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Original Issue

Dr. Z's Forecast

This is what recent history tells us: Forget September and
October. The Super Bowl champion is the team that gets hot in
November, stays that way in December and goes into the playoffs
on a roll. September and October have been cruel to the last two
winners. Two years ago the Ravens were 5-4 and had gone five
straight games without a touchdown. Last year the Patriots were
in survival mode after starting 3-4.

So to find a Super Bowl winner this season, just select the team
you like that's hovering around .500. Raiders? Steelers? Falcons?
You say you don't like any of them? Me neither.

Then again, you can't overlook a good team that also catches its
share of luck. Green Bay is one of the early elite at 6-1, which,
based on the past two seasons, doesn't mean much. Here's where
the breaks come in. Brett Favre sprains his left knee, but the
Packers get their bye at just the right time, giving him the
extra week's rest. And then the Pack's foe on Monday night--Miami,
which figured to be one of the toughest games on the schedule--is
reeling from the loss of quarterback Jay Fiedler (broken thumb)
and possession receiver Oronde Gadsden (left wrist), and possibly
Chris Chambers, a downfield threat who might still be feeling the
effects of the concussion he suffered against the Broncos on Oct.

The Pack gets the win and looks ahead to a schedule with five of
the last eight games against opponents with losing records.

--Now we get to the most interesting matchup on the board, San
Francisco at Oakland. The Raiders, everybody's Super Bowl choice
after their 4-0 start, have taken a strange fall. Of the 100
passes that Rich Gannon has completed in Oakland's last three
games--all losses--66 have been for 10 yards or less. The Raiders
march up and down the field like a military drill team, but then
things go wrong. On Sunday against the Chiefs, it was two
turnovers in the fourth quarter.

The Oakland defense keeps getting hammered by featured backs,
especially in the late going. The Rams' Marshall Faulk did the
honors three weeks ago, then the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson,
then Priest Holmes--and now Oakland faces the twin hammers of
Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow.

The Niners got their wake-up call last week when they coasted to
an early lead over division foe Arizona, then wobbled a bit while
the Cardinals made a run at them. San Francisco's defense is
fairly active, but not what you'd call dominating. If quarterback
Jeff Garcia can keep the 49ers close enough to give their running
game a chance to kick in late, then they'll get their upset. I
say San Francisco gets it.

--Ray Lewis's chasing Michael Vick could've added some spice to
the Ravens-Falcons affair, but Lewis will be out again. I'll give
this one to Atlanta. Cincinnati keeps figuring out new ways to
lose. Down by six points last week it was Corey Dillon tripping
over his pulling guard on the Titans' one as he was heading in
for a touchdown in the final minute. This time the Bengals get
their upset over Houston. (Only Cincy could be an underdog to an
expansion team.)

--The Giants come off the Monday-nighter with a win over
Jacksonville. The Eagles beat the Bears on the road. Emmitt Smith
has his record now, so Dallas can concentrate on finding a
quarterback. Not this week, though. The Lions win it.

--The Bills keep it going against the Patriots, and I like a
quartet of road teams: Pittsburgh at Cleveland, St. Louis at
Arizona, Tennessee at Indianapolis and Washington at Seattle.

--Paul Zimmerman

Check out Dr. Z's Inside Football every week during the season at

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER The Packers could be the team to beat in the NFC, but only if Favre's left knee holds up.