What to Expect from the 2006 NFL Season

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Cincinnati Bengal QB Carson Palmer throws a pass. i

Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals were impressive in exhibition play. Will they return to the playoffs? Andy Lyons/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Cincinnati Bengal QB Carson Palmer throws a pass.

Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals were impressive in exhibition play. Will they return to the playoffs?

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Washington Post staff writer Howard Bryant helps Scott Simon preview the 2006 pro football season. Will Terrell Owens help or hurt Dallas? And what about Brett Favre? And just where do we watch, with the TV lineup revised?

SCOTT SIMON, host:

You know, it might be hard to tell, but football season has actually not started yet. Hard to tell after four weeks of publicized preseason play, promotions and commercials. Ah, never mind. There's a new commissioner, new places to see the games, and T.O.'s gone to Big D.

To take a look ahead, we're joined by Howard Bryant, staff writer for the Washington Post. He joins us from the studios of WJFK in Fairfax, Virginia. Howard, thanks for being back with us.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Washington Post): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Can we glean anything from preseason play?

Mr. BRYANT: The only thing you can glean from preseason is that a lot of important players are running the risk of being injured. After that, you really can't see anything. The coaches aren't really trying to win the games. So when you look at a preseason score, like last week, for instance, when the New England Patriots beat the Redskins 41-0, you can create a gloom-and-doom scenario if you like, but for the most part they're not trying to win, they're simply trying to look at personnel and they're trying to see who's going to make their team.

SIMON: Now, you're covering the Redskins for the Washington Post. A lot of people favor the Redskins to win the NFC East, and Coach Joe Gibbs. What are some of the other teams you're going to be watching?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think one of the teams that I'm interested in, personally, is, of all teams, the Cincinnati Bengals, historically known as the bungles.

SIMON: The greatest helmets on the football field.

Mr. BRYANT: Exactly. Well, I think that they're interesting because they had been down for so long and then last year they came into the playoffs and they had a great deal of expectations. And then their quarterback, Carson Palmer, was hit on the first play of the postseason and tore his knee up, and now we'll see if that team is going to be able to continue to succeed or if they'll fall back into the pack.

I like watching them. I think I'm also very interested in, of all teams, the Oakland Raiders, because they've gone back to the future in hiring Art Shell, who was the last good coach that they had. And I think that it's interesting that some of these teams - Oakland, Miami, and to a lesser extent Dallas - the old mainstays of the NFL are making their resurgence this year. And you may actually have a season where the old teams that were the signatures of the league are dominant again.

SIMON: As a matter of fact, a lot of people are picking the Chicago Bears to be 11 and 5 in the AFC Central.

Mr. BRYANT: And let's not forget the Chicago Bears.

SIMON: I never do. Although, honestly, over the past few years, I wish I could. But Coach Smith has them improving. Art Shell is coming back as a coach, Joe Gibbs has been back for a couple of years now. I don't know, Mike Ditka gets lured out of retirement? Is Amos Alonzo Stagg still out there somewhere?

Mr. BRYANT: And let's not forget Marv Levy, the Super Bowl loser, is the president of the Buffalo Bills. So once again, all of these teams have decided to go back to the future.

And if you want to cross sports, in the NBA Don Nelson, all of 66 years old, has gone back to coach the Golden State Warriors. I think that's what happens when teams have - they have their rough patches and they try to get younger and they try to move toward the future and it doesn't work. And so they have to deal with an impatient fan base, and the one way to deal with that fan base is to tap back into the glory years. And as - obviously, if you're under 75 years old, you're a valuable candidate.

SIMON: Terrell Owens to Dallas, that going to be a good risk when the season is over?

Mr. BROWN: Terrell Owens is a great, great football player. And if he does the things that great football players do, they're going to be a much better team.

SIMON: Is America going to be changing its football-watching habits this year?

Mr. BROWN: Pop culture has become so diffuse. Football is following its lead. It used Monday Night Football on ABC, and we knew where to go. But now you've got it on ESPN, Sunday Night Football on NBC, and you still have your Fox game. And now you've got the NFL Network showing Thursday night games. So pretty soon, it looks like it's going to be like baseball, where you've got a game every night.

SIMON: Do American football fans watch games between teams in which they don't have a personal stake?

Mr. BROWN: It really is remarkable that the appetite for football goes across regional boundaries. It really does go across the traditional local boundaries. People, at least to watch it on television, they love it in a way that I don't think that any other sport has ever experienced.

SIMON: Howard Brown of The Washington Post, thanks very much.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you, Scott.

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