Yes,Miami-Pittsburgh is a stirring kickoff for the 2006 season, and the Coltsversus the Giants offers the Manning Family Drama, and the Terrell Owens Showopens in Jacksonville, and all the rest of the carnival. But there are othergames that are just as intriguing. This isn't a gambling column, but never haveI seen one weekend in which so many traps have been laid for your faithfulforecaster and his followers.
By traps I meangames in which the oddsmakers in Vegas are practically begging people to gowith certain teams. Three jump out. Philly opened as a three-point favorite atHouston and moved to 31/2 eight minutes later. Honestly, can you see anyone inhis or her right mind taking the underdog? As of Monday, the Texans' runningback corps consisted of a 2006 sixth-round draft choice, second-year proVernand Morency, and Giants and Broncos castoff Ron Dayne. The Eagles,guaranteed, will sweep the handicappers' box in your local paper. Guys in thebarbershop will be lining up to pick them. And thus we have a classic trap.
San Diego atOakland is another one. Is there any reason to take the Raiders and threepoints? Six, maybe, but three? San Diego has won the last five, only one ofthem closer than seven points.
Finally the Jets,with problems at running back and wide receiver, are only three-point underdogsin Tennessee, a team with superior talent at most positions. Seven pointswouldn't be out of line, but what the oddsmakers are saying is, "Look whatwe're offering you ... a steal." No one could like the Jets, right?
Except me. I willnot be trapped. I see New York's defense forcing turnovers in a sloppy game. Ilike the Jets. And I won't be trapped into following the line that forms behindthe Chargers. Philip Rivers hasn't gotten it done yet, and the Black Hole bythe Bay is not a good place to start. The only thing that worries me is theOakland offensive line's trying to block those superior San Diego rushers,Shawne Merriman and his bunch. I think the Raiders will do it. Oakland is mychoice.
My formula hasrun out where the Texans are involved, and I just don't have the guts to giveit another play. Philly is the pick, and this will probably be the one I'lllose big.
My upset specialis the Giants over the Colts. Indy's playing a pat hand, with everyonereturning on offense except Edgerrin James-but that's a big except. I've seentoo many games in which he bailed them out by muscling first downs. RookieJoseph Addai will be a fine player someday, but I don't think he's ready tocarry that load just yet. This season the Giants will reveal just how goodtheir defense can be.
Pittsburgh willthrow the blitzers at Daunte Culpepper and challenge his mobility. I thinkhe'll do O.K., but I don't know whether he'll have time to get the ball toChris Chambers downfield. He'll still do better than Charlie Batch will againstthe Miami defense. Big Ben Roethlisberger's absence(appendectomy) makes a toughpick easy. Dolphins to win it.
I think CarsonPalmer and his Bengals wideouts will put more points on the board than theChiefs' running game will, so I'll go with Cincy in an upset. And here are acouple more upsets: the Baltimore defense, even though it's not what it oncewas, to topple Chris Simms and the Bucs in Tampa; Dallas to win atJacksonville. Oh, and Chicago to beat Green Bay at Lambeau, another dullpick.
Editor's Note:The predicted order of finish in the NFL Preview (SI, Sept. 4) was made by PaulZimmerman.
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FORGET THE TITANS The Jets defense will set up a New York surprise in Tennessee.