Boy, the NFL really got spooked by Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl and the subsequent panty-bunching on the part of some viewers and the FCC. The league announced that its "Opening Kickoff" special Thursday night would be wholesome family entertainment and that it would be broadcast on a 10-second delay, just in case.
Things were definitely a little toned down compared to last year, when Britney Spears performed in a pair of tiny shorts. Destiny's Child opened the show. Dressed in burqas, they sang a song called "Lowerbackalicious."
Jessica Simpson, on a stage in Jacksonville, Fla., which she reportedly thought was named after Michael Jackson's Cadillac, offered up a musical tribute to Wonder bread, vanilla pudding and the color beige.
Elton John sang a couple of songs with the Boston Pops, backed by a robe-wearing church choir. It's an immutable law of show business that if you're a pop singer, and you have a big choir onstage with you in robes, and you're not in a church, at a church service, singing for the congregation out of actual religious feeling, your career is beyond hope.
The same goes for singing with the Boston Pops, now that I think of it. I mean, I like Teresa Brewer as much as the next guy, but we have to face facts.
There was also Toby Keith, who should either start working out or stop wearing sleeveless shirts, and the Lenny Kravitztron 2000 approximating a rock singer singing a car commercial ditty. It was pretty bad entertainment all around. Mary J. Blige, the highlight a year ago, was shunted off to singing the national anthem, which is pretty hard to s-e-x up. I knew I was watching a lousy show when I found myself missing that hilarious Joe Namath-Joe Theismann banter from last year's show.
But it all ended soon enough and, what do you know, they started playing football, the Patriots beating the Colts 27-24 in a corker that went down to the last 20 seconds. So the season's underway, and we turn now to picks for the rest of Week 1. As always, the predicted winner is in all caps, and this week only, each team's record from last year is listed.
TENNESSEE (12-4) at Miami (10-6): This game got moved up to Saturday afternoon because of Hurricane Ivan. I'm sure that makes Florida's college football people happy. Oh, wait, the Florida college football people postponed their big game last week, Florida State at Miami, because of Hurricane Francis and moved it to Friday night, which made the Florida high school people real happy. Jeez, these hurricanes bring out the best in people, don't they? By the time a couple more come through, football players in Florida will be rolling first graders for their GoGurt money.
Anyway, the Dolphins have finally decided on a starting quarterback. It's Earl Morrall!
JACKSONVILLE (5-11) at Buffalo (6-10): The Jaguars serve notice that they're going to be an interesting team to watch this year. Well, to the extent that you can do that by beating the Bills.
Baltimore (10-6) at CLEVELAND (5-11): What the Heck Pick of the week. For those of you new to the class, that means I don't really think Cleveland is going to win, I'm just picking them because, you know, What the Heck. Disturbingly, these picks are as likely to be successful as any other.
I just want to reiterate my feeling that it's Stalinist and evil that, according to official NFL records, the Baltimore Ravens, who moved to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996, are an "expansion team" dating to that year, even though all of their players, coaches, secretaries, etc., were Cleveland Browns the year before, and the Cleveland Browns, a new team in 1999, were a "continuation" of the "suspended" Browns franchise, which had in "reality" moved to Baltimore three years earlier.
I realize I'm the only person in the world who cares about this, but it really bothers me. Jamal Lewis is not the leading rusher in Ravens history. Jim Brown is. I won't mention this again till next year. Probably.
Cincinnati (8-8) at N.Y. JETS (6-10): Can a hotshot quarterback making his first NFL start get a win on the road? Sure. But Carson Palmer won't. Fun matchup between Palmer and Chad Pennington, a couple of the more talented young QBs in the league, though only Pennington's done anything so far.
Arizona (4-12) at ST. LOUIS (12-4): New Cardinals coach Dennis Green just has an inkling, just the beginnings of a thought: "Gosh, that TV job was cushy."
DETROIT (5-11) at Chicago (7-9): It's an upset pick, but it says here the Lions win a road game for the first time since 2000. That's right, the last time the Lions won a ballgame away from home chads were being counted in Florida, and I don't mean Pennington. I think these are a couple of intriguing possible playoff dark horses -- though it wouldn't be at all shocking if either or both went 5-11 -- so this game is a lot more interesting to me than "Detroit vs. Chicago" has been in some time, in any sport.
San Diego (4-12) at HOUSTON (5-11): Boy, it can really be a drag at this point in the season, can't it? Two teams going nowhere, just slogging it out for no reason. Oh, wait a second, it's the first game of the year.
SEATTLE (10-6) at New Orleans (8-8): Touchdown! I said that when these teams met in Week 1 last year, and of course they combined to score all of four touchdowns, one in garbage time. The Seahawks are everyone's pick to run away with the NFC West this year and the Saints are some people's pick to get a wild card, including mine. We'll learn a little about where they both are in this one.
Oakland (4-12) at PITTSBURGH (6-10): The Steelers have Duce Staley at running back now, which should take some pressure off of quarterback Tommy Maddox. Not enough to make this team a contender, but enough to get them past the Raiders in the opener.
Tampa Bay (7-9) at WASHINGTON (5-11): Joe Gibbs returns from NASCAR to the sidelines for the Redskins, who have accommodated excited fans by adding 153,000 seats, including 11,000 on a barge in the Potomac and 45,000 on the moon. These are full-price, of course. If Gibbs starts yelling into his headset about restrictor plates, the Redskins could be in trouble, but chances are what we'll have here is the first in a series of games that will leave Bucs coach Jon Gruden thinking, "Oh, right, get younger after a bad year, not older."
Dallas (10-6) at MINNESOTA (9-7): Big game, right out of the box. Both teams started fast last year, then declined, the Vikings far more precipitously. This one could be a playoff preview, and I think it'll be all about Randy Moss burning the Cowboys' secondary.
N.Y. Giants (4-12) at PHILADELPHIA (12-4): Last year Rams quarterback Kurt Warner opened the season by fumbling six times and suffering a concussion in a loss to the Giants. He ensured that wouldn't happen again by signing with the Giants as a free agent. But don't expect this Week 1 to be terribly different from the last one. Eli Manning, don't stray too far from your helmet.
ATLANTA (5-11) at San Francisco (7-9): New Falcons coach Jim Mora, who came over from San Francisco, should enjoy shutting down his old team while Michael Vick carves them up. Remind us again, 49ers: Why did you fire Steve Mariucci and hire Dennis Erickson?
Kansas City (13-3) at DENVER (10-6): The Broncos and Chiefs both had to get better on defense if they wanted to entertain serious Super Bowl hopes. The Broncos revamped, the Chiefs did nothing. I think the Chiefs will pay for that, but this big Sunday night game will start to tell us what's what in what could be a yearlong battle in the AFC West.
Green Bay (10-6) at CAROLINA (11-5): The Thursday night league opener, in which the Patriots beat the Colts, was a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game. This Monday night game features the Panthers, who were in the NFC Championship Game last year, but not the Eagles, the team the Panthers beat. Wouldn't it be cool to have the bookend games of the first weekend be rematches of the previous year's title games?
When the schedule allows for it, that is, which it usually would. Since division champions in the same conference always play each other the next year, the title game contestants are guaranteed to meet again as long as neither is a wild card, and if one or both is a wild card, there's still a chance. This year, the Panthers host the Eagles Oct. 17. So this game is a missed opportunity to tie the start of the season to the end of the previous one, which is what the NFL says the Super Bowl-style "Opening Kickoff" festivities are supposed to be about. Get on this, NFL.
As for the game, the Panthers begin defense of their conference title by shutting down the Packers' running game and doing just enough on offense to win.
Season record: 0-1
Last season: 157-99 regular season; 6-5 playoffs
Last season's What the Heck Picks: 7-9
NFL-related pop-star wardrobe malfunctions revealing naked breasts, season to date: 0
Previous column: NFL season preview
- - - - - - - - - - - -