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Dr. Z's Forecast

The weirdest sight I saw on Sunday was Falcons backup
quarterback Tony Graziani standing on the sideline, not warming
up--even though he might have had to try to win the game against
the Vikings. Starter Chris Chandler had gone out with a pulled
hamstring with 3:58 to play. Minnesota, up by three, had the
ball and was driving as the clock wound down, but, my goodness,
this was, as all Mouseketeers know, Anything Can Happen Day, and
the Vikings could have fumbled or something. That would have
brought in Graziani, well rested for sure but ice cold.

Well, he did get in, albeit with two seconds left and 84 yards
to go. But what was going through the mind of Atlanta coach Dan
Reeves or that of his quarterbacks coach Jack Burns?

I often wonder how so many teams can leave themselves short in
the backup quarterback department. The Falcons, you remember,
were the team that brought down 44-year-old Steve DeBerg from
the coaching booth last season and made him the oldest player in
the game, an experiment that went belly-up in late October when
the Jets nearly murdered him. The Raiders stuck with ancient
Vince Evans in reserve for many years.

No knock on Graziani, even though in two NFL seasons he's thrown
only 56 passes and now might find himself lining up against the
Cowboys in Dallas on Monday night. He might do just fine,
especially against a defense that gave up 504 yards in an
overtime win against the Redskins, but that's expecting quite a
bit from a guy who's still learning the trade, isn't it?

The Jets' situation is even more dire. Vinny Testaverde is out
for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Now it's up to
former Seahawk, Bear and Packer Rick Mirer to get New York back
on track.

So what's the forecast? If Chandler's out, Dallas will beat
Atlanta, even with those shaky corners who turned five-yard
Redskins hitch passes into 50-yard gains. The Falcons will win
if Chandler makes a miraculous recovery. Even though their
offensive line got overrun by the Colts' pass rush, the Bills
will beat the Jets.

Here's an odd one: The Saints have won in San Francisco only
once in eight years, but if there were ever a time to do it,
Sunday might be it. New Orleans's defense played with spirit and
intensity in a win over the Panthers. The Jaguars' D dominated
the 49ers' offense. Do I have the courage? I do not. I give this
one to the Niners; they'll do more to the Saints' defense than
the Saints will to theirs.

The Giants will win with defense. They won't give the Redskins
the easy pickings Washington had against Dallas, particularly
when the Skins try to pound the ball. The Vikings will beat the
Raiders, and the matchup I'm eager to see is Minnesota wideout
Randy Moss against Oakland corner Charles Woodson.

Pittsburgh will keep it going in Baltimore, and Cincinnati's
surprising offense will win against San Diego. If you're looking
for an upset special, sorry to disappoint. I just can't find one
that I truly believe in.

--Paul Zimmerman

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COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Moss (left) had only three catches against Atlanta but will test Oakland deep.