They’re leaping again at Lambeau

Aug 16, 2005 6:18 AM

Football is a violent, punishing game. The athletes who play are generally in great shape, well conditioned and having great reflexes. They have to be in order to continually take the physical pounding that defines the game and makes it so attractive to the public.

The greatest fear of anyone affiliated with the NFL is a devastating preseason injury that all but ends or seriously damages a team’s prospects for the coming season. Almost every summer several key starters are lost for extended periods of time, if not the season, — due to preseason injury, be it in a game or in training camp.

Thus far we have seen two major injuries of note.

Philadelphia has lost wide receiver Todd Pinkston for the season. Combine that with the off season release of Freddie Mitchell (now with Kansas City) and the circus that has become Terrell Owens and the Eagles have major concerns. The team that was clearly the NFC’s best last season — finally winning the conference title in a fourth straight appearance — faces a cluster of injuries and losses at key positions.

Chicago has also suffered a major blow as QB Rex Grossman was injured in the Bears preseason opener. After missing most of last season due to injury, Grossman was expected to key a resurgence for a team that relied on a solid defense to keep them competitive.

Perhaps the Eagles and Bears can take some solace from the fact that these losses have occurred early in the preseason. There is still ample time to scour the waiver wires and make other adjustments in training camp to deal with these setbacks. But it does render obsolete much of the offseason planning that revolved around these key players.

Here’s a look at this week’s preseason games, again keeping in mind that the most useful information generally comes from coaches’ press conferences in the days leading up to the games.

Thursday, Aug. 18

Saints +4 at Patriots (39): New Orleans look unprepared and played uninspired ball in losing last week to Seattle. New England got better than expected play from backup QB Matt Cassel. The Patriots are still the class of the league in every facet and that includes their approach to preparing for the season. PATRIOTS.

Friday, Aug. 19

Titans +4½ at Falcons (38½): Both teams appear to be stronger on offense preparing for the regular season. Both have questions about their defenses. Each team has capable backup quarterbacks, who should see the majority of the action this week. OVER.

Vikings +1 at Jets (39): Jets QB Chad Pennington is being brought along slowly this summer, creating more chances for the backups to get more reps. Minnesota is adjusting to the loss of WR Randy Moss, which involves improving the rushing game. The Vikings are also expecting major improvements from their defense. UNDER.

Bengals +3 at Redskins (37): Cincinnati is improving and poised to make a run at the playoffs this season. As such they are more involved in tweaking and fine tuning than overhauling. Washington is still seeking an identity, especially on offense, and is more likely to aggressively approach this game. SKINS.

Saturday, Aug. 20

Browns +6 at Lions (37): Detroit is much closer to being a playoff team than is Cleveland. However, the Lions need to work more on finishing off drives. Cleveland’s defense is largely being rebuilt. LIONS.

Packers +5½ at Bills (37): The Bills have a solid defense and potentially potent offense, but need to give new starting QB J.P. Losman experience in game conditions. Green Bay working on solidifying the offense line and grooming Aaron Rodgers as a successor to Brett Favre. OVER.

Jaguars +3 at Bucs (35): Both teams appear much more settled on defense than on offense. Their last three preseason meetings have produced 20, 16 and 20 total points. Need we say more about the approaches taken by the coaches in this instate rivalry? UNDER.

Dolphins (NL) at Steelers: Miami is playing its third game in less than two weeks. Reports from training camp have not been positive about how quickly the offense is adapting to new coach Nick Saban’s system. Pittsburgh just played Monday night and have some injury concerns. Expect a conservatively played game. UNDER.

Raiders +1 at Texans (38½): Oakland is going to be a big play, quick strike offense this season with a better complimentary running game. Houston has shown steady improvement in its first three seasons, especially on offense where QB David Carr has become a team leader. We should see more points from both offenses this week. OVER.

Panthers PK at Giants (36½): There’s an old axiom in sports betting that says to ride a streak as long as it continues since you can only lose once. Might as well pile up several wins while the streak continues. Carolina has won and covered 10 straight preseason games dating back to 2002. PANTHERS.

Eagles (NL) at Ravens: Philadelphia played in Pittsburgh on Monday night and should place a major emphasis on solving its receiver woes. Baltimore is looking to upgrade the offense to compliment one of the league’s top defenses. OVER.

Bears +6½ at Colts (39½): Chicago needs to find a new starting QB with vet Chad Hutchinson battling rookie Kyle Orton. The Colts are given the best chance by many to unseat New England as Super Bowl champs. Indy will treat the entire preseason as barely more than scrimmages. BEARS.

Cards +4½ at Chiefs (41): Both teams have solid talent on offense yet neither was very productive on the scoreboard last weekend. Both teams also have major concerns on defense, which should allow for better execution by the offenses. OVER.

49ers +7 at Broncos (38): San Francisco is a team in the building stage of a team’s life cycle. Denver is a veteran team looking to make minor adjustments to what has been successful in recent seasons. The 49ers are likely to give the more spirited effort with more jobs up for grabs under first season coach Mike Nolan. A TD is a huge line for preseason. 49ERS.

Sunday, Aug. 21

Rams +5½ at Chargers (39): San Diego may have more of a QB battle taking place than is generally thought with Phillip Rivers pushing Drew Brees. St. Louis is a veteran club with most positions decided. Development of depth is more of a priority, especially involving the intricacies of coach Mike Martz’ offense. OVER.

Monday, Aug. 22

Cowboys +3 at Seahawks (38): Dallas coach Bill Parcells has historically been a solid preseason coach. He has especially been successful after a loss, using the week of practice to ride his team hard. Seattle looked very sharp in rolling New Orleans last week as backup QB Seneca Wallace enjoyed a strong game. Both teams need to develop depth at running back. UNDER.

Last week: 10-4-1