NFL News and Notes Week 1

NFL News and Notes Week 1

Bills' Ellison out indefinitely with ankle injury; Wire to start
September 2, 2007

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -Bills linebacker Keith Ellison is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, and Coy Wire will replace him when Buffalo opens the season against Denver next Sunday.

``It's not good. It's going to be a while,'' coach Dick Jauron said Sunday.

Ellison was hurt in the second quarter of Buffalo's preseason finale, a 16-13 win at Detroit Thursday. He did not attend practice Sunday, but was spotted walking on crutches and wearing a protective boot on his right foot in the locker room afterward.

The Bills were counting on the second-year player to take over the weak side spot in a revamped linebacking corps that lost two veterans starters - Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher.

Ellison, Buffalo's sixth-round pick, started seven games last season.

Wire is a sixth-year veteran who has experience playing both safety and linebacker, as well as being a key member of Buffalo's special teams unit.

The Bills signed seven players to their practice squad Sunday. It's a group that includes rookie tight end Derek Schouman, the first of Buffalo's two seventh-round draft picks, who returns a day after he was among 20 players the Bills cut to determine their 53-man regular-season roster.

Five other players Buffalo released Saturday were also signed to the practice squad: receivers Justin Jenkins and Scott Mayle, offensive linemen Christian Gaddis and Nevin McCaskill and defensive lineman Corey Mace.

Rounding out the squad is defensive back Jon Corto, who had been released by the Bills earlier in the week.

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Frye will be Browns' starter for opener
September 3, 2007

BEREA, Ohio (AP) -Charlie Frye will start at quarterback for Cleveland's season opener Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Frye, who started 13 games last year, entered training camp slightly behind Derek Anderson in the quarterback competition. But he outperformed Anderson during preseason games and directed one touchdown drive against the Denver Broncos. Anderson produced no touchdowns when he led the offense during preseason games.

Coach Romeo Crennel said Monday the position will be evaluated on a weekly basis. But he wouldn't say if Frye's backup was rookie Brady Quinn, a first-round draft pick, or Anderson.

Quinn, selected 22nd overall in April, missed 11 days of training camp in a holdout, but led four touchdown drives in three preseason games, mostly against backups.

Crennel said Frye's experience playing against Pittsburgh and as a team leader was the deciding factor.

``I think that gives us the best chance to win,'' he said.

Frye said he's looking forward to facing the rival Steelers.

``Obviously I'm excited,'' he said. ``I've been working hard. The competition's been going since minicamp, and I think all of us have benefited from it. It's going to help the team.''

The Browns on Saturday released a fourth quarterback, Ken Dorsey, who acted as a mentor to Quinn during training camp.

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Broncos sign pass-rusher Simeon Rice
September 3, 2007

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -Nobody's more excited about Denver's signing of free agent sacks specialist Simeon Rice than Broncos safety John Lynch.

The two won a Super Bowl together in Tampa Bay in 2002, and both believe this reunion in the Rockies could lead to a second ring.

``He's a teammate who I loved playing with and one of the great pass-rushers of all-time. So, we'd be - anyone would be - fortunate to get him,'' Lynch said Monday while the sides were signing the one-year deal at Broncos headquarters.

Rice, whose 121 career sacks rank second to Michael Strahan among active players, was released by Tampa Bay this summer after the Buccaneers signed first-round draft pick Gaines Adams.

Rice had failed a physical earlier in the day after reporting to camp, but has since passed his medical tests. The 33-year-old started the first eight games last year before being sidelined by a shoulder injury.

Lynch said Rice told him he was fine: ``He told me his shoulder's feeling good and he feels like he's ready to play.''

Coach Mike Shanahan courted Rice to bring experience and pressure to a young defensive line.

``He's a big-time pass rusher, he's been in the league for a while, he's got a lot of talent,'' Shanahan said.

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Joey Porter expected to play in Miami opener
ASSOCIATED PRESS

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter says his surgically repaired right knee feels better every day, and he's expected to play in the season opener Sunday at Washington.

Porter underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 7 and missed much of training camp. He returned to practice on a limited basis last week and has gradually increased his workload.

''He had a nice practice today,'' coach Cam Cameron said Monday. ''It looks like he's ready to play.''

Porter said he still has swelling in the knee, but is eager to play after missing all four exhibitions games.

''Sitting and watching makes you want to get out and play,'' he said. ''I sat and watched enough. I'm gearing myself up to where I'm going to play on Sunday.''

A three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Porter received a guaranteed $20 million in March to sign with Miami after spending his first eight NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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What bettors need to know: Saints at Colts

Colts give the ‘D’ its due


The Indianapolis Colts know that winning the Super Bowl last season put a huge target on their backs, and they expect opponents to go all-out to knock them from the top of the mountain.

They’ll get their first test from the New Orleans Saints this Thursday night. The defending champs had nothing but good things to say about the New Orleans defense this past week, praising their opponents’ pass rush and run-stopping abilities.

"They play very aggressively," head coach Tony Dungy told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "They play a lot of man-to-man coverage, and they come after you. They have good pass rushers, and they're going to try to pressure us, I'm sure."

Both center Jeff Saturday and quarterback Peyton Manning gave New Orleans’ front four props, admitting keeping guys like Will Smith and Charles Grant contained would be a tall task for the offensive line.

New Orleans ranked second in total defense during the preseason, allowing just under 233 yards per game. Last season, the defense finished 11th in the league after giving up 307.3 yards and 20.1 points per contest.

Not so sound on the ground

If Indianapolis' efficient offense has a weakness it has to be its running attack. The Colts one-two-punch of Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai is no longer, leaving the bulk of the carries to Addai, the second-year back out of LSU.

Former Saskatchewan Roughrider Kenton Keith was named Addai’s backup this week after beating out DeDe Dorsey for the second-string position. Indy has only three backs on the roster right now, including fullback Luke Lawton, and coach Dungy is aware of the thinness of his ground game.

“We’ll continue to look. Luke Lawton’s done a good job for us too. So probably getting a third true tailback is something that we’d like to do,” Dungy told the Indiana Tribune-Star.

Last season, Addai rushed for over 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign and scored seven touchdowns on the ground.

Brees says bring it on

Opening the season on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions is not the way most teams would like to kick off their year – unless you’re the New Orleans Saints or their quarterback Drew Brees.

Brees told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he is excited to get the regular season started and the Colts are a great challenge for him and his teammates. The 28-year-old QB, entering his second season with the Saints, is expecting a wild environment in the RCA Dome this Thursday when the franchise celebrates its 2006-2007 championship.

Brees said he sees the opening game scheduling as an honor and a testament to how well New Orleans did last season. The Saints missed facing the Colts in the Super Bowl by one game, losing to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game.

"I mean, people think we can hang with these guys," Brees told reporters. "Even if they didn't, it wouldn't matter what they thought because as a team we're very confident. We know what we can do. We're not satisfied where we finished the season last year. And we've been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time."

Books ready for a shootout

Oddsmakers are preparing for some fireworks this Thursday when the NFL season kicks off. Sportsbooks have Thursday’s total set at a whopping 52 points, accounting for two of the league’s most explosive offenses.

“This is like must-see TV,” Saints cornerback and former Colt Jason David told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “It’s two exciting offenses with great players. You’ve got a lot of star power on offense. At any given time a big play can happen. If I was a fan, I wouldn’t miss a snap.”

New Orleans, who ranked No.1 in total offense last season, can go blow-for-blow with the Colts’ attack. Head coach Sean Payton’s offensive schemes will get even better production out of Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and receiver Marques Colston now that they’ve each had a season of playing together under their belts.

The Saints and Colts were the top two passing teams in the NFL last year, but while Indianapolis managed to put up almost 27 points per game, New Orleans struggled to capitalize on their efforts. The Saints ranked fifth in points per game.

“Yards are great,” running back Deuce McAllister told reporters, “but to be able to score more touchdowns would be important for us.”

Covers.com

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Nine NFL story lines — all of them on the field
Sporting News

September arrives with plenty of unanswered questions that have nothing to do with police reports or TMZ.com's gossip page.

1. What will Randy Moss bring to the Patriots' offense?
There are no more excuses for Moss after two miserable years with the Raiders. Moss is smart enough to know that he must resurrect his career right now or it won't happen at all. Tom Brady will help Moss stay focused, and the NFL will regain one of its brightest stars.

2. What magic spell can Tony Dungy cast over his depleted defense?
It was bad enough when the Colts lost linebacker Cato June (Bucs), safety Mike Doss (Vikings) and cornerback Nick Harper (Titans) as free agents, but when defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland tore his patellar tendon in August, the alarm bell started blasting. Peyton Manning may need to put 30-plus points on the scoreboard every week.

3. At what point will Terrell Owens and the Cowboys run roughshod over easygoing coach Wade Phillips?
It's a blast of cool air to have Phillips in charge during the brutal heat of August, especially when the last guy with the whistle was Bill Parcells. The Cowboys will show their gratitude by blasting out of the gate in September. By mid-October, T.O. will become the divisive influence we all know and Phillips will have the authority of a middle school substitute teacher.

4. What will LaDainian Tomlinson do for an encore?
How about more of the same? After dominating the league with 1,815 rushing yards, 31 touchdowns (three as a receiver) and 56 receptions last season, Tomlinson will produce something along the lines of 25 touchdowns and 1,750 rushing yards.   

5. How long before offensive coordinator Mike Martz starts climbing over Lions coach Rod Marinelli's back in an attempt to show he's still a genius?
Martz seems content to work with Jon Kitna, Roy Williams and rookie Calvin Johnson, but he's still silently seething about the way things ended with the Rams. The trusting Marinelli needs to keep a close eye on Mrs. Doubtfire.

6. At what point does the drumbeat begin for Bill Cowher to become the Giants' next coach?
Even though Tom Coughlin has a decent record with the Jaguars and Giants (93-83 in the regular season, 4-6 postseason), nobody enjoys playing for him. Why do you think Tiki Barber opted for retirement? It won't take long for Cowher to surface as a possible replacement.

7. Could it be a rejuvenation by the Bay?
On the west side, yes. The 49ers have an improving core in quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore, and coach Mike Nolan has the right stuff. Rookie middle linebacker Patrick Willis is a stud who will improve under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, the defensive coordinator.

8. Will reality slap the Saints in the face like a Bourbon Street hangover?
Drew Brees and Reggie Bush are big-play specialists, Deuce McAllister is a heavyweight puncher and locker room leader, and Marques Colston is a go-to guy. Sean Payton knows how to keep the offense a step ahead, and the competition in the NFC South will fold. The Saints roll again.

9. Can Joe Gibbs turn the Redskins around?
This is Year 4 of the Hall of Famer's return to the game, and the results have been underwhelming. But the Redskins have a healthy Clinton Portis in the backfield, and free-agent middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker is an upgrade for the run defense. Gibbs won't be heading back to NASCAR with his tail between his legs.

A can't-wait-to-see list

Watch the little guys run. It's a joy to see athletes like Brian Westbrook, Reggie Bush, Steve Smith, Santana Moss and Devin Hester undress defenders in the open field. And fellow diminutive dashers Willie Parker and Maurice Jones-Drew have proved it's not just about style points to the outside -- these smaller stars also pack a wallop on the inside.

It's the National Linebacker League. Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke would have loved to play in the era of Brian Urlacher and A.J. Hawk. Linebackers are getting faster and stronger to keep up with their offensive counterparts, and it goes beyond jarring middle men (Urlacher and Ray Lewis) and outside playmakers (Hawk and Derrick Brooks). The rise of the 3-4 defense has Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware channeling the original L.T. Seeing people fly around and knock other people down is why we watch, anyway.

Like sands through the hourglass. Soap operas can air on Sunday afternoons, too, and it's easy to get hooked. What's the fate of Rex in Chicago? Will Randy finally stay out of trouble? Can Eli make it in New York? Will Norv turn the Chargers into champs? Is this the end for Brett? Of course we'll stay tuned as the NFL turns.

The return of America's Team. Love 'em or hate 'em, the NFL is better off when Jerry Jones' Cowboys are among the Super Bowl contenders. Bill Parcells built a great foundation for long-term success, and Wade Phillips is ready to make nice, meaning that Tony Romo, T.O. and the defense will be ready to help make the team special.

Patriots at Colts, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning -- again. The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is much more ballyhooed, but the best current matchup for a New England sports team is this one. Almost as quickly as Adam Vinatieri changed his jersey, the pendulum finally swung in Indy's favor in the playoffs last season. A pitcher's duel at Fenway or the Bronx can't match the NFL's two best quarterbacks going at it for four quarters with everything on the line. The Colts got their Super Bowl rings last season, but the matchup remains a fight for both respect and AFC supremacy -- and the Pats are Super Bowl favorites this time around. Just can't wait for the next doozy in the dome -- and it happens on November 4.

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Andrews and Smith could be ready for Philly's opener
September 4, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Donovan McNabb is healthy and ready to go, having answered questions about his surgically repaired knee early in training camp.

The status of his top blocker and safety-valve receiver isn't so clear going into the Philadelphia Eagles' season opener at Green Bay on Sunday.

All-Pro guard Shawn Andrews and tight end L.J. Smith missed the entire preseason, but took part in a light practice Monday. The real test comes when they wear full pads Wednesday and Thursday. If both players return, it'll be a big boost for the offense.

Andrews sustained a high ankle sprain last month and the severity of his injury was subject for much speculation after he told reporters that a specialist's prognosis was a ``tear-jerker.'' But Andrews finally backed off that comment, saying he knew he would play in the opener all along. Coach Andy Reid insisted throughout camp Andrews would be fine.

Third-year pro Scott Young and second-year guys Nick Cole and Max-Jean Gilles filled in for Andrews during his absence. Andrews, a first-round pick in 2004, is an integral part of an offensive line that was solid last season. The Eagles started the same five linemen every game.

Smith had surgery for a sports hernia in the offseason, then injured his groin early in camp. He was slightly less optimistic about the opener than Andrews, and is waiting to see how he feels after he practices this week.

Without Smith, rookie tight end Brent Celek, a fifth-round pick, led the team with 13 receptions for 143 yards in the preseason. Veteran Matt Schobel had five catches for 103 yards.

It's an important season for Smith, who enters the final year of a contract. He caught 50 passes for 611 yards and five touchdowns last year.

Philadelphia has the potential for a dynamic offense. McNabb, who tore a knee ligament in Week 11 last year, looked sharp in two exhibition games. Running back Brian Westbrook is coming off his best season, proving he can handle a bigger workload. Wide receiver Reggie Brown could be set for a breakout year in his third season with the Eagles, and Kevin Curtis fills the void created by Donte' Stallworth's departure to New England.

Getting Andrews and Smith back in the lineup will be key to the offense's success.

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Ferringo Examines Early Line Moves
by Robert Ferringo

Being able to properly read and assess the opening line in college and professional football seems like one of the most basic and simple components of football betting. However, analyzing the opening line and initial movements off of it is a skill that takes years to master. In fact, even handicappers that have been in the game for decades still have difficulty explaining why a certain line may move a certain way during the week - and even more trouble still deciphering what that movement portends.

Basically, the opening lines are created by institutions like the Las Vegas Sports Consultants and then passed on to their clients, the sportsbooks. The books then open their lines to sharp bettors and players who wager tens of thousands of dollars. Those players get their initial action on certain sides and totals, and the books then adjust the lines before releasing them to the general public in an attempt to balance out the action. It's a constant shadow dance between the books and the betting public.

Each week we're going to analyze the opening lines with the greatest variance from their original release from the LVSC. These "steam" moves are indicative of where the "smart money" began and is usually a predictor of where the money will continue to roll. Our goal is to make sense of exactly where the value is on some of these situations for either the underdog or the favorite. Again, this is a delicate science and I'm not going to presume to have all the answers. But together we'll try to sift through the games that the sharp action is on and see if we can't uncover some useful trends as the season progresses.

Here are some of the most noticeable and significant early steam movements in both the college and pro football opening lines:

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

New Orleans at Indianapolis
(8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 6)
Open: Indianapolis -6.5
Current: Indianapolis -5.5

Apparently the public hasn't been impressed with the Colts this preseason. This movement is significant because it crossed a key number. It's also surprising to see the lack of respect being paid to the Super Bowl champions playing at home. However, I think it shows the erudition of the sharp bettors; they know that this isn't the same team that was toting the Lombardi Trophy around Florida in February.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: Pittsburgh -3.0
Current: Pittsburgh -4.5

I will be very surprised if 4.5 is where this line stops and I think it will hit six by kickoff. Pittsburgh has dominated its AFC North rival lately, posting a 7-0 ATS mark versus the Browns. The Steelers have lost just once in Cleveland since 1999 and have won by a touchdown or more there in three of the past four years.

New York Giants at Dallas (8 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: Dallas -4.0
Current: Dallas -6.0

There are a confluence of factors at work on this line - and I think it could be a trap. Dallas has looked exceptional during the preseason, while the Giants have languished and seemingly been wrapped in off-field drama. However, the Cowboys are 0-5-1 against the Giants over the past few years and New York has four straight up underdog victories in Big D over the past seven seasons.

Detroit at Oakland (4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: 37.0
Current: 40.0

This appears to be a classic overreaction by the general public to The Hype. First, there is all of the buzz about Detroit's "explosive" offense. Next, there is the specter of All-Hype Team Hall of Famer Daunte Culpepper at quarterback for Oakland. Those two factors seem to be driving this 'over' betting. However, the Raiders still boast the No. 3 defense in the league and have seen 11 of their past 12 contests stay 'under'. Also, the Raiders are 6-12 over the past two seasons with a total of 40.0 or higher.

Houston over Kansas City (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: Houston -1.0. Current: Houston -3.0

Miami at Washington (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: 37.0. Current: 34.5

docsports.com

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Line of Scrimmage: Week 1 - Strahan Had the Right Idea
September 4th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After suffering through the drudgery of writing 65 preseason game previews during the month of August, I have arrived at a decision.

I'm taking the preseason off next year.

It's hard work, after all, trying to dream up interesting things to write about Craphonso Thorpe and Sage Rosenfels, and researching the last time the Chiefs went winless in the preseason (it was way back in 2005, remember?).

In my fourth year in this job and eighth with The Sports Network, I think I've pretty much proven that I'll be ready to perform when the real games start. So if you need me in August of 2008, you can find me in Ocean City, MD, alternating between the beach at 56th Street and a bar not far away called Belly Buster's, which makes a mean shrimp salad sandwich and an even better Miller Lite.

Oh, and if you need an official reason for why I'm not holed up in my windowless office laying the groundwork for a future bout with carpal tunnel syndrome, it's because I'm contemplating retirement.

Giants defensive end Michael Strahan took this very same approach during training camp, as he stayed away from his teammates while supposedly questioning his passion for the game of football. What most of the thinking world suspects, now that Strahan has found his inner Michael and reported to the Giants ready for action in time for the regular season opener against Dallas, is that what he was actually questioning was his passion for Tom Coughlin's training camp.

It takes some major clout to be able to pull this off, and also requires the type of keep-a-straight-face fortitude that gets you 132 sacks in 14 NFL seasons in the first place.

Strahan's extended vacation apparently cost him about $500k, which even with the recent multi-million dollar divorce settlement against him (an aside: do he and Paul McCartney have the same clueless lawyer?) won't be a big deal as soon as he and Jared put the finishing touches on that next round of Subway ads.

In the end, even though he didn't have the pleasure of lecturing ESPN.com reporters all summer, Strahan came out the big winner. He kept himself fresh and rested, didn't have to look at Coughlin or new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's ugly mugs during the month of August, and above all served as a wonderful example for a group of teammates that had already been taking a master class in me-first thinking for the better part of three seasons.

Strahan has also served as an inspiration to me, which is why I'm not reporting to TSN camp next year until the actual fun starts. Who knows, maybe Michael and I will show up at about the same time.

And maybe he'll buy me a sweet-onion-and chicken-teriyaki from Subway, since unlike him, I'll be broke and starving by Week 1.

Let's take a look at the week that will be in the National Football League:

FANTASY - FIVE TO START

Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona (at San Francisco) - Looked great in the preseason, and should put up solid numbers in what figures to be a high-scoring opener with the 49ers.

Tatum Bell, RB, Detroit (at Oakland) - In the Lions' offense, Bell should be good for 150 rushing/receiving yards a week.

Deion Branch, WR, Seattle (vs. Tampa Bay) - Should make a huge leap from year one to year two in the Seahawks offense.

Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville (vs. Tennessee) - We think the 2006 first- round pick is going to have a monster year, which will begin with a big outing against the Titans.

Minnesota Defense (vs. Atlanta) - Vikings will be licking their chops to face Joey Harrington, and will also shut down the Atlanta run.

FANTASY - FIVE TO BENCH

Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia (at Green Bay) - If you have the luxury, wait a week and see how that knee responds to a 60-minute game.

Clinton Portis, RB, Washington (vs. Miami) - Even if he's healthy, we think Joe Gibbs has more confidence in Ladell Betts.

Jamal Lewis, RB, Cleveland (vs. Pittsburgh) - Steelers' front seven is still strong, and the Browns' o-line is a work in progress.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit (at Oakland) - Rookie receivers are historically slow starters, and Jon Kitna is more comfortable throwing to Roy Williams and Mike Furrey at this stage.

Indianapolis Defense (vs. New Orleans) - Put the performance of the Colts' defense in the 2006 playoffs out of your mind - this group is massively depleted.

SUICIDE POOL PIX

1. Seattle (vs. Tampa Bay) - Tough environment for Jeff Garcia's Buccaneers debut.

2. Jacksonville (vs. Tennessee) - Jaguars' defense will give Vince Young major headaches.

3. Dallas (vs. N.Y. Giants) - Outcome might be in doubt in the fourth quarter, but the more talented Cowboys will pull it out for Wade Phillips.

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THE GAMES

I was an inconsistent 149-118 (.558) at picking games last season, and was worse than many blind marsupials against the spread (115-134-7, .463). I won't go far enough to say that "I have a system" this year, but I will tell you that my daughter, an eight-month-old genius, will be offering me her premium picks for a nominal charge in 2007. I foresee success.

New Orleans at Indianapolis, Thursday, 8:30 (Indianapolis -6)

Storylines: Colts play first meaningful game since 29-17 victory over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI...Indianapolis and New Orleans were the league's two most prolific passing offenses last season...Saints led the NFL in total offense (391.5 yards per game) and passing offense (281.4 yards per game) last season...New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees (4418 yards) and Indianapolis signal-caller Peyton Manning (4397) were 1-2 in the NFL in passing yards in '06...Colts were last in the NFL in rushing defense (173 yards per game) in last season... Indianapolis will be playing without 2006 defensive starters in tackle Anthony McFarland (knee), linebacker Cato June (to Buccaneers via free agency), cornerbacks Nick Harper (Titans) and Jason David (Saints), as well as longtime offensive left tackle Tarik Glenn (retired)...New Orleans native Manning is 1-2 all-time against his father Archie's former team...Saints are 5-1 in the last six-season openers that have been played on the road.

Fast Fact: The last seven Super Bowl champions have won their regular season opener in the following season, with the 1998-99 Denver Broncos ranking as the last champion-turned-Week 1 loser.

Prediction: In a whoever-has-the-ball-last type of scenario, we say Peyton bails out his defense and gets it done. Colts 34, Saints 31.

Denver at Buffalo, Sunday, 1:00 (Denver -3)

Storylines: Jay Cutler to start his first season-opener for Denver...Running backs Travis Henry (Denver) and Marshawn Lynch (Buffalo) expected to make debuts with their respective teams... Bills will be playing without former defensive staples such as linebacker Takeo Spikes (to Eagles), cornerback Nate Clements (to 49ers), and linebacker London Fletcher (to Redskins)... Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith (hip) is on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list, and will be out for at least the first six weeks of the season...Buffalo defensive end Anthony Hargrove is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy...Status of former Cardinals and Buccaneers defensive end Simeon Rice, who was signed by Denver early this week, unknown for Sunday...D.J. Williams will take over at middle linebacker for the Broncos following the offseason release of Al Wilson, and Mike Bell will replace Kyle Johnson at fullback.

Fast Fact: Ex-Bill and current Bronco Travis Henry rushed 25 times for 135 yards in Tennessee's 30-29 win at Buffalo in Week 16 of last season.

Prediction: Bills have hope, but Broncos win this game due to sturdier personnel on the offensive and defensive lines. Broncos 20, Bills 15.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland, Sunday, 1:00 (Pittsburgh -4)

Storylines: Pittsburgh opens the Mike Tomlin era in Cleveland, where the Steelers are 6-0 since last losing in 2000...Steelers have won their last four season-openers, tied with Falcons for the longest current streak in the NFL...Charlie Frye will start at quarterback for Browns...Former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis makes his debut with Cleveland...Pittsburgh has won seven straight and is 13-1 in its last 14 games against the Browns overall, with the only loss coming at Heinz Field in 2003...Browns linebacker Willie McGinest (back), cornerback Gary Baxter (knees), and tackle Ryan Tucker (four- game NFL suspension) among those who will not play against the Steelers...Status of cornerback/return specialist Allen Rossum, who was acquired by the Steelers in a trade with the Falcons last week, unknown for Sunday...No. 3 overall draft pick Joe Thomas (Wisconsin) expected to start at right tackle for Cleveland, while 22nd pick Brady Quinn likely to serve as the team's third-string quarterback.

Fast Fact: Browns running back Jamal Lewis has been held under 100 yards in 11 of 12 career meetings with the Steelers.

Prediction: Browns will come ready to play and give the Steelers a battle, but talent will win out in the end. Steelers 17, Browns 16.

Philadelphia at Green Bay, Sunday, 1:00 (Philadelphia -3)

Storylines: Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb makes his formal return to the field after tearing his ACL last Nov. 19th...Green Bay running backs Brandon Jackson and Vernand Morency expected to share time in the backfield following the free agent defection of Ahman Green (Texans) in the offseason...Eagles wide receiver Kevin Curtis (ex-Rams) and linebacker Takeo Spikes (ex-Bills) will make their debuts with the team...New-look Philadelphia linebacking corps also includes Omar Gaither in the middle and Chris Gocong on the strong side...Green Bay wide receiver Donald Driver (sprained foot) expected to play against the Eagles...Philadelphia defensive end Jevon Kearse (knee) will make return to field after missing final 14 games of 2006...Packers won their final four games of 2006 to finish 8-8...Green Bay was 3-5 at Lambeau Field in 2006, including blowout losses to the Bears (26-0), Patriots (35-0), and Jets (38-10)...Eagles head coach Andy Reid was an assistant coach in Green Bay from 1992 through 1998.

Fast Fact: Packers quarterback Brett Favre has 12 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions in his career against the Eagles, Favre's worst touchdown-to- interception ratio against any opponent he has faced more than once.

Prediction: Donovan McNabb makes a triumphant return against a Green Bay club with a number of concerning question marks. Eagles 27, Packers 17.

Kansas City at Houston, Sunday, 1:00 (Houston -3)

Storylines: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, obtained from Atlanta in the offseason, makes his first start in a Houston uniform... Kansas City quarterback Damon Huard, who missed the Chiefs' final two preseason games with a calf problem, makes his first opening-day start since entering the league in 1997...Former Packers Pro Bowler Ahman Green to make his first start in the backfield for the Texans...Kansas City is 4-0 in Houston since last losing there, to the Oilers, during the 1993 regular season...Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen will miss the first two games of the season due to an NFL suspension...Linebacker Donnie Edwards, formerly of the Chargers, will begin his second tour of duty with Kansas City after starring there from 1996 through 2001... The road team has won all three installments of the Kansas City/Houston series...Chiefs went 0-4 in the preseason for the second time in the last three years...First-round picks Dwayne Bowe (wide receiver, Kansas City) and Amobi Okoye (defensive tackle, Houston) to see their first meaningful NFL action.

Fast Fact: The Chiefs have outscored the Texans by a composite score of 87-31 in two trips to Reliant Stadium (both wins).

Prediction: Promising Texans are good enough to take out a mediocre Chiefs team on their own turf. Texans 24, Chiefs 20.

Tennessee at Jacksonville, Sunday, 1:00 (Jacksonville -6)

Storylines: Jaguars are 9-3 (.750) all-time in openers, the best winning percentage in the NFL...Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard and Tennessee signal-caller Vince Young make the first opening-day starts of their respective careers...Tennessee will be playing without cornerback Pacman Jones, who is serving a year-long NFL suspension for violation of the league's conduct policy...Starting running back candidates Chris Brown and LenDale White expected to split carries for Tennessee...Titans were dead last in the NFL in total defense last season...Jacksonville defensive end Reggie Hayward (Achilles) and linebacker Mike Peterson (pectoral) return to the field after succumbing to season-ending injuries in 2006...Tennessee has been outscored by a combined 77-20 in its last two trips to Jacksonville...First-round draft picks and defensive backs Michael Griffin (Titans) and Reggie Nelson (Jaguars) expected to make their formal NFL debuts.

Fast Fact: Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard threw a career-high three touchdown passes in a 37-7 home victory over Tennessee in Week 9 of last season.

Prediction: Vince Young will find the going rough against a Jacksonville team that has already seen his act a couple of times. Jaguars 24, Titans 14.

Atlanta at Minnesota, Sunday, 1:00 (Minnesota -3)

Storylines: Head coach Bobby Petrino and starting quarterback Joey Harrington make their formal debuts with Atlanta...Falcons have won their last four season-openers, tied with Steelers for the longest current streak in the NFL...Vikings second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson makes the third start of his pro career...Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, makes his debut...Wideout Joe Horn, formerly a Pro Bowler in New Orleans, makes his first start in an Atlanta uniform...Falcons led the NFL in rushing offense last season, but were last in passing offense...Vikings led the NFL in rushing defense last season, but were tied for last in passing defense along with Cincinnati...Falcons' first-round pick and defensive end Jamaal Anderson (Arkansas) expected to be in the starting lineup...Vikings defensive end Erasmus James (knee) expected to be active after missing the final 14 games of last season, and linebacker Chad Greenway (knee) slated to start after missing his entire rookie year.

Fast Fact: In four career Week 1 outings, Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington has seven touchdown passes against just one interception.

Prediction: Falcons won't be able to run against the Vikings, which means Joey will have to put it in the air about 50 times. Vikings 12, Falcons 7.

New England at N.Y. Jets, Sunday, 1:00 (New England -6)

Storylines: AFC East rivals, who also met in last year's playoffs, renew acquaintances...Jets head coach Eric Mangini went 1-2 against former mentor Bill Belichick last season, including a 37-16 loss in the first round of the playoffs...Patriots are 6-0 in road games against the Jets since their last such loss, in 2000...Status of New England wide receiver Randy Moss (hamstring), who did not appear in the preseason, unknown for Sunday...Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour (knee) will miss the season's first six games, and strong safety Rodney Harrison is suspended for the first four games of 2007 after admitting to the use of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)...Jets running back Thomas Jones expected to start after missing the final three games of the preseason with a strained calf...Ex-Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas and former Saints and Eagles wide receiver Donte' Stallworth among the new starters for New England...First-round draft picks and defensive backs Darrelle Revis (Jets) and Brandon Meriweather (Patriots) expected to suit up for their first meaningful contests.

Fast Fact: In two career outings against the Jets, Patriots receiver Randy Moss has combined totals of six catches, 104 yards, and zero touchdowns.

Prediction: New England will be an unstoppable force by the end of the season, but for now, they'll struggle to find a way out of the swamps of Jersey. Patriots 17, Jets 14.

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Carolina at St. Louis, Sunday, 1:00 (Carolina -1)

Storylines: Rams trying to avenge a 15-0 loss to Carolina in Week 11 of last season...St. Louis, which won its final three games of 2006, in search of its first four-game win streak since taking seven in a row in 2003...Rams quarterback Marc Bulger one of four NFL quarterbacks to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark last year (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer)...A pair of 2007 First-Round Draft choices, Rams defensive tackle Adam Carriker (Nebraska) and Panthers linebacker Jon Beason (Miami-Florida) expected to make their formal debuts...Carolina middle linebacker Dan Morgan tabbed to play in his first regular season game since suffering a concussion in Week 1 of 2006...Former Lions pass rusher James Hall slated to make his first start as a Ram...St. Louis cornerback Fakhir Brown suspended for the season's first four games due to a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, while Carolina offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges is suspended for the first two due to contract detrimental to the team after being arrested on an assault charge.

Fast Fact: None of St. Louis running back Steven Jackson's 30 career touchdowns have been scored in Week 1.

Prediction: Rams are beginning to come together under Scott Linehan, and the Panthers looked awful throughout the preseason. Rams 20, Panthers 17.

Miami at Washington, Sunday, 1:00 (Washington -3)

Storylines: Head coach Cam Cameron and starting quarterback Trent Green make their formal debuts with Miami...Cameron served as quarterbacks coach in Washington from 1994 through 1996, and Green was on the roster there from 1995 through 1998...Redskins running back Clinton Portis (knee) expected to play after missing much of training camp and the preseason... Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter (knee), formerly of the Steelers, expected to be in the lineup after missing the entire preseason...Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell starts an opener for the first time in his three-year career...Dolphins end Jason Taylor was NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2006...2007 Top-10 picks LaRon Landry (safety, Redskins) and Ted Ginn, Jr. (wide receiver/return specialist, Dolphins) to receive first meaningful NFL time...Middle linebacker London Fletcher, late of the Bills and Rams, makes his first start as a Redskin.

Fast Fact: The only Dolphins coach to win his road debut was Jimmy Johnson, who led Miami to a 38-10 win at Arizona in Week 2 of the 1996 season.

Prediction: A candidate for Week 1's most painful game to watch, we expect Jason Campbell to make one more play than Trent Green. Redskins 18, Dolphins 13.

Detroit at Oakland, Sunday, 4:15 (Oakland -1)

Storylines: Raiders' Lane Kiffin, the youngest head coach in the modern era of the NFL at 32, makes his formal sideline debut...Kiffin is Oakland's fifth head coach in the last seven seasons...Either former Lion Josh McCown or three-time Pro Bowl selection Daunte Culpepper will make his first start as a Raider...Lions head coach Rod Marinelli worked as defensive line coach under Kiffin's father, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, from 1996 through 2005...No. 2 overall draft pick and wide receiver Calvin Johnson makes his formal debut with the Lions...Detroit is 0-4 on the road in the all- time series, including 0-3 in Oakland... Oakland ended last season with nine straight losses...Raiders have lost their last four season-openers, the longest current streak in the NFL...Oakland was last in the league in passing offense last season, and Detroit was last in rushing offense...Raiders defense was No. 1 in the league against the pass a year ago...Lions are 24-72 (.250) since 2001, and Raiders are 15-49 (.234) since 2003.

Fast Fact: Since beating the 49ers in 1975, the Lions are 0-11 in games played in the Bay Area (0-9 Niners, 0-2 Raiders).

Prediction: One of these teams gets to start 1-0, and we say it will be the Lions, who'd better begin backing up that 10-win talk immediately. Lions 27, Raiders 25.

Chicago at San Diego, Sunday, 4:15 (San Diego -5)

Storylines: Norv Turner, who compiled a record of 58-82-1 (.415) in previous stops with Washington and Oakland, makes his regular season debut as Chargers head coach...San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson was NFL MVP in 2006, and established league records for touchdowns (31), rushing touchdowns (28), and points (186)...Chicago running back Cedric Benson begins first season as full-time starter after backing up Thomas Jones (now with the Jets) for the past two seasons...Bears tight end and first-round draft choice Greg Olsen (Miami-Florida) considered questionable with a sprained knee...Record-setting kick returner Devin Hester expected to line up at wide receiver for Chicago for the first time...Chargers wideout Eric Parker (toe) expected to miss the first month of the season...San Diego inside linebackers coach Ron Rivera was fired as Bears defensive coordinator after last season despite the team leading the league in takeaways (44) and ranking third in total defense...New Chicago defensive starters include ex-Rams and Redskins safety Adam Archuleta...Bears safety Mike Brown (foot) and Tommie Harris (hamstring) return after suffering season-ending injuries in 2006.

Fast Fact: Norv Turner is 3-6 all-time in season-openers.

Prediction: The jumpy Rex Grossman is going to see Shawne Merriman in his nightmares. Chargers 21, Bears 12.

Tampa Bay at Seattle, Sunday, 4:15 (Seattle -6)


Storylines: Jeff Garcia, formerly a starting quarterback in San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia, makes his first start in a Tampa Bay uniform...Seahawks are 10-21 (.323) all-time in openers, the worst winning percentage in the NFL...Status of Buccaneers linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, signed earlier this week after being released by Eagles in August, unknown for Sunday... Tampa Bay rookie end Gaines Adams, the No. 4 overall pick in the April draft, expected to start against Seahawks...Seahawks and Buccaneers will be playing for second consecutive time in the regular season, after Seattle handed Tampa Bay a 23-7 loss at Raymond James Stadium in Week 17 of 2006...One-time Colts and Lions tight end Marcus Pollard, ex-Falcons end Patrick Kerney, and former Texans DE Jason Babin among the new faces in the Seahawks lineup...Wide receiver Maurice Stovall, a second-year player with seven career catches to his credit, expected to start opposite Joey Galloway against Seattle.

Fast Fact: Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia has won his four most recent Week 1 starts, with Cleveland (2004) and San Francisco (2001-2003).

Prediction: Buccaneers look especially young in the trenches, where the Seahawks will set the tone en route to a sizeable win. Seahawks 23, Buccaneers 9.

N.Y. Giants at Dallas, Sunday, 8:15 (Dallas -5)

Storylines: Wade Phillips, who compiled a record of 48-39 in previous stops with the Broncos, Bills, Falcons, and Saints, makes his formal head coaching debut on the Dallas sideline... Cowboys are 31-15-1 (.674) all-time in openers, the best winning percentage in the NFC... Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo makes the first opening day start of his five-year NFL career... Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who did not play in the preseason and missed all of training camp, considered questionable to play Sunday night...Giants cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) not expected to be in the lineup on Sunday...New York wideout Plaxico Burress (back) should play against Dallas...For Cowboys, wideout Terry Glenn (knee) is questionable and outside linebacker Greg Ellis (heel) appears doubtful...Giants and Cowboys engaged in an unconventional split last season, with New York winning at Texas Stadium (36-22) in Week 7 and the Cowboys returning the favor with a 23-20 win at Giants Stadium in Week 13.

Fast Fact: Wade Phillips has lost the first game of his last two head coaching stops, with Atlanta (38-7 loss to Indianapolis in 2003) and Buffalo (16-14 loss to San Diego in 1998).

Prediction: Neither of these teams is at full strength, but the advantage goes to a Cowboys team that looks stronger defensively. Cowboys 20, Giants 13.

Baltimore at Cincinnati, Monday, 7:00 (Cincinnati -2)

Storylines: AFC North rivals, who split a home-and-home in 2006, meet in primetime...Running back Willis McGahee, formerly a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in Buffalo, makes his formal debut in a Baltimore uniform...Bengals have won four of the last five meetings with the Ravens... Cincinnati right tackle Levi Jones (knee) and left tackle Willie Anderson (foot) expected to play after missing extended time in the preseason...Baltimore begins life without Pro Bowl outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who signed with the Patriots in the offseason...Jarret Johnson to start in Thomas' place...Cincinnati wideout Chris Henry to miss the first eight games of 2007 after violating the NFL's personal conduct policy...Ravens are 4-3 (.571) all-time on Monday night, Bengals are 8-17 (.320)...Cincinnati is 1-4 on Monday night since 1990...Baltimore is 4-7 (.364) all-time in openers, the worst mark in the AFC...Ravens led the NFL in total defense last season...Bengals were tied for last in the NFL in passing defense in 2006, along with the Vikings.

Fast Fact: Ravens quarterback Steve McNair has thrown more touchdown passes against the Bengals and Steelers (21 against each) than any other NFL team.

Prediction: Offensive and defensive continuity give Ravens the edge over a banged-up, unsettled Cincinnati team. Ravens 24, Bengals 16.

Arizona at San Francisco, Monday, 10:15 (San Francisco -3)

Storylines: Ken Whisenhunt, formerly the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, makes his head coaching debut for the Cardinals...Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart makes the first opening-day start of his career...Niners running back Frank Gore expected to start after missing all of the preseason with a broken hand...Veteran offseason acquisitions Darrell Jackson (wide receiver), Nate Clements (cornerback), Michael Lewis (strong safety), and Aubrayo Franklin (tackle) all expected to start for San Francisco, as are first-round draft choices Patrick Willis (inside linebacker) and Joe Staley (right tackle)...Arizona lost defensive end Chike Okeafor (biceps) and tackle Oliver Ross (triceps) for the year in its first preseason game...49ers are 37-22 (.627) all-time on Monday night, Cardinals are 5-11-1 (.324)... Cardinals are 0-5 on Monday night since their last such win, in 1985...Monday's game will mark the debut of three coordinators, Todd Haley (offense) for Arizona and Jim Hostler (offense) and Greg Manusky (defense) for San Francisco...Cardinals were 0-4 in the preseason.

Fast Fact: The last Cardinals coach to win his season-opening debut with the team was Don Coryell, who beat the Eagles (34-23) to open the 1973 season.

Prediction: Both of these work-in-progress teams will be better by mid-season than they are currently. Right now, the Niners are slightly ahead. 49ers 27, Cardinals 21

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Re: NFL News and Notes Week 1

Hamilton slow to recover from concussion
September 5, 2007

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -Ben Hamilton's streak of 5,407 consecutive snaps since becoming the Denver Broncos' starting left guard in 2002 is about to end.

Chris Myers will get the start Sunday at Buffalo because doctors have ordered Hamilton not to do any type of physical activity for two weeks in hopes his post-concussion symptoms will finally fade.

Hamilton, who banged helmets with a teammate in camp a month ago and sat out the entire preseason, remains optimistic he'll be back in the lineup soon.

``I'm feeling good. It's kind of a day-by-day deal, and once I start feeling better, I'll definitely be practicing and ready to go,'' Hamilton said Wednesday. ``I'm not too scared. The doctors say I will definitely feel better.''

Hamilton has had a tough time dealing with being sidelined, however.

``I've never had to miss any time with any injury or anything that's happened to me in the past, or any adversity,'' he said. ``This is just something I've learned that you can't just push through it, like when you sprain your ankle or something like that. You have to wait until you're 100 percent. If you try to fight against it, you're going to lose every time.''

Hamilton got hurt on what he termed a ``routine hit.''

``Banged helmets. It wasn't a big play or anything,'' he said. ``It must have been that I was hit in the right spot. I've had my bell rung many times before and I'd shake it off. This time I woke up the next morning and I felt pretty out of it. I haven't gotten back yet.''

Hamilton gets dizzy whenever he does any cardiovascular work and he'll revisit specialists in Pittsburgh next week for more medical tests to determine whether he can return to practice.

``It's a dizziness or 'spaciness' I get,'' Hamilton said. ``I feel much worse when I do cardio. I have no predictions for it.''

The NFL has implemented tough new guidelines on players who get concussions.

``But I think even without those rules the Broncos would be pretty cautious with me,'' Hamilton said. ``I felt no pressure that I must get back or we need you by this time. They're going to let it run its course, just like the doctor said. And I will get better.''

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Kansas City defensive end will sit out first 2 games for DUIs
September 5, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -Football figures to be a lonely experience for Jared Allen the next couple of weeks.

Kansas City's suspended defensive end can be on the practice field, but only by himself.

And he'll be no different from millions of other football fans who are watching the action but wishing they could strap on the pads and play.

``It'll be tough,'' Allen said, ``because nobody loves playing football more than me.''

While the rest of the Chiefs are running through plays and getting ready for their season opener at Houston on Sunday, Allen, according to terms of his suspension for multiple drunken-driving arrests, must not be anywhere around.

He's allowed to attend team meetings but not practice.

He can work out with strength and conditioning coaches and use team facilities the next two weeks. But he can't travel with the team or stay at the team hotel when the Chiefs go to Houston and Chicago for the first two games.

Before and after each game, he's barred from the locker room.

It could be worse - much worse - for both Allen and the Chiefs. His off-field misplays first drew a four-game suspension. But taking everyone by surprise, including Allen and team officials, commissioner Roger Goodell rewarded the player's improved behavior and vow to stay sober by slicing the penalty in half.

``He's the only suspended player in the NFL that had his suspension reduced,'' said Chiefs president Carl Peterson. ``As of this week, there were 19 players who had been suspended by the commissioner for this year and I think Jared Allen's is the only two-game suspension.''

Allen, at the Chiefs' urging, will be at every team meeting during his two-week suspension.

``I'm going to prepare as if I'm starting Week 1,'' he said. ``My routine for the next two weeks isn't going to be any different than it absolutely has to be. I'm going to treat these next two weeks as though I'm preparing to play.''

The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder led the NFL with six fumble recoveries last year and shows all the signs of a young player about to break into stardom. With 27 1/2 sacks his first three seasons, he's already in Kansas City's all-time top 10. He came into camp this year trimmed down and in top condition, and his production showed it.

``I feel great. I'm in a rhythm right now,'' he said. ``I really wish I didn't have to miss these two games. I think I've been playing well. The key for me is going to be to keep my workout regime as close to practice as I can make it. I'll be lifting weights, running. Then when it comes gametime, it'll just be like I tweaked my ankle or something and had to miss the game. Then I'll be ready to go for the home opener against Minnesota.

``It would have been so different if it'd been four games.''

Kansas City will be counting on two players to take up the slack these first two weeks. Jimmy Wilkerson, a fifth-year man, will start. Rookie Turk McBride will also figure prominently in the rotation.

``This is an excellent opportunity for Jimmy Wilkerson,'' said coach Herm Edwards.

Wilkerson had his best training camp in five years and led the Chiefs with three preseason sacks.

``I'm definitely excited,'' he said. ``When you get an opportunity to go out there and start for a game, that just adds more excitement on top of what you're doing.''

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NFL players to start, and to avoid, in Week 1 of fantasy football
September 5, 2007

After years of focusing on teamwork and championships, the Patriots have finally come around to the importance of building a high-powered fantasy football machine loaded with potential for huge individual statistics.

They went shopping for a fleet of big-name new receivers who are major upgrades over Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney and the like. And for once they've built a running game around a breakaway youngster instead of a crusty old 30-something.

Throw in Tom Brady, and it all sets up like the best fantasy outfit east of Indianapolis - at least if you ask those who spent high draft picks on Brady, Laurence Maroney, Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth.

There's only one problem with this great big bandwagon: There are so many question marks that it could turn out some fantasy flops on the scale of a Daniel Snyder shopping spree.

Does Moss have anything left? (He hasn't done much recently, and he's already ailing.) Is Stallworth reliable? (He has an injury and attitude history himself.) Can Maroney hold up? (He missed time last year and had offseason shoulder surgery.) Who catches the most passes? (It could even be Wes Welker.)

Also, New England's nutty coaching staff is known for sniffing out weaknesses and exploiting them over and over again. They may run every down one week and throw every down the next - a great idea for real victories, but costly for fantasy teams.

The only surefire Patriot who looks like he'll produce every single week is Brady, who averaged about 3,700 yards and 24 scores as a starter without ever having much at receiver. Maroney also could be big, but beware counting on those receivers too much.

As you figure out how to acquire Welker without too much embarrassment, here's a look at some players to start in Week 1, some to rest and some long shots who just may pan out:

As you figure out how to acquire Welker without too much embarrassment, here's a look at some players to start in Week 1, some to rest and some long shots who just may pan out:

As you figure out how to acquire Welker without too much embarrassment, here's a look at some players to start in Week 1, some to rest and some long shots who just may pan out:

- Cash in on those Donovan McNabb starts before the bionic knee gives out, even against the Packers' tough pass rush. Last year when the Eagles beat Green Bay he threw for two scores and ran for two.

- Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers try out the new pass-friendly offense against Cleveland, which is sort of like getting a bonus preseason tune-up. He averaged 250 yards and two scores against the Browns last year.

- It's still a little early for the Giants' Eli Manning to start doinking the ball around the field. Historically he remembers where to throw early in the season, and he averages two TDs a game against Dallas.

- Tony Romo is worth a start against the Giants, who had the No. 28 pass defense last year. Romo had five interceptions in two games against the Giants, but that was before he had the composure of a starter who hangs out in Hollywood.

- Detroit's Jon Kitna should get one of the 10 wins he promised in Oakland. The Raiders had the No. 1 pass defense last year, but that was partly because everybody could run on them so didn't bother throwing.

- Detroit's Jon Kitna should get one of the 10 wins he promised in Oakland. The Raiders had the No. 1 pass defense last year, but that was partly because everybody could run on them so didn't bother throwing.

- Detroit's Jon Kitna should get one of the 10 wins he promised in Oakland. The Raiders had the No. 1 pass defense last year, but that was partly because everybody could run on them so didn't bother throwing.

- Could the planets be more aligned for Atlanta's Joey Harrington? For the second straight year he signed on as a backup and wound up starting. Now he opens against the Vikings' pass defense that was the NFL's worst last year.

- Could the planets be more aligned for Atlanta's Joey Harrington? For the second straight year he signed on as a backup and wound up starting. Now he opens against the Vikings' pass defense that was the NFL's worst last year.

Please, in the name of Marc Wilson, don't start these guys:

- Vince Young should be great this year, just not against Jacksonville. Last year the Jags held him to one TD and four interceptions in two games, and just 18 yards rushing total.

- If you have the Jets' Chad Pennington, I'm sorry to inform you that you did not draft well. Help yourself by benching him while he hands off to Thomas Jones and gets smooshed by the Patriots' pass defense that yielded only 10 TDs last year.

- Don't start anybody in Washington. Trent Green's age and concussion possibilities make him scary to watch, let alone play. And Jason Campbell is a nicked-up, inexperienced guy with line problems.

- Don't start anybody in Washington. Trent Green's age and concussion possibilities make him scary to watch, let alone play. And Jason Campbell is a nicked-up, inexperienced guy with line problems.

- Don't start anybody in Washington. Trent Green's age and concussion possibilities make him scary to watch, let alone play. And Jason Campbell is a nicked-up, inexperienced guy with line problems.

- Don't start anybody in Washington. Trent Green's age and concussion possibilities make him scary to watch, let alone play. And Jason Campbell is a nicked-up, inexperienced guy with line problems.

- Overthinker Alert: The Chiefs' Larry Johnson may not be in prime condition after missing most of the preseason, and his much-discussed overuse last year could cause him to wear down. But you don't have to be perfect to tear up the Texans, and he's not tired yet.

- Overthinker Alert II: Don't sweat Rudi Johnson against the feared Baltimore defense that allowed just 75 rushing yards a game and five scores on the ground last year. He somehow has four touchdowns in his last four games against the Ravens.

- Travis Henry of Denver gets a shot at revenge against his first team. The Broncos can always run and the Bills can never stop runners, so 150 yards seems a foregone conclusion.

- LaMont Jordan's trying to prove he should hang on to the starting job in Oakland when Dominic Rhodes returns from a four-game suspension. The Lions will probably help him out.

- Speaking of the Lions, Tatum Bell should be able to exploit the Raiders' run defense. He never did much when facing them as a Bronco, but he'll get more carries than catch plenty of passes.

- Speaking of the Lions, Tatum Bell should be able to exploit the Raiders' run defense. He never did much when facing them as a Bronco, but he'll get more carries than catch plenty of passes.

- Carolina's DeShaun Foster was taken after backup DeAngelo Williams in many fantasy drafts, but the Rams' run defense could help his job security. St. Louis gave up 145 rushing yards a game and an NFL-worst 21 TDs last year.

- Carolina's DeShaun Foster was taken after backup DeAngelo Williams in many fantasy drafts, but the Rams' run defense could help his job security. St. Louis gave up 145 rushing yards a game and an NFL-worst 21 TDs last year.

- Ronnie Brown of Miami faces a rotten Washington defense, but he'll also give up some carries to backup Jesse Chatman. (It's never a good sign when you lose time to a player who last scored in 2004.)

- Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is already scary for tacklers, but he may be more frightening for fantasy owners who just don't know how he'll be used. Bench him until you figure it out.

- Washington's Clinton Portis was hardly mentioned in the preseason, but his numerous doctor visits and freshly re-signed 1,000-yard backup were. Sit him until you're sure he's able to go for significant carries.

- Washington's Clinton Portis was hardly mentioned in the preseason, but his numerous doctor visits and freshly re-signed 1,000-yard backup were. Sit him until you're sure he's able to go for significant carries.

- Washington's Clinton Portis was hardly mentioned in the preseason, but his numerous doctor visits and freshly re-signed 1,000-yard backup were. Sit him until you're sure he's able to go for significant carries.

- Washington's Clinton Portis was hardly mentioned in the preseason, but his numerous doctor visits and freshly re-signed 1,000-yard backup were. Sit him until you're sure he's able to go for significant carries.

- Green Bay's Donald Driver is too tough to let a mere foot injury bench him, missing just one game the past five years. Plus, who would Brett Favre throw to? Favre averaged a dozen passes to Driver the last five games of 2006.

- All of Deion Branch's offseason work with Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle should show right away against a Tampa Bay defense that was not at all opposed to touchdown passes last year.

- Anquan Boldin has gone without a score in nine of his past 10 games, but that trend doesn't hold up against the 49ers. He has scored in three of his last four against them.

- Miami's Chris Chambers should end his eight-game boycott of the end zone against what was last year a horrid pass defense. (He may also remind the Redskins why they let Fred Smoot leave the first time.)

- Call me crazy, but I have a hunch the Bears are going to focus on stopping LaDainian Tomlinson. Probably won't work, but the effort should leave Vincent Jackson wide open.

- Call me crazy, but I have a hunch the Bears are going to focus on stopping LaDainian Tomlinson. Probably won't work, but the effort should leave Vincent Jackson wide open.

- If Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson can throw at all - and that's still an if - he'll throw often to Bobby Wade. He had five catches and even threw a TD with the starters in a preseason game.

- If Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson can throw at all - and that's still an if - he'll throw often to Bobby Wade. He had five catches and even threw a TD with the starters in a preseason game.

- Even if Randy Moss is healthy, bench him and the 42 other Patriots receivers until you see whether anybody gets the ball more than a couple times a game.

- Detroit rookie Calvin Johnson won't start as he's still figuring out the NFL. When he does get in, he'll face the top pass defense of 2006.

- Bench Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and whoever else is hanging around in Jacksonville. The QB switch just before the opener is a problem, but the fact that it's so darned easy to run on the Titans will mean few passes.

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Thomas Jones intends to play for Jets vs. Pats

There, Thomas Jones said it: He's planning to play Sunday against the Patriots.

"I feel a lot better than I've felt the past couple of weeks," Jones said yesterday, commenting on his strained calf for the first time since hurting it Aug. 12. "The trainers have done a really good job of getting me back on the field. I'm going to practice today and tomorrow, and go into the game and see how it goes."

This wasn't a revelation; it has been widely speculated that he'd be ready for opening day. Nevertheless, he removed the last shroud of mystery.

The Jets' new $5 million-a-year running back, who returned to practice on Monday, worked yesterday on a limited basis, according to the injury report. Jones had only eight carries for 27 yards and a TD in the preseason.

CHAD OK: Chad Pennington (pelvis) appeared on the injury report. Relax, he participated in the full practice. Because he didn't play in the final preseason game, it's presumed he was hurt the previous week against the Giants, who hit him several times. Yesterday, Pennington was seen leaving the locker room, walking for a few steps with an uneven gait.

GUARD DUTY: From all indications, rookie Jacob Bender will start at left guard, ahead of Adrien Clarke. It's going to be an eye-opening experience for Bender, who played before home crowds of about 3,500 at Nicholls State, a Division I-AA school. "It's going to be awesome to just be out there," he said. "I'm excited. I'm pumped up." Bender may not be the only rookie starter in the Jets' lineup. Don't be surprised if No. 1 pick Darrelle Revis starts at left cornerback. Incumbent Andre Dyson (foot) practiced on a limited basis.

PATRIOT GAMES: The Bill Belichick-Eric Mangini rift still exists - it's believed they didn't talk at all in the offseason - but they had kind words for each other yesterday.

"I think he's done a good job with the team, especially how they came back strong in the second half of the season," Belichick said of his former protégé.

Mangini: "The (New England) coaching staff obviously is outstanding. Bill does a great job."

nydailynews.com

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Re: NFL News and Notes Week 1

Falcons star TE Crumpler ailing
September 6, 2007

Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- Rod Coleman and Chris Crocker are unlikely to play in the season opener this weekend at Minnesota.

Four-time Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler might miss his first game since December 2004.

And if those concerns weren't enough, Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino said Thursday he's is still unsure if the Falcons will sign a third quarterback by Sunday morning.

Joey Harrington and Chris Redman are 1-2 on the depth chart, but the indefinite suspension of Michael Vick and D.J. Shockley's season-ending knee injury has left Atlanta with only practice squad quarterback Casey Bramlet as an alternative.

Petrino still hasn't made a decision, but if Harrington and Redman were injured and the Falcons hadn't designated an emergency quarterback before kickoff, Petrino would use running back Warrick Dunn.

"He would be the one," Petrino said.

Not since 1992, when he was a senior at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, has Dunn played quarterback.

"I guess you'd have to ... get a couple of shotgun snaps, teach them how to do that and draw up a little single-wing or something in case you ever had the problem where two quarterbacks went down in the same game," Petrino said. "I'm a little concerned about having to take time out to do that."

Redman, who underwent back surgery twice after playing his final game in 2003, has durability issues, but rather than worry too much about hypothetical situations, Petrino has more pressing concerns.

Regarding Crocker, the Falcons believe Jimmy Williams can fill in adequately at free safety. Unfortunately, Crumpler, a four-time Pro Bowl player, and Coleman, a 2005 selection, are essentially irreplaceable.

Since the start of '04, Crumpler leads NFL tight ends with an average of 14.4 yards per catch. Dwayne Blakley would start if Crumpler isn't able.

Coleman's 44.5 sacks are tops among the league's interior defensive linemen since the start of '03.

Petrino hopes Crumpler can return to practice on Friday, but Coleman, who had blood drained from his surgically repaired quadriceps this week, could need more time to rehab.

"If we're going to err about Rod, we're going to err on the side of caution," Petrino said. "We have to make sure he is ready for the rest of the season."

Coleman was limited in practice Wednesday. After getting hurt while riding a personal watercraft in late April, Coleman missed training camp and the preseason.

He has practiced occasionally over the last month, but never long enough to reclaim his starting job alongside right end John Abraham and nose tackle Grady Jackson.

Jonathan Babineaux, a second-round draft pick from 2005, will start in Coleman's place against the Vikings.

Williams, a second-round pick last year, switched from cornerback to safety after Petrino hired Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator. Both coaches liked what they saw of Williams in the preseason finale, and they believe he's improved significantly in reading formations and understanding how to disrupt receivers coming across the middle of the field.

"I expect Jimmy to continue to get better," Zimmer said. "He didn't play that good in the (third preseason) game. He was much more physical (in the fourth game). He lined up better, and hopefully we can get him to react on those things fast. "

Behind Jackson and Babineaux at defensive tackle, the Falcons will rely on rookie Trey Lewis, a sixth-round pick from Washburn University, and former Dallas practice squad player Montavious Stanley, who played for Petrino at Louisville.

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Re: NFL News and Notes Week 1

Cowboys WR Glenn not ready for season
September 6th, 2007

Irving, TX (Sports Network) - Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terry Glenn will miss at least two more weeks as he continues to recover from knee surgery.

Glenn had a cyst removed from his right knee on August 1 and missed the entire preseason.

Glenn, 33, is entering his fifth season in Dallas. Las year, he hauled in 70 catches for 1,047 yards and six touchdowns. For his career, Glenn has amassed 593 receptions for 8,823 yards and 44 touchdowns in 136 games with Dallas, Green Bay and New England.

Four-year veteran Patrick Crayton is expected to see most of the time in place of Glenn.

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Re: NFL News and Notes Week 1

Guard Icognito, wideout Bennett questionable for Rams' opener against Panthers
September 7, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -St. Louis Rams offensive guard Richie Incognito was listed as questionable Friday for the season opener against the Panthers on Sunday with a high ankle sprain that has limited him in practice this week.

Incognito has been hobbled for 2 1/2 weeks and said earlier in the week that the team believes the injury needs four weeks to heal. Wide receiver Drew Bennett also is questionable with a quadriceps injury and has had limited work this week.

Coach Scott Linehan said both would be game-time decisions.

``We haven't decided, we put them down as questionable,'' Linehan said. ``That's certainly where I think they are.''

Claude Terrell, who missed all of last season with a wrist injury, is the likely replacement for Incognito at right guard. The Rams could elevate Marques Hagans, a former quarterback who was on the practice squad last year, or Dane Looker if Bennett is not ready at the third wide receiver spot.

Incognito, a third-round pick in 2005, is part of a youth movement on the offensive line. He started every game last year at three positions, both guards and center, but hasn't played since the second preseason game.

Bennett signed a six-year free agent deal in the offseason after catching 46 passes for a 16-yard average and three touchdowns last year in Tennessee.

Terrell made 10 starts at guard in 2005, the most by a Rams rookie offensive lineman since Tom Newberry made 14 starts at left guard in 1986. He was placed on injured reserve before the opener last year and fell out of favor because he did not participate in the team's offseason training program.

Linehan said the Rams would carry eight linemen if Incognito can't go, which would leave the Rams short-handed elsewhere.

Reserve defensive end Victor Adeyanju also is questionable for Sunday after twisting a knee during special teams work Wednesday and getting limited work Friday. Adeyanju made nine starts as a rookie last year after the release of Anthony Hargrove and is the backup to James Hall this year.

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STRAHAN: I'M READY TO PLAY

September 8, 2007 -- He knows getting hit and knocked down and double-teamed and smacked around is completely different than what he has put his body through the past six weeks, but Michael Strahan yesterday declared himself ready to play in tomorrow night's season-opener in Dallas.

"I feel good enough right now, yes," Strahan said.

Officially, the Giants will wait until today to reveal the plan, but there's no way Strahan won't be on the field at Texas Stadium, lined up at left defensive end. He'll probably even start the game and then share the snaps with Justin Tuck.

"I know my mindset, I want to play. If I play, I'm thinking I can probably play every play," said Strahan, who Monday ended a 36-day holdout. "But yeah, it can be limited, put you in there in certain spots and certain situations and I'm pretty sure that might be the case if I play."

The testing ground for Strahan consisted of four full practices, plus today's walk-through prior to the Giants boarding their charter flight to Dallas.

"It is just going to be a question of whether or not we feel like it has been enough," Tom Coughlin said.

The greatest concern is what hasn't been seen out of Strahan.

"It is also in the back of your mind the idea that there really hasn't been much contact for him," Coughlin said.

Strahan, 35, is coming off a serious mid-foot sprain, but he said that injury is completely healed.

"I feel I'm healthy, energy level is there, soreness isn't really there at all," he said. "I've been working hard in case I came back and it's paid off. The game's a whole different thing, getting banged up, but you won't know unless you go do it.

"Training camp definitely helps; the more you practice generally the better you get. At this point in my career I can go off of experience and just desire and enjoying the game, that's what I have to lean on right now. As long as I contribute, that's the biggest thing. You don't want to be out there and not contribute. I would love to play. Trust me, to play in this game would be a really, really big deal and hopefully a morale boost and hopefully it transcends into a win."

With Strahan in action, of the 22 starters the Giants expected to put on the field there's a slim chance only one, cornerback Sam Madison, won't make it because of a pulled hamstring. Madison made it through the week of practice and is listed as probable but the Giants must be wary, as Madison is 33 and last year came back too quickly from a hamstring problem and exacerbated the injury.

"If the medical people say that he can go, that he is ready, and he concurs then I don't see any reason to be overly cautious about it," Coughlin said.

Timing might be on the side of the Giants, as the Cowboys are hurting. Defensive end Greg Ellis, trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered last November, is out because of bursitis in his heel. Veteran receiver Terry Glenn is out with a knee injury and will be replaced by Patrick Crayton. Cornerback Terence Newman (questionable)has a foot problem that has kept him out of practice and most likely out of the game, meaning career backup Jacques Reeves will make his second start in four years.

"I don't know about that," said receiver Plaxico Burress, believing the Cowboys are resorting to subterfuge. "Terence is going to play, trust me, he'll play. I'm not that gullible."

Burress, slowed by a sprained ankle and back spasms that kept him out of the bulk of training camp and all four preseason games, said he heard that some in Dallas believe he might be too hobbled to play.

"Whoever's saying I'm not playing," he said, "keep wishing."

nypost.com

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Re: NFL News and Notes Week 1

Samuel's status up in the air

FOXBOROUGH - He ended his holdout nearly two weeks ago, but will Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel be ready to play in tomorrow's season opener against the Jets?

"I guess we'll have to wait and see until Sunday," Samuel said yesterday. "I don't know if I'm going to play, how much I'm going to play. I'm just going out practicing and working hard."

Samuel, who signed the one-year franchise tender and reported Aug. 27, maintained that he stayed in shape during the holdout by working out at home, but coach Bill Belichick rejected the notion that the left cornerback is back up to speed.

"Do I think in one week he is where others are in six weeks? No," Belichick said. "That would be totally unrealistic."

Samuel agreed that he is not in perfect football condition.

"I feel all right," he said. "I'm in late. I have a lot of catching up to do, but I feel pretty good.

"There is a difference between working out - just running and conditioning and doing all those things - than being on the field and going against another team when they're doing the two-minute offense or something like that. It's a little different."

Samuel is not on the active roster, as the Patriots were given an exemption because of his late reporting date. If Samuel is to play tomorrow, he must be activated by 4 p.m. today. No additional cuts would have to be made because Rodney Harrison doesn't count against the roster limit while he serves his four-game suspension.

Even if Samuel is active tomorrow, he might not start at his familiar spot, where Randall Gay has practiced for most of the preseason. Samuel would not share specifics of how practice has gone - even remaining tight-lipped when asked if he had picked off any passes - but assured the crowd of media at his locker that he was working hard.

"I go out there and prepare like I always normally prepare," Samuel said. "I'm trying to do a little catching up, being that I came in a little late."

If Samuel is not active tomorrow, expect to see Gay starting opposite Ellis Hobbs, with rookie Brandon Meriweather and 12th-year veteran Tory James as backups.

Samuel's absence, or limited role, would make the secondary even thinner as it copes with the loss of Harrison. James Sanders is the likely replacement at strong safety, with Meriweather, Gay, and second-year man Willie Andrews able to play safety as well, especially when the team puts three safeties on the field for dime coverage.

With Samuel and Harrison missing big chunks of time, the secondary has been in flux in the preseason, but Hobbs said the defensive backs are prepared nonetheless.

"That's what's so special about this team," Hobbs said. "No matter what guys we lose around here, we always have guys who are ready and willing to jump in. We practice not just where we normally play our position, but we prepare for the next guy going down, to practice at the next position."

If Samuel does play tomorrow, he'll have a chance to reprise one of his finest moments of last season, which came the last time these teams met. Samuel swiped a Chad Pennington pass in the fourth quarter and took it 36 yards to the end zone to seal a 37-16 win in the first round of the playoffs. But the cornerback said that game has no bearing on tomorrow, despite any fond memories.

"It's a new year, a new situation," Samuel said. "You never know what's going to happen."

The same can be said for Samuel's status.

globe.com.

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