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Dr. Z's Forecast

Just how good are the Rams anyway? Two Sundays ago they were
heavy favorites over Carolina and lost. It seemed that they
couldn't find any focus without Marshall Faulk in the lineup. So
last weekend a good percentage of the sharpshooters, such as
yours truly, had them falling to the Giants at the Meadowlands.
No Faulk, a shaky defense against a team that liked to pound
people, a difficult venue for a speed outfit (i.e., heavy
natural turf that comes up in clumps).

So all St. Louis did was put away New York in the first half. The
Rams' defense, guided by Bud Carson, who was brought out of
retirement to do the brainstorming, held up just fine, and the
receiving corps still looked like the NFL's Olympic 4x100-meter
relay team. Now St. Louis faces Washington in a Monday-nighter,
with a chance to deal a near fatal blow to a 6-4 team that many
preseason handicappers penciled in for the Super Bowl.

The Redskins' defense has been terrific, the offense spotty. The
simple reason is that almost all the injuries this season have
come on one side of the ball. The wideouts, the line, quarterback
Brad Johnson--almost every area of the offense has been hit. But
Washington still has enough firepower to punish a St. Louis
defense that is improved but not top echelon.

On paper it looks as if the Skins have a decent shot. But picture
the scene. Monday night in the Trans World Dome: lots of noise,
fast track and a group of burners the likes of which Washington
hasn't seen. Why do I feel that somehow St. Louis coach Mike
Martz will try to make aging cornerback Deion Sanders his target,
running him across the middle, taking him deep, working on those
33-year-old legs? The Rams are the pick in a high scorer, as all
their games are.

The Jets did it again. They sleepwalked through the first half in
Indianapolis, came to life in the second, fell short at the end.
The Jets are 6-4, and they've scored first in only one of those
10 games and led at the half in only two. Their miracle comeback
came against Miami a few weeks ago, when the Dolphins built a
30-7 lead, scaled back their offense to ground zero in the fourth
quarter and defied New York to come and get them--which the Jets
did. Miami did the same thing against San Diego on Sunday and won
fairly comfortably. But I think the Dolphins know what works
against the Chargers won't cut it against a team that made you
the star of its highlight film. So I look for Miami to go up
early on the Jets and stay in its attack mode. The Dolphins win
at home.

Can I find an upset? Sure, Buffalo over Kansas City in Arrowhead,
where the Bills haven't won in four visits over the past 14
years. After the Raiders massacred Kansas City on Nov. 5, the
Chiefs held a players-only meeting, pledged to be more dedicated
and vowed to hold one another accountable, whatever that means.
Then they went out and got murdered by the 49ers, who ran up 288
yards in the first half. Something is fundamentally wrong with
this team.

The Giants will bounce back against the Lions at the Meadowlands.
With Ricky Williams in the lineup, I would have picked the Saints
to upset Oakland at the Superdome, but he's out with a broken
left ankle, so I've got to go with the Raiders. You never know,
though. New Orleans is a courageous, resourceful team, and if the
Raiders come out flat, they will get smacked.

Indianapolis will win in Green Bay, and the fast-sinking Jaguars
will drop one to Pittsburgh at Three Rivers, a place that's
always been tough for them, even in good years.

--Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Sanders (21) will have his hands full against the Rams' vaunted air attack.