Weird things always happen in Week 1, so when you hear those
guys on TV saying, "What a wild and wacky Sunday," bear in mind
that the only wacky thing would be a run of games that followed
form. After teams' identities have been established at the end
of the season, you look back at their openers and realize that
the first-game results weren't weird at all. Only your
preconceived notions were skewed.
The Bears, universally picked to finish last in the NFC Central,
jolted the impregnable Ravens' defense with a nasty, twisted bit
of play-calling known as the slip-screen: two wideouts working
in tandem with one blocking for the other in what almost seemed
to be a pick. The Bears called it several times in the first
half, and it had the Baltimore defenders on their heels. The
Ravens' offense, which was supposed to reach new heights this
year, wasn't having much luck, either. Finally, in the second
half, Baltimore settled down and put the game away.
The Cowboys, whom many regard as the worst team in the league,
got into a slugfest with the Buccaneers, an entry on this year's
Super Bowl short list. The Panthers, with nothing in particular
going for them except a 29-year-old rookie quarterback, upset
the Vikings at the Metrodome. Carolina's secondary, which is
functional but hardly showstopping, held Randy Moss to one
catch--and this is a guy some people are calling the best player
in the NFL.
We could go on, but the question is, Were these games
aberrations, or were we selling these underdogs short? Maybe
Week 2 will help us sort things out.
On Monday night in Baltimore, the Ravens will topple the
Vikings. Baltimore caught a fired-up team that was hot last
weekend and still won by 11. Class will prevail. The Ravens'
linebackers, now that Peter Boulware has fully recovered from
his shoulder injuries and is looking better than he has at any
time in his five-year career, are the best set in the league.
The Packers, probably the hottest team last weekend, travel to
the Meadowlands, but I like the Giants because of their sound
offensive and defensive lines. It'll seem strange to the Eagles
when they visit Tampa Bay and play on a nice grass field that
doesn't buckle. Last year Philadelphia had the Bucs' number in
the wild-card round of the playoffs. I've got a weird feeling
that the Eagles still do. Philly in an upset.
That's nothing, though, compared with another upset pick that
nags at me, demanding to be heard. There's no reason for it,
except a strong hunch. The Cardinals over the Redskins, in
Washington no less. There was something impressive about the way
the Jets came storming back against the Colts, when everything
was going wrong, but New York's defense still needs sorting out.
It won't happen this week on the West Coast. The Raiders will
I thought Buffalo at Miami would be one of those teeth-gritters,
but if the Dolphins show the same muscle they displayed when they
clubbed the Titans into unconsciousness, it won't be that close.
Miami's the pick. The Broncos are the choice over the Colts,
whose defense has improved but not quite enough.
Two quickies: The Lions will get it together against the
Cowboys, and the Seahawks, with a secondary hit hard by
injuries, will drop one at home to the Chiefs.