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Patriots meet Moss, Raiders as big favorites in NFL opener

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Oakland Raiders have been squawking about opening their season in New England since they learned in March they would play the Thursday night opener in Foxborough.

Sorry, but that's the price for getting Randy Moss. If the NFL had to choose a team to attract a huge TV audience against the champions, Moss was the tiebreaker.

The Raiders get one break — it won't be snowing, as it was the last time they went to Massachusetts. That, of course, was for the famous (or infamous) ''tuck rule'' playoff game, when Adam Vinatieri kicked the tying and winning field goals and put the Patriots on course for the first of three Super Bowl victories in four seasons.

These Patriots have question marks as they start their quest for an unprecedented three straight Super victories.

They are without coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel and have a void at inside linebacker caused by the stroke-related absence of Tedy Bruschi and the retirement of Ted Johnson.

Still, they are favored by 7 1/2 despite the holes and an Oakland offense that has acquired Moss and running back LaMont Jordan to go with Kerry Collins, who has the arm to get the ball to all his weapons — if he has time to throw.

''They have so many weapons. I think it's so unfair for you to just point out one,'' says New England safety Rodney Harrison, who calls Moss ''the most gifted receiver in the league. But you can't take away everything. You just have to go out there and do your best to contain these guys.''

The Raiders' defense is another story. It allowed 442 points last season, next-to-last to San Francisco (the Bay Area air?). It's improved a bit, but probably not enough to slow down New England.

And Belichick has had time to figure out the Oakland offense.

PATRIOTS, 38-24.

Philadelphia (minus 1 1/2) at Atlanta (Monday night)

Terrell Owens probably will say at some point he prefers Michael Vick to Donovan McNabb.

These days, T.O. prefers anyone to McNabb.

The Eagles have questions on the defensive line and, yes, at wide receiver. Nothing they haven't faced before, but enough to give the Falcons some revenge for their title-game loss.

FALCONS, 24-23

Indianapolis (minus 3) at Baltimore

Kyle Boller is still struggling for the Ravens, so this matchup of two AFC favorites is a mismatch at QB.

But DT Corey Simon's not ready yet for Baltimore and Jamal Lewis can keep Peyton Manning off the field.

RAVENS 20-17

New Orleans (plus 7) at Carolina

Everyone has to feel for the Saints, who may never play in New Orleans again.

But the Panthers are on their own mission.

PANTHERS, 21-13

New York Jets (plus 3) at Kansas City

Chad Pennington's shoulder seems OK and the Chiefs ''upgrade'' defense every year with few tangible results.

JETS, 33-27

Dallas (plus 4 1/2) at San Diego

Antonio Gates' absence will make a difference. But not enough.

CHARGERS, 20-17

Denver (minus 5) at Miami

Nick Saban's changes can't instantly overcome the mistakes of the previous regime.

BRONCOS, 27-18

Seattle (plus 3) at Jacksonville

Long trip for nothing.

JAGUARS, 19-13

Green Bay (plus 3) at Detroit

The Packers often stumble in Detroit. They could stumble a lot of places this season.

LIONS, 31-23

Tampa Bay (plus 6) at Minnesota

The Vikings can challenge in a weak NFC. This is a good team to start against.

VIKINGS, 24-13

Cincinnati (minus 3 1/2) at Cleveland

The Browns are what the Bengals used to be.

BENGALS, 31-10

Arizona (plus 2 1/2) at New York Giants

Kurt Warner had trouble with the Giants even when he was in top form in St. Louis. And he had trouble when he WAS a Giant.

GIANTS, 26-23

Tennessee (plus 7) at Pittsburgh

Tennessee: too damaged by the salary cap to challenge the Steelers.

STEELERS, 41-13

Houston (plus 4 1/2) at Buffalo

Bills defense is good, the QB is untested.

BILLS, 10-3

St. Louis (minus 5 1/2) at San Francisco

For one week, the Rams look like the Rams of old.

RAMS, 39-7

Chicago (plus 6) at Washington

The Redskins have QB questions. The Bears don't have a QB.

REDSKINS 11-4

LAST SEASON: 111-123-6 (spread), 156-84 (straight up).



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