Weird things always happen in Week I, 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 II. 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 win it.
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.