It is time to take a thoughtful, dispassionate look at the Houston team that pulled off the biggest opening-day upset in recent years. It shocked me because I was the genius who predicted a Dallas blowout—and in print yet, where everybody could see it. Where did I go wrong?
The reasoning was that the Cowboys' masterfully assembled defense would take the Texans' makeshift offensive line apart. But what was forgotten was the other side of the coin: an even more dramatic mismatch that pitted the defensive ingenuity of Houston coach Dom Capers against a marginal Dallas quarterback, Quincy Carter. He never had a chance. He couldn't read the coverages, his line couldn't pick up the myriad stunts and rush schemes devised by Capers, the creator of the zone blitz, the Cowboys couldn't sustain a running attack.
The question remains: Is Houston's defense that terrific or is Carter a lot worse than people suspect? On his last half-dozen drop-backs, when Dallas was trying to move for the tying touchdown, he threw five incompletions and was sacked for a safety.
?Here's what I predict: The Texans will be in every game in which they don't face a rock-solid veteran quarterback; they had better enjoy this advantage while they can. This week they're up against the Chargers' Drew Brees, who'll be making his second NFL start. But in the three games that follow, Houston will play against Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Drew Bledsoe. So do I like the Texans against the Chargers on the road, where they'll be devoid of their hysterically noisy home crowd? Uh, afraid not. I have to stick with San Diego, but an upset wouldn't surprise me. And what about the Cowboys, who host Tennessee? I like the Titans. Jeff Fisher knows how to put a defense on the field, too.
?The Bills pushed the Jets all over the field but lost on two kick returns by Chad Morton, and from this game come two upset predictions. Bledsoe, who led his troops on a heroic fourth-quarter touchdown drive, will have a big day as the Bills hang one on the Vikings in Minnesota, and the Patriots will beat the Jets, who might be minus Curtis Martin (sprained left ankle), at the Meadowlands.
? Philadelphia played without All-Pro corner Troy Vincent (bruised left knee) in its loss to Tennessee. Whether he's healthy or not, I like the Eagles over the Redskins in the Monday-nighter at Washington. Chicago got lucky against Minnesota with a late interception that set up its game-winning touchdown. Atlanta's Michael Vick completed his first 10 passes in an overtime loss to the Packers on the road. I'll take the Falcons over the Bears in Atlanta. The Colts are always favored over Miami in Indy, but the Dolphins always win there—or at least they have the last four times. Miami is the upset pick.
?Finally, I like the Packers over the Saints in the Dome; Pittsburgh, which hasn't lost to Oakland in three meetings over the past 12 years, to beat the visiting Raiders again; and the 49ers, with three extra days of rest and a home game, to get by the Broncos, coming off their heroic win over the Rams.