Forget most of what you may have witnessed over the past month in those NFL exhibition games. Most coaches revealed very little.
The curtain goes up on the 2006 season this Thursday as defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh hosts Miami. In a development over the weekend, the starting quarterback for the Steelers will be Charlie Batch. Normal starter Ben Roethlisberger underwent an emergency appendectomy Sunday and will miss the opener and perhaps Week 2.
Before previewing the opening week games, here’s a forecast for which teams will make the Playoffs and what the Super Bowl matchup and result might be.
NFC East: Best balance in NFL. Expect Philadelphia to bounce back from last year’s turmoil with T.O. The last place finisher could wind up 8-8.
NFC North: Weakest division in NFL. Chicago should repeat as champion, almost by default. Defense more than enough to overcome other three teams.
NFC South: Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta all likely to contend for the playoffs and New Orleans much improved. Carolina should win division.
NFC West: Seattle the team to beat. An improved Arizona team could challenge. Still, the Seahawks win division and end trend of fading Super Bowl runner ups.
NFC Wild Cards: New York Giants and Atlanta edging Arizona and Dallas.
AFC East: New England is rightfully favored. Look for Miami to overtake the Patriots, who start the season with issues at wide receiver and kicker.
AFC North: Improved Baltimore challenges both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for division honors. Bengals repeat if QB Carson Palmer is fully recovered from injury.
AFC South: Two team race between Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The Jags were an unnoticed 12-4 last season but have a few holes to fill. Indy wins division.
AFC West: Well balanced with Oakland improved at the bottom and Denver solid at top. Home field advantage and roster depth has Broncos repeating.
AFC Wild Cards: Baltimore and Jacksonville to make the playoffs, ending New England’s dynastic postseason run.
History suggests that five or six teams from the previous season’s playoffs won’t be back. This forecast has new faces Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami and Baltimore making it.
Super Bowl XLI: Miami vs. Philadelphia with Eagles winning 27-21 to end run of three straight AFC Super Bowl championships.
Here’s a look at Week 1, which features a rather unique Monday night double header. The second game begins after 10 p.m. in the East.
Dolphins PK at Steelers (34Â½): Miami received early betting support before Big Ben had his appendectomy. At pick, the hosts look attractive. Charlie Batch is experienced and familiar with the offense. STEELERS.
Broncos -3Â½ at Rams (46): The Broncos are one of the favorites, while the Rams are rebuilding under new coach Scott Linehan. Both teams have gifted receivers and that should mean plenty of airing it out. OVER.
Jets +3 at Titans (37): Both have major holes on offense and defenses that will be tested. The Jets have a rookie coach in Eric Mangini. Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher is under some pressure to show improvement. Titans somewhat ahead of Jets in rebuilding. TITANS.
Bills +9 at Pats (41): Buffalo has a pair of average quarterbacks with JP Losman getting the nod as starter. New England QB Tom Brady is one of the best, but is without holdout Deion Branch. Defenses and running games emphasized. UNDER.
Ravens +3 at Bucs (34): Baltimore beefed up its offense with the acquisition of ex-Titan QB and former MVP Steve McNair. Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms has shown nice development. Look for more scoring than normal. OVER.
Bengals +3 at Chiefs (46): Bengals had a great 2005 and should be as good or better if QB Carson Palmer stays healthy and defense plays aggressively. KC has always been well prepared to open the season, going 10-2-1 ATS in home openers. CHIEFS.
Seahawks -6 at Lions: Seattle returns a prolific and innovative offense that should test a reconstructed Detroit defense. Ex Rams’ coach Mike Martz is in charge of a Detroit offense that has shown little in preseason. Still, it’s asking a lot of Seattle to win on the road by nearly a touchdown. LIONS.
Falcons +6 at Panthers (41): The Falcons fans still waiting for Michael Vick to develop into a full fledged complete QB. The defense has been upgraded with lineman John Abraham. Carolina is a mature team, but the points are attractive. FALCONS.
Eagles -4Â½ at Texans (38Â½): The Eagles are healthy and QB Donovan McNabb is one of the best. Houston QB David Carr has been hurt by poor protection throughout his entire career. EAGLES.
Saints +3 at Browns (37): The Saints have a new coach and QB (Drew Brees) in addition to the explosive rookie Reggie Bush. There is more continuity in Cleveland. BROWNS.
Cowboys +2Â½ at Jaguars (36):Terrell Owens finally seems ready to play in Dallas. Jaguars have been very stingy in allowing rushing TDs. The Jacksonville offense won’t scare many foes but are well coached and don’t make many mistakes. JAGUARS.
Bears -4 at Packers (35): Bears strong on defense and capable of producing an average of a score a game. Packers defense does appear to be improved. UNDER.
49ers +7Â½ at Cards (42Â½): Arizona should be an offensive juggernaut with a legitimate All Pro running back in Edgerrin James to complement the league’s top passing attack last season. San Francisco has a developing offense. OVER.
Colts -3Â½ at Giants (48Â½): Indy is known for an explosive offense. Giants are solid, well coached and improved on defense. GIANTS.
Vikings +4 at Redskins (35): Washington has the better defense that should contain the Vikings’ developing offense. Gibbs will milk the clock. UNDER.
Chargers -3 at Raiders (43): The Brooks to Moss combination on offense for Oakland will produce big plays. We could see this turn into a shootout. OVER.