So, hipster prognosticators, how are your chic NFL picks looking so far?
Arizona to win the NFC West? They got blown out by the New York Giants, 42-19.
Oakland to ride Randy Moss back to glory in the AFC West? Ground into the turf by New England, 30-20.
Atlanta to stumble? They busted NFC champion Philadelphia in the mouth Monday night, winning 14-10.
Pittsburgh to stumble? Minnesota and St. Louis to improve? Hmm.
How about those of you who take a more conservative approach, who figure that what happens one year tells us a lot about what's going to happen the next? As we discovered a year ago, that's most of you.
Last year's playoff teams went 4-8 on the opening weekend.
If there's one thing we can say about the NFL, it's this: Regardless of the -- WHAT?! The Dolphins beat the Broncos by four touchdowns?! Shut up!
Nought may endure but mutability, as former Falcons defensive back Elbert "Percy" Shelley once wrote, but we can also read too much into Week 1 results. The Eagles, after all, went 2-3 in opening games over the past five years, after which they've gone 57-19 and made the playoffs all five times.
They'll probably be fine, especially if they can pass the following memo along to Jeremiah Trotter:
When you are the starting middle linebacker, do not -- repeat, do not -- get into a pregame beef with a backup cornerback from the opposing team that results in both of you getting ejected from the game. This is especially relevant against the best running team in football, but is always sound policy. Star hockey players learn this in the juniors, pal. Don't fight someone who isn't as good as you.
So, now that the shredded tire pieces have settled, let's take our first look at this column's NFL Panel o' Experts, a collection of national typists and chatterers, plus your humble narrator and his son, Buster, the coin-flippinest 2-year-old in America.
This bunch's game picks are tracked throughout the season, and whoever predicts the most winners is the champ, with the prize being dinner at my house, home cooking not implied. In 2003, the inaugural year, Ron Jaworski of ESPN took the prize -- still unclaimed -- with 175 correct picks in 256 games. Last year's NFL season was tougher to call, apparently, because ESPN's Sean Salisbury was the champ with only 164.
And if Week 1 is any indication, this year will be tougher still. After the first weekend last year, 10 of the 14 panel members had a record of 10-6 or better, and I was in the lead at 13-3, which I only mention because I get to mention it. This year, 10-6 is good enough to lead the way -- and hey, look, it's me on top again, along with Salisbury and ... Buster!
I've decided to make Buster's picks more interesting this year by letting him take any favorite of six points or better, as handicapped by USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan. He'll flip his coin for the rest of the games, and I have a feeling this will get him out of the cellar. By plenty.
The panel is basically the same as last year's. After the three leaders at 10-6, the standings look like this:
9-7: Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News; Peter King, Sports Illustrated; Yahoo Users (consensus picks); Eric Allen, ESPN; Merril Hoge, ESPN.
8-7: Joe Theismann, ESPN, who refrains from picking the Sunday night game for ethical reasons that escape this writer. The Panel o' Experts victor is determined by correct picks, not winning percentage, so Joe's at a disadvantage.
8-8: Mike Golic, ESPN, the leader for most of the season in 2004 before giving way to Salisbury at the wire.
7-9: Cris Carter, Yahoo; Jaworski, ESPN; Chris "King Kaufman Misspells My Name About Eight Times a Year" Mortensen, ESPN.
6-10: Larry Beil, Yahoo; Mark Schlereth, ESPN.
A historical footnote: I'm 1-0 with my What the Heck Picks, making this the latest point in the season WTH has ever been over .500.
A few other notes on some of this week's games:
Atlanta over Philadelphia: I may have to upgrade my opinion of the Falcons. I wrote last week that they look like a wild-card team, not a division champ, but they sure looked like division championship material Monday, beating up on Donovan McNabb, controlling Terrell Owens and jumping out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a punishing running game and one perfect 58-yard pass from Michael Vick to Michael Jenkins.
If Vick is going to throw like that, all bets are off. Fortunately for the rest of the league, he gave no other indications that much had changed with his passing. Take away that one ball -- I know, that's not fair -- and he hit 11 of 22 for 98 yards and an interception.
And how come no one's talking about the fact that the hit that nearly sent McNabb out of the game, by Chad Lavalais, was an obvious spear and should have been a penalty? Lavalais launched himself at McNabb, helmet first.
Indianapolis over Baltimore: If not for a touchdown in garbage time by the Ravens Sunday night, much would have been made about the Colts shutting them out, their first whitewash since Johnny Unitas was a boy or something. The TV guys were making a big deal out of it.
Now nobody's going to talk about the Colts' first shutout since the Pleistocene era or whatever, which is dumb, because that touchdown with 13 seconds left meant nothing. On the other hand, it also would have been kind of dumb to make a big deal out of the shutout because of two things.
First, it only would have been a shutout because Ravens kicker Matt Stoufer missed three makable field goals, from 38, 47 and 45 yards. Second, it would have been against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens are supposed to have a better offense this year. I think the offense looked better than it has been looking in recent seasons, even before Kyle Boller got hurt and Anthony Wright came in and livened things up. But it would have been a major stretch to call the Ravens offense "good" Sunday. It would have been a major stretch to call it "decent."
Boller had some catchable balls dropped, but if he threw a pass beyond the sticks on third down, I missed it.
And I think the Colts defense looked like a big-time unit. But let's see the Ravens score on somebody, or the Colts stop somebody else, before we decide the Colts are the new '02 Buccaneers.
The first half of that game, by the way, was the most exciting, entertaining 3-0 first half I've ever seen.
Kansas City over New York Jets: Let's also not get too excited about the Chiefs, who, in the words of New York Jets coach Herman Edwards, took the New Yorkers out behind the woodshed and whupped 'em, 27-7.
The Chiefs have obviously upgraded their defense, which played well. And the explosive offense dominated too, but there were a couple of warning signs.
First, the Jets were just awful. They stunk in pretty much every way it's possible for a team to stink, right down to the second-round-pick placekicker pulling a Buster Keaton on his first attempt, sliding past the ball with his plant foot and landing on his keister. The ball thumped into the line.
And it wasn't just the penalty-prone, butterfingered players who failed. Edwards and his staff -- a staff famous for having a clock-management specialist and still managing the clock ineptly -- failed in the most basic ways. With the game still in dispute late in the first quarter, down 7-0, the Jets failed to challenge Priest Holmes' 3-yard touchdown run, when he was down, clearly, to the naked eye in real time, at the 1.
Defensive back Eric Coleman, who made the tackle, pointed at the ground at the 1, a mild protest, but more important, CBS showed a clear replay long before the Chiefs lined up for the point after.
Wasn't anybody on the Jets staff watching this? This was a touchdown that turned a 7-0 game into a 14-0 game, a big step in the transition from "We're off to a bad start" to "We're getting our asses kicked all over the field." If the ruling on the field is overturned, it's third-and-goal at the 1. The Chiefs are still looking good, but at least there's hope for the Jets.
New York's postgame locker room was a chorus of "It was just one of those days," and maybe it was. But if it was a harbinger of things to come on the sidelines as well as between them, Edwards will be a much-sought-after assistant in four months.
The other warning sign for the Chiefs was a hamstring injury to Willie Roaf, their great left tackle, not to mention 35-year-old quarterback Trent Green, coming off vascular surgery on his leg, looking only so-so. If the Chiefs defense really is good, what would keep them from Super Bowl contention would be breakdowns in their aging offense.
The good news for K.C.: Next up are the Oakland Raiders, whose defense can make anyone look young and vigorous.
Washington over Chicago: I sure am glad I didn't have to watch this game.
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Barry Bonds returns [PERMALINK]
Barry Bonds was in the lineup for the San Francisco Gigantes Monday night for the first time this year. He's been out so long with his injured knee the team changed its name in the interim.
In his first at-bat, he hit a towering fly to deep left-center field. It looked at first like a home run, but it was ruled a ground-rule double because a fan reached over the fence and knocked it up and into the stands. That fan was ejected.
Wait a minute. I've never been to a game, in any sport, where the fan behind me didn't spill his beer or soda, forcing me to spend the rest of the event sitting in a sticky mess, my shoes, jacket, lunch, program and anything else that's touched the ground ruined.
Not one of these jerks has ever been thrown out, but somebody reaches a few inches below the top of the fence to try to catch a ball and he's gone? Misplaced priorities.
And that reminds me: Why can't there be a little tray below stadium seats, the way there is on school chairs? That way fans could have a place to put their stuff without its getting ruined when the clown one row up spills his beer. This is my latest hobbyhorse.
Anyway, back to Bonds' double, and by the way it said "Gigantes" on his shirt because of a promotion. He's amazing, putting a swing like that on a ball in his first real plate appearance in almost a year. Later in the game he hit a fly ball to deepest right-center that would have been a home run in most parks.
But come on, I know I'm not the only guy who thinks that if that fan had stayed put and the ball had hit the top of the fence, Bonds' comeback hit would have been a single.
Previous column: New Orleans Saints: Inspirational heroes?
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