Quick now, name the three contending teams that won on Sunday
despite having lost their quarterback and featured runner to
injuries. Time's up: Denver, New Orleans, Miami.
The Dolphins are in the best shape of the three because they
figure to get passer Jay Fiedler and rusher Lamar Smith back in a
week or so, maybe sooner. Besides, there isn't a huge drop-off in
talent with Damon Huard at quarterback and J.J. Johnson and Autry
Denson at running back. No one knows for sure when Brian Griese
and Terrell Davis will return for the Broncos, but Denver isn't
in desperate shape, either, because it has an established
veteran, Gus Frerotte, standing in for Griese, and its assembly
line of runners has cranked out still another, Mike Anderson, who
looks as if he's headed for a 1,000-yard season.
But how about the Saints? Jeff Blake and Ricky Williams are gone
for the year. Their quarterback, Aaron Brooks, had never taken a
meaningful NFL snap until two weeks ago. Their running is handled
by rookie Chad Morton and Jerald Moore, who's been cut by two
teams. Yet on Sunday this patchwork outfit beat the Super
Bowl-champion Rams, on the road, no less, to move into a
first-place tie with St. Louis in the NFC West.
Late in the first quarter of the game, New Orleans cornerback
Fred Weary was lost with a sprained knee. St. Louis is one team
you don't want to play when you're shorthanded in the secondary.
But every time you turned around, guys like Alex Molden and Fred
Thomas and Chris Oldham and rookie sixth-round draft pick Michael
Hawthorne were making plays in the secondary, and the line was
rising up in a fury whenever the defense was backed up, stuffing
Marshall Faulk, knocking the ball loose from Trent Green. The
defensive calls were on the money, mixing blitzes with eight-man
coverage schemes at just the right time, setting traps for
receivers and then pouncing. It was a masterly show.
Now the Saints meet Denver in the Superdome. The Broncos have
done it differently, bailing out their defense in the last two
weeks with 42 points in a pair of wild fourth quarters, scoring a
total of 76 points and piling up 1,074 yards in the two games.
But that was against San Diego and Seattle. I don't think New
Orleans's defense is going to tolerate such foolishness. The
Saints are the pick.
Upset special: It really isn't much of an upset, because I
wouldn't have the Bills favored over Miami, not with all of
Buffalo's injuries on defense, but the Dolphins travel as
underdogs, and they get my vote. I feel obliged to pick every
Monday-night game, but K.C.-New England is really making it
tough, giving us a second straight game featuring two losers. How
about this? I like the Patriots if Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac
is out. If he plays, well, I guess I like the Pats anyway.
The Jets get Indy at home in an AFC East biggie, and now the
secret is out on the Colts: They can be pounded. Their offense
can go sour for stretches. They are not invincible. The Jets are
Before last week's game against Arizona, Giants coach Jim Fassel
stated that his team is going to the playoffs and he's "taking
full responsibility," which is the kind of prediction you make
when you're facing a 3-8 team without its quarterback. This week
it will be different: a rematch against the Redskins, who
murdered the Giants in September. Washington is the choice.
Quick picks: Packers to beat the Bears in Chicago; 49ers, on the
road, to end the Chargers' winning streak; another roadie, the
Raiders, to knock off the Steelers; and the Titans to cool off
the red-hot Eagles in Philly.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO The Saints' defense will be too much for Denver's high-powered offense.