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Snap Judgments: Brady probably playing hurt; rookie QBs get a shot

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we count down the hours until the NFL's regular-season opening kickoff on Thursday night in Giants Stadium.....

• When it comes to divining just how injured Tom Brady really is, here's a good rule of thumb (or right foot, as the case may be): While we won't ever know much about the specifics of any injury that befalls a member of the hyper-secretive Patriots, history tells us the situation is usually worse than New England is letting on. Especially when it comes to the all-important matter of No. 12's physical condition.

Am I intimating the league's reigning MVP might not be ready to play Sunday against the visiting Chiefs due to his sore right foot? No, I'm not. But based on information that came to light after the fact in the case of previous Brady injuries, I'm willing to bet New England's franchise quarterback will be playing hurt early this season. Just as he was in the Super Bowl last February, when he was hobbled by that right ankle sprain despite not even being listed on the team's final injury report. In past years, Brady has suffered through right shoulder issues that were almost always more serious than they were portrayed at the time.

While the Patriots will always play mind games with their injury report as long as Bill Belichick is around, the evidence usually suggests Brady is hurt worse than what is publicly acknowledged. I firmly believe that to be the reality this time around as well, which entirely explains why Belichick wanted no part of Brady making an appearance in the preseason behind a Patriots offense line that has struggled mightily at times in protection.

The best news for Brady and the Patriots may be that New England's opening-day opponent is Kansas City, which sent pass-rusher extraordinaire Jared Allen to Minnesota via trade this offseason. That's one less potential headache for a Patriots offensive line that still hasn't recovered its pre-Super Bowl mojo.

• It didn't really unfold as anyone could have envisioned, evolving as it did into something of a Last Man Standing competition, but I did tell you as far back as mid-June that Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco had a chance to be the Ravens opening-day starter.

With Matt Ryan getting the No. 1 nod in Atlanta, a move that seemed apparent to me from early August on, this year's two first-round quarterbacks went 2-for-2 in that department. That hasn't happened in a surprisingly long while.

In 2007, Oakland's JaMarcus Russell and Cleveland's Brady Quinn combined to start just one time all season. In 2006, Tennessee's Vince Young, Arizona's Matt Leinart and Denver's Jay Cutler all started the season on the bench. Ditto for San Francisco's Alex Smith, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Washington's Jason Campbell in 2005. It was the same story in 2004, with the Giants' Eli Manning, San Diego's Philip Rivers, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Buffalo's J.P. Losman all watching on opening day.

The last rookie quarterback to start on opening day? Baltimore's Kyle Boller in 2003. That same year, Cincinnati's Carson Palmer didn't appear in a game all season, while Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich and Chicago's Rex Grossman started the season in reserve roles.

• Uh-oh. Takeo Spikes made the 49ers regular-season roster, thereby removing any chance that San Francisco might have had of reaching the playoffs. Spikes is starting his 11th NFL season, and while he has been a standout at times, and even a Pro Bowl-selected linebacker, his presence has always ensured a non-playoff season for his team.

It was true in Cincinnati, in Buffalo and in Philadelphia, which is nearly a playoff perennial. Then again, the 49ers missing the playoffs wouldn't exactly register as news these days.

• I wrote plenty about Matt Leinart's situation in Arizona last week, so all I'll say about Ken Whisenhunt's unsurprising decision to name Kurt Warner as his opening-day starter is this: Warner will always be able to roll up some impressive statistics for himself, and he'll put points on the scoreboard. But he'll also turn the ball over, usually at the worse possible time, often costing his team a chance to win. At this point in his career, that's what you get with the two-time league MVP. He'll get you to the 8-8, win-one, lose-one neck of the NFL woods, but not much farther.

Warner talks a lot about being a team guy, but I'm convinced it's fairly skin deep. He makes no secret he wants to start, and with 2008 being the final year of his contract, he's looking for one more fat two- or three-year deal before he hangs 'em up. Did you catch what he said the other day about winning his preseason competition with Leinart?

"One thing I have to believe, and hopefully Matt believes, is that I'm not just a has-been quarterback that can't play,'' Warner told reporters. "I want him to believe that I'm one of the better quarterbacks in this league and that he played very well this year.''

In other words, don't sweat it, kid. You were beaten out by one of the greats of the game. Just watch and learn.

Nice.

• I know it rated as a eyebrow-raising headline around the league when Washington demoted offensive right tackle Jon Jansen to second-team status behind second-year player Stephon Heyer, but the reality of the situation is that Jansen's reputation has exceeded his performance for some time now. And most everybody around the Redskins was well aware of it.

• With the Patriots whiffing on both Jason Webster and Fernando Bryant in their attempt to replace departed Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel this offseason, I'd be very surprised if Ty Law lands anywhere other than New England. And with the Bucs cutting cornerback-safety Eugene Wilson the other day, isn't he another potential candidate to become a returning Patriot?

• I'm still not ready to drink the Kool-Aid on the notion Washington quarterback Jason Campbell is a great fit for Jim Zorn's West Coast offense. I think the Redskins offense could struggle through September, and that could easily lead to a start Todd Collins movement in D.C., which has never met a quarterback controversy it didn't love.

Rosevelt Colvin is merely the latest example of a Patriots veteran who leaves Foxboro and then struggles to have the same level of success he had while he was wearing the red, white and blue.

• I really thought Jeremy Bloom had a chance to make the Steelers roster as their punt returner, but apparently it wasn't even a tough call for Pittsburgh, which whacked him in its first set of cuts. Bloom has now failed to stick at both ends of Pennsylvania, and the ex-Olympic moguls skier might be finished as a football player.

• Don't you love how some NFL coaches argue they need every one of the current four preseason games, then refuse to play most of their starters in the final, most meaningless of all exhibitions? Seems to me their actions speak far louder than their words.

• Not sure it'll ever come to pass, but someday maybe Tampa Bay-Carolina will be more than just a twice-a-year NFC South showdown. It'll be The McCown Bowl. Josh is now a Panthers reserve quarterback, and little brother Luke holds down the same role for the Bucs.

Not exactly Manning vs. Manning, I'll give you that.

• The Lions apparently love running backs who have good, middle-American sounding last names. With Kevin Jones leaving this offseason, is it any wonder that the Lions drafted Kevin Smith and signed Rudi Johnson?

• Here's how it goes in the star-driven NFL: If Ricardo Colclough gets into off-field trouble just before final cutdown day, it's so long and goodbye for the Panthers cornerback. If it's Fred Taylor who makes a mis-step, it's time for a publicly issued apology to Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver and moving past the issue.

• I went with Julius Peppers for my preseason NFL Comeback Player of the Year prediction, but upon further review, Miami running back Ricky Williams wouldn't have been a bad choice either. What a long, strange trip it has been for Ricky since draft day 1999.

• Now that Ashley Lelie is a Raider, it looks like Oakland has succeeded in cornering the market on ex-Broncos receivers who are really way more trouble than they're worth. Both Javon Walker and Lelie will be wearing silver and black this season. Who's next? Eddie Kennison?

• If you absolutely need the name of a running back out there who could be this year's version of the out-of-nowhere Ryan Grant, my pick would be Marcus Mason, who signed with Baltimore's practice squad after Washington released him. Mason led the NFL in preseason rushing with 317 yards, and even though the Redskins played five games, he still had a 4.8-yard average.

Like Mason, Grant switched teams during last year's preseason. He was traded from the Giants to the Packers and wound up running for almost 1,000 yards in becoming a late-season sensation. Mason will start the year on the practice squad, but if Willis McGahee can't get healthy in Baltimore, the Ravens could let Mason get some work behind rookie Ray Rice.

• Dallas opens at Cleveland on Sunday. The Cowboys don't have enough good receivers, and the Browns don't have enough good cornerbacks. Seems like a fair fight to me.

• Somebody tell Chad Johnson I refuse. I flatly refuse.

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