NFL Game Capsules
By Dalton Del Don
RotoWire Staff Writer
New Orleans (+6) at Indianapolis, Thursday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: After months of waiting and speculating, the 2007 NFL season kicks off Thursday night with a matchup of two Super Bowl hopefuls. Expect the scoreboard to be lit up during this season opener. The Saints were one of the most surprising teams of 2006, as Sean Payton and Drew Brees' arrival quickly changed New Orleans' losing culture and led the team to the NFC Championship game. The drafting of Reggie Bush didn't hurt either, as the trio engineered the league's No. 1 ranked offense and the most prolific passing game. Marques Colston was one of the very best seventh round draft picks of all-time, and although Joe Horn is gone, Brees (8.0 YPA last year) still has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Devery Henderson has questionable hands, but there's no doubting his explosiveness; his 23.3 yards per catch in 2006 easily led the league. However, the Colts' Cover Two defense actually ranked second against the pass last year, limiting big plays. That's strength against strength, as Brees completed a remarkable five passes for more than 40 yards from scrimmage last season. Also, Indianapolis' stats against the pass are a bit less impressive when you factor in their league-worst run defense; the Colts allowed a whopping 173 rushing yards per game. Expect Deuce McAllister to be featured heavily Thursday, with Bush also very much involved...Not that he ever deserved it in the first place, but the monkey has officially been removed from Peyton Manning's back after last season's Super Bowl victory. Many believe the Colts have lost too much personnel for a repeat, but none of the losses were key players, and a healthy season from Bob Sanders would be like adding a Pro Bowl safety to the mix. This team is more than ready to defend its title. The Saints actually ranked third against the pass last year, but at home versus a team that should be able to put points on the board, expect a big game from Manning, as he's averaged an incredible 10.4 YPA in three career contests against New Orleans. With Dominic Rhodes jettisoned, Joseph Addai is set to get his first regular-seasaon start at running back. He's been Indy's best back since the day he was drafted, but it's nice to see him finally get the majority of the carries and not in a timeshare. Facing the Saints' soft front seven, expect a huge first game out of the second-year ballcarrier...The Saints will be missing Mark Campbell (back, out), but neither team has any significant injury issues entering Week 1.
Predictions: Drew Brees throws for 270 yards, but the Colts' "bend, don't break" defense limits him to one strike, to Marques Colston. He adds 80 receiving yards, while Devery Henderson pitches in 75. Deuce McAllister rumbles for 90 yards and two goal-line scores, while Reggie Bush adds 140 total yards. Peyton Manning counters with 250 yards and two TDs, with Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison the recipients. Both wideouts approach 100 yards as well. Joseph Addai has a big night, accumulating 125 yards and a score, but Adam Vinatieri is the hero, putting one through the uprights to give Indy the last second win. Colts 27-24.
Atlanta (+3) at Minnesota, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: While the new coaching regime in Atlanta is newsworthy, the story of Michael Vick's suspension for his involvement in dog fighting got all of the Falcons' headlines. Vick was a unique talent, but the fact remains he's completed just 53.8 percent of his passes and got 6.7 YPA during his career, so he might not be a catastrophic loss from a football standpoint. However, his replacement, Joey Harrington (5.7 YPA during his career), is a clear downgrade, and with only an aging Joe Horn as a reliable wideout, this passing offense should struggle. On the plus side, the team gets to face the NFL's worst pass defense from last season Week 1; Minnesota yielded nearly 240 yards per game through the air in 2006. 32-year-old Warrick Dunn gets the start at running back, but exciting Jerious Norwood should get touches as well, but don't expect either one to see much running room against the Vikings' No. 1 ranked rush defense from last season. If the secondary can improve, Minnesota has the makings of a solid defensive unit, and with one of the game's best offensive lines, expect the Vikings to be extremely conservative on offense; especially since quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has just four career starts under his belt. Chester Taylor received 345 touches last year, but it's safe to assume that number will drop sharply this season after the team selected Adrian Peterson with the seventh pick in the draft. He's a special talent and already the team's best offensive weapon, so he'll be on the field early and often.
Predictions: Joey Harrington throws for 185 yards and a TD to Alge Crumpler, while Warrick Dunn struggles to reach 50 rushing yards. Jerious Norwood finds the running lanes similarly narrow, gaining just 30 yards on the ground. Tarvaris Jackson throws for just 150 yards, but he also runs for another 40 and a score. Chester Taylor gets 40 rushing yards, while Adrian Peterson runs for 60 and a score, as Minnesota starts the season off right. Vikings 17-13.
Carolina (+1) at St. Louis, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: After a disappointing 8-8 2006 campaign, the Panthers enter the year with playoff aspirations. In order to reach that goal, Carolina will need improved play from Jake Delhomme, who saw his YPA dip from 7.9 in 2005 to 6.5 last season - a career low. A healthy Steve Smith will go a long way toward making that happen, as will better offensive line play. The team will run a new zone blocking scheme, hoping it will better fit the skills of their "running back by committee" tandem of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. The Rams find themselves in a winnable division this year, but in order to do so, they'll need to take care of business at home, starting Week 1 against the Panthers. St. Louis' run defense ranked second to last in 2006, but the arrival of Adam Carriker should help rectify that problem. Torry Holt's knee issues are a major concern, but the additions of Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael give the team a plethora of options in the passing game, even if Isaac Bruce starts showing his age. Steven Jackson will remain the team's focal point on offense and figures to be heavily involved in Sunday's game plan.
Predictions: Jake Delhomme throws for 240 yards and a score, with Steve Smith being the recipient. Smith adds 130 receiving yards, while DeAngelo Williams runs for 70 yards and DeShaun Foster scores a TD from in close. Marc Bulger gets 260 yards passing and hooks up with Drew Bennett for a score in the red zone, while Torry Holt manages to gain 75 receiving yards. Steven Jackson totals 145 yards and reaches paydirt, as home field is the difference. Rams 23-20.
Denver (-3) at Buffalo, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Bills spent money to upgrade the offensive line during the offseason, but the defense figures to remain a problem in 2007. The team is built around its three budding young stars at the skill positions, led by explosive wide receiver Lee Evans. Expect Evans' monster second half last season to carry over into this year, although Week 1 pits him against a tough Denver secondary led by Champ Bailey. J.P. Losman was one of the game's most improved players over 2006's final eight weeks, getting 7.5 YPA. The team will need continued maturation for any success this season, and Losman has the skill set for it to happen. Rookie running back Marshawn Lynch finishes the triumvirate, and although he struggled in the preseason, he's a playmaker who should make fans forget Willis McGahee before long. But the team's pricey O-line signings need to come through…The Broncos endured a trying offseason, losing two members of their squad to tragedy. The team hopes happier times lie ahead on the football field, and it all starts with Jay Cutler, who showed signs of future greatness during his rookie campaign. It may not occur immediately, but Cutler, who threw multiple TDs in four of his five starts last year, is easily the best QB to don a Denver uniform since John Elway. With Javon Walker one more year removed from knee surgery, the two should become a formidable duo this season. But as always, the Denver ground game will be the team's bread and butter. After dealing with poor play from Tatum Bell over the past two seasons, the Broncos upgraded the position by bringing in Travis Henry, who is a perfect fit for the team's one-cut and go system. Henry has a favorable matchup Week 1, and he should be extra motivated playing against his old team in Buffalo…The Broncos have won each of the last four contests against the Bills.
Predictions: J.P. Losman gets 220 yards passing, and finds Lee Evans in the end zone. Marshawn Lynch contributes as a pass catcher out of the backfield, with 80 total yards and a short TD run. Jay Cutler counters with 230 yards and a scoring strike to Javon Walker, while Travis Henry reaches the century mark rushing and punches in two scores, as Denver prevails. Broncos 24-17.
Kansas City (+3) at Houston, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: With Larry Johnson back in the fold, the Chiefs enter the season with a little optimism after a preseason filled with plenty of doubt. By all accounts, KC's coaching staff was rooting for Brodie Croyle to win the QB job, but after he failed to do so, Kansas City turned to Damon Huard. Huard was surprisingly effective last season (7.7 YPA), but he's not the long-term answer at the position. The once-dominant offensive line is deteriorating fast. Coach Herm Edwards has stated his desire to limit Johnson's carries, but with few other offensive weapons, expect the physical running back to be the focal point of the game plan once again…After passing on Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler in the 2006 draft, head coach Gary Kubiak had to be kicking himself dealing with another disappointing year from David Carr last season. The offensive line needs to share some of the blame, but it got to the point at the end of last year where Carr would rarely throw the football more than 10 yards in the air. Enter Matt Schaub, who should be able to better utilize the downfield playmaking ability of Andre Johnson. The jury is still out on Schaub, but he has gotten 7.7 YPA over the last two seasons in Atlanta, albeit in very limited work (91 pass attempts). He'll be an upgrade at QB regardless, but it may take some time before this offense truly shows signs of progress. Nevertheless, the Texans finally seems to be moving the right direction as a franchise.
Predictions: Larry Johnson gets thrown into the fire and given 20-25 touches, which he turns into 120 yards and a TD run. Damon Huard has an up-and-down game but finds Tony Gonzalez for a score. Matt Schaub has a successful Houston debut, resulting in 250 passing yards and two TDs, with Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels the recipients. Ahman Green adds 80 rushing yards and a score as well, giving the home crowd something to celebrate. Texans 21-17.
Miami (+3) at Washington, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Joe Gibbs' return to coaching hasn't exactly gone as planned, and the 2007 season doesn't point to better times ahead. At least the team finally started looking toward the future by handing the QB reins over to Jason Campbell. Campbell showed signs of progress during his limited action last year, but he's going to struggle at times this season and has a tough matchup this week against the Dolphins and their top-five rated pass defense in 2006. Santana Moss should have a bounce back year after injuries slowed him down last season, and Washington's run blocking is a major team strength. Since Clinton Portis (knee tendinitis) is still getting up to speed, expect a fairly equal distribution of carries between Ladell Betts and him Sunday…The 2006 season for the Dolphins can be summed up as an utter disaster, with dismal quarterback play and Nick Saban's abrupt departure. After Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington failed miserably, the team brought in 37-year-old Trent Green from Kansas City. Though Green is past his prime, the quarterback play can only improve from last season, especially under the tutelage of new head coach Cam Cameron. Improved play from Chris Chambers, who caught a ridiculously low 38 percent of the passes thrown his way last year, would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. Ronnie Brown will start at running back, but Jesse Chatman, who has been out of the league the last two years, figures to cut into his work more than fantasy owners would like. Beside the question marks on offense, the Dolphins actually have a stout defense, which will be the difference Sunday.
Predictions: Jason Campbell doesn't even reach 200 passing yards, but Santana Moss and Chris Cooley are his main targets. Ladell Betts totals 60 yards, while Clinton Portis chips in 50 and a TD. Trent Green turns in a modest performance, with 160 passing yards and a scoring strike to Marty Booker. Jesse Chatman gets 8-10 carries, while Ronnie Brown turns 22 touches into 80 yards and a score, as the road team pulls off the upset. Dolphins 17-16.
New England (-6.5) at New York Jets, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: It's pupil versus teacher, act three. Coach Eric Mangini helped the Jets beat the Patriots for the first time in nine meetings last year, so you better believe Bill Belichick and company will be ready to play. Still, this is a Jets team with an instinctive and extremely well- coached defense; they are no longer pushovers. Chad Pennington might have one of the weakest arms in the game today, so the Jets need to game plan with that in mind. With Richard Seymour (knee) out and Rodney Harrison serving a suspension, expect New York to try and shorten the game by concentrating on running the ball, even if Thomas Jones (calf) is less than full strength. Leon Washington is another playmaker out of the backfield, and he should see 8-12 touches and use them effectively…The Patriots enter 2007 as Super Bowl favorites after bringing in numerous shiny new free agents. Adalius Thomas immediately improves the linebacking corps, while Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker give Tom Brady more options in the passing game than ever before. Moss (hamstring) figures to remain hampered by leg issues, so Stallworth and Welker need to step up. With Corey Dillon retired, Laurence Maroney is the feature back, but don't be shocked to see Sammy Morris share some of the work, especially around the goal line. This team is formidable but not without its problems, either…The Patriots have won six consecutive road games against the Jets.
Predictions: Chad Pennington passes for 180 yards and connects with Jerricho Cotchery for a score, while Thomas Jones gets 60 yards and a TD. Tom Brady responds with 240 yards and two touchdowns, with Ben Watson and Donte' Stallworth on the receiving end. Laurence Maroney (shoulder) works his way back into game shape after missing much of the preseason as New England prevails. Patriots 20-17.
Philadelphia (-3) at Green Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: While the team around him improves, Brett Favre continues to decline. He cut down on the interceptions last season, but his completion percentage (56) and YPA (6.3) were career-worsts. Rookie Brandon Jackson replaces the departed Ahman Green at running back, while first-year WR James Jones looks to supplant Greg Jennings, who had a disappointing preseason and is now dealing with a hamstring injury. In the end, however, the Green Bay defense should come to the forefront -- it's a unit fast becoming one of the elite in the NFL. They better play like it Sunday, as Green Bay faces a Philadelphia offense sure to be one of the best in the league…Before going down to a knee injury last year, Donovan McNabb was having an MVP-caliber season. Despite the fact that Philadelphia actually had a better record once McNabb went down, the team's hopes for 2007 rely on their signal caller coming back strong from knee surgery and staying healthy for the duration of this season. Reggie Brown figures to take a major leap forward as the team's No .1 wide receiver, while Brian Westbrook emerged as one of the NFL's elite running backs last year. Combine that with a stout defense, and Philadelphia has Super Bowl aspirations.
Predictions: Brett Favre commits a couple of turnovers but also passes for 220 yards and a TD to Donald Driver. Brandon Jackson gets 70 total yards and also reaches the end zone, while Donovan McNabb counters with 250 yards and two touchdowns tosses. One scoring strike goes to Reggie Brown, while the other goes to Brian Westbrook, who also runs for 80 yards and a late TD, sealing the victory for Philly. Eagles 24-20.
Pittsburgh (-4.5) at Cleveland, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Browns were happy with their draft, upgrading the offensive line by selecting Joe Thomas and finding a QB of the future in Brady Quinn. Still, it's a team in rebuilding mode, so more growing pains will be in store in 2007. Braylon Edwards is a major breakout candidate, but Jamal Lewis is done as an effective running back, so expect the ground game to struggle mightily this season, especially in Week 1 against a physical Steelers' defense. The countdown for the Brady Quinn era begins Sunday, as Charlie Frye continues to be mistake-prone… Bill Cowher and his smash-mouth style are gone. And while new head coach Mike Tomlin is defensive-minded, expect a change in offensive philosophy with former WR coach Bruce Arians now calling the shots. Forget the 23 interceptions Ben Roethlisberger threw last year; a lot of that can be attributed to the severe concussion he suffered before the season even began. His 8.3 YPA throughout his career is the greatest mark by a QB in NFL history, so only lack of opportunity has prevented Roethlisberger from reaching major statistical levels. With the shackles removed and an emerging Santonio Holmes at his disposal, expect the best season from Roethlisberger yet, although Week 1 pits him against an underrated Cleveland secondary. The Browns' defense struggles against the run, so Willie Parker should have a successful season opener, as the Steelers win it going away.
Predictions: Charlie Frye struggles with Pittsburgh's fierce pass rush, resulting in a handful of sacks and a couple of interceptions. He does find Braylon Edwards for a score, but Jamal Lewis is stymied, gaining just 50 yards on the ground. Ben Roethlisberger throws for 240 yards and two TDs, with Hines Ward and Heath Miller hauling them in. Willie Parker gets more active in the passing game, netting 150 total yards and a rushing TD, as the road team wins it easily. Steelers 24-13.
Tennessee (+6.5) at Jacksonville, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: After a 6-1 finish to the 2006 season, the Titans enter the year hoping to build off that momentum. The team will go as far as Vince Young takes them. An already middling defense, however, suffered a major blow when Pacman Jones was suspended for the year, so the team will be heavily relying on its offense. LenDale White enters the season heading what looks like a committee at running back, and no wide receiver stood out during training camp. Make no mistake, this is Vince Young's team. Over the second half of last season, Young got a respectable 6.9 YPA and ran for 415 yards and five TDs behind an underrated offensive line. He's only going to improve during his second year as a starter, and with QB-friendly Norm Chow on his side, Young is likely to turn in a huge season in 2007. It won't be easy Week 1, however, as Jacksonville possesses one of the better defenses in the league…The timing may have been strange, but the decision to name David Garrard starting quarterback looks like the correct one. Garrard got 7.2 YPA last year compared to Leftwich's 6.3, and he's much more mobile. The ground game is a major strength, as Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew form a tremendous one-two punch. Taylor may be the starter by name, but Jones-Drew is fast becoming one of the league's very best running backs, as he led the NFL with 5.7 YPC last season and is a force as a receiver and at the goal line. Facing a Titans' squad that yielded a league-worst 378.9 yards per game last year, expect a monster performance from the Jags' rushing attack Sunday.
Predictions: Vince Young throws for just 160 yards and one TD to Brandon Jones. He also adds 50 rushing yards, while LenDale White chips in a similar amount and a goal line score. David Garrard only throws for 140 yards as Jacksonville focuses on its ground game, but he does find Matt Jones in the end zone. Fred Taylor gains 90 rushing yards, while Maurice Jones-Drew totals 110 yards and scores from in close, as the Jags start the season with a victory. Jaguars 20-14.
Chicago (+6) at San Diego, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: The Bears return most of their starters this season after losing the Super Bowl last year, Chicago's most glaring question mark is playing the most important position on the football field. Quarterback Rex Grossman was all-or-nothing last year, posting seven games with a passer rating above 100 and three with a rating of 10.2 or lower. Some consistency sure would be nice, especially since he has one of the league's best defenses behind him. Cedric Benson takes over as primary ballcarrier. He too has a lot to prove; he has to show he can carry the full load, improve on his unremarkable career mark of 4.1 YPC, and offer something as a receiver. Over the last 10 years, only one team has won a playoff game after losing the previous year's Super Bowl…After ending their 14-2 season on a 10-game winning streak, the Chargers lost their first playoff game, committing four turnovers against the Patriots. Marty Schottenheimer was shown the door as a result, and while new head coach Norv Turner hasn't had much success with that title in the past, he inherits so much talent that the Chargers have to be considered one of the best teams in the NFL entering the season. With a tremendous defense, an emerging QB, the best tight end in the game and the best running back of his era, the Chargers are absolutely loaded.
Predictions: Rex Grossman burns the SD secondary for one long scoring strike to Bernard Berrian, but he also throws two interceptions. Cedric Benson struggles to find any running room, gaining just 60 yards despite multiple opportunities. Philip Rivers continues his conservative ways, throwing for 180 yards and a TD to Antonio Gates. LaDainian Tomlinson starts the season off in style, rushing for 120 yards and two TDs, as the AFC reveals its dominance. Chargers 27-16.
Detroit (+2) at Oakland, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has turned the Lions into one of the most fantasy-friendly teams, but in real football, his squad still has plenty of holes. Jon Kitna committed a staggering 31 turnovers last year, easily leading the league. If that's not bad enough, he was also sacked 63 times. Detroit ran the ball the fewest number of times of any team last year, and with Kevin Jones (foot) still sidelined, expect more of the same Sunday. Calvin Johnson is going to be a special player, but a matchup against a tough Oakland secondary is not an easy introduction to the league. Expect a slow start from the athletic rookie. A dome/finesse team playing outdoors against a nasty and underrated Raiders' defense could lead to some ugly results…New Oakland head coach Lane Kiffin threw everyone a curve ball this week, naming Josh McCown starting quarterback even though Daunte Culpepper seemingly outplayed him during the preseason. Expect Oakland to rely heavily on its defense and ground game. Ronald Curry is Oakland's best offensive weapon, and pitted against a terrible Detroit secondary, he should be primed for a big Week 1, even if McCown doesn't attempt a plethora of passes. LaMont Jordan had a disastrous 2006, but he is presented with a great matchup Week 1 and has the Oakland backfield all to himself; decent numbers could be in store. After Sunday, the Raiders will already be halfway to their 2006 win total.
Predictions: Jon Kitna is roughed up, resulting in numerous sacks and three turnovers committed. He does, however, throw for 270 yards and score. Roy Williams gets 100 receiving yards and hauls in the TD, while Tatum Bell is held to just 55 rushing yards. T.J. Duckett punches in a short score, while Josh McCown throws for 210 yards and a TD to Ronald Curry. Jerry Porter breaks back onto the scene with 75 receiving yards, while LaMont Jordan puts the finishing touches on a Raider victory with a late TD run. Raiders 20-14.
Tampa Bay (+6) at Seattle, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: While the quarterbacks failed and Carnell Williams played nothing like a Cadillac, the biggest disappointment of all for the 2006 Buccaneers had to be their defense. A once-intimidating unit dropped off dramatically, tallying a lowly 25 sacks while forcing few turnovers. An aging roster got younger with the draft of DE Gaines Adams, but the offense will continue to struggle if the O-line doesn't improve its play. Jeff Garcia, a veteran of the West Coast offense, takes over at quarterback, while Williams looks to bounce back from a miserable 2006. If Tampa Bay wants to avoid a last place finish, the running back will need to stay healthy and rediscover the explosiveness he flashed during his rookie season. It could return Week 1, as the team faces a Seattle defense that struggled mightily against the run last year and lost its best run stuffer, Marcus Tubbs, for the season to a torn ACL…Seattle has more problems than its defense. The offensive line struggled last year due to the loss of Steve Hutchinson in free agency and to injuries to perennial All-Pro Walter Jones. Jones, who might be the most important player on the team, is still dealing with soreness in his shoulder. If he cannot return to full strength and this is the beginning of a true decline, expect this offense to struggle throughout 2007. The Seahawks also lost Darrell Jackson to the division rival 49ers. While Jackson was prone to drops at times, his presence will be missed by a team lacking a true No. 1 receiver. Deion Branch is more of an underneath type, and D.J. Hackett and Nate Burleson still have plenty to prove. Mike Holmgren's system is good, though, so there's still potential here. The biggest question mark of all has to be Shaun Alexander, who is now 30 years old and coming off an injury-plagued 2006 that saw a career-worst 3.6 YPC. There have been 92 RBs who have run for 1,000 yards or more over the past five years and just 10 of them have been 30 years or older.
Predictions: Jeff Garcia uses his mobility and quick decision-making to reach 200 passing yards, with a scoring strike to Joey Galloway. Carnell Williams gains 90 yards on the ground, while Michael Pittman punches one in from the goal line. Matt Hasselbeck throws for 240 yards and a TD to D.J. Hackett, while Shaun Alexander runs for 100 yards and a score, putting Seattle into the win column. Seahawks 23-20.
New York Giants (+6) at Dallas, Sunday 8:15 p.m.
Comments: With Tiki Barber and his mouth gone to television, the Giants' locker room was a lot more quiet this preseason -- until the "will he or won't he return" saga involving Michael Strahan, of course. Ultimately, Strahan's return is a good thing for a team that struggled to rush the passer last year, and with a thin secondary (Sam Madison is hurting), the D-line needs to be a strength. As for the offense, it's safe to say Eli Manning hasn't progressed as hoped. Sure, the TD totals have been nice, but his accuracy and 6.2 YPA are unacceptable at this point in his career. Plaxico Burress finally looks healthy after a preseason riddled with injuries, and he provides one of the best red zone targets in the NFL. Brandon Jacobs takes over for Barber at the running back position, and he has giant-sized shoes to fill. Jacobs has proven to be an effective short-yardage runner, but it remains to be seen whether he can carry the full load. With no other viable back on the roster, he'll get every opportunity to do so, starting with Sunday night against a Dallas defense that is stingy against the run…Bill Parcells was a great NFL head coach, but he hadn't won a playoff game since 1998, so a fresh start may be the remedy in Dallas. Enter Wade Phillips, who at a minimum should keep Terrell Owens happy by letting the wideout do as his pleases. Phillips' defensive scheme is ultra-aggressive, so look for an increase in turnovers and sacks by the Cowboys' defense this year. Still, the secondary that's shaky, so the team may need to rely on its offense to win games. Tony Romo may have ended last season on a sour note with a botched hold, but his future certainly looks bright. His 8.6 YPA led all quarterbacks in 2006. With a happy, healthy and motivated Owens at his disposal, this passing attack should be formidable. Combine that with a one-two punch of Julius Jones and Marion Barber on the ground, and this offense could be on of the conference's best.
Predictions: Eli Manning throws for 240 yards and two TDs, with Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey the recipients. Brandon Jacobs rushes for just 60 yards, but he does score one TD from the stripe. Tony Romo answers with a big effort, throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns to Terrell Owens, who also adds 125 receiving yards on the night. Julius Jones runs for 60 yards, while Barber adds 40 and a score, as Dallas gets the best of its division rivals. Cowboys 27-24.
Baltimore (+2.5) at Cincinnati, Monday 7 p.m.
Comments: If defense wins championships, then why doesn't Baltimore have a ring to show for its efforts in 2006? The quick answer - red zone inefficiency, where the team ranked 28th in scoring. Mark Clayton is an emerging star at wide receiver, but Steve McNair is in full-fledged decline at quarterback. He's lost the zip on his passes and managed just 6.5 YPA last year. Baltimore did address its lack of a running game by trading for Willis McGahee, but that isn't an upgrade as big as most perceive it to be. McGahee offers little as a receiver and has a career mark of 3.9 YPC. With Jonathan Ogden (toe) at less than full speed, the offensive line has issues as well. Baltimore better hope the defense doesn't regress this season…Carson Palmer returned from major knee surgery last year, but he never was quite himself, and the team suffered as a result. The 30th ranked defense didn't help matters either, but this is a team that relies on its offensive prowess to carry them. With Palmer one more year removed from surgery, he'll finally be back to 100 percent this season, and with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (knee) by his side, a dominant passing attack should ensue. One of the league's best offenses against arguably the game's best defense presents a matchup of strength against strength, with homefield likely the difference maker…The Bengals have won four of the last five meetings between these two teams.
Predictions: Steve McNair rarely goes downfield, but manages 210 yards and a TD to Todd Heap. Willis McGahee runs through the soft Bengals' defense, gaining 110 yards and a score. Carson Palmer proves he's back to full strength by passing for 240 yards and two scores, with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh hauling them in. Rudi Johnson gains just 70 rushing yards, but he does get a goal line score, as offense beats defense Monday night. Bengals 24-20.
Arizona (+3) at San Francisco, Monday 10:15 p.m.
Comments: After Denny Green's unsuccessful tenure as Arizona's head coach, the organization decided to bring in a whole new regime, highlighted by former Steeler offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Wisenhunt plans on instituting a smash-mouth style similar to the one he built in Pittsburgh. Since the Cardinals' offensive line is spotty, and Edgerrin James is in the midst of a precipitous decline, that plan may be short-lived, especially when you consider the team's strength lies in its two wideouts. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin give second-year starter Matt Leinart two All-Pro options in the passing game, and with a defense likely to struggle, expect Arizona to remain pass-happy. Leinart had an up-and-down rookie campaign but turned in an impressive preseason and faces a weak San Francisco that is weak despite the signing of high-priced free agent Nate Clements. Expect a shootout…Clements wasn't San Francisco's lone offseason acquisition, as the 49ers also added Darrell Jackson to an unproven receiving corps. Unfortunately, Jackson has been hampered by a hamstring injury. He should play Monday and has a favorable matchup against a weak Arizona secondary, but all that missed time during the preseason hindered his ability to establish a rapport with Alex Smith, who enters his third year as starter at quarterback. After a dismal second half to last season (6.4 YPA), Smith showed major signs of progress throughout the preseason. Whether or not that translates into regular season success remains to be seen, but having a physical force known as Vernon Davis at tight end certainly helps. Davis is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and after finally grasping the playbook, could be in store for a monster 2007. Frank Gore is the centerpiece of this offense, and after missing all of the preseason with a broken hand, he enters the year with fresh legs and a rebuilt offensive line. Expect him to absolutely destroy a porous, Arizona defense Monday night…The Cardinals have won the previous four meetings between these two teams.
Predictions: Matt Leinart throws for 275 yards and connects with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for scores, while Edgerrin James adds 90 rushing yards. It's Marcel Shipp who gets Arizona's rushing score, however. Alex Smith throws the ball all over the field Monday, to the tune of 240 yards and two scores, with Vernon Davis and Arnaz Battle being the recipients. Frank Gore fumbles because of a cumbersome glove protecting his hand but makes up for it with 170 total yards and two TDs, as San Francisco wins the high-scoring affair. 49ers 31-27.
Article first appeared 8/6/07