NFL preview: Week 1

By Mike Tanier

New York Times News Service

Published: Saturday, Sept. 10 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

The Steelers-Ravens rivalry provides a defensive start to the 2011 season, while the Broncos-Raiders rivalry is on the decline.

Associated Press

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One of the NFL's fiercest rivalries has become "The Newlywed Game." Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco each married during the summer in what, with a little creative planning, could have been an awesome dual ceremony: Roger Goodell presiding, DeMaurice Smith playing the organ, Ray Rice as ring bearer.

Matrimony may have a mellowing effect on the two quarterbacks, particularly Roethlisberger; the mellow Flacco's gift registry was at Crate & Barrel, so although he lacks a Super Bowl ring, he has all the napkin rings he could possibly need.

Domesticity implies age, and this rivalry is definitely graying: Ray Lewis is 36, James Harrison 33, Casey Hampton 34, and even newcomers like Baltimore center Andre Gurode are on the high side of 30. Still, most of the participants are young enough to enjoy a good schoolyard taunt. "They talk a whole lot," said Hampton, who must wear noise-canceling headphones in his own locker room.

The new Ravens fullback Vonta Leach said: "I want to be part of that. I want to talk about being part of the great rivalry."

Pittsburgh is 6-2 against the Ravens in the past three seasons, with two playoff victories, including a 31-24 win last season that was decided by a 55-yard Roethlisberger completion on third-and-19 in the fourth quarter.

"It seems like they always have us beat and we always end up beating them," Hampton said. But a great rivalry, like a good marriage, should be full of surprises.

COWBOYS AT JETS (6:20 p.m.)

The Ryan brothers can always be counted upon to stir up some familial controversy, and last week was no different. So we are forced to take the high road. The Cowboys rid themselves of many of their controversial characters in recent years, which is why the defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is now doing most of the talking.

A quieter Dallas team would cause a bluster void in the league if not for Rex Ryan's Jets. Mark Sanchez is on the GQ cover as "the rock-starriest New York quarterback in decades." Judging by the black tank top and white jeans Sanchez wears in the magazine, rock-starriness for GQ reached its apex with Simon Le Bon in 1986.

These new, under-the-radar Cowboys are ostensibly led by Jason Garrett, though with Jerry Jones squeezing from above and Ryan from below, Garrett must feel like the cheese in the world's most self-aggrandizing panini. Garrett's team is young, unheralded and hoping to play the spoiler.


Peyton Manning will miss a start because of injury for the first time in his NFL career; the recently acquired Kerry Collins replaces him. The Indianapolis organization is putting on a brave face, but you can determine owner Jim Irsay's true emotional state by the classic rock lyrics he tweets. Anything by the Hollies or Fairport Convention means Manning will be back soon. Steely Dan could mean anything from measured optimism ("Can't Buy a Thrill" era) to mild despair ("Katy Lied"). If Manning's latest neck operation shelves him for the season, Irsay will clue us in with a selection from Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere."

Houston has a rebuilt secondary intended to stop the Colts. The Texans also had some Twitter drama of their own when Arian Foster recently published the MRI of his ailing hamstring. The tweets displayed dubious taste and awful judgment, but worst of all did little to end injury speculation: Foster is questionable for Sunday. You would think that 400,000 diagnoses could yield one straight answer.


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