Here's evidence the preseason is too long. Even unnecessary.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will start in season openers after missing the entire preseason, Manning after having a bursa sac removed from his left knee, Brady with a mysterious foot injury - any injury in New England is ``mysterious'' by definition.
Anyone want to suggest they won't be effective?
But they're not the only QBs with whom coaches have taken care.
Seattle will go to Buffalo with Matt Hasselbeck having played just two series in exhibition games because of a back problem. And Trent Edwards, the Bills' starter, has played about the same with a thigh injury.
``I mean, ideally, yeah, you'd like to play a little bit more. But the situation is what it is,'' Hasselbeck says. ``I've gone into seasons when I wasn't 100 percent healthy. And if I had to take one or the other, I would take healthy and not as many reps.''
That system certainly works for veterans like Brady, Manning and Hasselbeck. It might not work as well for Edwards, who is in his second season, although he proved as a rookie to be a quick learner.
And it probably doesn't work for the Ravens, who intended to start second-year-man Troy Smith at quarterback, allowing first-round draft pick Joe Flacco to sit and learn. But Smith is out with a tonsil infection, and veteran Kyle Boller injured a shoulder. So it's Flacco, with journeyman Todd Bouman behind him in the opener.
Another QB who needed to cram quickly is Brett Favre, who was so much in the spotlight this summer that the soap opera of his unretirement and trade to the Jets made folks forget that Manning and Brady had injuries.
In New York, Favre has picked up the Jets' offense quickly, stumbling mostly on terminology that differs radically from Green Bay's. He'll start Sunday in Miami against Chad Pennington, cut by the Jets to make room for him. Pennington seems to have learned the Dolphins' offense well; his arm isn't the strongest, but he's one of the smartest QBs in the NFL.
Favre threw just 18 passes in two exhibition games, sitting out the last one - presumably because the coaches figured he'd learned enough. Many teams sat out their QBs and other starters in the finale, yet another reason to curtail the length of the exhibition season.
Roger Goodell has already said he'd like a 17th regular-season game. Look for an 18th, too, at the expense of exhibitions.
It won't be any earlier than 2010 because it has to be part of an agreement with the players union, but it's likely sometime afterward there will be two exhibitions and 18 real games.
It would make fans happier, too. Season ticket holders pay full price for exhibitions, then don't bother to show up. Giants Stadium was only half full for Favre's debut with the Jets and most of the fans left as soon as Brett did, after throwing six passes in two series.
So let teams scrimmage other teams in training camp. Or scrimmage among themselves.
As the NFL's top QBs have demonstrated with offseason workouts and minicamps, exhibition games are nearly irrelevant.
PREDICTION TIME: OK, everyone thinks New England will play Dallas in the Super Bowl - except for one venerable scribe who makes a habit of being a noncomformist and chooses Philadelphia to represent the NFC.
Another less venerable scribe says this:
East: New England, Buffalo, New York Jets, Miami.
The Patriots were 0-4 in preseason without Brady and with Randy Moss barely on the field. But they remain an easy pick over the Bills and Jets. The Bills are like a small-market baseball team (Twins, anyone?) keeping their heads above water by drafting well. Favre and some of the old/new Jets may wear down late. Chad Pennington could help the Dolphins quintuple their wins, which would give them five.
North: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore.
The Steelers are the pick in a division where the winner might go 9-7 because of a killer outside schedule. Cleveland was a popular choice until the exhibitions started and the defensive holes showed up. The Bengals have Carson Palmer, but are again unstable - why, oh why did they re-sign Chris Henry? The Ravens were prepared to start Troy Smith at QB, but his illness could mean Joe Flacco for a while. Neither is close to Ben Roethlisberger or Palmer.
South: Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Houston, Tennessee.
The NFL's second toughest division. Go with the Jaguars after five straight titles for Indy, despite remaining questions at receiver in Jacksonville. Peyton Manning will play, but center Jeff Saturday's injury could hurt the Colts badly. Houston and Tennessee could both finish over .500, but give the edge to the Texans for the same reason to rank Jacksonville over Indy: variety.
West: San Diego and, who cares?
The most one-sided division in the NFL - the Chargers might clinch by Week 10. Shawne Merriman should have his surgery now because he's not needed (although he would be in the playoffs). Denver is always overrated because John Elway once played there and Mike Shanahan is a good coach but a bad judge of personnel. Kansas City is rebuilding. And Al Davis and the coaching staff are fighting, as usual, in Oakland, although JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden will be interesting to watch.

East: Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, Washington.
OK, let's concede the Cowboys their due for the ``13'' Pro Bowlers plus Adam, ``the former Pacman'' Jones. But let's also concede the Giants were not a fluke and, thanks to good drafts, have enough depth to overcome injury, retirement and trades. Philadelphia probably would be favored in any of the other NFC divisions, but needs to augment Brian Westbrook with the No. 1 receiver Donovan McNabb has lacked in non-T.O. seasons. Washington is fair, which isn't enough in this division.
North: Minnesota, Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago.
Even if Aaron Rodgers lives up to his potential for the Packers, it won't happen instantly, which is why Minnesota is the favorite. QB is a question for the Vikings, but Tarvaris Jackson is improving. Detroit seems to be getting better, or at least faster, and Calvin Johnson is a stud. A young QB would help. The Bears' defense is aging and hurt, and the offense could be the league's worst.
South: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta.
The Saints seemingly plugged some defensive holes and the offense has weapons. Not much difference between the Bucs and Panthers, so go with Tampa's defense, especially since the Panthers may be conceding their first two by suspending Steve Smith. Good luck to Matt Ryan, who will learn how to play QB the hard way in Atlanta.
West: Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco, St. Louis.
The Seahawks might be third or fourth in the East but are still solid here. The Cardinals have a lot of star components, but Kurt Warner's ascension over Matt Leinart is a bad sign. The 49ers - Mike Martz specifically - think J.T. O'Sullivan might do what Warner did in St. Louis. Doubtful. Scott Linehan is almost surely a lame duck coach with the Rams.

AFC wild cards: Colts, Bills.
NFC wild cards: Giants, Eagles
Super Bowl: San Diego 34, Minnesota 20.

MVP: Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia
Offensive Player: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Defensive Player: Mario Williams, Houston
Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville
Offensive Rookie: Chris Johnson, Tennessee
Defensive Rookie: Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo
The top six and bottom six teams in the NFL based on last season, preseason form and tea leaves:
1. New York Giants (14-6). Won the Super Bowl, their last real game. Effect of retirement (Strahan), trade (Shockey) and injury (Umenyiora) will probably hurt, but give them their week.
2. New England (18-1). Lost the Super Bowl. Brady hasn't played this summer. Still the Patriots.
3. San Diego (13-6). Even with Merriman playing hurt, the Chargers look strong enough to go deep into the playoffs.
4. Jacksonville (12-6). Everyone likes them. Why not?
5. Dallas (13-4). JJ and ``America's'' fans should shut up: The Giants won even if you think you played better. Too much noise and too many distractions. T.O is likely to end the season in tears again after an NFC title game loss to the Vikings.
6. Minnesota (8-8). Short of Super Bowl level only at QB and receiver. If Jackson shows typical third-year improvement, receiving will get better, too.
27. Chicago (7-9). Never did an aging team do less in the offseason.
28. Baltimore (5-11). Injuries leave it stuck with Flacco as the starter. Trouble.
29. Miami (1-15). Parcells is the major upgrade, but Pennington is better than any Miami QB since Marino, weak arm or not.
30. San Francisco (5-11). Maybe J.T. O'Sullivan is the next Kurt Warner. Probably not.
31. Atlanta (4-12). Matt Ryan will be good someday, and the Dimitroff-Smith combination may someday be Pioli-Belichick. OK, that's a stretch. For now, the Falcons stink.
32. St. Louis (3-13). Yes, worse than Atlanta

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