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Is it my imagination, or are they using a livelier football in the NFL this season?

In an era when major-league baseball scores are getting more and more like football scores, it looks like the NFL is upping the ante.

On opening day, I had the feeling of being on trial and repeatedly hearing the words, "The defense rests."

So this week we have a game between two teams (Indianapolis and New England) that scored 61 points between them and a game between two teams (Cleveland and Tennessee) that gave up a total of 78 points in Week One.

That sound you hear is me ripping my preseason notes to shreds.

Things are off to such a strange start that this week's best matchup is the Colts at the Patriots, both coming off upset victories.

The only other games between teams that escaped opening day with a win feature Green Bay at Detroit and Arizona at Miami.

Everyone knows the Patriots won because Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury during their game last week. The Colts won because the Achilles' heel of the Bills, their offensive line, didn't show up.

The other thing we know is that no matter how poorly the Bills played, there's no denying that Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is the real thing.

Ignore the fact that the Colts have lost six straight games to the Patriots. Manning and a vastly improved defense make the Colts a better team than the Pats this year. Take the Colts and the 4 1/2 points.

Speaking of injured quarterbacks, Brett Favre's passing hand was bandaged earlier this week after a close encounter with an opponent's helmet, and although he is too tough to sit out a game, he will be hampered against the Lions.

The Lions were surprising winners at Seattle, while the Packers struggled at home to beat Oakland. The perennially superior Packers have lost two games in a row to the Lions and five of their last six. The Lions will cover the six-point spread, win or lose.

The Cardinals, led by another injured quarterback, Jake Plummer, managed a one-point, come-from-behind victory at Philadelphia. This week they go to Miami to take on a Dolphins team that looked like the real deal against Denver.

Give as many points as you have to and take the Dolphins. They can run, they can pass, and their defense can hurt people.

Best bet

Jacksonville delivered a message with a 41-3 pounding of San Francisco. Quarterback Mark Brunell completed 22 of 30 passes. Running back Fred Taylor only rushed for 74 yards and is listed as questionable with a foot injury, but Carolina can't compete with the Jaguars, and the nine-point spread won't help the Panthers. Run with the Jaguars as long as you can.

Best of the rest

The Bills can't really be as bad as they looked in Indianapolis. The Jets definitely are in trouble. There has to be some good reason the view from Las Vegas makes the Bills 4 1/2 -point favorites. I have more faith in the Vegas line than the Bills' line, so I have to take the Bills. . . . Until further notice, back any team that plays the Browns. That means the Titans are a wonderful bet even as 16-point favorites. . . . Seattle was my best bet last week and lost to the Lions. Quarterback Jon Kitna had a fine day. Now the Seahawks need to find a running game. Nevertheless, I like their chances as four-point favorites over the Bears. . . . Dallas pulled off a miracle comeback against Washington and plays host to Atlanta. The Falcons are due to bounce back, but they can't do it without quarterback Chris Chandler, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury. That's why the Cowboys are six-point favorites and I am picking them.

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