Texas Hold 'Em: The Cowboys gamble with T.O. 

The wait will finally be over for football fans this Thursday when the NFL opens its regular season with a prime-time game featuring the Miami Dolphins and the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers’ efforts to repeat have already been tested through multiple injuries to their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger — first as the result of an alarming motorcycle accident, and more recently from an emergency appendectomy — not to mention the loss of running
The acquisition of
controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens has inspired some lofty goals in Dallas, which hasn’t won a playoff game since 1996.

back Jerome Bettis to retirement. Thanks to the addition of Daunte Culpepper (who, surprisingly, is the most accurate QB in league history), the Dolphins have become the sexy pick to win the AFC East and challenge in the playoffs.

Optimism is running high for America’s team after an impressive preseason, in which the Cowboys finished undefeated for the first time since 1985. The acquisition of controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens has inspired some lofty goals in Dallas, which hasn’t won a playoff game since 1996. Owens, whose arrogance destroyed locker rooms in San Francisco and Philadelphia, already has a seemingly adversarial relationship with head coach Bill Parcells that plays like must-see TV in the sports media. The Cowboys also added sometimes volatile kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who has the potential to hurt his team with both his foot and his mouth.

“I have no excuses,” said Vanderjagt after missing two potential game-winning field goals in the Cowboys preseason closer. “They were both horrible kicks. I don’t make excuses for two 32-yard field goals in the middle of the field. The snaps were great, the holds were great … They were easy kicks. I could make them in my sleep. But I won’t stew on it … I have the ability to turn it on when it counts.”

“We can’t do the things we did tonight and expect to win,” added Parcells after the game ended in a tie. “We had two turnovers in the red zone and two point-blank field goals for the win and couldn’t make those. We didn’t lose the game . . . we did move the ball pretty well and some guys made some plays.”

Other key questions for Dallas revolve around the strength of their defense and running game. If healthy, expect Owens to open the field up for QB Drew Bledsoe and running back Julius Jones, and trust the leadership of Roy Williams to hold down defense. Despite a tough schedule, look for the Cowboys to go 10-6 and make the playoffs, which will be a tremendous accomplishment for a still-overrated team.

Expectations in Houston are a lot more realistic, largely due to the fact that the Texans passed on both Vince Young and Reggie Bush to take Mario Williams in the recent draft. The Texans were the worst team in the league last season, and their front-office blunders should keep Houston in the AFC South cellar for years to come. QB David Carr will have another rough season: At least four wins would double the Texans total from last season; six would be a gift from the football gods.

Regardless, the number-one story of NFL football in Texas this season will be Terrell Owens and the soap opera in Dallas. Will an aging Bill Parcells be able to juggle meddlesome owner Jerry Jones (who makes Mark Cuban look like Peter Holt), Owens, and the drama that surrounds the volatile receiver, or will the team implode under the pressure? League-wide, you can expect contenders like the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers to dominate and favorites like the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos to improve. Don’t be surprised, though, if Peyton Manning and the Colts finally break through, make it to the Super Bowl in Miami, and win the whole thing.

Note: All quotes pulled from Dallascowboys.com.

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