The NFL has designated Week 2 "Hurricane Relief Weekend." The games will be used as centers of fundraising and a Monday night double-header will include a telethon hosted by Chris Berman, who could raise billions by offering to retire if enough money is raised.
The league has already been generous in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, contributing nearly $8 million to relief and an extra home game to the New York Giants.
If the NFL wanted to help a team that's suffered a disaster, they should have given an extra home game to the Jets. Did you see what happened to them in Kansas City last week?
The Giants' game against the New Orleans Saints, which was supposed to have been played Sunday at the Superdome, was moved to Monday night and to Giants Stadium, the idea being that metro New York provides a better platform for publicizing the fundraising effort than somewhere like San Antonio would have.
The Saints will split the rest of their home schedule between the Alamodome in San Antonio and LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
The Meadowlands also provide a better platform for the Giants to make the playoffs, since home teams won 57 percent of last year's games, marked down from 62 percent the year before. Since the NYFG -- the F stands for football! -- are more likely to be contending for a wild-card spot than for the NFC East title, the move to Jersey managed to anger the whole conference, Giants excepted.
Fortunately for the NFL, no one wanted to look insensitive by complaining too loudly, so there was only some mild grumbling.
And that's as it should be. When our fellow Americans are in need, it's not too much to ask to make a small sacrifice here and there. At times like this I like to think of the words of one our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, who knew a thing or two about dark days.
He was on the train headed for Gettysburg, Pa., where 3,155 Union troops and about 3,500 Confederates had died four months earlier, to dedicate the national cemetery. Furiously working on his speech, he stopped to write a note to his secretary of state, William Seward, that contained words that are now immortal.
"I think I may need a bathroom break," Honest Abe wrote. "Is this possible?"
It was, and my friends, as the NFL shows us each week, anything is.
And so to Week 2, with this column's picks capitalized.
Baltimore (0-1) at TENNESSEE (0-1): What the Heck Pick of the week. Bang, right outta the box. The Titans, who got smithereened by the Steelers last week, figure to be WTH favorites this year, but there aren't a whole lot of other choices this week. Maybe the 49ers at Philly, but the 49ers were last week's pick and I think it's against the What the Heck bylaws to pick a winning team, even in Week 2. I'm awaiting a ruling from the national office. Anyway, I'll go with the Titans, who have to beat somebody this year, so why not the team that signed Tennessee's star receiver and cornerback this offseason?
Detroit (1-0) at CHICAGO (0-1): The Lions stopped Brett Favre last week. Rookie Kyle Orton's an easier assignment. But the Bears have a much tougher defense than the Packers have, so this will be a test of the progress of Joey Harrington and the Detroit offense, and thus how serious a contender the Lions will be. I think the Bears will win a low-scoring struggle -- and you know my saying that means the final score will be 56-53, right?
Minnesota (0-1) at CINCINNATI (1-0): Daunte Culpepper was awful last week against the Bucs, turning the ball over five times. The Bengals don't have a great defense, but it's one that will take advantage of mistakes. I think Culpepper bounces back this week -- and the Vikes still lose a good one to Cincinnati and Carson Palmer, who I think is on his way to a breakout year. As the Jaguars showed the Seahawks last week, the AFC's borderline playoff teams are better than the NFC's borderline playoff teams.
San Francisco (1-0) at PHILADELPHIA (0-1): So you pretty much had it figured that these teams would have these records going into Week 2, right? Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is doing his Steve McNair impersonation, resting all week with a chest injury, listed as questionable, then playing on Sunday. He and the Eagles don't have to play that well to win this one. Of course, that's what the Rams thought in Week 1.
BUFFALO (1-0) at Tampa Bay (1-0): Don't look now but the Bills are 9-2 in their last 11 games. The Bucs -- 5-6, as long as we're randomly considering the last 11 games -- threatened to look like a playoff contender in beating the Vikings last week. I stayed with the Bucs too long in 2003, when they foundered and sank after winning the Super Bowl. I'm not quite ready to buy them this year, though I'll be interested to see what Cadillac Williams can do against the Bills' tough defense.
Jacksonville (1-0) at INDIANAPOLIS (1-0): Last year the Jaguars handed the Colts their only home loss in a wild one. Judging by last week, this is a different Colts team, one that's not about to surrender 400-plus yards to Byron Leftwich and his pals. We'll get a clue in this game about whether the Jags, who beat Seattle at home last week, can hang with the Colts, who look like a Super Bowl contender after their win over the Ravens, in the AFC South. I think they'll hang with them for a while, but that's all.
NEW ENGLAND (1-0) at Carolina (0-1): The Panthers came within a field goal of beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XXX8 two years ago. Since then, they've gone 7-10 and lost All-Pro defensive tackle Kris Jenkins for the season twice. Last year it was wide receiver Steve Smith who went out for good in the opener, this year it was Jenkins, who also missed the last 12 games in '04. The Patriots, meanwhile, just keep rolling along, going 18-2 and adding another Super Bowl win since the Day the World Saw Janet Jackson's Boob. You'd forgotten about that, hadn't you? Carolina was surprised by an inspired Saints team last week, and they're probably a good bet to get all inspired themselves and surprise their old February foes, which is why I'm taking the Pats.
PITTSBURGH (1-0) at Houston (0-1): Now that I think of it, this wouldn't have been a bad What the Heck pick, but it's too early to know if the Texans are going to pull together and compete for a playoff spot. Not if they play like they did last week against the Bills, they won't. The Steelers pounded Tennessee, and they've now won 15 straight regular-season games, which is getting into rarefied territory, history-wise. The Patriots set the record with an 18-game streak before the Steelers beat them last Halloween, but somehow this streak doesn't seem quite as impressive because there was that little matter of a playoff loss to the Pats in January.
Still, Ben Roethlisberger is 16-1 as a starter, playoffs included, and he seemed to play like the regular-season Big Ben, as opposed to the playoff Big Ben, last week, though with the caveat that that was against the Titans. Plus, third stringer turned starter Willie Parker, whom I dissed in my AFC preview, was dynamite at running back, giving Pittsburgh three good ones when they're all healthy, which might be never. The Texans don't have the line on either side of the ball to stop the Steelers' streak unless Pittsburgh just breaks down. Roethlisberger was listed as questionable with a bruised knee, but he says he'll play.
ST. LOUIS (0-1) at Arizona (0-1): The Kurt Warner '05 Tour of Teams I Used to Play For wraps up. This week couldn't go as badly as last week did. It'll probably go a little better. But the Rams, if they can stay out of their own way and not do things like field the opening kickoff at the 1 and then step out of bounds, have enough offense that they can get a lead and force Warner to have to throw. And that's not a good thing anymore.
ATLANTA (1-0) at Seattle (0-1): I don't know why I'm so intrigued by the Seahawks. I think they can be a good team. They can also be pretty lousy. Usually, they're frustratingly in between. Last week against the Jags, they looked like an OK team that just wasn't OK enough, which is mostly how they've looked in the Mike Holmgren era. Now would be a good time to turn that around, against a Falcons team that looked tremendous against the Eagles last week -- particularly on defense but also on offense in the first quarter -- but I think is still plenty beatable. I'm interested, but I'm not picking the Seahawks until they do something.
Miami (1-0) at N.Y. JETS (0-1): Are the Dolphins really as good as they seemed last week in crushing the Broncos? Are the Jets really as bad as they seemed last week in getting crushed by the Chiefs? Don't you hate it when a writer who gets paid to tell you things asks you things instead? Why do we do that? (Answers: No, maybe, nah, you don't mind it, and because professional standards have gone all to hell.)
Cleveland (0-1) at GREEN BAY (0-1): Depending how far the Packers have fallen, this might be a battle to determine the worst team north of the 41st parallel. Well, the Bears might have something to say about that. And the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. I think the Packers have fallen far, but not so far they can't beat the Browns on the not-yet frozen tundra.
SAN DIEGO (0-1) at Denver (0-1): The defending division champ and the perennial division power are both looking at an early two-game deficit, which the loser will face if the Chiefs, who looked damn good in Week 1, beat the Raiders, who looked OK. The Chargers will get tight end Antonio Gates back after a one-game suspension. Sure could have used him at the end of their 28-24 loss to the Cowboys last week, when they failed to score after first and goal. Of course, they had LaDainian Tomlinson and didn't use him. I think by the end of this year both of these teams will look back fondly on 2004, but the Chargers, especially with Gates back, are better.
KANSAS CITY (1-0) at Oakland (0-1): Every time the Raiders and Chiefs get together and the TV guys start blathering about a renewal of this great rivalry, generations of NFL fans must go, "Huh?" Except for a four-year stretch in the early '90s, these teams haven't been good at the same time since Hank Stram and John Madden were the coaches and the Super Bowl was kinda new. They both have high hopes for this year, possibly illusory, so there should be some electricity around Mount Davis. The Chiefs will keep their hopes up.
N.Y. GIANTS (1-0) vs. New Orleans (1-0) at East Rutherford, N.J.: We'll be talking about this game a lot if the Giants win it close, then make the playoffs with one game to spare. I think the Saints will have a little letdown after their big win at Carolina last week.
Washington (1-0) at DALLAS (1-0): Speaking of once-great rivalries ... Drew Bledsoe had a nice game against the Chargers. He'll have a tougher time in this one, but Washington's lack of talent or a clue on offense will once again make it difficult to grind out a win if the Cowboys can sneak into the end zone even once. I think they can do it more times than that.
Season record: 10-6
Last week: 10-6
What the Heck Picks: 1-0
Bathroom breaks taken while writing this column: 2
Previous column: Corporate "giving"
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