Rematches of memorable games often fail to meet expectations, but if the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers on Sunday can cook up anything close to the tasty treat they delivered 19 months ago it will have been worth the wait.
In February 2004 at Houston, the Tom Brady-led Patriots and Jake Delhomme-led Panthers produced one of the most exciting Super Bowls in the event's 39-year history, combining for a record 649 yards passing and 37 points, two lead changes and a tie in the fourth quarter of a 32-29 Patriot victory.
"It was terrific to watch," said Patriot Coach Bill Belichick, whose team is a three-point favorite in Sunday's game at Charlotte, N.C., which will be televised locally on Channel 2. "But not to coach."
Brady and Delhomme are still running the offenses and the teams still harbor realistic Super Bowl dreams, the Patriots eyeing their third consecutive championship and the Panthers picked by Sports Illustrated to unseat them.
The Panthers, though, got off to a rocky start last Sunday, losing at Charlotte in an emotional opener against the displaced New Orleans Saints. The Patriots opened with a 30-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Detroit at Chicago plus 1 1/2 , Sunday, 10 a.m.: Rookie Mike Williams from USC caught a three-yard touchdown pass in his NFL debut Sunday and the Lions, who have lost an NFL-high 48 times since 2001, won their season opener for the third consecutive season, upsetting the Green Bay Packers.
Baltimore at Tennessee plus 3 1/2 , Sunday, 10 a.m.: Anthony Wright will start at quarterback for the Ravens in place of Kyle Boller, who was sidelined after suffering a hyperextended right big toe in Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Pittsburgh at Houston plus 6, Sunday, 10 a.m.: The Steelers, 34-7 opening-day winners over the Titans, make their Reliant Stadium debut against a team that was so inept offensively in a 22-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills that David Carr said afterward, "That's as helpless as I've felt playing quarterback since ... the third grade."
Buffalo plus 2 1/2 at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 10 a.m.: Youngsters played key roles in helping these teams to encouraging starts, first-year starter J.P. Losman engineering scoring drives in the Bills' first five possessions of a 22-7 victory over the Texans and rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams scoring on a 71-yard run to finish with 148 yards rushing in the Buccaneers' 24-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Jacksonville plus 9 at Indianapolis, Sunday, 10 a.m.: The Colts held the Ravens scoreless for 59 minutes Sunday night, nearly posting their first shutout in eight years, but Byron Leftwich passed for at least 300 yards against them twice last season and the Jaguars were the only team to beat them at Indianapolis.
Minnesota plus 3 at Cincinnati, Sunday, 10 a.m.: Daunte Culpepper, playing without Randy Moss for the first time in his career, lost two fumbles, had three interceptions and failed to pass for a touchdown for the first time in 22 games in the Vikings' opening-day loss to the Buccaneers.
San Francisco at Philadelphia, Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 11: Terrell Owens needs 116 yards receiving to become the fourth active player with 10,000 and was further motivated to get them against his former team when 49er linebacker Derek Smith said this week of Owens' effect on teammates, "You put a bad apple in with a bunch of good apples and it's just a matter of time before the other apples spoil."
Atlanta plus 1 at Seattle, Sunday, 1 p.m.: Michael Vick, 24-12-1 with the Falcons after Monday night's 14-10 victory over the Eagles, is already the winningest quarterback in club history.
St. Louis plus 1 at Arizona, Sunday, 1 p.m.: Released by the Rams before last season, two-time MVP Kurt Warner faces his former team for the first time after attempting 46 passes in his Cardinal debut, a 42-19 loss to the New York Giants. His successor in St. Louis, Marc Bulger, was sacked seven times by the 49er defense.
Miami plus 6 at N.Y. Jets, Sunday, 1:15 p.m.: Tight end Randy McMichael, in a dig at former coach Dave Wannstedt's conservative approach, said of the Dolphins' 34-10 rout of the Denver Broncos in Coach Nick Saban's debut, "We're not playing not to lose. We're playing to win. When you do that, you're a dangerous team."
Cleveland plus 6 1/2 at Green Bay, Sunday, 1:15 p.m.: The Packers, who before Sunday's 17-3 loss to the Lions had not been held to as few as three points in any of Brett Favre's 226 consecutive starts, face an uphill climb in trying to bounce back because Pro Bowl wide receiver and No. 1 deep threat Jevon Walker will sit out the rest of the season after suffering a right knee injury.
San Diego plus 3 at Denver, Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Channel 2: Antonio Gates, who set an NFL record for touchdown receptions by a tight end with 13 last season, is expected to make his season debut for the Chargers after serving a three-game suspension for missing a team-imposed deadline for ending his training camp holdout.