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Original Issue

Dr. Z's Forecast

I'm glad they're rounding up as many of the players from the
unbeaten 1972 Dolphins as they can to give the team support next
week when it tries to keep the Broncos from duplicating their
feat. There's only one problem: What if the Broncos aren't
unbeaten going into that Dec. 21 Monday-nighter? Everyone
assumed that Denver would have no problem with Kansas City on
Sunday. Ditto the Giants this week. I'll bet there were some
nervous ABC execs when the Chiefs opened a 21-7 lead and when
they led by 10 in the fourth quarter.

Can the Giants beat Miami to the punch by one week and muddy
Denver's clean slate? Let's take a look.

Against the Chiefs, the Broncos spent half the time trying to
win, half the time trying to lose. Their first three series were
three-and-out, as K.C. built a 14-0 lead. Denver punter Tom
Rouen fumbled a snap. John Elway was intercepted in the end
zone. Denver had a field goal blocked. After 836 clean touches,
Terrell Davis saved his first fumble since November 1996 for the
goal line. That's the bad part. The good part? Elway was as good
as he's ever been on his throws and reads, and the coaching
staff was sharp, as usual, in countering the opponent's
adjustments. The Chiefs assigned their best cover man,
cornerback James Hasty, to tight end Shannon Sharpe, whom they
read as Denver's most serious threat, so Elway killed them with
his wideouts, Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. When it was crunch
time and the Broncos had third-and-one at the K.C. 24 and the
Chiefs had bunched up to stop the inevitable Davis run, Elway
put his team on top with a touchdown pass to Sharpe, who was
being covered by the safeties, whom he feeds off.

Same old efficient machine, except that Denver took awhile to
get it cranked up this time. And remember that the Chiefs played
hard for the whole game, which they didn't do in their 30-7 loss
to the Broncos at Arrowhead last month.

What do the Giants have going for them? The Meadowlands. The
winds there can get severe in December. The Giants can put up a
pretty decent defense when aroused. The question is, Will they
be? Why not? There's the chance to make headlines, and (dare I
say this?) at 5-8 they still have a playoff shot. O.K., I'll end
the suspense. Denver's the pick, but I don't see Elway putting up
the big numbers he did against K.C.

How, you say, did I ever figure out that the Giants are in the
playoff picture? Easy. Only five NFC teams have a winning record,
and since there are six playoff spots, one of the current 6-7
teams, or heaven forbid one of the 5-8s, will be there like ants
at a picnic.

Let's quickly go through that rather grim roster: New Orleans
(6-7) hosts Atlanta in a trend game. The Saints haven't allowed
a touchdown in the last 13 quarters at the Superdome, but the
Falcons have won the last seven meetings between the two teams.
I like Atlanta. Arizona, another 6-7 hopeful, visits
Philadelphia. Even with another defeat the Cardinals will be in
the playoff hunt. Arizona's defensive line is hurting, but
Philly has been hurting all year. Let's give the Cardinals a
win. Detroit (5-8) will lose at San Francisco in the
Monday-nighter, but bear this in mind: Carolina, which came into
Sunday's play as the league's worst rushing team (72.2 yards a
game) ran for 203 yards on a Niners defense minus defensive
tackle Bryant Young, who's out for the season. Now the 49ers
face Barry Sanders. Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh, which regressed
offensively and defensively in a loss to the Patriots.

Let's move to the most interesting matchup on the board, the
Jets at Miami, probably for the AFC East title. After the
Dolphins picked off six passes against Oakland, the Raiders said
that Miami defenders had a pretty good read on everything that
was coming. I don't see that happening against a Jets attack
that is good at changing on the go. Ditto the New York defense.
Here's why I think the Jets will win: Defensive mastermind Bill
Belichick's quick striking forces will be too much for a
Dolphins offense that's minus three starters on the line.

Oakland at Buffalo is a who-wants-it-more game. I say the Bills
do. The same goes for Dallas at Kansas City. I can't see the
Cowboys beating any decent team with their secondary in such a
shambles. K.C.'s the pick, unless Deion returns. Finally,
there's a weird angle to Washington at Carolina. If the 4-9
Redskins win, they'll drop in the draft order with their own
first-round choice, but they'll also improve their chances of
getting the second pick on the board. That's because, as a
result of trading Sean Gilbert to Carolina last April,
Washington also owns the first-round pick of the 2-11 Panthers.
I like the Redskins.

--Paul Zimmerman

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COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER With K.C. focusing elsewhere, Smith caught eight passes for 165 yards. [Rod Smith in game with football]