- Associated Press - Friday, September 9, 2011

For NFL fans wondering where the spotlight will shine brightest on the first Sunday of the season, look no further.

We’re here to help.

After a wild offseason _ featuring a lockout and free-agent free-for-all afterward _ the opening weekend presents so many new faces in new places and so many intriguing story lines, it’s a tough task for many fans to keep up with who’s coaching where (Mike Singletary is the Vikings linebackers coach?), who’s playing (Kerry Collins for the Colts?) and who’s not (Brett Favre is retired?).

So on a Sunday that surely will be filled with more tears than touchdowns as the NFL pays tribute to the victims and heroes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 10 years ago, here’s a Pick 6 of players and teams that will draw the most attention. At least, that’s the thinking here:


_ Kerry Collins, QB, Colts: So much for retirement for a guy who took the Giants to the Super Bowl more than a decade ago. Collins is back for a 17th season, and steps right in to replace Peyton Manning, the four-time league MVP who had his third neck surgery Thursday and could miss the entire season. Pressure? “I have a good idea of what I need to do to get ready to play and give a winning performance,” Collins says. He’d better: Manning has led the Colts to 11 playoff berths, eight AFC South titles, two AFC championships and a Super Bowl victory. The Colts are at division rival Houston.

_ Philadelphia Eagles: Eagle eyes will be on St. Louis, where Philly begins its Super Bowl express against the Rams after landing CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DE Jason Babin, DT Cullen Jenkins, WR Steve Smith, RB Ronnie Brown and QB Vince Young to go with $100 million QB Michael Vick, WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy. No ifs, ands or buts here, the Eagles better start out with a win, and look like a Super Bowl team doing it.

_ Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: Must see TV, but this could turn ugly. The Heisman Trophy winner who led Auburn to a perfect season and national title makes his ballyhooed debut on the road against Arizona. He’ll work behind a shaky offensive line on a team that won two games and had the league’s worst offense a year ago _ and didn’t make many changes other than bring in a rookie head coach in Ron Rivera. Ready to step into the spotlight could be Newton’s counterpart, former Eagles QB Kevin Kolb, who makes his debut for the Cardinals.

_ Cowboys at Jets: Too many juicy angles to list ‘em all, so you’re best served by watching every play and every sideline shot. From Jets coach Rex Ryan to his twin brother, new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, oh the jawing _ and body language _ we should see. For Dallas, there’s the return of QB Tony Romo after missing most of last season with a left shoulder injury, and the full-time coaching debut of Jason Garrett. For New York, playing a few miles away from the World Trade Center has put added pressure on the team to win. And let’s not forget the return of WR Plaxico Burress following a 20-month jail term after accidentally shooting himself in a Manhattan nightclub.

_ James Harrison, LB, Steelers: Nothing like opening the season at fierce rival Baltimore for this guy. However, it remains to be seen how effective he is following two back procedures and little playing time in the preseason. With the league toughening its stance on illegal hits, can Harrison _ fined $100,000 (later slightly reduced) for illegal hits last season _ play within the rules on a consistent basis? The 33-year-old LB also is coming off a summer in which he criticized Commissioner Roger Goodell and some teammates, and then apologized, saying he was speaking out of anger and frustration.

_ Donovan McNabb, QB, Vikings: Third team in three years could work out _ maybe. With Favre out of the way (he’s still retired, right?), McNabb comes over after a horrible season with the Redskins to try and help new coach Leslie Frazier turn the Vikings into contenders. His best asset is running back Adrian Peterson, but McNabb can still fling the ball pretty well, and the last time he faced San Diego he threw for 450 yards in a 2009 loss while with the Eagles.