NFL Countdown

STEVE COAD -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Houston (7-9) at Buffalo (9-7)

The line: Bills by 4 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Texans defence, ranked 23rd overall last season, will have its mitts full with Bills wideouts Eric Moulds and Lee Evans. Houston spent the preseason surrendering long touchdown passes and even more long runs, points out Associated Press football writer Paul Montella. The onus to plug that hole falls to Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson, who had six interceptions and 85 tackles as a rookie last season. Bills QB J.P. Losman is making his first start. Buffalo returned five kicks for touchdowns in 2004, the most in a season since the 1959 Chicago Cardinals.

Cody's call: Bills 27-20

Denver (10-6) at Miami (4-12)

The line: Broncos by 4 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The critical matchup here pits Broncos QB Jake Plummer against Miami's secondary. The Dolphins have intercepted Plummer six times in their last two meetings while not allowing a touchdown. Rookie head coach Nick Saban has introduced a defensive wrinkle that opponents will have to deal with, a 3-4 alignment he will toss in from time to time to spice up Miami's mainstay 4-3. Plummer entered the Broncos' record book in 2004, passing for 4,089 yards and 27 TDs. However, he was picked off an NFL-high 20 times. Under head coach Mike Shanahan, who arrived in '95, the Broncos are No. 1 in rushing average with 140.5 yards a game.

Cody's call: Broncos 23-14

New Orleans (8-8) at Carolina (7-9)

The line: Panthers by 7

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Panthers started 2004 1-7, then won six of their final eight games. The comeback wasn't quite enough to push them into the playoffs, but it does have tongues wagging heading into this season. There are lots of folks saying the Panthers are a possibility to knock off Philadelphia in the NFC championship game. But running back Stephen Davis's bum knee remains a question. Running back DeShaun Foster and wideout Steve Smith are also coming back from long injury layoffs dating to last year. Bright light Jake Delhomme set career highs last season with 3,886 yards passing, 29 TD passes and an 87.3 efficiency rating.

Cody's call: Panthers 23-20

Cincinnati (8-8) at Cleveland (4-12)

The line: Bengals by 3 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Bengals wide receiver tandem of Chad Johnson (1,274 yards) and T.J. Houshmanzadeh (978) combined for the most receiving yards in franchise history (2,252) last season. Johnson has led the AFC in receiving the last two seasons and had 10 snags in Cinci's 58-48 win over the Brownies last Nov. 28. Cleveland, fifth in the NFL against the pass last season (but 32nd versus the run), tied for the AFC lead with seven preseason pickoffs. The Bungles, under new head coach Romeo Crennel, seek their first winning season since 1990.

Cody's call: Bengals 20-17

Seattle (9-7) at Jacksonville (9-7)

The line: Jaguars by 3

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Jags have won seven of their last nine season openers, but if they're to add to that, quarterback Byron Leftwich will have to keep an eagle eye out for Marcus Trufant and Michael Boulware in the Seahawks secondary. Trufant, a corner, and Boulware, a safety, were the only NFL teammates to each have five interceptions last season. Leftwich had the third-lowest interception percentage in the AFC at 2.3 per cent. Jags running back Fred Taylor has surpassed 1,200 rushing yards the last three years.

Cody's call: Jaguars 20-14

New York Jets (10-6) vs. Kansas City (7-9)

The line: Chiefs by 3

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The big collision in this game will involve the Chiefs' offence against the Jets' defence. K.C.'s attack, ranked No. 1 overall (No. 4 on the run and No. 5 in passing) last season, has been either first or second in NFL scoring the last three seasons. The Jets surrendered just 53 points in the preseason -- best in the AFC, second-best in the NFL. Running back Priest Holmes has rushed for nine TDs in the Chiefs' last three season openers. The Jets yielded just two 100-yard rushing games last year.

Cody's call: Chiefs 28-17

Tampa Bay (5-11) at Minnesota (8-8)

The line: Vikings by 6

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Vikings are a good bet early in the season, starting 6-0 and 5-1 the last two years. The Bucs have gone 12-20 since winning the Super Bowl in 2002. In fact, they're the only team to win the title then have two straight losing seasons. Bucs QB Brian Griese led the NFL with a 69.3 completion percentage last season, setting team records in efficiency rating (97.5) and average per passing attempt (7.83 yards). Vikes QB Daunte Culpepper's 39 TD strikes in 2004 tied him for the fifth-best total all-time.

Cody's call: Vikings 27-14

Tennessee (5-11) at Pittsburgh (15-1)

The line: Steelers by 7

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. With The Bus (Jerome Bettis) parked by a sore calf and Duce Staley out due to a surgically repaired knee, the Steelers will run with No. 3 man Willie Parker, who will make his first start. He gained 112 yards on 11 carries in the preseason. Pittsburgh was No. 2 in the NFL in rushing last season. The Titans, down a quart these days, have won 10 of the last 12 meetings (including 30-13 in their last meeting, Sept. 28, 2003) and four of the last five in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger responded to claims he will be hit with a sophomore jinx by having a stellar training camp.

Cody's call: Steelers 30-20

Chicago (5-11) at Washington (6-10)

The line: Redskins by 6

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Washington's No. 3-ranked D (No. 2 against the run, No. 7 versus the pass) had 40 sacks last season. And that was without superstar linebacker Lavar Arrington, who missed most the season due to injury. This all adds up to trouble for Bears rookie signal caller Kyle Orton. Chicago's injury-plagued starting QB Rex Grossman is likely to miss the first three months of the season after breaking his left ankle in the preseason. Redskins QB Patrick Ramsey completed 65.4 per cent of his passes in seven starts last season, pretty good numbers for a guy who gets constant criticism.

Cody's call: Redskins 20-7

Green Bay (10-6) at Detroit (6-10)

The line: Lions by 3

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. The matchup to watch here throws the Lions' den of receivers at Green Bay's not-so-spectacular secondary. Detroit QB Joey Harrington, under the gun to crank up his career, has three top wide receivers -- Roy Williams, Carlos Rogers and rookie Mike Williams -- to toss to, plus tight end Marcus Pollard, who collected six TD passes for Indianapolis last year. The Packers surrendered 47 TDs in 2004, 33 via the pass. Of Green Bay's league-low eight interceptions a year ago, departed safety Darren Sharper (Minnesota) had four of them. The Packers killed the Lions last year in Detroit, 38-10.

Cody's call: Packers, 27-24

Arizona (6-10) at New York Giants (6-10)

The line: Giants by 2

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. Giants quarterback Eli Manning is listed as probable despite a pre-season injury to his right elbow. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have put their attack in the hands of Giants castoff Kurt Warner, whose best days are likely behind him. But he's still the NFL's all-time leader in completion percentage. Warner has big-play wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald (58 catches, 780 yards and eight TDs last season) and Anquan Boldin (56 snags, 623 yards and one major). Dennis Green's high-octane offence will give Warner every chance to excel against an inconsistent Giants secondary.

Cody's call: Cardinals 27-24

Dallas (6-10) at San Diego (12-4)

The line: Chargers by 4 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. Dallas's defence, ranked 16th overall last season (10th against the run, 21st against the pass), has a tough Week 1 assignment in the Chargers, although things will be easier with super receiver Antonio Gates out due to a holdout-related suspension. The Chargers, the NFL's No. 10 offence last season, will still have Drew Brees at QB, LaDainian Tomlinson at running back and the entire O-line back. The Cowboys will counter with their freshly installed 3-4 defence. The early signs are positive. Dallas allowed just 56 pre-season points, fewest in the league.

Cody's call: Chargers 20-17

St. Louis (8-8) at San Francisco (2-14)

The line: Rams by 4 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. This one pits San Fran quarterback Tim Rattay against the front seven of the Rams, a unit buoyed significantly by the offseason signings of high- profile free-agent linebackers Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley. These guys, plus outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, should turn down the heat on the Rams' D-line. Rattay took the job as the 49ers starting pivot from Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, after Smith faltered in the preseason. Smith will no doubt be back, but at the moment Rattay has a better handle on the 49ers' West Coast offence.

Cody's call: Rams 31-20

Indianapolis (12-4) at Baltimore (9-7)

The line: Colts by 3

The skinny: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. (TSN). Obvious key matchup: Peyton Manning and Indy's brilliant offence versus Baltimore's punishing defence. The Ravens' dominant D, led by safety Ed Reed (nine interceptions) and linebacker Ray Lewis, ranked sixth -- tied for eighth against the rush, 10th against the pass-- in the NFL last season. They surrendered an average of 300.2 yards and 16.8 points a game. Manning tossed 49 TD passes last season (which tossed aside Dan Marino's NFL record) and was held to less than two touchdown heaves in just one game. Now, who did that to Manning? Baltimore, of course.

Cody's call: Ravens 21-17

Philadelphia (13-3) at Atlanta (11-5)

The line: Eagles by 2

The skinny: Monday, 9 p.m. (ABC). This one is a rematch of last year's NFC final, a lopsided game won 27-10 by the Eagles. Philly's biggest stars, quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receiver Terrell Owens, aren't speaking, but they teamed up in their lone preseason appearance together for 131 yards on five catches, including one for a 64-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage against the Bengals. Eagles head coach Andy Reid's .667 winning percentage -- 64-32 overall and 32-16 on the road -- lead the NFL among active coaches. Atlanta's Mike Vick rushed for 902 yards last season, third-highest one-season total by a quarterback.

Cody's call: Eagles 21-14

Last season

Straight up

Regular season: 167-89; playoffs: 7-3

Spread

Regular season: 111-110; playoffs: 7-3


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