Welcome to the NFL Pregame Ritual

Updated: September 13, 2009, 4:29 AM ET
By Toby Mergler | Special to Page 2

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Pregame Ritual, a new feature here at Page 2 in which we'll get you ready for the day's NFL action each Sunday morning. Let's get right to it.

Three key games to watch

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Michael ConroyWhen he's not aggressively training for the Double Stuff Racing League, Peyton squeezes in a little NFL fun.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (1 p.m. ET)
Most times after a team makes a change at the top, all you hear entering the season is, "New coach! New coach! New coach!" shouted from the rooftops by the media. That hasn't been the case in Indianapolis. Perhaps it's because Indy is one of the few teams defined by a player (Peyton Manning) instead of a coach. Maybe it's because the Colts appear to have managed the transition by examining everything Al Davis does and then doing the opposite. Nevertheless, we wonder how many readers can name the Colts' new head coach without consulting Google. That's how quiet an offseason it's been in Indianapolis. Relatively quiet, anyway.

Even if you're not a Colts fan, it's refreshing to see a team give credence to continuity, as opposed to teams which change coaches and systems at the drop of a hat without paying any attention to personnel. (You think Dan Snyder's ears are burning right now?)

As for this game, I catch a lot of the Colts, mainly for Manning. Just like watching Joey Chestnut devour 68 hot dogs or Bills cornerback Ellis Lankster holding court with the media, it's nice to see people doing what they were put on Earth to do.

Washington at New York Giants (4:15 p.m.)
Full disclosure: I'm a diehard Redskins fan. My first memories in life are watching their games with my dad; I've never looked back. They are my favorite team in all of sports, and it's not really close. That said, I consider myself a rational Skins fan. That might sound like an oxymoron, but I think I've managed to keep my perspective on the team over the years. The recent ticket controversy and new tailgating policy have rankled many longtime fans, and the way the team has treated Jason Campbell since the moment it drafted him leaves a lot to be desired.

To those who think this is Washington's year: No, it's not. Shaky receivers, bad vibes toward the owner and lousy line depth typically don't add up to a championship.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jerry Lai/US PresswireThink of it this way Bears fans, Cutler can't be worse than ... well, everyone before him.

Chicago at Green Bay (8:20 p.m.)
How will Aaron Rodgers respond to the pressure of having Brett Favre in the division? Rodgers was so good last year; it would be unfortunate if he unraveled as a result of the Wranglered One's return. It would be like seeing your freshman roommate get dumped by his high school girlfriend the first week of school, only to rebound and dominate to the point you move your bed into the hallway because the sock is on the door so often. But then he goes home for that awkward first summer and sees her with a new dude at every party. Next thing you know, he shows up sophomore year 20 pounds heavier, sporting a patchy beard and listening to nothing but old Morrissey albums. No one wants to see that.

Play we'd like to see today

We'd like to see a coach with some, um, fortitude open the season with an onside kick designed for the kicker to recover.

If you haven't seen it before, the kicking team lines up normally, but rather than kicking deep, the kicker dribbles the ball on the ground slowly enough that he can run beside it. The other 10 guys rush forward and destroy the unsuspecting up-men on the return team as if they're recreating the opening scene of "Gladiator." After the chaos is unleashed, the tiny kicker falls on the ball 10 yards downfield.

Why don't teams use it more often? Any head coach with a lousy defense should consider running it whenever the opponent doesn't have eight men within 10 yards of the kicker. You'd ruin the opponent's return game, and fans would be salivating every time the ball is teed up. This strategy might not be as crazy as you think.

Fine, I'll ask

Five questions about today's Detroit-New Orleans game:

If the Saints replaced their Gatorade with a giant pitcher of hurricanes, could the Lions keep the game within a touchdown?

Will Matthew Stafford become better known for his quarterbacking acumen than poolside blog photos?

Will Drew Brees be on pace for 7,000 yards and 96 TDs after this game?

Is there any chance Calvin Johnson will bat down Stafford's passes and demand a trade at halftime?

Would Reggie Bush be considered the best fantasy player ever if points were awarded for lateral yards?

Storyline we care about

Brandon Marshall's extension talks
We can't get enough of what is going on in Denver. First Jay Cutler complains his way out of town and replaces the "fifth Beatle" look with the "Tom Brady wannabe" look.

Then Marshall puts on a public tantrum that would make a 4-year-old blush, and Denver considers locking him up long term. Considering the careers of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, this should work out just fine for the Broncos.

Can't you just picture Josh McDaniels sitting alone in his darkened den, flipping through recent Patriots media guides as if they were old yearbooks? He comes across a photo of him and Bill Belichick smiling and thinks of calling his old boss to reminisce. He picks up the phone and dials nine numbers, but he just can't bring himself to hit the 10th. He then puts the phone down, pours himself a scotch and sobs.

Of course, it's crazy to think this would actually happen: Belichick would never smile.

Storyline we don't care about

Brett Favre might not play in all 16 games
Did Favre just pre-emptively announce he's going to semi-retire at midseason? The man is a visionary. Or a sorcerer. We're not ruling anything out.

Most important fantasy players

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Gisele Bundchen
Marcel Thomas/Getty ImagesAfter impressing Gisele, 300 linemen aren't that intimidating to Tom Brady -- he'll be fine.

Tom Brady: After watching Brady get carted off the field in last season's opener, suffer setbacks during rehab and fumble through an "Entourage" cameo in which he seemed to be doing an impression of Andy Samberg doing an impression of Mark Wahlberg ("Hey Turtle, I like your girlfriend. We should go out sometime"), fantasy owners need to see him play four solid quarters before they can exhale.

Cedric Benson: Last year, guys would have rather said the words "Sorry I said your butt was getting as big as your mother's, honey" than "I draft Cedric Benson," but now many of us have him in our starting lineup.

LaDainian Tomlinson: A former fantasy overlord, Tomlinson enters this season with equal parts upside and downside. If he doesn't come out and dominate an Oakland defense that features more no-names than the WB, owners might start to panic.

Braylon Edwards: We wouldn't have drafted him earlier than the fifth round in a Braylon Edwards-only league. Captain Stonehands has a lot to atone for this year, and the opener against Minny at home would be a good place to start.

Enjoy this glorious Week 1 Sunday, everyone. See you next week.

Toby Mergler is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., who has previously written for, Fanball and the Virginia Law Weekly. He can be reached at