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Original Issue

Dr. Z's Forecast

Have you ever seen anything so crazy? Yes, last year. No, I mean
all these teams that needed only one victory to get into the
playoffs or win their division, and then they got upset. Have you
ever seen anything like it? Yes, it happens every year.

Are the underdogs loose and the favorites tight? That's what a
lot of people seem to believe. When a team clinches a playoff
spot, do its players breathe a sigh of relief and forget, for the
moment, that just one more win will give them home field or a
first-round bye? I suspect that they do, although the coaches
will tell you it's impossible because that point was so heavily
stressed during the week.

So the Raiders lose a freak show of a game in the Seattle rain.
The Jets, facing a Lions team with a crippled secondary and a
shaky quarterback, blow a home game that could have put them in
the driver's seat in the AFC East. The Dolphins can't handle the
Colts on their own turf. Ditto the Vikings with the Packers. The
Broncos, exhilarated by Oakland's loss and with the opportunity
to put a stranglehold on the AFC West, go to Arrowhead and get
hammered by the the Chiefs, who run for 264 yards. Finally, after
spending the afternoon watching those miseries befall other
contenders and swearing it won't happen to them, the Giants go
down 13-0 to the Cowboys on Sunday night before pulling out the

If you think all that is bad, wait till the smoke clears this
weekend. How do I know we're in for more of the same? Because it
always happens.

The Giants can wrap up home field advantage for the NFC playoffs
with a win on Saturday against the Jaguars, but the winds will be
blowing in the Meadowlands, and Kerry Collins, who fell apart
against Dallas, will struggle. It will be a high-turnover game,
but I like the Jaguars in an upset. Calmer heads will prevail in
Denver, which is hanging on to the hope for a division title. The
Broncos will beat the 49ers. Sorry, but that hope will be
extinguished when the Raiders win big over the Panthers.

Everyone will be watching the thermometer in Green Bay. Brett
Favre can't lose when the city freezes over, and the Bucs can't
win in the same conditions. Will things change this time? Afraid
not. The Packers win it. Looking for a Tennessee loss that would
give them a chance to win the AFC Central, the Ravens will
squeeze one out against the Jets. But on Monday night the Titans
will beat the Cowboys convincingly to win the division.

The Vikings can assure themselves of a first-round bye with a win
against the Colts, but Minnesota has allowed 957 yards, 73 points
and 60 first downs in its last two games, and Indy is not the
place to get well. The Colts take it with an offensive show.
Despite a struggling attack and a defense that's been dented, the
Dolphins will squeak by in a low-scoring affair in New England.

Finally, there's the grand battle between the Rams' offensive
machine and the Saints' crushing defense. Tough call. New Orleans
quarterback Aaron Brooks is capable of putting up huge numbers,
especially against this defense. The Rams, well, we know what
they're capable of. Logic says St. Louis, but I like the Saints
on a hunch.

--Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER The Colts' Edgerrin James could well have a banner day against the Vikings' suspect defense.