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Top 10 Key Games for 2004 Season


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Tuesday, September 7, 2004

By John Clayton


Having made the tour of NFL training camps, it's time to make adjustments in some earlier predictions.

Preseason predictions are often made on paper transactions. Until camps start, a team doesn't know how an acquisition is going to play until he is on the field. That's the benefit of seeing 19 teams in person and watching the rest on tape following the preseason games.

As a result, the Steelers and Jets are better than expected in the AFC. Though neither is a favorite to make the playoffs, both teams appear to be better on defense than advertised and can be seeded just a notch below the playoff teams. The Saints are an interesting team. Combine the offensive weapons with their defensive talent and you have a team that may be more talented than the Panthers.

Still, don't discount the Panthers. Their offensive line problems may stay with them all season, but their scheme may minimize the holes in their line. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning loves to max protect for his quarterback. Most of the time, the Panthers will be run-blocking. Picking between the Panthers and Saints for the division winner might be the toughest decision of all, but the Panthers get the edge because of the swagger they picked up last season going to the Super Bowl.

On the negative side, the Falcons offense looks challenged. Michael Vick had only 29 preseason plays, not enough to garner confidence he can smoothly run the West Coast offense he is trying to learn. Though this was projected to be a breakout season, they will struggle. Meanwhile, the Rams offensive line took severe hits and it shows. Without right tackle Kyle Turley and center Dave Wohlabaugh, it will be virtually impossible for Mike Martz to send everyone into routes without risking quarterback Marc Bulger to injury.

Those shifts and other observations caused adjustments in the long-term look at key games ahead in the preseason First … And 10.

Manning and the Colts swept Tennessee last year.

First ... Sept. 19: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans (rematch Dec. 5)

10. Oct. 4: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens

9. Nov. 14: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (rematch Dec. 24)

8. Oct. 31: Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs

7. Oct. 10: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (rematch Nov. 14)

6. Oct. 10: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (rematch Dec. 20)

5. Sept. 20: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles

4. Sept. 17: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (rematch Sept. 27): It's no wonder ABC grabbed this one. It's Joe Gibbs versus Bill Parcells. More important for the Redskins, it's Joe Gibbs on his home turf. A lot of flashbacks will occur. Gibbs is a legend in Washington, D.C. He won three Super Bowls. He won with class. But Parcells epitomized last season what a great coach he is by taking a Jerry Jones team that finished 5-11 for three straight years and won 10 games. Parcells has a little bit more of a personal stamp on this team. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, running back Richie Anderson and wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn all played for Parcells with other teams. This game would be ranked higher, but the Eagles are still the best in the division so it's an attractive meeting of two teams vying for second fiddle.

3. Sept. 26: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Oakland Raiders

2. Nov. 22: New England Patriots at Kansas City

1. Dec. 5: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (rematch Jan. 2)

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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Originally posted by SkinsFanMania

Why would Miami vs. New England be a key matchup this year. Miami isn't going to do anything this year and I feel a key matchup would be between 2 teams vying to win the division or atleast a wild card berth.

Yeah, that's one of those WTF? picks.

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