7 points: Eli, Giants will be counting on Boss

1. Drew Brees vs. Matthew Stafford. That’s just not fair.

While the 0-16 finish by the Detroit Lions last year was slightly amusing, there’s nothing funny about this weekend’s matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions.

I mean, come on. Give these guys a break, will you? This is an out-of-bounds late hit by whoever drew up this year’s schedule.

Brees is playing the quarterback position like he owns it. He threw for over 5,000 yards last year and tossed 34 touchdown passes with tight end Jeremy Shockey and wide receiver Marques Colston missing substantial playing time with injuries.

Meanwhile, the Lions have decided to throw top draft pick Matthew Stafford into the starter’s role — even though he was the team’s second-best quarterback during the preseason. Despite my high regard for head coach Jim Schwartz, it’s a move I disagree with on a number of fronts, but none more important than the fact that Stafford truly doesn’t look close to being ready.

Though I understand the desire to get your franchise quarterback of the future started as soon as possible, this has the makings of being a confidence-shattering outing for the rookie — and one that could leave some marks on him, compliments of the New Orleans defense.

2. Kevin Boss will play a major role in the Giants’ passing attack.

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With New York entering the season a bit unsettled at wide receiver, quarterback Eli Manning needs to be able to lean upon his steady, third-year tight end. Fortunately, Kevin Boss is up to the task.

“Our relationship and chemistry on the field has definitely grown every year, and we’re continuing to get more comfortable with each other,” Boss told me this week. “I think he’s starting to be able to read my mind, what I’m thinking, and we’re saying the same thing. I think we’re more on the same page.”

After primarily playing a blocking role during his rookie season, Boss stepped up as the team’s No. 1 tight end last year, making 33 catches for 384 yards and scoring six touchdowns. But as he heads into this weekend’s matchup against the Washington Redskins, the 6-foot-6, 253-pound player isn’t too concerned about his stats.

“Most importantly, I want to win. That’s the No. 1 thing I want to do, whatever it takes to help this team win and help get us back to a Super Bowl,” Boss said. “If that takes catching 60 balls, that’d be great. If it takes catching 35 or 40 and we’re still winning, that’s fine by me.”

3. Unless Matt Cassel’s knee is fully healed, the Chiefs should keep him on the sidelines this Sunday.

I’m sure that new head coach Todd Haley would like to give his team a fighting chance to win at Baltimore this weekend, but if Cassel isn’t 100 percent healthy, the smart move would be to sit this one out.

It’s a long season, but it could become considerably shorter for Cassel if he takes a hit to an injured knee from the likes of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs or Haloti Ngata. Haley wasn’t there to witness it first-hand, but the “Quarterback of the Week” situation in Kansas City drained the club’s morale. And the last thing the returning Chiefs players need to see is a similar scenario unfold during Week 1.

But no matter what the Chiefs decide to do about the quarterback position, the Ravens aren’t going to be distracted from the need to focus on stopping the running game.

Entering his seventh NFL season, Kansas City’s Larry Johnson has an opportunity to reward the confidence the team’s new management and head coach have shown in him after two rocky and disappointing seasons. The former Penn State star

rushed for more than 1,700 yards in back-to-back seasons before his slump, and

sophomore running back Jamaal Charles is hungry for more playing time.

“They like to run the ball, and we like to stop the run,” the Ravens’ Lewis said this week. “That’s what you really grab from this type of battle.”

4. Rams safety Oshiomogho “O.J.” Atogwe deserves more respect.

Over the past three seasons, the Rams’ playmaker has notched 21 turnovers for his team. That’s just four short of the mark of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ed Reed during that same span. Reed also holds an edge over Atogwe in passes defensed (54-40) but falls short of St. Louis’ franchise tag player in two other important categories. Atogwe has forced 11 fumbles against just two for Reed. And in total tackles, it’s not even close. Atogwe’s 232 tackles, including a career-best 85 last year, dwarf Reed’s 139 during that span.

But don’t get me wrong. Reed is a future Hall of Famer who is one of the most dominating playmakers of his era. My point is Atogwe, who has been putting on quite a show of his own, has been largely overlooked by comparison, and we shouldn’t let it happen again because he’s amazing in his own right.

This weekend, Atogwe heads to Seattle to play the Seahawks, whom the Rams have never beaten during his four-year career. But the friendly and humble defensive back told me this week Seattle is one of his favorite places to play.

“We haven’t had much success up there, but you can’t ask for a better environment — fans screaming, you feel like they are directly on top of you,” he said. “Regardless of when you’re playing, you’re going to get a little bit of rain. It just feels like real football — the environment you watched as a kid, what you dreamed of playing in — and I think it definitely meets up to those standards and expectations.”

Atogwe is also looking forward to the return of Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle’s starting lineup, even though that means a bigger challenge for the Rams this weekend.

“He has been in this offensive system for so long, there’s not too much he doesn’t know about it, not too much he hasn’t seen,” he said. “It’s really a chess match, so to speak, to try to rattle him and get in his mind, because he’s been doing it for so long at a high level. In my eyes, he’s still a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback.”

5. For some real fun this weekend, keep an eye on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in the Colts-Jaguars game.

Congratulations, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, you’ve earned the right to be the Week 1 starting bookends on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive line as rookies. That’s an impressive feat, and both players should be extremely proud of their accomplishment.

But the bad news is that they have to face two of the most talented pass rushers in the NFL during their debut against the Indianapolis Colts.

Monroe, the team’s top draft pick, draws the matchup at left tackle against Dwight Freeney. Britton, the first offensive lineman taken in the second round of the draft, will dig in against Robert Mathis.

Though both rookies are worthy of their high draft status, I give Britton a better shot at keeping Mathis in check. The former University of Arizona offensive tackle worked out of the spread offense, so he has gotten more than his fair share of pass protection reps. And despite his 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame, he has good speed and long arms that will help him immensely in his battle with the quick and dangerous defensive end.

6. The 49ers-Cardinals matchup is an important test for both teams.

Who would have thought it? After watching the Cardinals nearly win a Super Bowl, a season opener against the 49ers should have been an automatic checkmark in the win column for this team.

But after an erratic preseason by the Boys of Birdland and a new attitude in San Francisco, this game could actually be worth watching.

Head coach Mike Singletary has drilled home the message that he expects his players to bring an intensity to the field that has been lacking in San Francisco for years. And while it appears the team is on a much better track, that nagging question about the stability at quarterback with Shaun Hill taking the snaps this weekend still lingers.

Bottom line? The Cardinals need to stop inspired running back Frank Gore and get their talented passing game on a roll early if they want to put the preseason rumblings of doubt to rest.

7. The NFL knows how to get fans excited like no other sports league in the world.

If you watched the opening of the Steelers-Titans matchup on Thursday night and didn’t get chills, have someone check your pulse to make sure you’re still alive.

They had me riveted once again as I watched the emotionally charged clips of last season’s Super Bowl action. A wave of nostalgia hit me as I looked at the smiling faces of great Steelers players of the past proudly displaying their rings. And the gleaming six Lombardi trophies were yet another reminder of the exhilarating triumph that only a single team out of this year’s field of 32 will enjoy.

The music swelled, the fireworks filled the night skies over Pittsburgh and Heinz Field and then the Steelers roared out of their tunnel with the music blaring, “Let’s get it started.”

Indeed. Let’s get it started.

Be prepared to spend plenty of time on the edge of your seat for the next few months. There’s nothing like NFL football, folks.

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