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We take a look at the biggest mismatches on the field in Week 1 of the NFL season:
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5, 40)
Bills rushing defense vs. Chiefs rushing offense
When Chan Gailey showed up in Buffalo last season he tried to change to a 3-4 defensive system but didn’t have the personnel to do it (ended up reverting back to a 4-3 midseason). The front seven playing out of their normal positions resulted in the NFL’s worst run defense.
And the Bills weren’t just bad, they were awful. They allowed 169.6 yards per game (the 31st-ranked team gave up 15 yards fewer) and more than 200 yards rushing in half of their outings.
Buffalo brass didn’t do a lot to address the problem during the offseason. Nick Barnett was added but the team lost a better tackler and player in Paul Posluszny. And Reggie Torbor will miss the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury in camp.
The Chiefs boasted the best running attack in the NFL last year (164.2 ypg) and their offensive gameplan won’t deviate much in 2011. Kansas City also attempted a league-high 34.8 rushes per game with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones toting the load. That could increase this season with Dexter McCluster expected to take on an expanded role in the backfield.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-1.5, 35.5)
Steelers pass rush vs. Ravens offensive line
Joe Flacco feels like a marked man when the Steelers line up on the other side of the ball. During the last three years, Pittsburgh has recorded 28 sacks in eight games against the Ravens. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison combined for 12 of those takedowns.
What’s concerning this Sunday is that Baltimore’s new-look offensive line hasn’t played a single snap together. Bryant McKinnie wasn’t signed until late August, center Matt Birk remains questionable and Michael Oher is moving from left to right tackle.
"It's not an ideal situation for us, that's for sure," Birk told reporters. "It is what it is. We'll work hard all week and study film and be as ready as we can for Sunday."
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (-6.5, 35.5)
A.J. Green vs. Joe Haden
If the Bengals are going to showcase any semblance of an offense this season, A.J. Green must make a big impact. As a rookie, he earned a starting spot next to Jerome Simpson but the sledding might be tough in his NFL debut.
Joe Haden is quickly becoming a star cornerback in the league. He will be assigned to Green this Sunday and it’s a mismatch all too familiar for the former Georgia Bulldog.
“He’s one of the best cornerbacks I’ve ever faced,” Green said of the Florida product.
These two first squared off in 2008 and Haden jumped a pass in front of Green and returned it 88 yards as the Gators won 49-10. The following year, Green was targeted even less (three receptions, 50 yards) and Florida won 41-7.
Week 1 Schedule
Kickoff rule vs. OVERS
It’s common knowledge by now, but worth repeating. Every NFL analyst and handicapper expects scoring to be down in 2011 because of the new kickoff rule.
With kickoffs coming from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, there will be more touchbacks and fewer long returns. In 2010, there were 23 kickoffs returned for touchdowns but in 1993 (the last year kickoffs were placed at the 35) there were only four touchdown returns.
“If you back up the offense and start them on the 20, you’re going to reduce the chances of scoring,” said Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio.
Of all the matchups in Week 1, the Lions-Buccaneers total is the only one that hasn’t dropped since opening and Saints-Packers was the only one that increased. The other 14 game totals plummeted by a combined 27 points.
“Our focus is going to be under first,” Covers Expert Dave Malinsky said. “You’d think (oddsmakers would) over adjust and create an over opportunity…but I think they’re going to be a little tied to their past models for totals, so in general we want to look under first.”
Thursday’s opener between New Orleans and Green Bay produced eight touchbacks on 12 kicks, but also featured a 108-yard kickoff return score from Packers rookie Randall Cobb, who tied the NFL record for the longest return TD. It’s a small sample to go from heading into the bulk of Week 1’s schedule.