Today's absurd prediction:
In week 1, Detroit goes 1/3 of the way toward matching its wins total from 2006.
If that was too convoluted for you, it translates to "Detroit beats Oakland."
So here's the plan: most weeks during the regular season, I'll make predictions about five games: Monday night's game, the Intriguing Game of the Week, the Compelling Game of the Week, and the Upset & Blowout of the Week. Then on Friday, I'll pick the players who will perform best, and post my predicted scores for each game.
"Intriguing" goes to a game that isn't a must-see, but could be a hidden gem of a matchup and the final score will probably be close. It also probably has an interesting storyline or two, though most NFL games do these days.
"Compelling" goes to a game that has 1) good stories, 2) good teams, 3) great matchups, and 4) good coaches. I'm not going to waste "Compelling GotW" on a coach who can't make his team play consistently like Coughlin or what I predict from Norv Turner.
"Upset" and "Blowout" are pretty self-explanatory. I'll look at the biggest apparent mismatches, pick one that will go the other way, and one that will be ugly.
Detroit at Oakland is the Intriguing Game of the Week because it features the two worst teams from 2006. The best matchup involved in this game, however, is not anyone who will be lining up between the hash marks; it's the alliterative schematic geniuses - offensive coordinator Mike Martz versus defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Oakland's defense is all they have to be excited about due to a putrid offense, and the reverse holds true for Detroit.
I'm giving the win to Detroit for a few reasons:
- 1) Marinelli has coached in numerous NFL games before. Lane Kiffin has not.
- 2) Jon Kitna has played a game in the past 300 days. Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown have not.
- 3) Detroit's #2 overall pick, Calvin Johnson, will be playing. Oakland's #1 overall pick, JaMarcus Russell, will not.
- 4) Detroit said to Mike Williams, "you're a slacker and you aren't welcome on this team." Oakland said "you're welcome on OUR team."
- 5) Detroit's running backs: Kevin Jones, Tatum Bell, T.J. Duckett. Oakland's running backs: Lamont Jordan, Justin Fargas, Adimchinobe Echemandu.
- 6) Detroit's defense isn't QUITE as putrid as Oakland's offense.
We're bound to see a lot of turnovers in this game. Whether Culpepper or McCown starts for Oakland, rustiness is likely, though with the secondary Detroit has, we'll probably fumbles rather than INTs. Kitna's throwing against one of the game's most exciting young corners, Nnamdi Asomugha, who is accompanied in the secondary by also promising Fabian Washington, Michael Huff, and Stuart Schweigert. And Kitna did throw quite a few picks last year.
The fact that both teams are coming off of such awful campaigns last season keeps this game from qualifying as "Compelling." But it is intriguing.
My final score: Detroit 26, Oakland 23
Player of the game: Tatum Bell - 15 rushes, 104 yards, TD
And since I didn't get to posting this yesterday, this gets to be a two-parter. The Compelling Game of the Week is, naturally, the first game of the season. New Orleans at Indianapolis. The only NFC team with a decent shot at beating the AFC elite in the Super Bowl on paper (any given Sunday, I know, that's why I said "on paper") against the defending champions. Two teams with defensive deficiencies compensated for by some of the most powerful offenses in histories. A guaranteed future Hall of Fame quarterback versus another star who's working hard to prove he deserves mention in the same sentence as Manning and Brady. Two second-year running backs trying to prove they're worthy of all the hype. Young wide receivers with a chance to be the next Harrison and Wayne against... Harrison and Wayne.
There won't be another shootout like this all year. The only matchup that has a chance is Arizona-Detroit, but that one will be a little more painful to watch. And neither Indianapolis nor New Orleans plays Cincinnati, the other team likely to allow 35 points but score 40.
Once again, I'm going to go with the road team here, breaking Indinapolis' streak of undefeated Septembers. No, I don't expect the NFC to win a lot of games on the road against the AFC, but in these two cases, I think it'll happen.
The Colts are built to stop the big play, which would normally be good in games against high-powered offenses. But the Saints have something most high-powered offenses don't have: a 230-pound back who averages 4 yards per carry. And the Colts are without DT Booger McFarland, the most important part of their run-stuffing game. They'll need to bring in extra help to stop Deuce McAllister, but that would assuredly leave another weapon open, be it Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, or new tight end Eric Johnson. The Colts haven't played a team with playmaking weapons of this caliber since their 2001 game against the Rams, which was a debacle. Granted, that was a different Colts team.
Sure, I'd take Manning over Brees, Harrison over Colston, Wayne over Henderson, and Dallas Clark over Johnson any day, just like anyone else. I'd take Dwight Freeney over Charles Grant and Bob Sanders over Josh Bullocks easily. In terms of Pro Bowl candidates, the Colts have the clear edge. However, I'd take Deuce and Reggie over Addai and... DeDe Dorsey, I guess?... and I'd take the Saints' guys at four of the offensive line positions, the exception being Jeff Saturday over Jeff Faine at center. While the overload of top-level talent on Indianapolis' roster makes it very hard to pick against them, the fact is that after their big names, they get very thin.
Look at the Colts' bench on defense. It's one of the biggest groups of scrubs I have ever seen. The Saints, on the other hand, have a number of veterans I've heard of before: Kevin Kaesviharn, Jason Craft, former Colt Jason David, Hollis Thomas, and Jay Bellamy. Both defenses are going to get fatigued in this game, and the difference is that the Saints will be able to spell their starters with guys who they can trust to keep them in the contest.
So here's my final score: Saints 38, Colts 34.
Player of the Game: Deuce McAllister - 22 carries, 113 yds, 2 TDs; 3 receptions for 21 yds