I don't think I've ever seen as much head-scratching at the quarterback position going into the opening week. The exhibition season is supposed to sort all that out, right? But look what we have.
In Miami, Jay Fiedler, coming off hip surgery earlier in the month, practices one day, throws three interceptions while completing 10 of 14 passes against the Saints and is named the starter. Damon Huard, who had been No. 1 through the preseason, takes a seat. "Jay's got a better feel for what we're trying to do," said Dave Wannstedt. O.K., he's the coach, but how do you handicap the Dolphins against the Seahawks?
In Pittsburgh the exhibition games were supposed to be make-or-break for Kordell Stewart. After a miserable preseason Stewart appears broken. Kent Graham pushed him out of a job. Kent Graham always pushes people hard. Then he becomes a starter and people push him hard, until they push him out.
In Detroit, Charlie Batch, rehabbing from a broken leg, didn't play a down in the preseason. How bad is the tendinitis in Brett Favre's throwing elbow? How about Jake Plummer's sore shoulder? And Vinny Testaverde's sprained toe?
So how do you handicap an opening week like this one? Two ways: You look for a lot of upsets, and you use my special time-played-in-the-final-exhibition-game formula. It goes like this: When a team uses its starters for more than a half, it's either uncertain of itself or shooting for the meaningless win. When the game—is against an outfit that acted sensibly and rested people, then I choose the latter. Therefore the Bills become my pick over the Titans, who played their starters into the third quarter, ran up 479 yards on Chicago's vanilla defense and felt absolutely terrific about their new long-ball offense. The Bears are my upset choice over the Vikings, who celebrated Daunte Culpepper's 54-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss in the third quarter against the Colts.
Chicago is only one of the appealing upset choices. I have a hunch about Philly in Dallas. A young, eager team, greatly underestimated, faces a club it usually plays hard against. Yeah, why not? Eagles it is. The Jets at Green Bay is enticing, particularly if Favre is out. Why not? Take the Jets. How about Kansas City, which overran a patchwork offensive line and sacked Jacksonville quarterbacks seven times on Aug. 19, over Indianapolis? Do I have the guts? I do not. The Colts win on talent.
The Ravens will win in Pittsburgh. Is this really a surprise, with Graham going against that Baltimore defense? The only thing I don't like is the Ravens' attack, which still has to show me it's for real, against the Steelers' defense on the road. The Bucs will beat the Patriots in Foxboro, although I don't know for the life of me why Tampa Bay cut defensive tackle Brad Culpepper, who worked so well with Warren Sapp. Why mess with something that was so sound? That makes me a bit nervous about my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl.
Finally, the Giants will beat the Cardinals, the Dolphins will take the Seahawks, the Raiders will defeat the Chargers, and the Rams will handle the Broncos in the Monday nighter.