Brian Griese versus his dad's old team in the first Monday-night
game of the season, the Broncos lining up in Mile High against
Miami to defend their Super Bowl title and make Mike Shanahan
look like a genius for benching Bubby Brister--I'd call this a
pretty neat way to open the season, wouldn't you?
Last year's matchup, a Monday-nighter in Week 16 at Pro Player
Stadium, was a yes, but kind of affair: Yes, the Dolphins won by
10 and held the Broncs to their lowest yardage total of the
year, but Denver had seen its unbeaten season go up in smoke the
week before, courtesy of the Giants, and had already clinched
everything there was to clinch, while the Dolphins were playing
for a wild-card berth.
Miami, blessed with one of the league's fine defensive-back
threesomes in corners Sam Madison and Terrell Buckley and
nickelback Patrick Surtain, clamped down hard on the Denver
wideouts. John Elway, bothered by hip and rib injuries, suffered
through one of his worst outings of the season, and Terrell
Davis had his least productive game all year--16 carries, 29
yards. But as I said, it was a meaningless game for Denver and a
biggie for Miami.
Some around the league are saying Shanahan should have waited
awhile before switching quarterbacks, that he owed Brister after
Bubby's fine work in relief of Elway last year. Hey, he owes
Brister nothing. This is the NFL, not a savings and loan. Others
are saying, What's the difference? All the Broncos need is for
someone to hand off to Davis. That's nonsense. Woody Hayes
doesn't draw up NFL game plans.
I can see the Dolphins putting eight in the box, ganging up on
Davis and defying Griese to beat them. I can see the Broncos
going to an open set early, three or four wideouts, spreading
the field to slip Davis through on his cutbacks.
Brian Griese's got no cannon for an arm, but he's got enough.
Just ask Joe Montana how hard you have to throw the ball to get
by in the NFL. Griese is only 24, though, with no starts, and if
this game were in Miami, I'd be picking the Dolphins.
Monday-night madness on the road, and all that. But it's in
Denver, and the Dolphins came off the exhibition season banged
up. Surtain was injured in the last exhibition game, and if he
can't go, Miami might have problems in its coverage. Call it the
Broncos in a squeaker. Call it the start of the Brian Griese era.
All well and good, but give us an upset, scream the dog lovers
out there, and I'm looking, folks, I'm looking. Dallas, on the
road, over Washington, which is favored because it's playing at
home, is tempting, but Deion's iffy, and the other corner, Kevin
Smith, is hurt, and, well....O.K., enough copping out, the
Cowboys are my upset special, on overall talent.
Here's another upset. Bears over Chiefs at Soldier Field, even
with Shane Matthews quarterbacking for Chicago. New coach Dick
Jauron says he will get rookie Cade McNown, the only member of
the quintet of first-round quarterbacks who figures to be part
of the early action, into the game for Matthews--somewhere,
somehow. The Bears traditionally play people tough in September,
and K.C. was 2-6 on the road last year, with one of the wins
coming against hapless Philly. Finally a teeny-weeny one, and
I'm not sure at this point if it's really an upset: The Ravens
will take the Rams, quarterbacked by--what's his name
again?--Kurt Warner, that's it.
Enough upsets and pseudo-upsets. From now on it's chalk, and
I'll skip the games that look to be blowouts, O.K.? The Vikings
will pick up the win in Atlanta. Granted, the Minnesota defense
looked as if it were sleepwalking through much of the preseason,
but it'll be stoked on Sunday against a Falcons team the Vikes
believe stole the championship from them last year. The Panthers
will beat the Saints. Ricky Williams says that nine
exhibition-game carries is all he needs to get ready for his big
season. Yeah, right.
The Cardinals will dump the Eagles on the road. Arizona was
outscored 139-48 in the preseason, but in two of those exhibition
games the Cards were without Jake the Snake (sprained thumb). Now
Plummer's back--they hope. The Jaguars couldn't stop the run last
year, but they'll topple the 49ers, who will come at them with
Charlie Garner and Lawrence Phillips. I don't like this pair
against Dom Capers's new defense.
The Bills will get a win in Indy. They've beaten the Colts four
straight times, and what's changed? Finally, I'm going with the
Bucs to stifle the Giants, whose offense looked surprisingly
lively in the preseason, and the Jets, even without their
keynote wideout, Wayne Chrebet, to nail the Patriots at Giants
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from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.