10 Spot: '09 surprise? Watch Redskins
This must be the season of the do-over. Just as any punter who hits the scoreboard at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium will have to do over his punt, I had to do over this report.
Let me explain. After a Labor Day spent laboring, this column was all but done. But when I awakened at 4 a.m. Wednesday to tweak it and file it, my computer would not turn on.
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1. For starters: All games are not created equal. There's something about the season's first game that seems to carry more weight than others. Even the numbers bear it out. Since 1978, when the NFL went to the 16-game schedule -- and excluding the strike-shortened season of 1982 -- teams that win on Kickoff Weekend are more than twice as likely to reach the playoffs than losers of an opening game. Of the 442 teams that have won openers since 1978, 233 went to the playoffs and 136 won division titles. Of the 442 teams that lost openers since 1978, 103 went to the playoffs and 58 won division titles. Teams do play them one at a time. But the one on Kickoff Weekend carries some big-time significance.
The Browns have the longest division title drought in the league, dating to 1989, when the team was part of the AFC Central. (The franchise was inactive 1996-98.)
2. LeBron's team: As if it weren't bad enough that LeBron James would even consider leaving Cleveland, the state must deal with the fact that the Browns have the longest current division title drought in the NFL, dating to 1989, when the team was a part of the AFC Central. The Browns' franchise was inactive from 1996 to '98, and that certainly didn't help. But when the franchise has been active, it hasn't helped itself much. Forget about the Browns winning a Super Bowl -- it would be nice even to see them win a division title. They get the chance to start their work Sunday against Eric Mangini's former quarterback, Brett Favre, and the Minnesota Vikings.
3. Restore the roar? Friday represented the 628th straight day that the Detroit Lions have failed to win a regular-season game. Surprising New Orleans might be one of the Lions' best chances to win in the season's first six weeks, but it's not likely. Here's Detroit's early-season schedule: at New Orleans, Minnesota, Washington, at Chicago, Pittsburgh, at Green Bay. It's tough to find a victory anywhere before the Lions' bye on Oct. 25, which makes Nov. 1 at St. Louis an intriguing matchup. However, nothing goes as expected in the NFL. Somewhere along the way, the Lions will pull an upset, but it's tough to see where.
5. Iron man: Eric Mangini named his third son, Zack Brett Mangini, after his quarterback last season, Brett Favre. Yet here's how insensitive Mangini can be: He will do his best to harass and punish the man who helped give one of his boys his name. Mangini has no choice. Favre has a broken rib, a torn rotator cuff and other aches and pains that are too much for OTC ibuprofen. As will every coach who faces Favre, Mangini is going to do his best to ruin Favre's comeback and make him regret it.
6. Arms race: Used to be that the NFC North's quarterbacks were Favre and some journeymen. But now, with Favre in Minnesota, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Jay Cutler in Chicago and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, the NFC North might have the best collection of quarterbacks of any division in football. If nothing else, it might have the four strongest arms ever to play in one division -- and that doesn't include the arm strength of Detroit's Daunte Culpepper and Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson. This weekend, Favre gets the Browns, Stafford gets the Saints, Cutler gets Rodgers and the Midwest can sit back and enjoy.
8. Giant collision: Of all the enduring images from Kickoff Weekend last season, none was any more enduring than Giants running back Brandon Jacobs steamrolling Redskins safety LaRon Landry. It was bug meets windshield -- splat! In an effort to prevent a repeat and to slow opposing running games, the Redskins invested $41 million in guaranteed money in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and their No. 1 pick in pass-rushing linebacker Brian Orakpo. Now Haynesworth, Orakpo, Landry and the league's most underrated defense get their crack at Jacobs and the Giants. And don't be surprised to see Washington be one of this season's surprise teams.
9. Up front: Questions abound about the Eagles' offensive line. Can left tackle Jason Peters play the way he did in 2007 instead of 2008? Can right tackle Shawn Andrews' back hold up all season? Can the knee of right guard Stacy Andrews -- Shawn's brother -- make it through the season? Can center Jamaal Jackson prove the Eagles wrong for looking into replacing him in the offseason? Lots of questions up front. It's great that the Eagles signed quarterback Michael Vick and drafted wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy. But the shiny rims won't mean anything if the engine doesn't work.
10. For starters: The phrase "must win" almost never should be used, especially early in the season. But it's OK for the Cowboys to refer to it. They must win now because they have struggled to win later. Dallas has lost the last game of the season nine straight years. Knowing of their late-season struggles, it's imperative the Cowboys start fast. They get the chance Sunday at Tampa Bay, followed by back-to-back home games against the Giants and Panthers, before road games at Denver and Kansas City. If the Cowboys can't go at least 4-1, owner Jerry Jones might want yet another do-over -- just like the one used to finish up this season's initial 10 Spot.
The Schef's Specialties
Game of the week: Chicago at Green Bay. No teams have met more than these two. This is the 177th --177th! -- meeting between these Midwest neighbors.
Player of the week: Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson. Something tells me LT is dying to say, "Told you so."
Upset of the week: The Redskins over the Giants. Washington is better than people realize, especially if Jason Campbell plays the way he did in the last part of the preseason.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.
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