As defending Super Bowl Champions, you wouldn't think that Giants quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Plaxico Burress would have much to to prove to the Washington Redskins. While the tandem certainly made a believer out of me as I watched the Giants snatch a Super Bowl victory from the grasp of the Patriots earlier this year, they'll be striving to improve on their lackluster results against their division rival when the two teams open the NFL's regular season Thursday night.
In seven career games against Washington, Manning has completed just 49.4 percent of his passes, including a dismal 34-percent effort last December at home. He's thrown just six touchdowns against the Redskins and has never passed for more than one touchdown in a game against them. And in his last three games against Washington, he's only completed two passes that resulted in a gain of more than 25 yards.
Meanwhile, Burress has only caught an average of four passes per game against the Redskins. In six career matchups, Burress has never posted a 100-yard receiving day -- in fact, he's been held to less than 50 receiving yards in four of those games. The 6-foot-5 receiver hasn't had much success finding the end zone against them either, scoring just twice. And his lack of big numbers, especially last year, hasn't been due to a lack of opportunities. Burress was targeted a total of 25 times during the teams' 2007 contests, but he and Manning connected just eight times. In his last game against Washington, Burress was held to just 35 yards and no touchdowns.
2. Arizona's Edgerrin James is tough to stop behind the line of scrimmage.
Out of 22 players who carried the ball at least 200 times last season, James was stuffed for a loss on just 5.9 percent of his carries -- best in the league. That mark barely topped the performance of the Browns' Jamal Lewis, who finished the year at 6.0 percent. Rounding out the top five was the Buccaneers' Earnest Graham (6.3 percent), the Giants' Brandon Jacobs (6.4 percent) and the Cowboys' Marion Barber (6.9 percent).
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Sure, Dorsey is just a rookie who will be battling the defending AFC Champions' offensive line when the Chiefs and the Patriots clash this weekend. But it's obvious that he's a special talent. Dorsey's a mauler who's not going to be intimidated by anyone, so if the Patriots are going to keep him off of their superstar quarterback, they better plan on double-teaming the youngster right out of the gate. If they don't, it won't take long before they realize they've got to dedicate more resources to keeping Dorsey in check. If you watch this game, keep an eye on what New England does to try to keep No. 72 from becoming a factor in this matchup.
4. Getting rid of the force-out rule is good for the game.
During the offseason, the league finally decided to abolish the force-out rule. In previous seasons, if a player caught a pass and was shoved out of bounds before getting both feet inbounds, the referees were allowed to award the offense a completion if -- in their opinion -- they believed the receiver would have gotten his feet down inbounds had he not been hit. It was a bad rule that placed yet another potentially game-altering decision on the shoulders of a group of men who strive to officiate a game as fairly as they can, but who are still human. This year, offenses won't get that same advantage as receivers will have to get both feet down inbounds for a completion to be called. And with a number of rule changes in recent years making it easier for the NFL's offenses to score points, it was good to see the league's defenses catch a break for a change.
5. It's going to be a bit weird watching Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers trot onto the field for the first time during a regular season game as the starting quarterback for the Packers on Monday night against the Vikings.
After all, the last quarterback not named Favre to start a game for the Packers was Don Majikowski back on September 20, 1992. And the last Packers QB other than Brett Favre to start in a Monday Night Football game was Lynn Dickey back in December, 1983. To put that in perspective, former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was the league's MVP, Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office, and Michael Jackson's video for "Thriller" was released that same year.
Rodgers looked good during his first preseason as a starter, completing 68.5 percent of his passes while earning a 103.6 passer rating.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
6. Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh knows how to make a name for himself -- in a good way.
While Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson has recently been in the headlines primarily for injury updates and for legally changing his name to Chad Javon Ocho Cinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been making a name for himself with his productivity and his leadership.
Last year, Houshmandzadeh tied for the league lead in receptions with 112 while catching 72.7 percent of the passes thrown to him on third down -- second-best in the league by receivers with at least 35 third-down passes thrown to them. Houshmandzadeh trailed only the Patriots' Wes Welker in that category (74.3 percent) while leaving Johnson in the dust by comparison with his mediocre 42.3 percent. This year, the rising star has also been selected as one of the team's five captains.
7. Keep an eye on the Panthers' offensive and defensive lines when they play the Chargers this weekend.
When the Panthers' offensive and defensive lines assemble against the Chargers this weekend, they'll likely have just two players in the same positions from their season-ending game at Tampa Bay last December. It'll be interesting to see if their new strategy and influx of new faces in new places pays off for them.
On the offensive line, Ryan Kalil remains at center, but RT Jordan Gross has moved to the left side, bumping former LT Travelle Wharton inside to LG. Rookie Jeff Otah will anchor the RT spot while free agent pickup Keydrick Vincent will set up at left guard.
Maake Kemoeatu will be playing from the LDT spot, just like he did in the final week of the 2007 season. But Julius Peppers has moved to the RDE position, replacing the retired Mike Rucker while Damione Lewis replaces RDT Kris Jenkins, who was traded to the Jets. Former Raider Tyler Brayton was signed as a free agent and will make his first start as a Panther at the LDE position.
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