They know each other well, they socialize in the off-season,
they play in the same golf tournaments. The Giants are mostly
Jersey guys, while the Jets hang out on Long Island, but the two
teams have New York City in common, and I wonder how many phone
calls this week have started out, "Hey, tell me how you defensed
St. Louis completes its New York double-dip with a game against
the Jets this Sunday, and wouldn't everybody love to handle the
Rams the way the Giants did last week? O.K., New York lost by a
point, but it had St. Louis on the ropes after knocking running
back Marshall Faulk out of the game and sacking Kurt Warner a
half-dozen times. If not for some very picky officials' calls
down the stretch, the Giants would have pulled off the upset.
New York changed the game from a track meet, the Rams' specialty
on their St. Louis speedway, into a street fight. It's to the
Rams' credit that their defense played this kind of hard, nasty
football, too. But anybody facing them would prefer that kind of
action to one of those whoosh, whoosh types of things.
The Giants didn't throw a lot of blitzes at St. Louis, as Philly
did in the season opener. They blitzed selectively, relying on
their front four to generate the pressure. This worked mainly
because the Rams' coaching staff sent out right tackle Ryan
Tucker to go one-on-one with one of the league's premier pass
rushers, Michael Strahan, even though Tucker had a separated
left shoulder and a cast on his broken right hand. If not for
Strahan's four sacks and a half-dozen or so pressures, this
would have worked out fine.
The Giants limited St. Louis's yards after the catch with
precise tackling, just as the Bucs did against the Rams in the
NFC Championship Game two years ago. St. Louis gave up on the
idea of sending its wideouts deep against New York's speedy
cornerbacks and instead ran them on crossing patterns, which
produced the most significant gains. Still, one touchdown and
three field goals is slim pickings for this high-powered
offense, and the question is, can the Jets' defense be equally
The Jets played two games against the Dolphins on Sunday. In the
first half they got pasted 17-0. Then in less than four minutes
after intermission they put together a touchdown drive, forced a
fumble on Miami's first play and scored a touchdown on the next
play. Suddenly they were right back in the game. Their defense
came alive; the Dolphins for some reason abandoned the run,
which had worked so well; the Jets put together one more
touchdown drive; and that was all New York needed.
The Jets have been pounded by the run all year, but St. Louis
will probably be minus Faulk. New York hasn't been getting many
sacks, either, but if the Rams try to get by with a battered
tackle again, Warner could feel some heat. Plus the game will be
in New Jersey, on grass, which isn't St. Louis's preferred
surface. Do I have the guts to pick an upset, to call this the
Rams' first loss of the season? Maybe if I hadn't gotten
hammered on my picks last weekend I would, but at this point I'm
gun-shy. The Rams will take it.
I like the Giants, coming off the heartbreaker, to beat the
Eagles in the Monday-nighter, even though Philly is nicely
rested after its bye week. Why? Because New York has won the
last nine games in this series. The Giants have the Eagles'
Pittsburgh's heavy run-to-pass ratio is made-to-order for Tampa
Bay, so the Bucs should win in a low-scorer. Green Bay has had
mixed success in the Metrodome, but as long as its defense
continues to be sound, I'll take the Packers over the Vikings.
An upset of Baltimore could make Cleveland's season, but the
Ravens will be in a nasty mood and will get the win. Denver,
trying desperately to find another wideout to complement Rod
Smith, has had problems, but I'll give the Broncos the nod in
Finally, here's my upset, and I'm sorry if it doesn't thrill
you, but it's the best I can do: Arizona will beat Kansas City
in the desert, where strange things have been known to happen.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO The Jets must pressure Warner as they did Miami's Jay Fiedler.