NFL WEEK 1

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dallas at Pittsburgh

Time: 1 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Line: Cowboys by 1.

Vs. spread (1996): Cowboys 8-10; Steelers 10-7.

Worth watching: After throwing only 37 passes in his first two seasons, Kordell Stewart takes over as Pittsburgh's quarterback. had an excellent preseason (26-for-41, four TDs, no interceptions). But this is a game that counts.

Outlook: The Cowboys have spent a year trying to clean up their image. We'll have to see if that makes any difference on the field. Dallas QB Troy Aikman will search for WR Michael Irvin against a pair of new cornerbacks: ex-Bear Donnell Woolford and rookie Chad Scott (Maryland). But Stewart's creativity and the power game of RB Jerome Bettis will make the difference.

Notable: Dallas coach Barry Switzer is 2-0 vs. Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher.

Injuries:

COWBOYS: Out: WR Macey Brooks (arm); T George Hegamin (knee). Questionable: G Nate Newton (foot).

STEELERS: Out: LB Carlos Emmons (shoulder); K Chris Jacke (hip); RB Fred McAfee (shoulder). Questionable: T Justin Strzelczyk (foot). Probable: RB Jerome Bettis (shoulder); WR Corey Holliday (ribs); QB Kordell Stewart (knee); WR Yancey Thigpen (foot).

Indianapolis at Miami

Time: 1 p.m., Ch. 4

Line: Dolphins by 6.

Vs. spread (1996): Colts 6-11; Dolphins 6-10.

Worth watching: Early test to see which way these two teams will be going this year, and game features two of the AFC's top quarterbacks, the Dolphins' Dan Marino and the Colts' Jim Harbaugh.

Outlook: The Dolphins have had injury problems throughout training camp, but in his second season, Jimmy Johnson should have them in the race for the playoffs. The Colts may start two rookies at offensive tackle, no recipe for a road victory.

Notable: Colts RB Marshall Faulk, who had four 100-yard rushing games in 1994, has only two in the past two seasons. The Dolphins have lost four of the past five meetings.

Injuries:

COLTS: Out: T Derek West (groin). Doubtful: DE Carl Powell (ankle). Questionable: C Jason Johnson (hamstring). Probable: TE Bradford Banta (knee); G Tarik Glenn (ankle); T Tony Mandarich (head).

DOLPHINS: Doubtful: LB Zach Thomas (leg). Questionable: TE Frank Wainwright (shoulder). Probable: RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar (hip); DT Tim Bowens (thumb); CB Calvin Jackson (knee); RB Bernie Parmalee (ankle); DE Daniel Stubbs (leg).

Oakland at Tennessee

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Raiders by 3.

Vs. spread (1996): Raiders 8-8; Oilers 10-6.

Worth watching: After two years of development, Steve McNair takes over as the Oilers' starting quarterback. After almost a decade of missed opportunities, Jeff George tries to revive the Raiders' vertical passing game.

Outlook: The Oilers make their Tennessee debut in Memphis, where they're making a two-year pit stop before moving permanently to Nashville, and can't count on much fan support. More important, the Oilers can give the ball to RB Eddie George. And all those big-name Raiders defenders don't make enough big plays.

Notable: The Raiders tied their own NFL record with 156 $H penalties last season. Oilers G Bruce Matthews' 212 starts are most by any active player for a single team.

Injuries:

RAIDERS: Probable: RB Jerone Davison (gluteal); S Eric Turner (groin).

OILERS: Out: WR Derek Russell (collarbone). Questionable: LB Joe Bowden (hamstring); T-G Jason Layman (hip); CB Darryll Lewis (hamstring); S Armon Williams (ankle).

Kansas at Denver

Time: 4 p.m., Ch. 4

Line: Broncos by 8.

Vs. spread (1996): Chiefs 6-10; Broncos 9-7.

Worth watching: Former Chiefs DE Neil Smith lines up against his old team. The Chiefs should know how to block him after all those years, but offensive tackle is their weakest position.

Outlook: The Broncos, who won 13 games in 1996, will spend this season trying to make up for their upset loss to Jacksonville in last year's playoffs. QB John Elway missed some of training camp with a biceps injury, but he's taking aim at a Chiefs team in decline despite the addition of QB Elvis Grbac and WRs Brett Perriman and Andre Rison.

Notable: The Chiefs have won their past seven openers. Broncos TE Shannon Sharpe has caught 69 passes for 828 yards and eight TDs in 13 games against Kansas City.

Injuries:

CHIEFS: Questionable: RB Donnell Bennett (knee); WR Brett Perriman (hamstring). Probable: LB Bobby Houston (quadriceps); TE Ted Popson (hip); S Kevin Ross (leg); LB Derrick Thomas (arm).

BRONCOS: Out: G Dan Neil (abdomen). Questionable: DE Alfred Williams (elbow).

Arizona at Cincinnati

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Bengals by 8.

Vs. spread (1996): Cardinals 10-6; Bengals 9-6.

Worth watching: Bengals RB Ki-Jana Carter has struggled in his first two seasons, but he averaged 7.0 yards per carry in the preseason. Two Pro Bowl players go head-to-head: Bengals WR Carl Pickens vs. Cardinals CB Aeneas Williams.

Outlook: The conventional wisdom is that the Bengals are back as a playoff contender. A victory over the Cardinals wouldn't prove that just yet, but a loss would be telling.

Notable: Cardinals FB Larry Centers has 200 catches over the past two seasons. The Bengals' defense forced a league-high 44 turnovers and scored three touchdowns in 1996.

Injuries:

CARDINALS: Out: T James Dexter (knee); T Matt Joyce (knee); RB Derrick Moore (knee). Probable: S Matt Darby (shoulder); C Mike Devlin (shoulder); G Cris Dishman (ankle); LB Eric Hill (back); DE Simeon Rice (back); DT Eric Swann (groin).

BENGALS: Out: WR David Dunn (hand). Probable: DE Ramondo Stallings (chest); QB Boomer Esiason (neck); S Tremain Mack (knee); C Rod Payne (knee).

Minnesota at Buffalo

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Bills by 2 1/2 .

Vs. spread (1996): Vikings 9-8; Bills 9-8.

Worth watching: Todd Collins takes over for the retired Jim Kelly as the Bills' quarterback. He was 2-1 as a starter last year, but it's always different when you're the official starter. The same goes for the Vikings' Brad Johnson, who wrapped up the job late last season and has the new contract to prove it.

Outlook: The Bills may have to rely more on RB Thurman Thomas in the post-Kelly era. And the Vikings need a big game and year from RB Robert Smith, back from yet another knee injury. Johnson gives the Vikings an edge.

Notable: The Bills have the NFL's best September record in the 1990s (22-5, .815). Vikings WRs Cris Carter and Jake Reed each had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season.

Injuries:

VIKINGS: Doubtful: TE Andrew Glover (knee). Questionable: P Mitch Berger (hip). Probable: TE Hunter Goodwin (calf); DE Fernando Smith (hamstring).

BILLS: Questionable: DE Shawn Price (elbow).

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Eagles by 3.

Vs. spread (1996): Eagles 9-8; Giants 8-8.

Worth watching: With RB Rodney Hampton questionable, the Giants continue their endless quest for a tailback by going with rookie Tiki Barber. The Eagles are going with Ty Detmer over Rodney Peete at quarterback.

Outlook: The Giants should have more offensive punch with rookies Barber and WR Ike Hilliard. But you can expect Philadelphia to spoil Jim Fassel's debut as Giants coach, with RB Ricky Watters hogging the ball and pass rusher Mike Mamula putting plenty of heat on Dave Brown, the Giants' perennially underachieving quarterback.

Notable: The Giants have not had a Pro Bowl receiver in 29 years.

Injuries:

EAGLES: Questionable: LB Darrin Smith (ankle); WR Chris T. Jones (knee). Probable: G Ian Beckles (foot); DT Jimmie Jones (knee-ankle); CB Bobby Taylor (groin).

GIANTS: Out: CB Conrad Hamilton (knee); RB Rodney Hampton (knee); CB Phillippi Sparks (hepatitis); C Brian Williams (eye). Probable: LB Marcus Buckley (hip).

N.Y Jet at Seattle

Line: Seahawks by 6.

Vs. spread (1996): Jets 8-8; Seahawks 8-8.

Worth watching: The performances of Seattle's key additions: LB Chad Brown, rookie CB Shawn Springs, DE Michael Sinclair and rookie OT Walter Jones.

Outlook: With new owner Paul Allen spending some of his Microsoft millions, the Seahawks revamped their roster in the off-season. They're going with John Friesz, who made Rick Mirer expendable, at quarterback. They have too much talent for the Jets, even though New York was unbeaten in the preseason under Bill Parcells.

Notable: Jets WR Wayne Chrebet has 150 career receptions, most by any player in his first two seasons. He led the league with 31 third-down catches in 1996. Seahawks QB Warren Moon enters his 20th pro season as a backup.

Injuries:

JETS: Probable: C John Hudson (knee).

SEAHAWKS: Out: RB Oscar Gray (gluteal); DE Martin Harrison (knee); WR James McKnight (knee). Questionable: WR Joey Galloway (knee). Probable: WR Brian Blades (knee).

Atlanta at Detroit

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Lions by 8.

Vs. spread (1996): Falcons 6-10; Lions 4-12.

Worth watching: As always, Barry Sanders will have plenty to say about the outcome. He has rushed for at least 100 yards each of the past three opening days. The Falcons need a big day and year from new QB Chris Chandler, acquired in a trade with the Oilers.

Outlook: The Lions get a relative breather in their debut under Bobby Ross. When Sanders isn't running, QB Scott Mitchell can challenge the new Falcons cornerback combination of Ray Buchanan and Ronnie Bradford.

Notable: The Lions have won seven of the past eight meetings. The Falcons have not won a road opener since 1986.

Injuries:

FALCONS: Out: DE Anthony Pleasant (knee). Doubtful: S Chris Bayne (hamstring). Questionable: WR Todd Kinchen (hamstring). Probable: CB Juran Bolden (ankle); DE John Burrough (knee); G Gene Williams (ankle); S William White (back).

LIONS: Out: G Chris Harrison (knee). Doubtful: G Tony Semple (ankle). Questionable: WR Kez McCorvey (ankle); LB Matt Russell (abdomen); DE Tracy Scroggins (shoulder); DT Mike Wells (ankle); CB Bryant Westbrook (groin).

New Orleans at St. Louis

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Rams by 4.

Vs. spread (1996): Saints 7-9; Rams 9-8.

Worth watching: One of Mike Ditka's first moves after taking over the Saints was to decide on former Redskins bust Heath Shuler as his quarterback. How this game, and the Saints' season, goes may depend on to what degree he can do for Ditka what Jim McMahon did in Chicago.

Outlook: It's Ditka vs. Dick Vermeil in the Return of the Veteran Coaches. The Saints have Ditka, but the Rams have Tony Banks, Isaac Bruce and Lawrence Phillips. Sorry, Ditka fans.

Notable: Vermeil hasn't coached a regular-season game since 1982, Ditka since 1992. RB Mario Bates could become the second player in Saints history to lead the club in rushing for four straight seasons.

Injuries:

SAINTS: Out: G Chris Naeole (knee).

RAMS: Out: RB Jerald Moore (elbow). Doubtful: S Toby Wright (hamstring). Questionable: C Bern Brostek (back); WR Isaac Bruce (hamstring). Probable: RB Lawrence Phillips (knee).

San Diego at New England

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Patriots by 7 1/2 .

Vs. spread (1996): Chargers 8-8; Patriots 9-9.

Worth watching: Eric Metcalf, the Chargers' key free-agent acquisition, tries to boost the offense in a variety of ways, by catching passes and returning kicks.

Outlook: The Patriots try to build on the momentum of their AFC championship. Pete Carroll succeeds Bill Parcells, who couldn't take Drew Bledsoe with him to the Jets. Bledsoe and the Patriots are still learning their new offense, but this is also the Chargers' first game under a new coach, Kevin Gilbride.

Notable: The Chargers are 1-10 in road openers since 1986. Patriots RB Curtis Martin is one of only three players in NFL history to average a touchdown per game played (minimum 20 games).

Injuries:

CHARGERS: Out: LB Junior Seau (knee). Questionable: DE William Fuller (knee); RB Carwell Gardner (knee). Probable: TE Alfred Pupunu (knee); LB Kurt Gouveia (shoulder).

PATRIOTS: Doubtful: CB Steve Israel (knee). Questionable: DE Willie McGinest (hamstring); C Dave Wohlabaugh (ankle).

San Francisco at Tampa Bay

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: 49ers by 6 1/2 .

Vs. spread (1996): 49ers 10-8; Bucs 8-8.

Worth watching: Is the Steve Young-to-Jerry Rice passing combination getting old? Can the two stay healthy? This game provides the first glimpse.

Outlook: The 49ers think they have added a running game to their attack, but continue to have problems on the offensive line. The Bucs' strong finish in '96 (five wins in the last seven games) under first-year coach Tony Dungy has many saying they're finally ready to contend for the playoffs. Fans in Tampa have heard this before, but maybe rookie RB Warrick Dunn really can make a difference.

Notable: The 49ers have won 12 of the past 13 meetings, including nine straight.

Injuries:

49ERS: Out: T Harris Barton (knee); C Chris Dalman (knee). Questionable: RB Chuck Levy (shoulder). Probable: DT Junior Bryant (ankle); LB Kevin Mitchell (shoulder).

BUCS: Out: WR Nigea Carter (knee). Doubtful: LB Jeff Gooch (hand). Questionable: WR Horace Copeland (hamstring); DE Eric Curry (knee); DT Marcus Jones (ankle); S John Lynch (foot).

Probable: G Frank Middleton (foot).

Pub Date: 8/31/97

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