Top 10 games 2004
Indy and Philly each play three must-see games this season
You've gotta hand it to the NFL; it certainly knows how to milk the offseason for all it's worth. Pro Bowl. Scouting Combine. Owners meeting. Draft. Minicamps. Training camp. It never ends! So to placate the masses between now and draft day (hey, there's only so much fans can read about 40-yard dashes), the league released the 2004 schedule. So break out the Rand McNally (or click over to mapquest.com, this being the Internet age) and make your travel plans for the top 10 games:
Minnesota at Philadelphia, Week 2 -- Two of the NFC's premier passing attacks will be on display as Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens play host to Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss. And the running games aren't much to sneeze at either, with the Eagles' Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook combining to match the Vikings' Michael Bennett yard for yard. What remains to be seen is whether either team's defense is up to the challenge. Minnesota's D ranked 23rd last year, while Philly was 20th -- and that was with CBs Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.
Jake Plummer must wait until Jan. 2 for a rematch with Peyton Manning.
Indianapolis at Denver, Week 17 -- Anyone in the Mile High City need reminding of the last time these teams met? 41-10, 377 yards passing and five touchdowns from Peyton Manning, 277 yards and four TDs combined from Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley. Ring a bell? Is it any wonder Mike Shanahan pulled the trigger on the Clinton Portis-for-Champ Bailey trade with Washington (not to mention the Skins tossed in a second-round pick in this year's draft without any arm-twisting)? I'm guessing the Colts' offense won't rack up 479 yards again, but it'll be fun to watch it try.
Minnesota at Indianapolis, Week 9 -- By now you're wondering, Does anyone in the NFL play defense? Rarely, which is a result of the league rules being tweaked over the years -- to increase scoring. And there should be a lot of that in the RCA Dome. Both teams are carpetbaggers, so the rug will not have an adverse effect on the vistiting Vikings. Both teams have upper-echelon passing games, good running games and question marks on defense. Makes you wonder why the league chose to make this the week's MNF game; it's unlikely anyone will be awake when the game ends.
New England at Buffalo, Week 4 -- Both teams will be coming off the dreaded Week 3 bye as they play their first AFC East division game of the season. And allow me to be the first one to mention this, in case you missed it last year: Drew Bledsoe will welcome his former teammates to Buffalo. Whatever -- been there, done that ... to the tune of 31-0 last year. Buffalo's high expectations after a season-opening win ended with the dismissal of head coach Gregg Williams after a woeful 6-10 finish, so expect Mike Mularkey to place more than the usual 1/16th of emphasis on this game.
Freddie Mitchell saved the Eagles' 2003 season -- for one more game, at least.
Green Bay at Philadelphia, Week 13 -- Fourth-and-26. Well, at least defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and punter Josh Bidwell won't be on hand. Fourth-and-26! ... Sorry, did that come across as bitter? Should the need arise, I wonder if Mike Sherman will go for it when the Packers have the ball (and the game in hand) late in the fourth quarter? Here's a clue: Don't punt -- if you cannot cover Freddie Mitchell, what makes you think Terrell Owens will be easier to blanket? Bitter, you ask? As bile. That's one play Cheeseheads will not soon forget. ... OK, on with the countdown. We're up to fourth-and-26, er ...
Tampa Bay at Washington, Week 1 -- Joe Gibbs last faced Tampa Bay on Oct. 22, 1989, when Bucco Bruce was the mug of Florida's other franchise. Fifteen years later, Tampa touts Pewter Power, the Sunshine State now has three professional teams (four if you count the Hurricanes) and the Skins have become the laughingstock. Welcome back, Joe. And if you're having second thoughts, the NASCAR guys will be in Richmond, Va., that weekend. It's a Saturday night race, but there will be plenty of time during the 120-mile drive back to Landover, Md., to re-think the Mark Brunell experiment.
San Diego at Atlanta, Week 6 -- Two of the game's most exciting players -- LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Vick -- will be on the same field for the first time in their young careers. Since they weren't technically traded for each other, we cannot blow this game out of proportion ... but why let the facts get in the way of a good storyline? Vick should be a well-oiled machine by Oct. 17, and there is no reason to believe LT won't be his usual spectacular self, so fighting the famed ATL traffic will be well worth the price of admission. See you at Falcons Landing for some Southern-fried tailgating.
Ty Law was part of two Patriots title teams, but will he return in 2004?
Indianapolis at New England, Week 1 -- If Ty Law isn't on hand, this game's luster diminishes, but overall you have to hand it the No Fun League for kicking off the season (on Thursday night, no less) with a rematch of one of last season's best playoff games. In January, Law picked Peyton Manning three times as the Patriots beat the Colts 24-14 in the AFC Championship Game. Manning entered the game 44 of 56 with 681 yards and eight TDs in the playoffs, but met his Waterloo at the hands of Mother Nature (32 degrees and snowing) and Bill Belichick (now 5-0 against Manning with the Pats).
Baltimore at Philadelphia, Week 8 -- Go ahead, call it the "T.O. Bowl;" everyone else will be doing it between now and Halloween. Nevermind that the mercucial one never suited up for the Ravens (never even showed up in Owings Mills, Md., to hold up a jersey and mug for the paparazzi, in fact). Still, this game will have an undercurrent of disrespect flowing from the Ravens' sideline. And who better to lead the charge against Owens than All-Pro 'backer Ray Lewis? Cherish the thought of Owens' first crossing pattern reception -- and the ensuing collision when No. 52 sticks his helmet into the fray.
Tampa Bay at Oakland, Week 3 -- The last time the Buccaneers and Raiders played on the left coast, Bill Callahan still was surfing the Pacific. Eighteen games later, Callahan is shucking corn in Nebraska -- and both teams are coming off single-digit win seasons after playing in Super Bowl XXXVII. Think Al Davis won't be pumped to show Jon Gruden the results of Oakland's draft bounty as a result of Chucky's departure three years ago? Think Gruden won't be ready to flash that Super Bowl ring? Think Warren Sapp won't take his first shot at Brad Johnson? ... Oh yeah, this one could be ugly.
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