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Weekend Preview

   by Larry Ness - 09/09/2005

I guess Bill Belichick will be just fine without Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel? It was "business as usual" for the Patriots on Thursday night, as New England opened the 2005 season with a 30-20 win over the Raiders.

Oakland took the opening kickoff and drove for a TD, marking the first time New England had allowed an opening-drive TD to an opponent, in 37 games! However, the defense settled down after that, allowing just a 73-yard TD 'bomb' to Randy Moss in the second quarter and a concession TD (leading 30-14) with about three minutes remaining in the game. As for the offense, Brady passed for 306 yards with two TDs (no INTs) and Dillon ran for two scores, despite rushing for just 63 yards.

New England has now won 35 of its last 39 games (counting the postseason), including 21 straight at home! No team in the Super Bowl era has ever won three straight championships and in NFL history, only Lombardi's Green Bay Packers have won three consecutive titles. Green Bay won the NFL title in 1965 and then won the first two Super Bowls, following NFL title-game wins in the 1966 and 1967 seasons. Can the Pats make it three straight Super Bowls and four in five seasons this year?

I guess so but it's not easy these days to even make the playoffs year in and year out. New England has won three Super Bowls in four years but in 2002, the Pats failed to even reach the postseason. Only three franchises have made it to the postseason in each of the last three years. Philadelphia tops the list with five straight playoff appearances, followed by Green Bay (four straight) and Indianapolis (three straight).

The Eagles finally broke their NFC title-game hex last year, beating the Falcons 27-10 in the NFC Championship Game, where they had lost the three previous years. The Eagles are easily the NFC's best team again this year but are facing the fact that four straight and five of the last six Super Bowl losers have failed to post winning records the following year!

The Bengals own the longest playoff drought, having last been to the postseason in 1990. They'll enter the 2005 season with a stretch of 14 consecutive playoff-less years. Behind Cincinnati is Arizona with six straight non-playoff seasons. Buffalo, Detroit, Jacksonville and Washington have each missed the postseason the last five years.

The San Diego Chargers ended an eight-year playoff drought last season, by improving from 4-12 in 2003 to 12-4 in 2004. A turnaround like the Chargers experienced last year has not exactly become the norm but it's not a rarity, either.

Over a five-year period (2000-04), 25 of the 60 playoff participants (41.7 percent) have been teams that were .500 or worse the year before. Along with San Diego last year, Atlanta (from 5-11 to 11-5), the New York Jets (6-10 to 10-6) and Pittsburgh (6-10 to 15-1!) all made the playoffs coming off a non-winning season. Who will be this year's surprise team?

Week 1 continues on Sunday with the marquee game featuring the Colts 'visiting' Baltimore to play the Ravens. For those of us who grew up with Johnny U, the Colts are NOT supposed to be the visiting team in a game played in Baltimore. Week 1 concludes with an NFC Championship Game rematch between the Eagles and Falcons. However, this time the game is in Atlanta, not Philadelphia.

College Football

Three games top college football's second Saturday. No.2 Texas will visit Columbus, Ohio to meet No. 4 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan hosts No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 5 LSU, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, will play at Tempe against No. 15 Arizona State (instead of hosting the Sun Devils in Baton Rogue).

TEXAS at OHIO STATE

Texas scheduled this game years ago and right now may be asking themselves, "Why this year?" After Oklahoma's pathetic season-opening performance versus TCU, 2005 could be the year the Longhorns FINALLY beat the Sooners. A win over Oklahoma on October 8 would make Texas one of the prohibitive favorites for a place in this year's Rose Bowl but NOT if the Longhorns lose in Columbus. Ohio State is 6-1 SU under Tressel versus top-10 teams and this will be the school's seventh-ever night game in Ohio Stadium. In six previous games "under the lights", OSU is 6-0 SU and ATS! As for Texas, the Longhorns have not lost a 'true' road game since a 42-38 loss in Lubbock versus Texas Tech in 2002 (eight straight wins).

NOTRE DAME at MICHIGAN

Talk about an underdog series? The 'dog' is an amazing 14-2-1 ATS when Notre Dame and Michigan hook up. Notre Dame opened with a 42-21 win at Pitt, as the Irish topped 500 yards of offense with 33 FDs in Charlie Weis' debut. Michigan's defense hasn't played well since the team's eighth game of last year. Since then, Michigan has allowed exactly 37 points to Michigan State, Ohio State and Texas, while allowing two other teams, Northwestern and Northern Illinois (last week), more than 400 yards. In Michigan's favor is a great offense of its own and a 14-0 SU record in "the Big House" since installing its new artificial surface.

LSU at ARIZONA STATE

Hurricane Katrina forced a venue change for this game, as LSU was scheduled to host the Sun Devils in Baton Rogue. Could the Pac-10 finally be playing 'lucky' when it comes to a weather related game-change! In 1998, a hurricane postponed UCLA's game with Miami from early September to early December, when Miami was a much more polished team. UCLA's loss in December that year, cost the undefeated Bruins a chance to play in the first-ever BCS title game. Again last year, a hurricane pushed Cal's game at Southern Miss to the end of the season and a closer than expected margin of victory in that game, may have cost the Bears a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Is this the year it works out in the Pac-10's favor? LSU is loaded and would have been a solid favorite at home but playing in Tempe, the game is a toss-up. ASU, now gets its two biggest challenges of the year at home, Saturday night versus LSU and an October 1 date with USC.

CLOSING NOTE

Akron was the lone MAC team to not play last weekend and Purdue was the only Big-10 team not in action. Akron holds the distinction of being the only bowl-eligible team in 2004 (not on suspension) to NOT get a bowl bid. Purdue, was just 7-5 in 2005 but the team's five losses came by a total of just 14 points! After opening the 2005 season 5-0, the Boilermakers lost consecutive games to Wisconsin (by three points), Michigan (by two), Northwestern (by two) and Iowa (by two). Purdue won its final two regular season games but then lost to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, 27-23.

If last week's results are any indication, Purdue shouldn't be too worried about having a close game on Saturday. MAC teams went 1-10 (3-6-1 ATS) last weekend, the only win coming by Toledo over I-AA Western Illinois (62-14). The 10 losers allowed an average of 38.3 PPG! As for Big-10 last week, the conference was a perfect 10-0 SU and 7-2-1 ATS.

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