Week1: Around the NFL
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Detroit at Atlanta
Here are two teams on the downside, trying to look up. The Falcons’ 2007 tribulations have been well-documented, and the Lions are constantly trying to recover from Matt Millen making their personnel decisions. Still, there are reasons to watch if you must — Detroit has a dynamic receiver corps, and Atlanta enjoyed a solid draft. Quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker, and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton need to stand out as rookies. The Falcons faithful haven’t yet sold out their stadium for the opener, but those in attendance could see an upset.
Prediction: Falcons 16, Lions 10
Seattle at Buffalo
The Seahawks are coming off their fourth-straight NFC West championship, making them once again the strongest of the weak. After getting pushed around by the Packers in the playoffs, Seattle focused on size and toughness on both sides of the ball. A little smashmouth could go down well in Buffalo, where the Bills fly under the radar. Dick Jauron’s team lives by the credo that clutch beats flash every time — these Bills will lull you to sleep and take the game away with mistake-free football and some of the best special teams in the business.
Seahawks 17, Bills 16
Jacksonville at Tennessee
Last season, the AFC South was a war of attrition, and things look just as tough this year. The Jaguars became everyone’s hot offseason pick after surprising in 2007 with an 11-5 record, the product of quarterback David Garrard, a dynamic rushing attack, and a punishing defense. The Titans have quality up and down the roster, especially in their front four, but quarterback Vince Young struggled mightily in the preseason. He needs to turn it around if his team is to have any chance in this division. Rookie back Chris Johnson is one to watch.
Jaguars 24, Titans 15
Kansas City at New England
It’s well-known that the Patriots came within a few plays of the only perfect 19-game season in NFL history. What’s less known coming into 2008 is that Tom Brady’s foot injury prevented him from playing in the preseason, and the Pats’ offensive line looked all too mortal protecting a bunch of inexperienced replacements. Brady vows to be back for the opener, which leaves the rebuilding Chiefs with little hope of a road upset. Kansas City enjoyed a great 2008 draft, but it’s all about the future for Herm Edwards’s team.
Patriots 28, Chiefs 14
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Once again, the Saints and their city were forced into a change of plans by Mother Nature. Hurricane Gustav’s wake left less damage than Katrina’s, so the Saints will open at home despite practicing in Indianapolis all week. Tampa Bay took the NFC South last year, but New Orleans now has an intriguing defense to go with that quick-strike offense. Jonathan Vilma, Sedrick Ellis, and Tracy Porter are among the new additions. If it all comes together, the Saints are a good bet to go deep into the playoffs.
Saints 35, Buccaneers 20
St. Louis at Philadelphia
If you missed Eagles rookie receiver DeSean Jackson in the preseason, you’ll know his name soon. The Cal graduate pulled in 16 receptions, tops among rookies, and picked up 125 punt return yards as well. If Jackson can be the weapon Donovan McNabb hasn’t had in a long while, that’s bad news for the rest of the NFC East. The Rams, on the other hand, will find their challenges in staying out of the NFC West basement and keeping coach Scott Linehan employed through the entire season.
Eagles 38, Rams 10
Houston at Pittsburgh
Woe unto the Texans, victim of the AFC South’s excellence. If Houston resided in the NFC South, they’d be a good bet to win the division. In their current home, there are the Colts and the Jaguars to deal with, not to mention Tennessee’s defense twice a year. They’ll still impress with strength along both lines. The Steelers might win the AFC North if they can fight off the Cleveland Browns again, but their short-term goal will be in beating a Texans offensive line now coached by blocking guru Alex Gibbs.
Steelers 16, Texans 13
Cincinnati at Baltimore
Journey into the great unknown. The Ravens will start rookie Joe Flacco at quarterback after injury and illness took out the depth chart. Fellow rookie Ray Rice looks like an impact running back, and the Ravens still have a great defense. The Bengals look like an impact team for sportswriters eager for headlines, between Chad Johnson’s eccentricity and the team’s interest in players who can’t come to terms with local laws and ordinances. These two teams could be fighting for third place in the AFC North.
Bengals 13, Ravens 7
Carolina at San Diego
While the Chargers are hoping to climb the mountain again and get the Super Bowl shot they were denied last season in the AFC Championship game, the Panthers seek a deeper sense of redemption. John Fox’s team hasn’t been a viable playoff contender since 2005, and the hope is that with a healthy Jake Delhomme, a new power running game, and the resurgence of defensive end Julius Peppers (who looked incredible in the preseason), it’ll all turn around. San Diego’s estimable defense is a stern first test.
Chargers 23, Panthers 10
Arizona at San Francisco
Every year it’s the same. NFL pundits pop out of their dens, Punxsutawney Phil-style, and proclaim that this is the Cardinals’ year. This time, there may be something to it. Arizona has added to their skill players with defensive depth, and quarterback Kurt Warner played very well last season. He’ll start over Matt Leinart if he can stay healthy. The 49ers have been rebuilding since Steve Mariucci was their coach, but the project isn’t done. Alleged franchise quarterback Alex Smith has proven to be a bust, and he may take coach Mike Nolan with him. J.T. O’Sullivan will be Smith’s placeholder.
Cardinals 31, 49ers 7 Dallas at Cleveland
Most people expected the Cowboys to be great last year, but where did the Browns come from? Quarterback Derek Anderson and a resurgent offensive line proved to be the difference. Now that they’re on everybody’s radar, it’ll be tougher for Cleveland to upend unsuspecting opponents. For the Cowboys, it’s all about getting somewhere in the playoffs. Greatness in the regular season means nothing to a team that went 13-3 in 2007, only to be knocked out in their first postseason game by the eventual Super Bowl champs. Cowboys 31, Browns 21 Chicago at Indianapolis
This Super Bowl XLI rematch features two teams going in radically different directions since that game. While the Colts are still among the NFL’s best, the Bears have fallen through the cracks. Subpar drafts and indecision at the quarterback position have left Chicago without depth or dynamism. That Kyle Orton beat Rex Grossman out as the signal-caller says more about Grossman’s ineffectiveness than Orton’s greatness. The Colts rely on Peyton Manning, whose knee injury kept him from playing in the preseason. Manning is expected to start, but the loss of center Jeff Saturday for at least six weeks with his own knee injury will be a big hit. Still, the Colts build teams better than the Bears, and that’s why they keep winning. Colts 23, Bears 12
Monday Night: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Mr. Farrar is a writer for FootballOutsiders.com.