The Ravens have been waiting for a leader at quarterback for years and now they have one in Steve McNair. Facing the Bucs is a good challenge to start with. Monte Kiffin runs one of the league's best pass defenses. Most quarterbacks struggle to get a 60 or 70 quarterback rating againt Kiffin's Cover 2 schemes.
McNair's biggest assignment is to keep the Ravens offense calm. They have major concerns along the right side of the offensive line, and Kiffin will try to exploit those holes.The Ravens will try to give the Bucs a steady diet of runs by Jamal Lewis, Musa Smith and Mike Anderson and mix in the passes. For the Bucs, Chris Simms continues to evolve as a starting quarterback. He looked very good in the preseason. Michael Clayton will help more at receiver this year because his knee seems much better than it was a year ago. Joey Galloway remains Simms' main threat. Don't expect a high-scoring game. The Ravens are every bit as good as the Bucs on defense.
4. Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
The Bears come to Green Bay with a defense loaded with talent. They have six Pro Bowlers on defense. The Packers counter with 14 rookies and a team still reeling from a 4-12 season. Mike McCarthy, the Packers new coach, has a tough assignment. The Packers were good and bad during the preseason but there was more bad than good. Brett Favre still doesn't seem comfortable sitting in a pocket being protected by two rookie guards.
Even though it's always hard to win in Green Bay, the Bears can't afford to lose. Backup Brian Griese has outperformed Rex Grossman this preseason but Grossman will be the starter. Thomas Jones lost his starting job to Cedric Benson prior to camp, but a shoulder injury opened the door for Jones to win back the job. Nevertheless, coach Lovie Smith wants to start Benson as soon as he's back to full speed and healthy. The Bears are heavily favored to run away with the weak NFC North, and a win on the road in Green Bay would be a confirmation of that prediction.
3. Denver Broncos at St. Louis Rams
Despite going to the AFC title game, Mike Shanahan tweaked his offense to make it better. He changed starting running backs, replacing veteran Mike Anderson with free-agent rookie Mike Bell. Yes, Mike Bell, who is slated to start ahead of the explosive Tatum Bell. He replaced Ashley Lelie at wide receiver with Javon Walker. He didn't re-sign tight end Jeb Putzier. Shanahan believes he reloaded.
The Broncos got off to a great start last season because they won so many key home games in the first half of the season. Shanahan is one of the game's best frontrunners. He usually has his team out to a 10-point early lead and knows how to win games with a first-half advantage. That's why he needs to win this game. The Rams can be dangerous, even though they aren't sure what they have. First-year head coach Scott Linehan has plenty of talent on offense -- Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Steven Jackson. Though the Rams are better athletically, they still have to do a lot of blitzing to stop the run. Shanahan's running schemes can drive blitzing teams crazy.
2. Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins (Monday, 7 ET, ESPN)