There's no denying that it has been an intriguing season, with
all the upsets and fantastic finishes, but there just aren't
many division races that turn me on. The Redskins, who can't stop
anybody, and the Giants, who can't move the ball, lead the NFC
East. In the NFC Central the Lions have shown some class, but
there's nothing else to get excited about unless you believe Jeff
George will fix everything in Minnesota. The NFC West? St. Louis
and the Four Stooges. AFC West? Can you really see a serious
challenger to the Seahawks now that wideout Joey Galloway has
said he's coming back? AFC Central? Oh yes, the division has two
good ones, the Jaguars and the Titans, but we're going to have to
wait until the day after Christmas before they face each other
again. In the meantime, those two teams will feast on a diet of
Bengals, Browns and Ravens.
So what's left? Ah, we've finally found the division that's got
all the action. The AFC East has four good teams--the Dolphins,
Colts, Patriots and Bills--and seven of the final eight weekends
feature a game between two of them. O.K., maybe we'll get tired
of hearing how each matchup is a must-win game, but right now the
prospect of all that competition is intriguing.
This week Miami at Buffalo is the best game on the board. The
Bills got a pair of Pro Bowl players, guard Ruben Brown and deep
threat Eric Moulds, back on Sunday and demolished the Redskins.
Buffalo upset Miami last month by turning its blitzers loose on
Dan Marino, which prompted that nasty confrontation between Jimmy
Johnson and his quarterback. Remember? But Buffalo will be going
against another signal-caller this time, as Marino rehabs.
Damon Huard, who earned his promotion to the varsity by playing
for Frankfurt of NFL Europe, stood up very well under the heat
that the Titans put on him. He's just what Johnson likes, a
control-passing, safety-first quarterback. Huard also ranks with
Earl Morrall as the only quarterback in club history to win his
first three starts. But if it's a windy day in Buffalo, as so
many of them are at this time of year, look out. Teams that
dedicate themselves to stopping Miami's running game--Tennessee
held Miami to 52 yards on 27 carries--can do just that. Then it's
time for the Dolphins to put it up, and Huard will find his
passes doing tricks in those nasty gusts. So let's call it a
windblown victory for the Bills.
I only see one upset on the board--Kansas City over Tampa Bay.
Granted, the Chiefs will have trouble getting their power running
game going against that defense, but the K.C. defenders can get
after people, too, especially a team that runs an attack as
predictable as Tampa Bay's.
Loser of its last seven games in Dallas, Green Bay will drop its
eighth straight at Texas Stadium--or maybe you don't believe that
the Packers' slide is for real. Washington has dropped seven of
its last eight in Philadelphia, but that trend ends on Sunday. A
respectable offense can turn any game against the Skins into a
shootout, but the Eagles' attack doesn't qualify. Look for the
defenseless Skins to outscore the punchless Eagles.
In the Monday-nighter the Patriots will take the Jets lightly,
but the New York defense will be a considerable annoyance. The
game will be closer than people expect, and I see the Patriots
pulling it out at the end.
The Giants had the bye week to cook up something special for the
Indianapolis firm of Manning, Harrison & James, and they've got
the kind of defense that can give anyone a rough time. Remember
what New York did to Denver in the Meadowlands last year. Do I
have the guts to pick an upset? Almost, but not quite. I like
the high-flying Colts in a squeaker.