Indianapolis at NY Giants
This is a big game on a number of levels. There has been a persistent whispering among the touts and wise guys that realignment is upon us. Since the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams last won the Super Bowl, the AFC has been the dominate conference and the Patriots, Colts, Broncos, and the Steelers have been the dominate NFL teams. However, that may be changing. Some NFL experts are now predicting a realignment (I think a return to parity is more likely, but that’s my two cents) where young, talented, up-and-coming teams will be replace the champions of yesterday. Teams like the Dolphins, Seahawks, Giants, Panthers, and Cardinals look to be on the assent while the Patriots, Colts, Packers and Chiefs’ aging squads may have seen their best days. This may be one of those games that gives us a better read on realignment.
If the Colts are really as dominate as they’ve been over the past three seasons, they should blow the Giants out of the stadium. It was just last fall that everyone was wondering if the Colts could run the table, finish 16-0 in the regular season, and win the Super Bowl. This year the only significant change on the offensive side of the ball was at running back where Edge took the big money and left for Arizona to be replaced by the dreaded backfield by committee. The Colts defense certainly is healthier than the squad that started last season, so what’s the problem? The problem is the whole team is another year older and possibly another year past its prime, especially on offense. That unease is reflected in the season win total posted by ‘Vegas….a solid 11 for an expected 11-5 season. Considering the Colts play two divisional games against the Titans and the Texans, teams that might not win 10 games combined this season, you are now looking at a 7-5 season against decent competition…not exactly domination.
On the other hand, consider the Giants. In an extremely competitive NFC East (and playing a very difficult schedule) where at best the Giants can expect to finish with a 4-2 record against their own division, the Sports Gods posted a 9 for a season total. In Vegas speak the odds-makers are saying these are two equally matched opponents.
In this game however, the Sports Gods made the Colts a field goal favorite on the road, seemingly contradicting their own logic. This is the classic case where the casinos expect the public to be on the favorite (Colts) and the wise guys to be on the underdog Giants.
I can take a hint. I think the G-men’s defense is the kind of squad that will give the Colts offense trouble and I like New York’s running game better than I like Indy’s. Conventional Wisdom says Colts in a runaway, but I think New York pulls the upset. Start your Giants this week.
Cincinnati at Kansas City
Another case of one team on its way up getting points against a team that’s fading… However, in this case, the up-and-coming team is on the road getting a field goal, an indication that the Blvd thinks these are two evenly matched teams or at least the Sports Gods think the public perception is that these are two evenly matched teams.
I can make a pretty good case for why the Chiefs will go 7-9. The strength of this squad has been the running game in general and the offensive line in particular. However there have been significant changes in that unit during the off-season, and not for the better. The Chiefs lost both tackles (Willy Roaf and John Welbourn) to retirement and the replacements are questionable. T Kyle Turley came out of two year medical retirement, but at 285 lbs obviously isn’t in playing shape for a LT and coaching staff hasn’t really settled on a RT. G Will Shields is 36 years old and definitely on the down side of his stellar career. FB Tony Richardson has moved on to Minnesota and his replacement is unproven. RB Larry Johnson creamed the Bengals defense for 201 yards and three touchdowns last season. He should have another strong game, but I have my doubts that he will reach those numbers this week.
Another reason KC may struggle is their very pedestrian passing game. The Chiefs receivers are sub-par and TE Tony Gonzales may spend more time blocking than receiving this season, as he did last season when the Chiefs offensive line struggled without Roaf in the line-up. If Kansas City has to pass the football (that’s a big if against the Bengals porous rush defense) I can’t see them completing long drives for touchdowns or getting the big play against a competent defense.
Defensively, the personnel were certainly upgraded, but how quickly the team can transition to the Cover 2 look remains to be seen. Frankly, I rather doubt the team has all the wrinkles worked out after four preseason games.
Kansas City has been huge opening at home. The Chief have gone 10-2-1 ATS in their last 13 home openers. But being favored by a field goal against a Palmer-led Cincinnati squad seems to be a stretch. I think the Bengals are good enough to upset the Chiefs at home in a high-scoring game that’s a must-start for your fantasy squads.
Minnesota at Washington
The Redskins were brutal on offense this preseason. The team went 0-4 for August being outscored in the process 27-104. That’s not quite a scoring a touchdown a game. Ouch! Redskins fans will remind you that the preseason means nothing, but even they have to be wondering if Washington’s struggles on offense will continue this week. Whether or not this (laying down in preseason) was done in an effort not to show the blocking schemes of new Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders can be debated, but you have wonder if the Redskins can flip the switch after a sluggish preseason and have their offense move the football.
Then there’s the injury to RB Clinton Portis to consider. USA Today reports that, “Portis didn't practice on Tuesday and remains with the partially dislocated left shoulder he suffered on Aug. 13 at Cincinnati. Portis has been running and HC Joe Gibbs expects him not to have to wear a brace when he returns to game action.” That’s not a good thing for this week and perhaps for the season as this is the same shoulder that shelved the Redskins RB last season. If RB Clinton Portis can’t go, it’s pretty hard to make the case that the ‘Skins offense will be up-to-speed this week.
I think Minnesota is flying under the radar right now. The Vikes picked up a lot of talent on both sides of the ball this off-season. Adding FB Tony Richardson and guards Steve Hutchinson and Artis Center to an offensive line that returns C Matt Birk who missed all of last season with an injury should really jump-start the Vikings running game. RB Chester Taylor may be the fantasy sleeper RB of the year running behind that massive and talented offensive line. Taylor’s 2.6 yards per carry average in preseason will have to improve, but once Minnesota’s offensive line jells all things seem possible.
Minnesota took a hit when they released WR Koren Robinson. With more questions than answers at WR, look for the Viking to pound the football for the first few games.
I expect this to be a defensive battle, but the Vikings have a good opportunity to steal a win here.
New Orleans at Cleveland
This is one of several games that should appeal to fans of train wrecks. I’m not kidding; this game could possibly be the ugliest game of the month.
The series history would favor the Brown who have won both recent games on the road by substantial margins 24-15 in 2002 and 21-16 in 1999 and leads the series 11-3. I’m not exactly sure how significant that is considering New Orleans has been so bad for so long that every team should have had a chance to lay the wood to the Saints by now...but hey, it’s a statistic.
I’m no huge fan of the Browns, but the Saints are a God-awful mess. First, the team continues to turnover their personnel. It’s so bad that some players may have to introduce themselves in the huddle. Just at linebacker, NOS has four new players among the six linebackers on the roster… and the linebackers may be the strength of this defense because the defensive line is junk. At least four rookies (SS Roman Harper, RG Jahri Evans, WR Marques Colston and P Steve Weatherford) will be making their NFL debut against the Browns…and that doesn’t count RB Reggie Bush who will probably see action. Only 27 players have remained on the roster since HC Sean Payton took charge last spring. You simply can’t have that much turnover in personnel and execute week 1 of the regular season. So, if you have to watch this game (and I can think of a lot of reasons not to) you’re in for a sloppy, mistake filled experience that may make you wish you’d scheduled a root canal instead. Reggie Bush may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he can’t play linebacker so I expect the Saints to be among the worst if not the worst team in football.
Second, there is the schedule…after every thing that team and that city has gone through, did they have to open their season on the road? The Saints get to play their umpteenth straight game on the road this week. At some point you have to say enough is enough. I don’t expect the Saints to be focused, and they will have to get it together to execute in front of a very difficult opening day crowd in Cleveland.
Yes Cleveland is starting a struggling young quarterback behind a shaky offensive line, but I think the home crowd is enough to get them the victory. Cleveland wins in a truly ugly game.
NY Jets at Tennessee
Must flee TV number two. Like the Browns, it’s not that I like the Jets in this game, I just find the Titans more repelling.
Where do I begin? Let’s start at the top where there’s an on-going battle between the team’s GM Floyd Reese, HC Jeff Fisher, and COO Steve Underwood over who’s running this franchise. Fisher and OC Chow wanted to draft a certain QB from Southern Cal…and the Titans first selection in the draft is…Vince Young, Texas. It’s been an on-going war ever since that has split the Titans locker room...so much so that the team owner moved Underwood from Houston to Nashville to provide a little adult supervision.
Consider the case of QB Billy Volek. He has been the heir to the starting QB job for years and the minute he’s been named the starter (after literally locking the former starter out of the team’s facilities), the team drafts Vince Young. To add insult to injury, the team then signs QB Kerry Collins to a $2m deal and talks about trading Volek. Volek drops to third string and waits for a trade or release. Now Tennessee won’t disclose who the starting QB is for the first game. That’s screwed up, man.
Then there’s the running back situation. The starter wants to be traded, the back-up may sit out the year if he blows a drug test, and the rookie spits in the face of his teammates. Nice.
Run don’t walk away from this team.
Chicago at Green Bay
This is just an ugly match-up for the Packers. If you’re QB Bret Favre, you have to be wondering who at the league’s office had it in for you when they scheduled the Bears Week 1. Playing against that buzz-saw defense is bad enough, but when you have two rookie offensive linemen in front of you making their first NFL start, that’s simply unfair. The Bears may end the day with more sacks and takeaways combined then Green Bay scores points. Chicago big.