It is time to take a thoughtful, dispassionate look at the Houston
team that pulled off the biggest opening-day upset in recent
years. It shocked me because I was the genius who predicted a
Dallas blowout--and in print yet, where everybody could see it.
Where did I go wrong?
The reasoning was that the Cowboys' masterfully assembled defense
would take the Texans' makeshift offensive line apart. But what
was forgotten was the other side of the coin: an even more
dramatic mismatch that pitted the defensive ingenuity of Houston
coach Dom Capers against a marginal Dallas quarterback, Quincy
Carter. He never had a chance. He couldn't read the coverages,
his line couldn't pick up the myriad stunts and rush schemes
devised by Capers, the creator of the zone blitz, the Cowboys
couldn't sustain a running attack.
The question remains: Is Houston's defense that terrific or is
Carter a lot worse than people suspect? On his last half-dozen
drop-backs, when Dallas was trying to move for the tying
touchdown, he threw five incompletions and was sacked for a
--Here's what I predict: The Texans will be in every game in which
they don't face a rock-solid veteran quarterback; they had better
enjoy this advantage while they can. This week they're up against
the Chargers' Drew Brees, who'll be making his second NFL start.
But in the three games that follow, Houston will play against
Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Drew Bledsoe. So do I like the
Texans against the Chargers on the road, where they'll be devoid
of their hysterically noisy home crowd? Uh, afraid not. I have to
stick with San Diego, but an upset wouldn't surprise me. And what
about the Cowboys, who host Tennessee? I like the Titans. Jeff
Fisher knows how to put a defense on the field, too.
--The Bills pushed the Jets all over the field but lost on two
kick returns by Chad Morton, and from this game come two upset
predictions. Bledsoe, who led his troops on a heroic
fourth-quarter touchdown drive, will have a big day as the Bills
hang one on the Vikings in Minnesota, and the Patriots will beat
the Jets, who might be minus Curtis Martin (sprained left ankle),
at the Meadowlands.
--Philadelphia played without All-Pro corner Troy Vincent (bruised
left knee) in its loss to Tennessee. Whether he's healthy or not,
I like the Eagles over the Redskins in the Monday-nighter at
Washington. Chicago got lucky against Minnesota with a late
interception that set up its game-winning touchdown. Atlanta's
Michael Vick completed his first 10 passes in an overtime loss to
the Packers on the road. I'll take the Falcons over the Bears in
Atlanta. The Colts are always favored over Miami in Indy, but the
Dolphins always win there--or at least they have the last four
times. Miami is the upset pick.
--Finally, I like the Packers over the Saints in the Dome;
Pittsburgh, which hasn't lost to Oakland in three meetings over
the past 12 years, to beat the visiting Raiders again; and the
49ers, with three extra days of rest and a home game, to get by
the Broncos, coming off their heroic win over the Rams.
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COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD CARSON/REUTERS Houston stopped Emmitt Smith but won't fare so well at San Diego.