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Thursday, September 4, 2008
Week 1 Pigskin/Eliminator preview

By AJ Mass
ESPN.com

And so it begins. The 2008 NFL season is set to get under way, and we're here to tell you that the Super Bowl winner will be the Dallas Cowboys, who will defeat the San Diego Chargers, 27-21. Do we actually think it's possible to predict not only the two teams that will make the Super Bowl, but also the final score, before the season has even started? Not a chance. Do we believe that actress Catherine Bell, of "JAG" fame, once pulled off this feat? Not a chance. However, a quick Internet search will show that many sources allege that Bell is "the only person to have ever correctly predicted the participants in, winner, and final score of a Super Bowl before a season began in a published article in a major sports periodical or book." Of course, this is sheer nonsense. Bell did correctly predict that the Patriots would beat the Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI in a survey of celebrities compiled during media week, which makes the feat a heck of lot less impressive. Still, it's no easy task selecting the winner and spread of any individual game even if you do know which two teams are scheduled to face off. Nevertheless, we're still going to give it a shot for every Week 1 contest. Here's how we see things shaking out, along with some other quotes attributed to that purported football prognosticator savant, Catherine Bell:

Thursday, September 4

Washington at New York Giants (-3)

"Sometimes you work all the way through to 5 a.m., then get a few hours and you're back on set again." Didn't the Giants just shock the world by beating the Patriots? Looks like it's already time to start all over again. They'll take the first step at home against Washington.

Prediction: Giants by 8

Sunday, September 7

Detroit at Atlanta (+2)

"Everyone is highly influenced by the visual impression of a person they are meeting for the first time." And NFL fans are going to be influenced by what they see in Matt Ryan as he introduces himself to football fans with a solid -- and, more importantly, victorious -- performance.

Prediction: Falcons by 1

Seattle at Buffalo (-)

"When I do get time, I like to hike and I take lots of vitamins and powders to keep healthy." Sounds like Catherine understands what it's like to be Matt Hasselbeck, who is ailing and possesses a receiving corps that's battered and bruised. He'll take his vitamins, get under center, hike the ball and still come out on top, while the Bills take a powder.

Prediction: Seahawks by 4

Jacksonville at Tennessee (+3)

"I use [the Internet] for information. Like if I'm planning a trip or something, I'll check out the place I'm going to." It's always important to scout out your destination, and the Jaguars will be well-schooled in what to expect when going off to visit Tennessee. They'll have packed appropriately and will even take home a win as a souvenir.

Prediction: Jaguars by 2

New York Jets at Miami (+2)

"Almost every Marine I've met says I portray a Marine dead-on, which is really, really flattering." We'll go with the whole flattering Marine theme and pick the Dolphins to ruin the Jets debut of Brett Favre. We think Dan "Marine-o" would agree with us.

Prediction: Dolphins by 1

Kansas City at New England (-16)

"I was a tomboy when I was a kid, so I was always playing baseball and basketball and football and stuff as a kid with the boys." She likes the tomboys? We like Tom Brady, especially against the Chiefs.

Prediction: Patriots by 22

Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-3)

"I love cold, rainy weather." Thankfully, Gustav spared the city of New Orleans a repeat of post-Katrina grief. We're going to pick the Saints to beat the Bucs and warm the locals' hearts.

Prediction: Saints by 5

St. Louis at Philadelphia (-7)

"Yes, I originally wanted to be an artist, and my Mom wanted me to go to UCLA and be a doctor or something." Drew Bennett of the Rams, who went to UCLA, could use a doctor. He may play through his nagging injuries, but we expect Donovan McNabb and company to paint an opening-day masterpiece.

Prediction: Eagles by 6

Houston at Pittsburgh (-6)

"I love beer. There's nothing like having an ice-cold beer." Pittsburgh's Iron City Brewery claims to be the first American brewery to produce a lager, and the first to brew a true light beer. Pittsburgh also knows how to create touchdowns.

Prediction: Steelers by 7

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-)

"The special effects people will put a little explosive in the cake so it blows up in their face -- that's always fun to play on a guest star, or one of the trainees or someone who's new." Pity Joe Flacco, the Ravens' Week 1 quarterback by default. Hopefully things won't completely blow up in his face … but we can't imagine this ends well.

Prediction: Bengals by 4

Carolina at San Diego (-9)

"I didn't figure out the makeup or cute hair or clothes until oh, maybe my junior year of high school." This is Philip Rivers' third year (or junior year) as the Chargers' starter. Perhaps this is also the year he figures everything out. (We're talking about the offense, folks, not the cute hair or clothes.)

Prediction: Chargers by 13

Arizona at San Francisco (+2)

"People think I'm crazy and reckless but I'm absolutely not … I'm soooo safe and soooo careful and I won't do anything that feels like I could break something." People think Mike Martz is crazy and reckless, but the truth this Niners' offense will probably be more cautious than you think. Unfortunately, playing it safe rarely results in victory.

Prediction: Cardinals by 2

Dallas at Cleveland (+3)

"It's a boy's world." Even with only two healthy wide receivers, we have to agree. Tony Romo will do enough to prove to Cleveland that it is indeed a Boys world.

Prediction: Cowboys by 6

Chicago at Indianapolis (-9)

"We usually work 14-hour days, and sometimes [more], which doesn't leave much time for anything else -- most Sundays are spent recovering." In other words, too much work makes for a tired and lethargic football team come Sunday. Many Bears were fighting for starting jobs and got lots of reps in the preseason. On the other hand, did you see Peyton Manning play at all? Neither did we. The Colts will be fresh, and end up on top.

Prediction: Colts by 12

Monday, September 8

Minnesota at Green Bay (-2)

"I'm a firm believer in doing things that scare you." The Packers took a leap of faith by letting the legend go and turning the reins over to Aaron Rodgers. Scary? You bet. The wrong decision? We don't think so.

Prediction: Packers by 3

Denver at Oakland (+1)

"I love to go bungee jumping, jump out of planes, ride motorbikes, do kickboxing. I love all that stuff." Sounds like Catherine is a girl who would fit right in with Raider Nation. We think it's a huge risk putting our faith in JaMarcus Russell, but we've gone with Miss Bell so far … why quit now?

Prediction: Raiders by 2

Eliminator

The ESPN Eliminator requires that you make one and only one pick each week. You win and you live to pick again in Week 2. You lose and it's all over. No pressure, right? Oh, and you can't pick the same team twice. We're going to give you our top five choices each week, since we want to be as helpful as possible, and there's no way of knowing what teams each and every one of you have picked already. However, we won't pick the same team more than once at the same DEFCON level. DEFCON 5 is our most confident pick, and as the DEFCON level drops, so too does our faith in being right. Here are our picks for this week:

DEFCON 5: Patriots
DEFCON 4: Chargers
DEFCON 3: Colts
DEFCON 2: Giants
DEFCON 1: Steelers

Not too much going out on a limb with those, but we want to play things a little close to the vest early on, and hope that others take chances and fall by the wayside. We'll see what happens. Have fun everyone! Let the games begin! And remember, reruns of "JAG" air daily … check your local listings.

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.