NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced Thursday that the league and Los Angeles city officials had reached a preliminary agreement to put a team in a rebuilt L.A. Coliseum, former home of the Raiders, Rams and two Olympic Games and current home of the USC Trojans.
Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest television market, has been without a team for a decade, since the Raiders moved back to Oakland and the Rams went to St. Louis before the 1995 season.
Tagliabue made his announcement from the steps of the city's distinctive City Hall, declining to say when Los Angeles would get a team or whether it would be a relocated or an expansion team. He also left open the possibility that the team might play in Anaheim or at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Immediately, doors all over the Southland flung open and people rushed excitedly into the streets, shouting as one, "Dude, L.A. doesn't have an NFL team?"
It was the city's greatest show of civic solidarity since Angelenos lined freeways to cheer O.J. Simpson on his flight from justice in 1994.
Tagliabue also met with USC coach Pete Carroll. According to an anonymous and also fictitious source, the commissioner proposed that USC join the NFL, but Carroll declined because he didn't think the Trojans could get under the salary cap.
So on to the games of Week 10, the final bye week of the regular season. Predicted winners are in stylish caps.
New England (4-4) at MIAMI (3-5): The Patriots so far this year have gone win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss. See a pattern there? Me neither. They can expect to see a steady diet of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams until they're forced to bring a safety up, leaving the second-stringers in the secondary in man coverage and giving Dolphins quarterback Gus Frerotte a chance to make the highlights. Can he make the most of it? Tune in, but it says here: First streak of the year for the defending champs.
KANSAS CITY (5-3) at Buffalo (3-5): The Bills are actually favored in this game for some reason. I'm not a big believer in Kansas City's playoff chances, but they're better than the Bills right now, even on the road. I continue to think the Bills are wasting their time with Kelly Holcomb at quarterback. They should have J.P. Losman in there, taking his lumps and getting ready for next year.
The Chiefs will get the one-game boost that follows injuries to big stars now that the club has announced that running back Priest Holmes is out for the year. That is, unless last week's win over the Raiders, the first game after Holmes' actual injury, represented that boost. Didn't look like it, though.
Baltimore (2-6) at JACKSONVILLE (5-3): The banged-up Ravens get quarterback Kyle Boller back, just in time to face the defense the Football Outsiders rankings, based on play-by-play data, rate as No. 1 in the league. The Ravens' best hope is that the Jaguars always seem to play up or down to their opponents.
Houston (1-7) at INDIANAPOLIS (8-0): What the Heck? Is this not the most obvious What the Heck Pick of the season? The Texans hung with Indy for a while three weeks ago -- they were tied at the half before getting blown away -- and since then they've gotten their first win, over the Browns, and played the Jaguars tough on the road. So there's every reason to believe that despite the records, they'll give Peyton Manning and friends a pretty good game. And that means they'll get scalded 56-3, which makes them an obvious What the Heck Pick of the Week.
But the What the Heck Pick gets a bye week too, so it'll end up with a 16-game win-loss record. This is the last bye week, so WTH joins the Bengals, Saints, Chargers and Titans on the sidelines. Which means, of course, that the Texans will win this game. (See what I did there?)
San Francisco (2-6) at CHICAGO (5-3): The Bears should win their fifth in a row unless they have a letdown. Watching the Buccaneers lose to San Francisco last week should be enough to remind Chicago to show up. This promises to be a long day for whoever starts at quarterback for the 49ers, Alex Smith, Cody Pickett, Ken Dorsey, Steve Spurrier, whoever.
Arizona (2-6) at DETROIT (3-5): I'm starting to think picking the Cardinals to win the NFC West wasn't such a hot idea after all.
Minnesota (3-5) at N.Y. GIANTS (6-2): Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson makes his second start in place of Daunte Culpepper. The first one went pretty well, a win over the Lions. The Giants are a stiffer test, especially at home. They're playing well and due for a stumble before their schedule gets tough again, but I can't quite bring myself to pick the Vikings. Of course, I couldn't quite bring myself to pick them last week either and they won, so be warned.
Denver (6-2) at OAKLAND (3-5): I picked the Raiders last week in Kansas City and came within five seconds of being right, so I'll take them again. It's a shaky pick, but I think they're playing better lately, and the Broncos are vulnerable to big plays, which the Raiders have the personnel to produce, even if Randy Moss is all beat up.
N.Y. Jets (2-6) at CAROLINA (6-2): People are excited again about hip preseason Super Bowl pick Carolina now that they've recovered from a 1-2 start with five straight wins and the Eagles have fallen down a rabbit hole. And I'm not just talking about cheerleader antics. People are excited about the actual football team.
The Panthers are playing well, having thumped the Vikings and Bucs the last two weeks, but their record has been built up against pretty weak opposition. Even that Week 2 win over the Patriots is looking less and less impressive all the time, and I suspect last week's win over Tampa Bay is going to suffer the same degeneration over the second half of the season.
But the Panthers should be plenty good to get past the Jets, who'll have Brooks Bollinger back under center in place of the injured Vinnie Testaverde, who replaced the ineffective Bollinger, who replaced the injured Chad Pennington. Remember him? The one thing the Jets do well is give the ball to Curtis Martin, but the Panthers are tough to run against, and anyway Martin's knee has been hurting and it's slowed him down.
How good are the Panthers? The Bears will be an interesting test next week, but we'll learn a lot about the Panthers when they play the Falcons twice in the last five weeks of the year. We'll learn a lot about the Falcons too.
WASHINGTON (5-3) at Tampa Bay (5-3): In three separate episodes over the last two years, Washington running back Clinton Portis has had to pay $35,000 in fines for the way he's worn his socks. His ensemble last Sunday -- stripes on one sock, but not the other, plus unauthorized black shoes and an eyeshade -- cost him $20,000. Those are expensive socks. I like socks. Right now I'm wearing bright blue soccer socks under my jeans. They're pretty snazzy. They cost $6. There are bargains out there, Clinton.
These are two 5-3 teams going in opposite directions: Washington up, the Bucs down. That's going to continue unless Tampa quarterback Chris Simms suddenly gets a lot better, and maybe even then.
Green Bay (1-7) at ATLANTA (6-2): The way Michael Vick was crowing after last week's win over Miami, you'd think he'd thrown for 488 yards, not 228. "People say I can't throw the ball from the pocket," he said after the 17-10 victory. "I had to show them." Mike, bubele: You don't have to show anybody anything. You have to help your team win football games, which is mostly what it does when you play.
You shouldn't be worried about what the commentariat says. The ways we have of measuring quarterbacks don't seem to work on you. Don't worry about where you are in the position rankings or what anyone says. Just win. Fortunately for you, that won't be difficult this week.
St. Louis (4-4) at SEATTLE (6-2): The Rams should get Marc Bulger, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Leonard Little back, but they're still going to be sending one of the league's worst defenses out against one of the league's best offenses. Another big game for Shaun Alexander. That is, unless the Seahawks Week 5 win was an aberration and the Rams still have their number. I don't think so.
Cleveland (3-5) at PITTSBURGH (6-2): Hurry back, Ben Roethlisberger. Charlie Batch gets another start after a too-close win over the Packers last week. After this, the Steelers go to Baltimore. Big Ben, out with arthroscopic knee surgery, might be back for that one. Then it's at Indianapolis and home against Cincinnati. He'd better be back for those.
Dallas (5-3) at PHILADELPHIA (4-4): Terrell Owens' week so far: Apologize too late. Let agent go off on an incoherent rant. Get booed at an Atlanta Hawks game. Sit around not playing football or getting paid. Owens hiring Drew Rosenhaus has to be the biggest football-related mistake anybody's made in Philadelphia since, well, maybe since the Eagles acquired Owens.
Owens' replacement, rookie Reggie Brown, had a nice game in the loss to Washington last week, catching five passes for 94 yards including a 56-yard touchdown. But don't be fooled. Even if Brown catches some passes, he doesn't draw the coverage Owens does, which opens up the rest of the offense for Donovan McNabb.
A lot of people seem to think that with Owens gone, coach Andy Reid will have to grit his teeth and hand off to Brian Westbrook more. I'm not so sure, and I'm not so sure that would solve anything, but it's worth a try, I suppose.
I think the Eagles will pull together in their first game after the Owens issue has been settled once and for all, and also that the Cowboys and quarterback Drew Bledsoe are ill-equipped to handle the Eagles' attacking defense. So it might be nothing more than fool's gold, but the Eagles won't dip below .500.
Season record: 86-44
Last week: 11-3
What the Heck Picks: 4-5
Number of words typed before even alluding to the two Carolina Panthers cheerleaders who were arrested after allegedly having hot steamy girl-on-girl sex with each other in a bathroom stall and starting a girl fight in a nightclub in Tampa, a sure sign, given the size of this number, of this column's new, classy tone: 1,060
Previous column: Palmeiro comes "clean"
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