The NFL will play its first regular-season game outside the United States Sunday night when the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals meet at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
More than 100,000 fans will cheer their every move madly, then turn to each other and say, "That was nice. Now where's the NFL game?"
This isn't football, it's free trade. The U.S. is sending its least attractive jobs south of the border. Cardinals lineman, 49ers cornerback, that sort of thing.
But there are advantages beyond economics. It can get to be a real burden to sit through seven hours of NFL football on a Sunday afternoon, only to face three and a half hours more in prime time on Sunday night, then yet another game Monday evening.
The Week 4 schedule offers a welcome respite with that 49ers-Cardinals game, then the Green Bay Packers at the Carolina Panthers on Monday night. Combined records of the teams playing in prime time during the season's fourth weekend: 2-10.
When the late games are over on Sunday afternoon you can turn off the TV and go find your family, or maybe read a good book, do those dishes that have been piling up since Friday. You won't miss much. Next week's prime time is Cincinnati-Jacksonville and Pittsburgh-San Diego, so enjoy the break.
Onward to the predictions by your Panel o' Experts co-leader, sort of the San Diego Padres of prognosticators. The panel standings are in Table Talk. Winners are in caps:
Buffalo (1-2) at NEW ORLEANS (1-2): The Saints finally get a home game, sort of, as they play at the Alamodome in San Antonio for the first of three times. The Bills are looking pretty sketchy, and losing linebacker Takeo Spikes last week won't help. The Saints have been awful the last two games, but forget all the hurricane stuff. This is the Saints. They specialize in looking horrible for a while, then playing well.
Detroit (1-1) at TAMPA BAY (3-0): The Bucs have been looking pretty good, but their three wins have been over Minnesota, Buffalo and Green Bay, all of which have been looking some shade of bad. The Lions looked pretty good against the Packers, and then got smoked by the Bears, who turned around and got drilled by the Bengals. All of which means? Uh. I don't know but I don't think it's good for Detroit. If Joey Harrington's ever going to put it together, now'd be a good time, but I'm starting to think Joey Harrington's never going to put it together.
INDIANAPOLIS (3-0) at Tennessee (1-2): If the defense-first Colts could ever figure out a way to score, they might end up being a pretty good team.
San Diego (1-2) at NEW ENGLAND (2-1): Troy Brown. Paging Troy Brown. The Patriots secondary is dented up again, with Rodney Harrison out for the year and Tyrone Poole and Randall Gay also hurting. And so are their backups. Last year the Pats had receiver Brown play in the defensive backfield and were fine. This year they're going to need Brown, Johnny Damon and a couple of hot dog vendors. It'll still work out.
Denver (2-1) at JACKSONVILLE (2-1): The Broncos, on the other hand, aren't likely to ask Ashley Lelie to replace Champ Bailey if his hamstring keeps him out. The Jags' attacking defense is likely to make Jake Plummer do some of those things that make him Jake Plummer, and that give him a chance to try to lead his team to a comeback win, if you know what I mean.
HOUSTON (0-2) at Cincinnati (3-0): What the Heck Pick of the week. And mighty What the Hecky at that.
SEATTLE (2-1) at Washington (2-0): Washington might be the worst 2-0 team of the century. See how I said "might" so I don't have to look anything up? Watch and learn, young writers. But really, the Washingtons could be 0-2 without playing any differently. The Seahawks, meanwhile, looked pretty good last week in beating the -- oh, wait, it was the Cardinals.
And to answer a question I've gotten in a few e-mails, yes, I've decided to stop using the Washington football team's racist nickname. Call me self-righteous if you want. I just can't stand to type it anymore.
St. Louis (2-1) at N.Y. GIANTS (2-1): The Giants and Jets reached agreement this week on a new, $800 million stadium to be built in the Meadowlands. Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard J. Codey said the Jets will move their headquarters to the state from Long Island, and that the deal guarantees both teams will stay in New Jersey for 99 years. The teams will divide the cost of building the stadium and share the revenues. Naming rights will be sold to the highest bidder, but the Giants and Jets will each get to bury someone under one of the end zones.
Meanwhile, at the current crib, the Rams are banged up on offense -- Stephen Jackson, Isaac Bruce -- and have a rookie trying to block Michael Strahan. Unless Marshall Faulk discovers the Fountain of Youth in the swamps there, the Giants will do just enough to eke out a win.
N.Y. Jets (1-2) at BALTIMORE (0-2): You know the Jets made a phone call to Neil O'Donnell this week, don't you? The Ravens did too. Third-stringer Brooks Bollinger will start for New York after starter Chad Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler were both lost with shoulder injuries last week. Vinnie Testaverde was signed as insurance, by which I mean he fit the suit. Long year for the Jets. Ravens too. Baltimore wins this one 9-6, and of course every time I say that, you should take the over.
PHILADELPHIA (2-1) at Kansas City (2-1): The Chiefs spit the bit against the Broncos last week, and now they're mad because miked-up Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said so on ABC's air during the game. So they'll be fired up, as will the home crowd. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb seems to pick up an injury a week. Chest, shin, abdominal strain. What injury will he incur in this week's win?
Dallas (2-1) at OAKLAND (0-3): These are two weird teams. The Cowboys snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Washington, then turn around and do the opposite against San Francisco. They've played well once and lost, played poorly twice and won. The Raiders have given both of last year's Super Bowl teams and a hot Kansas City team a decent game, but on the other hand weren't able to beat the Eagles last week despite Philly making every attempt to hand the game over. I'll take Oakland on the bonehead theory that the Cowboys aren't as good as 3-1 and the Raiders aren't as bad as 0-4.
Minnesota (1-2) at ATLANTA (2-1): The Vikes finally played some good defense last week against the Saints, but they're all banged up, especially in the secondary. Fortunately, that's not as bad as it sounds with a game against Michael Vick coming up, as long as the front seven can keep Vick from running past them. That's a big as-long-as.
San Francisco (1-2) at ARIZONA (0-3): Mexico. So close to the NFL, so far from God.
Green Bay (0-3) at CAROLINA (1-2): Another thing that might be fun to do Monday night would be to watch a baseball tiebreaker game, but ESPN says it's unlikely any game would be on opposite the football on ABC.
Season record: 30-16
Last week: 10-4
What the Heck Picks: 2-1
Jimmy Hoffa jokes: 1
Previous column: Baseball's last weekend
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