Why We Watch: Can ageless Manning conquer Ravens again?

The 2015 season opened Thursday night, and a complete schedule of games resumes this weekend, with Baltimore-Denver leading the parade. The Ravens are a trendy playoff pick, but in 39-year-old Peyton Manning they face an opponent who's beaten them 10 of his last 11 tries. Want more? Keep reading our weekend preview.


(John Harbaugh photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

(Peyton Manning photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)


Baltimore @ Denver, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Broncos by 4-1/2

The story: Baltimore is a trendy AFC pick, and Denver won the conference two years ago. So maybe this is a barometer of what’s to come … only I don’t think so. Denver has a young and overhauled offensive line, lost a red-zone threat in Julius Thomas and has a quarterback – OK, Peyton Manning – who turned 39 in March. Which, of course, is why the Broncos will try to turn the clock back to 1997, with Manning playing John Elway and C.J. Anderson playing Terrell Davis. Manning won 10 of his past 11 vs. Baltimore, with 25 TDs and 8 interceptions, and that’s the good news. The bad? Did I mention he turned 39 in March? Long seasons are cruel to aging quarterbacks, something Manning discovered last season. Prediction: This time in January we’ll be talking more about Baltimore than we will Denver.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Ravens are 5-1 vs. Gary Kubiak, but the Broncos won 14 of their last 15 home openers.


Seattle @ St. Louis, 1 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Seahawks by 4

The story: Seattle isn’t just the best team in the NFC West; it’s the best team in the NFC, period. But beware, St. Louis. Yeah, I know the Rams won’t have Todd Gurley Sunday, but look for St. Louis to give the NFC champions fits because … well, because the Rams usually do. They won two of their last three vs. Seattle at home, with three different quarterbacks. The only loss? A 14-9 decision with Kellen Clemens at quarterback. Nick Foles, you're next.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Seattle is 7-1 against the spread in its last eight games vs. division opponents.

Indianapolis @ Buffalo, 1 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Colts by 2-1/2

The story: Stop if you’ve heard this before: Rex Ryan says his team is going to the playoffs. OK, these Bills have a chance. But when’s the last time they did anything in January besides shovel snow? Try 1999. That’s 15 long winters. Ryan has called for fans to rattle Andrew Luck here, but I have a better idea: Make his defense do it. Two things we want to see: 1) How Tyrod Taylor handles his first start, and 2) how the Indianapolis offensive line handles a tsunami of blitzes.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Bills didn’t allow more than 250 yards passing by an opposing quarterback after a Week 6 loss to New England.

Marcus Mariota photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans

(Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans)

Tennessee @ Tampa Bay, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Bucs by 3

The story: It's Mariota vs. Winston. Simple as that. There’s no other reason to watch. It’s two bottom feeders quarterbacked by the first and second picks in this year’s draft, with Tampa coach Lovie Smith promising to “throw everything at Marcus Mariota.” That’s great if you have something to throw. But the Bucs last year ranked 25th in defense and were so bad that Lovie said he would be more involved with that unit this season.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Tampa Bay’s Michael Evans has 12 TDs in his past 12 games.


Philadelphia @ Atlanta, 7:10 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Eagles by 3

The story: This is more about the Eagles than it is Atlanta. Chip Kelly overhauled the club, making Sam Bradford his quarterback, and first question: What’s the over/under on Bradford's next injury? If there are certainties in life they are death, taxes and another Bradford setback. But that, folks, is why Kelly added DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. You can protect a quarterback with a front five and with a running game – something Dallas proved last season.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Eagles won their last six road openers, with the last two on Monday nights. That’s tied for the longest active streak among NFC teams. Atlanta, on the other hand, won its last seven home openers – the longest streak in the NFL. Something's gotta give.

Minnesota @ San Francisco, 10:20 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Vikings by 2-1/2

The story: Adrian Peterson is back and ready to prove he’s more than a Hall-of-Fame back ("that's a no-brainer," he says). Now he plans on demonstrating he’s the league’s “best player ever.” Not its best running back. Best player. In the meantime, his return and an improved Teddy Bridgewater have the Vikings talking playoffs, while the 49ers try to stop them with a defense missing over half its starters from a year ago. Eric Mangini, welcome to the hot box.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: San Francisco’s 46 wins on Monday Night TV are the most in league history.


Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys
Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

(Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

Dallas (-6) over N.Y. Giants, 8:30 p.m.

The story: It’s not that I like Dallas this season; it’s that I don’t like the Giants. I mean, if you have a pulse, you can start at safety … and that’s not how you beat the league’s highest-rated quarterback. Yes, Dallas has issues – namely on defense – and, yes, the Cowboys miss DeMarco Murray. But neither matters here. Plain and simple, the Giants are road kill waiting to happen.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Tom Coughlin is one of only three active coaches who won 10 or more regular-season openers and have an opening-weekend win percentage above .500. The others are Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher.


Oakland (+3.5) over Cincinnati, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)

The story: OK, so the last time the Raiders were a factor your Dad walked 10 miles to school. But they seem headed in the right direction now, and, no, I don't mean Carson. Derek Carr will improve on his rookie season, Amari Cooper is a legit weapon and Khalil Mack is unblockable on defense. One of these days they have to wake up. I say Sunday's that day.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Bengals Jeremy Hill had four games last season of 150 or more yards rushing, tying Hall-of-Famers Eric Dickerson and Curtis Martin as the only rookies to accomplish that feat.


To Charles Haley. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, he will be inducted into the 49ers’ Hall of Fame this weekend, then honored by the team at halftime of its Monday night game with Minnesota. Haley played with the 49ers from 1986 through 1991, winning two Super Bowl rings, before leaving for Dallas where he won three more rings. Nevertheless, when Haley was inducted into Canton he had 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo present him.

To the 1964-65 Buffalo Bills. The 50th anniversary of the championship team will be celebrated at halftime of the Bills-Colts game, with 18 players and the families of four others expected to attend.



(Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)

St. Louis DE Chris Long. He has seven sacks in his last four games vs. Seattle.

Arizona QB Carson Palmer. He’s won 10 of 12 starts at home with Cardinals.

Philadelphia RB DeMarco Murray. In his last six games in September, DeMarco Murray has run for 779 yards (129.8 yards per game) and 6 TDs.

Denver LB DeMarcus Ware. He needs one sack to tie Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson for 13th on the all-time list. Ware has 127 sacks.

Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles. He has 14 touchdowns in his last 13 games.


1. The 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick has 17 games with a passer rating of 100 or more. The 49ers are 16-1 in those games.

2. The 49 Super Bowl winners are 39-9-1 on Opening Weekend. Since the NFL went to a 16-game format in 1978, and excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season, teams that win on opening weekend are more than twice as likely to wind up in the playoffs as teams that lose.

3. Denver is 41-13-1 in home openers, the best winning percentage (.759) in the league.

4. With 309 yards passing vs. Baltimore, Peyton Manning will join Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks in league history with 70,000 career yards passing.

5. For the fourth straight season the Chargers will dress in all-white uniforms for their home opener. They are 2-1 in all white, including a 30-21 defeat of defending Super Bowl champion Seattle last year.

6. With four touchdown passes, Drew Brees would become the fastest to reach 400 career scores. He’s at 396 in 202 games. Peyton Manning holds the record, hitting 400 in 209.

7. Philadelphia won its last four season openers, scoring 30 or more points in three of them.

8. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton ranks third among quarterbacks in red-zone touchdowns vs. interceptions (with a minimum of 25 red-zone TDs). Dalton has 68 red-zone TDs and three interceptions, behind Aaron Rodgers (144-5) and Russell Wilson (49-2).

9. Arizona is 8-1 in regular-season home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium, winning their last five there. Seven of those eight wins were by seven or fewer points.

10.Andy Reid is a perfect 4-0 vs. Houston.