All right, forget what I said yesterday; I don't want to restrict myself to formulaic week-by-week blogs. That got old when I was going one team at a time, and so I'm not going to do it again. So now, all I'm promising is that I'll do one blog a week predicting the outcome of each game. Other than that, I'll write about whatever I want to write about.
Today's absurd prediction:
Joey Harrington wins his first game as a Falcon.
Last night's shaming of the Saints by the untested Colts' defense, added onto impressions from several other games, has led me to a new theory: in opening weekend, the team with the least amount of useful game film available tends to win more than they should.
In today's NFL, where any team can beat any other team, it's all about preparation. And if you don't know what to prepare for, you're at a clear disadvantage. This was the Saints' problem last night. They didn't have much video evidence as to how the Colts' young replacements for departed/injured starters would play in Dungy's scheme. Drew Brees got more and more unsettled as the night went on, and didn't have the confidence to even try throwing deep passes; hence the yards-per-attempt in the 3's for most of the game.
This theory explains why the likes of Rex Grossman and Tony Romo got off to such strong starts, but came back to earth (in Romo's case) or slipped into the abyss (Grossman) by the season's end. It explains the strong showings by rookie head coaches in week 1 of last year, which I'll break down a bit:
Only four new head coaches won in week 1, Sean Payton, Eric Mangini, Scott Linehan, and Brad Childress. But five of the six who lost fell to eventual division champions. Few would have predicted Dick Jauron's Bills only losing by two to New England, or Rod Marinelli's Lions only losing by a field goal to defending NFC champion Seattle. Art Shell and Mike McCarthy got shut out by San Diego and Chicago, respectively, and Gary Kubiak's Texans fell to Philly. Herm Edwards lost his Kansas City debut to Cincinnati, but he was an exception to the game film rule. There was plenty of recent footage of his head coaching work, and Kansas City had the same defensive coordinator and much of the same personnel on offense. As for the others, while 4 of 9 wins isn't all that great, these teams were a combined 42-102 in 2005. That's a .291 winning percentage.
So with this theory in mind, here are my week 1 predictions:
Denver at Buffalo: The Bills have undergone more change, but neither of these teams is really going to throw any wild cards at the other. Both have a new running back and some new faces in the secondary, and the Bills also have a mostly-new offensive line, though each new lineman has plenty of footage available from his previous team. So my theory doesn't actually come into play much in this game. It could go either way, depending on which potential breakout QB plays like his fans are promising he will. I'm giving this one to Buffalo, due not only to home-field advantage, but also the fact that Denver inexplicably lost the past two opening games. Denver 23, Buffalo 27. Game MVP - Donte Whitner: 8 tackles, INT, 3 passes def.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland: In this case, the better team is also the team with more game footage available. New coach Tomlin wants to develop a new defensive scheme, some kind of 3-4/4-3 hybrid, and Cleveland won't know what to do with it. Add in the boos at every Charlie Frye error, and this one's in the bag. Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 10. Game MVP - Ben Roethlisberger: 15/19, 178 yds, 3 TDs, no INTs
Philadelphia at Green Bay: This is the choice of many for upset of the week. I don't buy it. Donovan McNabb is healthy, and is determined to outplay Brett Favre, as he has done nearly every time they've met this decade. Meanwhile, Favre's top guy, Donald Driver, is nursing an injury. He's expected to play, but he may be hobbled. This will be a great defensive game, with a lot of young guys making a difference. Philly wins out. Philadelphia 16, Green Bay 12. Game MVP - Bryan Westbrook: 20 rushes-81 yds, 4 rec-65 yds, rec TD
Kansas City at Houston: Houston gets the game film edge, with new QB Matt Schaub looking like he'll emulate Romo's success straight out of the gate. They also have home-field advantage, and (scary thought) their line might actually be better than the Chiefs' right now. The developing young defensive front will do a good job minimizing the rusty Larry Johnson's impact. Kansas City 14, Houston 24. Game MVP - Matt Schaub: 16/28, 230 yds, 2 TDs, no INTs
Tennessee at Jacksonville: We saw the struggles of one ex-Colt CB adjusting to man coverage last night, as Jason David gave up at least three TD passes on blown coverage. This game allows us the opportunity to see the other, Nick Harper. David Garrard and Reggie Williams/Ernest Wilford don't have the same ability to exploit mistakes as Manning/Wayne/Harrison, but it's worth looking at anyway. One interesting story here will be seeing which of the 3rd- and 4th-year receivers earn starting positions in wide open competitions. Each team has three guys in that age range fighting for playing time. As for the game, I'll go with the home team to start some Madden Curse talk. Tennessee 13, Jacksonville 21. Game MVP - Rashean Mathis: 4 tackles, 2 INTs, TD
Atlanta at Minnesota: Overhauled coaching staff, new QB, new starting RB, many roster changes... Atlanta has Game Film Advantage written all over them. We got a taste of Tarvaris Jackson last year, but there isn't a lot to look at for someone who wants to figure out who Joey Harrington's favorite target is going to be, or how Jerious Norwood is going to be used. Atlanta 30, Minnesota 19. Game MVP - Roddy White: 5 catches, 145 yards, 2 TDs
New England at NY Jets: Last year, the Jets had the element of surprise as an advantage. Not going to happen this year. Yes, the Patriots are suddenly missing some key players due to injury or suspension, but they do have the Game Film Advantage due to Tom Brady's new toys at WR. Expect a fireworks show. New England 38, New York 17. Game MVP - Tom Brady: 19/26, 310 yds, 4 TDs, no INTs
Carolina at St. Louis: We know what we're going to get from both teams. The Rams are going to throw everywhere on the field, spreading the defense to give Jackson room to run after a handoff or short pass. The Panthers are going to try as hard as possible to get the ball in Steve Smith's hands. This game will come down to the team with the most big plays, and the Rams have the most ways to make big plays happen. St. Louis 28, Carolina 24. Game MVP - Marc Bulger: 21/31, 326 yds, 2 TDs, no INTs
Miami at Washington: Not only does Washington have a terrible recent track record against the AFC, but Miami has the clear Game Film Advantage, with a new QB, some new pieces on defense, a dangerous rookie playmaker (albeit overdrafted), and a first-time head coach with a reputation for innovation. Predicting a loss here will ease my suffering if it happens. Miami 23, Washington 19. Game MVP - Zach Thomas: 12 tackles, FF
Detroit at Oakland: While I predicted Detroit a few days ago, Oakland is the team with GFA. Still, I try to never go back on a prediction. Detroit 26, Oakland 23. Game MVP - Tatum Bell: 15 rushes, 104 yards, TD
Chicago at San Diego: Both teams who shut out a division rival in opening weekend last year play each other this time. San Diego's entirely new coaching staff gives it GFA, the only time this year that the loss of Schottenheimer, Cameron, and Phillips will be an advantage. Plus, the pressure Merriman puts on Rex Grossman all night will be disastrous for the Bears. Chicago 10, San Diego 31. Game MVP - Shawne Merriman: 9 tackles, 2 sacks, innumerable hurries
Tampa Bay at Seattle: By now, everyone knows what Jeff Garcia is capable of, so the GFA of having a new quarterback is minimal. I have a feeling Seattle will be a bit underestimated; people seem to have forgotten how many injuries they suffered last year while still winning the division. Plus, Qwest Field is a very hard place for any team other than the 'Hawks to win. Tampa Bay 21, Seattle 34. Game MVP - Shaun Alexander: 23 rushes, 126 yards, 2 TDs
NY Giants at Dallas: The tagline during last night's broadcast was "Tony Romo vs. Eli Manning - which one is for real?" As if by definition one and only one of them can/will be. This will be a great game; both QBs vulnerable to pressure, both defenses loving to bring aggressive blitzes. I like Dallas to have more success getting to the QB, and also neutralizing the other team's fallback TE. New York 17, Dallas 27. Game MVP - Greg Ellis: 5 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, FF
Baltimore at Cincinnati: One of the best divisional matchups in the league. If there's any defense that can stop the Bengals, it's the Ravens. If there's any offense that can get past Baltimore, it's Cincy. Chad Johnson has assured us he'll get a touchdown, and the celebration will be something special. As if we needed a reason to watch this game. Neither team really has GFA; both will do what they've been doing for some time. I like Baltimore to prevail, since Chris Henry's supsension has eliminated the feared threesome of Cincinnati wideouts. Baltimore 23, Cincinnati 20. Game MVP - Willis McGahee: 27 carries, 121 yards, TD
Arizona at San Francisco: I think that Arizona's offensive line is going to be a lot better this year, and I don't think the 49ers are going to be prepared for it. GFA is about even, with the Niners trying a full-time 3-4 on for size, the Cards having a new head coach, and both teams having new coordinators. Arizona 35, San Francisco 27. Game MVP - Edgerrin James: 25 carries, 131 yds, 2 TDs