The Colts take aim at the Bears in Week 1
The NFL season is back, and after an exhilarating curtain raiser on Wednesday night, we are in full flow and with more live games available on free-to-air television than ever before, William Hill continue to offer a wide range of markets across the sport. Each week, we will be previewing the live games shown in the UK, continuing throughout the regular season up until the Super Bowl in February.
Indianapolis Colts @ Chicago Bears
Last season, the Colts didn't win 10 games for only the second time in 13 seasons, but after succeeding in the ‘Suck for Luck' campaign, they collected the number 1 overall draft pick and selected the Stanford QB, looking to begin a new era that breeds success for years to come. A weak team was added to through free agency and the draft, and under new head coach Chuck Pagano, former defensive co-ordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, Indy can expect a better year than last, however this is very much a season of development, and nothing more.
In Chicago, the promotion of Mike Tice to offensive co-ordinator as well as a trade for WR Brandon Marshall has seen things turn round quickly, and with faith in QB Jay Cutler, this team are this seasons NFC dark horse. In a tough division, Chicago will need to win most, if not all, of their home games in order to see post-season action, but against the Colts in week 1, Chicago will be disappointed with anything other than a win.
Key matchup: Julius Peppers v Anthony Castonzo
Julius Peppers is a seasoned veteran at defensive end, but is potentially at the peak of his power and freakish abilities to beat an LT. If second year left tackle Castonzo doesn't get to grips with Peppers early on, the Colts rookie QB could be in for a long afternoon.
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts 10-27 Chicago Bears
San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers
The San Francisco 49ers came two fumble losses away from a Super Bowl appearance in 2011, and after a season like that, much to the surprise of many; it will be difficult to once again confound expectation. In fact, for SF, this season may well be a return to reality. For years, Alex Smith has consistently proven he is an average QB who has only fleeting moments of being better than that, whilst an ageing running game could see the 49ers offense stutter. Facing the Packers defense though could be a help, after all they ranked 32nd in the league last season.
The Packers offense however is a force to be reckoned with. Aaron Rodgers is a superstar in the current NFL mould, and with a talented group of receivers, a utility TE, and now a revamped running game with former Bengals RB Cedric Benson, for fans of the Lambeau Leap, this season promises to be fruitful. Greg Jennings is a top 10 WR, and in a division with questionable secondaries, Rodgers could once again make Jennings shine.
Key matchup: Greg Jennings v Tarell Brown
As the aforementioned Greg Jennings possesses such ability, however last season, Tarell Brown broke out as the 49ers starter at CB opposite Carlos Rodgers, and Jennings will need to run the perfect routes to get on top of Brown, who has 9 picks and over 150 tackles to his name in an injury marred career.
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers 17-31 Green Bay Packers
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
A repeat of the 2011 Wildcard meeting between these two teams would be a turn up for the books, and one that would no doubt anger Mike Tomlin. The Steelers season ended in disarray last year, and after an offseason of veteran departures, Pittsburgh will be without some of the names that have characterised their defense in past years, including Ryan Clark who, whilst still a Steeler, is unable to travel due to the altitude at which Denver sits. Running by committee with be the MO of Pittsburgh's rush offense this season, whilst the Big Ben will hope to lead this team to another division title.
In Denver, last season was punctuated by success brought to them by the miracle worker that is Tim Tebow. Well, without him they should be able to morve on, and look to breed success in a more conventional manner. A strong youthful defense should help this team compete for the AFC West, however their offense, led by Peyton Manning will need to produce in order to guarantee a playoff appearance.
Key matchup: James Harrison v Ryan Clady
In a 3-4 defense, Harrison possesses lighting quick reflexes as an edge rusher, and Denver's LT Ryan Clady will have his hands full when the Steelers ROLB brings the blitz. Clady's production is vital to this offensive line, which in turn is responsible for Manning's ability to stay upright and avoid injury.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers 17-14 Denver Broncos