In his regular season return to a Miami Dolphins uniform, former Pro Bowl OLB/DE Jason Taylor and his mates travel to Atlanta in NFL Week 1 action
The 90th NFL season titled: “Own the Moment” is finally here. And you can count me among the millions of NFL fans around the world who are singing “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, The NFL is back”.
The 2009 NFL season began on Thursday night with the league’s annual hype filled kickoff show/game entitled this year, “NFL Opening Kickoff 2009 presented by EA SPORTS”. The defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers needed overtime to finally put away the tough Tennessee Titans by a score of 13-10. The game may have not been an “Instant Classic” as each team’s defense were landing body blow after body blow in a physical battle. But the one thing that I really took away from the NFL’s opener was that the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about getting “W’s” this time of year. The defending champs somehow scratched their way to a win despite a number of obstacles, mainly the hungry Titans. Despite losing Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (sprained MCL) right before halftime, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes picked right back up where they left off in February and were huge contributors in the Steelers’ win — more on the kickoff opener in my Week 1 review.
The game marked the official kickoff of America’s favorite sport including a concert by Grammy Winners and fireworks. All the hoopla signaled a new beginning for the sport that everyone is watching — according to Nielsen Media Research, 225 million Americans watched NFL regular-season games in 2008. That’s nearly 100 million more than the record number of Americans who voted in the 2008 presidential election (131.2 million). Week 1 in the NFL season is almost at the holiday level as football fans everywhere finally quench their thirst for “real” NFL game action. Though the NFL is now a year round league with Training Camp, Pre-season Games, OTAs, the NFL Draft, Owner Meetings, and so many other activities on the NFL Calendar – this page it too small to list them all – nothing gets fans going to the point of delirium like Week 1 of the NFL season.
I am not sure if it is the quick five month schedule where the games come and go before we know it, the long arduous 7 month wait for real games after the Super Bowl, the once a week high, the “every game counts” subplots, the talented players that always amaze you with their toughness and ability to perform under mental and physical stress, the autumn weather, team allegiance, trash-talking, the dreaded g-word (gambling), fantasy football, or any other thing. But we all know that the NFL is everyone’s sports obsession like none other. Football brings people together from all walks of life and gives commonality where almost everyone has a team and a rooting interest from the guy working at the local convenience store to President Barack Obama — supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL has even infiltrated sometimes stuffy Corporate America as Fridays are now, “Wear your NFL team’s colors to work day”. Co-workers during lunch or coffee breaks will be talking fantasy football line-ups, poking fun at each other’s team, and comparing the best venues to watch the game each weekend until February brings the curtain down on the season.
Though there is so much more football to be played between now and Super Bowl XLIV (February 7, 2010 in Miami), Week 1 is definitely important as it sets the tone for the entire season. Since 1978, when the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule — excluding the abbreviated season of 1982 — teams that were victorious in Week 1 of the NFL season were more than twice as likely to reach the playoffs than losers. Of the 442 teams which won openers — 233 went to the playoffs (136 won division titles). Of the 442 teams which lost openers — 105 went to the playoffs (58 won division titles). In 2008, eight of the 12 playoff teams – Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tennessee – were victorious on Kickoff Weekend. In 2008, eight of the 12 playoff teams – Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tennessee – were victorious on Kickoff Weekend.
The main thing with a new NFL season dawning is hope has sprung eternal all around the parity-filled league in places like San Diego, Minnesota, and Detroit. Yes, I said Detroit as even the formerly winless Lions (0-16 in 2008), who have never been to a Super Bowl have visions of dancing in the streets of Miami, FL with the Lombardi Trophy in their hands. In 2008, change was definitely in the air around the NFL as for the 12th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before (Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami and Carolina). Also there were seven new division winners (Tennessee, NY Giants, Minnesota, Chargers, Miami, Carolina, and Arizona) setting a new record since realignment in 2002, topping the six new division winners of 2003.
New England Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden — went from the NFL’s outhouse (Detroit) to the penthouse (New England) this season — said of the start of the 2009 NFL season, “Everybody is excited. We’re definitely excited just to go out there”. Every team and fan has a clean slate going into Week 1 and remember unpredictability and parity rule in the NFL. Almost half the games (46.1 percent) were decided by one score (eight points or less) and for the 13th consecutive year five teams made the playoffs after missing out the year before, so don’t even think about getting up from your television. Everyone’s goal is Super Bowl XLIV so it is now time for teams to fulfill their promise or fall behind the pack.
Here are some news/notes/trends that everyone needs to keep an eye out for this week.
Where’s Richard Seymour?? — The former five-time Pro Bowl selection has declined to report to the Raiders for the last week since the Patriots announced they had traded the for a 2011 first-round pick. Reportedly the Raiders want Seymour to come in and have sent him a letter notifying him that he has 5 days to report or he will be placed on the “Did not report list”, which would mean he would be out for the season and would not get an accrued year toward free agency. By sending the letter, the Raiders are basically saying that Seymour will either be on their team or out of football in 2009. Seymour is in the final year of his contract and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season.
The NFL to celebrate former rival league — Though the “true” 50-year anniversary doesn’t really occur until 2010, the NFL will be celebrating the birth of the American Football League (AFL) during the 2009 season. This year, the NFL will celebrate the 50th season of the American Football League (AFL) in a number of ways. During one home and one road game, the eight original AFL franchises – Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs (played as the Dallas Texans), New England Patriots (played as the Boston Patriots), New York Jets (played as the Titans of New York), Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers (played as the Los Angeles Chargers) and Tennessee Titans (played as the Houston Oilers) – will meet head-to-head in “Legacy Games” while wearing an historic uniforms. The Monday-night doubleheader on Kickoff Weekend will serve as the start of these head-to -head games as New England hosts Buffalo (ESPN, 7:00 PM ET) and San Diego visits Oakland (ESPN, 10:15 PM ET). NFL Films and Showtime have almost teamed up to produce an insightful NFL five-part documentary entitled Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League. The documentary will premier on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on Showtime.
No Tweeting – With Cincinnati Bengals receiver and league pain in the butt Chad Ochocinco threatening to “tweet” within the lockerroom. The NFL brought down the hammer on players, coaches, team personnel, and media using social networking site Twitter during games. Reportedly the folks mentioned above must stop tweeting 90 minutes prior to a game and cannot resume until post-game interviews are complete. These limitations are supposed to protect “[longstanding] policies prohibiting play-by-play descriptions of NFL games in progress,” according to a statement from NFL officials. And don’t think the NFL is only anti-Twitter, the rules apply to other social networking sites like Facebook, too.
The ‘Wildcat’ is back — In 2008, the Miami Dolphins showed the world it’s version of the Single Wing formation called the “Wildcat”. After the Dolphins had success against the Patriots in Week 4 (38-13 win where they churned out 216 rushing yards), pretty soon almost the entire National Football League (NFL) jumped in on the “Wildcat” craze. The Dolphins eventually ran 12 percent their entire offensive plays in 2008 out of the formation. This training camp it seem every team was looking for ways to incorporate the Wildcat in their playbook. For example, the Philadelphia Eagles ran eight times out of formation with receiver DeSean Jackson. In 2009, everyone better watch out for the Wildcat when Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick and starter Donovan McNabb on the field at the same time. And to think the Dolphins only tried the Wildcat formation after their quarterbacks coach David Lee (coached the formation at the University of Arkansas under the name the “WildHog”) got inventive trying to find a way to utilize running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown on the field at the same time.
Two-headed monster in the backfield – Around the NFL there is a growing trend of having at least two quality running backs playing in games to keep defensive coordinators guessing. Last year several teams including the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, and NY Giants (Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both over 1,000 yards in 2008) utilized two backs keeping constant pressure on defenses with fresh legs in the backfield at all times. Who could blame them as today’s NFL usually necessitates having two running backs because the position is so demanding (inside power runs, match-ups, mismatches, hands, blitz pickup, etc).
Patriots are stacked — This offseason, the New England Patriots signed free agents Joey Galloway, who has totaled 10,710 career receiving yards, and Fred Taylor, who has 11,271 career rush yards. With Galloway, Taylor, Tom Brady and Randy Moss on the same team, the Patriots will become only the fourth team in NFL history to start the season with a 25,000-yard passer, 10,000-yard rusher and a 10,000-yard receiver. New England will also become the first team in NFL history to start a season with two 10,000-yard receivers (Galloway and Moss) and one 25,000-yard passer and a 10,000-yard rusher.
Passing, Passing, and more Passing – I am a smash-mouth run the football kinda guy, but NFL teams are looking to chuck it more than ever. Last season six quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards.
Scoring way up – Around the NFL last year scoring was at a 43-year high as games averaged 44.1 points, the most since 1965 (46.1)
Kickers More Accurate — My favorite players, kickers, made 84.5% of overall field goal attempts in ‘08
This week features seven divisional match-ups right off the bat. The marquee divisional battle will be on Monday Night in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Buffalo Bills will come to town led by VH1 reality star and Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens to face the New England Patriots with Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady returning from a devastating knee injury that ravaged his 2008 season.
Well the wait is finally over and here’s wishing that everyone’s NFL dreams for 2009 come true. But my advice is to you, is to just enjoy the splendor of the NFL every weekend as February ’10 will be here before we all know it.
Week 1 Featured Game
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT CAROLINA PANTHERS @ 1:00 PM EST on FOX
Broadcast Team: Dick Stockton, Charles Davis, Laura Okmin (Field reporter).
The regular season is finally here and these two teams that are usually playoff contenders will meet in one of Sunday afternoon’s better games. Both squads have a bone to pick with the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals (knocked both out of the playoffs), but that is a conversation for another day. The 2008 NFC South Champion Panthers (12-4) are looking to wash away a disappointing end to their 2008 season where they were embarrassed at home by the Cardinals by a score of 33-13. And the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) want to justify the high expectations that many “experts’ are predicting for them – some national publications have installed the Eagles as an odds on favorite to win the NFC.
The Birds are coming back after a rollercoaster type 2008 season where many fans and media left them for dead ( 5-5-1 start), but eventually they had a good playoff run (losing in the NFC Championship to the Cardinals 32-25). The Eagles handed out further optimism to their fan base after an offseason that many, including Eagles President Joe Banner, called one of the best in the NFL. The Eagles drafted RB LeSean McCoy, S Victor “Macho” Harris, WR Jeremy Maclin, and others plus brought in solid veterans OL Stacie Andrews, OT Jason Peters, and FB Leonard Weaver to go with existing Pro Bowl players RB Brian Westbrook, QB Donovan McNabb, and DB Asante Samuel. However between the start of training camp and Week 1 of the regular season, the Eagles already have had some adversity to overcome. There was the unfortunate passing of venerable former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and season ending injuries to starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and promising rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram.
But don’t expect Eagles head coach Andy Reid or his squad to be crying as they are excited for the start of the 2009 NFL Regular Season and the opportunity to play the Panthers -– record of 8-0 at home in 2008. New Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott recently said, “ I’ll be a little anxious. But, I think that comes with the territory and it comes with the first game of the season every year. No matter how long you’ve been in this game, regardless of whether you’re a player or a coach, there are some butterflies the first opener of every year.” The Eagles know that the time is now to get back to their first Super Bowl since 2004 or there maybe some changes in the offing after the 2009 season.
Conversely the Panthers and their head coach John Fox are trying to get off owner Jerry Richardson’s hot seat – Richardson is so tough, his own sons Mark (former team president) and Jon (former president of the team’s stadium) left in early September rather than dealing with him. The interesting thing is, many Panthers’ fans and media have said a lot of the same things about Jake Delhomme and Fox that Eagles’ fans have said for years about Reid and McNabb. Fox and his quarterback Delhomme were once on the accession after leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003, but after 7 seasons without a championship, many people in Carolina maybe ready for a change.
The Panthers plain and simple want to pound the rock on offense and who could blame them with an O-line led by Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jordan Gross and former first round draft pick Jeff Otah blasting holes for the NFL’s best 1-2 backfield, in my opinion. Carolina’s combination of running backs DeAngelo Williams (1,515 yards, 5.5 ypc, and a league leading 18 TDs in 2008) and rookie Jonathan Stewart (836 yards with rookie leading 10 TDs) are probably the NFL’s scariest tandem. Even if Stewart does not play due to a nagging Achilles injury, the Eagles defense (ranked first in the NFC in ’08) led by SS Quintin Mikell and DE Trent Cole will need to play downhill. If the Eagles defense does find a way to stop Williams and Stewart, then they will have to deal with Delhomme and his favorite target Steve Smith through the air. The diminutive Smith (78 receptions for 1,421 yards and 6 TDs) maybe one of the NFL’s smaller receivers at 5’9, but he is one of my favorites due to his toughness, leadership, and uncanny ability to catch Delhomme’s rainbows in traffic. Plus don’t forget about veteran number two Muhsin Muhammad, who is great at moving the chains and in the red zone.
Conversely the Eagles as everyone knows preach that they want balance on offense, but make no bones about it, they are a passing team first. I am sure offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Reid will look for McNabb (345-571, career-high 3916 yards, 23 TDs, and 11 INTs) many times while trying to spread the ball around — to throw to Westbrook on screens, on the outside to DeSean Jackson, and TE Brent Celek over the middle. McNabb, who recently had his contract restructured, said of the upcoming game, “Everything falls on my shoulders, so that’s nothing different. It’s very important that I make sure I’m prepared going into games like this, to make sure that those other guys have the utmost confidence that I’m going to get them into the right position and we’ll be able to execute”.
We will see if the Eagles will keep true to their goal of achieving balance on offense, but most importantly they cannot forget to establish the run –- have a huge mauling offensive line — against a smaller Panthers attacking defense led by Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers (14.5 sack for 3rd in the NFC), DT Damione Lewis and tackling-machine MLB Jon Beason. Week 1 will be the first time that the Eagles unveil Westbrook (233 rushes for 936 yards, 4.0 ypr, and 9 TDs) this season after he missed most of training camp following offseason knee and ankle surgeries. B-West truly is the key for the Eagles as he sets the tone for the entire team, so the Birds cannot be afraid to get B-West his touches early and often. If the Eagles can establish Westbrook, look for McNabb to try and go deep to Jackson (62 catches for 912 yards, 14.7 ypc, and 2 TDs), who looks like one of the NFL’s breakout players.
On Defense, the Eagles will look to take a page from the 2007 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants by rotating guys on their defensive line (Darren Howard – Team leading 10 sacks in ’08, Trent Cole – 9 sacks, DE Juqua Parker – 5 sacks, DT Mike Patterson, DT Broderick Bunkley, DE Victor Abiameri, DE Chris Clemons, and DE Jason Babin) plus getting linebackers Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither involved in pressuring Delhomme. Any pressure that the front seven can cause should help to neutralize the Panthers running tandem and rattle Delhomme into turning over the ball (six turnovers in loss to Cardinals including 5 INT’s). The Eagles main ball hawk to watch for is Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel (4 INTs plus two in the postseason), who looks better than ever.
LV’s Pick: Though the Eagles usually have been notoriously slow starters under Reid (record of 4-6 on NFL opening weeks), I still believe they will find a way to win. The Eagles lead the regular season series 4-1 and the Panthers have never had back-to-to-back winning seasons in their history. The keys will be the Eagles defense’s ability to stop the run while getting after Delhomme, McNabb hitting Westbrook and Jackson for big plays, and OT Jason Peters rising to the challenge of playing against Peppers. Eagles win in a nail-biter 21-20
NFL 2009 Week 1 Schedule
THU, SEP 10
Tennessee at Pittsburgh 8:30 PM (NBC) — Steelers 13, Titans 10 in OT
SUN, SEP 13
Miami at Atlanta 1:00 PM (CBS)
Denver at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS)
Minnesota at Cleveland 1:00 PM (FOX)
Jacksonville at Indianapolis 1:00 PM (CBS)
Detroit at New Orleans 1:00 PM (FOX)
Dallas at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)
Philadelphia at Carolina 1:00 PM (FOX)
Kansas City at Baltimore 1:00 PM (CBS)
NY Jets at Houston 1:00 PM (CBS)
Washington at NY Giants 4:15 PM (FOX)
San Francisco at Arizona 4:15 PM (FOX)
St. Louis at Seattle 4:15 PM (FOX)
Chicago at Green Bay 8:20 PM (NBC)
MON, SEP 14
Buffalo at New England 7:00 PM (ESPN)
San Diego at Oakland 10:15 PM (ESPN)
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)