These were the pretty teams, not odds-on favorites for the Super
Bowl, but the kind of clubs you mentioned with a wink and a nod.
Just watch 'em this year; they're ready to make their move.
Indianapolis--finally a defense to go with that high-octane
Tampa Bay--ah, a quarterback at last. Now, with that great D....
Denver--brought in a million free agents, mostly on defense.
Everything else is in place.
Then there were the solid teams. If one of them doesn't go all
the way, you figured, the other one will.
Baltimore--Elvis Grbac is the new quarterback, Pro Bowler Leon
Searcy is the new right tackle, and almost everybody on that
vaunted defense is back. Who's gonna stop the defending Super
Tennessee--Had the Ravens on the ropes in their playoff game last
season. It'll be a revenge thing for the Titans this year.
Guess what? Not one of these teams has a winning record. O.K.,
the season is young, and any one of them is capable of stringing
together a bunch of victories. Still, maybe the problems go
deeper; maybe teams like the Bears, the Browns and the Steelers,
the new breed, will elbow them out of their place in line.
The Colts got hammered by the Patriots, not once but twice. The
Broncos are having trouble moving the ball. Is quarterback Brian
Griese's shoulder right? Also, what's happened to Denver's great
offensive line and running game? The book on the Ravens is that
if you spread 'em out and work the perimeters, they can be had.
But that's what people thought they could do to stop Baltimore
last year, too. Could something deeper be plaguing them, such as
a fat-cat syndrome? The Titans are simply struggling in all
As for the Bucs, now that's an interesting situation. Every year
they get more offensive firepower, and every year the attack gets
worse. The offense came crashing down to the tune of 10 sacks by
Pittsburgh on Sunday, but that wasn't the worst part of it. The
Tampa Bay defense got pounded repeatedly, and that wasn't the
first time it happened. Where are the All-Pros? Warren Sapp has
one sack and hasn't been a factor against the run. Outside
linebacker Derrick Brooks and strong safety John Lynch must be
playing hurt; otherwise, how could they be missing so many
Notice must be paid, though, to the spectacular year that
Keyshawn Johnson is having. It's one thing to pad your stats with
meaningless catches, but he's been putting up big numbers the
hard way. In that offense, every time he grabs a ball, it's
significant. Right now he's the best wideout in the NFL.
In one of the more intriguing matchups this week, the Bucs host
the Vikings, who rose up in a fury and buried a Green Bay team
that had been playing at championship level. In a move that went
practically unnoticed last week, Minnesota traded for Browns
defensive end Stalin Colinet, adding needed muscle to a
beleaguered line. The rotation kept people fresh on Sunday, and
Brett Favre was under constant pressure. Now the Vikings face a
team that just allowed the most sacks by any team this season.
Home field--the Vikings have lost on their last three visits to
Tampa--says go for the Bucs, but recent form says, pick Minnesota.
It's been an illogical year, and believe me, that's the only
reason I'm picking Tampa Bay.
Nothing's wrong with the unbeaten Rams, who for some reason were
not a popular preseason Super Bowl choice. One more week or so
and the media will become obsessed with St. Louis's chances of an
unbeaten season, and you will read at least 500 Mike Martz quotes
about how he will not address that issue. New Orleans won two of
its three games with the Rams last year, but the Saints won't
triumph this time. Back home at the St. Louis Speedway, the Rams
are the choice.
Upset special, on a hunch: The Chiefs will beat the Colts on
Thursday. The Jets, coming off the St. Louis embarrassment, will
get back on track against Carolina. The 49ers are rested after
their bye week, but Chicago's on a roll and at home. The Bears
will win, but it'll go down to the wire. The Dolphins will beat
the Seahawks in Seattle, and in the Monday-nighter, the Titans
will upset the Steelers in a nasty, low-scoring struggle.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER The Saints must be wary of new Rams threat Trung Canidate.