<strong>July 20, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.sportsline.com/nfl/story/8658952">CBS Sportsline</a>
Let's say you have five games you can attend this year. OK, maybe six. Anyway, your choices are limited, and you want to confine yourself to games you believe are -- or could be -- intriguing.
Maybe it's the Sept. 12 rematch of NFC Championship Game opponents Philadelphia and Atlanta. Maybe it's the Sept. 25 reprise of the AFC Championship Game between New England and Pittsburgh or San Diego's Nov. 6 date with the New York Jets -- the team that eliminated the Chargers from last year's playoffs.
I'd take any or all of them ... only I'm not. When someone asked me to name my five favorite games this season, this is what I produced -- and I threw in an EP as a bonus.
1. New York Giants at San Diego,
No regular-season game, coaches warn, is more important than the next, but the Chargers will make an exception here. Call it the Eli Bowl. Call it Sticking it to the Mannings. Call it anything you want. It's San Diego's chance to voice its displeasure with Eli, who voiced his displeasure with the Chargers in 2004 when he was the team's No. 1 draft pick. Manning forced a deal that sent him to the Giants for Philip Rivers and a passel of draft choices, but San Diego and its football team haven't forgotten how they were treated. Caution: This one could turn ugly. It reminds me of a 1983 game between Denver and Baltimore when Broncos' rookie John Elway was booed, cursed and maligned by an overflow audience at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium months after he turned his back on the Colts. Result: Denver won, but there is a difference. This time there's no Steve DeBerg to ride to the rescue.
2. Indianapolis at New England, Nov. 7
One of these days the Colts have to beat New England, right? One of these days they have to win at Foxboro, right? Well, I heard that last year and the year before that, and we're still waiting for Indianapolis to flash its Super Bowl credentials. Not only have the Colts lost 14 of their last 16 to New England, including six in a row; they dropped their last nine at Foxboro -- not winning there since 1995. So the Pats' Bill Belichick has the Colts right where he wants them: He hasn't lost to them in Foxboro, outscoring Indy 139-70 in five games there, and he's held Peyton Manning in check. Manning last year set an NFL record with 49 TD passes, which is great, but he had only two in 20 series against New England -- including none in a dreadful 20-3 playoff loss. So the heat is on, starting now. Manning must prove he can win here, and he must prove he can solve Belichick. This is his chance. Again.
3. Cincinnati at Baltimore, Nov. 6
That's right, Cincinnati. Sure, I know most people believe the Indianapolis-Baltimore opener on Sept. 11 is a better game, but I like this one and here's why: When the Ravens missed the playoffs last year, critics complained it was Indianapolis or Pittsburgh that finished them. It wasn't. It was the Bengals. They rallied from a 20-3 deficit on Dec. 5, producing 24 fourth-period points for an improbable 27-26 last-second victory, and they did it in Baltimore. That loss not only crushed the Ravens; it marked a defining moment in the career of Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, who threw for a career-best 382 yards and three TDs. You know why Baltimore couldn't wait to get its hands on Samari Rolle? Roll the videotape to last year's loss to the Bengals when Chad Johnson caught 161 yards in passes and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had 171. Cincinnati may be on the brink of something big; the same goes for Baltimore, which took huge steps forward through free agency and the draft. Something has to give, and this could be the place.
4. New England at Miami, Nov. 13
It's Nick Saban vs. Bill Belichick in the most ideal matchup since Spy vs. Spy. Saban and Belichick are close friends who share personalities and football philosophies. Both are competitive, intense, single-minded and successful, and both eschew pyrotechnics for fundamental football. Both spent plenty of time together, too, with Saban working for four years as Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland, and the two annually huddling in the offseason to discuss football. Belichick has said he learned more from Saban than Saban did from him, which is quite an acknowledgement considering that it comes from a man who has won three of the past four Super Bowls. Now he and Saban share the same league, the same division and, on this afternoon, the same field. I always wondered how Belichick would defend Belichick. I always wondered what it be like if Tom Brady had to run an offense against his head coach. Maybe this is the game we find out.
5. Oakland at Washington, Nov. 20
Yeah, we're hammering the redemption theme hard today, and this is Oakland coach Norv Turner's turn at bat. Turner is the head coach Washington owner Daniel Snyder jettisoned midway through the 2000 season when Washington was struggling at 7-6. Maybe it seemed like a good move at the time, but do you have any idea what successors Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs accomplished since then? I'll tell you: nothing. They're a combined 26-38, with no winning seasons. In fact, the last coach to have a winning year in Washington was ... you guessed it, Norv Turner, in 1999 when he led the Redskins to the playoffs. Turner felt he was wronged then and hasn't erased bitter memories of the experience. Here's his opportunity to vent, and it comes with a warning to parents: This game could be combustible. Turner faced the Redskins once before, when, in 2001, he was the offensive coordinator at San Diego and Washington rolled into town for the season opener. Final score: San Diego 30, The Daniel 3. Ouch.
San Francisco vs. Arizona at Mexico City, Oct. 2
Usually, it's a meaningless exhibition game that's aired from another country, but not this year. The Cardinals agreed to sacrifice a regular-season home date for 7,200-feet of altitude for one reason: money. They can sell out here where they could not in Tempe. The 49ers and Cards drew 35,069 in Arizona last December; they should come close to tripling that gate at Azteca Stadium. Yeah, I know, there's little drama to this one, other than it's Arizona's chance to prove it can beat the league's bottom feeder, but think about this: These guys can make history. When people in the future talk about where the NFL drew its biggest regular-season audience, maybe they'll mention Arizona and San Francisco. OK, so the 49ers played in front of 102,368 at the L.A. Coliseum in 1958, but Arizona sells out at home about as often as Paulie Shore pulls down an Oscar. Plus, if this game goes over as the NFL expects, the league could push for more international games.