- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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NFL teams will find out in Week 1 if they are ready for some football.
Somehow, coaches managed to survive thrown-together training camps in which players were being signed during and after practices. It was a struggle. Blocking was spotty, but the quality of play was surprisingly good. Despite a turbulent offseason, football was back.
Still, the lockout had its impact. And Peyton Manning won't be ready for the start of the regular season because of neck surgery in May. Offensive lines are very unsettled heading into the first few weeks of the season. Rookies are raw. Coaches are tense.
Here are the 10 best highlights and trends for Week 1:
1. Manning the Colts' offense: It's going to be strange watching Kerry Collins run the Peyton Manning offense when the Indianapolis Colts visit the Houston Texans on Sunday. Manning is the ultimate field general, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage and getting into the heads of defensive coordinators. Collins lacks Manning's accuracy and has a completely different style. Although he's 38, Collins has a great deep arm. But his is more of a play-action game. The Colts have a young offensive line that starts a rookie left tackle (Anthony Castonzo) and two undrafted young players (Joe Reitz and Jeff Linkenbach) and don't figure to run the ball well against the Texans. Manning has dominated this series. On the flip side, Collins is 0-7 against teams with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. Collins also has had less than three weeks to learn the Colts' offense. Getting off to a fast start is going to be tough for the Colts.
2. Fast start concerns in Kansas City: Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley knows his team has to have a fast start to repeat as AFC West champs. The Chiefs have a relatively easy start to the season, but it gets tough in Week 5 with the Colts. The rest of the schedule is filled with playoff-caliber teams. To do well this season, the Chiefs need a 3-1 start. They open against the Buffalo Bills at home Sunday, but quarterback Matt Cassel is questionable because of a rib injury, and tight end Tony Moeaki is out for the season with a knee injury. Both were injured in the first half of the preseason finale, a type of game in which many coaches sit their starters for fear of injuries. Tyler Palko is on standby to start if Cassel can't go or if he can't fight through the pain during the game. After the Bills, the Chiefs play the Lions, Chargers and Vikings. The Chargers, who open the season at home against the Vikings, are also stressing a fast start. With three home games in their first four, the Chargers are counting on a 3-1 start. The Chiefs can't afford a false start if they want to stay ahead of the Chargers.
3. The best rivalry in football: Of the eight divisional games, the Steelers-Ravens game in Baltimore on Sunday is the headliner. The pressure is on the Ravens to win because they are at home. Heading into the game, the Steelers have a clear edge. Ben Roethlisberger looks sharp, and his receiving corps keeps improving. Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown create matchup problems for a Ravens secondary still figuring out what it has at cornerback. The Ravens, like the Steelers, have worries along the offensive line, but the Ravens have the bigger problems. Bryant McKinnie, who showed up overweight at Vikings camp, is trying to get into shape and adjust to being the Ravens' left tackle. Center Matt Birk missed the preseason with a knee injury. Michael Oher had to be moved to right tackle. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau figures to blitz the line. The Steelers have eight defensive starters in their 30s and figure to get off to a good start. The Ravens have the talent to get better by the end of the season, but they can't afford to fall behind the Steelers too much at the beginning of the season.
4. Upset alerts: Until teams settle down from the strange offseason, expect a lot of unusual upsets. The Atlanta-Chicago and Philadelphia-St. Louis games might be ones to watch for possible upsets. The Eagles may have assembled what Vince Young called the Dream Team, but they have 20 new players and a revamped offensive line. After no offseason together, the Eagles might have difficulties in their first road game. Andy Reid was still tinkering with his offensive line in the final weeks of the preseason, moving guard Todd Herremans to right tackle and giving Michael Vick a rookie center, Jason Kelce. Defenses were getting 10 hits a game on Vick during his appearances in the preseason. The Falcons are three-point favorites over the Bears, but the game is in Chicago. This could be the Falcons' year to make a Super Bowl run. Even though Matt Ryan kept his teammates working together during the offseason, they opened last season on the road and lost to a Steelers team that had Dennis Dixon at quarterback.
5. One word for quarterbacks: "Duck!" Has there ever been a time in recent memory when offensive lines have looked as bad heading into a season? The Seahawks open against the 49ers in a matchup of two lines that looked horrible during the preseason. Critics wondered why the Seahawks signed Tarvaris Jackson and the 49ers brought back Alex Smith, but no quarterback can do well with the blocking they had during the preseason. The Cowboys, who lost Tony Romo to injury last season, open against the New York Jets on Sunday night with an offensive line whose average age dropped from 31.2 last year to 25.4 this year. As many as 14 rookie offensive linemen could be starting this week. That's a lot to ask of a bunch of 300-pound prospects that had no coaching until the first of August.
6. More touchbacks, fewer touchdowns: Get ready for the kickoff rule. For safety reasons, the NFL moved kickoffs from the 30 to the 35. Forty percent of the kickoffs went for touchbacks in the 64 preseason games compared with 16 percent last year. In the final cut, teams such as the Seahawks, Cowboys and others juggled their rosters to make sure they had kickers who can boom footballs to the back of the end zone. The Steelers, for example, can't allow the Ravens to get too many scores because Billy Cundiff is almost an automatic for touchbacks, forcing drives to start at the 20. Jay Cutler of the Bears won't enjoy his usual drive starts from the 31 and 33 that he's had the past couple of seasons. The normal drive start after kickoffs last season was the 27. If more teams start at the 20, getting 80-yard touchdown drives could be difficult, which will reduce scoring.
7. Workhorse backs could have slow starts: Teams have no trouble giving a running back 20 or more carries a game. Because backs tend to wear down by the age of 28, they have trouble paying them. That's why it will be fascinating to see how well some of the league's best backs do at the start of the season. Titans running back Chris Johnson held out of four preseason games and got a new contract, but will he be at his best for the opener after missing that much time? He'll be going against Jags workhorse Maurice Jones-Drew, who is coming back from knee problems. Frank Gore of the 49ers opens against the Seahawks, but he had to battle with the team to get a contract extension. Matt Forte of the Bears opens against the Falcons knowing that talks for a new contract broke off. Arian Foster of the Texans can't shake hamstring problems and is a question mark for the opener against the Colts.
8. More no-huddle: From Matt Ryan in Atlanta to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, established quarterbacks are getting more green lights to use the no-huddle offense. New kickoff rules will force longer drives for touchdowns, so it only makes sense for a coach to let his quarterback call plays at the line of scrimmage to tire out defensive players and limit situational substitution. It was scary how effective Rodgers was running the no-huddle in the preseason. Not a single defensive player is used to playing a full football game. A no-huddle offense will test players' conditioning and take away their explosion after a few no-huddle possessions.
9. Surprise team opener: A young Tampa Bay Buccaneers team surprised the NFL with a 10-win season in 2010. Are the Detroit Lions this year's surprise team? We'll get an indication in the Bucs' opener against the Lions. Bucs management banked on the success of last year's young players and stayed away from free agency. They go against a Lions team that has been the talk of the league this offseason. The Lions look great on offense with Matthew Stafford healthy for a change. The defense looks improved. This showdown should be interesting.
10. Do you feel Luck-y: The race for the league's worst record and the chance to draft Andrew Luck starts this weekend. So who is the worst team? The Bills have one of the thinnest rosters and open in Kansas City. Carson Palmer was so sick of being a Bengal that he retired. The Bengals open in Cleveland. The Carolina Panthers drafted Cam Newton with the first pick and plan to start him against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The Denver Broncos will try to rally around Kyle Orton and see if they are improved. They host the Oakland Raiders Monday night.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
From no Manning in Indy to no-huddle in Green Bay, teams will make many adjustments in Week 1, writes John Clayton.