- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

The NFL's 82nd opening weekend is really about discovering just how the league might stack up this season. Remember that in last year's openers we learned that eventual Super Bowl winner Baltimore, which shut out Pittsburgh 16-0, had a terrific defense and that defending champion St. Louis, which edged Denver 41-36, didn't. We also found out that Philadelphia was back and Dallas was doomed as the Eagles throttled the host Cowboys, 41-14.

All told, only three of the eventual 12 playoff teams including the Rams, who got two touchdowns from record-breaking scorer Marshall Faulk lost their openers.

Emotions will be especially high today in Kansas City, where ex-St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil has returned from a one-year retirement to lead the Chiefs against their longtime rivals from Oakland; San Diego, where former Washington coach Norv Turner, the Chargers' offensive coordinator, will test his old team now guided by Marty Schottenheimer, back from a two-year television sabbatical; and Minnesota, which meets Carolina in its first regular-season game since the death of beloved offensive tackle Korey Stringer during training camp.

• Rams-Eagles: Today's best game probably will be in Philadelphia, where the Eagles, 11-5 upstarts of a year ago, take on the Rams. Led by end Hugh Douglas and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, the Eagles allowed the NFC's fewest points in 2000 (245) while the Rams of Faulk, quarterback Kurt Warner and receivers Issac Bruce and Torry Holt, scored the third-most ever (540).

Do-everything Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb runner-up to Faulk in last year's MVP voting points to the 1999 finale, which the Eagles won 38-31, as the turning point for his team. But with the home-field advantage clinched, Faulk and Warner didn't play in the second half that day, so St. Louis wasn't going all out.

Eagles center Bubba Miller is out for the season, and the hosts' cause won't be helped by Troy Vincent's ailing right knee that has the Pro Bowl cornerback listed as questionable. If Vincent can't go, Al Harris (17 career starts) and Jason Bostic (none) will join veteran Bobby Taylor in trying to cover Bruce, Holt and blazer Az-Zahir Hakim. Meanwhile, St. Louis' seven new defensive starters, including rookies Damione Lewis at left tackle and Adam Archuleta at strong safety, will try to control the elusive McNabb.

• Giants-Broncos: It's the first game for the Broncos in Invesco Field after 41 years in Mile High Stadium. It's the first game for the Giants as defending NFC champions. But the big question tomorrow night in Denver will be, who's going to start at halfback for the home team?

Apparently it will be Terrell Davis although the 1998 MVP had the worst preseason numbers (an average of 4.0 yards on 19 carries after missing two games with knee and hamstring woes) of the three contenders. Olandis Gary, who filled in so well for the injured Davis in 1999 and who averaged 4.4 yards on 34 carries last month, is supposed to be the backup. And Mike Anderson, who sparkled as a rookie last season after Davis and Gary went down and who averaged 4.6 yards on 49 preseason carries, is scheduled for special teams duty.

"Until the champion is knocked out, it's still his title," Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner explained of the decision to go with Davis, who ranks fifth all-time behind Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson and John Riggins with 10 rushing touchdowns in just 11 Monday night games.

New York is eager to win a big game to help erase the memory of its 34-7 whipping by Baltimore in the Super Bowl seven-plus months ago. The 38-9 thrashing by the Ravens in the preseason finale merely reinforced that desire for the Giants, who will play only one sub-.500 team from last year (7-9 Kansas City) during their grueling first eight games.

• Dolphins-Titans: Tennessee knows just how New York feels about Baltimore. The Titans have lost two games in their two years in Adelphia Coliseum both to the Ravens last season, including the second-round playoff loss. Coach Jeff Fisher and Co. can't wait for the first Baltimore rematch Oct. 7, but first they must face Miami today and then Cincinnati and Jacksonville.

Both the Titans (ends Jerome Kearse and Kevin Carter, safety Blaine Bishop) and Dolphins (end Jason Taylor, linebacker Zach Thomas and cornerback Sam Madison) have tough, star-studded defenses. Tennessee hasn't allowed a touchdown in its last 183:11 of regular-season action, a span of a little more than three games. The Titans also are more proven at quarterback (Steve McNair vs. Jay Fiedler) and halfback (Eddie George vs. Lamar Smith). But Miami has won nine straight openers, second only to Dallas' record 17 from 1965 to 1981.

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