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Dr. Z's Forecast

I don't think I've ever seen as much head-scratching at the
quarterback position going into the opening week. The exhibition
season is supposed to sort all that out, right? But look what we

In Miami, Jay Fiedler, coming off hip surgery earlier in the
month, practices one day, throws three interceptions while
completing 10 of 14 passes against the Saints and is named the
starter. Damon Huard, who had been No. 1 through the preseason,
takes a seat. "Jay's got a better feel for what we're trying to
do," said Dave Wannstedt. O.K., he's the coach, but how do you
handicap the Dolphins against the Seahawks?

In Pittsburgh the exhibition games were supposed to be
make-or-break for Kordell Stewart. After a miserable preseason
Stewart appears broken. Kent Graham pushed him out of a job. Kent
Graham always pushes people hard. Then he becomes a starter and
people push him hard, until they push him out.

In Detroit, Charlie Batch, rehabbing from a broken leg, didn't
play a down in the preseason. How bad is the tendinitis in Brett
Favre's throwing elbow? How about Jake Plummer's sore shoulder?
And Vinny Testaverde's sprained toe?

So how do you handicap an opening week like this one? Two ways:
You look for a lot of upsets, and you use my special
time-played-in-the-final-exhibition-game formula. It goes like
this: When a team uses its starters for more than a half, it's
either uncertain of itself or shooting for the meaningless win.
When the game is against an outfit that acted sensibly and rested
people, then I choose the latter. Therefore the Bills become my
pick over the Titans, who played their starters into the third
quarter, ran up 479 yards on Chicago's vanilla defense and felt
absolutely terrific about their new long-ball offense. The Bears
are my upset choice over the Vikings, who celebrated Daunte
Culpepper's 54-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss in the third
quarter against the Colts.

Chicago is only one of the appealing upset choices. I have a
hunch about Philly in Dallas. A young, eager team, greatly
underestimated, faces a club it usually plays hard against. Yeah,
why not? Eagles it is. The Jets at Green Bay is enticing,
particularly if Favre is out. Why not? Take the Jets. How about
Kansas City, which overran a patchwork offensive line and sacked
Jacksonville quarterbacks seven times on Aug. 19, over
Indianapolis? Do I have the guts? I do not. The Colts win on

The Ravens will win in Pittsburgh. Is this really a surprise,
with Graham going against that Baltimore defense? The only thing
I don't like is the Ravens' attack, which still has to show me
it's for real, against the Steelers' defense on the road. The
Bucs will beat the Patriots in Foxboro, although I don't know for
the life of me why Tampa Bay cut defensive tackle Brad Culpepper,
who worked so well with Warren Sapp. Why mess with something that
was so sound? That makes me a bit nervous about my preseason pick
to win the Super Bowl.

Finally, the Giants will beat the Cardinals, the Dolphins will
take the Seahawks, the Raiders will defeat the Chargers, and the
Rams will handle the Broncos in the Monday nighter.

--Paul Zimmerman

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COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Signs point to a Bears upset of Culpepper and the Vikes.