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These players could make all-return team

September 13, 2009|SAM FARMER

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans opened the 2009 NFL season Thursday night. Now, everybody else gets their chance.

Some of the league's marquee players will be running comeback patterns in Week 1, returning from injuries that sidelined them for all or part of the 2008 season.

Among those making their returns:

QB Tom Brady, New England: Picked the league's most valuable player in 2007, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2008 opener. This summer, he was flattened by Washington's Albert Haynesworth and sustained a minor injury to his throwing shoulder. It shouldn't slow the All-Pro quarterback much, though.

DE Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants: A knee injury kept Umenyiora on the sideline last season, and that was a significant loss for New York's defense. But in that big man's absence, teammate Justin Tuck stepped up and made himself even more of a defensive factor.

LB Shawne Merriman, San Diego: This is a huge year for Merriman, who missed last season because of a bum knee. He's in the final year of his contract and is playing for a blockbuster deal in San Diego or, more likely, elsewhere. He's off to a bumpy start, spending time in jail for an alleged assault of a female companion.

QB Carson Palmer, Cincinnati: The Bengals' leader played in only four games last season because of torn ligaments in his throwing elbow. This summer, he battled a high ankle sprain, an injury that sounds more innocuous than it actually is.

RB Felix Jones, Dallas: As a rookie last season, Jones finished the year on injured reserve with toe and hamstring injuries. He's fast and elusive enough to make a huge impact this season. The Cowboys are banking on that, at least.


Rookies you should be watching:

QB Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: He had a terrific summer after logging only 16 starts at USC.

QB Matt Stafford, Detroit: First Lions rookie quarterback to start the opener since Greg Landry in 1968.

WR Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia: Super-quick Maclin has given Eagles fans a glimpse this summer of how explosive he can be.

WR Hakeem Nicks, NY Giants: Nicks led the NFL with 272 yards receiving this summer. Can he do it when it counts?

RB Beanie Wells, Arizona: Although he sat out most of camp because of a sprained ankle, Wells was impressive when he played.

WR Percy Harvin, Minnesota: Watch for him to run wildcat, and be featured in a split-backfield look with Adrian Peterson.

LB Brian Cushing, Houston: He didn't play in the exhibition season because of a sprained knee, but he'll be a starter at outside linebacker.

RB Knowshon Moreno, Denver: Moreno, getting over sprained knee, will be a big component of the Broncos' offense.


Rookies you won't be watching

WR Michael Crabtree, San Francisco: The only unsigned first-rounder, Crabtree reportedly feels as if he's being lowballed.

T Andre Smith, Cincinnati: Nice summer. He holds out most of camp, finally gets a deal done, and almost immediately suffers a broken foot.


What are the odds?

A look at which teams are favored most and least this season by Las Vegas oddsmakers, according to founder R.J. Bell:

Teams favored the most times this season according to Las Vegas -- Steelers: 16 times; Patriots: 15 (only underdogs on the road vs. Indianapolis); Colts 13; Titans: 13.

Most times as underdog -- Rams 16; Lions 14; Browns 13; Buccaneers 13.


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