March 30th, 2004

Just 23 Weeks To Go

Who cares about opening day? Let’s concentrate on the real sport, shall we? The exciting pro-football news of the day is that the 2004-05 season will open with the Super Bowl Champion Patriots hosting the Indianapolis Colts in a Thursday night game Sept. 9. That looks to be an amazing match — assuming there are no big pre-season injuries that throw everything off (a big assumption) and assuming the Pats find a replacement for Ted Washington, the run-stuffing nose tackle who, in my opinion, was the biggest difference between the team’s 9-7 finish in 2002 and their championship run in 2003-04. (Big Ted went to my Raiders as a free agent. He’ll be joined on the line there by Warren Sapp, making for what might be the toughest run D in the league.)

It would be tough not to be psyched about a season opener with that much potential for great football. Keep in mind, the Pats’ most important regular-season win in 2003 was the win over the Colts. Plus, according to the “experts,” the Colts were supposed to beat the Pats in the playoffs. Indy fell short, of course. And the Pats took it all the way. Should be interesting watching the Patriots try to extend a 15-game winning streak against Manning and company. I predict that unless injuries change things, the defending champs will go into that home opener as one- or two-point underdogs. Just as they went into the 2002 season opener against Pittsburgh (also played in Foxborough) as underdogs. That’s just how it is with New England and the oddsmakers. I also predict the Pats will win by a touchdown.

Opening weekend will also include a Sunday night game that pits Kansas City against Denver (should look like an old AFL airshow), and a Monday night matchup between Carolina and Green Bay. I can’t wait. And, sure, it’s a late start to the season. One would normally expect those first games to happen a week earlier. But as I count it, doing that would land Wild Card weekend on Jan. 1 & 2, and I’m guessing the league would rather have its final regular season games fall on that weekend than put the first week of the playoffs there. That’s just a guess, though. And, you know, whatever’s behind the delay, for a start this big I can wait the extra seven days.

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