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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Week 1

The Spokesman-Review

By Terry Bannon, Chicago Tribune

Bears at Redskins

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Redskins by 6.

Last meeting: Redskins won, 13-10, at Soldier Field on Oct. 17, 2004.

Key stat: Redskins return heart of last season’s No. 3-ranked defense.

Players to watch: Bears rookie QB Kyle Orton will have to deal with Washington’s myriad blitzes. Redskins need more than 3.8 yards per carry Clinton Portis got in ‘04.

The buzz: Can fourth-round pick win on opening day of his rookie season? Don’t think so. It’s asking too much of Orton – and of Bears’ defense.

Texans at Bills

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Bills by 5 1/2 .

Last meeting: Texans won, 12-10, at Buffalo on Nov. 16, 2003.

Key stat: Bills won 8 of last 10 in ‘04.

Players to watch: After year of watching from bench, former first-round pick J.P. Losman takes over at QB for Texans. Texans wideout Andre Johnson one of best (79 catches, 6 TDs).

The buzz: Bills had NFL’s No. 2 defense last season and can put pressure on Houston QB David Carr. If Losman plays it safe, Bills should control game.

Saints at Panthers

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Panthers by 7.

Last meeting: Saints won, 21-18, at Carolina on Jan. 2, 2005.

Key stat: Panthers averaged 28.9 points in final 8 games of ‘04.

Players to watch: Quarterback Aaron Brooks, making his 70th straight start, needs to make big plays against aggressive defense. Panthers wideout Keary Colbert had 47 catches as rookie last season, helping pave way for Muhsin Muhammad’s departure to Bears.

The buzz: Saints, who are living on road this season because of Hurricane Katrina, didn’t deserve to draw Super Bowl contender in opener.

Bengals at Browns

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Bengals by 3 1/2 .

Last meeting: Bengals won, 58-48, at Cincinnati on Nov. 28, 2004.

Key stat: Bengals have started 1-4 last 2 seasons.

Players to watch: Bengals’ Rudi Johnson has rushed for 4 TDs in last 3 games vs. Browns, and gained 202 yards in last meeting. Browns’ Trent Dilfer has thrown 5 TDs vs. 1 interception and completed 69.2 percent of his passes against Bengals.

The buzz: Romeo Crennel’s debut as Browns coach comes in a battle of Ohio. Bengals have too much offense for Browns, still trying to build something in their 7th season back in NFL.

Seahawks at Jaguars

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Jaguars by 3.

Last meeting: Seahawks won, 24-15, at Seattle on Oct. 7, 2001.

Key stat: Jaguars have won 7 of last 9 openers.

Players to watch: How effective can Jaguars’ tailback Fred Taylor be amid continuing knee problems? Shaun Alexander, who rushed for 4.8 per carry and 16 TDs, back for Seahawks.

The buzz: Intriguing matchup of two AFC playoff contenders will be decided by Jacksonville’s defensive line, which can contain Alexander and pressure Matt Hasselbeck. Seahawks passing out nametags to seven new starters on defense.

Jets at Chiefs

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Chiefs by 3.

Last meeting: Chiefs won, 29-25, at New York on Oct. 6, 2002.

Key stat: Chiefs have ranked in top 2 in total offense last 3 years.

Players to watch: Jets’ Curtis Martin led NFL with 1,697 yards rushing last season and has rushed for 232 yards and 4 TDs in last 2 games vs. Chiefs. Chiefs’ Priest Holmes has rushed for 9 TDs in last three openers.

The buzz: If Chad Pennington’s shoulder is sound, Jets are Super Bowl contenders. Chiefs tried to fix defense again in off-season, but seeing is believing.

Broncos at Dolphins

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Broncos by 4 1/2 .

Last meeting: Broncos won, 24-17, at Denver on Nov. 12, 2004.

Key stat: Broncos have won four straight openers, longest streak in league.

Players to watch: Jake Plummer, who has 19-8 record as Broncos starter, can still be inconsistent. Miami giving top draft choice Ronnie Brown, who averaged 4.1 yards per carry in preseason, chance to make suspended Ricky Williams expendable.

The buzz: Nick Saban era starts in Miami with Gus Frerotte as starting quarterback. … You have to start somewhere.

Buccaneers at Vikings

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Vikings by 6.

Last meeting: Bucs won, 28-24, at Tampa on Nov. 3, 2002.

Key stat: Bucs were 1-7 on road in ‘04.

Players to watch: Tampa rookie Carnell “Cadillac” Williams gets chance to be instant star. Nate Burleson is Vikings’ new No. 1 option in passing game.

The buzz: Daunte Culpepper will prove he doesn’t need Randy Moss to succeed. However, Tampa QB Brian Griese could use him. How will Vikings’ defense, with five new starters, come together?

Titans at Steelers

Time: 10 a.m.

Line: Steelers by 7.

Last meeting: Titans won, 30-13, at Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, 2003.

Key stat: Steelers have won 14 straight regular-season games.

Players to watch: RB Travis Henry makes his Titans’ debut – if his injured toe is OK. Steelers down to third-string RB Willie Parker.

The buzz: Steelers may struggle in running game, but Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward can do some damage against this defense.

Packers at Lions

Time: 1:15 p.m.

Line: Lions by 3.

Last meeting: Packers won, 16-13, at Green Bay on Dec. 12, 2004.

Key stat: Packers have won 8 of last 9 meetings.

Players to watch: Packers’ Ahman Green averaged 4.5 yards per carry in ‘04. Lions’ Kevin Jones gained 156 against Packers in last meeting.

The buzz: Packers’ troubled defense should have a hard time containing Jones, and at some point Joey Harrington will find someone open among all those first-round picks – Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and rookie Mike Williams.

Cardinals at Giants

Time: 1:15 p.m.

Line: Giants by 3.

Last meeting: Cardinals won, 17-14, at Arizona on Nov. 14, 2004.

Key stat: Cardinals went 1-7 on road in ‘04.

Players to watch: The quarterbacks. Does Kurt Warner still have it at age 34? Is Eli Manning ready to be winner?

The buzz: Giants won only once after Manning replaced Warner as starter last year, giving this game some added intrigue. If Warner is on, he has weapons to pull off upset.

Cowboys at Chargers

Time: 1:15 p.m.

Line: Chargers by 4 1/2 .

Last meeting: Chargers won, 32-21, at Dallas on Sept. 23, 2001.

Key stat: Chargers have won 7 straight regular-season home games.

Players to watch: Cowboys’ Julius Jones emerging as star after rushing for 803 yards in final 7 games of ‘04. LaDainian Tomlinson goes for 13th straight game with rushing TD, which would tie NFL record held by John Riggins and George Rogers.

The buzz: Drew Brees saved his career last year, and now Drew Bledsoe is trying to do same in Dallas. Brees has younger arm and more help.

Rams at 49ers

Time: 1:15 p.m.

Line: Rams by 6.

Last meeting: Rams won, 16-6, at St. Louis on Dec. 5, 2004.

Key stat: Rams have won 4 of last 5 meetings.

Players to watch: RB Steven Jackson, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry as part-timer last season, takes over starting role for Rams. How long can 49ers QB Tim Rattay keep top pick Alex Smith on bench?

The buzz: Mike Nolan’s debut as 49ers’ coach likely to be forgettable. His offense doesn’t have talent to outscore Rams.

Colts at Ravens

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Line: Colts by 3.

Last meeting: Colts won, 20-10, at Indianapolis on Dec. 19, 2004.

Key stat: Colts were No. 2 in offense, Ravens No. 6 in defense in ‘04.

Players to watch: Colts need usual big game from Peyton Manning, who threw 49 TD passes last season. Ravens need Kyle Boller to show he can have big game against good team.

The buzz: Ravens’ defense is good enough to carry them long way, and Boller may have time to find new No. 1 receiver Derrick Mason against a shaky secondary.

Eagles at Falcons

Time: 6 p.m., Monday

Line: Eagles by 1 1/2 .

Last meeting: Eagles won NFC title game, 27-10, in Philadelphia on Jan. 23, 2005.

Key stat: Eagles are 32-16 on road under coach Andy Reid.

Players to watch: What will Eagles’ Terrell Owens do next? Probably catch TD pass (he had 14 in 14 games last season). Michael Vick must do more than run and throw to tight end.

The buzz: Falcons haven’t closed a 17-point gap since January. Venue has changed, but Eagles still have Donovan McNabb, who can throw to Owens.

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