Here is how The Examiner breaks down this week in the NFL.
WEEK 1 STORY LINES
Welcome to the NFL, Bobby Petrino. And welcome to intense scrutiny, Joey Harrington. In two previous stops, Harrington has been unable to justify his status as the third overall pick in the 2002 draft. Now he must do it with a team that has a new coach in Petrino and lost its top playmaker in Michael Vick. Perhaps you heard about his troubles. With Vick, the Falcons felt they could win any game. The rushing attack will be different; gone are the 306-yard rushing games like they had once last season.
Seven coaches will be making their debuts: In addition to Petrino, they are Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt, the Raiders’ Lane Kiffin, Miami’s Cam Cameron, San Diego’s Norv Turner and Dallas’ Wade Phillips. Only Turner and Phillips — the only two who took over teams that posted winning records and made the playoffs in 2006 — have NFL head-coaching experience. Though Turner and Phillips took over for two successful coaches — Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Parcells — nobody has to fill bigger shoes than Tomlin. He is stepping in after Bill Cowher, who coached the Steelers for 15 seasons and won a Super Bowl. Tomlin is only the third Steelers coach since 1969.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb’s season ended with a torn ACL on Nov. 19. McNabb has returned sooner than anticipated, but even he admits he’s not 100 percent. Considering the Eagles are in many circles the NFC East favorite, his progression will impact the playoff race. McNabb is more than just a running quarterback, but his legs have often saved him. Can they still do so?
— John Keim
GAME OF THE WEEK: Bears at Chargers, 1:15 p.m.
San Diego’s playoff debacle cost the Chargers their coach, Marty Schottenheimer, who has been replaced by Norv Turner and his career .415 winning percentage. But plenty of talent remains and the offense hasn’t changed its philosophy much, if at all. San Diego running back, and NFL 2006 rushing champion, LaDainian Tomlinson will be challenged by Chicago’s run-stuffing defense, which ranked fifth last season. Chicago’s top defensive tackle, Tommie Harris, returns after a season-ending hamstring injury in December. Bears quarterback Rex Grossman enters this season on the hot seat because of his lackluster — at best — performance last season. The Chargers’ defense recorded 61 sacks last season, led by Shawne Merriman’s 17.
— John Keim
WEEK 1 PICKS
CHIEFS AT TEXANS “Hard Knocks”? Sums up reviews of K.C.’s prospects. Hall of Fame QB Matt Schaub makes third career start. Texans 14, Chiefs 10
DOLPHINS AT REDSKINS Coaching change and new QB won’t solve Dolphins’ woes, especially vs. tough Redskins “D.” Redskins 17, Dolphins 13
BRONCOS AT BILLS Broncos’ defense allowed 7.3 ppg in first six games of 2006 and 26.1 in final 10. Broncos 20, Bills 19
PANTHERS AT RAMS Explosive Rams could be NFC’s surprise team. Steven Jackson will become a household name. Rams 27, Panthers 20
STEELERS AT BROWNS Get used to this chant: “We Want Brady!” That will just be in the Browns’ huddle. Steelers 20, Browns 10
FALCONS AT VIKINGS Joey Harrington vs. Tarvaris Jackson? The over-under on running plays should be 100. Vikings 20,Falcons 16
TITANS AT JAGUARS In Game 1 of the Jack Del Rio Death Watch, Jags’ “D” should be enough. Jags 23, Titans 21
Patriots at jets Patriots could be starting something special, but Jets played them well last year. Upset special. Jets 23, Patriots 20
EAGLES AT PACKERS Brett Favre starts final season, again. Packers allowed 23 or more points 10 times in 2006. Eagles 33, Packers 27
LIONS AT RAIDERS In honor of Kiffin, preschoolers get in free. Lions have six straight double-digit loss seasons. Raiders 20, Lions 17
BEARS AT CHARGERS The Norv Era begins. Boy, that still sounds funny. Great matchup of L.T. vs. Bears’ defense. Chargers 24, Bears 14
BUCCANEERS AT SEAHAWKS Jon Gruden is out of excuses in Tampa Bay. Seattle’s “D” must improve, but won’t be tested here. Seahawks 31, Bucs 9
GIANTS AT COWBOYS Cowboys’ “D” has promise, lots to prove. That about sums up Eli Manning, too. Cowboys 24, Giants 16
RAVENS AT BENGALS Bengals have won four of last five vs. Ravens. Defensive weaknesses won’t hurt them here. Bengals 21, Ravens 17
CARDINALS AT 49ERS This could be a fun offensive matchup. We trust Matt Leinart more than Alex Smith. Cards 24, Niners 23
— Staff report
PLAYER TO WATCH
Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young proved that he could beat teams with his legs last season, but he was an inaccurate passer. That has to change for him to become more than just a highlight-reel QB. He faces a stern opening test in the Jacksonville defense.