Is home field really that much of an edge? No one knows for sure,
but two of Sunday's big winners at home, Tampa Bay and Baltimore,
take to the road as underdogs against teams that lost road games
The Bucs visit Tennessee, which got hammered by the Ravens, who
are now on the road against Green Bay, which lost that thriller
to the Bucs. Interesting, eh? Both Tampa Bay and Baltimore have
played clunkers away from home. The Bucs lost in the last minute
to the Vikings and beat the Cowboys by only four points. The
Ravens lost to Cincinnati.
Things have changed, though. Baltimore is playing with its old
swagger. Everyone figured that the Ravens' D would make life
tough for the Titans, but no one knew that Baltimore's offense
would be so punishing on the ground or that Travis Taylor would
emerge as such an acrobatic receiver. Now the Ravens are
underdogs, and you can bet coach Brian Billick will squeeze that
for all the motivation it's worth.
Brett Favre threw three interceptions against the Bucs, but he
also brought the Pack back at the end and almost pulled out the
win. Green Bay's defense has been better than anyone expected,
unleashing a lightning-fast edge rusher named Kabeer
Gbaja-Biamila (nine sacks in four games), who has been so
dynamic that the team's first-round draft choice, Jamal
Reynolds, has been inactive for the first four games. Chances
are that KGB will line up on the left side to go against the
tandem of Williams tackles, Sammy and Erik, rather than All-Pro
left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Gbaja-Biamila will cause problems,
but not as many as the Ravens' defense will present. The pick is
Baltimore in--it sounds funny to say it--an upset.
Whenever the Titans had difficulty moving the ball last season,
their defense kept them in the game. Opponents this year,
however, have hit winless Tennessee for an average of 376 yards
in its first three games. Defensive end Jevon Kearse has been
invisible, and Tennessee's best pass defender, cornerback Samari
Rolle, injured his neck on Sunday. Tampa Bay's offense, which
beat the Packers with a 95-yard drive, is still trying to find
an identity, but Keyshawn Johnson, who is again making the tough
catches in traffic, keeps squeezing out first downs. The Titans'
sputtering attack should be made to order for Tampa Bay's D,
which isn't the quick-striking, fly-to-the-ball outfit it once
was but is still functional. The Bucs are the pick in upset No. 2.
Let's make the trifecta complete and go for another road
underdog, Oakland, to get its ground game working and win in
Indianapolis. I'll give Miami's Lamar Smith about 140 yards on
28 carries as the Dolphins win against a Jets defense that has
been hammered by the run.
The amazing Browns, thumping their chests and predicting playoffs
after their 3-1 start, will come down to earth in Cincinnati. I
like the Bengals in a squeaker. No squeaker at the St. Louis
Speedway, though. The Rams will take the rookies in the Giants'
secondary, cornerback Will Allen and nickelback Will Peterson, to
school on their souped-up track. St. Louis is the pick. The 49ers
beat the Falcons in overtime on the coast in Week 1. The teams
meet in Atlanta, and I'll take San Francisco again over the
banged-up Falcons. I also like San Diego at New England and
Kansas City at home against Pittsburgh. The Broncos need another
wideout to go with Rod Smith, but they've won four of the last
five in Seattle. Denver beats the Seahawks on the ground.
Finally there's the Monday-nighter, Washington at Dallas, a
matchup loaded with history but now only desperation. The
Redskins played the NFC champion Giants dead even for three
quarters. Defensive end Kenard Lang turned in the finest game of
any D lineman this season. Washington to win on emotion.
COLOR PHOTO: AARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS Corey Fuller and the surging Browns will have their hands full in Cincinnati.