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 tide 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 wildcard berth.
Miami, blessed with one of the league's fine defensive-back threesomes in corners Sam Madison and Terrell Buckley and nickel-back Patrick Surtain, clamped down hard on the Denver wide-outs. 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 tins 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.