drew a bulls eye on their backs, for the 31 other teams to focus on.

In the off-season the Eagles loaded up led by the additions of all-world cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, signed as a free agent out of Oakland, and the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, obtained in the Kevin Kolb trade with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Eagles are loaded in talent, especially on offence with Michael Vick at quarterback, LeSean McCoy at running back and speedster DeSean Jackson at wide receiver. They figure to score points in bunches.

But opening on the road against the improving St. Louis Rams will be no easy pickings.

GAMES YOU'LL WANNA WATCH

Colts at Texans

This is an attractive game if you also like to watch train wrecks. As everybody on the planet knows, this will be the first game that the Colts will play without quarterback Peyton Manning since the final game of the 1997 season. So, the big question is how will the Colts respond with grizzled veteran Kerry Collins as their quarterback? Nobody expects much. Indy has no running game, a soft defence and Collins can’t throw deep. So, it is all on the Texans, even if star RB Arian Foster sits with a sore hamstring. We’ll see if they take the opportunity and run with it or if they choke.

Falcons at Bears

The Falcons last season forged the best record in the NFC with a 13-3 record en route to winning the NFC South. The Bears went 11-5 in winning the NFC North and then advanced to the NFC championship game where the were defeated by Green Bay. Both teams figure to once again have a lot to say about who will appear in January’s playoffs. This will also mark the first chance for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to counter the immense criticism he received after a knee injury knocked him out of the NFC championship game early in the second half.

Steelers at Ravens

The odd thing about bitter rivalries such as this is that the results are usually pretty even. But in recent years, this matchup has been one that is dominated by Pittsburgh victories. The two teams split the regular-season as the Ravens won the first meeting 17-14 in Baltimore with Ben Roethlisberger serving the final game of his four-game suspension. In the second game, Pittsburgh won 13-10 and then in the playoffs, pulled out a 31-24 victory after the Ravens held a 21-7 lead at the half.

ENCORE, ENCORE?

-- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on a streak of having tossed a career-best 158 consecutive passes in regular-season play without an interception. You may fall down in a faint when you read this sentence, but it is the longest such streak in Steelers history since Kordell Stewart — yes, the Slash — threw 159 consecutive passes without an interception in 2001. Today, Big Ben is going up against a hated rival in the Baltimore Ravens. In his career, he is 9-2 versus the Ravens with 17 TDs and nine interceptions.

-- Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez last season had 70 receptions for the Atlanta Falcons and is the only player in NFL history with 60-plus catches over 12 consecutive seasons. Gonzalez has been a go-to receiver both in his days with the Kansas City Chiefs and now the Falcons and will continue to be a prime target for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. The only question for Gonzalez this season is how much rookie wide receiver Julio Jones cuts into his number of catches?

-- Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars last year rushed for 1,324 yards. It was his second consecutive 1,000-plus yards rushing season and allowed him to join Fred Taylor as only the second player in franchise history to accomplish the feat. Today, the Jaguars meet Tennessee and in his past three games against the Titans, Jones-Drew has averaged 140 yards.

HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUPS

Rams RB Steven Jackson vs. Eagles MLB Casey Matthews

Steven Jackson has been a durable warrior in his seven seasons with the Rams, last year lugging the rock 330 times for 1,241 yards and six TDs. With the Rams going to a West Coast offence, the hope is defences to spread out a little more and give Jackson a little more running room when he gets the ball. Matthews, the younger brother of the Packers’ Clay Matthews was a fourth-round pick this year from Oregon and his forte is stuffing the run. “He’s the focal point for us,” Matthews said of Jackson. “He’s the one who makes them go.”

Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. Ravens MLB Ray Lewis

Since taking over as the featured Steelers running back in 2009, Mendenhall has been a productive worker. Last season, he rushed for 1,273 yards for a 3.9 average and 13 TDs. He can pound between the tackles and has the speed to bust a big one. Lewis is unquestionably the heart and soul of the Ravens D. This is his 16th season in the league, which is mind-boggling considering the position he plays and the crushingly, fierce way he attacks the ball. Lewis may have slowed a step or two through the years but Mendenhall will know he’s there.

Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Bears CB Charles Tillman

Now entering his ninth season, Tillman has been a mainstay in the Bears secondary. He is not a true shut-down corner, but rather a big, tough defender who is extremely physical. The concern for the Bears is whether he is still quick enough for the position. This will be the first game for the highly hyped Jones, for whom the Falcons gave up five draft picks to acquire. Not only is Jones a burner, but brings size and strength at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. The Falcons believe he will be a second game-breaker at WR and a complement to Roddy White.

BY THE NUMBERS

0-6 -- The record Ravens coach John Harbaugh has forged against the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger has been Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback.

2 -- The number of sacks Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs needs to surpass Peter Boulware for most sacks in Ravens history (70).

111 -- The number of passing yards that Colts QB Kerry Collins needs to surpass Joe Montana (40,551) for 10th most in an NFL career.

7 -- The number of consecutive wins that the Carolina Panthers have recorded when playing the Arizona Cardinals.

BE A SURVIVOR

It’s the opening week and just about the last thing anybody wants to happen is to crash out of a suicide pool in Week 1. It’s not so much the humiliation, but the fact that your season is over right then, right now. A few years back, I won a suicide pool and the next year was knocked out on the opening Sunday. It stinks. Today, there don’t appear to be a lot of mismatches, especially when you go by the first rule of suicide pool survival: Always pick a home team. However, with Peyton Manning on the sidelines, the Houston Texans, who are a nine-point pick, should romp. The only fear factor is a possible mental letdown knowing that Manning is out, or that the Colts could play inspirational football. But we doubt it. If that game doesn’t do it for you, go with the San Diego Chargers at home to the Vikes, or New England Patriots at Miami on Monday night.

ROB LONGLEY'S YOU BET

So you think you can pick NFL winners with the best of them? How’s this for the ultimate in fantasy football?

The famous Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest drew a record 517 entries, at $1,500 a piece, including many top professional handicappers.

Players are required to select five NFL games per week and, at season’s end, the top 20 get paid, including a hefty $310,000 to the winner.

With the deadline for selections coming Saturday, we can offer a sneak preview, for what it’s worth, of the two most fancied team. Topping the list is — wait for it — the Buffalo Bills. A significant 163 players settled on the Bills and the 61/2 points for the season opener at Kansas City. By contrast, only 25 players took K.C.

The second most popular pick is Pittsburgh, with 152 handicappers taking 21/2 points against the Ravens.

QUICK KICKS

Might we let the Lions play a game or three before we declare them the NFL’s next great thing? The visiting Lions opened as three-point underdogs to Tampa but have been bet down to 11/2 points ... The Ravens are favoured and are at home so why are so many backing the Steelers? Ben Roethlisberger is 7-2 against the Ravens straight up and today he’s getting points ... Dallas is 3-1 ATS vs. the spread in last four vs. Jets.


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