Best, worst NFL matchups of 2009
Each year, loyal reader E.M. Beau of Palo Alto, Calif., saves this story for future reference. He (or she, I don’t know what the initials mean) likes to look back at what I wrote and point out idiotic remarks I’ve made at this time as the importance of certain games inevitably change.
And for those of you like Beau, save away. When it turns out that San Francisco at St. Louis on Jan. 3 is actually a battle of a 14-1 team against a 15-0 team, I’ll gladly eat my words. That’s because, like this column, most words on the Internet have no real substance.
Onward we go for a look at the best and worst games of the 2009 season:
Worst: Denver at Cincinnati – The big-armed Cutler against strong-armed Carson Palmer … oh wait, that’s right, Cutler isn’t around for what would have been a great showdown of guys who can make any throw you want. Instead, this is the beginning of a rough year for the Broncos.
Best: New York Giants at Dallas – Cowboys owner Jerry Jones opens up a stadium fit for Texas in the second week of the season with a doozy against division rival New York. These teams will knock the stuffing out of each other.
Worst: Arizona at Jacksonville – Much was made last season of Arizona’s regular-season problems on the East Coast (0-5 with three games in which they allowed 47 or more). This game won’t be a problem for the Cardinals, who might put up 40 or more on the depleted Jaguars.
Best: Atlanta at New England – Former Patriots personnel man and current Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff brings his team, led by former Boston College QB Matt Ryan, to face the mighty Pats. Assuming Tom Brady is healthy, this could be really fun.
Worst: Green Bay at St. Louis – Here’s a hunch that the Packers are going to be really good this season, particularly on defense with Dom Capers running the show. By contrast, the Rams are in a serious state of transition and the early going isn’t going to be fun for new coach Steve Spagnuolo.
Best: New York Jets at New Orleans – All head coaches have a certain mad scientist side to them. Sean Payton of New Orleans and Rex Ryan of the Jets are no exceptions. Payton is an offensive schemer of the highest order and loves to throw. Ryan is his defensive counterpart.
Worst: Tennessee at Jacksonville – I can hear the Jaguar fans already – all four of you – complaining about how the Jags are in the worst category in two of the first four weeks. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But the real downer about this game is that neither team has a receiver worth watching. Talk about a cure for insomnia.
Best: Washington at Carolina – This is the game where Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth is going to have to earn his keep. The Panthers have the best running back duo in the league in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Haynesworth will have to be worth every dollar of that $41 million he got guaranteed.
Worst: Oakland at New York Giants – The NFL record for sacks in a game is 12, done many times and most recently by the Giants in 2007 on their way to a title. In this game, look for Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell to end up on his back plenty of times.
Best: Buffalo at N.Y. Jets – This will be Buffalo RB Marshawn Lynch’s third game back from a three-game suspension, and he should be back to form after shaking off the rust. Combined with QB Trent Edwards, WRs Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, the Bills have the makings of an exciting offense to go against New York’s defense, which should be good.
Worst: Denver at San Diego – Again, this is going to be a rough year for Denver, particularly against some division foes that would like to embarrass confident rookie coach Josh McDaniels. Look for this one to be ugly early.
Best: Arizona at New York Giants – Kurt Warner is returning to where his career started to go south earlier this decade. As long as the Cardinals’ receiving corps is healthy, this will be a fair fight.
Worst: New England at Tampa Bay – Bill Belichick isn’t a man who believes much in sympathy, which is going to mean a long, ugly day for Bucs rookie coach Raheem Morris and the defense he’s rebuilding.
Best: Carolina at Arizona – I should be banned for putting the Cardinals in the best game of the week twice in a season. But the Cardinals are for real, at least for one more season as Warner holds on. This is a rematch of two interesting games these teams played last season, the second being in the playoffs.
Worst: Houston at Buffalo – Just a hunch here, but between brittle QBs Matt Schaub of Houston and Edwards of Buffalo, there’s a good chance that one or even both of these teams will be playing with a backup.
Best: San Diego at New York Giants – Chargers GM A.J. Smith still holds a grudge over the snub that Eli Manning gave to the Chargers in the 2004 draft and would like nothing more than to rub Manning’s nose in it. If the Chargers are healthy, this game could be awesome.
Worst: Dallas at Philadelphia – What could I possibly be thinking? OK, just follow me for a second. It’s a shame that Terrell Owens isn’t part of this game anymore. Eagles fans used to come up with so many great signs and taunts for Owens that it was worth the price of admission for them alone. I just have an empty feeling about this game.
Nov. 15 Best: Philadelphia at San Diego – Just a gut feeling, but if you’re a betting man, take the over. This one could be a track meet, with the final score being something like 45-42. Last team with the ball wins.
Worst: Tampa Bay at Miami – I couldn’t find the record for the game that took the shortest amount of real time to play, but this could set a record because the Dolphins do everything they can to work the clock. And it’s not like the Bucs are going to be a great threat by this time.
Best: Indianapolis at Baltimore – The Colts figure to have a comfortable lead in the AFC South by this time of the season, but there’s nothing Colts QB Peyton Manning likes about playing against the Ravens. Particularly in Baltimore. One of the best offenses against one of the best defenses.
Worst: Cincinnati at Oakland – What’s more likely to have happened by this time of the season: Chad Johnson will be suspended by the Bengals for something silly or Raiders coach Tom Cable will have been fired? Tough call.
Best: Pittsburgh at Baltimore – The best defenses in the league duke it out again. Every one of the three games from last season was terrific to watch if you like big hitting. And everybody likes big hits.
Worst: Jacksonville at San Francisco – The 49ers are once again deluding themselves into thinking that they have the magical answer, this time in the form of coach Mike Singletary. But with that offense they’re planning to run, even the lowly Jaguars will have a chance to win this game.
Best: New England at Miami – Either the Dolphins are going to be in the race for the AFC East, and this will be a good game or they will have switched to second-year quarterback Chad Henne over Chad Pennington. Under either scenario, it will be fun to watch how they matchup with the Patriots.
Worst: Detroit at Cincinnati – The only question going into this game will be which wide receiver named Johnson (Calvin or Chad) will have wasted more of his career playing for these abysmal franchises.
Best: Carolina at New England – Call this one the Julius Peppers Bowl. Either Peppers will be playing for a team he wants to be with (the Patriots), or he’ll be playing for the team that can’t afford to let him go (the Panthers).
Worst: Denver at Indianapolis – There once was upon a time that these teams would have a wild, high-scoring game that would end up something like 38-35. Count on one of these teams to score in that range this time around, but it won’t be the Broncos.
Best: Chicago at Baltimore – Hopefully, the Bears will have given QB Jay Cutler a couple of real receivers to work with. If so, Cutler will have a fair shot to display his amazingly quick release and his ability to avoid a sack.
Worst: Cleveland at Kansas City – By this time of the season, reporters covering this game will be stretching to build some drama about the matchup of Chiefs GM Scott Pioli against Browns coach Eric Mangini, who were part of the ugly Spygate feud. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but that’s all there is.
Best: Carolina at New York Giants – A rematch of the dramatic overtime game from the end of last season. Should be fun again.
Worst: Tampa Bay at New Orleans – At least one, if not both, of these teams will be mailing it in by the end of this season. My bet is on both.
Best: Philadelphia at Dallas – Call me crazy since I called this game one of the worst matchups earlier in the season because of T.O.’s absence. This time, however, look for both teams to be in the playoff hunt and for Cowboys coach Wade Phillips to be under huge pressure. A devastating loss in Jerry Jones’ new football palace would be the stuff of soap operas.
San Francisco at St. Louis – Like I said, for all I know, this game will feature a 15-0 vs. a 14-1. But I’m willing to bet that by this time, these teams don’t have 14 wins, combined.