Can Titans replace Haynesworth? Who’s tops in NFC?

Here are five things I’m looking for during Week 1:

1. Can the Titans’ defense be as good without DT Albert Haynesworth? When Tennessee defeated eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in Nashville last season — the Terrible-Towel-as-a-doormat game — then-rookie Jason Jones registered three sacks in the injured Haynesworth’s place. Jones had a strong training camp this summer and is being called upon to permanently fill the void that Haynesworth left when he bolted to D.C. The Steelers likely will pay Jones some attention Thursday night because there are still questions about their offensive line while there aren’t many about Tennessee’s defensive line.

2. With some of the tempered optimism in Cincinnati, I’m curious to see if the Bengals are for real. They host the Broncos, who will play a nicked-up quarterback but still should provide a good test. Someone with the Bengals told me that the defense, which was radically improved last season under coordinator Mike Zimmer, is finally big, physical and playing like a legitimate NFL unit. They will be challenged by the Broncos, especially if WR Brandon Marshall plays, so we’ll see.

3. We’ll also find out what Houston’s got. The Texans are being pegged for a playoff push, in part because of their upgraded defense. They figure to be coming after Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez, but they have to slow the running game first. New York has a very good offensive line, and if it can establish itself on the ground, Houston will be in for a serious battle. I’m loving the Andre Johnson-Darrelle Revis matchup.

4. The Packers have folks (like me) picking them to do big things, in part because their switch to a 3-4 defense looks like a brilliant move. They’ll be tested out of the gate by the Bears, whose stud tailback, Matt Forte, has been overshadowed by QB Jay Cutler. The Packers have a lot of defensive talent, and I expect DE Cullen Jenkins to do big things. “Once we got people to buy into the system and realize what we can do as a defense, we’ve been rolling,” Jenkins said. Rookie DE B.J. Raji, who was very impressive in the preseason, is nursing a bad ankle and apparently will be limited, if he plays.

5. I’m very high on the Saints after seeing them in training camp and watching them in the preseason. They open at Detroit, which I think will be a much closer game than others do, because I believe the Lions will be better. I want to see if there isn’t a play when the Saints don’t blitz Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford. New Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for letting it rip, and with DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith available, I envision them trying to fluster Stafford. “Right now we have a good game plan going,” Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma said very evasively. “We’ll see once we start playing.”

We’ll see all right.

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