It's been argued that Peyton Manning is season achievements into consideration.
The overall body of work is staggering. A quartet of MVP awards, the most of any single player in league history. The fastest quarterback ever to reach 50,000 passing yards. The driving force behind a powerhouse Indianapolis Colts team that's won a world championship, made two Super Bowls, captured eight division titles and reached the playoffs 11 times in Manning's 13 professional seasons.
Yet they say a man's true value to his employer is revealed by what's accomplished when he's not around.
Well folks, it's time to finally put that premise to the test.
For the first time in the franchise's last 227 games (including the postseason), the Colts won't have Manning on the field when they begin defense of their latest AFC South crown with this Sunday's visit to the Houston Texans. It's highly improbable that he'll play the following week as well. Or the next.
Manning's lagging recovery from neck surgery performed some five months ago isn't simply the marquee storyline of the opening week of the NFL's 2011 campaign. It may just be the single most significant circumstance of this entire season.
This wasn't supposed to be such a dramatic episode, but each passing chapter of Manning's tale has been increasingly more frightening than the one before it. Initially believed to be a minimally-invasive procedure that would have the 11-time Pro Bowler at full go at the start of training camp, it's now anyone's guess as to when he'll be ready for game action.
The Colts had been preparing for a passing storm. Now they're bracing for an all-out hurricane.
While the front office publicly declares its faith in graybeard Kerry Collins, lured out of a brief retirement just two weeks ago when the seriousness of Manning's condition finally became evident, it's likely holding a candlelight vigil behind the scenes. And it's no small wonder, when an offense that's traditionally been powered by a turbo diesel will now be running on a beaten- up eight-cylinder with way too many miles on the odometer.
Sure, Collins has led a team to a Super Bowl, but that was 11 years and several beatings ago. And although the 38-year-old was able to shake off the rust and steer Tennessee past the Colts for an AFC South title in 2009, he's won just twice in 13 starting assignments since.
Granted, Collins hasn't had the skill-position talent that currently surrounds him in his new stop for the majority of his 16-year tenure, but for an organization that annually harbors championship hopes, hitching one's wagon to a quarterback with eroding skills and an 81-96 career record isn't exactly what the Colts had in mind.
But until Manning gets the strength back in his 6-foot-5, 230-pound body and laser-rocket arm, Indianapolis will keep its fingers crossed that Collins proves to be a quick study and that an overhauled offensive line can sufficiently protect its stone-footed substitute in the interim.
The Colts haven't received much mercy from the schedule makers, either. Following this week's tussle with a talented Texans team that handed Indy a 34-24 setback in last year's opener (a game in which Manning threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns), three of the next four opponents all posted double-digit victory totals in 2010. That includes a home showdown with reigning AFC champ Pittsburgh and it's fierce defense on Sept. 25.
Whether Manning's indefinite unavailability is the first warning sign of the Colts' empire on the verge of crumbling remains to be seen. But if nothing else, it's just made a division that's been rather devoid of intrigue in recent years a whole lot more interesting.
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SUICIDE POOL PIX
1. San Diego (vs. Minnesota) -- Chargers averaged over 30 points per game at home last season, and that was without All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates around for a good portion of the year. The remodeled Vikings' offense figures to have a hard time keeping pace.
2. Arizona (vs. Carolina) -- The Cardinals hardly qualify as world-beaters, but Panthers' prized rookie Cam Newton doesn't appear ready to pull off a victory on the road based off his preseason performance.
3. Houston (vs. Indianapolis) -- It's rare to find the Colts on the negative side of the ledger in this segment, but Indy would've had a challenge on its hands from the dangerous Texans even if Manning played.
Finished with a 106-60 (.639) record in straight-up selections after taking over this column midway through last season, along with an overall 137-132-11 (.509) against the spread over the course of the entire year. For perhaps a better view of what to expect during opening week, check out the choices of Fantasy Editor Steve Schwarz, the defending champion of TSN's "Pigskin Prognosticators" segment that can be found on the sidebar of our NFL page.
New Orleans at Green Bay, Thursday, 8:30 (Green Bay -4)
Storylines: Kickoff game of the 2011 season pits the two most recent Super Bowl champions against one another, with Green Bay claiming last year's crown with a 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV...Also a matchup of two of league's premier passing offenses and quarterbacks, with Drew Brees and the Saints finishing third in that category (277.6 ypg) in 2010 and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers placing fifth overall (257.8 ypg)...Green Bay returns 10 starters from a defense that yielded just 15.0 points per game (2nd overall) last season and ranked fifth in total yards allowed (309.1 ypg), while New Orleans ended fourth in the NFL in both total defense (306.3 ypg) and passing defense (193.9 ypg)...Saints went 11-5 during the 2010 regular season and earned the NFC's fifth playoff seed, one spot ahead of the Packers, but were upset by a seven-win Seattle team in the Wild Card Round...New Orleans will play without defensive end Will Smith, serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, as well as slot receiver Lance Moore (groin) and kicker Garrett Hartley (hip)...Game marks the pro debut of rookie running back Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy recipient and a first-round selection by New Orleans in this past April's draft.
Fast Fact: The past 11 defending Super Bowl champions have each won their regular-season openers the following year. The last Lombardi Trophy recipient to lose in Week 1 of the subsequent season was the 1998 Denver Broncos, who were dealt a 38-21 defeat to Miami in their 1999 lid-lifter.
Prediction: Packers 27, Saints 23.
Atlanta at Chicago, Sunday, 1:00 (Atlanta -3)
Storylines: Battle of 2010 playoff participants whose seasons ended with playoff losses to eventual world champion Green Bay...Falcons produced an NFC- best 13-3 regular-season record last year before being dealt a 48-21 home loss to the Packers in the Divisional Round, while Bears won 11 games and reached the conference title game before bowing to Green Bay...Atlanta will unveil two notable offseason additions on Sunday, rookie wide receiver and first-round draft pick Julio Jones and defensive end Ray Edwards...Bears signed a pair of ex-Cowboys over the summer, wideout Roy Williams and running back Marion Barber, though the latter is doubtful to play due to a calf strain...Chicago signed two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather last Sunday, one day after he was released by New England...Bears 2011 first-round choice Gabe Carimi slated to start at right tackle on a remade offensive line that surrendered a league-worst 56 sacks last year...Falcons ranked fifth in scoring (25.9 ppg) in 2010, while Chicago finished fourth overall in scoring defense (17.9 ypg) and second against the run (90.1 ypg)...Atlanta running back Michael Turner led the NFC with 1,371 rushing yards last season, while wide receiver Roddy White topped all NFL players with 115 receptions.
Fast Fact: The Falcons have left with a loss in each of their last five visits to Soldier Field and haven't prevailed in the Windy City since a 20-17 win on Sep. 4, 1983.
Prediction: Bears may be last year's NFC runners-up, but Falcons have more talent and fewer flaws and should be able to showcase its upgrades in offensive explosion and the pass-rushing department. Falcons 20, Bears 13.
Buffalo at Kansas City, Sunday, 1:00 (Kansas City -6)
Storylines: Chiefs begin defense of their surprise 10-win campaign and AFC West title from a year ago, while Bills seeking to improve off a 4-12 mark in head coach Chan Gailey's first season...Teams met at Arrowhead Stadium last October, with Kansas City eeking out a 13-10 overtime victory...Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel expected to start despite sustained a cracked rib in team's preseason finale, but tight end Tony Moeaki was placed on injured reserve last week after tearing his ACL in that game...Kansas City led the NFL in rushing yards (164.2 ypg) in 2010, while Buffalo allowed a league-worst 169.6 yards per game on the ground for the year...Chiefs piled up 274 rushing yards in last season's triumph over the Bills, with star running back Jamaal Charles racking up 177 yards on 22 carries...Linebacker Shawne Merriman set to make his Bills debut after spending the end of 2010 on IR with an Achilles injury shortly after being picked up off waivers from San Diego...Buffalo claimed offensive tackle Sam Young off waivers from Dallas on Tuesday...Kansas City posted a 7-1 record at home during last year's playoff run...Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali led AFC with 14 1/2 sacks in 2010 and had 1 1/2 in last October's meeting with the Bills.
Fast Fact: Gailey served as Kansas City's offensive coordinator for the 2008 season, while current Bills assistants Curtis Modkins, Bob Bicknell, Joe D'Alessandris and Kevin Patullo were also members of the Chiefs' coaching staff that year.
Prediction: Chiefs' offense has looked terrible during the preseason, but Bills' non-threatening defense and home cooking may provide somewhat of a remedy. Chiefs 17, Bills 14.
Cincinnati at Cleveland, Sunday, 1:00 (Cleveland -6.5)
Storylines: AFC North rivals and fellow Ohio residents set to face off in new Browns head coach Pat Shurmur's first game in charge...Teams split a pair of close contests last season, with Browns delivering a 23-20 home win in Cleveland in October...Bengals to start rookie Andy Dalton at quarterback on Sunday, while 2011 first-round pick A.J. Green to assume team's No. 1 receiver role following this summer's trade of Chad Ochocinco to New England...Rookies Phil Taylor (1st Round) and Jabaal Sheard (2nd Round) earned starting roles on the line on new-look Cleveland defense now overseen by former NFL head coach Dick Jauron...Cincinnati guard Bobbie Williams to serve the first of a four- game suspension for violating NFL's policy on performance-enhancers, with rookie Clint Boling tabbed to step in...Browns placed left guard Eric Steinbach (back surgery) and running back Brandon Jackson (turf toe) on injured reserve last week, with first-year pro Jason Pinkston slated to take Steinbach's place...Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle) and linebacker Chris Gocong (neck) both probable for Cleveland after sitting out the entire preseason...Browns running back Peyton Hillis coming off career-best 1,177- yard, 11-touchdown campaign and had 102 yards and a score in team's home win over Bengals last October.
Fast Fact: Dalton will become only the second rookie quarterback to start an opener in Bengals' history and the first since 1969, when Greg Cook guided Cincinnati to a 27-21 win over Miami at Nippert Stadium.
Prediction: This one's strictly for diehards, with Bengals throwing an untested quarterback into the fire and Browns breaking in new coaches and schemes on both sides of the ball. Browns 13, Bengals 6.
Detroit at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 1:00 (Tampa Bay -1)
Storylines: Matchup of projected up-and-comers that both closed out their 2010 schedules on high notes, with Buccaneers winning last two contests to comprise a surprising 10-win season and Lions ending year on four-game win streak that included a 23-20 overtime triumph over Tampa at Raymond James Stadium, a victory that stopped team's NFL-record road losing skid of 26 straight games...Detroit went 4-0 in the preseason and outscored the opposition by a 114-77 margin...Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford set to make first regular- season appearance since suffering shoulder injury in the third week of the 2010 campaign...Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley, team's first-round choice in April's draft, will not play while recovering from recent foot surgery...Lions placed sixth in the NFL with 44 sacks last season, including 10 from 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of Year Ndamukong Suh...Young Bucs became first team since NFL merger to post winning record while starting 10 rookies over the course of the year...Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount led all first-year players in rushing yards (1,007) in 2010 and amassed 110 yards and a touchdown in last December's loss to the Lions...Rookies Adrian Clayborn and Mason Foster set to make debuts as starters at end and middle linebacker on Tampa defense.
Fast Fact: Detroit last went unbeaten in the preseason in 2008, the same year the franchise became the first team in league history to go 0-16 in the regular season.
Prediction: Lions enter in fine form after dominating during the warm-up period, but may not be able to overcome both the Florida heat and the marksmanship of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. Buccaneers 28, Lions 24.
Indianapolis at Houston, Sunday, 1:00 (Houston -8.5)
Storylines: Colts quarterback and four-time MVP Peyton Manning to miss first game of 13-year career while recovering from offseason neck surgery, with recently-signed veteran Kerry Collins to step in...Indianapolis captured sixth AFC South title in seven years by going 10-6 in 2010, but suffered 34-24 road loss to Texans in Week 1...Houston running back Arian Foster set career bests with 231 rushing yards and three touchdowns in that game en route to league- leading 1,616 yards on the ground, but questionable to play on Sunday due to hamstring injury...Texans finished seventh in the league in rushing offense (127.6 ypg) last season, while Colts were 25th overall versus the run (127.0 ypg)...Houston ranked 30th in the NFL in total defense (376.9 ypg) and last against the pass (267.5 ypg) while ending 2010 with a disappointing 6-10 record, and surrendered 433 yards to Manning in last year's opener...Texans switched to 3-4 alignment under new coordinator and former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips during offseason, and added cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning in free agency...Indianapolis wideout Reggie Wayne placed second in NFL with career-high 111 receptions last year...Colts are 16-2 all-time against Houston.
Prediction: Texans' re-tooled defense will show up and bring the heat upon Indianapolis' work-in-progress offensive line, while Collins will show his share of rust after spending most of the summer on vacation. Texans 27, Colts 17.
Philadelphia at St. Louis, Sunday, 1:00 (Philadelphia -5)
Storylines: First official game for Eagles' self-proclaimed "Dream Team" which added high-profile free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin to first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's unit in the offseason...Philadelphia coming off 10-win season and third straight playoff appearance in 2010, while improving Rams surpassed entire victory total of previous three years (6) with 7-9 finish...St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo served eight years as defensive assistant under Eagles' sideline boss Andy Reid from 1999-2006, while new safety Quintin Mikell spent first eight years of career in Philadelphia before joining the Rams as a free agent this summer...Mikell part of a reconfigured St. Louis defense that brought in veteran linebackers Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber along with tackle Justin Bannan prior to camp...Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin cleared to play after missing preseason with an undisclosed illness, but fellow wideout Steve Smith (knee) unlikely to participate...St. Louis wide receiver Mark Clayton to begin season on physically unable to perform list while still recovering from knee injury sustained last October...Rams went 4-0 during the preseason, the franchise's first unbeaten mark since 1979...Philadelphia offense established club bests for points (439) and total yards (6,230) last season, ...Eagles claimed offensive lineman Kyle DeVan off waivers from Colts over weekend and will start him at right guard on Sunday, and re-signed cornerback Joselio Hanson on Wednesday.
Fast Fact: Eagles quarterback and 2010 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Michael Vick became the first player in NFL history to reach 3,000 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes, 500 rushing yards and seven rushing scores in a single season last year.
Prediction: Eagles start slowly while attempting to get all the new pieces to mesh, but have too much firepower for the Rams in the end. Meanwhile, St. Louis' thirty-something linebackers won't be able to keep Vick from running wild out of the pocket. Eagles 27, Rams 23.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore, Sunday, 1:00 (Baltimore -2)
Storylines: Heated AFC North rivals to lock horns for the first time since January's conference Divisional Playoffs, when the Steelers overcame an early 14-point deficit to rally for a 31-24 win...Teams split two meetings during the 2010 regular-season, with Pittsburgh coming through with a hard-earned 13-10 decision at M&T Bank Stadium in December...Steelers to play first meaningful matchup since losing to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV back in February...Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger owns 9-2 career record against Baltimore and enters game having thrown 158 straight regular-season passes without an interception...Ravens traded for wide receiver Lee Evans and signed offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and running back Ricky Williams during busy offseason, while also adding five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode last week...Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor (broken thumb) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) both probable after missing most of the preseason, but team placed No. 2 quarterback Byron Leftwich (broken arm) on injured reserve last week...Baltimore wideout/return man David Reed to serve one-game suspension on Sunday for violating NFL's drug policy...Pittsburgh led the league in scoring defense (14.5 ppg) and rushing defense (62.8 ypg) last season, while the Ravens placed third (16.9 ppg) and fifth (93.9 ypg), respectively, in those categories.
Fast Fact: The last six regular-season matchups between these teams have been decided by four points or less, with two of those contests going into overtime. The Steelers have won four of those bouts during that stretch.
Prediction: Ravens would have benefited if this game was played in November instead of Week 1, as the Steelers' continuity and Roethlisberger's playmaking skills provide the difference in another tight and intensely-played contest. Steelers 16, Ravens 13.
Tennessee at Jacksonville, Sunday, 1:00 (Jaguars -2)
Storylines: Jaguars to take the field five days after surprisingly releasing quarterback David Garrard on Tuesday, with journeyman Luke McCown slated to make first start since 2007 on Sunday...Fellow AFC South members split two 2010 meetings, with Jacksonville recording a 17-6 home win over the Titans last December...First game for new Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak and initial start for offseason addition Matt Hasselbeck as a Titan after spending last 10 years as Seattle's primary quarterback...Tennessee running back Chris Johnson to play despite just reporting to the team last week following a prolonged holdout, but understudy Javon Ringer (hip) questionable and defensive end Derrick Morgan (knee) ruled out...Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt probable, however, after being held out much of the preseason with a strained hamstring...Jaguars All-Pro rusher Maurice Jones-Drew to make first regular-season appearance since undergoing knee surgery in January, though backup Rashad Jennings landed on injured reserve last week with a knee problem...Jacksonville added linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, safety Dawan Landry and end Matt Roth over the summer after finishing 28th overall in total defense (371.8 ypg) last year...Tennessee ranked 29th in the NFL in pass defense (252.0 ypg) in 2010 and will have two new starting linebackers, ex-Buccaneer Barrett Ruud and rookie second-round pick Akeem Ayers.
Fast Fact: Munchak made nine Pro Bowls during a stellar 12-year career as a guard for the Houston Oilers from 1981-93 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He'll be the seventh Hall of Fame player to serve as a head coach since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger.
Prediction: Jaguars' heads may still be spinning from Garrard's shocking departure, and Titans will take advantage with a healthy dose of Johnson to give Munchak a pleasant welcome into the head coaching ranks. Titans 20, Jaguars 10.
Carolina at Arizona, Sunday, 4:15 (Arizona -7)
Storylines: Panthers to start reigning Heisman Trophy winner and 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton at quarterback, while offseason pickup Kevin Kolb to make official debut in Cardinals' uniform after being acquired in a trade with Philadelphia in July...Game also marks first outing as a head coach for Carolina's Ron Rivera, who takes over a team that won a league-low two times last season...Panthers did hand Arizona a 19-12 loss in Charlotte last December, one of 11 defeats for the Cards in 2010 following back-to-back playoff appearances...Carolina Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason expected to play despite sitting out entire preseason with Achilles' injury, while Arizona standout safety Adrian Wilson (biceps) also probable...Cardinals signed veteran running back Chester Taylor on Sunday after being released by Chicago...Arizona cornerback Richard Marshall spent first five NFL seasons with the Panthers before signing as a free agent this summer...Carolina claimed corner Darius Butler off waivers from New England on Tuesday...Panthers finished dead last in NFL in scoring (12.3 ppg), total offense (258.4 ypg) and passing yards (143.1 ypg) last season, while Cardinals were 31st overall in both total offense (269.3 ypg) and passing offense (182.6 ypg).
Fast Fact: Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, only four rookie quarterbacks (Joe Ferguson, 1973; John Elway, 1983; Chris Weinke, 2001; Mark Sanchez, 2009) have led their team to victory on the road in the opening week of the regular season.
Prediction: Newton will make a few head-turning plays that demonstrate his enormous potential, but also several others that will make the Cardinals appear like contenders. Cardinals 27, Panthers 14.
Minnesota at San Diego, Sunday, 4:15 (San Diego -9)
Storylines: Donovan McNabb to compete in first regular-season outing in a Minnesota uniform in Leslie Frazier's initial season opener as team's head coach...Chargers seeking to bounce back from disappointing 9-7 campaign in 2010 after capturing four straight AFC West titles...San Diego head coach Norv Turner in search of his 100th career victory on Sunday...Chargers led NFL in both total offense (395.6 ypg) and defense (271.6 ypg) last year, but gave up four return touchdowns on special teams and had four punts blocked...Vikings made two consecutive playoff appearances before regressing to a 6-10 record last season, but went 3-3 after Frazier replaced Brad Childress on the sidelines in November...Minnesota to be without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams, serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy, but tight end Visanthe Shiancoe slated to play after missing the preseason with a hamstring injury...Tight end Antonio Gates (foot) and offensive tackle Marcus McNeill (knee) both probable for San Diego, but wide receiver Patrick Crayton a question mark due to recent ankle surgery...Chargers signed 12th-year linebacker Na'il Diggs last week, while fellow veterans Takeo Spikes and Bob Sanders added to the defense during the offseason...Minnesota signed linebacker Chad Greenway to a new five-year, $41-million contract on Monday.
Fast Fact: In the last meeting between these teams, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson set an NFL single-game record with 296 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns in a 35-17 Minnesota triumph on Nov. 4, 2007.
Prediction: Chargers are an awfully dangerous team when they put it all together, and this could be one of those times. Chargers 31, Vikings 17.
N.Y. Giants at Washington, Sunday, 4:15 (N.Y. Giants -3)
Storylines: Longtime rivals set to face off to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks that were besieged on both cities...Giants have dominated the series as of late, winning the last seven meetings between the teams that included a 17-14 decision at FedEx Field in the 2010 regular-season finale...Redskins to start Rex Grossman at quarterback after winning a closely-contested preseason battle with John Beck, while offseason pickup Tim Hightower emerged as team's No. 1 running back following a strong camp...New York comes in ravaged by injuries on the defensive side, with cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff out for the year with ACL tears and both standout pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora (knee surgery) and rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara (broken foot) sidelined indefinitely...Washington to be without safety LaRon Landry (hamstring) on Sunday, while tight end Chris Cooley questionable with a knee injury...Redskins finished 31st in the NFL in both total defense (389.3 ypg) and passing defense (261.7 ypg) in Mike Shanahan's first year at the helm, but added five new starters on that side during the offseason, including former Giants tackle Barry Cofield and rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan...Giants coming off 10-6 season in 2010, but missed out on playoffs after losing two of last three games.
Fast Fact: With a victory on Sunday, the Giants would have their longest winning streak over the Redskins since a string of eight straight triumphs from 1960-64.
Prediction: Giants are awfully banged up on defense and quarterback Eli Manning experienced a rough preseason, and Redskins may be better than some observers are giving them credit for. Redskins 27, Giants 24.
Seattle at San Francisco, Sunday, 4:15 (San Francisco -5.5)
Storylines: Seahawks finished atop NFC West despite a 7-9 record last season, with 49ers one game behind in the standings...First regular-season game as an NFL head coach for San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh, who played 14 years in the pros as a quarterback from 1987-2000...Teams split a pair of 2010 matchups, with Niners claiming a 40-21 win at Candlestick Park in December behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Alex Smith...Seattle signed former Vikings Tarvaris Jackson and wide receiver Sidney Rice during offseason, with Jackson tabbed to begin the year as team's new starting quarterback...Rice questionable to play with shoulder injury, however, as is guard Robert Gallery (knee)...Running back Marshawn Lynch (ankle), offensive tackle Russell Okung (ankle) and linebacker David Hawthorne (knee) all probable for Seahawks...49ers expected to be without safety Dashon Goldson (knee), while wideout Michael Crabtree's status uncertain due to an ailing foot...Seahawks finished 28th in NFL in total offense (297.8 ypg) and 31st overall in rushing yards (89.0 ypg), while San Francisco placed sixth in the league in run defense (93.8 ypg)...Seattle released veteran kicker Jeff Reed last Sunday and claimed Steven Bausch off waivers from Denver to fill that spot.
Fast Fact: Harbaugh and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll opposed one another three times in the college ranks, when the former was at Stanford and Carroll at USC. Harbaugh's Cardinal won two of those games, including a 24-23 upset of the then-No. 2 ranked Trojans in 2007 that ended USC's 35-game home win streak.
Prediction: 49ers don't appear set up for big things in year one of the Harbaugh era, but Smith generally plays well at home and the Seahawks are in a transition period and have a few troublesome injuries. 49ers 21, Seahawks 17.
Dallas at N.Y. Jets, Sunday, 4:15 (N.Y. Jets -4.5)
Storylines: Primetime clash between high-profile teams in the lone NFL game to be held in the New York area on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks...First regular-season contest for new Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress since 2008, having missed the previous two seasons while imprisoned on weapons charges...New York head coach Rex Ryan will be facing twin brother Rob, hired as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator in January...Jets coming off appearances in AFC Championship Game in back-to-back years, while Dallas finished 5-3 under head coach Jason Garrett after he replaced Wade Phillips following team's 1-7 start to 2010...Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to make first regular-season appearance since breaking collarbone in loss to New York Giants last October, but starting cornerbacks Terence Newman (groin) and Mike Jenkins (knee) likely to sit out, as will rookie offensive tackle and 2011 first-round draft pick Tyron Smith (knee) and tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle)...Jets claimed safety Andrew Sendejo, released by Dallas at final cuts, this past Sunday, as well as wide receiver Mardy Gilyard (from Rams) and quarterback Kevin O'Connell (from Dolphins)...Cowboys signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson on Wednesday...Dallas finished sixth in the NFL in passing offense (252.6 ypg) last year, while Jets allowed sixth-fewest yards through the air (200.6 ypg).
Fast Fact: The Cowboys own an NFL-best .677 winning percentage (34-16-1) in season openers and are 19-9 all-time on the road in Week 1 games.
Prediction: Cowboys would be able to give the Jets a good battle at full strength, but their depletions in the secondary and the offensive line spell trouble. Jets 30, Cowboys 21.
New England at Miami, Monday, 7:00 (New England -7)
Storylines: AFC East inhabitants square off for first time since 2010 regular- season finale, a 38-7 Patriots rout in Foxborough...New England also handed Dolphins a 41-14 loss in Miami last October, one of league-high 14 victories for Pats during the regular season...New England quarterback and 2010 NFL MVP Tom Brady enters contest with league-record streak of 335 straight passes without an interception in non-playoff games...Game to feature Patriots debuts of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, while new Miami running back Reggie Bush set for first regular-season action as a Dolphin...Miami claimed rookie tight end Will Yeatman off waivers from Pats last Sunday, while New England was awarded ex-Dolphins linebacker A.J. Edds on Tuesday...Miami also signed tight end Dante Rosario and offensive lineman Ryan Cook on Monday, while Patriots released veteran defensive tackle Gerard Warren and cornerback Darius Butler during week...New England averaged NFL-best 32.4 points per game in 2010 and also topped league with 25 interceptions, three of which came against Miami quarterback Chad Henne in last year's meeting between the clubs at Sun Life Stadium...Dolphins placed sixth overall in total defense (309.3 ypg) last season, while All-Pro linebacker Cameron Wake finished second in AFC with 14 sacks.
Fast Fact: Brady is just 4-5 in nine career starts at Sun Life Stadium and produced a 69.9 quarterback rating in those five losses, while throwing eight interceptions and only seven touchdown passes.
Prediction: Patriots appear on a mission after being bounced out early in the playoffs for a second straight year, and Miami's inconsistent offense won't be able to keep up with Brady and his impressive arsenal. Patriots 27, Dolphins 17.
Oakland at Denver, Monday, 10:15 (Denver -3)
Storylines: Divisional showdown between teams fielding new head coaches, with Raiders' Hue Jackson taking over after serving as club's offensive coordinator last year and ex-Carolina head man John Fox now in charge of the Broncos...Oakland attempting to build off 8-8 record last season, its first non-losing mark since 2002, while Broncos set franchise low point with 12 losses in 2010...Raiders swept last year's series with Denver and set a team record for points in a game with a 59-14 rout of the Broncos at Sports Authority Field in Week 7...Oakland running back Darren McFadden rushed for 165 yards and scored four touchdowns in that contest and ranked second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage per game last season...Raiders tight end Kevin Boss doubtful with a sprained knee, while defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley (knee) and Marcus Thomas (pectorals) both questionable for Denver...Linebacker and 2011 No. 2 overall pick Von Miller one of three rookies slated to start for Broncos, along with safety Rahim Moore and offensive tackle Orlando Franklin...Denver wideout Brandon Lloyd led NFL in receiving yards (1,448) last season...Raiders finished second overall in rushing offense (155.9 ypg) a year ago, while Broncos were league's second-worst team in defending the run (154.6 ypg).
Fast Fact: The road team has emerged victorious in five of the past six matchups in this series, with the lone exception being Oakland's 39-23 triumph at the Coliseum back in December.
Prediction: Raiders didn't look particularly sharp in the preseason, and Denver will utilize an improved running game and a charged-up home crowd to its advantage to get the Fox period off to a good start. Broncos 26, Raiders 20.