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Quick start is a boost for playoffs

The NFL likes to boast about the increase in scoring and offensive fireworks in the 2004 season. There were a record 732 touchdown passes thrown; scoring averaged 43.0 points per game, the 11th straight season with an increase, and there were record numbers of 100-yard rushing and 300-yard passing games. Five quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards.

Despite all that explosive offense, the highest scoring opening game in NFL history occurred 58 years ago. On Sept. 28, 1947, the Philadelphia Eagles held off the Washington Redskins for a 45-42 victory before 35,406 in Philadelphia.

The Eagles reached the championship game that year, but lost to the Cardinals in Chicago, 28-21, proof that winning the season opener is good business. Since 1978 more than half (199 of 378) of opening day winners have gone on to the playoffs. Last season, 11 of the 12 teams that made it to the postseason won their openers. The exception was the Indianapolis Colts, who lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 27-24, then went 12-3 the rest of the way.

Of the teams viewed as likely postseason candidates in 2005, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and the New York Jets face the most difficult opening week hurdles.

The Colts will travel to their old home in Baltimore to take on the Ravens. The Eagles face the Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of last season's NFC title game. The Jets must deal with the Chiefs' high-flying offense and the rabid Arrowhead Stadium crowd in Kansas City.

> Game of the Day

Colts (12-4) at Ravens (9-7)

TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Colts favored by 3 points.

The scoop: Fresh talent via free agency -- WR Derrick Mason and CB Samari Rolle -- fortifies the Ravens. . . . High-powered Colts managed only 20-10 win at home against Ravens last season. . . . DT Corey Simon makes debut in Indy defense.

Outlook: Indy still has too much firepower for the Birds. Colts, 27-20.

> Top attractions

Jets (10-6) at Chiefs (7-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs by 3.

The scoop: Only Peyton Manning has thrown for more yards than Chiefs QB Trent Green since 2002, and TE Tony Gonzalez led the NFL with 102 receptions in '04. . . . Rookie LB Derrick Johnson and ex-Dolphin CB Patrick Surtain are supposed to make KC tougher on defense.

Outlook: Most entertaining game of week. Chiefs, 30-23.

Eagles (13-3) at Falcons (11-5)

TV: Ch. 7, Monday, 9 p.m.

The line: Eagles by 1 1/2 .

The scoop: Eagles defeated Falcons, 27-10, in NFC championship game last January. . . . Philly is 32-16 on the road under Andy Reid. . . . Atlanta QB Michael Vick completed only 11 of 24 for 136 yards in title game last year.

Outlook: T.O. distraction won't bother Eagles. Philly, 20-10.

Cowboys (6-10) at Chargers (12-4)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Chargers by 4 1/2 .

The scoop: Drew Bledsoe debuts as 'Boys QB. Dallas also will unveil prize rookie defenders Marcus Spears and Demarcus Ware. . . . Surprisingly, Bill Parcells (6-10) has lost more season openers than any active NFL coach. . . . Marty Schottenheimer of the Chargers has 11-7 opening day record.

Outlook: Drew struggles on road again. Chargers, 20-15.

Titans (5-11) at Steelers (15-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers by 7.

The scoop: Only a shell remains of what used to be a Super Bowl team in salary-cap ravaged Tennessee. . . . Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 13-0 as NFL starter in regular season. . . . Steelers start Willie Parker at RB with Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis ailing.

Outlook: Routine Steeler win, 20-14.

Buccaneers (5-11) at Vikings (8-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings by 6.

The scoop: Bucs rebuilding with youngsters like rookie RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and WR Mark Clayton. . . . Vikes add ex-Bill Pat Williams and ex-Packer Darren Sharper on defense. . . . Bucs gave up 20 points or more in half their games last season.

Outlook: Tampa Bay not that bad. Vikings, 16-13.

Cardinals (6-10) at Giants (6-10)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Giants by 3

The scoop: Last season, Cards won, 17-14, at home in November, then lost to Giants, 17-13, in Meadowlands in December. . . . Ex-Giant Kurt Warner gets first start for Arizona. Eli Manning opens season as Giants QB.

Outlook: Giants, 24-21.

Seahawks (9-7) at Jaguars (9-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jaguars by 3.

The scoop: First of six trips to Eastern and Central time zones for Seattle, which will travel 35,930 miles this season. . . . Jags are 7-2 in last nine openers.

Outlook: Jax, 28-17.

> Best of the rest

Broncos (10-6) at Dolphins (4-12)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Broncos by 4 1/2 .

The scoop: Broncos (0-6) never have won in Miami. . . . Nick Saban makes debut as Dolphins coach. . . . Denver was only team to go unbeaten in preseason.

Outlook: Dolphin defense comes through, 17-16.

Texans (7-9) at Bills (9-7)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Bills by 5 1/2 .

The scoop: J.P. Losman's much anticipated debut for Bills. . . . Texans are 2-1 in openers and won in their only appearance in Orchard Park.

Outlook: Defense lets Bills sneak off with 13-10 win.

Saints (8-8) at Panthers (7-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers by 7.

The scoop: Saints finished 2004 with four straight wins, including season-ending, 21-18 triumph at Carolina and are 24-16 as road team under Jim Haslett. . . . Carolina WR Stephen Smith and RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster healthy.

Outlook: Saints have too many distractions. Carolina, 27-17.

Rams (8-8) at 49ers (2-14)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Rams by 6.

The scoop: Mike Nolan debuts as SF coach. . . . St. Louis QB Marc Bulger is 26-10 as starter in NFL. . . . Rams have won four of last five in series. . . . Tim Rattay gets start at QB for Niners ahead of No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith.

Outlook: Niners play inspired opener at home. SF, 28-27.

Packers (10-6) at Lions (6-10)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Lions by 3.

The scoop: Brett Favre (46 career TD passes, 31 INTs) usually feasts on Lions. Green Bay has won eight of last nine from Detroit.

Outlook: Packers underdogs in this one? Favre isn't finished yet. GBay, 31-17.

Bears (5-11) at Redskins (6-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Redskins by 6.

The scoop: Redskins coach Joe Gibbs only 6-7 in openers, but is 124-63 (.663) otherwise in regular season games.

Outlook: Defense keeps Chicago close. Redskins, 13-9.

> Dog of the week

Bengals (8-8) at Browns (4-12)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals by 3 1/2 .

The scoop: Former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel makes debut as Cleveland coach. . . . Teams played second-highest scoring game in NFL history when they last met (Nov. 28, 2004), with Bengals winning, 58-48. Trent Dilfer will start at QB but Cleveland fans want rookie Charlie Frye.

Outlook: Carson Palmer and his receivers and Rudi Johnson will be too much for Browns. Cincy, 37-20.


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