Anticipation Sets Off a Buzz

Times Staff Writer

The NFL’s just-released 2006 schedule offers some familiar grudge matches, some rivalries in the making, some salt for fresh wounds -- and a potential showdown between two of the best pro prospects in USC history.

How’s this for an intriguing billing: Reggie Bush vs. Matt Leinart?

Assuming Houston uses the top pick on Bush, and there’s a very good chance it will, that matchup could happen when the Texans play at the New York Jets on Nov. 26, or twice in their AFC South series against Tennessee.


There are a lot of ifs in those potential matchups. Leinart could wind up playing for Oakland. Even then, he and Bush could be on opposite sidelines when the Texans play at the Raiders on Dec. 3.

Of course, Leinart and Bush will never actually face off because they both play on offense. And, truth be told, hyped-to-the-hilt matchups often fall well short of expectations. Remember Joey Porter’s rambling rant during Super Bowl week, the one about knocking Seattle’s Jerramy Stevens senseless? Well, the matchup didn’t live up to the buildup. Stevens, rattled from the start, couldn’t hold on to a pass. Porter, who had a workmanlike three tackles, turned out to be more blab than slab.

But it’s the buzz leading up to the game that’s fun. And the new schedule promises plenty of that.

Among the matchups ripe for the hyping:

* Indianapolis at New York Giants, Sept. 10 -- Before games, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning routinely chats with defensive end Dwight Freeney about the best way to clobber the opposing quarterback. That discussion should be especially interesting before this game. The Giant quarterback is Peyton’s younger brother, Eli.

* New York Giants at Seattle, Sept. 24 -- The last time the Giants played in Seattle, they were flagged for 11 false starts, five by left tackle Luke Petitgout. That’s when the notion of the Seahawks’ 12th-man advantage started to pick up steam. Inquiring Giants want to know: Do they make soundproof helmets?

* Atlanta at New Orleans, Sept. 25 -- For the first time in too long, the Saints have a home game. A legitimate home game. They’ll make their return to the Superdome to play host to the Falcons with the nation watching: It’s the Week 3 Monday night game.

* Dallas at Philadelphia, Oct. 8 -- As if Eagle fans hadn’t come up with enough reasons to despise the Cowboys, now Dallas has Terrell Owens. The last time T.O. was cheered in Philadelphia was when fans held a mock funeral for him in the parking lot of Lincoln Financial Field. He should thank his lucky stars that this game comes too soon for snowballs.

* Indianapolis at New England, Nov. 5 -- The Colts finally overcame their Foxborough frustrations with last season’s win at Gillette Stadium. This time, they’ve got one of the Patriots’ most effective weapons on their side: kicker Adam Vinatieri.

* Indianapolis at Dallas, Nov. 19 -- Yes, Vinatieri is now a Colt. And Mike Vanderjagt, who gagged away a chance to put the Colts in last season’s AFC title game, is now a Cowboy. Think Vanderjagt might like to get Manning back for that “idiot kicker” crack?

* Minnesota at Miami, Nov. 19 -- Daunte Culpepper thinks he’ll be sound enough to start the season for the Dolphins. Doctors think midseason is a more realistic target with his reconstructed knee. Either way, he should be ready to face the Vikings, who traded him after the injury and the love-boat scandal.

* Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Dec. 31 -- Carson Palmer lasted all of two plays when he last faced the Steelers in Cincinnati. He was knocked out of the game by a gruesome knee injury. Who knows how far the Bengals might have gotten had that not happened? Talk about unfinished business.


Determined to weed out as many prime-time snoozers as possible, the NFL will try a flexible schedule to ensure the quality of its Sunday night games.

The league will hold off scheduling those matchups in seven of the final eight weeks in hopes of saving the best games for NBC’s national broadcasts. For Weeks 10 through 15 and Week 17, all Sunday games will be listed with start times of 10 a.m. or 1:05-1:15 p.m. The league must announce at least 12 days beforehand which game will be played Sunday night. The exception is for the season finale, which must be announced six days beforehand.


When it comes to Los Angeles, old stadium concepts never die, they just go away for a while.

The Rose Bowl is the reincarnation du jour, now that Pasadena probably will ask voters whether the landmark venue should try to get back in the NFL stadium derby. Even if the concept were resurrected, though, calling the Rose Bowl a longshot would be generous. The Coliseum and Anaheim are at least a year ahead on their timelines, and the league has said it wants to choose a site this year.

The interesting thing to watch is how the NFL handles the situation. If it tells Rose Bowl backers to give up, the league will be turning its back on its typical practice of encouraging competition. That’s risky, considering Anaheim officials have said they want an answer by next month or they will entertain other offers for the land. Would NFL owners really be comfortable with only one stadium option in L.A. when no deals have been signed?

But if the NFL encourages Pasadena to keep plugging along, the league yet again is saying its latest deadlines aren’t deadlines at all.