Sunday's game will make an early statement about how one of the NFC's most talented divisions will shape up.
The Other 10 Games to Watch
10. Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
During my training camp tour, which enabled me to see 18 teams in person, the most impressive team I saw was the Bengals. Yet, as much as I believe in the talent of the Bengals and the coaching of Marvin Lewis, I didn't pick the Bengals to make the playoffs. Along with the Giants, the Bengals have the toughest schedule in the NFL, and an opening game against the Chiefs on the road isn't easy.
The Chiefs have some of the best fans in the league. They are loud. They are supportive. They force false starts with their noise, and the Bengals can't afford a false start to their season. Carson Palmer is playing his first full game coming off reconstructive knee surgery, and he has plenty of issues. Will he still be able to use the no-huddle offense, which he used 80 percent of the time down the stretch last season? Does he have the durability to play three hours knowing he had only 42 snaps during the preseason? How will his timing be, as some expect he won't be back to his full athletic self until January? The Bengals have plenty of questions and lots of talent heading into the opener. The Chiefs have their own problems. Willie Roaf didn't show up this week, so it looks like he actually is retired. Without Roaf, Larry Johnson might find it a little harder to run to the left. Herman Edwards will try to minimize the loss of Roaf during his team meetings, but Roaf was the one player the team couldn't afford to lose.
9. Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
Losing Ben Roethlisberger the week before the start of the season is a major problem. Charlie Batch proved over the preseason that he's a good backup, but he doesn't have Jerome Bettis around anymore to just pound the football. Willie Parker is an explosive back but he's not a back to wear down a defense, and the Steelers have to make sure he doesn't wear down himself. It also doesn't help that wide receiver Hines Ward is playing despite a hamstring injury.
What helps the Steelers is they are at home and the Super Bowl celebration will be in full swing. For Nick Saban, he knows his team can't get overconfident with Roethlisberger not playing. Daunte Culpepper will be playing his first full game following last season's knee injury. Saban has the team ready to challenge for the AFC East title against the Patriots. This will be a good test. Saban can find out how well he can run the ball against a good 3-4 defense.
[After ESPN posted this article, the Steelers beat the Dolphins 28-17.]
8. Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants
This is the long-awaited Manning Bowl, Peyton versus Eli. Both quarterbacks will be pressured. The Colts know they have to get off to a good start. They have three AFC South games in the first month of the season. A win over the Giants could give them the chance to jump out to a 5-0 start, if they can win their three home games against the AFC South. That could give them an early two-game lead in the division if the Jaguars get off to a slow start against a very tough schedule.