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THE NFL / 1996

Opening Weekend Can Be a Big Step to Super Bowl

Pro football: It's very early, but losing the first game is not a good way to get to the playoffs.

September 01, 1996|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In planning decorations for that Jan. 26, 1997, Super Bowl XXXI party, here are a few things to consider:

Atlanta, Detroit, Arizona, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Houston, Seattle and the two expansion outfits have never been to the Super Bowl.

Indianapolis and St. Louis haven't been there either, but the Colts and Rams have. Baltimore has been there, but the Ravens haven't. Cleveland never made it, but it will get its chance again. Nashville's just happy to get on the map.

Of the 239 teams that have lost season-opening games since 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, only 54 have rallied to make the playoffs.

New Orleans has had the ninth-best record during the '90s, 53-43, and yet has failed to win a playoff game in that time. New Orleans has the second-easiest schedule this season and will play teams with a combined record of 111-129.

Green Bay has the toughest slate against teams with a combined record of 146-110.

Buffalo has the best record in the '90s in close games, having gone 36-14 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.

The 49ers are the winningest team in pro sports since 1983 with a .746 percentage--the Lakers are second at .656. The 49ers also have the best record outside their division since 1986, 74-23.

The last Super Bowl champion to miss the next playoffs were the New York Giants. They will not again have to concern themselves with that kind of two-year scenario any time soon.

Beginning today, there will be 266 games to play before reaching Super Bowl XXXI. And the Raiders are already out of it before the opening kickoff.



Oakland (8-8) at Baltimore (5-11), 10 a.m., Channel 4: For more than 12 years, the fans in Baltimore have been waiting, fighting, longing for the return of football and now they get Vinny Testaverde. Al Davis came here a few years back, surveying the area for a possible move, but chose Oakland and aren't those fans pleased? They got the most expensive tickets in the NFL and a chance this week to watch Billy Joe Hobert on TV.

Say what? Kenny Shedd. Who? Kenny Shedd, Raider receiver, led the NFL in the exhibition season with 18 catches for 321 yards.

Player to watch: Baltimore rookie wide receiver Jermaine Lewis had a 27.9-yard punt-return average to lead the AFC in the exhibition season. But does he know who Edgar Allan Poe is?

Finally: The Raiders opened last season 8-2 with Jeff Hostetler (sidelined now because of a sore knee) at quarterback and then went to Hobert and Vince Evans before finishing 8-8.


New Orleans (7-9) at San Francisco (11-5), 1 p.m., Channel 11: So who will have the better year between the former Occidental College roommates? Jack Kemp or Jim Mora? Kemp's relying on Bob Dole; Mora's got Jim Everett. The Saints finished last season on a 6-3 run, including an 11-7 victory over the 49ers, who had Elvis Grbac at quarterback.

Say what? In the last three openers, 49er quarterback Steve Young has passed for 808 yards and nine touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 107.7.

Player to watch: 49er wide receiver Jerry Rice needs 58 catches to reach 1,000. He might get there by halftime.

Finally: The 49ers' offensive line is a shambles and Young has been sacked 33 times by the Saints, more than by any other team.


Seattle (8-8) at San Diego (9-7), 1 p.m., Channel 4: This was going to be the debut of the Los Angeles Whatevers, and had owner Ken Behring had his way, the loud sound you would have heard at 1 p.m. would have been collective L.A. turning off its TVs. The Seahawks are power-packed with running back Chris Warren and wide receivers Brian Blades and Joey Galloway. Unfortunately, the ball must first touch the hands of quarterback Rick Mirer.

Say what? Why bother to show up? The Chargers have won eight of the last nine games against the Seahawks and haven't fallen to Seattle at home since 1990.

Player to watch: Leonard Russell, Charger running back, is playing for his fourth team in four years. At this rate it will take him until 2022 to hit them all, assuming no further expansion.

Finally: San Diego Coach Bobby Ross is 8-0 when his defense scores a touchdown.


Buffalo (10-6) at New York Giants (5-11), 5 p.m., TNT: Pity the poor Giants, who were lambasted by Dallas on the opening Monday night a year ago, 35-0. Imagine the Post headlines the next morning: Junky Jints. This year the Giants go before the nation on Sunday night TV, looking like one of the worst teams in the league, against the Bills, one of the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl: Jints Juiced. O.J. Simpson, the Bills' all-time rushing leader, is about to be passed by another all-around good guy, Thurman Thomas, who needs 455 more yards.

Say what? The Bills have the NFL's best record in September since 1990: 19-4. Ah, make that 20-4.

Player to watch: No one on the Giants.

Finally: Coaches Marv Levy and Dan Reeves have combined to lose seven Super Bowls.


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