Eagles, Falcons take stage on Monday night
Starting with Thursday night's Raiders-Patriots opener, John Clayton breaks down the best games of Week 1.
Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "First and 10" column takes you around the league, with a look at the best game of the week, followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 1 of the 2005 season.
After Thursday's opener between the Patriots and Raiders, here's a look at the top 10 games from the rest of Week 1:
1. Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons | Scouting report
Are we really ready for another Terrell Owens media blitz? This offseason, The Unhappy One has blasted just about everyone in the Eagles organization, including coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb. His mission was to disrupt the organization and hold it hostage in the media until it paid him more money. The Eagles' front office and Reid professionally reminded him he could lose more money for such detrimental conduct, so Owens returned to the team after getting sent home during training camp and has been quiet for the most part since his return. But this is the Monday night opener, and Owens is back to talking again. He says he might even want to start a dialogue with McNabb. How special. Owens tried to stay quiet, but give him the spotlight of a Monday night opener, and you knew he wouldn't be able to keep from talking. The fact that the game is in Atlanta, Owens' offseason home, just adds to that. During his brief absence from the Eagles, he returned to Atlanta and even took in a Falcons preseason game, trying to spark speculation that the Falcons might trade from him. Which one of the interviews he grants this week will hit a nerve? Owens shoots from the hip and he doesn't hold back. But this is a big, big game, especially for the Eagles. This was a bumpy offseason for Philadelphia, beyond Owens' antics. There was the Jerome McDougle shooting; Todd Pinkston blew out a knee; Correll Buckhalter is out for the season; Brian Westbrook held out and wants a new deal; and Corey Simon had the franchise tag pulled and signed with the Colts. Reid will try to keep the team focused on the game. Owens will be focused on the game, the cameras and the microphones. Surely, some controversy will follow.
For the Falcons, it's just a matter of continuing the evolution of Michael Vick. The Falcons have gathered enough tall receivers for him to get the passing offense going. The question is whether he can become a 20-touchdown passer. He has Michael Jenkins, Dez White and rookie Roddy White. He still has tight end Alge Crumpler. Still, you wonder if it will take another year for Vick to really click in this offense.
2. Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens | Scouting report
The Sunday night opener is a dandy. Peyton Manning is coming off a 49-touchdown season and he enters the year with perhaps his best team. All the skill players except for tight end Marcus Pollard return on offense. The defense gets just about everyone back, and added Corey Simon and Rocky Calmus during the last week. For months, Manning has been working on the timing of the pass routes and how he's going to attack defenses. His opener is against one of the meanest, toughest defenses in the league. The Ravens look nasty on defense. Ray Lewis is healthy. Peter Boulware is back as a third-down pass-rusher. Tommy Polley's speed was added to the linebacking corps. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has installed some aspects of his father's 4-6 defenses, and it drove quarterbacks crazy during the preseason. A 30-point game might be standard for the Colts' offense, but the Ravens aren't a defense that surrenders 30 points very often. The other story is the Ravens' offense. Kyle Boller has more weapons this year, but he struggled during the preseason. Tight end Todd Heap is back from an injury that ruined his 2004 season. Jamal Lewis is back. Derrick Mason and rookie Mark Clayton have been added to the receiving corps. The excuses are starting to disappear. Boller has to start making better decisions and put some points on the scoreboard.
3. New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs | Scouting report
Chad Pennington didn't start throwing until June in his return from shoulder surgery and is behind in terms of learning Mike Heimerdinger's new offense. Despite his career completion percentage of 66 percent, Pennington could struggle some this year. His quarterbacking peers have had an entire offseason to get into their throwing rhythms and work on offensive plays. Pennington has been rushing throughout camp to catch up. Plus, he's learning a new system. It would help to open against a defense that was among the worst last season, but this isn't the same Chiefs defense. There is more speed and talent on this year's unit. They've added linebackers Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson, cornerback Patrick Surtain and safety Sammy Knight. They gave up yards during the preseason but they were much better at harassing quarterbacks and stopping running plays. Pennington wasn't the only Jets player trying to catch up. Cornerback Ty Law signed well into camp and is trying to learn the defense in a secondary that is very young. Safety Erik Coleman is in his second year, and rookie Kerry Rhodes is starting at strong safety. If the Jets' defense struggles against the Chiefs' offense, Pennington might really have to play catch-up.
4. Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions | Scouting report
The Packers' defense is clearly in decline. The team cut defensive tackles Cletidus Hunt and James Lee and is forming a linebacking corps on the fly to play behind a shaky defensive line. The Packers acquired Robert Thomas from the Rams over the weekend in a trade and may have to give him a lot of playing time in Week 1. They really don't have much choice. The only name linebacker the Packers have is Nick Barnett. The cornerbacks are shaky. There may be no defense in the NFL that left the preseason with more questions than it started it with. Quick, name the Packers' starting defensive tackle next to Grady Jackson. Of course, it's the great Cullen Jenkins. Or is it Donnell Washington or Colin Cole? With most of its players back, the offense should be fine for the Packers, but the defense is a huge question mark. Meanwhile, Joey Harrington begins what could be his most difficult season with the Lions. No quarterback who has Roy Williams, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Kevin Jones and Marcus Pollard should have anything to worry about. But this is Joey Harrington. Even though he plays home games in a dome, he has a cloud over his head. Things happen to Harrington. The problem facing him this year is that there are no excuses. The offensive talent is there. Fans are quick to boo Harrington. It's not easy being Joey.
5. New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers | Scouting report
Carolina coach John Fox looks worried, and he has good reason to be. You would think Fox would be feeling good about life considering Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster have returned to the backfield. Even though they look rusty, Carolina should be able to run the ball 30-40 times a game. The defense is healthy and has more speed in the secondary than any previous Panthers team. Wide receiver Steve Smith is back and he is surrounded by Rod Gardner. The offensive line looks solid. But what worries Fox is that the Saints are a dangerous team. They are talented. They are playing better on offense with a simpler scheme, which quarterback Aaron Brooks likes. Running back Deuce McAllister has a new contract and should put up big numbers. But there's the intangible of the team having to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The Saints lost everything. Players lost homes. They moved to San Antonio to train and are still sorting out where they will play football this season. Chances are, this team won't be 8-8 again. They will either be focused and great because they have the talent to do so, or they will be distracted and have a bad season.
6. Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers | Scouting report
The Chargers, in their first year playing the 3-4 scheme, finished 10th in defense last season and sixth against the run. It sure helps to have a nose tackle (Jamal Williams) who not only occupies blockers, but can penetrate the backfield to blow up running plays. San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips knows 3-4 defenses better than most and finds a simple, fun way to play it. Dallas coach Bill Parcells is making the same transition and he did a good job in finding young players to execute it. The draft class that includes DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Kevin Burnett is his best since the four aces he drafted with first-round picks when he was with the Jets. Veteran newcomer Anthony Henry is better than billed at cornerback. The defense should be good, and much better than 20th against the run, as it was in 2004. The big question is how the offense comes together. Drew Bledsoe has reunited with Parcells and is playing with passion. He's still bitter the Patriots and Bills gave up on him, and sick of the comments that he doesn't get rid of the ball quickly.
7. Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars | Scouting report
When is that commercial airing in which Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio smiles and says, "Never let them see you sweat"? Del Rio wants the Seahawks to sweat. He knows the Seahawks train in the moderate summer temperatures of the Northwest. He wants them to wear their heat-absorbing blue uniforms in hopes that it will wear them down in the heat in Jacksonville. The Seahawks are sweating. Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes won't make the trip because of recurring dizziness. Linebackers coach John Marshall has to take in a unit that has seven new starters, and many of them are young. That's tough. Del Rio has his own worries to sweat over. He really doesn't know how good halfback Fred Taylor will be this season following knee surgery. Taylor didn't test out his new wheels too much during the preseason. Byron Leftwich has a new offense that he likes, but what he likes is meaningless unless the Jaguars score more points. Bring out the sweat towels.
8. Houston Texans at Buffalo Bills | Scouting report
What is it about the Texans that they finish the preseason so poorly? They looked bad against the Steelers last year and started the regular season slow. The Texans' defense struggled to close out the preseason this year and David Carr threw more to defenders than he did Texans to finish the summer. As for the Bills, they were just a play or two away from being a playoff team last year. The defense looks awesome. Willis McGahee is a good back. The receiving corps is good. But P.J. Losman is in his first year as starter. Losman has the raw tools, but how many interceptions or mistakes will he make? Figure this to be a low-scoring game.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings | Scouting report
As much as the Bucs juggled the offensive line this offseason, it still looks shaky. It's getting younger with the additions of Dan Buenning and Jeb Terry at guard, but what can be said about the tackles? Anthony Davis replaced released Derrick Deese at left tackle, but Todd Steussie is around for insurance. Kenyatta Walker is still the right tackle. Officials, hold those flags. Can Buenning and Terry have any tougher starting assignment than Kevin Williams and Pat Williams at tackle for the Vikings? Kevin Williams looked comparable to Carolina's Kris Jenkins last season. He's a dominating disrupter at tackle. Pat Williams is the immovable run stopper. That's a tough assignment for two young guards.
10. Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers | Scouting report
The Titans are so young on defense, coach Jeff Fisher really doesn't know what he has. Quarterback Steve McNair loves Norm Chow's offensive scheme, but he doesn't know what he has at receiver other than Drew Bennett. The Steelers have their own questions. They made life easier for Ben Roethlisberger by pounding the ball with Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley last season. However, Roethlisberger opens this season without Bettis and Staley, as both recover from leg injuries. Roethlisberger also won't have his tall target of a year ago, Plaxico Burress, who left for the Giants. In fact, Roethlisberger may have to lean forward to tell his skilled players the calls. His receivers are 6-foot-1 or shorter. His running back is the small, quicker Willie Parker. And teams are trying to flush Roethlisberger to his left and make him throw left, which isn't his strength. On offense, the Steelers may have as many questions as the Titans do on defense.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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