Bucs at Eagles. The concept seemed terrific for Tampa Bay: Line
up in a big-back set with 237-pound Jameel Cook blocking for
248-pound Mike Alstott, or pair Alstott with speedy Warrick Dunn
for a running attack with some flash. Except that it hasn't
The Bucs usually come out throwing because they like to get
wideout Keyshawn Johnson involved early, and if things are
working out O.K. and their defense is playing with passion and
they get a lead, they come back with Alstott as a kind of
afterthought. If he gets his yards, that's what people remember.
Tampa Bay, however, ranks near the bottom of the league in
rushing and will be playing in Philadelphia, where it gets cold
and windy this time of year. So if the Buccaneers truly commit
themselves to running the ball against a defense with a banged-up
line that has struggled recently against the rush, then I give
them a shot. I don't believe they'll go this route, though. I
think that Tampa Bay will take to the air early, and that the
Eagles will shut that down. Then the Bucs will come back with the
run, but by then they'll be behind. Philadelphia wins it, and
watch the turnovers. They'll be big.
Jets at Raiders. Same message: Run the ball. When New York beat
Oakland on Sunday, the message didn't get through. Curtis Martin,
the NFL's leading rusher going into the game, carried seven times
in the first half, even though the Raiders had been shaky against
the run and were minus their best defensive lineman, Darrell
Russell. Then again, it's hard for offensive coordinators to be
considered brilliant if they just bang away.
What won it for the Jets last week? Young legs. Their defense
overwhelmed an old and tired Oakland team and put more heat on
Rich Gannon (right) than he could handle. I see the same thing
happening on Saturday, unless New York decides to go flashy with
multiple-wideout packages and tries to set up Vinny Testaverde
for a big day. The Jets are my pick.
49ers at Packers. A lot of good San Francisco teams have frozen
on the tundra. Green Bay has won seven of the past eight matchups
between the two teams, including the last four at home. But maybe
this is the right time for the Niners to end the skid. Jeff
Garcia is coming off a four-touchdown performance. The Packers no
doubt will be pestered by the distraction of the gimme sack that
Brett Favre handed the Giants' Michael Strahan on Sunday.
San Francisco is a well-coached team with a defense that's good
enough to gain the upper hand if Favre experiences the early
wildness that has occasionally plagued him. I'm trying to build a
case for the Niners, but I'm afraid I'm forced to march in
familiar lockstep--the losing streak, the cold weather and Favre's
mastery of it. The Packers get the nod.
Ravens at Dolphins. Whose defense will do the most damage? Do you
like Baltimore's against Jay Fiedler or Miami's working on Elvis
Grbac? Can one of these gentlemen surprise us with a career game?
I don't think either team will run very much. I see about five
interceptions. The question is, Which side will get more of them?
The Dolphins' biggest concern is the torn muscle in the right
shoulder of Zach Thomas, their far-ranging middle linebacker.
Call this an if pick--if Thomas can go, I'll take Miami. If he
sits, I like the Ravens.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER