In the off-season the one September game you'd have circled in
red would have been Jacksonville at Indianapolis this Monday
night. The Colts were the consensus choice to represent the AFC
in the Super Bowl. The Jaguars had the conference's best record
in '99, a gaudy 14-2. But things have changed.
Jacksonville began losing offensive linemen in the preseason.
Then the Jaguars' premier running back, Fred Taylor, went down.
Star defensive end Tony Brackens was a camp holdout, and since he
rejoined the team in late August, all we've been hearing is that
he's "playing himself back into shape." Then Baltimore, an
average offensive team (despite all the talk about coach Brian
Billick's strategic brilliance), scored 32 points on Jacksonville
in the second half to win a Week 2 shootout.
The Colts? They're everybody's darling, except the people who
take defense seriously. Giving up 31 unanswered points in the
second half of a home loss to the Raiders took away some of
So who are the real Jaguars? The team that was overrun by the
Ravens or the one that shut out the Bengals in a rainstorm on
Sunday? Are the real Colts the ones who put the clamps on Kansas
City at Arrowhead in the opener or the guys who collapsed against
One statistic jumps out of the Jacksonville-Cincinnati affair:
Mark Brunell's measly average of 8.8 yards per completed pass.
The Bengals showed little respect for the running game. They came
out in a double zone, designed to cut off the long ball that had
tormented Baltimore, and forced Brunell to go underneath. I think
the Colts will do the same, and unless Taylor makes an unexpected
recovery from his sprained left knee, the Jaguars will put up
paltry rushing stats. Brunell will complete a lot of passes, but
Peyton Manning will too. The Colts will win as the sky--make that
the Dome--is filled with footballs.
My favorite game on the board is Giants-Redskins. Who is the
unsung hero behind the Giants' 3-0 start? Offensive line coach
Jim McNally, who ranks with Denver's Alex Gibbs as the best in
the business. Against the blitz-happy Eagles in Week 2,
McNally's guys had their schemes down perfectly and gave
quarterback Kerry Collins time to pick apart the defense.
Against the Bears, the Giants ran the ball. Power sweeps,
pulling guards, with 312-pound Glenn Parker looking positively
nimble. Somewhere Vince Lombardi was smiling.
This is a revenge game for New York, which remembers last year's
50-21 humiliation at home. Make it a win for the Giants, and give
'em about 160 yards on the ground.
I'm glad Jets-Bucs is being played in September, so we can get
those Keyshawn quotes out of the way. Against the Lions, though,
he showed us what Tampa Bay was lacking last year: a bailout
receiver for Shaun King. The Jets are a resilient team that
refuses to back down. On the Bucs' home turf, though, I have to
go with the form chart and pick Tampa Bay.
I refuse to get off the Eagles, even though Donovan McNabb seems
to be regressing. I'll go with Philadelphia in a mini upset over
New Orleans. The home team has won the last five Detroit-Chicago
games, which leads me to the Bears. There's an interesting
matchup in the desert heat between Arizona and Green Bay. The
Cardinals will be rested, coming off their bye. I'll still take
the Packers now that Dorsey Levens is back.
Despite Elvis Grbac's flurry of touchdown passes against the
Chargers, I like the Broncos to win big over the Chiefs. The
Seahawks will squeak one out in San Diego, which forgot how to
play defense against K.C. Finally Miami, which turned in a
competent night's work against the Ravens, will win at home
against New England.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Brunell must go deep if the Jaguars expect to beat the Colts.