Unless he changes his number to 50-something and takes the field
as a linebacker--and lord knows, he's big enough--Ryan Leaf will
not be facing Peyton Manning at the RCA Dome on Sunday. Leaf
will be facing the Indianapolis defense, Manning will be facing
the San Diego defense. Hope that clears it up, but I'll bet you
that each of these showcase rookie quarterbacks will hear the
following at least 100 times this week: "How does it feel to be
facing Ryan? ...to be facing Peyton?"
Together, they represent close to $74 million in contract
packages. They're not ready to run NFL offenses. Someday, but
not yet. They play anyway. That's show biz. They threw for a
combined seven interceptions last week, which gives them 19 in
eight games total.
When they were drafted first and second, this matchup seemed
fascinating. Now it looks like a survival contest, and it will be
interesting to see how the fans in Indy will react. Manning has
kept his composure and remained a gentleman while his team has
slid to 0-4. The fans have generally been gentle, though I heard
some scattered boos after his interception set up the Saints'
overtime score on Sunday.
Leaf is a different story. His team is a respectable 2-2, and he
followed two pretty decent outings with two bummers. After the
first bad outing he lost it and started taking on photographers
and writers and other honorable types. Partly in response to
that, the hometown fans are already down on him. Near the end of
Sunday's loss to the Giants, a commercial featuring Leaf with
kids from the Make-a-Wish Foundation appeared on the JumboTron in
the Chargers' stadium. The fans booed loudly. Maybe he's better
off playing on the road, and that's where the Chargers will be
the next two weekends.
Both of these teams have puzzled me. Indianapolis has been
hammered by the run in two straight games, and San Diego can
bring it with Natrone Means. But the Colts have a hammer of
their own, Marshall Faulk, who's having a heroic season in a
losing cause. My pick? San Diego, on sounder defense.
The Dolphins over the Jets in New York. A formula pick. Running
and defense to beat a team capable of putting up huge numbers.
I've been as wrong about the unbeaten Saints as I've ever been
about a team, and I watched them display a sturdy defense and a
big league front four against the Colts. I'd dearly love to make
it up to Mike Ditka and the boys by picking them to upset the
Patriots in the Superdome, but I just don't feel it'll happen.
I've got to go with the Patriots, coming off a bye, against a
team coming off a slugfest.
Norv Turner knows how to beat the Cowboys in Washington. His
Redskins have done it three straight years, but he's never had
this kind of a team before--big gainers, big screwups. Poor old
Z picks them week after week, and they keep getting blown out.
I'm embarrassed to pick them yet again, but I know they're going
to break out of it one of these Sundays, and I just feel this is
it. Skins in a squeaker over the Cowboys, and I'm sure some of
you must think that I've got a stake in the action.
Bears over the Lions in Chicago. The NFL's most impressive
first-half team will finally collect both pieces of the pie.
Packers to beat the Vikings on Monday night. The Green Bay
pass-to-run overload will be even more outlandish because hidden
in Minnesota's gaudy 4-0 start is the fact that its pass defense
has gone south.
Seattle versus Kansas City features two teams that are keyed by
swarming defenses, heavy on the pass rush. The Seahawks found
out how the home crowd can blot out enemy signals (what ever
happened to sportsmanship?) in Sunday's 13-10 loss to the
Steelers at Three Rivers. Now they have to play in Arrowhead.
Yes, I favor the Chiefs, but when the teams meet at the Kingdome
early next month, I'll go with the Seahawks. Unless, of course,
I change my mind. It happens.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Workhorse Faulk has been one of the few bright spots in the Colts' 0-4 start. [Marshall Faulk running with football in game]