The Seattle Seahawks begin the season with a rookie under center and a high-priced free agent on the bench.
The Arizona Cardinals' big-money quarterback also will be watching from the sidelines after losing the starting job to a former fifth-round pick.
With an impressive preseason behind him, Russell Wilson will make his NFL debut Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., where Cardinals quarterback John Skelton will try to prove worthy of starting despite a rough exhibition slate.
When the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a three-year contract in March with $10 million guaranteed in a deal reportedly worth up to $26 million, it was believed the former Green Bay backup would compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.
That was before Seattle selected Wilson in the third round out of Wisconsin and Jackson was shipped to Buffalo for a future draft pick. Undersized by NFL standards, the 5-foot-11 Wilson has been a good fit so far.
Wilson completed 63.5 percent of his throws during the preseason and finished with five touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 150 yards and a score.
"Russell has taken full advantage of his opportunities and has done everything that we have asked for on the field and more than what you guys could know off the field in meeting rooms and with our players and how he's represented. He's earned this job," said coach Pete Carroll, who has led the team to 7-9 records in each of his first two seasons.
"It was a legitimate competition as we said from the beginning and with the opportunity he's taken advantage of, he deserves to start."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't sound nearly as excited as the Cardinals became the last team to announce its starting quarterback, waiting until last week to say Skelton would start Week 1 instead of Kevin Kolb. Neither impressed in two preseason starts - Skelton had a 50.6 passer rating to Kolb's 49.7.
"I'm not going to get into the specifics of everything that was involved but it's fair to say at this point going forward we feel like the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win right now is John Skelton," Whisenhunt said of the third-year signal-caller out of Fordham.
While Skelton said that winning the starting job was "vindication" for all his hard work, Whisenhunt's decision raises some big questions about Kolb's future. Arizona traded cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick to Philadelphia last year for Kolb, who went 2-6 last season after signing a five-year extension with $21 million guaranteed.
"It's disappointing, that's obvious," Kolb said. "But if there's one thing I learned in this league is it's full of surprises, so you just keep pressing forward."
Whoever is under center for the Cardinals won't have left tackle Levi Brown to guard his blind side after the veteran suffered a season-ending triceps injury in the preseason. Arizona, which finished 8-8 last season, also will be without offensive tackle Jeremy Brown for the year after he suffered a thumb injury in the preseason finale.
Offensive line coach Russ Grimm will have to work with D'Anthony Batiste, Bobby Massie and recent pickup Pat McQuistan to fill those gaps.
"It's going to be tough for the whole group," Kolb said. " ... But it's just like if anybody went out. I mean, if Fitz (Larry Fitzgerald) goes out, the next guy's got to come in and play. That's just the way this league works."
Besides Fitzgerald, a six-time Pro Bowler, the Cardinals' receiving corps includes Early Doucet, Andre Roberts and first-round pick Michael Floyd.
Seattle brought in veterans Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens to bolster its receiving corps, but only Edwards made the team. Sidney Rice's return from a season-ending concussion in 2011 and two offseason shoulder surgeries could give Wilson or Flynn another downfield option, though the Seahawks also will look for contributions from returning wideouts Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Ben Obomanu.
The Seahawks' running game could be a strength - they led the NFL in the preseason with 178.2 yards per game on the ground - but Marshawn Lynch could miss the opener with back spasms. He's listed as questionable after being limited in practice most of the week. Rookie Robert Turbin could get the bulk of the action in place of Lynch, coming off a 1,200-yard debut season with Seattle.
Arizona is hoping to see plenty of carries from Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, who both return following knee surgeries. Wells ran for 1,047 yards and 10 TDs last season, while Williams missed his rookie year with a torn tendon in his right knee.
"I think we have some really talented backs, some guys that can go back there and do some things for us," Fitzgerald said. "So we want to use those, and ride those guys."
However, piling up yards on Seattle's defense could be a tall task. The Seahawks allowed a league-low 44 points in the preseason, and they are widely considered to have one of the league's top secondaries.
Seattle didn't have much of a pass rush last season with 33 sacks - tied for 10th in the NFC - but Chris Clemons (11 sacks) returns and first-round pick Bruce Irvin is a pass-rush specialist.
Arizona and Seattle split two games last season, each winning at home. The Cardinals' 23-20 overtime victory Jan. 1 ended a three-game skid in this divisional matchup.
- Seattle Seahawks
- Russell Wilson
- Arizona Cardinals
- Kevin Kolb