The regular season has finally arrived, and the schedule-makers didn't do the Washington Redskins any favors with their opening game; they'll start the year on the road against an explosive, fired up New Orleans Saints team.
Given that backdrop, let's take a look at some of the key match-ups to watch for this coming Sunday:
The Redskins defensive front seven vs. Drew Brees and the Saints Offensive line
Let's face it, the Redskins probably won't be able to completely shut down the Saints offense. They do, however, have a chance of slowing them down. And the best (and perhaps only) way to do that is to put pressure on quarterback Drew Brees - a lot of pressure.
But for the Redskins defensive front, getting to the 2011 Offensive Player of the Year is more than just simply beating the offensive lineman in front of them. Brees has a knack for getting the ball out quickly and on time, even on plays where his protection breaks down. He's deceptively nimble; constantly moving his feet in the pocket to avoid pressure while he looks downfield for receivers.
The Redskins can still be successful against Brees without tallying huge sack numbers. If they're able to force him to get the ball out of his hands quicker than he'd like, forcing incompletions or even interceptions, then they've done their job.
The Redskins secondary vs. The Saints receivers
It might be a huge understatement to say that this isn't exactly a favorable matchup for the Redskins.
Washington's secondary - which was already considered shaky - suffered two huge blows in the past week when free safety Tanard Jackson was suspended for the season for failing a third drug test, and when starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather sprained his knee to keep him out of the lineup for two to four weeks.
That would be cause for concern going into any game. But against the Saints? It's a huge concern.This is not an offense to go against undermanned, but that's the challenged the Redskins are faced with this week. Backup strong safety DeJon Gomes looks to get the start in place of Meriweather, and will be paired with veteran Madieu Williams.
They'll have their hands full.
Whether it's Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, Lance Moore, or a host of others, the Saints seem to have an endless amount of playmakers to go along with their All-Pro quarterback. New Orleans will try to exploit as many mismatches as they can against the Redskins secondary, and it'll be up to them to limit opportunities for big gains. That means good angles to receivers, firm tackling to prevent yards after the catch, and taking advantage of the few errant passes Brees may throw throughout the game by turning them into interceptions.
The secondary's best hope that the front seven can generate enough pressure to make life easier for them. If not, it could be an ugly afternoon for Raheem Morris' group.
Robert Griffin III vs. The moment
There may be four other rookie quarterbacks making their NFL debuts this weekend, but perhaps no other first year passer will be in a tougher spot than Robert Griffin III will be on Sunday against the Saints.
He's playing in his first regular season game in the Superdome -- one of the loudest venues in the league -- and will be going against a team known to put points by the boatload, and doing so with a team that has done just the opposite the last two seasons. The Saints averaged just over 34 points a game in 2011, while the Redskins have only posted 30 on the scoreboard just one time since Mike Shanahan became head coach in 2010.
And if that wasn't enough to be concerned about, here's another problem: The home team's going to be really ticked off.
The Saints and their fans want to send an emphatic statement to the rest of the league that despite having a tumultuous offseason, they're still the well-oiled machine they were a year ago.
That's not quite the type of environment you'd want to throw a rookie quarterback into, but that's exactly what Griffin is tasked with to open his career.
How will he be able to handle it? Can he adjust to operating amid the crowd noise? Will he feel pressure to match Brees point for point, or rely on his weapons?
Griffin hasn't been on display much throughout the preseason -- throwing 31 passes in all -- but Redskins observers will finally get to see not only how the team plans on using him, but how he will respond to a tough situation.