(CBS) Football fans, rejoice, the NFL is back! Week 1 features a few intriguing divisional matchups, as well as a heavyweight bout between two elite NFC teams. Here's my take on how all of this weekend's action will shake out.
(Home team in all CAPS)
Game of the Week: PACKERS 27, 49ers 20 - 3:25 PM
In a potential NFC Championship Game preview, the 49ers head to Lambeau to battle the Packers. Nobody runs the ball on the 49ers, which is fine by the Packers, who seem to only run the ball out of obligation. The 49ers pass rush will give the Packers fits, but Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, and will be the difference on Sunday. Think the 49ers would take Alex Smith over Rodgers if they could do it all over?
BEARS 27, Colts 17 - Noon
Two teams with very different windows of opportunity meet at Soldier Field, as the Colts clash with the Bears. For the Bears, the future is now. For the Colts, the future is just that, in the distance, yet, seemingly bright. Top overall selection Andrew Luck makes his NFL debut against an aging, yet still dangerous Bears defense. Look for the Bears to crowd the box to take away the run and put the game in Luck's hands. While I don't expect Luck to completely crumble, he won't pick up his first NFL win this weekend.
Eagles 31, BROWNS 13 - Noon
Another rookie signal-caller makes his NFL debut, as Brandon Weeden leads the Browns against the Eagles. Even though the Browns have a stout offensive line, this is a brutal matchup for Cleveland. They have limited playmakers in the passing game, a rookie running back recovering from a knee scope, and Weeden directing traffic. Here's some advice Browns fans didn't ask for, or most likely need: start drinking. Now. (Responsibly). As this game is already over. The talent gap between the Eagles and Browns is Grand Canyon-esque, and it will be on display when the Eagles blast the Browns.
Bills 24, JETS 20 - Noon
Granted, it's only Week 1, but this is a huge AFC East matchup. In the preseason, the Jets offense was putrid, leaving them with far more questions than answers heading into the season. Sanchez or Tebow sounds more like a punishment, where death may be a better alternative. I love the offseason acquisitions the Bills made along the defensive line, as they should compliment an opportunistic secondary. I like the Bills to hand the Jets their first L-O-S-S of 2012.
SAINTS 34, Redskins 17 - Noon
After a tumultuous offseason in New Orleans, the Saints are ready to put it all in the rearview mirror this Sunday against the Redskins. The Super Dome is a tough venue for any visiting opponent, let alone one led by a rookie quarterback playing behind a sieve of an offensive line. The Saints defense is suspect, but their offense surely is not.
Patriots 31, TITANS 17 - Noon
In 2011, the Titans defense was the NFL's best in preventing yards after the catch. Hope you enjoyed that while it lasted, as it certainly won't look that way during Sunday's game against the Patriots. Surely, the Patriots will be eager to get rid of the bad taste left in their mouth from last season's Super Bowl loss. No quarterback making his first NFL start versus Bill Belichick has ever won, and Jake Locker won't break that streak this Sunday.
VIKINGS 20, Jaguars 16 - Noon
The status of two superstar running backs is the main focus of the game, but it will come down to two second-year triggermen in the Vikings-Jaguars game. I don't particularly care for either Christian Ponder or Blaine Gabbert, and thought they were both huge reaches in the 2011 draft. But, in general, I like Ponder more, especially at home this weekend. Gabbert showed a propensity to get rattled under pressure last year, so Jared Allen should feast on Sunday.
TEXANS 31, Dolphins 13 - Noon
Yet another rookie quarterback makes his NFL debut on the road against a dominant defense, as Ryan Tannehill leads the Dolphins against the Texans. Wade Phillips will show Tannehill looks he's never seen and the end result won't be pretty for Dolphins fans. I really like the Texans this season, and expect them to start 2012 in style as they steamroll the Dolphins.
LIONS 27, Rams 17 – Noon
Two former top overall draft picks - Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford - clash in Motown. The Rams spent $50 M ($26.5 guaranteed) to acquire the services of cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and used an early draft pick on Janoris Jenkins, in hopes of shoring up a shoddy secondary. It still won't be enough to contain the best weapon in the NFL, Detroit's Calvin Johnson.
Falcons 24, CHIEFS 17 - Noon
Very interesting matchup in Kansas City between the Chiefs and Falcons. It will be strength-on-strength when the Falcons have the ball, with some very intriguing wide receiver / cornerback matchups. Thus, this game will come down to the Chiefs offense, more specifically Matt Cassel, whom I don't believe in.
Panthers 24, BUCS 23 - 3:25 PM
Cam Newton leads the Panthers into Tampa Bay, in an interesting NFC South matchup. Hard to imagine Newton suffering a sophomore slump given his rare skills, but teams now have a full year of film on him to study. Tampa Bay had major issues stopping the run in 2011, so expect a heavy dose of runs from the Panthers pricey backfield to set up some deep play-action shots. Greg Schiano's NFL debut will be spoiled by Cam & company.
Seahawks 21, CARDINALS 17 - 3:25 PM
It's the second place in the NFC West bowl as the Cardinals host the Seahawks. Yet another rookie quarterback - Seattle's Russell Wilson - makes his NFL debut on the road. Fortunately for Wilson and the Seahawks, the Cardinals have no quarterback and can't block, which makes winning in the NFL a bit challenging. I like the only starting rookie quarterback not drafted in the first-round - Wilson - to be victorious this weekend.
Steelers 23, BRONCOS 20 - 7:20 PM
It still looks weird to see Peyton Manning in a Broncos uniform. After four neck surgeries in a year, Manning's health is obviously a concern. I didn't see enough - particularly Manning driving the ball deep - to be convinced he's fully recovered. The Steelers are a bit banged up themselves and will be without safety Ryan Clark. Nonetheless, I like the Steelers to grind out a road win.
RAVENS 24, Bengals 17 - Monday Night 6 PM
Huge AFC North battle in Baltimore between the Ravens and Bengals. I love the foundation the Bengals started to build in 2011, but they aren't in the same class as the Ravens. They lack a complimentary receiver to AJ Green, and will miss Cedric Benson. For the Ravens, Ray Rice got new paper, and Joe Flacco is playing for some, which bodes well for their prospects in 2012.
Chargers 24, RAIDERS 23 - Monday Night 7:15 PM
Considering all the injuries on the Chargers, you would think this would be a slam dunk for the Raiders at home, but it's not. I love Run DMC and the Raiders defensive line, I just don't believe in Carson Palmer. This will be a very close game, but I am giving the edge to Philip Rivers, who owned the Raiders secondary in 2011.
Dan Durkin joined The Score's columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men's football team (despite his best efforts to join the women's team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park - even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park - who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan's blogs click here.
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