The NFL season officially kicked off this Wednesday and the first game, an NFC East rematch between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, is in the books.
Reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants dropped their first game of the season to the Cowboys, who picked up a 24-17 win in spite of a rash of penalties on both sides of the ball.
But there is still plenty of excitement in the first week of NFL football, and if you're not sure what games you should watch, here's a short list of four must-watch matchups for the weekend ahead.
Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears, Sunday @ 1 p.m. EST, CBS
Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has received heaps of hype following his electrifying preseason, but now he's running headlong into the Chicago Bears, a team that has traditionally boasted one of the best defenses in the league.
Players to Watch:
Luck is a no-brainer here, and his performance in this game will likely shape the commentary that follows over the course of next week. Fellow rookie and college teammate Coby Fleener will also be one to watch, because of his established chemistry with Luck and Chicago's documented coverage problems with players at the tight end position.
The performance of Brian Urlacher could determine the outcome of the game.
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is set to play in spite of his much-discussed knee surgery, and he should be a force to contend with regardless of his injury. On the offensive side of Chicago's game, meanwhile, fans may want to take note of new arrival Brandon Marshall's performance in the regular season opener, given his established chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler and his big-play ability.
Luck showed during the preseason that he is every bit the polished signal-caller the scouts thought he would be, and the Chicago defense is banged up. Still, the reforged Cutler-Marshall touchdown machine could keep this one close, especially given Indy's own defensive woes. Indianapolis wins, 24-20.
Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints, Sunday @ 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Summary:Robert Griffin III will open his NFL regular season career in New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Saints will look to eke out their first win following the suspension of head coach Sean Peyton after the bounty scandal broke.
Players to Watch:
Griffin III has a lot of pressure on him to perform, but so too does New Orleans field general Drew Brees. This is a showdown between one of the best quarterbacks of the last generation and one of the buzziest rookie QBs this year; keep an eye on both of them.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, meanwhile, will aim to keep his name in the "best TE" discussion, and the Washington defense struggles with the position.
New Orleans will win this game on the strength of Brees and the rest of the high-powered New Orleans offense, but expect Griffin III to put up some points against their deflated D. Saints win, 17-14.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers, Sunday @ 4:25 p.m. EST, FOX
The Pack is back, and they've added Cedric Benson to the backfield and retooled their disappointing defense. Meanwhile, San Francisco has decided to give quarterback Alex Smith some options by adding receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
Players to Watch:
There are a lot of new names to watch on both rosters, but the highlights in this game will still belong to Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, who is possibly the best player at his position in the league right now.
Green Bay wideout Greg Jennings may be leaving the team at the end of this season.
In case you've heard enough about A-Rod, you should also be watching out for wide receiver Greg Jennings, who might be in his final year with the Packers.
And Alex Smith, San Francisco's own signal-caller, could be worth watching after he put together a highly efficient season in 2011.
San Francisco's boosted depth at wide receiver could be offset by the reborn Green Bay defense; meanwhile, elite quarterback Aaron Rodgers will match up against what could be one of the best defenses in the league. This will be a low scoring affair, but Green Bay will benefit from home field advantage. Pack wins, 7-3.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens, Monday @ 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Last year, then-rookie quarterback Andy Dalton guided the Bengals into the playoffs with the help of fellow rookie wide receiver A.J. Green. The pair, along with the rest of the Bengals, will look to recapture that magic when they bump heads with the Baltimore Ravens and their tough defense.
Players to Watch:
Green and Dalton were a fantastic duo to watch in 2011, and that magic is not likely to go away, even with the departure of Jerome Simpson in the offseason.
The Baltimore Ravens are without star pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who went down in the offseason. But he will likely be replaced by rookie Courtney Upshaw, who shows considerable promise, in spite of some injury troubles.
If ever there were a point for Cincinnati to pull out a win against the celebrated Ravens D, it would be with the absence of Terrell Suggs. But smart money is on Flacco and the Ravens. Baltimore wins, 14-7.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com