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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
September 7, 2005
Season Ticket
Thur 9 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 4 PM Sun 8:30 PM
Sun 1 PM SEA at JAC NYJ at KC STL at SF Mon 9 PM
DEN at MIA CIN at CLE   GB at DET Times ET

Prediction: Dallas 17, San Diego 24

The Cowboys come off a disappointing 6-10 season while the Chargers roar back from a delightfully surprising 12-4 mark that won the AFC West. The Cowboys come to town after only going 2-6 on the road last year and the Chargers were 7-1 at home. The Cowboys will likely be better this year and the Chargers will be challenged to do as well, but for week one it is too early to expect both franchises to turn in different directions even with Antonio Gates out.

Dallas Cowboys (0-0)
1 Sep 11 @SDC 10 Nov 14 @PHI
2 Sep 19 WAS 11 Nov 20 DET
3 Sep 25 @SFO 12 Nov 24 DEN
4 Oct 2 @OAK 13 Dec 4 @NYG
5 Oct 9 PHI 14 Dec 11 KCC
6 Oct 16 NYG 15 Dec 18 @WAS
7 Oct 23 @SEA 16 Dec 24 @CAR
8 Oct 30 ARI 17 Jan 1 STL
9 Open Bye M THU SAT
DAL Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Drew Bledsoe 0 0 210,1
RB Julius Jones 90,1 20 0
RB Marion Barber III 0 20 0
TE Jason Witten 0 50,1 0
WR Keyshawn Johnson 0 40 0
WR Terry Glenn 0 50 0
WR Patrick Crayton 0 20 0
PK Jose Cortez 1 FG 2 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Cowboy offense was lethargic at best last year until Julius Jones came back and ripped up some soft defenses at the end of the year. Drew Bledsoe should be an upgrade to Vinny Testaverde and Terry Glenn always lasts at least the first game so this Cowboy team should post better points in 2005 - especially in week one.

Quarterback: Drew Bledsoe is another perfect quarterback for Bill Parcells and he fits all the criteria - aging veteran who was successful under Parcells many years ago, no mobility and the ability to manage a game to specifications. Bledsoe has some tools to use on passing downs with Terry Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson and Jason Witten and should produce at least average fantasy points. Problem is that you cannot rely on much more than that in a game since Parcells new defense should help hold scores down and prevent shootouts.

Running Backs: The Cowboys start the season with more running backs than perhaps at any time in decades. Julius Jones is the clear starter and should be in for a heavy-use, productive fantasy season. Anthony Thomas provides first back-up in a package well suited to the run-first mentality of the offense. If Jones goes down again, Thomas should be able to fill almost as well in this offense.

Marion Barber III was drafted in the fourth round and could be an interesting one to watch. He had little play during the preseason but early reports were that he could reprise the "Richie Anderson" role as a pass-catching, third down back. If the defense and running game works as intended, even that role might not result in much.

Wide Receivers: Old-timers Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn return and for the first week at least we can expect both to be healthy. The Cowboys signed Peerless Price to help round out the Parcells Reunion Tour but he'll have to contend with Patrick Crayton for playing time since Crayton has become a Parcells favorite and the only infusion of youth in this crew. Price will displace Quincy Morgan who was cut at the 53 man limit.

This is not going to be a big-time passing attack but in a game like against the Chargers, the wideouts will have to contribute for the Cowboys to have a chance.

Tight Ends: Jason Witten comes off a year that has almost erased the memory of Jay Novacek in Dallas. Witten ended last year with 980 yards - second only to Tony Gonzalez and his six scores were third best for NFL tight ends. Witten caught 87 passes (again second to Gonzalez) and is a major part of the passing offense even with the wideouts there and healthy. Witten fits perfectly into the scheme and could easily once again be the primary receiver in Dallas.

Match Against the Defense: The Chargers defense was about average in most categories last season but against the run only allowed two runners to top 100 rushing yards against them and played in San Diego, expect that tougher stance against the run to continue this opening week. That'll force the Cowboys to throw and put Bledsoe and company out of the preferred game plan eventually. This game should be lower scoring than might have happened last year since the Cowboys defense should be at least a little better and Antonio Gates is out of the lineup for this week. Jones can get some decent yardage only if the score remains close and Dallas runs the ball 25+ times. Look for average numbers from all the Cowboy players other than the upside for Jones to score at least once and maybe twice.

San Diego Chargers (0-0)
1 Sep 11 DAL 10 Open Bye
2 Sep 18 @DEN 11 Nov 20 BUF
3 Sep 25 NYG 12 Nov 27 @WAS
4 Oct 2 @NE 13 Dec 4 OAK
5 Oct 10 PIT 14 Dec 11 MIA
6 Oct 16 @OAK 15 Dec 18 @IND
7 Oct 23 @PHI 16 Dec 24 @KCC
8 Oct 30 KCC 17 Dec 31 DEN
9 Nov 6 @NYJ . MON SAT
SDC Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Drew Brees 0 0 200,1
RB L. Tomlinson 110,2 30 0
TE Justin Peelle 0 10 0
WR Keenan McCardell 0 50 0
WR Eric Parker 0 60,1 0
WR Reche Caldwell 0 30 0
PK Nate Kaeding 1 FG 3 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Chargers had a magical season in 2004 and discovered they had the quarterback they wanted all along - Drew Brees. Predictably Tomlinson ended up as a top back in spite of nursing a groin problem for much of the year. While the wideouts were injured or on injured Reserve all too often, Antonio Gates made the tight end spot into a primary receiver of record-setting proportions. All the offensive pieces return, including Philip "yeah, I know, over here" Rivers.

Quarterback: Drew Brees may be in his last season as a Charger, though we said that last season. This week he gets something he almost never had in 2004 - a healthy set of wideouts. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the one component that made a huge difference last year - Antonio Gates. This should be a lower scoring game but Brees will have to have some success to keep the defense honest.

Running Backs: Not only is LaDainian Tomlinson considered the premier NFL running back (right so), but is completely healthy and there is never any concern with him sharing the ball with any other runner. Why bother? Tomlinson with a groin strain is better than 90% of the backs in the NFL. Tomlinson healthy is downright scary.

Wide Receivers: The Chargers had one of the least productive wideout crews in the league last year but that was largely due to injury and the fact that Tomlinson and Gates made them unnecessary in many games. Keenan McCardell returns for a full season but he's little more than an aging possession receiver. Eric Parker adds a speed element to the passing game if he can remain healthy this season while Reche Caldwell could also turn in some nice games. Caldwell was very effective in 2004 with three scores in the first four weeks before ending his season in week 6 with a torn ACL.

With Gates out this week, these wideouts will need to step up with at least possession catches. Playing at home against a defense they never face normally could result in a few nice long pass plays, particularly for Parker.

Tight Ends: Antonio Gates owners are going to have to wait a week to see their draft pick pay off. Gates concludes his three game suspension on Monday and in his place will be Justin Peelle. Second-year player Ryan Krause could make an appearance as well - he had 81 yards and a score against the Chiefs in his only playing time last season.

Match Against the Defense: Since Dallas has revamped the defense and it is a new season, what to expect is more speculation than analysis. There is no secret - Tomlinson gets the ball and the defense must stop him first. The Dallas defense was pretty good against the run in 2004 but the move to the 3-4 and subsequent draft picks were done largely to produce a pass rush. Figure on the new defense not being completely in synch in just the first game and besides - you'll never sit Tomlinson anyway. Brees faces a defense that has focused on stopping the pass to a large extent and the lower score I expect from this game should mean he won't need to air it out a lot, particularly without his safety blanket Gates there. Figure that Brees and the wideouts have barely moderate numbers here with Parker pitted against CB Anthony Henry the most likely matchup to produce a touchdown.