Not that we should put too much stock in just one of the 256 football games that will be played in the NFL this season but holy cow let's just cancel the rest of the schedule and give the Indianapolis Colts the trophy right now!
OK, maybe I'm feeling just a little panicky over picking the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl on the very morning the Colts pasted that 41-10 shellacking on the New Orleans Saints to open the season Thursday. I should remember that the Saints schedule gets a lot easier for the next 14 weeks or so, and also that we can't put too much stock in just one of 256 games.
Still, the Colts didn't allow a touchdown on defense, and once they shook off the rust at halftime, Peyton Manning and his receivers pretty much did whatever they wanted while Joseph Addai, the new top running back, went for 117 yards on 5.1 per carry. Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush: shut down.
But it was just one game.
There are 15 more Sunday and Monday in a little thing we like to call Week 1 around here. For the sixth year, this column will compete with other typists and chatterers and such in the Panel o' Experts, a contest to see who can correctly pick the most winners out of those 256 games. For all my panic, I'm 1-0 so far, as is just about everybody else. See, the point of the whole thing is to show that us "experts" aren't any smarter than anybody else.
Because readers ask for it if I don't, I'll be reporting the picks of my kids for each game. Buster, formerly the coin-flippinest 4-year-old in the universe, is now the NFL-predictinest 4-year-old on the block. He has promised to sit down with me every week and give me his picks for every game with a point spread under six points.
The coin has been turned over to the coin-flippinest 2-year-old west of the Pecos, Daisy. She too will take all favorites of six points or more, flip for the rest. Fortunately, I don't have any more kids, or this feature might get a little self-indulgent, don't you think?
On to the prognostications, with this column's predicted winner in capital letters.
Sunday early games
NEW ENGLAND (12-4) at N.Y. Jets (10-6): I've lost track. Are we still supposed to care whether Bill Belichick and his erstwhile protégé Eric Mangini shake hands cordially after the game? The Pats ended the Jets' 2006 season with a 37-16 thrashing. Since then it looks like New England's gotten better and New York hasn't, but this is still a hundinger to start the season with. The Jets' big off-season acquisition, running back Thomas Jones, hasn't played since straining his calf Aug. 12. He'll play Sunday, saying, he'll "see how it goes."
Kids: New England (7-point favorite)
Philadelphia (10-6) at GREEN BAY (8-8): Even though it's not cold yet, and even though the Packers' home-field advantage isn't such an advantage lately, I think they're going to take this one. A big kickoff for the annual Favre farewell tour, and a little stumble for the Eagles, who I think will be OK.
DENVER (9-7) at Buffalo (7-9): It turns out you can't just put any running back in the Denver backfield and have him gain 1,000 yards, so the Broncos went out and got Travis Henry, who'll give them Clinton Portis explosiveness again. He and the Broncos' pass rush should make the difference in this matchup of promising young quarterbacks, Jay Cutler vs. J.P. Losman.
Tennessee (8-8) at JACKSONVILLE (8-8): The David Garrard era begins in earnest in Jax, while Vince Young tries to re-create the Titans' 6-2 second half without Henry and receiver Drew Bennett. It'd be a tall order with them. The Jags were the better 8-8 team last year, and they're the playoff contender this year.
Kids: Jacksonville (7-point favorite)
PITTSBURGH (8-8) at Cleveland (4-12): There haven't been any motorcycle accidents or linebackers getting shot in the butt, so this counts as a pretty good run-up to the season in Pittsburgh. The oddsmakers like the Steelers by a little more than a field goal, and Cleveland's improving young defense could give interception-prone Ben Roethlisberger some trouble, but I don't see new Cleveland running back Jamal Lewis accomplishing much against the Steelers defense, and that means Charlie Frye will have to accomplish a lot, which I also don't see.
Kids: Cleveland (You go, kids!)
Carolina (8-8) at ST. LOUIS (8-8): Two teams going in the opposite direction. Their 2006 records notwithstanding, I'm not sure the Rams have quite caught the Panthers, but I'll go with the home field.
Kids: St. Louis
Kansas City (9-7) at HOUSTON (6-10): The Matt Schaub era, which in hindsight should have started in Atlanta a year or two ago, gets under way in Houston. Or is it just the post-David Carr era? Another home-field pick in another matchup of teams going in opposite directions, though in this case I think the Texans might be better than the Chiefs.
Kids: Kansas City
Atlanta (7-9) at MINNESOTA (6-10): A traditional drop-back passer against an athletic improvisor with a strong arm. Same old, right? Except this time around the pocket denizen, Joey Harrington, plays for the Falcons and the strong-armed runner, Tarvaris Jackson, for the Vikings. They both figure to struggle, Jackson because of inexperience and Harrington because he's Harrington, though he'll face a weaker pass defense. If turnovers don't decide this one, it'll come down to which team can run, which figures to be the one in purple.
Miami (6-10) at WASHINGTON (5-11): Washington's secondary could make Trent Green's debut as the Miami quarterback an unmemorable start to an unmemorable season.
Sunday late games
Chicago (13-3) at SAN DIEGO (14-2): The game of the week might be a more likely Super Bowl preview than that Thursday night opener was. Then again, I picked the Chargers to miss the playoffs. Assuming Rex Grossman hasn't suddenly become an upper-echelon quarterback, the Bears defense will have to play as well as it did in the first half of last season if it wants to get back to the Super Bowl, and facing the high-powered San Diego offense will be a good early test. I think it'll get a gentleman's C.
Kids: San Diego (6.5-point favorite)
TAMPA BAY (4-12) at Seattle (9-7): What the Heck Pick of the week. Not very What the Hecky, Shecky, since I think Seattle's on the downslope and Tampa could rebound a bit this year. But it's hard to find a game to fit the criteria.
For the uninitiated: The What the Heck Pick of the week is a pick of a team I think is going to lose, because, well, what the heck. Just to be clear, this isn't an "upset of the week" pick. I think Seattle's going to win. I'm just giving away the game. The sad thing is, I don't get What the Heck Picks wrong -- which is to say right, I think -- any more often than I do regular picks. Anyway, the rules say the What the Heck pick has to be a losing team playing a winning team, but when everybody's 0-0 -- and half of them were 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7 last year -- it's tricky in the first few weeks of a new year.
DETROIT (3-13) at Oakland (2-14): The dog days are here for two teams going nowhere. Oh well, guess they have to play out the rest of the schedule. No. 2 overall pick Calvin Johnson will be on the field for the Lions, while No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell remains the only unsigned first-rounder. Advantage: The rest of the league.
Sunday night game
N.Y. Giants (8-8) at DALLAS (9-7): Good thing this one's in prime time during Week 1. These teams will meet again in Jersey in Week 10 and I don't think it'll look like such a hot matchup then. All the cameras will be pointing at the quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Tony Romo, who both have plenty to prove. But this game will likely be won and lost in the trenches, and who wants to point a camera at that? Well, John Madden does, which is why they don't put him in charge of where to point the cameras.
Kids: Dallas (6-point favorite)
Monday night games
Baltimore (13-3) at CINCINNATI (8-8): The other game of the week, a big-time early matchup in what figures to be the toughest division in the NFL. The Ravens will pound Willis McGahee into Cincy's soft defense and the Bengals will sic a healthy Carson Palmer on Baltimore's elite unit. Should be fun. I'm betting on the Bengals to get enough stops and big plays to draw first blood in the AFC North.
Arizona (5-11) at SAN FRANCISCO (7-9): These two would-be upstarts in the NFC West play the second half of the Monday night doubleheader starting at 10:15 p.m. EDT. They'll come out for the third quarter after most of the country has retired to bed, not that too many people east of the Rockies care about Arizona vs. San Francisco at this stage of things. But listen, it was only two years ago when the NFL remaindered these two teams to the Mexico aftermarket. We're talking about real progress here.
Buster: San Francisco
Season record: 1-0
Last season: 146-110 regular season; 6-5 playoffs
Last season's What the Heck Picks: Can't find my notes -- hey, I just moved -- but I think it was 2-14
Predicted number of weeks Buster really will sit with me and pick NFL games: 2
Previous column: NFC preview
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