Suspensions to a few key players could impact the fortunes of several potential Super Bowl contenders when the NFL begins its 2014 season this week. Here's what you need to know heading into Week 1.

Thursday, Sept. 4

Golden Tate
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Golden Tate Won't Beat Green Bay This Time

Green Bay at Seattle | CenturyLink Field; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

The last time the Seahawks hosted the Packers in prime time (2012), the game ended on a terrible call by replacement officials who decided that Seattle's Golden Tate did catch Russell Wilson's game-ending "Fail Mary" pass good for a Seattle touchdown — and a big, fat black eye for the NFL.

Two years later, Tate is in Detroit; the replacement officials are back to teaching, gardening and working Lingerie Football League games and the Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champions. While all eyes will be on Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary against Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, the real key to the game is the ability of the Packers defense to keep the Seahawks from controlling the pace of this potential NFC Championship preview.


Sunday, Sept. 7

Matt Ryan
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Two Games Have Playoff Implications. Sort Of.

New Orleans at Atlanta | Georgia Dome; 1 p.m. (ET) on FOX
Cincinnati at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Playoffs? Are you kiddin' me? Playoffs! …We are not kidding: two Week 1 games between pairs of divisional rivals will help determine which of these teams' seasons get off to a good start. If these match-ups were in Week 17, they'd likely receive the full-on hysteria treatment from the media hype machine. Do not sleep on these games.

The Saints travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons and their retooled offensive line, which was barely a speed bump for opposing pass rushers who sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan 44 times in 2013. New Orleans hopes QB Drew Brees can carve up the Falcons suspect defense. The Saints could announce their NFC title aspirations with a convincing win over their longtime rivals. There are still 16 weeks to go after this one, though.

The Bengals visit the Ravens in a clash of teams who are expected to contend for the AFC North crown. After making the playoffs the past three years, Cincinnati hopes to get over the hump and actually win a post-season game for the first time since 1990. Baltimore has won two Super Bowls in that time. A win could get them started toward chasing a third — or at least quiet the Bengals' roar.


Johnny Manziel
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The Steelers Are Ready For Johnny Football

Cleveland at Pittsburgh | Heinz Field; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Brian Hoyer won the Browns quarterback job, but unless he can dominate the Steelers' defense the TV cameras are likely to dedicate more face time to his backup, Johnny Manziel. Pittsburgh spent the week preparing for Hoyer AND the charismatic first-round pick out of Texas A&M. Rallying the Browns to a win over their biggest rival would be the latest, greatest chapter in Manziel's improbable story. It's one Mike Tomlin's Steelers would rather rewrite with an unhappy ending.


Derek Carr
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The Raiders' QB Has The Punniest Name In The NFL

Oakland at NY Jets | MetLife Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

New York City tabloids love a good play on words. The Raiders decision to start 2014 second-round draft pick Derek Carr over veteran Matt Schaub at quarterback must have the headline writers salivating. Even the Raiders' Twitter account is all-in on Carr.

Whether it's "Carr Wrecks Jets" or "Jets Wash Carr" or something even sillier, this game between 2013 also-rans doesn't figure to make for pretty prose outside of Carr's surname. New York's second-year QB Geno Smith probably hopes that Carr is the focus of the scribes' ire instead of him (for a change).


Dallas Cowboys v San Diego Chargers
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That's Dallas With A Small 'D'

San Francisco at Dallas | AT&T Stadium; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on FOX

The Cowboys aren't living up to their city's nickname ("Big D"). With defensive backs Orlando Scandrick and Jakar Hamilton each suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, "dallas" could struggle even more than it did in 2013, when its defense ranked last in the league.

After consecutive conference title game appearances, the 49ers expect to once again be among the NFL's best teams — and they might be — IF they had injured linebacker NaVorro Bowman and suspended linebacker Aldon Smith. If Niners' defensive end Ray McDonald gets suspended for the domestic incident at his home last weekend, San Francisco's vaunted defense will just be a shell of itself. Still, the 49ers should be markedly better than the Cowboys.


Wes Welker
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The Broncos Will Miss Wes Welker (If He's Suspended)

Indianapolis at Denver | Sports Authority Field at Mile High; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

Thanks to quarterback Peyton Manning and receivers Julius and Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos' offense is loaded even without Wes Welker. However, the loss of arguably the greatest slot receiver in league history to a reported four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy will hurt Denver's ability to sustain drives — and pile up the points on opponents. Reminder: the Colts beat the Broncos with Welker in Indianapolis last season.

Denver also faces Kansas City (Sept. 14) and Arizona (Oct. 5) at home during Welker's supposed suspension, and they'll visit Seattle (Sept. 21) to play the team that dismantled them in the Super Bowl. A bad break or two and the defending AFC champs could find themselves under .500 after Week 5.

Other Games

Sun. Sept. 7
Minnesota at St. Louis | Edward Jones Dome; 1 p.m. (ET) on FOX
Jacksonville at Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Buffalo at Chicago | Soldier Field; 1 p.m. (ET) on FOX
Washington at Houston | Reliant Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on FOX
Tennessee at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
New England at Miami | Sun Life Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Carolina at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on FOX

Mon. Sept. 8
N.Y. Giants at Detroit | Ford Field; 7:10 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
San Diego at Arizona | U of Phoenix Stadium; 10:20 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

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