The return of the NFL is exhilarating enough, but an unexpected bonus awaits Baltimore in Sunday's season opener.
The Ravens are going to win.
Coach Ted Marchibroda didn't pull a Jimmy Johnson yesterday, demanding 3-inch headlines for a bold prediction.
And none of the players pulled a Joe Namath, guaranteeing victory.
But the Ravens are going to defeat the Oakland Raiders, or at least they should, now that the Raiders have lost quarterback Jeff Hostetler.
Billy Joe Hobert will replace the injured Hostetler, and if the Ravens can't stop the inexperienced Billy Woe, they might as well go back to Cleveland.
How ripe are the Raiders?
Their defensive coordinator quit nine days ago. They just traded Rocket Ismail. And now they're entrusting the opener to their backup quarterback.
"We're not going to win the football game because Hostetler is not playing," Marchibroda cautioned. "If we win this football game, we'll win it because of the fact we blocked and tackled.
"Hobert has been with them three years. He knows their system. They let Vince Evans go. He won a lot of football games for them. I don't think there's any question they believe in Billy."
Perhaps, but Evans would have been 41 this season, and the Raiders re-signed Hostetler, 35, to a four-year, $13.3 million contract rather than commit to Hobert.
There hasn't been a setup like this since commissioner Paul "The Sun King" Tagliabue gift-wrapped expansion for Charlotte and Jacksonville.
By the way, no word from the NFL yet on where Tags will be Sunday, but no doubt he'll be in Charlotte, weeping at the opening of Carolinas Stadium.
He won't be at the Renegade Bowl, that's for sure.
Come to think of it, perhaps Ravens owner Art Modell should bet his Oakland counterpart, Al Davis.
How 'bout it boys?
Loser moves to L.A.
We know Davis would be willing.
He blathers on about the commitment to excellence, but everyone in the NFL knows the Raiders mystique no longer exists.
Their record in the last decade?
A not-so-excellent 83-76.
They started 8-2 last season, then dropped their last six. Hostetler missed all or part of eight games with injuries. The Raiders were 1-7 without him.
Then there's the defense, which allowed 44 and 31 points in the final two games, when the Raiders needed one win to make the playoffs.
Defensive tackle Russell Maryland and cornerback Larry Brown arrived from the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, joining tackle Chester McGlockton, linebacker Pat Swilling and corner Terry McDaniel.
Still, defensive coordinator John Fox quit after an embarrassing 27-6 preseason loss to Atlanta, with the Raiders naming linebackers coach Fred Whittingham his replacement.
This is a team in disarray.
But don't tell Marchibroda.
"The Raiders have been a football team where crisis is -- I don't want to say standard operation -- but they have their own agenda, and they've been very successful with it," he said.
All right, so maybe the Ravens aren't such a lock, seeing as how their starting running back (Earnest Byner) turns 34 on Sept. 15.
Not many backs run effectively at that age, but as Marchibroda, 65, said yesterday, "A lot of coaches are not coaching at some ages, also."
Go get 'em, Ted!
Indeed, Marchibroda is such a nice man, it will be impossible to criticize him this season.
Unless, of course, he loses to the Raiders.
Carried away? We can't help but get carried away. We haven't hyped a game since 1983.
Hobert is a strong-armed type out of Washington who completed 55 percent of his passes last season. So? The Raiders were 0-2 in games he started.
Playing behind an offensive line that allowed 36 sacks, in front of a Baltimore crowd unleashing 13 years of pent-up energy, he doesn't stand a chance.
The Ravens' defense was ferocious in the preseason.
Which quarterback do you think it would rather face, one who won a Rose Bowl, or one who won a Super Bowl?
Safety Stevon Moore isn't convinced that Hostetler will sit out, but he conceded, "Of course, they'll miss that experience if he's not in there."
Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, however, said the Raiders boast several weapons -- wide receiver Tim Brown, running backs Harvey Williams and Napoleon Kaufman -- and won't necessarily suffer without Hostetler.
"[Hobert] has a good command of their team," Lewis said. "He's pTC a fiery kid. He kind of got thrown into the fire last year. I think he held his own."
The Ravens are going to beat the Raiders, then invade Pittsburgh for an early AFC Central showdown with the hated Steelers.
The Ravens are going to beat the Raiders, and Sports Illustrated won't know what to write, and Bob Trumpy won't know what to say on NBC.
SI ranked the Ravens the worst of the 30 NFL teams.
Trumpy wrote in Inside Sports, "I wish [the Ravens] high winds and muddy fields. I wish them empty roads to and from the ballpark. I wish them cold hot dogs. I wish them nothing but bad."
Get a life, Bob.
The weather should be gorgeous.
The roads will be jammed.
And the hot dogs will be steaming -- everywhere, we hope, but the NBC booth.
Trumpy will eat crow, Davis will threaten to move, Tagliabue will do a slow burn in the Carolina sun.
The Ravens are going to win.
Pub Date: 8/27/96