The NFL has delivered an intriguing matchup in each of Sunday’s time slots. Sunday starts and ends with two divisional rivalries, one in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers at the Chicago Bears, and the other in the NFC East, the New York Giants at the Dallas Cowboys.
Packers at Bears
One of the oldest division rivalries lives on when the Packers visit the Bears, but while the Bears lead the series 92-90-6, the Packers have dominated of late, winning eight of the past nine, including 56-14 and 36-17 wins last year, when Aaron Rodgers threw for more than 300 yards and at least four touchdowns in each contest.
Rodgers finished second in passer rating (113.2) and third in touchdowns tosses (38) in the NFL last year, but this time around he will be without his favorite target, Jordy Nelson, who is on injured reserve. He still has Randall Cobb, who had 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014.
The Bears are trying to bounce back from a trying 2014 season that saw them in the news for surly sidelines more than winning ways. It will be up to new head coach John Fox to right the wrongs of Jay Cutler, who was in the bottom half of the league with an 88.6 rating in 2014.
Titans at Bucs
The Titans have won eight of the last 10 matchups between these two teams, but both teams will have a dramatically different look in 2015. Winston, the league’s No. 1 overall pick in the draft, had a woeful preseason, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 52.7 rating.
The Titans had better success with No. 2 overall pick Mariota, who completed 21 of 30 for 326 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 102.9 rating.
Both teams finished in the bottom seven of pass defense last year, so the opportunities for the rookie quarterbacks should be there, but can they be astute enough to take advantage of it? Winston has the better weapons.
Giants at Cowboys
Another old-school divisional rivalry finishes off the Sunday slate of games, but this time it might be as much about the running game, or lack of it, as it is intrigue with the passers.
Tony Romo and Eli Manning have established themselves as being in the top half of the NFL’s quarterbacks, and Manning just signed a massive new contract, four years, $84 million. Last year, he finished with 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a 92.1 rating. Romo had 3,705 yards, 34 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 113.2 rating, best in the NFL.
But the big question is what the Cowboys running game will look like after losing the 2014 NFL rushing champ, DeMarco Murray, to another division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles – and how that loss will affect Romo. Murray had 1,845 yards last year; this year the Cowboys have Darren McFadden, who rushed for only 534 yards and a 3.4 average with the Raiders in 2014, and recently acquired Christine Michael.
The Giants will likely be more reliant on their passing game, too, and why not? They have 2014 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr., who had 91 catches for 1,305 yards and is working on extending his nine-game streak with at least 90 yards. Of course, Beckham’s one-handed circus catch last year came against Cowboys CB Brandon Carr, who is tired of hearing about it.
While the intrigue lies in how the Cowboys will fare without Murray, both teams will likely rely on their passing games, with the Cowboys leading the series and winning each of the past four matchups.