By Steve Silverman
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While the Cowboys inexplicably came up big in the second half and upset the Giants in the season opener, there’s no reason for the defending Super Bowl champions to panic.
At least not yet.
A strong recovery is needed quickly, because the Giants will face a daunting schedule in the final weeks of the season. They will play the Packers, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles after their Nov. 18 bye week.
But the first full weekend of the season is upon us, and the season will begin to take shape.
Here are some things to look for in Week 1 action:
St. Louis at Detroit – Are the Detroit Lions a serious contender in the NFL? You won’t get a “yes” from this game, but you could get a quick no if the Lions have failed to make progress on their discipline issue. Jim Schwartz is a solid coach who has a well-rounded personality when he’s not on the football field. However, he’s a fiery and emotional guy on Sunday who often loses his cool. This translates to his players. If he can’t remain calm this year, the Lions will probably find a way to blow it in their most important games. They need to take care of business early against an inferior team like St. Louis.
Miami at Houston – The Texans face a similar situation as the Lions do. The Texans are vastly superior to the Dolphins, and it would be a shocker if the Dolphins are anything but a last-place team in the AFC East. The Texans should put themselves in a position to challenge for the AFC title this year. The key is quarterback Matt Schaub staying healthy. It should be an easy win here for the Texans.
Washington at New Orleans – The debut of Robert Griffin III is huge for the Redskins, who have struggled badly at the quarterback position since the end of the 20th century. The Saints were undoubtedly hurt badly by “Bountygate,” but they still have enough athletes to test RGIII. If the Redskins’ rookie can get off to a good start, the Redskins’ confidence will grow dramatically.
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets – This is a strategic game that means nearly as much to the Bills as it does to the Jets. Buffalo is trying to climb into the ranks of contenders, and they should make it this season. They have enough weapons to score at least a couple of touchdowns against the Jets, and defensive end Mario Williams is a monster. If the Jets can find any offensive consistency, they should be able to survive a tough fight.
New England at Tennessee – The Patriots are favored to win the AFC once again, but one of these years the combination of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will find themselves overmatched. It probably won’t be this year, but starting the season in Tennessee against a tough and physical Titans team should be a good early-season test. Has the Patriots’ defense improved over its awful 2011 performance (31st in yards allowed)?
San Francisco at Green Bay – Tom Coughlin may say he is only concerned about his own team, but he will keep at least one eye on this game because one of these two teams (or both) is likely to be an opponent in the playoffs four months from now. The 49ers have added Mario Manningham, but Alex Smith has never been good two years in a row. The Packers want to show that they can stand up to a physical team like the 49ers.
Pittsburgh at Denver – Just how much does Peyton Manning have left? Is he really healthy and can he stand up to a manly pass rush from the nasty Steelers? Will the Steelers assert themselves early or will head coach Mike Tomlin focus on the Week 2 home opener against the Jets?
Cincinnati at Baltimore – The Bengals surprised everybody last season by going 9-7 and making the playoffs with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton throwing to wide receiver A.J. Green. How will they respond to expectations? The Ravens will always play hard-hitting and physical defense, but are they fast enough to stay with a young, skilled team like the Bengals?
What are your picks for the crucial Week 1 contests? Let us know in the comments section below…