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NFL PREVIEW

Couch Potato Heaven: Charting the Big Games

September 01, 2007|Sam Farmer

The 2007 NFL season starts in Indianapolis and ends in Glendale, Ariz. In between will be five months of rematches and grudge matches, laughers and last-minute classics, opening jitters and closing flurries.

Will Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts repeat as champions, or will New England resume its Belichick-Brady dynasty? Will the success New Orleans had last season carry over into this one? Or will a new out-of-nowhere upstart -- Houston? Arizona? Detroit? -- shock the football world?

Whatever happens, there will be plenty of games worth watching. A week-by-week look at some of the intriguing matchups:

* Week 1 -- Chicago at San Diego on Sunday: Defense is one of the things that made Chicago so good in recent years. So it was a surprise when the Bears didn't renew the contract of coordinator Ron Rivera, a head-coaching candidate in several cities. But Rivera wasn't on the street long. He signed on as linebackers coach in San Diego hours after the Bears let him go.

* Week 2 -- San Diego at New England on Sunday night: Being one and done in the playoffs was painful enough for San Diego last season. But that agony was ratcheted up when the Chargers felt as if some New England players were taunting them after the game.

* Week 3 -- Tennnessee at New Orleans on Monday night: There's no way it will match the emotion of last season's Monday night game at New Orleans -- the first one at the rebuilt Superdome -- but this game will showcase two of the NFL's most exciting offensive stars: Reggie Bush and Vince Young, the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in the 2006 draft.

* Week 4 -- Oakland at Miami, Houston at Atlanta, Pittsburgh at Arizona on Sunday: Three games, three reunions. Oakland quarterback Daunte Culpepper will return to Miami, which cut ties with him after one season; Houston quarterback Matt Schaub goes back to Atlanta, which sorely misses him after the Michael Vick fiasco; and Arizona Coach Ken Whisenhunt, formerly Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, will try to draw up a game plan to beat his old team.

* Week 5 -- Seattle at Pittsburgh, San Diego at Denver on Sunday: After Pittsburgh's victory over Seattle in the Super Bowl, a lot of people thought the Seahawks were jobbed by the officials. The best game of the week, though, could be San Diego at Denver, a matchup quickly developing into the NFL's most interesting division rivalry. The Chargers swept the series last season.

* Week 6 -- Miami at Cleveland on Sunday: And with the ninth pick in the 2007 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins take . . . Ted Ginn Jr. -- and not Brady Quinn. Some people think quarterback-starved Miami will regret not selecting Quinn (although the Dolphins used their second-round pick on promising prospect John Beck). This marks Quinn's first chance to make Miami regret passing on him.

* Week 7 -- Baltimore at Buffalo on Sunday: Willis McGahee, Baltimore's new running back, will visit his old team looking to invigorate a Ravens running game that finished 25th last season. Although he isn't the workhorse power back that Jamal Lewis was, he's better able to get to the edges and around the corner. This could be a good week for him; the Bills were ranked 28th against the run last season.

* Week 8 -- Oakland at Tennessee on Sunday: Norm Chow, meet Lane Kiffin. . . . Oh, you two already know each other? Chow, the coach Kiffin replaced as offensive coordinator at USC, has been passed over for head coaching jobs time and again, and then Kiffin gets one at age 31? Think Chow will be taking an extra-close look at that stat sheet after the game?

* Week 9 -- New England at Indianapolis on Sunday: There's no better rivalry in the league than Colts-Patriots, and this week New England heads back to the RCA Dome, site of last season's spectacular AFC championship game in which the Colts rebounded from a 21-3 halftime deficit to win, 38-34. It was the largest comeback in a conference title game -- and left New England Coach Bill Belichick so steamed that he gruffly brushed by Peyton Manning without shaking his hand.

* Week 10 -- Cleveland at Pittsburgh on Sunday: If the Steelers' "Fast" Willie Parker isn't haunting the dreams of Cleveland defenders this week, he should be. The last time the Browns played at Pittsburgh, Parker had 223 yards in 32 carries with a touchdown. Yardage-wise, it was the second-best rushing performance of the 2006 season. (Tiki Barber ran for 234 yards for the New York Giants against Washington.)

* Week 11 -- New Orleans at Houston on Sunday: Did the Texans blow it in the 2006 draft, or what? They used the No. 1 pick on defensive end Mario Williams instead of taking Bush or hometown star Young, selected last season's offensive rookie of the year. The Texans face Young twice a season, so that's painful enough. This week, they'll try to stop Bush. Get ready, Mario.

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