- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Each week, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate a football issue. This week: How will New England (Tom Brady) and San Diego (Shawne Merriman) fare without two of their star players?

Dan Daly: Any time a team loses a superstar, it has to reinvent itself. In the Patriots’ case, they have to run the ball more — so Matt Cassel can settle in and not feel overwhelmed. Becoming more of a ball-control club also will keep the defense fresher; that’s crucial because the Patriots will have to rely on that unit more. They aren’t going to score 589 points again without Brady. For the Chargers it’s just the opposite. They’re going to have to open up their offense because the “D,” without Merriman, won’t be able to shut people down the way it used to. I’d be surprised if New England didn’t win 10 or 11 games and make the playoffs. They’re just too solid. As for San Diego, I think they still will win the AFC West. Heck, they did last season even with Philip Rivers having a down year.

Ryan O’Halloran: As long as Randy Moss remains a team player (always a question mark considering he never has worked with Cassel and there are bound to be some growing pains) and Laurence Maroney remains healthy, the Patriots remain a viable pick to win the AFC East and make a playoff run, although I think their Super Bowl chances have gone in the trash. Barring other huge injuries, New England will reach 10 wins. The Chargers, on the other hand, are in trouble. If LaDainian Tomlinson gets injured — and he’s already banged up with a bad toe — San Diego is cooked because I don’t think Philip Rivers is the kind of quarterback who can lead an entire team for more than a few games at a time. Granted, Oakland is an embarrassment to the NFL, but Denver looked pretty impressive in its Monday night thumping, so the Broncos are my pick to win the AFC West over a Merriman-less Chargers team.

DD: You’re right about the Chargers being so reliant on Tomlinson — much more than the Patriots are on any one player (now that Brady is out). If he misses much time, forget it. On the other hand, their division is so weak. The Broncos might be better because Jay Cutler is better but enough to overtake San Diego? To me, that’s a stretch. As far as the Patriots are concerned, to anyone who would count them out, I would just say this: Theirs was only the first big injury. It certainly won’t be the last.

RO: Even by NFL standards, the attrition so far has been incredible, and as the weeks go along and more players fall by the wayside, the complexion of each conference will evolve further. This year possibly more than most could be a season of not the best team winning but the healthiest.

FRIDAY’S FIVE

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco became the first rookies to start at quarterback in Week 1 since 2005. Both won their first games. Before them, 13 had started since 1982. Here’s the top five based on their careers:

1. John Elway, Denver (1983): Two-time Super Bowl winner who is in Canton after going 148-82-1 in the regular season. He was 1-for-18 for 14 yards (and sacked four times) in first start.

2. Troy Aikman, Dallas (1989): He didn’t win a game his rookie year, going 0-11, but was in the playoffs by his third year and a Super Bowl champion by his fourth year. A Hall of Famer who went 94-71.

3. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (1998): Went 3-13 as a rookie and threw 28 interceptions but was 13-3 by Year 2 and has complied a 105-56 record with one Super Bowl title.

4. Drew Bledsoe, New England (1993): The only one of the top four to appear in games for more than one team. He won 98 games for the Patriots, Dallas and Buffalo and threw 251 touchdowns.

5. Jeff George, Indianapolis (1990): Quite the drop off from the top four, isn’t it? Played for five teams and was 46-78. Was 1-6 as the Redskins’ starter in 2000-01.

WEEKEND PICKS

REDSKINS THIS WEEK

SAINTS (1-0) AT REDSKINS (1-0)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 5, 45

Line: Even

Outlook: New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston (wrist) is out, which helps the Redskins’ defense. But there are still issues to be dealt with, chiefly pressuring Drew Brees and containing Deuce McAllister and Jeremy Shockey. Look for Brees to establish Shockey early on.

The pick: Saints 27-20.

GAME OF THE WEEK

EAGLES (1-0) AT COWBOYS (1-0)

Monday, 8:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Line: Dallas by 6½

Outlook: The teams combined for 1,009 yards and 64 points in blowout wins to set up an early season showdown. Philadelphia has won three out of the last four years at Texas Stadium. But Dallas’ offense made things look easy last week at Cleveland.

The pick: Cowboys 34-27.

UPSET WATCH

BILLS (1-0) AT JAGUARS (0-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Line: Jacksonville by 6

Outlook: The Jaguars didn’t just lose at Tennessee in Week 1; they were depleted physically. Already without their center, Jacksonville lost two other starters. The Jaguars’ running game gained only 33 yards on 17 carries. Buffalo, meanwhile, has to believe it has a shot in the Tom Brady-less AFC East.

The pick: Bills 17-12.

THIS WEEK’S LOCK

PACKERS (1-0) AT LIONS (0-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Line: Green Bay by 2

Outlook: It was quite the debut for quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Monday night. He started the post Brett Favre era by going 18-for-22 for 178 yards. Even though they have the short week, the Packers will benefit from playing the downtrodden Lions.

The pick: Packers 35-14.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

A look each week at one statistic and whether it was the difference between winning and losing. First up is rushing attempts:

33.6

Carries averaged by the 16 winning teams last week, compared with 21.8 for the losing teams. The teams that rushed more than their opponents were 15-1. Only Minnesota lost while posting more rushes than its opponent.

INSIDE THE AFC

• Nice debut for Denver receiver Eddie Royal, who attended Westfield High School and Virginia Tech. The fifth receiver taken in the second round, Royal made nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown against Oakland.

• Cleveland should petition the league to start 2009 on the road. Since returning to the NFL, the Browns have played Week 1 at home each year and are 1-9 and have been outscored 239-122.

• Cincinnati doesn’t exactly have NFL fever. The Bengals’ home opener against Tennessee has yet to sell out. One local ticker broker is hawking $64 upper-deck seats for $38. One fan said she bought a similar ticket on eBay for $29.

• The key for Indianapolis is having a healthy Peyton Manning but not to overuse him. Manning threw 49 times last week against Chicago, making the Colts’ record 2-16 when he has to throw more than 45 times.

• The Colts didn’t waste any time getting rid of a malcontent, releasing defensive tackle Ed Johnson a day after he was arrested on a drug possession charge.

“Ed was well aware that his past history required him to be in complete compliance with club rules,” general manager Bill Polian said. “Unfortunately, he chose to violate those rules.”

• Baltimore is expected to have Willis McGahee’s services Sunday at Houston. Out since left knee surgery last month, McGahee watched the Ravens rush for 229 yards last week. The Texans allowed 183 rushing yards to Pittsburgh.

INSIDE THE NFC

• Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks has started 193 straight games, longest of any current defensive player. But he remains questionable with a right hamstring injury.

• Up seven points late in the win over San Francisco, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt went for it on fourth-and-1 from the San Francisco 27 even though a field goal would have sealed the game. The Cardinals converted and are 14-for-17 under Whisenhunt.

• Good start for the Bears, who scored nine defensive points and got 123 rushing yards from Matt Forte. He was the first rookie to start at running back for Chicago since Walter Payton in 1975.

• Here’s how bad the 49ers’ offense was last year: Their 291 yards last week was more than all but two of their games in 2007.

• Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden gave Jeff Garcia exactly one week as the starter. Garcia injured his ankle at New Orleans, but Gruden has replaced him with Brian Griese for Sunday’s game against Atlanta. “When I left here in 2005, I had really unfinished business, the way I look at it,” Griese said. “It hurt when I was injured and didn’t have the chance to come back because I knew we had a good team. That stung. Ever since, I’ve wanted to come back and finish that.”

• No team was worse last week than St. Louis, which host Philadelphia destroyed 38-3. And the Rams will be big underdogs against the Giants. Still, quarterback Marc Bulger said: “I love being back here because I want to prove we’re not that bad.”

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