Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-5)
What's the best thing about Super Bowls and meaningless sexual encounters? Why, the memories of course. Ben Roethlisberger has two bejeweled rings, as well as a pending sexual assault civil suit, to rekindle those fond memories.
In July, Big Ben was sued by a casino employee in Las Vegas who claimed Roethlisberger assaulted her in his hotel room in July of 2008.
"I'd like to reiterate my innocence," Roethlisberger stated. "I never sexually assaulted anyone, although I may have been guilty of 'offensive holding.' I guess I truly am a 'defending' champ."
"But seriously, I expect this case to end up like a pass to Terrell Owens—dropped. I'm innocent. In fact, I'm the victim here. I did not sexually assault her, and I know sexual assault. Heck, I lost my virginity under a pile of Baltimore Ravens in 2005."
The world champs will host the Titans, who suffered a heartbreaking 13-10 loss to the Ravens in the divisional round as the No. 1 seed last year.
Such a loss can be a great motivator, and Tennessee running back LenDale White used those painful thoughts as the catalyst for losing 30 pounds in the offseason. Actually, White dumped the excess weight simply by giving up Patrón tequila.
"I understand he quit 'cold turkey,'" said Troy Polamalu, still undefeated in "hair versus hair" matches. "And I believe that's what they called him after his crucial fumble against the Ravens in chilly Tennessee practically cost them the game. And speaking of nicknames, are White and his shifty backfield mate Chris Johnson now called 'Slim Fast and Dash?'"
"But seriously, did LenDale really lose 30 pounds by nixing tequila from his diet? That's a lot of alcohol. Of course, that explains his troubles in the Baltimore game—the Ravens got him drunk and took advantage of him."
My crack (addicted) research staff tells me the previous year's Super Bowl winner has won its season opener 33 of 42 times, plus or minus nine.
I'll go with the odds, however inaccurate, and the defending champs, to prevail on Thursday in an exceptionally hard-hitting game.
The Steelers take control late in the third quarter when a run-blitzing James Harrison drills White, forcing him to lose not only the ball, but three pounds, as well. Pittsburgh recovers, and Roethlisberger hits Heath Miller for the clinching score.
Steelers win, 23-13.
The biggest rivalry in the AFC South heats up immediately as the Jaguars face the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, "The House That Lube Built," where fans lucky enough to score a luxury suite can enjoy service from the classy waitress staff known as the "Personal Lubricants."
The Colts are a team in transition, with Tony Dungy gone to champion the rights of dog abusers and wide receiver Marvin Harrison off peddling "This Car Wash Protected by Smith & Wesson" bumper stickers. Still, even with a new head coach and a veteran receiver gone, Manning sees no reason why the Colts can't continue their winning ways.
"Our new coach, Jim Caldwell, is a lot like Dungy," Manning said. "He doesn't tell me what to do, either."
"Look, as long as I'm under center, this team has a chance. Especially with my faithful and trusty center, Jeff Saturday, making reads at the line, as well. I call Jeff my 'Saturday Knight Special.' He calls me his 'Sunday Afternoon Reacharound.'"
The Jaguars always pose a stern test for the Colts, especially when the Jacksonville running game is clicking. With Fred Taylor now a Patriot, most of the rushing burden falls to Maurice Jones-Drew, the 5'7", 208-pound fireplug who often answers to the nickname "Short Bus."
Jones-Drew welcomes the greater workload, as well as the pressure that comes with being ranked as a top-five fantasy pick.
"Hey, you can also call me 'Thigh Master,'" says the stocky Jones-Drew. "But under no circumstances are you to call me 'Tattoo' or 'Wee Man.'"
It's Week One, so you know what that means—the Colts have a moderately healthy defense.
Safety Bob Sanders is listed as probable, and the Colts will need him off the crutches and out of the sling to contain the Jacksonville running attack.
First on the Colts agenda—hold the Jags to less than a quarter-mile of rushing yards. That may be easier with Jones-Drew feeling the lingering effects of a bruised leg suffered late in the preseason.
In the end, it's the artistry of Peyton Manning that carries the Colts to the win. Manning throws for 241 yards and two scores, and the Indy defense holds Jones-Drew to 67 yards rushing.
Colts win, 24-17.
What was the hottest story out of New Orleans this offseason? Well, that had to be the news that Saints running back Reggie Bush and his bootylicious girlfriend Kim Kardashian had called it quits. Call it mindless tabloid fodder if you will, but it's gosh darn hard to ignore a headline that reads 'Kardashian Bush Split,' not to mention the accompanying photographs.
"Amazing flexibility there," said Sean Payton. "Isn't it bewildering what the omission of a simple comma can do?"
"But spacing is everything. And our objective is to get Reggie the ball in 'open space,' which I think we've been trying to do, with limited success, for about three years now. We're hoping that Reggie, who's been downgraded in fantasy rankings, as well as downgraded in his biographical data from NFL 'star' to NFL 'player,' can sneak up on people this year."
The Lions are coming off the worst season in NFL history, an 0-16 campaign in 2008, but excitement still abounds in Detroit, and Thomas Magnum, P.I. still considers himself a fan.
Detroit added quarterback Matthew Stafford to their collection of No. 1 picks, and after a decent preseason, new head coach Jim Schwartz named Stafford the starter for the season opener.
"Yeah, I think Matthew's ready," says Schwartz. "Especially since Daunte Culpepper was sidelined after suffering a freaky foot injury after stumbling on some carpet. I never thought I'd see 'toe jam' listed on the injury report."
The New Orleans fans are no strangers to futility, and prior to the game, several season ticket holders graciously leave brown paper sacks in the seats of Lions fans who make the trip to the Big Easy.
And a huge sign lining the upper deck in the Superdome sends a kind message to Stafford: "May the Schwartz Be with You."
Drew Brees throws for 342 yards and three scores, thus beginning another assault on Dan Marino's passing yardage record.
New Orleans wins, 37-20.
The Panthers were struck by a rash of injuries during training camp, although surprisingly none were the result of a Steve Smith haymaker. Smith himself was one of the casualties, injuring the shoulder of his right (punching) arm in practice in early August.
Nose tackle Maake Kemoaetu went down with an Achilles tendon tear on the first day of training camp. Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason hurt his knee, running back Jonathan Stewart has hardly practiced while nursing an Achilles tendon injury, and the entire Carolina organization is hobbled by Julius Peppers' massive contract.
"With all those injuries," says Jake Delhomme, "a lot of people are saying I'll have to take up the slack. 'Delhomme will have to put the team on his shoulders' is a familiar refrain, much like the 'Two, four, six, ate' cheer often heard from our cheerleaders partying in a bathroom stall."
"But I welcome the challenge. I don't mind people 'counting' on me, although, when they're counting, or should I say, inventorying, turnovers, it can be a little distressing to me."
With a date in last year's NFC Championship Game, expectations for this year's Eagle squad are lofty, and the addition of Michael Vick has only added to the fervor.
Philadelphia sports fans are notoriously demanding, and can turn on a superstar faster than an Eric Lindros slap shot, but Eagles fans have praised the addition of Vick, signed by the Eagles in August.
"Indeed," said Andy Reid. "Philly fans have welcomed Vick with open arms. And I hear local swingers clubs have been equally as receptive to Ron Mexico."
"I know it may have been a controversial move to sign Michael, but I think Philadelphia is the right place for him. He's got quite a bit of experience dodging G-Men already, and we play the Giants twice. And, if he can avoid tacklers with the same aplomb he's displayed dodging creditors, then we're on to something."
Donovan McNabb passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
Philadelphia wins, 27-24.
What hangs lower than the cojones of Dallas owner Jerry Jones? Why, the scoreboard at the Cowboys new $1 billion stadium in Arlington, where you can enjoy a pizza for the nominal fee of $90, if you're foolish enough to get hungry at a Cowboys game.
But that's beside the point. The 'Boys open their season in Tampa, where the only obstacle to towering punts is the blue Tampa sky. Dallas embarks on a season without wide receiver Terrell Owens, so failure in the 2009 campaign will leave them like Lee Majors after a 1986 ABC series cancellation—with no "Fall Guy."
"We'll be just fine without T.O.," says Tony Romo. "Now, culpability for Cowboy failures will fall squarely on me and my bad dating choices. I look forward to double-dating with my good buddy Jason Witten, an arrangement which often includes only three people. Only in my world does a threesome not include any sexual acts."
The Buccaneers ended the season on a sour note, with an 0-4 finish to a promising 9-3 start hastening the firing of Jon Gruden and the departure of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was hired soon after to replace Gruden, who led Tampa to the Super Bowl XXXVII title.
"Obviously, I've got big shoes to fill," says Morris. "And a lot of curse words to learn."
Starting at quarterback for the Bucs will be journeyman Byron Leftwich, who won the starting job after solid performances in the preseason. Leftwich, known as much for his painfully slow throwing motion as for his powerful arm, has worked hard on his release.
"Look, I'm serious about getting rid of the ball sooner," says Leftwich. "I even had a clause written into my contract promising delivery in 30 minutes or less or it's free."
"I think it's cool that our new head coach lets us address him by his first name. Raheem's a players' coach, and his office door is always open if you want to rap. And it helps that he's a member of the Wu-Tang Clan."
It's not a good sign when your offensive coordinator is fired less than two weeks before the season opener. That's exactly what happened in Tampa when Jeff Jagodzinski was fired and replaced by quarterbacks coach Greg Olsen. Obviously, "turnover" is a problem in the Tampa organization, as well as in Sunday's game.
Leftwich turns it over three times, and Tony Romo hits Jason Witten for a touchdown score. Romo then proposes—that he and Witten celebrate the win over dinner.
Dallas wins, 27-6.
Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez earned the starting job for the Jets in late August, when head coach Rex Ryan announced that Sanchez had won the position over Kellen Clemens. Thus, Sanchez became another name on the ever-growing list of quarterbacks who replaced Brett Favre when he retired.
Like "Broadway" Joe Namath before him, Sanchez is a hit with the ladies and is certainly not lacking in confidence.
"Hey, I'm not one to guarantee a Jets victory in the Super Bowl," said Sanchez, "nor will I wear panty hose, unless it's for her pleasure. But I predict this team will be much improved over last year. We've got a brand new coach, Rex Ryan, who's a real S.O.B., son of Buddy, and Rex is not afraid to speak his mind, or slug an offensive coordinator."
Houston hopes to make the leap from being a "team on the verge" to a team in the playoffs. Paramount to achieving that is maintaining the health of starting quarterback Matt Schaub, who did nothing to quell his reputation as injury-prone when he sprained his ankle in a preseason game.
However, Schaub is ready to go against the Jets.
"All too often last year," says Gary Kubiak, "I found myself saying 'Bring out the gimp' whenever Matt got hurt, which was often. If Matt's injury issues have proved anything, it's that David Carr was one tough son of a gun."
The Texans have their own version of "The Triplets"—Schaub, Steve Slaton, and Andre Johnson, and collectively, the Texans offense is known as "Matt, Andre, and Slate Plus 8."
Houston wins, 27-16.
Kansas City @ Baltimore (-10)
Back for his 14th year as a Raven is linebacker Ray Lewis, an icon whom fellow players and fans alike have come to expect and appreciate. Kind of like their local Wal-Mart greeter welcoming them to "our house," just with slightly more menace and bravado.
Lewis anchors another fearsome Ravens defense that will shoulder the load for the team's success.
"Do Todd Haley and Matt Cassel think they can come here and expect the success they experienced last year?" asks Lewis. "Well, I have reservations. Not only is this 'my house,' but I'm also king of the 'Cassel.'"
In Kansas City, new head coach Todd Haley has set out to change the mindset of a franchise accustomed to losing under the Herman Edwards regime. That started with a brutal conditioning regimen, a program so intense that it quickly became known as "Haley's Vomit."
"No fat Chiefs!" barks Haley. "It was no accident that Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" was playing on the loud speaker when these chubby, out-of-shape players arrived for training camp, because 'now they're messing with a son of a bitch.'"
Is a gimpy-kneed Cassel ready to face the wrath of the Baltimore defense? Probably no more than the K.C. defense is prepared to stop the Ravens' deep running back corps of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McCain.
Ravens win, 27-3.
Offseason discussion on the Bengals centered not around what it should have (the return of a healthy Carson Palmer), but on attention-starved wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (née Johnson), Cincinnati's resident Twittering fool, who, in the last four months, announced plans to Tweet during games, was reprimanded by Denzel Washington, kicked an extra point in a preseason game, and feuded with sports columnist Skip Bayless.
"Well, I guess it was a slow year for Chad," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "The kid just has to make headlines. Take last year for example. He kissed me, for Christ's sake. I've indicated to Chad that I'm fed up with his shenanigans. I've made it clear to that clown that under no circumstances will I kiss 'ass' this year."
In Denver, it's well documented that "The Drive" may be the greatest moment in Broncos lore. And new nead coach Josh McDaniels wasted no time in creating his own Bronco magic, orchestrating "The Drive II," in which he ran off franchise quarterback Jay Cutler and clashed with star receiver Brandon Marshall.
Cutler was traded to the Bears, while Marshall has been the subject of trade rumors, as well as several videos showing him loafing in practice, and still others showing him in a tutu and a tiara.
"Who needs a Pro Bowl quarterback when you've got the most innovative offensive mind in all of football?" said McDaniels. "While in New England, I was known by the nickname given to me by none other than the 'Patriot Missile' himself, Zeke Mowatt. My nickname? The 'Patriot Whiz' of course."
"As for Cutler and Marshall, they're obviously spoiled crybabies. I'm not sure what kind of ship Mike Shanahan ran around here, but obviously he didn't mind players rocking the boat."
Carson Palmer versus an injured Kyle Orton, or his backup? Fun-loving Ochocinco versus the disgruntled Marshall? Give me the Bengals, and the points.
Cincinnati wins, 30-17. Ochocinco catches six balls for 101 yards and a score, then is caught Twittering in the shower.
What was the reaction in Vikings camp when Brett Favre decided to suit up for the Vikings instead of remaining retired? Well, many of Favre's new teammates were ecstatic, thrilled to have a Hall of Fame quarterback leading the 2009 charge.
And their excitement only grew when Favre himself walked into the locker room and said, "It's time to give up the booty."
For most of the Vikings, that was a sure sign that Favre wanted to celebrate with a team cruise on Lake Minnetonka aboard the infamous SS Natch, where "taking a knee" takes on a new meaning.
Sadly, their hopes went flaccid when Favre clarified his statement to indicate that he simply wanted the No. 4 jersey of reserve quarterback John David Booty.
"That doesn't mean I'd turn down a trip on the yacht," said Favre. "I could use a little wind in my sails. Besides, it's been reported that there's some division in the locker room concerning my return. What better way to fit in than to take 'one' for the team? Heck, it's the least I can do. Some of these guys have taken '69' for the team."
In Cleveland, Romeo Crennel is out and Eric Mangini is in as coach, as general manager Phil Savage is obviously convinced that a plump Bill Belichick disciple holds the key to the Browns success.
More likely, though, a solid year from a quarterback is the key to their success. Earlier this week, Mangini named a starter at QB, but refused to release his identity.
"He's also keeping the starter a secret from the team," says Derek Anderson, who battled Brady Quinn for the job in camp. "Funny, I saw Brian Sipe heading into team offices the other day. You know, Mangini's trying to be a little too clever for his own good. That's a so-called 'skill' he must have learned from Bill Belichick. In the meantime, though, I'll ponder my starting possibilities while casually viewing this bootleg video of a recent Vikings practice."
With the Vikes Kevin and Pat Williams approved to play on Sunday, the Browns running game will go nowhere. And whomever gets the starting nod will have to deal with the rush of defensive end Jaren Allen (or is that Kenny Powers?).
Allen records two sacks, and Adrian Peterson rushes for 178 yards and two scores.
Minnesota wins, 29-14.
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