By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002
Saints at Bucs
OF NOTE: We finally get to see if coach Jon Gruden has revitalized the Bucs' traditionally weak offense. But the Saints offense may be vastly improved also, with added explosiveness from running back Deuce McAllister and rookie wide receiver Donte' Stallworth. The game likely hinges on the Bucs' revamped offensive line, which must open holes for running back Michael Pittman and protect athletically-challenged quarterback Brad Johnson against a Saints defense that led the NFC in sacks the past two seasons.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 24, Saints 23.
OF NOTE: If the Titans of 2000 show up, this could be the best game of the weekend. If last season's Titans appear, the Eagles will have it won by halftime. Expect the former. Injuries aren't an issue as they were last season for Tennessee, with running back Eddie George (toe) regaining his stride. And the Titans usually play well against NFC opponents (10 wins in their past 13 games against NFC teams). Still, Philadelphia does not get intimidated on the road (13 wins in its past 16), and the Eagles have won six of seven meetings.
FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 16, Titans 14.
OF NOTE: This is the anticipated debut of the old Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier. Just like his former Florida Gator teams, the Redskins will try to pass the Cardinals into submission, and likely will succeed. The Cardinals had trouble defending the pass last season (224.9 passing yards allowed), ranking 26th in a 31-team league. And Arizona's transitioning offense will have difficulties against Washington's Marvin Lewis-built defense led by linebacker Lavar Arrington. There will be a lot for Spurrier to gloat about after this opener.
FRY'S PROMISE: Redskins 29, Cardinals 16.
OF NOTE: This is the long-awaited debut of Drew Bledsoe as Bills quarterback and the debut of the team's uniforms. Bledsoe, the former Patriots standout, makes the Bills better than last season's dismal club, but putting them in the same class with the Jets is asking too much. The Jets are a good road team (an AFC-best 7-1 last season) and quarterback Vinny Testaverde always is problematic for Buffalo, going 57-for-86 for 650 yards, six TDs and 2 INTs in the past three meetings. He'll do just enough for the win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jets 17, Bills 10.
OF NOTE: The Ravens are the natural favorite, but the Panthers are a better team than their 1-15 record of last season. They have 36-year-old Rodney Peete starting at quarterback in place of 30-year-old Chris Weinke, in his second year out of FSU, and rookie running back DeShaun Foster is hurt. Don't underestimate this team. As for the Ravens, their once mighty defense has lost a lot from last season and quarterback Chris Redman, in his third pro season, may not be ready for this level.
FRY'S PROMISE: Panthers 13, Ravens 10.
OF NOTE: Everyone seems to be picking the Bears, but the Vikings could easily pull this one out. Yes, they were a mess last season at 5-11, but wide receiver Randy Moss and quarterback Daunte Culpepper seemed back to their unstoppable selves during the preseason, which makes the Vikings dangerous. Problem is, they face a tenacious Bears defense that excels at creating turnovers, which the Vikings cannot afford. If the Vikings rush for more than 100 yards and minimize their turnovers, look for an upset.
FRY'S PROMISE: Vikings 24, Bears 23.
OF NOTE: The Bengals supposedly are getting better, but no one has seen it. Quarterback Gus Frerotte isn't the answer. But Cincinnati catches a break getting second-year quarterback Drew Brees in his first start. He may get rattled by the visiting crowd, which might be the only edge the Bengals need. Then again, Brees could dominate the Bengals secondary, using his mobility to make big plays. If running back LaDainian Tomlinson can break some runs to take the pressure off Brees, the Chargers will be in it to the end.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chargers 17, Bengals 16.
OF NOTE: Chiefs quarterback Trent Green threw 24 interceptions last season and the Browns were the best in the league in that department, picking off 33. Expect a long day for Green against the Browns' stellar secondary. This Browns team is improved, if quarterback Tim Couch isn't hurting more than has been reported. Though Couch (sore right arm) likely will not start, the Browns should roll behind bruising rookie running back William Green and speedy wideouts Quincy Morgan and Kevin Johnson. This one will not be close.
FRY'S PROMISE: Browns 31, Chiefs 17.
OF NOTE: Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, the No.1 draft pick in 2001, will dazzle with his speed and headache-inducing swivel moves. But it will take consistent, mistake-free play to beat the Packers, and Vick has a way to go. Brett Favre, the 32-year-old quarterback whose arm shows little signs of getting older, almost can win this one alone. Whatever he gets from running back Ahman Green and potential star receiver Terry Glenn will be a bonus. The Falcons have won three of the past four meetings, but don't read much into that.
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 23, Falcons 14.
OF NOTE: The Colts have won both past meetings and are the clear favorites in coach Tony Dungy's debut in Indianapolis. But don't expect a blowout. Indianapolis will be fierce this season, but probably will struggle at the start, especially with running back Edgerrin James likely rusty from no preseason action, which will keep the Colts from running away with it. A solid return from the injury list by Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor, an ex-Gator star, will keep the home crowd from getting too restless.
FRY'S PROMISE: Colts 19, Jaguars 13.
OF NOTE: The Dolphins have won 10 straight opening-day games, second-longest ever. That streak is in no danger of being broken today. The Dolphins likely will pound new running back Ricky Williams, which is a good strategy considering the Lions ranked near the bottom in run defense last season (124.6 yards allowed per game). But it will not be easy for Miami (Is it ever?). As bad as the Lions are, they have enough weapons in receiver Az-Zahir Hakim and quarterback Mike McMahon to make this game interesting.
FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 21, Lions 14.
OF NOTE: One of the marquee matchups of the opening week. The Rams undoubtedly will come out with a vengeance after their Super Bowl loss to New England. The Broncos, 5-4 in this series, have won the past two at home against the Rams and are 25-6-1 in home openers, but have not faced many Week 1 opponents as explosive. Denver's pass defense must be better than it was last season (205.1 yards allowed) to have a chance. The only drawbacks for Rams: out of the dome and on grass.
FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 26, Broncos 17.
OF NOTE: The Raiders have a lot to prove in their first season without coach Jon Gruden. They usually have no problem handling the Seahawks at home, winning the past four in Oakland. The Seahawks are not as effective with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck starting instead of Trent Dilfer, who is injured. Running back Shaun Alexander must pick up the slack against a Raiders run defense that was suspect last season. Don't forget, he trampled the Raiders for a team-record 266 yards the last time they met, a 34-27 Seattle win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 22, Seahawks 17.
OF NOTE: A good 'ol Texas shootout to mark the dawn of the expansion Texans. Houston is remarkably talented for a first-year team and quarterback David Carr is the real deal. Too bad the Cowboys' staunch defense won't let Carr shine. The Dallas offense is trying to find itself, but the defense is solid. Expect an ugly game with low scoring from both sides. But there is no way running back Emmitt Smith, 540 yards shy of Walter Payton's all-time rushing mark, allows an expansion team to get its first win against America's Team.
FRY'S PROMISE: Cowboys 13, Texans 9.