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Ness Notes: NFL Preseason Week 1 Recap / New Coaches in 2009

   by Larry Ness - 08/18/2009

The 2009 NFLX season began with the HOF game on August 9 and the end of that game was "nothing new" to those of us who worry more about ATS results than the win-loss column. The Titans, pretty much a solid three-point favorite on game day, took a safety on the game's final play, turning what would have been a 21-16 Titans' cover into a push (21-18 final). And so it goes.

That finish had nothing on the first MNF game of the 2009 season. The Giants hosted the Panthers and New York (minus-three) led 17-9 in the game's final minutes. However, Carolina's fourth-string QB Hunter Cantwell (who couldn't play while at Louisville), led Carolina on an 88-yard TD drive. He ran for 21 yards and passed for 67 on the five-play drive, which ended with a 31-yard TD pass to Jason Chery with just under 1:00 minute reamaining.

Obviously, the Panthers went for two and converted on a pass to Andrew Davie. Panther bettors would have preferred a failed two-point conversion, which would have secured an ATS win. The Carolina 'D' forced the Giants into a three-and-out series and when Jeff Feagles punted 56 yards to the Carolina 18 with 10 seconds to play, the game seemingly was headed to OT. However, as ESPN's resident college 'bozo' Lee Corso loves to say, "not so fast!".

Instead of taking a knee, Cantwell went back to pass. His arm was hit and with the ball in the air Giants defensive end Tommie Hill grabbed it and scored a TD with no time remaining on the clock. The Giants won 24-17 and Panthers bettors got shafted (I was NOT involved). The wild finish ended a week in which home teams went 11-5 SU but just 8-7-1 ATS. Seven games went over and nine went under, with the highest scoring game being Detroit's 27-26 win over Atlanta and the lowest scoring being Minnesota's 13-3 win at Indy.

Week 2 begins Thursday night with two games, including the Eagles visiting the Colts on FOX at 8:00 ET. Three more games will be played on Friday (Titans at Cowboys on FOX at 8:00 ET) with the week concluding with MNF, Jets at Ravens (ESPN at 8:00 ET). Already (as of late Tuesday morning), two starting QBs have been ruled out for this week. Bengals QB Carson Palmer will not play in Thursday’s game because of a high ankle sprain and Rams starting QB Marc Bulger will sit after braking the pinkie finger on his right hand while taking snaps during practice Monday.

Eleven NFL teams begin this season with a different head coach than the one which opened the 2008 season, including Oakland's Tom Cable and San Francisco's Mike Singletary. Cable took over for the last 12 games of last season at Oakland (went 4-8) for Lane Kiffin and Singletary took over for Mike Nolan, leading the 49ers to a 5-4 finish. That's quite a turnover, considering just four teams had new head coaches heading into the 2008 season.

This year's "newbies" have quite an act to follow. Jim Zorn of Washington led the Redskins to an 8-8 record last year but stuck in the brutal NFC East with the Giants (12-4), Eagles (9-6-1) and the Cowboys ( 9-7), the Redskins finished in last place. However, one could argue that was a fairly good debut if no one compared it to last year's other three first-year coaches. John Harbaugh of Baltimore, Mike Smith of Atlanta and Tony Sparano of Miami, all led their teams to 11 wins in the regular season, as Atlanta, Baltimore and Miami all made the postseason. Now that's impressive!

All four of last year's new coaches were first-time head coaches (college or the NFL). Harbaugh and Smith both won their Week 1 regular season games in 2008. Until that point, no team had ever won when a coach and a QB (Harbaugh started Joe Flacco and Smith Matt Ryan) were both making their NFL debuts. Harbaugh would guide the Ravens to an 11-5 regular season record, which was good enough to qualify them for the playoffs as a wild card team. The Ravens then won at Miami and Tennessee before losing for the third time that season to the Steelers in the AFC championship game.

Smith led the Falcons, who were coming off the Michael Vick 'nightmare' and a 4-12 season, to an 11-5 regular season as well and also a wild card berth. The Falcons lost at Arizona in their first playoff game but Smith was named NFL Coach of the Year. He beat out Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, who led the Dolphins to a similar 11-5 record and the AFC East division title. It marked the franchise's first playoff berth in eight seasons and the 10-win turnaround tied an NFL record.

Getting back to this year's group of nine (I'll leave out Cable and Singletary who coached last year with the interim label), all but Eric Mangini (Cleveland) and Jim Mora (Seattle) are in the first year as an NFL head coach. Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell spent eight years as Wake Forest's head coach (going 26-63, .292) but this is his first head coaching job at the NFL level. The remaining six are Todd Haley (KC), Josh McDaniels (Den), Raheem Morris (TB), Rex Ryan (NYJ), Jim Schwarz (Det) and Steve Spagnuolo (StL).

All nine made their debuts this past week and the results were not good. Spagnuolo of the Rams and Ryan of the Jets met in a Week 1 game, as the Rams won 23-20. As for the other seven, they went a combined 2-5 SU and ATS. Let's see if their 'luck' is any better in Week 2.

Join me Friday (8/21) for my Heisman Trophy preview and then more NFL 'talk' on August 24 (next Tuesday).

Good luck, Larry

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