Game-changers: A look at NFL Week 1

NFL reporter Aaron Wilson takes a look at the opening week of games and who will impact them.

INDIANAPOLIS at CHICAGO (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET)

COLTS: Andrew Luck. All eyes will be on the top overall pick and rookie starting quarterback in his NFL regular-season debut. Luck is strong-armed and accurate and figures to have his moments, but also his fair share of miscues as he learns on the job.

BEARS: Brandon Marshall. Marshall was the Bears' big-ticket acquisition, arriving via a trade from the Dolphins shortly after an altercation with his wife in Miami. He's reprising his partnership with Jay Cutler, whom he collaborated with successfully during a previous stint with the Denver Broncos. If Marshall can remain out of trouble, he could pile up huge numbers.


JAGUARS: Maurice Jones-Drew. Although Jones-Drew was the NFL rushing champion last season, he won't start this game because of his lengthy holdout. Rashad Jennings will start in his place, but figures to get plenty of assistance from Jones-Drew. The X-factor is whether Jones-Drew will display any signs of rust or fatigue.

VIKINGS: Adrian Peterson. Peterson figures to have a reduced role in his first game back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He may have lost some explosiveness, but remains a powerful runner. He'll get help from Toby Gerhart. Gerhart rushed for 369 yards in the last five games of last season after Peterson hurt his knee.

MIAMI at HOUSTON (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET)

DOLPHINS: Cameron Wake. One of the top pass rushers in the game, Cameron Wake was rewarded with a lucrative contract extension during the offseason. He has succeeded in the past against the Texans despite the blocking presence of standout offensive tackle Duane Brown to the tune of four tackles and a sack last season. Wake has recorded 28 sacks in his first three NFL seasons.

TEXANS: Andre Johnson. Rejuvenated after being limited to seven regular-season contests last season due to chronic hamstring problems, Johnson is an ultra-productive downfield target. Big and physical, Johnson will need to create separation for quarterback Matt Schaub to thread the football to him. Sean Smith figures to get this assignment.

NEW ENGLAND at TENNESSEE (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET)

PATRIOTS: Tom Brady. Brady is on the verge of another statistical milestone. He needs only one touchdown pass to eclipse John Elway for the fifth-most in league history. He figures to do so considering he has delivered at least one scoring toss in 32 consecutive games. Plus, he has thrived against the Titans with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games.

TITANS: Second-year quarterback Jake Locker unseated incumbent Matt Hasselbeck and will make his first NFL start. His mobility and arm strength are positive factors, but the Patriots will try to exploit his lack of experience to get turnovers. This isn't an easy way for Locker to make his starting debut, to say the least.

WASHINGTON at NEW ORLEANS (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET)

REDSKINS: Robert Griffin III. The dual-threat rookie quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner starts in his regular-season initiation to the NFL. He was fairly accurate during the preseason with 20-of-31 completions for 193 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Griffin could give the Saints' front seven issues with his elusiveness.

SAINTS: Drew Brees. Prolific, accurate and durable, Brees passed for a single-season record 5,476 yards last season. He also set records with 468 completions and 71.2 percent accuracy. When Brees looks downfield, he can go to Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham or dump it off to Darren Sproles. Graham caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

BUFFALO at NEW YORK JETS (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET)

BILLS: Mario Williams. The Bills' $100 million defensive end is starting his first game since being signed during free agency. Williams owns the Texans' franchise record with 53 sacks and is now part of a formidable pass-rushing tandem with Mark Anderson, who had 10 sacks last season for the Patriots.

JETS: Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is starting for the fourth season in a row, but how much breathing room does he truly have after a rocky season last year? Tim Tebow is slated for Wildcat duties, but could step in if Sanchez falters. It's always something controversial with the Jets.

ATLANTA at KANSAS CITY (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET)

CHIEFS: Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs' star running back returns after being sidelined last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Kansas City needs to find out if Charles has regained his trademark explosiveness.

FALCONS: Matt Ryan. Ryan has lived up to expectations ever since being drafted in the first round. Ryan set a Falcons record for 4,177 passing yards last season. When he's efficient, the Falcons win. They're 23-0 when Ryan records a 100 passer rating or greater.

ST. LOUIS at DETROIT (Sunday, 1 p.m., ET)

RAMS: Chris Long. The Rams need a big game out of Long, the son of Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long. If he can't generate pressure on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, this game figures to get out of hand. Long is one of the top young defensive ends in the game.

LIONS: Calvin Johnson. Johnson represents the prototype wide receiver: big, strong and fast. The Rams' best shot at containing him is talented rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins lacks experience, but has the athleticism and bold style to stay with Johnson.


EAGLES: Michael Vick. The multi-dimensional quarterback just needs to remain healthy in order to have another big year. Vick dealt with bruised ribs during the preseason, but has made a sound recovery. Last year, the Eagles piled up 6,386 yards with Vick at the controls.

BROWNS: Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. The Browns' new-look rookie backfield of Richardson, a first-round running back from Alabama, and Weeden, a 28-year-old first-round quarterback from Oklahoma State, figures to have their hands full against a stout front seven headlined by defensive end Trent Cole.

SEATTLE at ARIZONA (Sunday, 4.25 p.m., ET)

SEAHAWKS: Russell Wilson. Another rookie starter, Wilson got off to a fast start during the preseason with 40-of-63 accuracy for 536 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Wilson lacks stature, but has a strong arm and is extremely mobile.

CARDINALS: John Skelton. Skelton beat out Kevin Kolb for a starting job, and now he's looking to live up to the Cardinals' leap of faith in him. He went 6-2 last season, including a game against the 49ers where Kolb left the game following the first series with an injury. Skelton is a classic pocket passer, a towering guy with a cannon arm.

SAN FRANCISCO at GREEN BAY (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., ET)

49ERS: Aldon Smith. Smith is a dangerous pass rusher who led all NFL rookies with 14 sacks last season. Fast and aggressive, Smith will be trying to apply heat to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Smith has the repertoire of pass-rushing moves and the closing speed to change games.

PACKERS: Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers passed for a franchise-record 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns last season with six interceptions. He's won both of his career starts against the 49ers, throwing five touchdowns with no interceptions. Rodgers' ability to elude pressure and make throws on the run is another part of his arsenal of weapons.

CAROLINA at TAMPA BAY (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., ET)

PANTHERS: Cam Newton. What will Newton do for an encore? He rushed for three touchdowns last season against the Buccaneers. He passed for a rookie-record 4,051 yards, throwing 21 touchdowns and rushing for another 14 scores.

BUCCANEERS: Mark Barron. The first-round draft pick from Alabama is a big hitter. The consensus All-American selection figures to be an intimidating presence in run support and as an enforcer against receivers who cross his path over the middle.

PITTSBURGH at DENVER (Sunday, 8:20 p.m., ET)

STEELERS: Mike Wallace. The Steelers have regained their deep threat with Wallace ending his holdout and getting acclimated to the offense orchestrated by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Working opposite Antonio Brown, Wallace is tough to stop after the catch.

BRONCOS: Peyton Manning. The consensus early favorite for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Manning missed all of last season with a neck injury that required surgery. Healthy again, Manning has a track record of success against the Steelers with five touchdowns and one interception in his last two games against Pittsburgh during the regular season. He won both starts.


RAVENS: Joe Flacco. Flacco has been granted greater freedom to audible by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He's now running a high-energy, no-huddle offense and has speed outside to throw to in wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as well as possession types Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin. Plus, he has Ray Rice as a safety valve. The versatile Pro Bowl running back has 33 career receptions for 275 yards against the Bengals, more than he has against any other team.

BENGALS: Geno Atkins. Atkins is a disruptive interior force who tied for the NFL lead for interior defensive linemen last season with 7 1/2 sacks. The quick 6-foot-1, 300-pounder has the ability to roam around the defensive line, lining up across from the center, guard and inside gap of the tackle. Atkins had nine tackles and one sack in two games against Baltimore last year, both losses.

SAN DIEGO at OAKLAND (Monday, 10:15 p.m., ET)

CHARGERS: Antonio Gates. Although Gates might have lost a step due to injuries, he's still a tough assignment for defenders. That includes the Raiders. Gates caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in his last outing against Oakland.

RAIDERS: Carson Palmer. Palmer traditionally excels against the Chargers. For his career against San Diego, Palmer has completed 69.9 percent of his throws for 13 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 122.5 passer rating. Palmer has some receivers who can get behind the secondary in Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore.

For more coverage of the NFL, go to

Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Scout NFL Network Top Stories