by Nick Ferraro
The darkest days of the year are upon most football fans. If your team isnâ€™t in hype mode for the Super Bowl, the realization that it will be eight long months before they take the field again in a meaningful game hits hard. Draft speculation and free agent rumors help numb the pain, but there is no substitute for on-field action.
Using the 2006 opponent list, we aim to give you a jump-start on next seasonâ€™s week one action in the NFL. If you read carefully, you can gain insight on who will win Super Bowl XL, the April draft, Herman Edwards and Eric Mangini, and the skinny on the biggest free agents. Yes, itâ€™s complete fiction, but it should help you get through the bye week.
Week One 2006
Denver at New England (Thurs)
The NFL sets up a rematch of the AFC playoff matchup between the Pats and Broncos in the Thursday season opener. Denver handles the Pats 28 â€“20 as the Broncoâ€™s newest and most controversial player, Terrell Owens hauls in two TDs and lights up the Patâ€™s secondary for 164 yards in his triumphant return to action. Following the game, T.O. declares that Jake Plummer is clearly a better QB than Tom Brady.
Buffalo at Miami
The Dolphins get two TD passes from Aaron Brooks and smother the Bills in Miami in a dominant performance. Ronnie Brown, the full-time starter with Ricky Williams out of the way, runs for 137 yards and a TD as Miami coasts to a 30 â€“ 7 win.
Cleveland at Baltimore
The Ravens wear down the visiting Browns for a 24 â€“ 10 win behind 1st-round pick, LenDale White. White carries 23 times for 103 yards in his NFL debut.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
The Steelers begin defense of their championship with a 33 â€“ 27 win against the feisty Bengals. Super Bowl XL MVP, Ben Roethlisberger, tosses three TDs and runs for a third as the Steelers hold on for the win.
Houston at Washington
First pick overall, Reggie Bush, finds little room to display his speed as the Skins throttle the Texans in Washington 24 â€“ 7. The Jason Campbell era begins with a victory for the Redskins. After watching the Skins in his first year, Campbell directs the Redskins offense effectively completing 17 of 25 passes for 223 yards and TD.
Indianapolis at Dallas
Life without Edgerrin James gets off to a good start for the Colts as they notch a 31 â€“ 17 win in Dallas. The Coltâ€™s first-round pick, Laurence Maroney, rambles for 89 yards on 20 carries in his first NFL start in place of the departed James. After the game, Peyton Manning refuses to comment of whether or not his team can go undefeated.
New York Giants at Jacksonville
The Jaguars grind out a win against the visiting Giants behind their new RB, Ricky Williams. Williams punishes NY for 167 yards on 31 carries. The Jags hold on for the 27 â€“ 20 win intercepting Eli Manning with 1:03 on the clock. Jeremy Shockey begins celebrating prematurely before realizing the Jags have the ball.
Tennessee at San Diego
Drew Brees tosses three TDs and LaDainian Tomlinson scores twice as the Chargers blow out the Titans 42 â€“ 20. Titans first round pick, DE Mario Williams, posts a sack in his first NFL game, but itâ€™s not nearly enough to stop the high-powered Charger offense. Philip Rivers remains a holdout for the Chargers who continue to maintain they will not cave to trade demands by the backup QB.
Oakland at Kansas City
Rose Bowl MVP Vince Youngâ€™s NFL career got off to a rocky start as the Chiefs pick off two of his passes and recover a fumble by the rookie in a 34 â€“ 13 win. Young misfires on 19 of his 31 passes while falling in his first start. The rookie dashes eight yards for the Raiderâ€™s only TD. New head coach, Herman Edwards is victorious in his Chief debut despite a snafu at the half that leaves the Chiefs at the Raider 7-yard line with no time outs and unable to get the field-goal team on the field in time. Young laments the fact that the Raiders were unable to actually hire a coach during the offseason.
Atlanta at Philadelphia
Donovan McNabb returns to the lineup as the Eagles edge the Falcons 20 â€“ 17. McNabb seems much more relaxed on the sidelines and after the game in talking about the win. Michael Vick throws for 178 yards and runs for 97 in the loss.
Green Bay at Detroit
The Lions get the win at home behind Joey Harrington as Brett Favre falls in his final visit to Detroit. Detroit fans show Favre their appreciation as Favre is announced before the game. The former MVP goes 17 â€“ 33 with a TD and two INTs in the loss.
St. Louis at Minnesota
The Vikings outlast the Rams 44 â€“ 35 in Minnesota. Daunte Culpepper returns from a season-ending injury in 2005 to throw for 345 yards and four TDs. Mike Martz reportedly calls the Rams at the half to offer suggestions, but he is not patched through to the locker room.
Tampa Bay at Carolina
The Panthers get immediate return on investment as Edgerrin James notches two TDs and 109 yards on the ground in the 24 â€“ 21 win. James also grabs six passes as Jake Delhomme shrugs off a miserable performance in last years NFC title game.
San Francisco at New Orleans
Matt Leinart gets a win in his first start as the Saints get a victory in their first true home game in two years. Leinart gets a big assist from Deuce McAllister who runs for 159 yards and two TDs. Leinart posts an efficient 18 â€“ 25 for 210 yards and a TD in the 24 â€“ 17 win.
Seattle at Arizona
The Super Bowl loss hangs over for the Seahawks who are upset in the desert. DeAngelo Williams carries 20 times for 116 yards in his first NFL start for the Cardinals. The home team unveils their new stadium to an excited 21,000 fans in Arizona.
Chicago at New York Jets
The New York Jets get a 17 â€“14 win in their opener against the visiting Bears. Chad Pennington leads the cheers from the sidelines as Kerry Collins tosses two TDs in the win. The Jets seal the victory on a gutsy fourth-and-one run by the ageless Curtis Martin. Martin gains three yards on the play running behind first-round pick Dâ€™Brickashaw Ferguson at LT. New Jet head coach, Eric Mangini, gets his first career NFL win in his first game as a head coach.