Kevin Kugler on Redskins-Saints, 49ers-Packers and Peyton Manning

09/06/2012

Three things I’m interested in this weekend:

1.) Redskins-Saints: Two big and obvious storylines in this game. The first being the Saints back on the field after all the offseason turmoil. Players gone. Coaches out. Interim coaches out. That’s the bad news. The good news? The Saints still have Drew Brees, and potentially, still have the NFL’s most explosive offense. Brees didn’t take many snaps in the preseason, but did manage a QB rating of 111.7 and that can make you forget an awful lot of woes.

The biggest question is the defense. How will new middle linebacker Curtis Lofton do taking over the space once occupied by the suspended Jonathan Vilma? Many people forget this was a top 10 defense in the NFL last season (10th in total defense). Will it be able to withstand personnel losses and suspensions and still provide the stops needed to get that offense back on the field?

On the other side, the story of the rookie QB, RG3. Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan gets the chance to show some not-often-seen offensive flexibility with Griffin this season, as he begins the year with a rookie quarterback for the first time in his 18 previous openers as a head coach.

How will the rookie fare in his first big test of the season? He showed well in the preseason, with a QB rating of 103.3, but obviously, things are different once the season begins. Will Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss give him the targets necessary to succeed? Will a banged up and aging offensive line provide any protection? And is there a running game to help take some pressure off the #2 overall pick? Of the five rookie quarterbacks starting this weekend in the NFL, this debut interests me the most.

2.) 49ers-Packers: This is the game I’m doing for Westwood One this weekend and it’s a stellar matchup to open the season. It’s only the 2nd time in NFL history that these two teams have faced off in week 1. Back in 1976, the 49ers won 26-14 at Lambeau Field. That game obviously has HUGE implications on this game (or none…you decide.)

Alex Smith is coming off his best year as a pro, but also coming off an uncomfortable offseason. One in which he visited Miami, and the 49ers either did or didn’t show interest in Peyton Manning, depending on who’s doing the talking. There’s not a doubt that Smith was the quarterback the Niners were hoping for when they drafted him with the #1 overall pick in 2005. But the big question… can he do it again? He’s got plenty of help, with a strong running game and one of the best tight ends in the game in Vernon Davis. But is Randy Moss a #1 or #2 receiver at this point in his career? He is to start the season.

The Packers put last season’s highest-scoring offense in the NFL against the 2nd-best scoring defense in the Niners. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers won’t miss much offensively. Fast starts have been a trademark of Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy. Over the past 3 seasons, the Packers have a .778 winning percentage in September, which is tied with the Ravens, Saints and Jets for the best in the league. But they’ve not had an opening foe like this the last three years, when they opened with the Bears, Eagles and Saints, respectively.

3.) Peyton Manning. Yes, it’s the Steelers and the Broncos on Sunday night, but it’s all about Peyton Manning. After missing last season with the neck surgery and injuries, he chose to come to Denver to play for the Broncos, replacing the now departed Tim Tebow (yes, there’s the requisite Tebow mention in any NFL story). This rematch of last year’s AFC wild card playoff game, won by the Broncos, takes on a very different feel with Manning at the helm.

Sure, the questions still remain about how effective he’ll be, and how durable he’ll be. But perhaps more interesting… Peyton has been mortal against the Steelers in his career.  Just a 2-2 record in four career starts against Pittsburgh, averaging just under 270 yards passing per game. Solid, to be sure, but the Steelers have handled him well over the years. And even without Ryan Clark playing in Denver due to a sickle cell trait that causes him health issues in the altitude, the Steelers boast the league’s best defensive team (tops last year in total defense and pass defense) and should be bolstered by the expected return of Rashard Mendenhall.

Wherever you go this weekend, bring the NFL with you on Westwood One. We’ve got a full slate of games, and are ready for a full weekend of action. Grab some wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, get your radio and enjoy the fact that after a long offseason, football is back!

— Kevin Kugler

Westwood One NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler tackles subjects that are interesting to him each week in his blog. The Football Insider Report is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings. Protect the Football. This weekend, Kevin and his partner Mark Malone will be in Green Bay to call the action as the Packers host the San Francisco 49ers. Coverage begins at 3:45 PM Eastern.

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