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Original Issue

Dr. Z's Forecast

Rams coach Mike Martz has said that Kurt Warner's his guy and that
Marc Bulger, the hottest quarterback in the NFL (107.4 passer
rating), will go back to the bench when Warner is able to return
from his broken right pinkie. I think loyalty is a wonderful
thing, but if I were Martz, here's what I would do.

First, I'd get tape of the last three St. Louis seasons and
compare Warner's play against his first four games this year.
Then I'd announce that Warner isn't ready. And every week I'd
keep announcing the same thing, unless Bulger loses his magic,
which I don't think he will.

No one under the wide blue sky will convince me that Warner was
physically sound before he broke the finger. His ball was
fluttering badly. He was inaccurate. In his three previous years
he had put up spectacular ratings of 109.2, 98.3 and 101.4. This
year that number nose-dived to 66.4. All sorts of reasons were
offered, except the one that was so obvious when you got a look
at those meatballs he was throwing. Something was hurting.

Oh, you heard all sorts of excuses for the 0--4 record when he
was running the show--the Rams' overconfidence, their lack of
enthusiasm, injuries, unsettled personnel, etc. But how come they
suddenly caught fire when Bulger was the quarterback and won four
straight? And you think it was easy for the new guy? Both tackles
were hurt against the Raiders on Oct. 13, and personnel had to be
juggled. Marshall Faulk was out with a sprained ankle on Sunday
when Bulger, who finished with 453 passing yards and four
touchdowns, led St. Louis on its two scoring drives in the last
five minutes to beat San Diego. And now Martz wants to bench him
when Warner is ready to come back? Puh-leeze!

The Rams' playoff hopes are alive but fragile. Starting with
Chicago on Monday night, they play five of their next six games
against teams with losing records. Let's give them five wins.
That would put them at 9--6, with the final game at home against
the 49ers. If Martz puts in Warner, and Kurt has the same
problems he did before he broke the finger, then ka-poof! No
playoffs. My prediction for this week: With Bulger starting, the
Rams beat the Bears.

The Chargers, who all but handed the game to St. Louis late--San
Diego went with a three-man rush and laid back in a loose zone,
donating prime tracts of real estate--now get to extend their
generosity to the 49ers, who like to work underneath. The game's
at San Diego, but I like the Niners.

How much did that overtime tie take out of Atlanta and
Pittsburgh? A lot. The Falcons succumb to fatigue--and the
Saints. The Steelers will squeak one out over Tennessee. Steve
Spurrier had success running the ball against Jacksonville, but
then he got bored. The Redskins' pass-run ratio ended in a 51--16
overload and Washington got whacked. Will he have the offense
worked out this week? Not completely. The Skins fall to the

The game in Detroit is a trap for the Jets, who have Buffalo,
Oakland and Denver to follow. New York's coming off a hard-fought
victory over Miami, and this could be a perfect time for a
letdown. But I look at a young Chad Pennington against that Lions
secondary, and I can't, in good conscience, go against the Jets.
Quick picks: The Dolphins bounce back against the Ravens, the
Bills hang on to upset the Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Browns win in
Cincinnati (which hasn't always been easy for them), the Colts
beat the Cowboys, the Broncos knock off Seattle, and the Raiders
win a high-scorer over the Patriots.

And here's my big upset, strictly on a hunch: the Vikings over
the Packers, who always seems to have trouble in the Metrodome.
--Paul Zimmerman

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COLOR PHOTO: BILL GREENBLATT/UPI Bulger, the NFL's top-rated passer, has 10 touchdown passes andonly three interceptions.