I guarantee that there won't be a repeat of the following when
New England and Pittsburgh meet on Monday night in a rematch of
last season's AFC finalists:
--Two special teams TDs for New England. Nobody gets that lucky
twice...and the Steelers fired their special teams coach.
--Referee Ed Hochuli spotting the ball on the wrong hash mark for
the Steelers' Josh Miller's punt, which set up a TD on the
--Drew Bledsoe relieving an injured Tom Brady--unless someone puts
through an emergency call to Buffalo.
--An upset. The game opened at pick 'em.
Both teams have had the entire off-season to prepare for this...
can we call it a "crucial" so early in the season? Why not?
Motivation abounds. The Steelers want revenge. The Patriots are
burning because they're the defending Super Bowl champs but
nobody's picking them to do much this year.
Bill Belichick's cerebral defense can outscheme Pittsburgh's
passing attack, which is why I think the Steelers will try to
pound it on the ground--at least for a while. Brady must prove
that last year wasn't a fluke, which I think he'll do. The kid's
the real thing.
Logic says go with the Steelers, who'll turn the blitzers loose
on Brady. But that same logic never would have had New England
winning a Super Bowl last season. Patriots are the pick.
I have only one upset this week, so let's get it out of the way.
Carolina to beat Baltimore and its young quarterback, Chris
Redman, who might not be ready for an opening-day road start. I
see around six turnovers, total, for both teams.
Here's one that looks so easy, it scares me. Dallas will bring
the heat against Houston's expansion babies, who are minus both
offensive tackles and have a sore-legged rookie QB, David Carr.
The spread should be double-digit, but it's not, though all the
signs point to a Cowboys blowout.
The most competitive division in the NFL, the AFC East, lifts the
curtain with the Jets at Buffalo. New York has an unsettled
offensive line, but the D-line is where Buffalo is weakest. Turn
it around and you have Bledsoe getting heat from a vastly
improved defense. Jets to win.
This is the last hurrah for the Raiders, who'll be crushed by the
salary cap next year. They open with Seattle at home in--it's
weird to say it--an interconference matchup. The Raiders have won
the last four against the Seahawks in Oakland, and here comes
Can the Titans' Steve McNair win a shootout with Philly's Donovan
McNabb? Yes, if Eddie George is running on all cylinders. Let's
give Eddie about 120 yards against a defense that's minus MLB
Jeremiah Trotter, and let's give the Titans a victory.
Is Tim Couch's arm right? Maybe not, but I still like the Browns
to beat Kansas City with a defense that will force turnovers and
give Trent Green big problems. On the Georgia Dome's artificial
turf, I'd give Atlanta and its speed brigade--Warrick Dunn,
Michael Vick, etc.--a chance against the Packers. But this one's
in Lambeau, where the grass is high and lush, so I'll take Green
I'll go with St. Louis over Denver, but keep an eye on this
matchup: Broncos defensive end Trevor Pryce against raw and
untested tackle John St. Clair. What's that, you say? It'll be
St. Clair and lots of help. If so, that's something St. Louis
might have to worry about all year.
The Bears have the first of their 16 road games when they face
Minnesota at Champaign. Some people foolishly call this a home
game for Chicago, but at the end of the term they will turn in
essays on How We Saw Illinois by Bus. The Bears will beat the
Vikings, but sooner or later, while Soldier Field is being
renovated, this fouled-up arrangement will cost them. Finally,
Indy will get past depleted Jacksonville. --Paul Zimmerman
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COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Brady and Pats will prevail again, much to the Steelers' chagrin.