When the preseason Super Bowl forecasts came out, you had to
scroll down the list to find the defending champion Rams. What
was the knock? Some said it would be tough for Kurt Warner to
match his magnificent '99 season. You also heard that St. Louis
had suffered losses in free agency. What kind of losses? The
center and a pair of backup defensive players--that didn't seem so
bad. The real reason was that the Redskins were putting together
the NFL's version of the Yankees, and almost everyone jumped on
Perceptions changed. Washington struggled while the Rams gave the
adding machine a workout every weekend. "Greatest offense of all
time!" became the rallying cry. Then the roof fell in, and while
St. Louis and Washington were wondering when the next win was
going to come, Minnesota, picked by many to finish fourth or
fifth in the NFC Central, began pulling away in the NFC.
Now you've got the fat-cat Vikings, winners of their last four,
traveling to St. Louis to face a wounded animal that has lost
three of its last four games. Naturally the Rams are favored
because they're playing at home, but they've dropped their last
three there. The Rams are desperate, with the specter of no
postseason staring them in the face. You also don't know what
kind of mood Minnesota will be in after having clinched a playoff
spot last week.
Last Thursday night's Vikings-Lions game was a weird one.
Minnesota spent the first quarter throwing five-yard hitches to
Cris Carter, seemingly to make sure he'd get his 1,000th career
catch. When the deed was accomplished, the Vikings went to sleep,
only to awaken after Detroit had made a run at them. Then
Minnesota put the game away with one of Robert Smith's patented
touchdown glides, a 43-yarder with 3:04 left. All of which shows
either that the Vikings are prone to emotional lapses or that
they're so good it doesn't really matter if they are.
So who do I like? The wounded animal. Warner showed rust against
Carolina, and his receivers suffered from the dropsies. I feel
it'll all come together for the Rams this week.
The Jets killed the Colts on Sunday with a perimeter running game
keyed by the magnificent cutback ability of Curtis Martin and
with an opportunistic defense featuring sleeper cornerback Nick
Ferguson. The upset light is blinking. I like the Jets over the
Raiders on the West Coast. Will Washington's Stephen Davis be the
fourth runner to dent the Cowboys for 200 yards this season? No,
but he'll come close, and in this matchup of teams in turmoil,
the Redskins are the pick.
Indy will win the Monday-nighter against a Buffalo team that's
too crippled defensively. Miami, with the best secondary in
football, hosts Tampa Bay, which has had net passing yardage of
60, 66 and 51 yards in its last three games. The Bucs have rolled
back the clock and are saying, We can beat you with defense and
running. Not this time. A vote for the Dolphins.
Muscle meets muscle when the Steelers travel to play the Giants.
Two victories under a new vow of silence has set conversation
back a century in New York, so we'll have to do the talking for
the Giants, who will--shhh--make it three wins in a row. The Saints
and their defensive line, humiliated by the heavy ground thumping
inflicted by the Broncos on Sunday, will bounce back with a
vengeance and upset the 49ers. Green Bay has nine straight home
victories over Detroit, and the Lions are missing cornerback
Bryant Westbrook (ruptured left Achilles), who was having an
All-Pro year. The Packers are the pick in a squeaker.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Davis will find plenty of holes in the Cowboys' suspect defense.