Now's time for answers

Week One

Nfl Preview

September 11, 2005|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

NOW THAT the New England Patriots have shown that they won't fall apart without their two Super Bowl coordinators, we can turn our attention to six intriguing questions that usher in the 2005 season:

How much turmoil can the Philadelphia Eagles endure and still return to the Super Bowl?

The answer almost certainly seems to be, not much more. But this is a team that came out of the Terrell Owens fiasco reasonably well, that felt enough confidence in its defensive line to release Corey Simon, and that now is working on damage control with disgruntled playmaker Brian Westbrook.

In other words, this is a team built to handle these kinds of distractions, from coach Andy Reid to quarterback Donovan McNabb on down. The issue really becomes, what team is going to take the NFC title from the Eagles? Only the Carolina Panthers and tomorrow night's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, are on the short list of prospects.

Can the Saints go home again?

It doesn't appear so, because of economics and logistics. Going back to the rubble of New Orleans isn't an option anytime soon. Playing as a state team in Louisiana for a long period of time isn't much of an option either.

Because team owner Tom Benson has a home and business ties in San Antonio, he has a budding bidding war between that Texas city and Los Angeles for his franchise. Los Angeles should win handily, assuming it actually wants the Saints.

What did the preseason mean when the Indianapolis Colts went 0-5 and the Cleveland Browns went 3-1?

Absolutely nothing. Except to the players who were cut or went on injured reserve.

Which of three recycled former Super Bowl quarterbacks - Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer and Drew Bledsoe - will have the best season?

If he escapes New York uninjured today, Warner probably can last until Week 5 against Carolina before getting hurt behind the Arizona Cardinals' sievelike line. Dilfer's line in Cleveland isn't much better, but he's much tougher. The game he has to worry about is Week 6 in Baltimore. The Browns are a bad team.

Which leaves Bledsoe, with the Dallas Cowboys, as the winner in this group, although he'll have to weather Bill Parcells' bombast all year.

Will any of the three new head coaches - Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, Nick Saban in Miami or Mike Nolan in San Francisco - pull a surprise?

Not unless one of them wins a couple of games. Actually, Saban is in the best position to win a few, but Crennel and Nolan are staring at the first pick in the 2006 draft.

Who plays in - and wins - the Super Bowl in Detroit?

Who can argue with the Patriots' success? We like them over the Panthers.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

49ers passed on hooking up with Rice again

Newly retired Jerry Rice will get a curtain call in San Francisco sometime this year, but the most productive receiver in NFL history will have to wonder whether the 49ers really mean it.

The team passed on a chance to bring him back as a tutor and role model for one final season, as he proposed last winter. In training camp with the Denver Broncos this summer, Rice told a San Francisco reporter he was disappointed but not surprised the 49ers declined the offer.

"I thought it would be an ideal situation with the new coach and what the team is going through," Rice said, "and it would have been just perfect for me to say goodbye the right way. I don't know if it was [new coach Mike Nolan]. It could have been [owner] John York. They really just didn't want me. They wanted no parts of it."

Rice retired from the Broncos last week rather than accept a role as fourth receiver. The 49ers aren't going to pull one of those maudlin sign-and-retire ceremonies during the season because they'd have to open a roster spot and pay Rice a one-week check of $45,000. But they clearly need to hold some kind of ceremony, if only to retire the jersey of a player who might be the greatest receiver ever to play the game.

Benson backtracks

Here is how desperate - and out of touch - New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson apparently is: A report surfaced last week that he wanted to move the team permanently to San Antonio and not give refunds to season-ticket holders back in his home state.

Once the story broke, Benson backed off and conceded that refunds would, indeed, be given. Although he issued a statement that he would prefer to play home games this season in Baton Rouge at LSU's Tiger Stadium, the players and coaches would rather play at the Alamodome in San Antonio, where they have set up camp for the season.

LSU athletic director Skip Bertman said the university would extend a helping hand to the Saints, but he emphasized the school would not subsidize Benson's team. "We'll do whatever it takes except spend money," he said.

The league favors playing games in Baton Rouge, but hotels are overcrowded with evacuees and relief workers. The Saints already have negotiated to play four games in San Antonio, and for logistical reasons, Baton Rouge will be a tough sell.

Unbalanced schedule

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