Those little devils who conjure up the NFL schedule concocted a natural for the first Sunday night.
Tennessee will play at Buffalo in a replay of the "Music City Miracle," the game that jump-started the Titans toward the Super Bowl last season.
For those who may have forgotten, that was the game decided by a play called "home run throwback," the desperation kickoff return in which Frank Wycheck lateraled -- maybe -- crossfield to Kevin Dyson, who returned it for the touchdown that gave the Titans a 22-16 win in the opening wildcard game.
Harrumph! says Wade Phillips, who continues to insist the ball went forward.
"I know we're going to get tired about the home run throw forward," the Buffalo coach says. "We'll hear that a bunch of times. But that was last year, and last year's team. We've got a lot of new guys this year."
Gone are those vestiges of Buffalo's Super Bowl teams -- Bruce Smith to Washington, Thurman Thomas to Miami and Andre Reed to Denver. The current Bills are youngsters, the fruit of the good drafting that has kept the team competitive even as the superstars aged.
But Tennessee may have the most important newcomer, Carl Pickens.
His arrival after a whiny and disgruntled career in Cincinnati, along with Yancey Thigpen's good health, may mean that Dyson gets only part-time work this season.
Dyson is ready to move ahead -- at least ahead of "Home run throwback."
"Actually, I'm really tired of talking about it. I only think about it when I get interviewed or somebody asks about it," he says. "I'll be happy to be done with it, so I can concentrate on the season."
Carolina (8-8) at Washington (10-6)
Is Norv Turner's job already on the line? Will Dan (The Fan) Snyder be happy if the $100 million he spent on his fantasy league team drops its opener at home to a mere wildcard contender?
Interesting sidelight: The two best defensive linemen of the '90s, Bruce Smith (Washington) and Reggie White (Carolina), are on opposite sides of the field. Not counting Pro Bowls and friendlies, they've played each other (so to speak) just six times since both started in the NFL in 1985.
Denver (6-10) at St. Louis (13-3) (Monday night)
This is the NFL's normal opening Monday night matchup -- the last two Super Bowl champions, although Dennis Miller's regular-season debut may get the most headlines.
Denver may be the favorite in the bunched AFC West. Brian Griese seems to have settled in at quarterback, Terrell Davis is back and John Elway memories are growing more distant.
The biggest question about the Rams seems to be Mike Martz, the new coach, who says he doesn't want his learning process to hamper his team. The only blip so far seems to be All-Pro defensive end Kevin Carter's concern about a new contract, which was put on the back burner while Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce got big bucks.
Seattle (9-7) at Miami (9-7)
This is the first game of the post-Dan Marino era in Miami. Will it someday be known as the start of the Jay Fiedler era?
This is a reprise of the last game ever played in the Kingdome, a 20-17 Miami win in an AFC wildcard game. It was followed by a game the Dolphins will never be allowed to forget: a 62-7 shellacking in Jacksonville, Marino's final game.
Tampa Bay (11-5) at New England (8-8)
The Bucs start what they hope will be a run toward a Super Bowl in their own stadium. One reason is the acquisition of Keyshawn Johnson, who could help with the game plan.
Indianapolis (13-3) at Kansas City (9-7)
The Chiefs will be a test for the Colts, who have invested most of their money in offense. That leaves a defense in which 35-year-old Cornelius Bennett is the key and rookie Rob Morris is the instant starting middle linebacker.
This is an emotional game for the Chiefs -- its first in the regular season without the late Derrick Thomas, who died last winter after an auto accident.
New York Jets (8-8) at Green Bay (8-8)
Mike Sherman makes his debut as the Packers' coach and Vinny Testaverde's has his first real game back as the Jets' QB after missing all but two quarters of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon. There's a small possibility that it could be the first game Brett Favre (elbow tendinitis) will miss after 125 straight -- Matt Hasslebeck took snaps with the first team this week.
San Diego (8-8) at Oakland (8-8)
Ryan Leaf and Sebastian Janikowski won't be on the field simultaneously but they provide a good plot line.
The Raiders drafted Janikowski No. 1 because they believed he would have gotten them to the playoffs last season, when all their losses were by a touchdown or less. This isn't last year, but his powerful leg could be enough to win a title in a division that mirrors the NFL -- four teams were 9-7 or 8-8 last year.
Baltimore (8-8) at Pittsburgh (6-10)
The Steelers have two quarterbacks, which means they have none. Kent Graham, the ultimate journeyman, starts over Kordell Stewart, who may reprise his "slash" role.
Philadelphia (5-11) at Dallas (8-8)
Philadelphia seems to be coming on behind its last two No. 1 picks, Donovan McNabb and Corey Simon. McNabb might be the best of the six second-year QBs who will start this year, and Simon has been playing defensive tackle with the mobility of a defensive end.
Jacksonville (14-2) at Cleveland (2-14)
The Browns are a fortuitous rival for the Jaguars, whose offensive line (minus Leon Searcy), is just getting healthy. Fred Taylor is also out, leaving Stacey Mack, who carried seven times as a rookie last season, at running back.
Arizona (6-10) at New York Giants (7-9)
The Cardinals, who have had a disastrous preseason, get a break here -- the Giants Stadium field is now grass instead of artificial turf, the substance that knocked out a half-dozen Arizona players in Minnesota.
Chicago (6-10) at Minnesota (10-6)
The Bears looked improved on paper entering training camp. The Vikings looked worse.
But Daunte Culpepper's promising preseason has prompted Dennis Green to suggest Minnesota might be able to reach the Super Bowl. And the Bears' exhibitions demonstrated there are still weaknesses, notably lack of a pass rush.
Detroit (8-8) at New Orleans (3-13)
The Saints' housecleaning under Jim Haslett raised some hopes in New Orleans. But it's not an immediate success story -- the Saints claimed four guys off waivers the day after cutdown, always a sure sign they're not satisfied.
Detroit always seems to have injury problems, and this year's no different. Charlie Batch won't play, with Stoney Case going at quarterback, and Herman Moore's out.
San Francisco (4-12) at Atlanta (5-11)
Jamal Anderson is back for the Falcons and Steve Young's gone from the 49ers.
It probably doesn't matter. San Francisco mortgaged its cap to win in the '90s and it's come back to haunt them.
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