The Jets are going to upset the Colts in Indianapolis. There, I
said it. And if the Colts run up another one of their big
scores, I can always go back to driving my taxi.
The Jets are 4-6. Only Bill Parcells thinks they still have a
playoff shot, even though they play good teams all the way down
the stretch. He likes to remind us about 1994, when his Patriots
started 3-6, then won their last seven to earn a wild-card
berth. The first victory in that streak came in overtime against
the Vikings, the eventual NFC Central champ, and the Pats were
down 20-0 in that one.
The Jets are coming off consecutive upsets of AFC East heavies
New England and Buffalo. In both games Bill Belichick's defense
unhinged a quality quarterback, first Drew Bledsoe and then Doug
Flutie. Last week little Dougie was constantly running for his
life as Belichick's blitzers came after him in waves, a switch
from their game on Oct. 17, when New York basically laid back in
coverage. But that's the thing about a Belichick defense: You're
seldom going to get the same thing twice.
Flutie was getting the ball to his hot reads, but New York's
defensive backs, particularly strong safety Victor Green, were
sound in clamping down on the receivers. The Buffalo running game
went nowhere, just as New England's hadn't the week before. The
front three in the Jets' base defense--Rick Lyle, Jason Ferguson
and Anthony Pleasant--are solid, and inside linebacker Marvin
Jones has been showing great run-stuffing instincts.
But Indy, with the triumvirate of Peyton Manning, Marvin
Harrison and Edgerrin James, has been putting up numbers like
crazy. Against the Eagles, James ran for 117 yards and two
touchdowns--in the first quarter. The Jets had the Colts on the
ropes in their first meeting but let them escape when Ray
Lucas's short goal-line pass was intercepted late in a tie game.
New York still held Indy to a season-low 318 yards, and I think
Belichick will give Manning the full package this time: blitzes,
two-lineman sets, four-man fronts in the base defense, inside
backers dropping into deep coverage, anything to screw the kid up.
Lucas is a mobile quarterback, with a none-too-complicated
package. He'll do O.K. I think Curtis Martin will put up decent
numbers on the ground, but the big concern for the Jets is the
line, now down to its third right tackle, Ian Rafferty, a late
pickup off the Titans' practice squad. I like the Jets anyway.
We need a major upset every week, right?
The Packers will beat the 49ers in the Monday-nighter. Brett
Favre righted his ship against the Lions, and he'll get even
healthier against San Francisco's defense. Arizona, which at 4-6
seems to be climbing back into the NFC East hunt, has already
beaten the Giants this season, but its playoff hopes will end in
New York. The Giants will take a low-scoring affair, with
turnovers being the key.
Seattle plays the kind of zone defense that defies you to go
downfield. Teams have to be patient against the Seahawks, and I
don't think the Buccaneers have that kind of discipline. Call it
a win for Seattle.
Which quarterback will be more resilient, coming back from nasty
losses, Flutie or Bledsoe? I say it'll be Flutie, so I give the
Bills the edge over New England. Here's an unusual statistic:
Kansas City has won five of its last six on the road against the
Raiders. Not this time. Oakland in a close one.
Finally there's a swift rematch between Jacksonville and
Baltimore, the pair that on Nov. 14 played one of the two
lowest-scoring games this season, a 6-3 Jaguars win. Both teams
atoned on Sunday. Jacksonville, held to a franchise-low 132
yards by the Ravens, went into a spread formation and opened
things up to the tune of 494 yards against New Orleans.
Baltimore smacked poor Cincy for 34 points. The Jaguars will win
the rematch, and I think they'll keep the throttle open this time.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Bryan Cox and the Jets' D will give Indy fits.