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Strongside Blitz

By Joe Platania

Chris Simms, the son of New York Giants Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms, is primed to lead the Tampa Bay offense against the Ravens in Week One on Sept. 10.

However, it's important to remember that even though his team will have the home-field advantage, Simms will be making only his 13th NFL start, while the Ravens' Steve McNair will take the field for his 132nd start.

In terms of starters' lifetime winning percentage, Simms' .583 percentage (7-5) ranks just ahead of McNair's .580 (76-55).

Since 1978, when the 16-game schedule went into effect, 207 of the 394 Week One winners went on to the playoffs, while only 93 defeated teams recovered from 0-1 to the postseason. Last year, eight of the 12 playoff teams were winners on Week One.

Washington has the longest current winning streak, having won its last four openers. Arizona has lost its last six lid-lifters with Baltimore close behind at four.

The two best teams by record in the opener are Jacksonville (8-3, .727) and Dallas (31-14-1, .689). This year, they start the season against each other.

As for the month of September as a whole, there are 18 teams that have an opening-month record at .500 or better since 1996. These teams have a combined 88 playoff berths and all 10 Super Bowl titles in that time.

Denver has the best September record in that span at 28-10 (.737) with St. Louis the only team at the break-even point (18-18). The Ravens are tied with Dallas, Washington and Oakland at 18-17 (.514).

Playoff turnover is hot and heavy in the age of parity, and it could be a good omen for Ravens fans.

For 10 straight seasons, at least five teams in the playoffs were sitting home the year before. The Ravens were one of eight such teams in 2003, and seven teams turned the trick in 1999 and 2005.

Since the divisions were realigned after the 2001 season, 26 of 32 teams have made the playoffs and 21 teams have taken division titles.

The Ravens have done both, but the six teams that have done neither reflect the balance in the league, as there are three from each conference: Houston, Buffalo, Miami, New Orleans, Arizona and Detroit.

Last year, an amazing 48 percent of all NFL games (123 of 256) were decided by eight or fewer points. That number went down slightly for games decided by seven or less (45 percent) and 24 percent of the games were settled by three or fewer points.

Most coaches and players seem to subscribe to the theory that a 10-6 season grants immediate playoff entry. That may not be the case if trends continue.

That's because last year, a whopping 10 teams won at least 11 games. Not only that, the 12 playoff teams combined for an NFL-record 138 victories. Their .719 cumulative winning percentage was the most for a playoff group since 1977.

Of course all teams need a good backup quarterback in case the starter gets injured. But what about the backup's backup?

For those still confused about the league's third-quarterback rule, it goes like this. If the team's third-string quarterback, who must be designated as such before the game, is inserted into the game before the fourth quarter, the other two cannot enter the game at any position at any time.

But what if a third quarterback is the holder on placekicks? That is an exception, but teams are trying to avoid any possible confusion by using punters, tight ends and No. 2 quarterbacks as holders.

Issue 1.17: August 17, 2006