History has been made in Week 1, and usually it has come in the
form of an upset. I'm not talking about any old upset, but one
that signals the dawn of an emerging nation. Four years ago the
Buccaneers, coming off 14 consecutive losing seasons, upset the
mighty 49ers in a brutal, low-scoring affair. Some people called
it a fluke, but that game proved to be the coming of age of a
defense that would be feared throughout the league. A game on
the opening Sunday of last season marked the turning point of
two franchises: The Eagles, who hadn't had a winning record for
three years, flew to Dallas and upset--make that humiliated--the
Cowboys, 41-14. That result marked the beginning of a new era in
Philadelphia and the beginning of the end in Dallas.
The trick is to see these things coming and correctly handicap
them ahead of time. There could be a landmark game this Sunday,
one that people will point to for years and say, "That one.
That's the one that turned it around for...." Uh...well, I'd
really like to find one for you, but it ain't easy.
San Diego, maybe? I get a feeling that things are stirring out
there, and I like the Chargers over the Redskins. But, hey, that
wouldn't even be an upset. San Diego, 1-15 last year, is a
slight favorite, which shows what people think of Washington.
Can I find an upset on the board? Sure, take the Steelers over
the Jaguars, who like last year have been hit hard with
injuries. Tackle Tony Boselli's right knee is unstable, wideout
Keenan McCardell is out after hernia surgery, and cornerback
Fernando Bryant is expected to miss at least the first two games
with a separated right shoulder. The latest casualty is premier
pass rusher Tony Brackens, who last Thursday sprained his right
knee against Dallas when linemen Mark Stepnoski and Flozell
Adams sandwiched him in one of those terrible, illegal,
prop-him-up, cut-him-down blocks. The scab officiating crew
dropped no flag. If the varsity refs are still out on Sunday,
you can expect more of the same.
Two other games jump out at me, strictly from a competitive
standpoint. The Rams, with eight new starters to bolster a
defense that went south last year, visit the Eagles in a game
the Philly staff has been preparing for all off-season. The St.
Louis defense might not be great, but it'll be good enough, so
I'll take the Rams in a fairly high scorer. On Monday night the
defending NFC champion Giants visit Denver. New starters Kenny
Holmes at end and Cornelius Griffin at tackle make New York's
defense even better than last year's, but the Giants will be
facing an attack that's fully cranked with three quality backs
taking turns pounding away. Which one gets the start? If Terrell
Davis is completely healthy, he'll be the guy. Coach Mike
Shanahan says he'll make the announcement before the game, which
makes sense, because if he announces it afterward, it'll destroy
the element of surprise. The Broncos win in a squeaker.
I get a feeling that Peyton Manning's right knee is a bit worse
than the Colts are letting on. The Jets are the pick against
Indy, with a lot of credit to rookie coach Herman Edwards for
keeping his guys' legs fresh. The Packers have won nine straight
regular-season games at home against the Lions, and this week
Green Bay will make it 10 straight. New Orleans at Buffalo is an
interesting matchup: The Bills usually win this kind of
slugfest, but I don't think their offensive line, with guard
Jerry Ostroski out, can handle the Saints' front four. I'll go
with New Orleans.
The biggest blowout will be turned in by Tampa Bay, which could
get a couple of defensive scores against the Cowboys. Oakland
never has an easy time in Kansas City, no matter how the game
looks on paper; I'll take the Raiders, but an upset wouldn't
surprise me. Finally there's the Sunday-nighter: The Titans beat
Miami in a low scorer.