Don't believe the hype. These are not crucial games, not at this stage of the year. But it could be a week in which some off-season questions are answered.
Which of the Tampa Bay- Philadelphia matchups last season should we believe? The 20-10 Eagles victory in October, when they knocked Brad Johnson out of the game with a broken rib and wore down the Bucs defense with Duce Staley's 152 yards on the ground? Or the NFC title game, in which Tampa Bay's defense overran the Eagles' offense and got to Donovan McNabb, in his second game back from a broken ankle?
Both games were in Philly. All the Bucs-Eagles games are in Philly—O.K., the last three plus this opener on Monday night. I think that the game will be decided on turnovers, that both defenses will dominate and that Tampa Bay's, strengthened by the return of tackle Anthony McFarland, probably will have an edge. But I also see McNabb, who's been hearing about that championship game all off-season, making a statement, probably in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Add to that the Monday night hometown madness, and you've got a victory for the Eagles.
?Another question: How far along is Kurt Warner? If you think he's all the way back after, say, the 7-for-7 night he had, throwing softballs against the vanilla defense the Bucs offered him three weeks ago, then you might be in for a surprise on Sunday. The big question is, How can he handle a rush, and the Giants will give him plenty of heat at the Meadowlands.
He faced them two games into his blue period last year, when no injury was announced but everyone just knew he wasn't throwing right. New York won, 26-21, on a big day by Kerry Collins, but St. Louis had two chances to win it at the end and couldn't pick up a first down. Marshall Faulk was fully functional that afternoon, as well. I think Warner will do O.K., not great, but the Rams will lose to the Giants in a shootout.
?Is Oakland too old? Maybe, but not this week. They'll fill the field with wideouts and fill the air with footballs against a Tennessee defense that had trouble with its five-and six-DB packages last season. Top draft pick Andre Woolfolk was supposed to help take care of that, but he's coming back from a dislocated big toe, a serious injury for a DB, whose whole game is instant cuts and pivots. The Raiders scored 93 points against the Titans' defense in two games last year. I pick Oakland in a mini-upset.
? Jets offensive coordinator Paul Hackett says the attack will be different without Chad Pennington. It'll be tailored to Vinny Testaverde—short, controlled passing and lots of running against a Redskins defense that's soft in the front four. All this means to me is that they'll come out throwing deep on Thursday night. I just have a feeling they'll be doing what they're not supposed to. But I always have that feeling when coaches start telling you what's going to happen. Washington is my pick.
?Can New England get its sixth straight win over Buffalo? I don't think it'll happen this time. The Bills have a new defense, and the Patriots don't have enough of a running attack to hold those linebackers in place. Buffalo wins it.
?Has Bill Parcells really found his QB? Not yet. I give Atlanta a squeaky upset over Dallas. Even without James Stewart, Detroit will have enough offense to get by Arizona. Carolina's defense upends Jacksonville, and Indianapolis, which has beaten the Browns two in a row in Cleveland, makes it three straight.