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Original Issue

Dr. Z's Forecast

Packers-49ers at Lambeau doesn't take on the epic proportions it
did when the schedule came out and we thought we might be
looking at a couple of unbeatens, but the game is big for this
time of the year, plenty big. The Niners have three years and
four losses worth of resentment stored up. Green Bay knocked San
Francisco out of each of the last three postseasons and added a
regular-season defeat last year for good measure. Only one of
the four games was close. No one has had as good a read on Steve
Young's playbook as the Packers' brain trust: defensive
coordinator Fritz Shurmur, backed up by the head man, Mike
Holmgren, who worked for San Francisco. The Niners have had to
live with all this since the '95 season, and frankly, they're
sick of it.

What are the Packers sick of? They're sick of questions that
start, "What's wrong with...?" Back-to-back losses early this
month unleashed that plague. Can't run the ball, can't stop the
deep threat, quarterback's on a downer, you know the drill. The
rather breezy 28-10 win over Baltimore quieted the yapping for a
while, but there were a couple of jarring notes.

The Ravens defied the Pack to run the ball by occasionally using
a 4-2-5 defense on base downs, lifting a linebacker for a
defensive back. Didn't matter. The Pack had as much trouble
running against this defense, which is designed to stop the
pass, as it has had against any alignment this year.

Baltimore got its touchdown on a 46-yard pass to wideout
Jermaine Lewis. That makes five touchdown passes of more than 40
yards that Green Bay has allowed in the last three games. Do you
think the Niners might be taking the Packers' corners deep? Are
you as impressed with San Francisco's trio of wideouts--Jerry
Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes--as I am?

The Niners have had cornerback problems of their own, but the
Rams' attack that San Francisco faced on Sunday was the kind of
thing that gets defenses healthy. Right corner Marquez Pope,
returning from a back injury, gave up only one completion and
had an interception. Darnell Walker, switching to the left side,
had two pickoffs. I think the 49ers will do O.K. against the
Packers' wideouts. The pick: San Francisco in an upset.

In Atlanta, Dan Reeves loved the way 44-year-old Steve DeBerg
threw in preseason practice. So he brought him out of retirement
and made him his third-stringer, then his second-stringer, then
the oldest starter in NFL history on Sunday, subbing for the
injured Chris Chandler. The trouble is that you don't face a
serious rush in practice, and DeBerg certainly did against the
Jets, who exposed him for what he is--an extremely nice chap who
should be coaching. If Chandler can't go this weekend, I pick
the Rams. If not, I go with the Falcons.

The Jets beat a wounded team. Their value, as they say on Wall
Street, is inflated. On Sunday, in K.C., it deflates. Chiefs by a

The scenario was much the same in Miami, where the Patriots,
with a crippled offense but a lot of heart, took the Dolphins
into overtime and lost when the real Dan Marino replaced that
impersonator who has been handing the ball off all season. Now
Miami travels to Buffalo, where the nastiest winds in the NFL
blow, and a little will-o'-the-wisp named Doug Flutie defies all
the elements with his quick feet and even quicker brain. Bills
in a squeaker.

The quarterback duel everyone is waiting for takes place in
Seattle. Donald Hollas (Raiders) versus John Friesz (Seahawks).
I'll go with Seattle and the Frieszers, although the Oakland
defense has been surprisingly stingy. If Warren Moon is back
from his cracked rib, there's even more reason to like the
Seahawks. If Jeff George miraculously returns from his pulled
groin, and the chances are slim, uh, I guess I still like Seattle.

There will come a cloudy afternoon when the unbeaten Broncos
will be upset. I just feel it. But not in Cincinnati. The
Bengals loaded up against the run in Oakland with an
old-fashioned 4-3. And they held the Raiders to 251 yards on the
ground. Now they entertain Terrell Davis. Good luck. I like
Denver to put up more adding-machine numbers.

--Paul Zimmerman

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COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Stokes, here beating Packers cornerback Tyrone Williams deep in last season's NFC title game, may well do more of the same this Sunday. [J.J. Stokes catching pass behind Tyrone Williams]