NFL Sunday preview: Week One

Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, will get Indy going in his first game...

Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, will get Indy going in his first game on Sunday. (Brent Smith/Reuters)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:14 PM ET

THE NEW BIG PLAYER

ANDREW LUCK, QB, Indianapolis Colts

You've read and heard all the glowing assessments. That Andrew Luck is the best rookie quarterback to enter the NFL since Blah-blah-blah.

And you know what? He probably is. Because that Blah-blah-blah could really play.

So can Luck.

If you've ever watched him operate on your widescreen, either at Stanford or in the pre-season with the Colts, you've seen a prototypical pro-style QB. Tall, solidly built. Great mechanics. Scans the field. Quick, sound release. Makes all the throws.

That's not all.

"There's probably nobody that is more mature for a rookie player coming into the situation he's coming into, and handling the pressure," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told FOXSports.com's Alex Marvez.

"He's heard everything from filling Peyton's shoes to being the No. 1 pick. He's the perfect guy to handle the situation, because he doesn't let any of the outside distractions affect his preparation. He's a tireless worker. It's just football 24/7."

On top of all that, and which seldom gets reported, Luck is faster, more agile and more of an accomplished runner than people think. In three-plus years at Stanford, he rushed for 957 yards, averaging almost six yards per carry and college rushing stats include sacks.

But, as is often said, if he was the No. 1 overall pick, that means the team he's on is terrible, talent-thin and probably rebuilding everywhere. Indeed that is the case with the Colts, who went 2-14 last year without Manning.

Luck doesn't have much of a receiving corps, and two of them are questionable for his NFL debut against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field -- rookie T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) and Austin Collie (concussion).

As with Manning, Luck probably will look a lot better than the Colts' record for a couple years.

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HASSELBECK, NOT LOCKER

The Tennessee Titans have handed the reins of their offence to Jake Locker.

I think that's a mistake.

It's understandable that head coach Mike Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer wish to add some pizzazz to their attack. And Locker, a second-year quarterback, is surely talented.

But Locker doesn't possess the best arm in the world, and he's antsy in the pocket. He likes to freelance outside the pocket too much, a residue of all the success he had doing that both in high school and at the University of Washington.

The Titans should have delayed the move, either a full season, or at least until next month. Tennessee opens Sunday against New England, then travels to San Diego, plays host to Detroit, then plays at Houston. Tough first month.

Longtooth Matt Hasselbeck could have guided the ship through those rough waters, at least to start. If he proved too ineffective or old at any point (he turns 37 on Sept. 25), fine, swap in Locker then.

Hasselbeck's poise and savvy probably will be missed by the Titans in the crucial opening month.

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NOW (ZONE-)READ THIS, JIM HARBAUGH!

He might already be planning to do this, either in Game 1 at Green Bay or later in the season, but I'd advise San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to employ an occasional spread zone-read offence to complement the safe, conservative attack that Alex Smith pilots.

And I'd build it around second-year backup QB Colin Kaepernick and rookie RB LaMichael James.

Kaepernick showed in the first pre-season game he is a special dual-threat talent, when he exploded down the field for a 78-yard TD run out of the zone-read.

And James is better suited for the zone-read than most humans on this earth who have ever taken a handoff. That's because he was one of the most dangerous in that offence that college football has yet seen. Small, tough but also extremely fast and shifty, James was swift enough to beat a defence either by going wide, or by cutting upfield and leaving defenders choking on the rubber bits he kicked up in front of them.

Both Kaepernick and James seem naturals for such an alternate attack. Especially when Smith and the regular offence have their hiccups, which last season was often.

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THIS JUST IN

Saturday's news updates:

The Rams rewarded LB James Laurinaitis with a five-year contract extension.

He's now locked up through 2017. The extension is worth $41.5 million, with $23.5 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, who usually gets these things first, and correct.

MERELY A STAY OF SUSPENSIONS?: Multiple media outlets Friday night obtained a copy of the memo that the NFL's legal eagle, executive VP Jeffrey Pash, sent to clubs regarding the appeal panel's overturning of the Bounty-gate player suspensions.

It seems to confirm speculation that commish Roger Goodell likely will re-suspend the four players, and quickly.

"Nothing in today's decision contradicts any of the facts found in the investigation into this matter, or absolves any player of responsibility for conduct detrimental," Pash's memo read, "nor does the decision in any way suggest what discipline would be appropriate for conduct that lies within the authority of the commissioner."

Bottom line, Goodell will "promptly reconsider" the matter and make another ruling. Nothing prevents him from upholding the original suspension lengths.

Goodell must merely be clearer that his punishments are for pay-to-injure (his domain), not pay-for-performance (a salary-cap breach and thus, by CBA dictate, an arbitrator's domain).

QB YOUTH MOVEMENT CONTINUES: Yet another first- or second-year player is on the two-deep at QB.

The Broncos released Caleb Hanie, so rookie Brock Osweiler ascends to No. 2, behind Peyton Manning.

Osweiler becomes the 16th rookie or soph QB on an NFL two-deep. Ten are starters.

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THE 3 BIG MATCHUPS

PEYTON MANNING vs. 60 MINUTES

I don't mean Morley Safer, et al. Rather, Manning hasn't played a 60-minute football game since January 2011. Is he fully recovered from the muscle-debilitating effects of his neck surgeries? Does he have more rust to shake off? Can he complete deep balls, which he looked shaky on in the pre-season? And if the Steelers D roughs him up, can he take the pounding?

AARON RODGERS vs. 49ers DEFENCE

The NFL's most valuable player in 2011, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, faces last year's most suffocating defence. With apologies to the Super Bowl champion Giants, this is the NFC championship matchup most people wanted to see last January. Can Rodgers get enough time to find his star receivers? Will the lack of a running game hurt him and the Pack? All 11 starters return to the 49ers defence. Watch out.

STEVIE JOHNSON vs. DARRELLE REVIS

A ceaselessly sore groin kept the Bills' only dangerous WR, Johnson, from practising much this past week. That does not bode well, especially when you consider New York Jets' Revis -- the hands-down best cover corner in the league -- has had it rammed down his throat for the past nine months that Johnson was the only WR to beat him for a TD last year. If Johnson is healthy enough to play effectively, he can expect to know early on what flavour of toothpaste Revis used in the morning.

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THE FOUR BIG GAMES ON SUNDAY

1. 49ers at Packers

Combined, these teams lost four games in '11. The Niner D's specialty is shutting down a foe's rushing attack to make it one dimensional, but the Packers already can't run, and don't care -- not with Aaron Rodgers and co. As for the Frisco offence, is unretired Randy Moss the missing-link weapon at WR that Alex Smith has needed?

2. Bills at Jets

The first offence able to crawl into field-goal range might win this game. Unless the Jets do indeed unveil some new, effective incarnation of the Wildcat under alt-quarterback Tim Tebow, this one looks like a puntfest. Both offences lack playmaking WRs, and both have OL worries. Each's (good) D-linemen already have their ears pinned back. And if Tebow supplants Sanchez ...

3. Steelers at Broncos

The Steelers are angry. Angry at their playoff loss in Denver last year. Angry at all the injuries that derailed their hopes in 2011. And angrier still at the same rate of injuries afflicting this team. Even if QB headhunter James Harrison cannot play, expect Pittsburgh to zap Mr. Commercials often and the Steelers offence to open it up.

4. Redskins at Saints

The suddenly not-suspended Bountygate Saints (LB Jonathan Vilma and DE Will Smith) might or might not play. Big deal. Bigger deals? Drew Brees -- still draped in awesomeness, as is the Saints offence -- and Robert Griffin III, the Skins' uber-talented rookie QB. Can RG3 duplicate Cam Newton's spectacular '11 debut? Doubt it, but ya never know.

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THIS YEAR'S NEW RULES

The NFL has five new playing rules for 2012. Only the first is a substantive change:

* Bringing regular-season overtime in line with the new playoff format. That is, if the first team with the ball scores only a field goal, the other team gets at least once chance with the ball.

* Blowing a play dead before it starts if the defence has too many men on the field. That's to stop a team with a small lead from deliberately committing the foul late in a game, so as to run precious time off the clock but replay the down -- as the Giants did in the last minute of the Super Bowl.

* Making it mandatory to review most turnovers, in addition to all scoring plays, thereby giving coaches more chances to use their challenges on other disputed plays.

* Making the recipient of a crackback block a defenceless player -- meaning when a wideout, say, sneaks in to block a defender in the box area, he can't hit him either in the head or below the knees. It's for safety. Otherwise, 15-yard penalty.

* When a member of the offence kicks a loose ball, it's now loss of down as well as a five-yard penalty.

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THE BIG NUMBER: 24%

Chances an NFL team that loses in Week 1 has of making the playoffs, since the 16-game schedule was introduced in 1978. By contrast, opening-week winners since 1978 have a slightly better chance than not (53%) of making the playoffs.

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MUST-WIN SUNDAY

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Make no mistake, we think the Eagles will beat the Brownies -- and beat 'em bad -- at the Mistake by the Lake. But if Michael Vick and co. somehow stumble and lose to one of the worst, youngest rosters in the league, then Philly fans instantly will switch into full-furor mode. This is as easy an opener as a Super Bowl aspirant can ever hope to play. The Eagles must win, and look good doing it.


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